Sunday, 25 November 2012

Palm Friday

Northern harrier
Amongst the confusion and chaos that inevitably occurs in the process of moving home, I have been thankful to find a few moments of escape in the past few days. On Friday I chose to abandon my recent obsession with all things oceanic and headed for the wonderful Panama Flats. My main target was to find a Eurasian teal in with the multitude of green-winged teal (despite the fact that I'll be doing it the other way round in week's time!). Of course, the optimist in me was really searching through the females in search of a Baikal teal. Well if a citrine wagtail can show up on Vancouver Island, so can pretty much anything...
As I got out of the car I glanced over toward the wee sparrow-fest taking place by the path at Hyacinth Park. One each of tan- and white-striped white-throated sparrow were feeding alongside golden-crowned, white-crowned, song and house sparrows plus several fox sparrows, including the 'resident' partial albino bird. This really is a striking individual, with at least 70% of its feathers being pure white. I didn't see hide nor hair of the Harris's sparrow unfortunately.
With water levels now at an impressive height, the flats are teeming with birds. On the downside the volume of water is such that access is fairly restricted even with wellies. As a result, a full circular walk of the perimeter is impossible and I could only make it to the southeastern quadrant if I was prepared to fully retrace my steps back to Hyacinth. The good news is that I had time and I was able to give the whole site a fairly decent bit of coverage over the 3 hours or so that I was there.
I scoured the dabblers but failed to locate any Euro-teal although I did spy 4 Eurasian wigeon in among the mass of American wigeon. Pintail numbers continue to impress, and alongside the many mallard there were also a few northern shoveler and gadwall. Bufflehead and American coot were present in small numbers and a lone drake ruddy duck was on the southwest quadrant pool.
As I trudged along the muddy bank path I flushed half a dozen Wilson's snipe from a boggy patch. By the end of my visit this number had doubled, although I expect that the true figures far eclipsed those seen. 

Red-tailed hawk
Raptors were few with just one northern harrier (pictured above), bald eagle and 2 red-tailed hawk seen. One of the red-tails appeared to have an over-long deformed bill (pictured).
Along the eastern edge of the flats I came across large numbers of foraging sparrows including good numbers of Lincoln's sparrows. Among a group of these near the grey building I was delighted to see a cracking adult swamp sparrow who charmed me with stunning out-in-the-open views.
A group of bushtits actively feeding by the path close to the Gladioli entrance (well, it would be an entrance if it wasn't under 2 feet of water) looked promising and I scanned through the darting birds in the hope of spotting something more transient. After a couple of minutes of being diverted by ruby-crowned kinglets I finally noticed a warbler. Hmmm, an eastern 'Taiga' orange-crowned warbler by the looks of it. Then it was gone. The flock moved away and I was stood staring into a birdless vista.

Western meadowlark
Determined to make sure that the grey-headed warbler was in fact 'just' an orange-crowned I chased down the roving bushtits and after a few anxious moments I was able to confirm its identity. Then another warbler popped up. This was no orange-crowned; it was clearly a palm warbler. Nice! It gave decent views for about 10 seconds before dashing off and vanishing into the undergrowth.
Only the second palm warbler that I've seen on the island, my first being one that I found at the Nanaimo River Estuary soon after my arrival on the island in 2009. In fact, checking the dates the two birds were only 3 days apart!
The flock once again moved off and faced with the discovery that I was flooded in I turned about face and walked the whole way round again. En route back to Hyacinth I did get to see swamp sparrow again and a dazzling western meadowlark (pictured) made a welcome appearance. 

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Knot The Bird I Was Looking For...

While just about every other birder in BC and beyond has been justifiably getting excited about the citrine wagtail discovered on Vancouver Island this week, my own birding forays have been somewhat more subdued.
For those not following the wagtail tales, this bird not only represents the first of the species to be found in British Columbia, but for Canada. And more remarkably, it's only the second record for the whole of North America. Given that the other record is 20 years old and comes from the geographically and culturally distant state of Mississippi it's little surprise that no-one saw this one coming!
To read more about this mega and to see some decent photos, check Jeremy Gatten's blog post here.
Being in the comfortable position of having seen citrine wagtail in the past, I chose to forego the 6+ hours round-trip up to Comox and have instead been dedicating my birding windows on trying to find interesting seabirds and shorebirds closer to home.
My main nemesis in this regard is the annual but unpredictable rock sandpiper, a species I have been searching for for some time. Of course, there are guaranteed stake-outs that involve drives and ferries but I'd really like to find one in the Victoria area. Being familiar with its Atlantic counterpart the purple sandpiper, there's something about rock sands that really appeal to me. Given the rapidly shrinking amount of time left to me here on the island, I suspect that I may have to save this particular tick for another day!

Male snowy owl
Even in the absence of that darned sandpiper, highlights have been had in recent days.
While checking the waterbirds from McMicking Point on Saturday I was rewarded with the sight of a pair of snowy owls sat on the small island just to the east of Trail Island. One was an adult male while the other appeared to be a 1stw female (both pictured, badly, here).
As I later scanned through the many seabirds off Harling Point, including long-tailed ducks, ancient murrelets and such, I relocated the Clark's grebe with a single western grebe and 4 brant flew by.

1stw female snowy owl
The following day (Sunday) Jenny came along and we once again saw the snowy owls, but they were more distant, sat on Trial Island itself. Later we saw a third snowy owl sat forlornly in the galeforce winds on a small islet off Oak Bay Marina.

Despite there being much to do at home, I still managed to find a couple of hours this week (now that I've finished work) to check out the local rocky headlands and the Government House grounds.
Brown pelican
In fact as Jenny and I walked home from town on Monday, we took the long route along Dallas Road and got crippling views of a brown pelican near Ogden Point. Unfortunately I only had my little point and shoot camera with me so the pic's even worse than my usual crappy standard but you can still tell what it is! There was also a Heermann's gull nearby. 3 sanderling were with black turnstones on the beach near Holland Point
This was my first brown pelican in BC waters; this bird is just one of several that have appeared in the local area recently presumably associated with an El Nino (also, as Jeremy Gatten pointed out, the likely cause of the Cattle Point elegant tern). 

