Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Summertime Blues

Mid-June. It was always the same back in the UK. We get into the summer months and every active Brit birder becomes somewhat despondent. The weather fails to live up to the promise of the season and birds are generally quieter, busily getting on with the job of raising the next generation or quietly skulking around and taking advantage of the bounty of available food in advance of the onset of the autumn.
Some failed breeders may start moving south already, but they’re generally thin on the ground and while mid-summer historically throws up some really stunning mega rarities, for the most part we birders have a hard time finding anything to ruffle our feathers until the post-nesting shorebirds start moving through in earnest.
Like other keen naturalists I do at least get a kick from butterflies and dragonflies, and enjoy trying to identify and photograph the many species found here in BC. Recently I’ve been getting frequent looks at big easy-to-identify critters such as mourning cloak (aka Camberwell beauty) and western tiger swallowtails.
Another way to get something out of the leaner summer months is to go somewhere where even the commoner birds are different, and with this in mind I’m hoping to find a few goodies as I travel to the Okanagan next week. As it happens, Jenny has a couple of days’ work in Penticton so I chivalrously opted to join her. It had nothing to do with the likelihood of seeing Eastern and Western kingbirds, Western bluebirds, Lewis’s woodpeckers, rock wrens or any of the other interior specialities I might encounter en route… In fact, there are actually a handful of potential ticks for me out there, so the option of spending my free time walking around Victoria's Government House grounds looking at Bewick’s wrens and bushtits hardly seems like an alluring alternative.  

Anna's hummingbird nest - Government House grounds
Despite the onset of the summertime blues, I have noticed a couple of interesting things just lately, from occasional olive-sided flycatchers in the aforementioned Government House – where I also had good looks at a peregrine as it drifted leisurely over the garry oak woodland yesterday – to hearing a Pacific-slope flycatcher calling by the house this morning. 
My apres-lunch stroll down by Langford Lake today afforded me superb views of Swainson's thrush, black-headed grosbeak and a willow flycatcher - all in song. Lovely! 
This evening it was nice to see recently fledged chipping sparrows noisily following their parents around the G.H. grounds, while another lone willow flycatcher implied the ongoing arrival of a few tardier summer migrants.

Last Friday Lynette Brown and I had an early evening scout around Panama Flats where the highlights included a surprise mourning dove, a very showy singing marsh wren and a female purple martin that kindly dropped in for a short while.  

To be included in the ‘ones that got away’ file; while I was in Chemainus on Sunday with Jenny I noticed a flock of around 20 large birds flying very high, in a raggle-taggle‘v’ formation. They were huge birds, heading west-south-west over the town and I couldn’t think for the life of me what they might be. I was, uncharacteristically, binocularless and the only things I could imagine them being were maybe unseasonal, wandering sandhill cranes. They really were a long way up, and I couldn’t get anything on them at all, other than the fact that were clearly very big birds.
On Monday a flock of 20 American white pelican (a major rarity on the island) were reported flying over Highway 17, near Saanichton. Perhaps it was just a coincidence, but boy do I wish I’d had my bins with me on Sunday… 

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