Friday, 29 July 2011

Dragonfly Delights

After a spot of dealing with various bits of bureaucracy, I found time late afternoon to make my way up to Panama Flats, just to see if there had been any interesting arrivals.
The two main pools still retain quite a bit of water, but it's disappearing fast.
For the meanwhile it does at least means that there's plenty of shallow water and muddy edges to entice passing waders, so the coming weeks could be really productive. Potentially.
The number of greater yellowlegs had increased slightly since my last visit, and there were 9 present, plus a single lesser yellowlegs. At least 7 spotted sandpiper were around, and just 6 least sandpiper.
I scoured every small vegetated pool and creek but still didn't manage to dig out a solitary sandpiper...
A group of 6, what sounded like, long-billed dowitchers were feeding together on one pool, while another pair of silent dowitchers were feeding on another.
There were around 20 killdeer in the more vegetated areas of the fields. Of course, a handful of mallard and 130 or so Canada geese were here too, as always.

There was lots of dragonfly action, with common whitetails especially numerous in some areas.
A few darners (California or blue-eyed) were also around, plus a couple of cardinal meadowhawks (pictured).
For those back in the UK, as you can see meadowhawks are sympetrum dragonflies - known in Britain as darters.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Birding Panama Flats

Now that I am officially unemployed (a temporary measure, one sincerely hopes), at least I have a bit more time on my hands to get out birding. Every cloud, and all that...
So, I spent a couple of hours this morning at Panama Flats, one of my favourite Victoria birding sites. It was considerably quieter than when I came with Rich at the weekend, but there were still a few birds around worth looking at.
On the more northerly of the two larger pools, a single lesser yellowlegs was feeding, and before long was joined by a greater yellowlegs and a mercifully vocal short-billed dowitcher.
A further 4 greater yellowlegs (roosting bird pictured) were on the other pool, though no other waders other than a couple of spotted sandpiper were to be seen.

An adult peregrine flew in, and sat up in the dead tree (pictured) - much to the irritation of the many barn swallows in the area. Small numbers of northern rough-winged, violet-green and cliff swallows were also hawking over the fields and pools.
I eventually found a group of just 6 least sandpiper feeding in a small muddy pool, alongside a juvenile killdeer. Another couple of spotted sandpipers showed up including a not-yet-fledged fluffy youngster.
The swallows' alarm calls signalled the arrival of 3 turkey vultures as they drifted low over the area, and as I looked up I noticed an adult and an immature bald eagle sailing over, high.
A female belted kingfisher flew through, noisily, but carried on in a southerly direction - perhaps to Swan Lake?
Insects-wise, there were a few Lorquin's admirals around, as well as blue-eyed or California darners (I need to get a really good look at one of those to determine which...) 

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Tale of Two Tattlers - Brit Birders on Shore(bird) leave

On Sunday I was joined by my chum Rich Mooney, who had decided he wanted to do some birding around Victoria in advance of his pending return to England after several years in BC.
I had a bit of work to do, so we didn't get out until midday, but nevertheless, we had a great afternoon and managed to clock up some 13 species of shorebird.

We started out at Panama Flats and soon located a small gathering of feeding waders, in the first of the two remaining larger pools. Here were saw 1 greater and 2 lesser yellowlegs (one pictured below, in comedy pose), 5 dowitchers (silent, but we suspected were long-billed), a spotted sandpiper, 15 least sandpiper, 1 western sandpiper, 1 semi-palmated sandpiper and a pectoral sandpiper (pictured above). Not a bad start!
The next pool was somewhat quieter with just another spotted sandpiper and 2 more greater yellowlegs.
We walked around the southern perimeter, and in a ditch just below Carey Road we came across another trio of greater yellowlegs and a family party of spotted sandpipers (1 ad, 3 juvs). We also had ace looks at lots of common whitetail dragonflies, and saw a meadowhawk sp. and a couple of unidentified darners... and western tiger swallowtail.

There were fewer killdeers present than on my last visit, with just a small family group seen. We came across another juv spotted sandpiper, and made our way down the central bund, once again grilling the small group of scattered waders we had initially encountered. 
Satisfied with our haul, we headed to the coast, stopping first at Oak Bay Marina. The wonderful sunny weather had brought out the crowds and the birds were pretty thin on the ground. We added black oystercatcher to the growing shorebirds list, and also noted the usual pigeon guillemots offshore.