Red knot
This morning I once again spotted the snowy owl duo on Trial Island but found little else of note from McMicking or Harling Points. After a thorough soaking I thought I'd try my luck at Clover Point before heading home for hot chocolate and some dry clothes.
I was rather glad that I did!
Having checked around the point for anything interesting (and finding just a lone sanderling) I had one last look down by the slipway and noticed a flock of black-bellied plover feeding on the grass. Just as I raised my rain sodden binos a soggy jogger flushed them and as they flew out over the water and back again I noticed a slightly smaller, drabber bird among them.
Red knot and black-bellied plover
They once again settled on the grassy area and I found the bird again, recognising it immediately as a red knot. Pretty scarce in these parts with one or two records a year or so, this was reasonable compensation for my drenching. Only problem is, as someone who spent most of his life birding around Morecambe Bay in Lancashire I'm used to seeing knots in multiples of tens of thousands! Now where the hell's my rock sandpiper..?


Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Panam Flghts

Dawn at Panama Flats
With a reasonable forecast for Wednesday morning, I got up dark and early and headed out to Panama Flats and had a decent root around from about  7.20am-9.45am.
The sun was just rising but there was enough light to scan through the mass of wildfowl on the southwest and northwest quadrants. 
As on my last visit to this wonderful site there were hundreds of pintail, American wigeon, green-winged teal and mallard. In amongst the quacking congregation there were also smaller numbers of northern shoveler, gadwall and a few hooded merganser and bufflehead too. I was hoping to locate a Eurasian teal in the mix, but only found a couple of drake Eurasian wigeons
There were good numbers of tiny cackling geese, in with many Canadas of varying sizes. During the first hour of daylight flights of ducks and geese continued to arrive and depart, truly adding to the wonderful feeling that many of these birds are just arriving from northern climes.

Walking along the path on the western side of the pools I flushed a short-eared owl which duly drifted off and dropped into an area of thick brambles. 
I walked the perimeter of the flats and stopped briefly to admire an adult peregrine (pictured) before coming across a flock of dark-eyed juncos and mixed sparrows feeding on the muddy path in the northeast corner. 
Among them were a number of Lincoln's sparrows and I got a brief but convincing look at what was almost certainly a swamp sparrow. Disappointed that I couldn't get the thing to emerge for a better look, I plodded on conscious of the time and my need to get to work.

Just after passing the grey building adjacent to Carey Road, another flock of sparrows exploded from the weedy pathside grass. A dark sparrow caught my eye as it flitted away and I got my bins on it as it clung to some tall grass stems. Now, that definitely was a swamp sparrow! It dropped down and strangely seemed to emerge again immediately several feet to the right. Odd. 
As I enjoyed more good looks at the bird it was joined by another from the left - there were two together! They flitted off in unison toward the central berm, stopping frequently in tussocks of vegetation. Nice! 

Northern harrier
Throughout the early morning a pair of northern harriers were hunting over the area (juvenile pictured) and a Cooper's hawk was patrolling the ringside trees, keeping the red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds on alert.

As I left I met Ian Cruikshank who was doing a survey of the site and before long Rick Schortinghuis arrived so who knows what else may be found at the flats this morning!

On my way to the car I noticed one of the wintering white-throated sparrows at Hyacincth. 

Monday, 12 November 2012

Another Lifer In The Bag

Clark's grebe
After a pretty busy weekend where I managed to do absolutely zero birding (oh, the shame...) I did find a window of opportunity today (Remembrance Monday is a stat holiday here in Canada) and took full advantage of it.
Mid-morning I set off to McMicking Point. A couple of days ago a photo was posted on the local birding forum of a couple of western grebes from nearby Harling Point. My attention was only drawn to these pics by fellow expat Brit birder David Caudwell who noticed that one of the birds was in fact a Clark's grebe and posted a comment on the forum.
Still somewhat irritated by that 'one that got away' a short while ago, (see previous post here) I thought I'd spend some time scanning the water in search of the rare beast. After all, this would be a world tick for me.
I arrived at McMicking Point around 11am and started methodically checking the mass of birds on the water. I soon found a pair of 'westerns' some distance away. Even at distance things didn't look promising. The birds got closer over the next half hour and I was able to confirm their identity as the commoner species. I couldn't see any other western-type grebes at all, just a handful of red-necked grebes.
Among the many birds on the ocean were huge rafts of surf scoter, along with smaller numbers of white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks. Common and red-breasted mergansers were plentiful and among the commoner alcids, including good numbers of marbled murrelet, were at least 20 ancient murrelets
Pacific loons were fishing in several small groups and a single red-throated loon was also present, as were a couple of common loons.
While I was here, I thought I might as well check Trial Island just in case the snowy owl spotted there recently was to be seen. It wasn't.
A peregrine was hunting over the island flushing otherwise unseen flocks of black-bellied plover and dunlin. A northern shrike was also hunting on the island, perching up on prominent signs and posts near the shore while a pair of bald eagles sat around doing very little.

Clark's grebe with 2 western grebes
Having scanned and re-scanned the water, I decided to give Harling Point a try. There were far fewer birds here, but I was at least able to check the water between here and Clover Point. More loons, buffleheads, harlequin ducks and a horned grebe were to the west of Harling Point. Looking back toward McMicking I could see much the same birds I had 'scoped from there. There was the pair of western grebes, still between Trial Island and McMicking Point, but what was that bird way in the distance? Another 'western' type certainly, but even at a range of 1.5km it really did appear very pale flanked. Hmm. Back to the Jonmobile and a return to McMicking for a closer look methinks...
Of course, when I got back to the site I couldn't find the single bird for love nor money. Nor could I even locate the pair of definite westerns. Brilliant.
I continued to scan the sea for any signs of my quarry. Then, all of a sudden (just before 1pm) 3 grebes sailed into view right below me. And as I raised my bins, I realised that my quest was over. There, in front of me were 2 western grebes and a cracking winter plumage Clark's grebe. The white in front of the eye, the pale flanks, orange bill and narrower black stripe on the back of the neck were all clearly visible. I managed to snap a couple of half-decent record shots through my 'scope before the trio drifted a little further out. They remained together, snoozing on the water just off Trial Island.
That was a very well spent two hours!

Clark's grebe's are pretty rare in the Victoria area, and until the 80's the species was actually considered to be a pale variant of western grebe. 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Showy Snowy Courts Favour

Snowy owl, downtown Victoria BC
I spent an hour or so at Panama Flats this morning. Species-wise it was much the same as on my last visit with good numbers of common ducks on site (pintail, shoveler, wigeon, teal, gadwall, etc).
Two northern harriers, a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine were patrolling the area and I came across my first western meadowlark of the fall (always a treat).
I noticed a couple of white-throated sparrows along the trail at Hyacinth. We're all getting rather blasé about these ordinarily scarce-ish sparrows this year!

