Friday, 13 May 2011

That Was The Week That Was

Blogger's been ill, so I haven't been able to post until now. So, if you're sitting comfortably, I'll begin...
This morning, it was fairly quiet down at Government House with nothing to indicate any birds new in. What was presumably a remnant of yesterday's fall; 12 yellow-rumped warbler, 1 Townsend's warbler and a warbling vireo were moving around in a single feeding flock, and a single Lincoln's sparrow emerged to check out my pishing but that was about it.

Thursday Fall

A bit of a fall was evident early Thursday morning in the grounds of Government House, Victoria.
It seemed pretty quiet until I jammed into a flock of around 30 yellow-rumped warblers feeding high up in some garry oaks, along the lower path. Scanning through I came across 6 Townsend's warblers, 2 ruby-crowned kinglet and a Wilson's warbler. An empidonax flycatcher showed briefly but flew off, silently.
As I moved along the path, a Cooper’s hawk came bombing along and just missed my head.
The distinctive clucking of a hermit thrush was emanating from the understory, and a little persuasive pishing lured it out, but nothing else.
I came across another active warbler flock, this time comprising around 10 yellow-rumped and 2 Townsend's along with a warbling vireo (my first of the year).
Then I noticed a smart olive-sided flycatcher (another year-tick) sallying from a snag.
I decided to gain some height, to check the tree tops and went to the small ‘balcony’ outlook where I was surprised to come eye to eye with a varied thrush.
The olive-sided was visible from here too, and gave better views but there was nothing in the upper branches of the trees.
On the eastern bluffs I saw another olive-sided flycatcher, but otherwise there was little activity there so I headed home for breakfast.

Wednesday Whirlwind

On Wednesday afternoon I had the pleasure of being given something of a guide tour of Victoria and Saanich Peninsula birding hotspots by Ian Cruickshank.
We started off at Panama Flats where, thanks the persistent downpour, the flooded fields were swarming with 100s of hirundines, including a few cliff swallows and one or two northern rough-winged swallows, plus good numbers of Vaux’s swifts (year tick).
Scanning the muddy fringes we noticed a congregation of feeding dowitchers, and a few least sandpipers.
Three spotted sandpiper (year tick) were also working the edges and common dabbling ducks punctuated the water’s surface including several shoveler and a pair of gadwall.

Among other places we visited included Observatory Hill - an impressive spot affording immaculate views. Here we added such things as chipping sparrow, Pacific-slope flycatcher (YT), American goldfinch and house wren (YT).
We came across dowitchers, mostly looking like long-billeds, at several sites including a group of just over 100 at 'Red Barn Flats'. This interesting site, (so named for its location right by, yep, you guessed it - a red barn, well the Red Barn Country Market more precisely.. ) was also teeming with swallows.

purple martin
A stop at Maber Flats proved interesting with a breeding plumage black-bellied plover, more dowitchers and 18 purple martin (2 of which, pictured).
A flock of 40 cackling geese dropped in and a single greater white-fronted goose made an unexpected appearance.
Along the path, the hedgerow was jumping with YR warblers and I finally caught sight of my first yellow warbler of the year.

Later, we had a brief check of the Martindale area where the highlight was an adult female northern harrier.

After a quick stop at Island View Beach where we watched a Caspian tern fishing, we headed back.
It was great to be in the company of someone who knows not only the area, but the birds so well.
Ian's incredibly acute hearing, and ability to ID everything that calls, was a grim reminder that my battle-worn ears are well and truly past their sell-by date.
Add to that, my relative lack of familiarity with the region's birds' vocalisations and it's fairly obvious that I could be missing a not inconsiderable percentage of passerines while out birding. Oh well, at least my eyesight's still 20/20. For now...
Thanks again to Ian for his enthusiasm, and generous welcome to Victoria's birding scene!

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