Hoping that the wandering tattler was still in the Ogden Point area, we decided to check it out. Again the hordes were out enjoying the sunshine but we soon located the tattler roosting on a rock below the breakwater. And next to it - another tattler! (pair pictured)
We had a quick scan around the harbour, noting 11 black turnstone on the Pier A wall, along with more black guillemots.
We headed back with the intention of walking along the breakwater so that we could look down onto the tattlers but soon noticed that they had disappeared from the rocks. As we passed the pilot boats we relocated them, just feet away from us. One of the birds was quite vocal, and they showed wonderfully in the bright sunlight.
Next stop was Clover Point. From here we spotted rhinoceros auklets, a common murre, more pigeon guillemots and 8 surf scoter offshore. A lone Heermann's gull sailed by, and we were rather surprised to see a flotilla of 26 red-necked phalarope feeding on the water's surface.

So all in all, a wonderful afternoon's birding. There was a real sense that things are really starting to change, and that autumn's just around the corner... It was good fun to get out with Rich for what may have been our last Canadian field excursion together!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Birds Gullore

It was reasonably choppy offshore, when I paid a visit to Clover Point this evening, but despite the blustery south westerly wind there was little to get excited about.
Few alcids were seen, just a handful of rhino auklets.
Only the gulls proved interesting, with a total of 11 Heermann's gulls among the more numerous glaucous-winged and Californias.
As gulls numbers continue to build, it will be interesting to see if anything out of the ordinary drops by in the coming weeks...

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

...and in more breaking tattler news...

The urge to do some birding was too strong to ignore this afternoon, and by 4.30pm I'd downed figurative tools, grabbed my bins and 'scope and was heading toward Clover Point, Victoria.
It was pretty much business as usual offshore with lots of rhinoceros auklets all over the place. A few pigeon guillemots were present, as was a single common murre.
4 Heermann's gulls were once again among the large numbers of the commoner species. The only shorebirds in evidence were 3 black oystercatcher.
A pair of harlequin ducks and the 7 surf scoter in-residence were bobbing about.

After desperately trying to find something more unusual, and failing, I decided to go and see if the wandering tattler was still to be seen around Ogden Point.
I checked the small harbour first, and soon came across the bird roosting on the rocks by the pilot boats dock. The light wasn't great, but it was certainly an improvement on the other day and I managed a couple of reasonable shots.

A brief post-work visit to Turkey Head, by Oak Bay Marina, yesterday evening proved quite interesting. Offshore, among a throng of feeding birds, including California & glaucous-winged gulls, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and cormorants, were 29 Heermann's gulls.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Wandering Tattler Doesn't Wander Far

I bobbed down to Ogden Point yesterday evening (Monday) to see if the wandering tattler was still hanging around. The sun was out, and the breakwater was busier than the Trans-Canada Highway as hordes of folk strolled up and down it. The small beach area too, was awash with families and as a result my usual optimism was severely dented...

Unperturbed, I had a walk along the seawall, checking here and there for any shorebirds. A Caspian tern flew by and a rhino auklet was fishing in the shelter of the harbour mouth. Scanning the wall below Pier A I could see the hunched figure of a medium sized wader, and a quick scan with my 'scope confirmed that it was the tattler. I returned to the harbour area, and was able to see it slightly better from there but the low evening light and distance prevented me from getting any decent pics. Hence the really shoddy one here. Pity really, as this is a lovely adult bird.

Stopping off at Clover Point on my way home I saw the usual stuff; rhinoceros auklet, pigeon guillemot, surf scoter, California gull, glaucous-winged gull etc. 4 black turnstone flew by.
Among the gulls roosting on the rock on the south side were 3 Heermann's gulls (pictured), with another  offshore. I like to think of them as the New World's version of Audouin's gull...  

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wader Weekend

After work on Friday I spent an hour or so down at Clover Point, Victoria. Despite the drizzle, visibility wasn't too bad and thanks to the calm, flat sea it was relatively easy identifying the birds that were out there.

As per usual it was mainly rhinoceros auklets and pigeon guillemots, though there were at least 5 marbled murrelet present too. A lone adult Heermann's gull was sat out on the water with a large raft of glaucous-winged and a few California gulls. A single harlequin duck and 7 surf scoters were in Ross Bay. A single peep flew by offshore, and several harbour porpoise broke the surface.
With just a short window of time left before I had to go and pick Jenny up from work, I stopped off at Ogden Point and set off along the breakwater. I got about half way along when a medium sized, darkish wader flew by, heading back toward the beach. No wing bars, fairly concolourous upperparts, longish straight bill - it had to be a wandering tattler.
So, I turned around and walked back to the shore, checking and scanning the rocks and beach as I went. Eventually I relocated the bird on the small beach area just below the sea wall, where I was able to get a good look at it. A cracking adult, it showed well for a short while before flying off again.
I hastily drove into town to collect Jen and we set off up island. I eventually managed to send Chris Saunders a text when we stopped briefly at Mill Bay, in the hope that other local birders might catch up with the tattler.

