Tuesday, 27 March 2012

An Extremely Varied Thrush.

Many younger and older Brit birders alike will be aware of the varied thrush that turned up in Cornwall back in 1982. As it stands, it remains the sole UK sighting and was the only European record until a bird made landfall in Iceland in 2004.

Schizochroistic varied thrush
One of the most talked about elements of the Cornish bird's appearance was the fact that it was an exceptionally unusual varied thrush. Instead of being essentially a black and orange bird, this individual completely lacked the orange plumage tones and instead had a monochromatic appearance, with the orange pigments being altogether absent and replaced with light greys and whites. There were countless discussions over the likelihood of such a rare, aberrant plumage being indicative of a captive origin but the consensus eventually settled for it being a wild vagrant (it being a 1st year bird helped).
Well, earlier this week a Victoria birder, Aziza Cooper, reported a very similar looking bird in among a small flock of 'proper' varied thrushes in Beacon Hill Park but it wouldn't allow her get a pic of it. On her second attempt a few days later, Aziza managed to get the photo shown here, and it is indeed a truly striking individual.
This kind of anomalous plumage is known as schizochroism (I looked it up!) - this is where specific coloured pigments are lacking; clearly oranges in the case of this fine bird.  

On a far more mundane note, I had my first violet-green swallows of the year yesterday lunchtime by Langford Lake. Nearby a pair of Townsend's warblers and a singing 'Audubon's' yellow-rumped warbler added to the feeling of spring.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Slow Spring Starts to Warm Up

My weekday lunchtime meanderings have been fairly uneventful these past few days, with little evidence of spring migrants moving through.
A trio of turkey vultures were cruising around on thermals beyond Langford Lake on Thursday, but otherwise it's been slow. Local breeders have been letting their presence be known with purple finches and red-winged blackbirds being especially vocal. A few pine siskins have been equally melodious, twittering away all over the place.
Wildfowl numbers are starting to drop, with just a few ring-necked ducks, lesser scaup, bufflehead and common mergansers keeping the omnipresent mallards company. A pair of northern shoveler dropped by on Friday, as did a single American coot
The majority of the pied-billed grebes are now sporting their breeding finery, subtle though it may be. The grebes are at least down by one bird which I saw being dragged off by a mink midweek. I missed the kill, and can only assume that the mink did indeed dispatch the grebe, rather than find it already dead.
The local covey of California quails have been very active in the past few days with the males singing from the blackberry patch near my office.  

I made a brief post-work visit to Clover Point on Friday but it was pretty quiet. The usual harlequins and surf scoters etc were on the water, while a small gang of busy black turnstones worked the tideline. Gulls were few in number, and all glaucous-winged or variants thereof. A California sealion came by close offshore, giving great views as it checked me out.

Things continue to get lively in the Government House grounds. Pine siskins, house finches, ruby-crowned kinglets, Bewick's wrens, chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches (pictured), northern flickers and other common species have responded well to the improvement in the weather with many well in the throes of claiming territories, singing, nest building and generally showing off.
A yellow-shafted type flicker was showing well today (Sunday) and an acccipiter shot through briefly - probably a male Cooper's given the size and structure, but I couldn't rule out a large sharpie on the views I got.
The great-horned owl seems to have vacated. The same number of pellets remain below the tree as were present during its visit last weekend, and there are no signs of it having taken up a new roost anywhere else, though it's quite possible that it's somewhere I just can't get to.
My only 'proper' migrant was a tree swallow (my first of the year) which flew around the bluffs constantly twittering away.      

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Getting horny

Haven't done too much birding this week, with one thing and another. I've noticed a couple more turkey vultures migrating through here and there but otherwise it's been a bit quiet.
Jenny and I got out yesterday (Saturday) for a good walk - we set off to Oak Bay Marina and continued along the coast to Ross Bay. We made a small but exhilarating detour up through Walbran Park, the views from here were superb and I couldn't help but think what a great 'vis-mig' point this could be...
Anyway, despite the miles of coastline trudged, we saw very little to get excited about bird-wise.

Bewick's wren
On Sunday I spent a bit of time rooting around in the Government House grounds. There was lots going; the air was filled with singing Pacific and Bewick's wrens (pictured), dark-eyed juncos, pine siskins and house finches while excavating red-breasted nuthatches and downy woodpeckers worked industriously.
Looking skyward, a Cooper's hawk was engaging in fabulous aerial display and a lone sharp-shinned hawk even spiraled over heading northward.

