Monday, 29 August 2011

Coastal Birding

Black turnstone
Given the overnight winds and rather breezy conditions this morning, I headed off for an early start at Clover Point.
The place was almost deserted, people-wise (that's a first!) and I was able to sift through the roosting gulls at relative leisure. Other than 9 Heermann's gulls, it was just a large swathe of glaucous-winged and Californias present.
Offshore, it was surprisingly quiet with just a few distant common murres, rhino auklets and pigeon guillemots on view.

Black-bellied plover
Feeding on the kelp covered rocks, as yet un-harassed by dogs and families, were 3 black turnsone and a single black-bellied plover (both pictured).

As the seawatching didn't seem to be up to much, I left after an hour or so and decided to check out Oak Bay Marina. With the tide being low, the large plover roost on the rocky island was much diminished and I could only see 30 or so black-bellied from the marina.

Black oystercatcher
Checking the beach area just to the south of the marina, I came across 13 killdeer, 3 western sandpiper and 3 greater yellowlegs feeding along the shoreline. Several black oystercatcher were also present (pictured).

A belted kingfisher was rattling around, and an osprey flew overhead.

Hooded merganser
A few hooded merganser were paddling around the area (pictured). 
Noticing a sizeable collection of gulls bathing in the creek mouth, I continued round to Bowker rocks.
Scanning through the assembled larids, I came across an adult ring-billed gull snoozing on the beach (pictured), surrounded by several mew gulls

Ring-billed gull
Another 3 greater yellowlegs were feeding in the small pools and a single pintail was dabbling in the creek. 
I then popped along to Cattle Point, where the only thing of note was the sighting of a group of 5 river otters fishing close inshore. 

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Sooke Seabirds Start Slowly

Today, it was all about seabirds. A mini-pelagic trip had been organised out of Sooke - the plan being to head out to the US border, and cruise along seeing what we could find out there. As we arrived in Sooke around 7.30am it was apparent that, despite the lovely morning we'd left behind in Victoria, things were a little different here... The Fog had descended.
Unperturbed by this potential climactic calamity, I and the other 10 optimistic birders jumped willingly into the Zodiac, resplendent in our lovely survival suits.
About an hour later, we were damp,  2 miles from land and somewhat less enthusiastic. Then it happened. A bird appeared (in fairness, we had powered past many rhinoceros auklets and common murres, but they're dross under these circumstances). A red-necked phalarope. Hoorah!

Tufted puffin
Minutes later, another bird appeared but this was one of those 'must-haves' among Pacific seabirds, a magnificent summer plumage tufted puffin. A sense of palpable relief settled over the boat.
(The pic here was taken, by Rich Mooney, on my last pelagic trip out of Tofino).

Before long, visibility had improved dramatically and we were able to spot gull-infested bait-balls in the near distance. As we sped toward the feeding mass of larids and attendant alcids a pair of jaegers (skuas, for those back in Blighty) came into view. Large, hefty, barrel-chested birds, they had to be pomarine jaegars and as one turned, it showed full tail spoons. The other bird had no tail streamers, but given its shape, size and flight action, it too was almost certainly the same species. 
We later encountered another fine adult complete with intact tail, and it showed beautifully as it flew across the bow of the boat.
A small feeding flock of around 10 or so dainty Bonaparte's gulls put in an appearance, too.
Before heading back to dock, we came across many more phalaropes, common murres, rhino auklets, California and glaucous-winged gulls as well as seals and sealions, but unfortunately no cetaceans.
A big thanks to Jeremy Kimm for arranging this mini-pelagic.

Ruff Justice

Once we had gathered our land-legs, a bunch of us headed for Witty's Lagoon where a red-necked stint and ruff had both been found yesterday. Both rare birds in this part of the world, the stint was a potential world tick for me... while, of course, ruff is a common species back in the UK.

Juvenile Ruff - Witty's lagoon, Victoria
We scanned through large numbers of western and least sandpipers, finding only a lone pectoral among them. As I checked out the pair of short-billed dowitchers that Ian Cruikshank had picked up on the far shore a little earlier I noticed the ruff feeding close by.
Eventually, we headed round and got excellent views and record shots of the ruff using my 'scope and Aziza Cooper's camera, (I'd left mine in the car, doh!) but it was scant compensation for not being able to relocate the stint...
A 1st winter ring-billed gull was waddling around on the mud, giving me satisfactory confirmation regarding the identity of the Clover Point bird from a couple of days ago (see the post below).