My lunchtime stroll by Langford Lake was unremarkable. Most of the diving ducks had vacated leaving 40+ American coot, up to 20 ruddy ducks and several pied-billed grebes. Curiously, all the ruddies appear to be juveniles or females with no sign of any adult males. There were lots of pine siskins around and a pileated woodpecker made an appearance. 

During the day I heard about a snowy owl that fellow expat Pete Boon had discovered near his home in Nanaimo. I've only ever seen one snowy owl - a bird that I twitched back in 1991 in Lincolnshire. Me and my mate Ziggy drove down in his scabby old Volkswagen Polo to that bleakest of English east coast counties. After a decidedly uncomfortable night trying to sleep in his car on a freezing January night, we spent hours the next morning searching for the owl. We eventually caught up with it, and got fairly decent views of the impressive Arctic predator as it hunted in the semi-distance over a ploughed field.

Urban owl
Unfortunately I missed the few that turned up on Vancouver Island last winter, and I frankly couldn't be bothered heading over to the mainland to Boundary Bay where multiple 'snowies' were hanging out. 
So, when I heard that a snowy owl had been spotted  - get this - on the roof of the Law Courts in downtown Victoria (?!) today, my mind was on a quick getaway from work. As it happened I was due to collect some brochures from the printer and headed there before they closed. That gave me just enough time to drive by the court house and have a quick scan while there was still some light.

Not exactly snowy owl habitat...
Amazingly, the owl was still sat on a section of roof over the court entrance and I quickly pulled into a space, leaped from the car and stood looking up at the remarkable bird. 
After I'd had a good eyeful, and taken a couple of snaps, I headed into the court building and took the elevator up to the fifth floor from where I was able to get exceptional views of the owl from the windows overlooking the portion of roof it had chosen as its daytime roost.
Both court staff and visitors off the street were gathering to admire the 1st winter female owl as she sat casually admiring the scenery from her lofty perch.
Not exactly the way I expected to see my second ever snowy owl, but hey - I'm not complaining!         

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Wetland Wonderland

Panama Flats (complete with cackling geese...)
Thanks to the clocks having gone back, I was able to get an hour's birding in before work on Tuesday morning - hoorah!  
I decided to concentrate my efforts on Panama Flats now that the water levels are sufficiently high to be attracting a mix of wildfowl.
As I stepped from the car in the parking area by Hyacinth Park I noticed a few sparrows along the footpath. They were mostly fox sparrows, but a handsome white-throated sparrow was showing well too.
At the flats, the southwest quadrant was positively teeming with ducks. Hundreds of pintail, American wigeon, mallard and green-winged teal were busily dabbling in the water. Scanning through, I couldn't find any Eurasian teals but I did see one drake Eurasian wigeon.
Northern shoveler and hooded merganser were also present in lower numbers, along with a few American coot.
Sat high in the usual conifer, a peregrine was keeping an eye on activity below.

Snoozing drake Eurasian wigeon (left)
Yet more birds were on the northwest quadrant, including the 'resident' flock of cackling geese and the greater white-fronted goose that has been associating with them for a few weeks. Two more drake Eurasian wigeon (one pictured) were found among the throng of commoner ducks and there were several gadwall present.
I flushed a Wilson's snipe from a wet grassy patch before walking along the central berm. A juvenile northern harrier drifted by and started quartering the marshy areas and as I watched it I heard the distinctive sound of a calling greater yellowlegs. The bird flew in from the north, settling and feeding for a few minutes before taking off once more, continuing south. 
Passerines were pretty thin on the ground, with just a scattering of savannah sparrows and red-winged blackbirds seen3 American pipits flew low over, but I didn't see whether they dropped down or carried on through.   

Monday, 5 November 2012

Tern'd Out Nice Again

The dark autumn mornings and evenings always plays havoc with my birding. The lack of available light before and after work means that, like all other keen birders, I'm restricted to weekends and the occasional weekday lunch break. Of course, most of us have other things going on in our lives too, which means that even the weekends are rarely open to non-stop avian exploration.
But the really frustrating thing is when a 'good' bird is found midweek. The last few days of the working week can drag by, as we keep our eye on the news - will 'it' stick around until Saturday? And even if it does, will domestic necessities get in the way? Such is the plight of the active lister!

Elegant tern
Thankfully, one of last week's local scarcities did stick around and I even managed to get out to see it. 
Following Ian Cruikshank's discovery of a tropical kingbird at Cattle Point late on Thursday afternoon, several local birders headed out in an attempt to relocate it on Friday morning. Unfortunately it failed to materialise, but Steven Roias did spot what he initially assumed to be a common tern fishing offshore. Common terns, despite their name, are not at all common in this part of the country these days and ordinarily this would be a noteworthy find. However, what Steven later came to realise was that he hadn't been watching a un-common tern but in fact a major rarity - an elegant tern
He immediately put the news out and before long the bird was relocated in the same general area. Now, having only seen this species once before (off Monterrey, California some 12 years ago) I was quite keen to catch up with this smart and distinctive seabird.
Elegant tern - look at that bill!
By noon on Saturday I finally got my window of opportunity and drove out to Cattle Point in the hope of seeing the tern. I arrived and noticed a complete absence of birders. I hoped that wasn't a bad sign… I took up position on the high bluff overlooking both the point and Bowker / Willow Beach, so I might have a wider sweep of the whole area. It turned out (no pun intended) to be a pretty good move as the tern soon appeared and landed on a buoy close offshore. After gorging my senses on this beautiful vagrant for a few minutes I got a few hasty snaps through my 'scope.
The tern would go off fishing for short spells, often returning to rest on one of the floats. After some time it headed off and went some distance offshore before swinging back around and fishing between the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Victoria Golf Club.
I then spotted Rob Walker who was on the point, and presumably looking for the tern. I walked down to let him know where the bird was, and he mentioned that he had just seen a Lapland longspur. Before long the longspur was showing nicely and a few more birders were turning up. The elegant tern appeared and flew by us, heading in the direction of Cordova Bay. This bird likes to get around!
Other birds in the area included good numbers of marbled murrelets and other common alcids, plus a trio of ancient murrelets. Both red-necked and horned grebes were on the water as were plenty of American wigeon, plus hooded mergansers and bufflehead. Shorebirds were thin on the ground with just black turnstone and a couple of surfbirds.
Walking back to the car I came across a single mourning dove.

