Friday, 10 August 2012

Mount Washington & Beyond...

The view from the Mile High Chairlift 
Last Thursday afternoon Jenny and I headed off up island (destination Mount Washington) stopping with friends overnight in south Nanaimo. As we sat out in Dave and Val’s spacious yard, joined by fellow birder Bernard Schroeder, we were treated to the wonderful sight, and sound, of up to 50 common nighthawks as they passed over in small loose flocks.

On Friday we carried on our merry way and arrived at the ski resort in the early afternoon. Glorious sunshine greeted us and we soon found ourselves heading up the mountain on the Mile High Chairlift. Although we’d already spotted a few gray jays here and there, they were a bit more, let’s say, hands-on up here. Or more precisely, a bit more on-our-hands.

Gray jay - also known as 'Whiskey Jack' 
Having learnt many years ago that humans provide a decent meal ticket to those who beg, these attractive jays, or ‘Whiskey Jacks’ as they are colloquially known, are adept scroungers. Whether they should be eating chocolate, salted peanuts, chewing gum or whatever else the tourists and skiers dole out is another matter altogether…

Me being naughty, feeding wildlife...
There wasn’t much else up there bar the occasional dark-eyed junco, raven or passing bald eagle and so after we’d got an eyeful of the spectacular Strathcona Park scenery we trekked back down the mountain on foot.
Bird-wise this was also disappointing, and I only added Steller’s jay and pine siskin to the paltry list. And we didn’t even spot any marmots. Pah.
Not long after we’d arrived at the foot of the mountain we decided to treat ourselves to another chairlift ride to the top. As we neared the halfway mark of the ascent my eyes were drawn to a dark shape below and to our delight we realised that it was a Vancouver Island marmot – an endemic rodent species, and one of the rarest mammals in the world. Bingo!

The endemic Vancouver Island marmot
Better still, when we came back down (via the lift, we weren’t walking it again…) we saw two marmots, but as we were dangling several feet above them, the pics we took were rather rubbish. As evidenced here.

On Saturday we spent the day hiking out to Kwai Lake. It was around a 14km round trip and we took our time, desperately hoping for an American three-toed woodpecker or anything else of interest. 

Nice spot for a picnic
Sadly the birding was once again scant at best, but we had a brilliant time out in the sunshine surrounded by the impressive landscape. Other than the siskins, juncos, vultures and such, we only saw red crossbills and a lowly northern flicker. I wasn’t expecting the forests to be alive with the sound of cacophonous birdsong, but I did think that a little post-breeding activity might be apparent. Maybe it was just too hot?

On our way back we had the pleasure of bumping into Daniel and Leo Donnecke who were on their way out to the Forbidden Plateau in search of white-tailed ptarmigan and other high altitude goodies. This was the first time that we had ever met, though knew of each other via our posts on the local birders’ forum BCVIBirds!
We also came across a couple of American red squirrels as we made our way through the forest (pic below).

We were back in Victoria for BC Day (Monday) and I found a couple of hours to check out Maber Flats. There’s still a bit of water here and as a result, some birds. 
Among the mass of starlings feeding at the muddy edges were some bona fide waders including 1 greater yellowlegs, 2 dowitcher sp., 8 spotted sandpipers and up to 50 killdeer. There were around 120 ‘peeps’ present, mainly least sandpipers with a few western sandpipers mixed in. A single semipalmated sandpiper was also among the gathering of small calidrids.  

American red squirrel
Later in the day I met up with visiting Brit birder Phil Bould who was in Victoria on vacation and had contacted me through this blog. 
We spent a couple of hours looking for seabirds and such, hoping to locate some key species. Starting out at Clover Point and checking a few good sites along the coast to Oak Bay Marina, we didn’t find anything out-of-the-ordinary but we were able to add a handful of birds to Phil’s life list including marbled murrelet, harlequin duck and hooded merganser.

On my home from work on Tuesday I stopped off at Ogden Point. The wandering tattler was still present, though not easy to find as it hunkered down on the ferry dock seawall. With a pretty hefty storm heading in, I made my way to Clover Point in the hope that I might pick up some storm-driven seabirds but despite the impressive lightning show, gusty winds and heavy rain I saw nothing of note over the ocean waves. I did get a frustratingly brief look at a distant large gull flying away from me that appeared to have a very dark mantle and wings…

Wednesday, I dropped in at Panama Flats on my way home from work – the previous night’s rain had done nothing to improve the dry waterless vista, and the place was pretty much birdless. A pair of Wilson’s warblers were the most notable things.   

Me & Jen deep in the woods....
On Thursday, I made a brief detour to Clover Point on my way home from work. I arrived to find Phil Bould ‘scoping from the end of the point, but he hadn’t seen much beyond the usual stuff. There was a fair bit of commotion going on close offshore with various water sports show-offs keeping the birds away. Several Heermann’s gulls were roosting with the many California gulls and various glaucous-winged mongrels. 


  1. nice photos Jon! looks like you guys are still having fun!

  2. I reckon Douglas' Squirrels are only on the mainland - see the map for them here:

    Nice work on the Vancouver Island Marmots - I don't know why I've been so complacent in going to see them!

    1. Cheers Jeremy - I should have checked distribution before posting!
      These must be American red squirrels then? I thought reds were generally brighter with more prominent whiter eye crescents... hence my lazy I.D!