Friday, 26 August 2011

Thursday's Victoria Birding Highlights

I had an unremarkable trawl around the woodland trail in Victoria's Government House grounds yesterday morning. The day started out very warm, and early dragonflies were busily hunting, but bird activity was pretty minimal. The regular residents (downy woodpecker, Anna's hummingbird, red-breasted nuthatch, bushtit etc) were all going about business as usual, but other than a couple of rufous hummingbirds there were no signs of migrants moving through.
In the evening, I headed down to Oak Bay Marina for a scout around. Aimed with 'scope, I was able to scan the offshore rocky islet that seems so attractive to roosting shorebirds, and I was able to count 78 black-bellied plover. Among them were at least 3 dowitchers and one each of surfbird and black turnstone. Around half a dozen Heermann's gulls were on the island too, while a further 40+ were snoozing on another larger rock further out.
Closer, in the harbour area were 3 western sandpipers, a killdeer and a couple of black oystercatchers. The group of 7 greater yellowlegs were again roosting on the same small islet as they were the previous day, along with another pair of oystercatchers.

I made my way over to Clover Point, where despite the human and canine activity, there were still a few birds about.
It was quiet offshore, but there were a few interesting gulls roosting on the nearby rocks to scrutinize.
Among these was a very convincing western-type hybrid, and a 1st year bird that I think might have been a ring-billed gull.

I've included some, unfortunately poor, shots here for you to see.
It was obviously smaller than the California gulls it was among, and something about it didn't seem quite right for mew gull.

The weight of the bill, the overall paleness, and the 'spottiness' all seemed to suggest ring-billed to me... or am I missing something really obvious and making a silly blunder?
Advice and comments from those with greater experience of both mew and ring-billed gulls at this age would be most welcome!        

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Clover Point to Oak Bay Birding

With September looming, and the first count of the Coastal Bird Survey of the 2011/12 season around the corner, I thought I'd go out and familiarize myself with my new stretch. The area I will be counting includes the area between Harling Point and Gonzales Point.

Rather than simply going to the area in question, I chose to walk from Clover Point and see what I could find along the way.
3 black turnstone, 3 least sandpiper and a juvenile sanderling were on the rocks off Clover Point, while 4 harlequin ducks and 8 surf scoter were in Ross Bay.
Accessing the beach at various points between Ross  Bay and Victoria Golf Club, I noted several black oystercatchers, a handful of least sandpipers, more harlequins and of course plenty of California and glaucous-winged gulls. A few Heermann's gulls were seen here and there, but the largest concentration was of around 50 birds behind the golf course.
While I was exploring the rugged and not terribly easy terrain between McMicking and Gonzales Points I flushed a spotted sandpiper from the rocks, before I was drawn to the loud trilling call of another shorebird.
Scanning around I soon picked it up as it headed in-off the sea and came toward me, passing close and proving itself to be a pectoral sandpiper. It flew off over the greens before turning around, passing over me once more and heading off south along the coast, constantly calling as it went.
By the time I emerged from the rocks and back onto Beach Drive, I was pretty exhausted! (I'd actually had to steal through someone's driveway to get off the beach, and looking at some of the houses along there I'm only glad that I didn't find myself strolling through the yard of Victoria's answer to Tony Soprano...).
I continued on to Turkey Head and Oak Bay Marina. Other than the expected alcids, there wasn't much to see offshore. A bunch of waders were roosting on the rocky islands, but as I was without my 'scope they went unidentified.