Happy with my looks at the tern, I then decided to stop off at a few of the regular coastal watchpoints on my way home. I started out at McMicking Point, just southwest of the golf club. On the greens was a small gaggle of ball-dodging greater white-fronted geese while the nearby rocky islets were teeming with roosting cormorants and gulls. Scanning through, there were also several shorebirds in the mix including a couple of dowitchers, plus black-bellied plovers, dunlin, surfbirds, black oystercatchers and black turnstones.
Gulls included lots of Bonaparte's, mew and glaucous-winged along with smaller numbers of Heermann's, California and a couple of Thayer's gulls.           
Next stop was at Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery. A huge raft of surf scoter also hosted around 20 white-winged scoter and half a dozen long-tailed duck. A handful of common loons were alongside 15 Pacific loons and a single red-throated loon was close by. Red-breasted mergansers, more red-necked grebes and all the expected auk species were all present in varying numbers.
I made one final call at Government House before heading home but the only bird worthy of note was a barred owl.
Talking of owls, while Jenny and I were walking back from town on Sunday afternoon our attention was drawn to the sound of some agitated Northwestern crows near the Moss Street, Fairfield junction. On closer inspection, there was also a small group of people gathered beneath a tree and gazing upward outside the Fairfield Market. The two things weren't unconnected - looking up we saw a great-horned owl casually preening on one of the outer branches. The crows quickly tired of the unresponsive owl and left, but it was great to see many people enjoying the sight of this impressive predator in the middle of their neighbourhood!  

Monday morning I took advantage of the briefly lighter mornings (we turned the clocks back this weekend, a full week later than in the UK) and started my day at Clover Point. It wasn't too birdy, just a few dunlin, black turnstone and black-bellied plovers present plus the usual gulls, sea ducks and alcids. I also made a brief stop at Ogden Point, where I 'scoped the feeding Bonaparte's gulls in search of Saturday's little gull, but it wasn't to be seen. 
For a week or so, I may at least be able to squeeze a few more pre-work birding forays in before we plunge once more into days of book-ended gloom… sometimes spring seems such a long way away.     

Friday, 26 October 2012

Totting 'em up: 'spur

Before starting work this morning I managed to find a bit of time to check out the Government House grounds where I found precisely nothing interesting whatsoever. The place was positively aflutter with American robins, but very little else (bar the juvenile Cooper's hawk that was taking advantage of this mass of potential food).
I did locate a bushtit / chickadee flock but it was a total warbler-free zone.

Bonaparte's gull
With a few more minutes to spare I took off to Clover Point. As I walked along the seawall between Ross Bay Cemetery and the Point I noticed several Bonaparte's gulls feeding over the water (1stw pictured). Further out common loons, surf scoters, horned grebes and bufflehead were visible through the drizzle.
As I walked along the wall toward the boathouse I casually dismissed the handful of Lincoln's sparrows that flitted around in the grass and on the beach before flushing a larger bird with obvious white outer tail feathers. 

Lapland longspur
Getting my bins on it, I was delighted to finally add Lapland longspur to my BC list! Despite the persistent rain, I managed one almost acceptable pic.
As any Brit birder knows, folks from the 'old-country' call these enigmatic circumpolar passerines Lapland buntings and UK birdwatchers equally look forward to their arrival every autumn.

Yesterday, my lunchtime meander down to Langford Lake was reasonably rewarding as far as common fall birds was concerned. 

Ruddy duck
The mass of aythya ducks were again present out on the water and among the flotilla of ring-necked ducks and lesser scaups there were a couple of canvasbacks and a female ruddy duck (pictured). American coots, pied-billed grebes and buffleheads added further variety.
Along the trail yellow-rumped warblers were busy gleaning insects from the leaves and occasionally posing to allow for a photo or two. A hermit thrush showed well, but too briefly for a snap.

Yellow-rumped warbler
The feeling that we're moving steadfastly into winter seems to be unavoidable as wildfowl numbers continue to build and those few remaining passage migrants start to thin out.
As many birders in this part of the world have mentioned, it's been a pretty crappy autumn for off-passage stuff this year. The very lovely weather we had through late summer into autumn simply allowed so many southbound birds to just bypass us completely and as a result larger numbers of common migrants simply failed to materialize, and thus rarer congeners were practically absent.

On another note: the mystery bird voting tool (upper right) seems to have had a bit of a fit and is no longer working. So, I shall simply confirm that the vast majority of those taking part ware absolutely correct - it is indeed a black-headed grosbeak. I photographed this adult female in the Okenagan in June.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Rare Sparrow Makes The List

I've been finding it pretty tough going lately, birding wise. I've been squeezing in visits to Clover Point, Government House and Langford Lake before work, during my lunch breaks, and again after work for the past couple of weeks in the hope of finding something interesting. Of course, the autumnal movements of commoner species are interesting, but I'm really talking more about scarce migrants and the like. But alas, I've been left mostly disappointed. That however, doesn't dampen my enthusiasm (Jenny seemingly thinks it's more of an obsession, but I don't think we need to get into semantics here…)

American coot arrived back at Langford Lake this week
Anyhoo, my own paltry finds of late have included the occasional white-throated sparrow (these normally scarce birds appear to be atypically numerous this fall), at least 3 canvasback, female ruddy duck, Wilson's snipe and lingering osprey at Langford Lake plus the noting of the arrival and movements of many common autumn / winter migrants.

Harris's sparrow (pic by Daniel Arndt) 
The big news broke on Saturday when Steven Roias found a 1st year Harris's sparrow at Panama Flats. This species is a real rarity in the west, and a bird that I've long wanted to see. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get out until Monday, but thankfully the bird stuck around. My befuddled brain sadly caused me to go to the wrong area of the Flats in the morning, though I was rewarded with the sight of 3 white-throated sparrows
Having figured out my error, I returned after work, and soon discovered a sizeable flock of mixed sparrows and within a couple of minutes I was enjoying superb views of the rare vagrant as it sat out on the edge of a nearby hawthorn. The large distinctive sparrow continued to perform well, despite the drizzle and fading light. I headed home delighted! Not only was this a lifer, but it was also a really smart looking bird. Nice!
Other species in the vicinity included another couple of white-throated (1 tan-striped and 1 white-striped) sparrows, Lincoln's sparrow, song sparrow, fox sparrow and dark-eyed junco.
Determined to get even a crappy record shot, I returned the following evening but the sparrows were far less concentrated and active. The Harris's eventually showed up but only after 6pm, and the light was pretty terrible. 
Not to be put off, I returned again this morning. It was still pretty dark when I arrived around 7.40am and there was very little going on in sparrowville. 