We were in Nanaimo to spend time with our pals David and Susan, and the attend the Green Mountain Music Festival. As a result my birding was severely limited to the flock of around 20 black swifts that flew by Dave & Susan's apartment, and similar numbers that were feeding over the festival site on Saturday evening.
On our way back today, we stopped very briefly sat Holden Creek - just to see if there were any waders present. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to get out and cover the marsh but even from the viewing platform I could see reasonable numbers of least and western sandpipers feeding in the creek and in the pools. The wetter summer has certainly ensured that there are plenty of areas to attract and hold passing shorebirds.
Then, as I scanned the creek edges a pectoral sandpiper flew in and landed on the mud. It seemed quite agitated, and soon flew off and disappeared in the boggy marsh.
Other stuff seen here included red-tailed hawk, lots of swallows - northern rough-winged, cliff, tree, violet-green and barn all present - American goldfinch, white-crowned sparrow, band-tailed pigeon etc.

Late afternoon, back in Voctoria, I headed out to have a look around Panama Flats, where I bumped into Ian Cruikshank and Mary Robichaud. Among other things, there were 11 dowitchers (pictured above) and 2 greater yellowlegs feeding in one of the larger pools. Scattered around the site were good numbers of least and western sandpiper, plus at least 3 spotted sandpiper.
Those open grassy areas look very good for attracting something interesting in the coming weeks... maybe a golden plover, buff-breasted or Baird's sandpiper?       

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Evening Wader Watch

After finishing work today I managed a visit to Panama Flats, keen to see if there were any waders present. 
Water levels were generally pretty low, bar the two main pools. There were good numbers of barn swallows feeding all over the place, plus a handful of violet-green and a couple of northern rough-winged swallows.
A group of 6 dowitchers were on the bank of the larger pool. When they flew, they called and they all sounded like long-billed.
Around the pools edges were 3 spotted sandpipers.
In the far south east corner, in a vegetated muddy area. there were approximately 230 peeps feeding. Scoping through them, the ratio of birds seemed to be about 60/40 western to least sandpipers.
After around 45 minutes of thorough scanning, I finally picked up a single semi-palmated sandpiper among them. Another spotted sandpiper was also here as were up to a dozen killdeer, including 2 very young, unfledged birds.
Walking back, I noticed a pair of greater yellowlegs (pictured) that had appeared from somewhere or other.
At one point a peregrine came through, spooking everything, before sitting up in a bare tree to the consternation of a local robin.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

No Pain, No Cain...

Following an invite I couldn't refuse, I headed up island on Friday afternoon to meet up with Rich Mooney and Justin Lynch. They were planning a trek up to the summits of Mount Cain and, conditions permitting, Mount Abel.
Knowing that they have both seen white-tailed ptarmigan in that same area, I was definitely happy to accept their offer to join them.
Leaving Nanaimo around 6pm, we eventually arrived at the Mt Cain ski area about 10pm. This area is about 20km from the community of Woss, and just under 300km from Nanaimo. After we set up camp we got our heads down and, despite the best efforts of the immense local tree frog population, we actually got some sleep before rising just after 5am.
Following brekkie, we commenced our ascent. Practically the first bird we came across was a fine singing male pine grosbeak - a great way to start any day! We added gray jay to the list, and hearing the distinctive hoots of a male sooty grouse we soon located the bird sat up in a tree and watched it 'singing'.

Before long we got into ptarmigan habitat and we were all finely tuned to any sound or movement. We optimistically discovered piles of ptarmigan droppings (pictured) and even came across a few feathers. But no birds were forthcoming.
A high altitude American robin was something of a surprise, and we had a fly-through merlin.
Then a large dark finch with a pink rump flew by emitting a distinctive 'churp' sound. Hoorah! Gray-crowned rosy-finch! One of the true alpine specialists that I was really hoping for. Later we heard what we assumed was it singing, but couldn't locate it. In this same area we also saw an American pipit and heard this bird singing too.

Given the high volumes of snow still present after the record winter, we struggled to find much in the way of suitable habitat for the ptarmigans to breed in. There were relatively few areas of open heather and rocky scree, and so perhaps the birds had moved to an area where food and suitable nesting sites were easier to come by? I can only imagine that if the birds were in this area we would have found them fairly easily, given the minimal snow-free habitat. Of course, small 'islands' were present here and there, and perhaps they were sitting tight in those?