A single killdeer was flying noisily around, and then I came across a group of 7 roosting greater yellowlegs (just about pictured here). Another was feeding close by.
Yet more harlequins were feeding in the area as were 10 hooded mergansers.
Nothing notable appeared on the passerine migrant front, though there was a steady trickle of southbound barn swallows throughout the day.
I decided I'd had enough at this point and trundled off down Oak Bay Drive and back home, pausing only to watch a thermalling sharp-shinned hawk - my first of the fall.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Birding The Point

Jenny was heading out to Sooke with her family today (no room for me in the car, unfortunately!) so I spent and hour or so at Clover Point this morning.
It was pretty much business as usual, although the water was relatively devoid of numbers of birds. There were common murres, rhinoceros auklets and pigeon guillemots in modest volume, and nowhere near as many as I've been seeing there recently. A single marbled murrelet was lingering close offshore.
Among a couple of hundred California gulls and a dozen or so glaucous-winged gulls on the rocks (hmm -glaucous-winged gulls on the rocks, sounds like a particularly unappetising cocktail..), were 9 Heermann's gulls and 5 black oystercatchers. Just 6 mew gulls were floating around just offshore.
A single least sandpiper flew in, landing briefly on the rocks and picking through the seaweed. A further 5 peeps (probably leasts, too) flew by, heading south.
A lone red-necked phalarope was out on the water.
Five harlequin ducks were present and the usual small flotilla of surf scoter were in Ross Bay.
A couple of barn swallows were flitting backwards and forwards over the rocks.

In Da House

I took a stroll down to Government House in the early evening. There was a little bit of activity along the woodland trail, where highlights included a warbling vireo, olive-sided flycatcher and rufous hummingbird. Presumably, these birds were all off passage.
Regarding rufous hummers - I can only surmise that their relative scarcity in Victoria (as opposed to Nanaimo, where they are common in summer) is down to the abundance of Anna's hummingbird (which is harder to find as one travels up island) in and around the city? Although one might imagine that the Anna's considerably earlier nesting period would reduce conflict and competition, there seem to be very few breeding rufous's in what appears to be suitable habitat down here. If anyone has any theories, I'd be interested to hear them....   

Monday, 22 August 2011

Bank Swallow Surprise

Unfortunately, the forecast rain today didn't really start until after 8am, a little too late to drop any nocturnal migrants. Nevertheless, I headed down to Panama Flats just in case any late moving shorebirds had stopped off for a probe in the mud.
It was seriously unbirdy! The total wader count comprised a pitiful 1 western sandpiper, 3 least sandpipers and 7 killdeer...
The good stuff however, was hirundine-shaped. In among approximately 50 barn swallows were single juvenile cliff & tree swallows and a bank swallow. Although a very common bird in the UK, (where it goes by the name of sand martin) this is the first one that I've seen on Vancouver Island.
The collected swallows alerted me to the arrival of a juvenile peregrine, which dutifully reduced the British Columbia European starling population by one.
A young red-winged blackbird was kicking around, as were several savannah sparrows and a couple of common yellowthroats.

Yesterday afternoon, I took a stroll down to the Government House woodland trail. In amongst a couple of chickadee flocks I came across 2 Wilson's warblers and a couple of orange-crowned warblers, plus brown creepers, red-breasted nuthatches, downy woodpecker, Bewick's wren and bushtits. Single juvenile chipping sparrow and white-crowned sparrow were also seen.
Best of all however were a couple of variegated meadowhawks (one pictured). 

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Panama Flats Birds and Mysteries Revealed

Least & western sandpipers
Found some time this afternoon to squeeze in a trawl around the Panama Flats area. The pools continue to resemble the moon's surface, cracked and mostly dry, although a couple of small muddy puddles still seem to be holding a few birds.
Least sandpiper were the most numerous with 37 birds present, while just 10 western sandpipers were seen. A single greater yellowlegs continues to hang on in, as does a spotted sandpiper. The latter was in the creek on the eastern edge of the site. A noisy quartet of purple martins came in for a while, feeding over the dried out pools, before heading off west.
In the lush vegetation near the creek there were a few passerines busily feeding, and a Lincoln's sparrow was trailing along with a flock of bushtits. 

Mysteries Revealed

OK - I got a bit behind with these... apologies to anyone who might be desperate for the answers!

We'll start off with the last one. As 64% of voters all went with olive-sided flycatcher, I shall reveal that of course, that's what it was. I thought a few more might be tempted to go for other species, thanks to the unusual posture shown in this pic, but I really should know better than to underestimate you all!
Briefly, the other choices were gray catbird (11%) - this can be eliminated as the undertail coverts are clearly visible and lack the obvious rufous colour that would be visible. Similarly, catbird's black cap would show, and the overall colour of our bird is too subtle, catbirds are a striking slate grey.