Early morning at Panama Flats
I took a few moments to scan the flats and soon picked up a short-eared owl hunting low over the area. 
Scanning through the wildfowl it was the expected mix of mallard, gadwall, shoveler, green-winged teal, pintail and American wigeon plus Canada geese, cackling geese and a single greater white-fronted goose
A red-tailed hawk was sat up in a tree while a Cooper's hawk patrolled the Flats.

I always like to keep up to date with the Brit birding scene, and I am especially keen on what's going on in my old local area. I regularly check the Aldcliffe and Heysham Observatory blogs, plus the Lancaster & District Birdwatching Society website for details of movements and arrivals of birds. 
I have been particularly interested in the recent discovery of a lesser yellowlegs on my old patch at Aldcliffe. This species, while one of the commonest 'rare' nearctic shorebirds that occurs in the UK with individuals showing up annually, is still a good bird to find in Lancashire and so many local birders have been flocking to see this 'yank wader' on home turf. 
Reading this exciting news from here in Canada however, I'm amused by the fact that any one of the supporting cast of birds associating with the yellowlegs (including green and wood sandpipers, ruff, black-tailed godwit and redshank) would solicit a significant twitch on this side of the pond. 
Just goes to show, one birder's redwing is another birder's American robin.  

Photo of Harris's sparrow taken in Calgary, from Daniel Arndt's Flickr page.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Owls About That Then

Northern saw-whet owl
Last night I finally managed to find the time to go out and help out with the owl banding at Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO). Naturally, the catching and ringing of owls is a nocturnal pursuit and the shifts available to volunteers and experienced banders alike are pretty late affairs.
Given the distance to the site, and the fact that I have a half-hour morning commute I haven't really been able to figure out a convenient way of helping out during the week and of course weekend shifts are often fully booked.  But the organizers kindly offered a way where I could turn up for a partial shift, finishing at 11pm. That gives me time to drive home and get a reasonable amount of shut-eye.

I arrived at Rocky Point just before 7pm and once bander Jessie Fanucchi arrived, we headed along to the banding station. As we approached the parking area I noticed the distinctive silhouette of a great-horned owl sat on top of a snag.
Owl and Cheezy Brit Birder
They have been conducting owl banding sessions at RPBO for a decade now, with the sole target species being northern saw-whet owl.
Relatively little is known about this small owl, and until recently it was thought by many to be primarily sedentary. Night-time banding activities across North America seem to have put that flimsy theory well and truly to bed, as large numbers are routinely monitored every autumn. This isn't simply post-breeding dispersal but clearly seasonal migration on a significant scale. Research of this nature will hopefully help determine the destination and routes these owls take, and whether only birds of a certain age and sex are prone to long-range movements. 
2012 has been a remarkable year at Rocky Point with well over 600 saw-whets caught and processed thus far, smashing previous years' records. 
My role here was minimal, other seasoned volunteers and the chief banders Jessie and Anne Nightingale did all the real work extracting the birds, processing the data and ringing the owls. I did get to release a couple and joined in on the net rounds, but more importantly I got to witness first-hand yet more of the invaluable work being conducted by the band of dedicated ornithologists at Rocky Point Bird Observatory.

Please note that Rocky Point is located on Department of National Defence land and there is NO public access. For further details about the work being carried out at the observatory, and for information about volunteer opportunities visit the RPBO website.
You can also read the RPBO blog for more musings. 

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Giving Thanks For A Long Weekend

Yesterday (Monday) was Thanksgiving here in Canada and as such we enjoyed a nice long weekend. The weather continues to hold out, and we had bright, calm, warm conditions which is all very pleasant for almost everyone, but it does mean that migratory species are not quite so prone to dropping in with occasional downpours or getting blown off-course. We birders really need some rain…

I got out for a while yesterday afternoon and spent a couple of hours scouring the stretch of coast from McMicking Point to Clover Point, taking in the Chinese cemetery and Harling Point on the way. 
The main reason for my choice of location was heavily influenced by my desire to try to find that intriguing grebe I saw last week, but as it happened I only saw one western grebe (and was definitely a western grebe).

Marbled murrelet
The birding was pretty good overall and there were large numbers of birds out on the water. Surf scoter numbers have really built up in the past few days and there were at least 240 present. Other sea ducks were pretty much absent, with the exception of several harlequins.
Alcids were well represented with common murres, rhinoceros auklets and pigeon guillemots scattered around the water. I also saw at least 8 marbled murrelets, including a pair fairly close in that were constantly calling, in-between dives (one pictured, mid-call). I've never heard this species vocalising before, so that was quite a treat!
The absolute highlight was a pair of ancient murrelet, seen between Harling Point and Trial Island. Rather coincidentally, I saw my first ancient murrelets on the same date last year when I joined a mini-pelagic trip out from Victoria, and these were the first that I have seen since! 
The expected shorebirds were all seen picking their way along the coastal rocks - surfbirds, black oystercatchers and black turnstones. At least 4 western sandpiper remain at Clover Point. 
A single Pacific loon and several common loons, many starting to moult out of breeding plumage, were sighted. 
There was nothing of note among the many common gull species. Heermann's, California, mew, glaucous-winged and Thayer's were all seen in varying numbers.   

Census Working Over Time

The previous day I had the pleasure of doing the census at Pedder Bay, Rocky Point Bird Observatory's sister site out at Metchosin.
While the banders were extremely busy processing large numbers of migrant sparrows and the like, I went off to see what I could find along the census route. Generally speaking it was fairly unremarkable, though as always enjoyable. In fact the highlights came pre- and post-census, with a northern shrike hunting below the bluff, and flock of 9 dazzling evening grosbeaks and a pair of red-breasted sapsuckers around the RV park. 
Another notable highlight was a European starling doing a very credible imitation of a California quail - I've heard them mimic Eurasian curlew many times in the UK, but this was a totally new one for me! 
I left Pedder Bay late morning and drove the short distance to Aylard's Farm, in East Sooke Regional Park to see if the northern hawk owl found there the day before was still in the area. I only saw 2 other birders looking for the diurnal owl, so I guessed that it had moved on. I had a look around, checking any likely looking spots but drew a blank. A single American kestrel was scant compensation.
The vagrant owl had been discovered late in the afternoon on Saturday, characteristically hunting from a perch overlooking a large open area of tall dry grass. Given the limited suitable habitat, and the fact that this is a renowned raptor migration watchpoint, it wouldn't surprise me if it simply continued across the straits or maybe just moved along the coast, where it may yet get relocated. Areas of clearcut forest or open farmland with handy exposed hunting perches are likely sites to check, but it is a bit of needle in a  haystack situation!  