Me, Rich & Justin at the Summit of Mount Cain
All in all, it was an excellent day, and other than my unscheduled speedy (and I have to say, rather scary) descent of 100 metres down into the East Bowl, it was a thrilling experience. The weather remained on our side throughout the day and the views were simply breath-taking.
The only bird of note we saw on the descent was another sooty grouse, this time a lovely female.
Rich and Justin's enthusiasm and energy made the whole thing even more enjoyable, and I'm extremely grateful to them for allowing me to join them. I feel privileged to have been able to venture into an area of Vancouver Island that would have otherwise remained a mystery to me.       
Read Rich's account of our day, and see more pics, at his Birding Field Notes blog.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Ross Bay Walk

Just managed a post-work walk down to Ross Bay, Victoria with Jenny this evening.
Even still, there were plenty of interesting birds around. I could see that the gull roost at Clover Point had built quite a bit, and it became even more apparent as approximately 150 gulls were flushed up into the air by a passing bald eagle. At range, I could only make out one adult Heermann's gull among the numerous glaucous-winged and California gulls.   
Bobbing about on the water were a few rhino auklets, 3 harlequin ducks and 5 surf scoters. A party of 4 white-winged scoter flew by. That's all 3 scoter species here in the past few days... what a strange summer..!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

There's a great gull here, man. (Heermann's gull - get it?)

Had a stroll down to the waterfront and checked out Ross Bay and Clover Point today.

I went via Moss Rock Park where I narcissistically took a self portrait - purely to illustrate the wonderful view you understand...
While bumbling around here, I came across a lizard - the first I've seen here. It looked pretty much like a wall lizard, and when I checked what lizard species occur on the island, I discovered that it was a wall lizard. Apparently they were introduced here sometime on the 1970s. I don't know, us European gets everywhere!

A few harlequin ducks were feeding close offshore, while further out the expected rhinoceros auklets and a couple of pigeon guillemots were seen.
Among the growing numbers of glaucous-winged and California gulls was a splendid Heermann's gull. I was 'scopeless today, so I'm afraid I can offer no improvement on the very sketchy pic on my last post. As the summer progresses the number of Heermanns' will increase significantly, so I'm sure I'll get more than a few chances to get some reasonable shots of these stunning larids
Later, I took a wander around the Government House grounds, but it was pretty quiet - as has been typical of late.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Black Thursday

After a few days of hardly doing any notable birding, yesterday I decided to give Ian Cruikshank a call to see if he fancied trying to relocate the black phoebe reported on Wednesday at Mystic Pond. What was presumably the same bird had been found up the coast in Sidney on Monday, and while I couldn't be bothered going up the peninsula to see a bird I've seen before, now that it was closer to home I rather fancied having a look for it. Plus, I knew that Ian had dipped on it on Tuesday.
So, once I finished working I picked Ian from his home and we headed over to the aforementioned, brilliantly named, Mystic Pond.
We were entertained by the nesting great-blue herons, and violet-green swallows as they skimmed over the water's surface, but had neither sight nor sound of the phoebe. We checked out the beach area, and a few nearby spots that might harbour a hungry vagrant flycatcher but had no luck.
Ian pointed out Ten Mile Point, a rocky promontory we could see, and suggested it might be worth a visit as it's a pretty good if under watched seawatching spot.

And so we did. Upon arrival, we set up scopes and started checking the water. After a couple of minutes, a rather excited Ian beckoned me over. As I got close, he asked (somewhat rhetorically, one presumes) "Are these black terns?" to which I replied with a resounding yes. And indeed there they were, 3 black terns actively feeding over the water by a small lighthouse.
There were two obvious adults in breeding plumage and another odd-looking bird which we now think was probably a second summer bird (Adult left, sub-adult right, pictured).
Although familiar with black terns in Europe I had never seen the distinctive American form, and I was rather pleased with this discovery. But it was only Ian's obvious giddy delight that hinted just how big a deal it was to see this species on Vancouver Island.

We made a few calls and eventually the first birders started to arrive  - and I witnessed my first Victoria twitch! Unfortunately, I had to leave just after 8pm and I abandoned Ian to scrounge a ride home from another benevolent birder.
Among other decent birds seen here were an early Heerman's gull (pictured, extremely badly), a couple of fly-by white-winged scoters and the usual rhino auklets and what-not. 

Today (Friday), I spent a couple of hours checking a few places up and down the coast - somewhat inspired by yesterday's events. I didn't see much to get excited about, lots of rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots, black oystercatchers etc. I even dropped in at Ten Mile Point, but there were few birds present. Perhaps the combination of a low tide and great Canada Day weather, with the resulting plethora of boats out on the water, helped keep the area bird-free...