Northern mockingbird garnered 23% of votes - I was expecting more to be honest. But, again the overall colour just isn't right, our bird is too brown and lacks any greyness. A mockingbird would have appreciatively shorter wings too, and a strikingly longer tail, among other things.
All voters ignored western tanager and eastern phoebe, and quite right too, as it looks nothing like either.

The previous mystery bird was clearly a wader (or shorebird, as is the preferred term in North America). 

Again, one species took the lion's share of votes. Ruff attracted a whopping great 75% of thumbs' up.
Upland sandpiper fooled just one voter (actually, that was me trying to throw you off the scent...), pectoral sandpiper seemed like a fair bet for 21% of you while no-one was inclined toward buff-breast.
So, was it a pec? What about leg colour? Our bird has orange legs, not yellow ones as one would expect to see on a pectoral sandpiper. Slightly decurved bill, with an orange base certainly seems good, but doesn't that also fit adult ruff? And how about those bold white marks around the eye? And those clearly barred tertials? All things that point squarely to ruff. And so it was.

The new mystery bird should prove interesting - you might need to think outside of the box (to use a tired and frankly irritating phrase) with this one... 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Woodland Skipper Invasion!

Male woodland skipper
I took a stroll around Victoria's Government House this morning, just to see if any migrants were moving through at all.
It was fairly quiet, overall but there were a few birds of note.
A family of chipping sparrows were feeding on the path, presumably local breeders. The only obvious migrant that I came across was a 1st year Wilson's warbler, in amongst a small flock of chestnut-backed chickadees.
Other common birds included northern flicker, downy woodpecker and Anna's hummingbird.  

Male (left) & female (right) woodland skippers
Perhaps the most notable thing, was the large number of skippers seen.
Many were chasing around in pairs or small groups.
Having checked my butterflies field guide, I believe that these are woodland skippers (ochlodes sylvanoides).

On my way back, I noticed a largish dull flycatcher sat on the top of a tree along Joan Crescent. It pretty much looked like a western wood-pewee from its posture and structure.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Change of Scenery

Jenny's sister Chrissie arrived in BC last weekend, with her partner Andy and their two boys Louie and Laurie.
As they were having a week on the mainland before coming over to the island, we went over to join them for a camping trip to Squamish - a place we hadn't been to for several years.
I didn't get much birding in, but we had a great time exploring Alice Lake, Shannon Falls and ascending the impressive Stawamus Chief (pictured).

The only birds worth mentioning include a food-carrying Swainson's thrush, a warbling vireo feeding fledged young, and a lone cackling goose (pictured) that was being decidedly picked on by the local Canada geese at Alice Lake.
It was fully winged and could fly, so what on earth it was doing here in August I have no idea...
Incidentally, the ferry journey each way was utterly unremarkable, birds-wise.

Panama Flats Falls Flat

This afternoon, I spent a couple of hours trawling around the increasingly waterless Panama Flats.
As far as shorebirds were concerned, there were only 20 least sandpiper, 7 western sandpiper and a single greater yellowlegs present on the diminishing pools when I arrived. However, 5 green-winged teal had dropped in.
A check of the muddy creeks only added 3 more least sandpipers, a single killdeer and 2 spotted sandpiper.

Canada Dry... an increasingly waterless Panama Flats
As I returned to the 'pools' a group of 8 western sandpiper flew in, soon joined by a further 58, bringing the total to 73.
Just goes to show that anything could drop in at any time of the day!
Mind you, without any rain forecast I suspect it might be a while before we have much to see down there.
But, as I say, you just never know...
To get an idea of how much the water levels have dropped, just compare the pic here with the one in the post below - taken from roughly the same spot last week.

On my way home I made a short detour to Clover Point. A couple of red-necked phalarope were bobbing around offshore as were the usual murres and auklets, plus a marbled murrelet.       