Great horned owl
I looked in vain for a resident barred owl but was rewarded big-time by the discovery of my first great horned owl on the site (pictured). I wonder if this was a transient short-range-migrant or a local bird seeking new territory? It'll be interesting to see whether this bird hangs around...  

Monday, 12 March 2012

Duck Day Afternoon

Eurasian wigeon
Took a walk along the waterfront from Beacon Hill Park down toward Ogden Point on Sunday afternoon but there was very little to be seen other than kite surfers and dog walkers.
The usual seaducks were present in small numbers, plus the occasional horned and red-necked grebe, but not much else.
The highlight was a sub-adult peregrine which circled a couple of times over Dallas Road before heading off.

Checking the ducks in the park, there were at least 7 Eurasian wigeon present among the numerous American wigeon (6 males & 1 female, though probably more unidentified females) including the snoozing drake pictured. Last time I came through the park, the ponds had been drained and there were no wigeon of any kind to be found. I wonder where they all moved to? And how did they know to come back?

Ring-necked duck
Among the many mallards and mallardy mutts, there were also 3 northern shoveler and a handful each of lesser scaup and ring-necked duck (both pictured) swimming around at close quarters.

Lesser scaup
While the two latter species are common here, they are still of great interest to any Brit birder as both occur as rare vagrants in the UK (the scaup considerably more so than the RN duck) and it's brilliant to be able to get such good looks at these handsome birds. The opportunity to grill the scaup is especially useful as many of the subtle identification features can be really scrutinised at close range.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Time of the Month

It's that time of the month again.
Boy, these BC Coastal Waterbird Survey weekends seem to come round pretty quickly. Despite the rather low tide and the unpromising forecast I headed out for a couple of hours to play find-the-bird. As it turned out, the weather was way better than implied and it stayed dry, if cool for the duration. The sun even peeped through briefly.

There wasn't a great deal happening along my little bit of coast, pretty much the usual stuff on the whole.
Highlights included a flock of 34 brant flying by at McMicking Point. Other sightings included 7 red-necked grebe, 4 Pacific loons, 4 common loons, 12 white-winged scoter, 3 long-tailed duck, 2 marbled murrelet and 11 black turnstone as well as good numbers of surf scoter, harlequins and pigeon guillemots.
Mammals included a California sealion and the usual harbour seals (pictured).   

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

All Work and No Birding Makes Jon A Dull(er) Boy

I haven't really had much time for dedicated birding just lately, so my sightings have been limited to the things that I've casually spotted here and there.
My daily lunchtime ramble around the southwestern shore of Langford Lake hasn't been without its highlights. The red crossbill pair have continued to show periodically, and even treated me to killer views as they came down to drink just feet away from me.
On the water it's been the usual hooded and common mergansers, ring-necked ducks, buffleheads, pied-billed grebes, and so on.
A couple of turkey vultures came through yesterday - my first of the spring - while red-tailed and Cooper's hawks, merlin and bald eagles put in appearances here and there.

Jenny and I spent the weekend in Seattle being tourists. It at least gave me chance top do a bit of turbo-seabirding from the Clipper, but I didn't see anything that I wouldn't have if I were stood on Clover Point for half an hour.
Pigeon guillemots, common murres, rhinoceros auklets and marbled murrelets were seen along with the expected loons, grebes and seaducks.

Once back on Canadian soil, I squeezed a quick visit in to Government House just to see what was happening. The place was positively jumping with American robins, many of which were fighting over the few remaining berries on a couple of cotoneasters. A single varied thrush joined in the mayhem.
Dark-eyed juncos were singing, as were house finches, golden-crowned sparrows and Anna's hummingbirds, while chestnut-backed chickadees, red-breasted nuthatches, ruby-crowned kinglets, Pacific wrens, downy woodpeckers, bushtits and brown creepers (pictured) busily foraged away.
On my way out, I came across a small flock of pine siskin feeding high up in the trees near the gate. I scanned through but alas, no redpolls were to be found among them.

It's A Mystery

As you may have noticed, I have uploaded a new Mystery Bird (top right) - I'll post the results and identity of the previous one here soon. In the meantime, this one shouldn't divide participants quite so much as the last one did...