Wednesday, 9 May 2012

At last - I Saw A Sora

It was a tad breezy yesterday (Tuesday) but I thought I’d head out to Panama Flats for a spot of post-work birding, just in case anything interesting had dropped in. Given the enticing solitary sandpipers, blue-winged teals and redheads that have been found in the Victoria area over the past couple of days it seemed that things were certainly on the move.

Cackling goose
However, Panama Flats was pretty quiet and it was clear from the moment that I arrived that there were few birds around. A handful each of northern shoveler and gadwall graced the pools, along with 3 bufflehead, a few green-winged teal and American wigeon. There were also mallards with ducklings, Canada geese sat on nests, a lone cackling goose (pictured) and 15 greater white-fronted geese present.
There was a dearth of shorebirds, with just 20 or so least sandpipers and 6 western sandpipers to be found. A couple of pairs of killdeer were also on site.

Barn swallows
Huge numbers of swallows kept things interesting, the bulk being barn (pictured) and violet-greens. Small numbers of tree swallows were hawking over the water, as were 3 or 4 each of cliff and northern rough-winged swallows.
Brit birders will notice from the attached pic, just how much more ‘pink’ the underparts are on north American erythrogaster race barn swallows, compared with nominate European birds. The blue breast band is also much reduced, and often altogether absent on the American subspecies.

Weekend round-up

On Saturday I had a quick root around the Government House grounds late in the afternoon. There wasn't much going on, though a Townsend's solitaire managed to brighten up the proceedings. A drifting gaggle of 8 turkey vultures were heading slowly along the coast, and stopped off over the Gvt House for a good sniff around.
The female Cooper's hawk was sat on top of the nest; she's quite a formidable bird! There appears to be just the one pair breeding here this year, and they have chosen a far less obscure location in a more ornamental part of the grounds. 

Fairy Slipper Orchid
Sunday, Jenny and I decided we’d head out to Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, given that the weather was wonderful, sunny and warm. Our last visit to this area was marred somewhat by low cloud and drizzle, so we wanted to go back and walk up to Squally Reach to take in the legendary views of the Saanich Inlet and the Malahat.  

En route however, we made a short detour and stopped by at Maber Flats. I wasn’t too sure if the black-necked stilts were still present, but what I did know was that a couple of sora had been heard calling here in recent days. And as exciting as the stilts are in a local context, the secretive rails were of far greater interest to me as they are something of a 'bogey-bird'.

We arrived to find Jeremy Gatten and Jeremy Kimm (what is the collective noun for Jeremies?) busily scanning the watery vegetation, also in search of the diminutive rails.
They had determined that at least 2 birds were calling, but weren’t being terribly cooperative. After a while we figured out that there were in fact 3 vocalising, but as to be expected they were keeping a low profile.

At one point Jenny asked for my bins. Having learnt through many years’ experience that this request isn't to be ignored, I handed them over immediately (Jen has found several good birds with the power of her keen naked eye, so I never refuse…). Then came the immortal words “I think I have one”, and indeed she did! It emerged briefly, as I grappled the binocs away from her as it did an about-turn, scurrying off into the dense grasses once more, calling all the way. At last, I had seen a sora!
Despite the tolerable frequency with which the they turn up in the UK as vagrants, I had never bothered twitching one, convinced that I would run into one in the Americas somewhere, eventually.  And while the views were hardly crippling, they would certainly do. I will be going back for an attempt to get a better look, as soon as I get a nice calm rail-finding-friendly day.   
Oh, and while we were there at Maber Flats we did see those 4 black-necked stilts that everyone’s been raving about. Thanks to the inept fieldcraft of a camo-bedecked photographer we also saw a cinnamon teal, which was unceremoniously flushed while the snapper crept ever closer to the stilts. I suspect any attempts by these handsome waders to breed (it would be a first for Vancouver Island, incidentally) may be jeopardized by such shoddy behavior. Sigh…

Picnic time at Squally Reach
Our trek up to Squally Reach was great fun, and I even added multiple Pacific-slope flycatchers to my year-list. Other birds seen and heard along the way included pileated woodpecker, Townsend’s warbler and other common denizens of the uplands. The walk was brightened further by the many wildflowers encountered along the way, including western trillium, shooting stars and fairy slipper orchids (pictured above).

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