Saturday, 17 September 2011

Having a Lark at Island View Beach

Jenny had a rare day off yesterday, so we headed to one of her favourite spots for the afternoon - Island View Beach, on the Saanich peninsula. Of course, I wasn't too unhappy about this as it would cause us to pass right through the area where sandhill cranes have been seen for the last couple of days!
As we headed alongside the farm fields in this widely agricultural area, we kept an eye out for the large birds, but failed to spot them. At McIntyre Road, we did see a northern harrier cruising the fields, flushing large numbers of savannah sparrows and American pipits as it went.

We drove down to the far car park, and headed out along the beach and on to Saanichton Spit. There wasn't too much going on offshore, although we did see a few horned grebes in various states of moult (one pictured), a pair of fly-by white-winged scoter and a handful of Heermann's gulls.
Just as we came to the outfalls area, a merlin flew in and flushed a small group of peeps from the shore. Unfortunately they all flew off across the water and away. They seemed to be mainly least sandpiper, although a couple of larger birds seemed highly suggestive of Baird's. We came across another 4 leasts later, but nothing else shorebirds-wise.

In the grassy spit area we did find a group of 6 horned lark (pictured), and an American pipit. The birds were incredibly difficult to locate when feeding on the ground, and only gave their presence away by calling in flight, and then dropping down quite close to us. These are the first horned larks that I've had the pleasure of seeing in BC (I saw lots in Alberta a few years ago) and these looked way different to the birds that I've seen in Europe.
I assume that these are arcticola birds, given their hefty build and overall paleness. Birders back home will see from this pic just how unlike 'our' shore larks these are!
We returned to the car and drove along a short way, stopping down at the parking area at the end of Island View Road to eat our egg sarnies. I went and had a route around in the fields here and came across good numbers of American goldfinches feeding in the brambles. A northern harrier came through, exciting the 100 or so swallows present, and flushing a flock of around 70 American pipit from the field. Other than a few savannah sparrows, I couldn't see or hear anything else among them.
As I stood watching the pipits flying around my eye was caught by some distant large birds over, and beyond, the trees.

Lifting my bins, I could see that they were clearly 5 sandhill cranes!
They kept appearing and disappearing from view behind the trees and were seemingly flying around over the Martindale area fields in search of somewhere to pitch down.
As I was looking at these great birds, a merlin whizzed by, once again causing much panic among the hirundines and pipits.

We drove around to the fields and eventually located the cranes, some distance away. Hence the crummy pics here.
We got good 'scope views though and enjoyed seeing the birds as they restlessly moved around the area, taking off and landing frequently.
Although I've seen sandhill cranes in the US, again these were a BC first - unless you count those highly dubious ones at Reiffel... which I'm not inclined to.

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