Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Mid-Island Year-Tick Fest

Yesterday (Tuesday) Jenny had to go up to Nanaimo for much of the day for work purposes and so I decided to do the decent thing and keep her company. Of course this meant that I had to fill my day somehow, and I eventually chose to spend several hours on my old stomping grounds.
I started off at Holden Creek.
Although somewhat disappointing on the shorebird front with just a pair of least sandpiper and a couple of killdeer present, the wet fields had attracted a flock of c40 American pipit, and around 20 savannah sparrows. An American goldfinch was singing near the sluice, and a single northern rough-winged swallow came through, joined by barn and violet-green swallows.
An osprey circled over, and several turkey vultures cruised over the firs. A pair of greater white-fronted geese were among the Canadas in the fields.

I then headed along Gordon Road where I added common yellowthroat to my yearlist in the marshy area near Harmac Road. The ubiquitous red-winged blackbirds were here too, as was a showy, singing marsh wren.

Arriving at the Nanaimo River estuary, I noted a hefty and ominous cloud headed my way. Could be good, I thought... and indeed it was as a pair of purple martin preceded it and showed well above me for a few minutes.  Further hirundines came trickling through including my first cliff swallows of the year. No swifts materialised, but you can't have everything...
A female northern harrier was hunting over the marsh and a lone cackling goose was hanging around with 4 Canada geese on the river mouth. A handful of green-winged teal, American wigeon, pintail, bufflehead and common mergansers were also present. 
The tell-tale call of yellow-rumped warblers revealed a couple of males - one each myrtle and Audubon's. Since my last visit on 9th April, the number of savannah sparrows had gone through the roof and they were all over the place. White-crowned sparrows, having been absent all winter had replaced golden-crowneds with just on of the latter seen. A single Lincoln's sparrow was in the brambles by the big oak.

After grabbing some barely edible grub in Cedar, I went to see if anything was happening at Quennell Lake. Not much, as it happened. 12 northern shoveler, a few GW teal and lesser scaup were pretty much the best of the bunch. Tree, violet-green and barn swallows were all present in good numbers.

My next port of call was the airport where I hoped to see vesper sparrow. The first bird I saw as I stepped out of the car was however a lovely bright chipping sparrow, one of a pair present. I soon heard what I thought sounded right for a vesper singing and eventually located it sat in a distant bush.
It soon came a little closer but refused to stay still long enough to allow me to get a pic.
It then flew toward me and started feeding on the ground just about 6 feet away from where I was stood, scope and tripod at the ready. Way too close to focus, follow and photograph with my primitive set up... oh well, i got a really good look at it and even managed to read one of the numbers (2) on its metal ring! I probably could have seen more but for the fact that it was constantly moving, and favouring short grassy areas that obscured the ring somewhat.
It also sported darvic rings: orange over blue on the right, and a black over the ABA ring on the left. That should identify the individual - not sure who uses this info but if anyone reading this wishes to pass this on to the relevant person/people or let me know who to contact, I'd appreciate it.
I did get some nice sharp pics of it with its back to me, and the one here is the only one that shows its head. Not too sharp though... apologies.

After having my fill of this fine bird, I left it grubbing around in the dirt and headed off to Buttertubs Marsh before picking Jenny up. 
On my way, I noticed another osprey - adding sticks to a nest just by the highway south of College/5th. Noticing the time, I realised that my time at Buttertubs would be short and I barely had time to walk up to the platform. There were a handful of yellow-rumped warblers along the way, as well as downy woodpecker, Anna's hummingbird and marsh wrens blasting out from the rank vegetation. On the water there were just hooded mergansers and a pair of wigeon.

All in all a decent day's birding, and a reminder of why I love birding around estuaries.  

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