Little To See at Sea

Me and Race Rocks Lighthouse
On Saturday Jenny joined me for a mini-pelagic trip organised by the Victoria Natural History Society. The day was warm, sunny and extremely calm. Ideal for a nice boat journey I'm sure you'll agree, but not much use when it comes to good seabirding conditions.
It was pretty dead out there and we struggled to find anything that we couldn't easily see from shore. Alcid numbers were pretty low, there were no phalaropes, loons and grebes were at something of a premium and other than a smart adult western gull at Race Rocks and the Bonaparte's gulls hanging around the kelp off Rocky Point, larids were seriously lacking in diversity.  

We did get great looks at (and quite a noseful of) the belching, garrulous California and Steller's sealions at Race Rocks (pictured), but despite a couple of claims from others on board I certainly didn't pick out any of the handful of elephant seals that have been present lately. 
Pity, it would have been a mammal tick!

Rough Justice

After posting Friday's blog, I went for a quick evening stroll around the grounds of the Government House, a short walk from our apartment here in the Rocklands area of Victoria.
Within seconds of passing through the gates it was quite clear that there was lots going on, with small feeding groups of sparrows and robins all around the place. I soon found a smart tan-striped white-throated sparrow in among mixed bunch of golden-crowned sparrows, dark-eyed juncos, white-crowned sparrows and a couple each of song and fox sparrows.
Buoyed by this locally scarce migrant (my second of the fall at this site) I trudged on, feeling quite pleased that I'd made the effort to come down. The remainder of the grounds seemed pretty quiet, with just a couple of ruby-crowned kinglets and yet more juncos to keep me entertained.
A raptor caught my eye as it passed overhead, and getting my bins on it it was immediately apparent that this was no Cooper's or red-tailed hawk. Pale underparts, a broad diffuse dark tail band with 'wrap-around' pale base, dark belly, primary tips and striking black carpal patches; clearly a pale juvenile rough-legged hawk (known as rough-legged buzzard to a Brit birder). My first 'rough-leg' in Canada and the last bird I expected to see flying over Victoria!
Interesting fact - the bird's feathered feet (an adaptation for Arctic life) are reflected in its scientific name Buteo lagopus, lagopus meaning 'hare-footed'. Cool eh?

Friday, 5 October 2012

Morning Glories

It's been a fairly unremarkable week for me bird wise. While rarities such as clay-colored sparrow and blue gray gnatcatcher have had the local twitchers on full alert I've been drawing blanks at my regular haunts.
I've been making a point of checking out Clover Point just around sunrise every morning this week in the hope of finding a grounded lapland longspur, horned lark or similar.
And every morning I've thus far been unsuccessful.
Despite the lack of enticing off-passage migrants, there's actually been a fair bit of activity on show. Large numbers of common murres and rhinoceros auklets can be seen offshore, and dotted among them there are always a few pigeon guillemots and a handful of marbled murrelets.
The surf scoter flocks continue to build, as do the numbers of harlequin duck along the rocky shoreline. Horned grebes and red-necked grebes are increasing too, and all week there have been up to three western grebes.
Yesterday I happened to take a pic of a pair of distant western grebes as they were elegantly silhouetted by the rising sun. As you can see here, the resulting snap (taken through my 'scope) was pretty terrible.

Both western grebes?
However, when I looked at the photo on my computer I noticed a couple of things that got me thinking. 
The bird on the left appears to have a brighter, slightly upturned bill and it's eye is clearly visible against its white cheek. 
The angle isn't great but as I peered at it I couldn't help thinking that there was enough to set small alarm bells tinkling... I just wish I'd noticed at the time!
I expect that this is well within the range of western, but having never seen a Clarke's grebe I thought it might be worth gathering some input from other birders. 

Naturally, I have looked for the grebe again but have so far only seen 1 western in the area.

Anyhoo, dodgy dubious grebes aside, other things of note down at Clover Point this week include the arrival of at least 4 common loons, a fly-by mini-skein of 4 greater white-fronted geese and a few more Thayer's gulls joining the larid masses. There are still lots of Heermann's gulls around while California gulls are starting to thin out. Mew gull numbers increase daily.  

Western sandpipers roosting on kelp
Shorebirds haven't been too thrilling, but around a dozen black turnstone have been present most mornings along with up to 5 surfbirds, 6 western sandpipers (pictured) and the regular black oystercatchers.
Of the few passerines passing through, savannah sparrow numbers peaked at an unremarkable 8 this morning (Friday), with a few American pipits passing over most days. Good numbers of American robins were on the move on Tuesday and on Thursday 4 Brewer's blackbirds were something of a surprise.

Otherwise, I made a couple of brief stops at Summit Hill reservoir where I saw my first lesser scaup of the autumn. A couple of shoveler remain on the water and the garry oaks continue to attract good numbers of yellow-rumped warblers 

My lunchtime saunters by Langford Lake have turned up a cackling goose, which flew in with some bog-standard Canada geese, a pair of merlin harassing a norther flicker, plus increases in common 'winter' sparrows, yet more YR warblers, ruby-crowned kinglets etc.
One day, as I walked to the lake I stumbled across the impressive fellow in the picture here. I assume it's a field cricket. Very nice!

With a mini-pelagic planned for tomorrow, I hope to see some half-decent seabirds. We're not heading out too far, just to Race Rocks, so there'll be no shearwaters or albatrosses but it'll be interesting to see what we can find.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Small Wonder

Yesterday evening I finally caught up with a bird that was really starting to prove something of a nemesis. Although I have heard them several times on the island, I had yet to lay eyes on a northern pigmy owl.
These diminutive hunters are reasonably common in the right habitat but can be incredibly difficult to find (in my case, at least). I have spent more than a few hours wandering around suitable forested landscapes feebly mimicking their distinctive call but until yesterday this had never worked terribly well. Enlisting the assistance of local birder Jeremy Kimm (see his Victoria Birder blog) we set out to a site where I had tried on six previous occasions to locate the owls. Jeremy assured me that the 7th time would be the charm...
It took about half an hour but eventually a bird started to respond to our infrequent whistles, but it kept resolutely hidden from view. Suddenly the highly distinctive shape of a small owl flew over at tree top height, landing in a dense fir close by. At last!

