Tuesday, 31 July 2012

See You Later, Alligator

This time last year Panama Flats still held a fair amount of water. In fact there was enough water to attract some reasonably impressive numbers of shorebirds well into the third week of August. Mid-month we were still seeing sizeable gatherings of least and western sandpipers, plus we had pectoral sandpipers dropping in.  Not so this year, as the pools are all but gone and very few waders can be found.
So, on Sunday afternoon I thought I’d go and see what was going on up at Maber Flats, one of the few places in the Victoria area that might still have enough water to attract passing shorebirds. Jenny got out a lawn chair and her current read and settled in for a spell while I trundled off to see what I could find.
The water levels looked promising. Scanning around I could see the 5 cinnamon teal all huddled together, while rafts of mallard and Canada geese paddled around in the muddy pools.
In the shallows I picked out 4 greater yellowlegs and 2 lesser yellowlegs, plus a twittering gang of 19 long-billed dowitchers. 5 least sandpipers were picking their way around the edges and at least 11 spotted sandpiper were scattered around the site.
A couple of times my attention was drawn skyward as the swallow’s alarm calls heralded the arrival of something sinister. An immaculate adult peregrine came piling in and made a handful of unsuccessful strikes at the assembled would-be-banquet. An impressive falcon, this was surely a female given its formidable size and bulk. Each time the peregrine came in for the kill the shorebirds would wheel around calling frantically, while a cloud of agitated swallows pursued the hunting raptor, appearing like a swarm of mosquitoes.
A marsh wren was rattling away from the trackside and there were charms of American goldfinches feeding around the place, but other than savannah sparrows, chipping sparrows, Brewer’s blackbirds, etc there wasn’t too much other passerine activity on offer.
As I returned to Jenny and her al fresco lounge, we noticed a smart short-legged reptile scuttling across the gravel. At last – my first sighting of Northwestern alligator lizard! It moved rather too keenly for me to get a photo of it but I was delighted to finally see this BC native here on Vancouver Island. 

We then dropped by at Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, taking the relatively short and easy Tod Inlet Trail in the northern end of the park. I had never been to this part of the park before, although Jenny had.
Of course the forest was quiet, after all it was mid-afternoon on a sunny July day. Down by the inlet there were several purple martins still attending their nestboxes at the pilings, and filling the air with their wonderful chattering. 

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