Saturday, 28 January 2012

Scarce Sparrow Provides a Rare Tree-t

Aahhh, the weekend rolls around once more. I had entertained thoughts of heading up island today, partly to spend a bit of time birding the Nanaimo River estuary and partly to have a go at trying to relocate the slaty-backed gull that was reported to be in the Mill Bay area.

A wet Panama Flats
In the end I did neither, opting for a bit of a lie-in and a few hours squelching around Panama Flats in my wellies.
I haven't been to the flats for ages, and there have been some good wintering passerines being seen at the site over the past couple of months. As you can see from the pic, water levels are pretty high and as a result there are tons of ducks dabbling around.
Good numbers of pintail, northern shoveler, mallard, green-winged teal and American wigeon were very much present. I had a good scan through the teal but couldn't find any 'commons' in among them. I picked up a drake Eurasian wigeon at either end of the flats - was it the same mobile bird or were there 2 present?

A couple of bufflehead, and 2 pairs of gadwall were also seen and then I noticed an aythya emerging from a pack of shoveler on the southern pool - it was a female canvasback. Not a bird I expected to see at Panama Flats! I don't think it stuck around too long, as I couldn't see it when I returned to the same area an hour or so later.

Raptors-wise, a peregrine was sat up in its usual tree overlooking the flats, and a red-tailed hawk was doing similar until it was chased off by Northwestern crows. A juv bald eagle flapped lazily overhead.

As I walked along the western path, I came across 3 western meadowlarks feeding in the boggy grass. Other than multiple song sparrows and a few golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows, I didn't see many other songbirds as I trudged around the flats in the cool drizzle. As I neared the grey building things changed somewhat; several Lincoln's sparrows showed, mixed in with yet more song sparrows.

American tree sparrow
Then the American tree sparrow popped up. By all accounts, this bird has been pretty reliable since its arrival earlier in the winter, often showing in the same general area. After a while, I managed to get a crummy shot of it as it fed briefly on the path. American tree sparrows are pretty scarce on Vancouver Island, and my only previous experience of this charming species involves the ones that I found at the Nanaimo estuary back in December 2009. 

Another other 'good' bird regularly being spotted here recently is a skylark. Now, as one of my least-wanted birds that appears on the North American list, I was rather hoping to bump into it today just to get it out of the way. I rue the day when I have to go actually looking for one... Unlike numerous other European 'imports' (starling and house sparrow among them) skylarks aren't despised by local birders, and following a serious reduction in numbers, somewhat mirroring the population crash in their native lands, they have become highly sought after by North America's birding elite. Vancouver Island is the only place on the continent where they can be found, and they're in rapid decline. Anyway, I was spared an encounter with this most familiar of birds - perhaps I will have to wait until I jam into one whilst out looking for something more interesting!
I searched through the numerous, very mobile savannah sparrows as best I could, but couldn't pull anything different out from among them.
I had a good three hours covering the area, and left soggy but very happy!        

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