Pigmy owl. No, really.
The owl presumably watched us from its hiding place before flying out again, over our heads, and perched up on an exposed branch some distance away.
Now we could see it out in the open and it was still pretty light allowing us decent, if long-range, views. A 'scope would have been handy, but nonetheless I was thrilled to finally see this most appealing of BC birds. I even managed a truly crap photo - as evidenced here. See the small owl shaped blob? Yep.
I know that simple listing seems a bit odd to non-birders and some strict conservationists, but having seen Eurasian pigmy owl in Finland there was something quite powerful about the allure of its North American counterpart as far as I was concerned... I'll admit that there was a definite sense of relief at finally seeing this small wonder, but far more importantly it was a genuine privilege and pleasure to watch this wonderful little owl in its natural environment.

Raptorous Displays         

Saturday morning saw me once more heading out to Rocky Point Bird Observatory. This time I had company in the form of Ian Cruikshank and fellow expat David Caudwell, which certainly made the now-familiar drive along the dark and winding roads a little more pleasurable.
I was going out to RPBO to do the census, and David joined me as he had also volunteered and wanted to familiarize himself with the route.
It was actually pretty quiet, and we struggled to find good numbers of many species. Warblers were conspicuous chiefly by their absence, and even bushtit flocks failed to materialise, depriving us of the chance to scan through a roving band of birds in search of off-passage species.
Red crossbills and pine siskins were all over the place, as were the ubiquitous red-breasted nuthatches, Steller's jays and such.
In a small patch of brush we found a few sparrows, primarily golden-crowned and white-crowned. Among them we picked out a 1st-year white-throated sparrow which certainly brightened our spirits.

American kestrel
Shortly afterwards we came across another minor highlight when we discovered a fine male American kestrel perched up by a bluff overlooking the ocean (pictured).
Indeed it turned out to be raptors that really saved the day.
As the morning wore on large numbers of turkey vultures started to gather over the coast, assessing the situation before making the decision to cross the straits to the US mainland.
On occasion kettles of vultures would take off over the water, only to return after wheeling around at altitude. It took some time, but eventually some raptors joined the melee of southbound birds and among the larger carrion-eaters we were picking out numbers of sharp-shinned hawks, Cooper's hawks and red-tailed hawks. Looking toward the sun, trying to pick out less familiar raptors among these common species wasn't terribly easy but we soon clocked the considerable bulk of a northern goshawk flying through. Unlike the vultures, this bird had no issue with waiting for thermals and simply took off across the straits and disappeared rapidly toward the mountains of Washington State.
A couple of broad-winged hawks also joined in on the action, their small distinctive buteo silhouette quite easy to pick out among the various other species. The only one that I was able to see well in the 'scope was a juvenile bird.
Broad-winged hawks are now known to be regular fall migrants in southern Vancouver Island with double-figures being seen most years - 20 year ago this was pretty much unheard of and the species was considered quite a rarity.

Please note that Rocky Point is located on Department of National Defence land and there is NO public access.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Irritable Owl Syndrome

Great-horned owl
After a couple of relatively unremarkable visits to Clover Point and the Summit Hill reservoir in recent days I headed down to the Government House grounds yesterday morning to see if there was any migrant action going on. 
As soon as I approached the grounds just after 7.20am I could hear multiple American robins stirring in the big leaf maples, which seemed pretty promising. Soon I was hearing small groups of pine siskins calling away as they passed overhead, further adding to my optimism.
Approaching the start of the woodland trail I hit into my first flock of feeding birds. In among the usual chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits and red-breasted nuthatches were several yellow-rumped warblers a single orange-crowned warbler and a couple of ruby-crowned kinglet
A pair of downy woodpeckers picked their way through the garry oaks and 4 northern flickers squabbled noisily as they flew from tree to tree. On the ground, newly arrived golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows were feeding along the path side, and then I noticed something quite different among them - a white-throated sparrow. This species, while not rare, is at best a scarce passage migrant on Vancouver Island and so I was rather pleased to encounter this individual.
As I continued along my regular route it became apparent that there were quite a few fox sparrows lurking in the denser areas, as well as a few Lincoln's sparrows. Joining the resident spotted towhees in the understory were at least 3 hermit thrushes, though I suspect more were scattered about the site.
Another surprise came in the form of a red-breasted sapsucker which flew low over the area, my first in the Government House grounds.
The distinctive, mournful calls of a varied thrush alerted me to the presence of a single bird sat in a fir - the first of what will doubtless be many in the coming weeks. Few birds sum up the Pacific Northwest better for us Brit birders than these dazzling forest dwellers!
As I rounded a corner at the western end of the woodland I noticed a large greyish bird preening on a branch. I couldn't see its head initially, and assumed it was a barred owl. Just as I raised my binocs for a proper look out popped its head, revealing a couple of intense yellow eyes and a couple of silly 'ears'. A cracking, if somewhat grumpy-looking great-horned owl. Only the second one I've seen in the grounds. This is without question the greyest great-horned owl that I have seen and doubtless belongs to the saturatus subspecies. 

After work yesterday I had another stab at Clover Point. Another bright and sunny day meant that disturbance levels were at optimum levels and as such the likelihood of finding any longspurs or larks were pretty close to zero. Similarly, shorebirds were notable only by their absence. Offshore it was reasonably decent with good numbers of alcids including common murres, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and a handful of marbled murrelets
Red-necked and horned grebes were both present and as I chatted with fellow birder Daniel Donnecke a trio of elegant western grebes swam by, always a treat to see.

I decided on a repeat visit this morning and headed down to Clover Point nice and early in an attempt to beat the dog-walkers and joggers. Even still, there were no grounded passerines, probably due to the lovely clear and calm conditions. A couple of ubiquitous savannah sparrows were all I could find.
A dozen or so black turnstone were feeding alongside a couple of black oystercatchers off the point end, and the usual gaggle of mixed gulls including California, Heermann's, mew and glaucous-winged were present.
Mallard numbers have built up in the past few days (yippee) as have harlequin ducks and I noticed 4 American wigeon, my first of the autumn, flying over. 

Turkey vultures
My lunchtime walk by Langford Lake was reasonably productive in as much as there were common migrants including hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kingletsorange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers feeding in the waterside trees and scrub. 
Overhead an impressive and steady stream of turkey vultures was moving southwest. Occasionally a group would stop and soar on a thermal before carrying on. 
I estimated around 180 passed over me as I walked back to the office from the lake.   

Monday, 24 September 2012

Barred On The Beach

Barred owl
The alarm went off at 5am on Sunday, rousing me from a happy slumber.  As I tiptoed gingerly around the bedroom in complete darkness I couldn't help wondering what the hell I was doing. Why was I getting up at this ungodly hour, only to drive for almost an hour to a relatively remote location in southern Vancouver Island so that I could count birds? 
But there dear reader is the answer; to count birds
Yep, I was heading out once more  to Rocky Point Bird Bird Observatory, during the peak season of the fall migration to assist with the ongoing census of birds using the site. It really doesn't get much better than that!  