Friday, 12 August 2011

Pectoral Pair Pip Peeps

The south eastern corner of the southern pool
With a couple of hours to kill mid-morning, I was drawn to good old Panama Flats once more.
With the numbers of off-passage birds moving through here changing on a daily basis, it's hard not to be consumed by the possibilities of what may show up during the fall.
Of course, that's water-level dependent and the way things are going, we're not going to have much to entice a passing rarity before long...
Meanwhile, there were still some decent birds around today.
The number of peeps has diminished considerably - I counted 48 western sandpipers and just 17 least sandpipers. The tringas still seem relatively happy, with 9 greater yellowlegs and 8 lesser yellowlegs actively feeding around the place. 

A couple of killdeer were kicking around and a pair of pectoral sandpiper (one pictured) were in the far south east corner of the southern pool.
A couple of juvenile spotted sandpipers were still hanging around in the creeks on the Carey Road side, but there was no sign of any solitaries.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Coasting Along

Eschewing the muddy-loving waders of Panama Flats, today I decided on a coastal recce, starting off at Ten Mile Point. I had chosen to head out over the high tide, in the hope that any shorebirds would be concentrated on exposed rocks close offshore. That wasn't exactly how it panned out, but the theory seemed solid enough!
As I say, I kicked off at Ten Mile Point, which was pretty quiet. If anything, the water levels were probably too high and little suitable feeding or roosting areas were visible. The highlight here was, however, my first Bonaparte's gull of the fall. It was a 1st summer bird and was sat on some kelp alongside a single Heermann's gull. The regular alcids were all present in low numbers.
I then moved on to Cattle Point, where the only thing of note was a mew gull. Again, a few of the usual alcids were seen.

After a while here, I went to Oak Bay Marina / Turkey Head where things picked up a bit. On a rocky islet just beyond the harbour mouth a concentration of shorebirds were roosting. Scanning through, I counted 52 black-bellied plover (including several birds still sporting resplendent summer finery), 4 black oystercatcher, 1 black turnstone and 4 dowitchers. I managed a terrible shot of the assembled waders, as you can see!
Another couple of oystercatchers were by the marina and around 30 least sandpiper were flitting around the area.
I eventually wound up at Clover Point where gull numbers seemed surprisingly low - though on further inspection there were many 100s far offshore. There were just 15 Heermann's on the rocks with several glaucous-winged and Californias. In the surf there were many rhinoceros auklets and common murres, plus a single marbled murrelet.
5 dainty red-necked phalarope were busily feeding on the water's surface, and 9 surf scoters were loafing in Ross Bay.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Brit Birder in Wader Heaven

I dropped Jenny of at work for 9am this morning and decided to head out once more to Panama Flats in search of transient waders.
There were pretty much the same sorts of numbers of birds present as yesterday (minus one, thanks to a successful sorte by an adult peregrine...).
I roughly estimated around 140 western and 70 least sandpipers, plus 9 greater & 7 lesser yellowlegs.  A single pectoral sandpiper was also present, as was a dowitcher.
While I was scanning through the birds, and checking the outer areas for such things as Baird's sandpipers, I was joined by Brent Beach - another local birder I only knew through having seen his postings on the local birding forum.

While we were chatting and searching, he picked up a semipalmated sandpiper that I'd completely missed. Better still, it came very close and gave us great looks and allowed for the two pics here to be taken.
Ignoring the westerns feeding out in the deeper water, it was keeping company with least sandpipers in the wet muddy areas. It was clearly a juvenile bird, but I was thrown initially by its 'buffness', but apparently (as I read later) early juvs may show a buff breast.

Other birds seen included 4 killdeer and in the vegetated creek to the east of the pools, a solitary sandpiper and 3 spotted sandpipers.
The birding here is really great at the moment and the birds are extremely tolerant of human presence and general disturbance. As long as one exercises sensible fieldcraft, the views of some of these shorebirds can be amazing.

The shot of 2 lesser yellowlegs here was taken with a standard compact camera with a 3x zoom!   

I popped into Swan Lake briefly on my way home, but it was nearing midday and the place was pretty quiet, bird-wise. The only things of note that I saw included 6 least and 2 western sandpipers, and a Wilson's warbler.   

