Saturday, 15 October 2011

Orcas, auklets and hawks... oh my!

As is often the case, I had things to do before I was able to get out birding today and it was just past noon by the time I grabbed my bins and headed out.

I started out at Cattle Point, once again with Lapland longspurs on my mind. The day was clear and bright, but rather chilly and as a result there were fewer people trampling about the place as one would expect. I flushed a few savannah sparrows, then a western meadowlark flew across in front of me. It ditched down briefly, before being chased off by a northwestern crow.
There was nothing out of the ordinary offshore - all 3 cormorant species, rhino auklets, harlequin ducks, surf scoters, Bonaparte's and Heermann's gulls, etc.
A group of 5 black turnstone and a single surfbird flew in, alighting on the rocks by the slipway.
A couple of yellow-rumped warblers were with some chestnut-backed chickadees in the area of small oaks by the big bluff, and a single hermit thrush put in an appearance. A sharp-shinned hawk came through, causing a bit of excitement among the chickadees.

I headed off along to Oak Bay Marina, to see if any shorebirds were around. On the yellow rocky islet offshore there were around 70 black-bellied plover and a dozen or so black turnstone. Roosting in their usual spot were 7 greater yellowlegs and 5 killdeer. A few hooded merganser and American wigeon were in the area, as were a couple of horned grebe. My first bufflehead of the autumn flew by.

Next, I stopped of at McMicking Point. Scanning the rocks, I couldn't find any waders but I did come across a wee gaggle of 4 greater whitefronted geese and 3 cackling geese in with the Canadas on the edge of the golf course.
There were loads of cormorants here, again all 3 species, plus the usual alcids, harlequins, scoters, gulls etc.
A group of 8 turkey vultures approached the coast, circled around a bit and then headed back inland.

The Chinese Cemetery beckoned, and here I found encouraging numbers of savannah sparrows, and a nice mix of other species including Lincoln's, golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows.
Unable to find anything tasty among them, I had to make do with a pair of American pipits that were feeding on the shoreline.
I walked over to Trafalgar Point, passing the resident California quails on my way.
Suddenly the loud blow of a cetacean caught my attention and I looked down to see a pod of orcas passing by, close offshore.

The whales remained close to shore and visible for a good ten minutes, before they continued east along the coast. Unfortunately I only had my compact point and shoot with me, so the pics here are a bit naff. A wonderful thing to see, though!
Once again a group of 6 turkey vultures with a red-tailed hawk in tow, came over, thought about crossing the straits, then decided against it.

Later, I had a walk down to Clover Point. In Ross Bay, there were 7 red-necked grebe, 8 horned grebe and 7 common loon (1 pictured above), as well as the usual harlequin ducks and surf scoters.  
Mew gulls have really increased lately and are now the dominant species. Many of the California gulls have moved on, but Heermann's gulls are still present in fair numbers.
5 surfbirds and 11 black turnstone were on the rocks below the point, and again a handful of savannah sparrows were kicking around.

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