Saturday, 3 December 2011

Brit Birder Makes Brief Return to Blighty

I've just returned from an unscheduled and brief visit back to North Lancashire. The unfortunate reason for my short journey to the UK was to attend the funeral of my great friend and brother-in-law Mark. I shan't dwell on the circumstances too much here, but I will mention that he had a wonderful woodland burial just over the border in Cumbria. Surrounded by native woodland with roe deer, great-spotted woodpeckers and all manner of wild creatures it is certainly a tranquil and beautiful spot where my sister and all other family and friends will be able to visit and enjoy their memories of one of life's true originals. So long, mate.

Of course, during my whirlwind visit I didn't do any birding but nonetheless one can't help but notice the commoner species, which now seem far less familiar to me.
Fieldfare, song thrush, dunnock, common buzzard, Eurasian kestrel, sparrowhawk, lapwing, Eurasian golden plover and curlew, red knot, great black-backed and black-headed gull, pied and grey wagtails, etc - were all seen casually in passing. It's easy to forget just how apparent and omnipresent birds are back in Britain...

Once I was back on Canadian soil, and compos mentis, I took a short stroll around the Government House grounds just to get some fresh air and refamiliarise myself with the native aves.
Anna's hummingbird, golden-crowned sparrow, northern flicker, downy woodpecker, spotted towhee and both ruby-crowned and golden crowned kinglets were much in evidence. Any birder in BC enviously reading the list of common British birds noted above, just remember that this selection of easy Vancouver Island birds has exactly the same effect on keen birdwatchers from across the pond. It's all a matter of context.
Among the large numbers of 'Oregon' dark-eyed juncos in the grounds was a single 'slate-coloured' bird, the first I've seen here for a while.

Saturday morning I headed out to check my favourite local spots along the Victoria coast. I started out at Clover Point, with optimistic thoughts of rock sandpiper in my head.
Shorebirds-wise it wasn't too exciting; 17 dunlin, 4 surfbird, 3 black-bellied plover, 13 black turnstone and 2 black oystercatcher. In the water there were lots of bufflehead, harlequin ducks and surf scoters as usual. Hooded mergansers (pictured), red-breasted mergansers, red-necked grebes, horned grebes, common goldeneye, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, common murre and common loons were also present in varying numbers.
Offshore there were 1000s of gulls, but the low light rendered them as little more than silhouettes; clearly the majority were mew gulls.
A fairly convincing western gull (complete with yellow orbital ring) was among the many mongrel glaucous-wingeds on the point.
Next, I headed round to Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery.
Here there were no shorebirds at all, but at least I added 7 stunning long-tailed ducks and a red-throated loon to the day list. Some murrelets were bombing around way offshore, but again they were just silhouettes making confident ID somewhat tricky.
A quick stop at Oak Bay Marina revealed a few more dunlin, black-bellied plovers, black turnstone, the usual seaducks, including 2 more long-tailed duck, and alcids plus a bald eagle and 9 killdeer.
I wound up at Cattle Point where the high tide and dog walkers had the combined effect of clearing the place out of birds. Just a few black turnstone, oystercatchers, American wigeon and what-have-you provided me with stuff to sift through.

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