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Flats Life

The day started out cloudy and cool, and I headed off to Panama Flats this morning to see whether the overcast conditions had dropped any new birds.

As I walked down to central bund toward the pools from the Carey Road end, I noticed an adult river otter and her 3 cubs running along the muddy shore of the northern pond.
The Canada geese got a bit flighty, but the majority of shorebirds seemed relatively unconcerned.
The otters had a splash around in what little water they could find and the animals eventually ran toward me, passing within a few feet (pictured).
Having a quick scan over the pools it was good to see that there were plenty of birds around.
I counted approximately 140 western sandpipers and 71 least sandpipers feeding in the muddy waters, but couldn't locate any semi-p sands among them.

There was a lone pectoral sandpiper, and a solitary sandpiper (pictured) present as well as 4 killdeer and a long-billed dowitcher
There were also 9 lesser and 12 greater yellowlegs in the area. 
Mallard numbers have increased too, with around 80 birds present. Among these somewhat suspect ducks were a couple of creamy-coloured 'farmyard' mongrels.

Monday, 8 August 2011

It's All Clover

Squeezed in a couple of hours down at Clover Point late morning / early afternoon today.
Couldn't dig anything out from the 1000 or so California gulls roosting around the point, other than a few glaucous-winged and 15 Heermann's gulls. 100s more gulls, mainly Cali's were feeding offshore.
There were also hundreds of rhinoceros auklets out on the water, and streaming by in flocks. Common murres were also plentiful, but nowhere as near as numerous as the rhinos. Just 2 marbled murrelets were seen.
A single western sandpiper dropped by briefly, before flying off in a south easterly direction, and a pair of black oystercatcher (pictured) were roosting among the gulls. Thanks to the gulls having congregated on the rocks below the point, the car was spared the usual splattering...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Return To Panama Flats

3 greater & 1 lesser yellowlegs
Once again, my mind was filled with passage waders this morning so I grabbed my 'scope, and customary optimism, and headed across to Panama Flats for a spot of quality Victoria wetland birding.
And by the look of things, I'd better enjoy it while it lasts.
The glorious weather we've been enjoying lately has taken its toll, and the water is fast receding...
Anyhoo, the muddy pools still held a few birds and over the course of a couple of hours the following were noted:

Killdeer 6
Greater yellowlegs 6
Lesser yellowlegs 11
Solitary sandpiper 1
Spotted sandpiper 4
Pectoral sandpiper 1
Western sandpiper 19
Semi-palmated sandpiper 1
Least sandpiper 47
Short-billed dowitcher 2

Pectoral sandpiper
Both the least and western sandpipers counts are likely underestimates, given their mobility and constant moving around the site.
Other birds present included the ubiquitous barn swallows, plus a couple of cliff and at least 1 northern rough-winged swallow. Oh, and several 'the heron'. And, of course those big stinky noisy geese and a few duckies.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Aziza Cooper for the first time, a Victoria birder with whom I am familiar via her frequent postings on the local birding forum. Slowly, I'm starting put names to faces, and getting to figure out who some of the more active local birdwatchers are.

When I got home, there was a small, silent empid catching flies in the apple tree. It was rather greenish, with a largish pale bill and whopping great eye ring and a bit of a crested appearance. If I were a gambling man, my money would probably be on Pacific-slope flycatcher. But, I'm not a gambling man, and its identity shall remain a mystery...

Wandering tattler - not wandering
Later, after walking downtown with Jenny, who was heading for an evening shift at Eddie Bauer's, I strolled back home via Dallas Road and the splendid Victoria waterfront.
First stop was Ogden Point where my old friend the wandering tattler was defying its moniker and remaining spectacularly loyal to its regular roost. As I was armed with Jen's new camera, I couldn't resist another shot...
The remainder of the walk was rather birdless, and even Clover Point failed to excite. Possibly, the kite surfers, paragliders, dog walkers, kite flyers and other assorted show-offs had collectively scared everything two miles offshore.       

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Ringing the Changes

Had a wander down to Clover Point this morning, but as I was 'scopeless I was pretty limited to what was close inshore. There were lots of rhinoceros auklets out there, but I couldn't see much else. Among the 200 or so gulls, mainly California's, were 36 Heermann's gulls. The only wader was a lowly black oystercatcher.
A mink put in an appearance, rolling around and scenting a washed up log.