I arrived at the access restricted site (for information see the RPBO website) just after 6am and once the small team of banders and I had signed in at the security hut we set off along the gravel road in the emerging twilight to the observatory area.
With plenty of time for some pre-census birding, I first checked out a small reed-fringed pool where I was treated to the site of a sora slowly picking its way along the water's edge. Not a bad start to the day!
Checking the nearby bay, there was little shorebird activity although a long-billed dowitcher flew by calling. At one point I 'scoped through a group of 11 killdeer and came across a single pectoral sandpiper among them. Before long the lone caladrid flew off, and seemed to head determinedly east. What was presumably the same bird reappeared some time later, flying around with what was also presumably the same dowitcher…
As the the sun started to rise things really started to move with red-winged blackbirds, red crossbills, Steller's jays, American robins and cedar waxwings all starting to move around the site in varying numbers. 
I commenced the 1.5 hour census at the designated time (8am) and set off to see what I could see and hear. 
As I'm still a relative newcomer to BC my knowledge of calls is still pretty much in its infancy and on a timed route I simply have to let quite a few skulking birds go unidentified as they 'tick' or 'pseet' from the undergrowth or pass high overhead. This can get quite frustrating as I am aware that my counts are always going to be an underestimate. Worse still, I know that my rock-and-roll-shattered ears don't even register some calls at range, so there's even more going on that I am ever aware! Nonetheless, during the census period I was still able to identify a good range of species and it's good to know that my contributions, however small, are of at least some value. While some of the more exciting aspects of birding can involve rarity-chasing or adding new ticks to our lists, it's always good to put something back.
Just to give you an idea of the birds I saw and / or heard during the morning, both during the census and either side of it, here's a list (specific numbers omitted):

  1. Common loon
  2. Double-crested cormorant
  3. Great blue heron
  4. Turkey vulture
  5. Canada goose
  6. Mallard
  7. Northern pintail
  8. Harlequin duck
  9. Northern harrier
  10. Cooper's hawk
  11. Merlin
  12. Sora
  13. Killdeer
  14. Black oystercatcher
  15. Greater yellowlegs
  16. Black turnstone
  17. Western sandpiper
  18. Pectoral sandpiper
  19. Long-billed dowitcher
  20. Heermann's gull
  21. Mew gull
  22. California gull
  23. Thayer's gull
  24. Glaucous-winged gull
  25. Common murre
  26. Rhinoceros auklet
  27. Band-tailed pigeon
  28. Barred owl
  29. Belted kingfisher
  30. Downy woodpecker
  31. Northern flicker
  32. Steller's jay
  33. Common raven
  34. Chestnut-backed chickadee
  35. Red-breasted nuthatch
  36. Brown creeper  
  37. Bewick's wren
  38. Pacific wren
  39. Marsh wren
  40. Golden-crowned kinglet
  41. Ruby-crowned kinglet
  42. Hermit thrush
  43. American thrush
  44. Varied thrush
  45. American pipit
  46. Cedar waxwing
  47. Orange-crowned warbler
  48. Yellow-rumped warbler
  49. Spotted towhee
  50. Savannah sparrow
  51. Fox sparrow
  52. Song sparrow
  53. Lincoln's sparrow
  54. White-crowned sparrow
  55. Golden-crowned sparrow
  56. Dark-eyed junco
  57. Red-winged blackbird
  58. Purple finch
  59. Red crossbill
  60. Pine siskin
Of course, the banders and other volunteers saw additional species during the morning including common yellowthroat and pileated woodpecker.

As the summer visitors start to dwindle, fall-passage and wintering birds are becoming more numerous. Such species as Steller's jay, fox sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow and dark-eyed junco will continue to build as the weeks go by. 
One of the most impressive elements of autumn migration in this part of the world is the vulture and raptor passage. Once things had heated up enough by mid-morning large kettles of turkey vultures were starting to gather, thermalling in anticipation of making the relatively short crossing over the Straits of Juan de Fuca to the USA. 
At least 150 vultures were wheeling around at one point before deciding to head back inland. Associating with these large vulture flocks one will often see other migratory birds and although I only picked out a couple of Cooper's hawks and a northern harrier while I was watching, good numbers of red-tailed hawks and sharp-shinned hawks can also be seen. Broad-winged hawks, a local scarcity, are annual in small numbers as are golden eagles while American kestrel, goshawk and rough-legged hawk are also possibilities. Peregrine and merlin frequently add to the tallies.  
Large groups of band-tailed pigeon also cross the straits and one flock of around 120 birds headed out over the water as I was watching. 
There are always barred owls around Rocky Point, as there are in fact pretty much everywhere in BC nowadays. Having spread north and west from the southern US is recent decades this large, opportunistic owl has been cited along with habitat loss as one of the causes of the steady decline of the imperilled spotted owl
We see barred owls all over the place on Vancouver Island, from downtown parks and gardens to remote forests in the back of beyond. Despite their relative common-ness, when one poses as nicely as the one pictured here (see above) did yesterday, it's hard not to be taken in by their enduring appeal!

It's not only birds that interest the vast majority of naturalists helping out at RPBO, and the site also boasts an impressive list of mammals spotted over the years. Last week Ian Cruikshank was fortunate enough to come across some elk while he was out doing the census. I wasn't quite so fortunate and only spotted the usual mink, racoongrey squirrel, harbor seal etc, plus the curious mustelid pictured here. 
Having gone through a few books I can only conclude that it is an atypical mink. All of the ones that I have seen are dark concolourous animals, so this rufous beast with pale ear tips and whitish breast patch caught me well off-guard. It's snout also seemed too long for a mink, but in the absence of any other possibilities I guess it's just a mink after all.      

Please note that Rocky Point is located on Department of Defence land and there is NO public access.

This morning (Monday ) I made one of my now-regular stops at Summit Hill reservoir en route to work. A fine drake hooded merganser was having a snooze on the central berm, alongside a trio of northern shoveler. The water levels at the reservoir are now so low that the whole berm is now fully proud of the water, rendering it useless for the majority of passing shorebirds. As a result, just a single killdeer was present, daintily picking its way along the gull-feather-and-goose-crap festooned concrete.
The garry oaks were hopping with yellow-rumped warblers, all frantically searching for invertebrates on the undersides of the leaves. The only other thing I saw among them was a single black-throated gray warbler.