Monday, 30 April 2012

Playing solitaire

Common camas - Government House
It turns out that the black-necked stilts had relocated to Maber Flats, and doubled in number to boot. With 4 birds present, this really is a major local event! As I write, I believe that they're still present and one pair have even been observed copulating. Whether they stay and attempt to raise a brood or move on shortly remains to be seen. I'm pretty sure that several species of shorebird will mate in advance of arrival at the breeding grounds, presumably to speed the whole process up, but while that would make sense to tundra nesters I'm not sure about stilts... I'll have to look into that.
Anyway, the upshot is I still haven't been to see them and as I'm currently in Portland, Oregon I'll have to see if they hang around until weekend. More importantly (as far as I'm concerned anyway) a sora has been regularly calling at the same site and so I expect I'll put some time in trying to catch a glimpse of this elusive rail.

Spotted towhee
Birds that I have actually seen this past week include my first Vaux's swifts of the year, with 3 among the many swallows at Panama Flats on the Wednesday evening of my return to look for those pesky stilts. Many of the shorebirds present that morning (see the post below) had cleared out, but there were still at least 16 greater yellowlegs, 40+ least sandpiper and around 20 western sandpipers kicking around. The 9 white-fronted geese had become 6 and another first for the year, a high flying osprey, was brought to my attention by the panicking swallows. Earlier they had also alerted me to a peregrine slowly spiraling over the southern edge of the flats. 

Highlights from my Langford Lake strolls included yet more Vaux's swifts hawking among a large number of drizzle-dropped swallows. All the five common hirundine species were present including a single cliff swallow and a couple of northern rough-winged swallows.
I spotted a single collared dove close to work on Friday, and a couple of hours later I saw two nearby. Boy, these things really do colonise quickly...

Townsend's solitaire
In other pigeon news, I had seen a lone band-tailed pigeon flying over the Government House grounds early that very morning, in an otherwise migrant-free check around the site.
The following day, Saturday, wasn't a vast improvement although a Townsend's solitaire was some compensation. I even managed a couple of pics. As you can clearly see.
Townsend's solitaire
While I had my camera out I also rattled off a snap of the lovely spotted towhee (above) - a bird taken very much for granted locally, yet as a Brit birder first visiting this part of the world.
I was rather captivated by them. Having recently been back to Britain and being blow away by just how fabulously gorgeous common birds like goldfinches and chaffinches are, I'm re-appreciating the aesthetics of the throw-away birds on my current doorstep!

Pine siskin
Though, no matter how much I try I can't really get too excited by the uber-subtle plumage of pine siskins. The bird pictured here was busy tearing a dandelion head apart on the roadside verge along Joan Crescent and wasn't going to move for anything. Not even a prying camera lens. 
Other birds to have graced my binocs and ears in Government House lately include multiple hermit thrushes and only the second ever hairy woodpecker that I have seen in the grounds. Of course downy woodpeckers are easy to find at this location, with at least 2 breeding pairs, but I was quite surprised to one of their larger cousins here.


  1. Thanks very much for this post. We went looking for the stilts at Panama Flats on the weekend but didn't see them. Now I know why. We did thoroughly enjoy seeing all the swallows, the sandpipers and the white fronted geese (thanks we didn't know what kind of geese they were). This is a very informative blog and very useful for a beginner birder like myself.

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  3. Cheers Shelly - always nice to know that my ramblings are of some interest!
    Not entirely sure that 'newblogger' (if indeed that is their name) is quite as genuine in their praise!

    Enjoy the birds.

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