Late afternoon / early evening I returned with my 'scope and I was at least able to scan further offshore.
There were hundreds of rhinoceros auklets, some in large floating rafts. I also counted at least 50 common murres, though only 2 pigeon guillemots were seen.
4 red-necked phalarope were flitting around and feeding alongside some floating weed racks.
A lovely adult ring-billed gull (pictured) dropped in briefly, joining the assembled gulls on the grassy area.  

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Not so solitary sandpiper...

It was a little cloudy overnight, and I woke up with thoughts of grounded migrant shorebirds. Not how everyone greets the day, admittedly, but as we birder's know, the urge to follow our instincts can be just as strong as our quarry's desire to move south at the breeding season draws to a close.

So, I headed to my new favourite Victoria birding spot; Panama Flats.
The northern pool looked pretty lively as I approached, and through my bins I could see plenty of avian activity. There were lesser yellowlegs all over the place, and I counted at least 13. By comparison, 11 greater yellowlegs were also present.
As I scanned through the least sandpipers and western sandpipers, a larger bird caught my eye.

An adult solitary sandpiper. Nice. The bird gave excellent views as it fed close to me, among other species. A few minutes later I picked up another, this time a juvenile, and after about half an hour the two birds were feeding together.
I counted 46 leasts and 17 western sandpipers in total, but due to the fact that they were constantly moving around the area, these counts were probably conservative under estimates.
Also present were a single semi-palmated sandpiper, 5 killdeer, 5 spotted sandpiper and 13 short-billed dowitchers. The dowitchers called clearly identifying themselves as short-billed - I suspect that when I saw 13 'long-billed'  a couple of days ago, my interpretation of their brief calls was faulty, to say the least!
Good numbers of barn swallow were around too, and among them I noticed at least 2 cliff swallows and a northern rough-winged swallow. A single purple martin also flew through, but carried on in a southerly direction.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Farewell to Friends, Hello to Solitary Sandpiper!

On Saturday Jenny and I headed up island once more. Our good friends Rich & Lori Mooney, along with son Nolan, had finally booked their flights and were heading off to a new life in Surrey, England within a matter of days. We had to say our farewells!
Somehow or another (!) Rich and I managed to arrange one last bit of birding and spent some time scouring Holden Creek, while Jen and Lori walked to Jack Point.  

Jenny, me, Lori & Rich
To be honest, it was pretty dire. A killdeer and 4 least sandpiper were the sum total of our shorebird finding efforts.
Other stuff included a purple martin, peregrine, red-tailed hawk, osprey, American goldfinch and a pair of Eurasian collared dove (cor!).
To be honest, it wasn't strictly about the birding, but the opportunity to spend a bit of time together before they left for old Blighty... Bon voyage Rich, Lori & Nolan - and good luck in the UK!

Today (BC Day as it happens), I got out for a couple of hours to Panama Flats, late morning.
Quite a contrast to my last visit a few days ago.
The pools were notably busier with waders, and there were 7 lesser yellowlegs, 11 greater yellowlegs, 5 western sandpiper and 29 least sandpiper present, along with 13 long-billed dowitcher.
A couple of killdeer were in the grassy area on the eastern edge and at least 4 spotted sandpiper were seen. 

Best of all, however was the solitary sandpiper that had so far eluded me.
This is the first I've seen in Canada and as such, makes it on to my BC list!
At one point the obliging bird even had a good stretch, showing off that distinctive rump that clearly separates it from green sandpiper, a species I am very familiar with. Lovely!
So lovely, in fact, that I've included two photos here for your delight...

Once again the many swallows were on good form and went into a twittering panic when a peregrine came by. It was interesting to watch the least sandpipers, in particular, respond to the hirundines' alarm calls.
They would assume a crouching position, flattening themselves low in the mud or water while watching out for the overhead predator.

Later in the day, Jenny and I had a walk down to Ross Bay, Victoria. A drake white-winged scoter was swimming around close inshore, while we also spotted the usual rhinoceros auklets, pigeon guillemots and what-not.