Monday, 20 August 2012

The Point of Birding...

Sunrise at Rocky Point
I finally made it out to Rocky Point Bird Observatory (RPBO) on Saturday, having enlisted as a volunteer some weeks ago.  
This mixed-habitat site is located on the grounds of the Department of National Defence's Rocky Point Ammunition Depot in Metchosin, southwest of Victoria here on Vancouver Island.
As a newcomer to the obs, I thought it would be a good idea to join Ian Cruikshank as he undertook a site census. 
We arrived at RPBO around 5.30am, signed in at the security gate, and made our way to the banding (or ringing as a Brit birder would say) station and the start of the census trail.

Semipalmated plover
With some time to kill before the census start time, Ian and I did a bit of birding along the shore. A few waders were present in the early morning sunlight, including least and spotted sandpipers, 6 distant dowitchers and a semipalmated plover (pictured).
Out on the water we could see common murres and rhinoceros auklets, and among the many California gulls we picked out a handful of mew gulls and a single ring-billed gull.

We started along the census trail at 7.15am and kept to the allotted 1.5 hours as required. The place was pretty lively bird-wise, despite the fact that the weather has been consistently ‘pleasant’ lately (sunny, hot, calm) with passage migrants consequently thin on the ground.
We covered a range of habitats, including mixed deciduous, conifer, grassy meadow, scrubby brush, fresh water pools and the shoreline, as well as offshore.
Amongst other things, we came across numerous yellow warblers, Wilson’s warblers, orange-crowned warblersblack-throated gray warblers and warbling vireo plus willow, Hammond’s and Pacific-slope flycatchers. As we checked one the smaller ponds we got great looks at a young sora as it stood out on the water’s edge in full view.

The banding station at Rocky Point Bird Observatory
After we had completed the census, we spent some time birding around the site. 
I made a point of hanging around at the banding station (pictured), watching the small team process the catches. 
Having spent a fair amount of time observing the ringing of birds at a number of observatories and ringing sites back in the UK I was interested to see how they do things in North America. 

Wilson's warbler - a bird in the hand, etc...
And, it gave me the opportunity to see some cracking birds in the hand - better still; I got to release a banded Anna’s hummingbird! You don't find too many of those in the nets at Heysham Obs!

While Ian and I were scouring the bushes for interesting migrants, he heard a distant call that he thought was probably a northern waterthrush. Ian’s knowledge of bird calls is somewhat legendary, and his hearing is immaculate. Half the birds he identifies by sound alone, I don’t even hear. His youthful, untainted lugs are a miracle of biology compared to the battered old rock and roll scarred things flapping about on the side of my head…

Willow flycatcher
Anyway, we checked out the area – a boggy creek, perfect for a lurking waterthrush – but we didn’t hear anything to support Ian’s initial thoughts. We went our separate ways, with me heading off to scour the gulls and shorebirds once more. Shortly after, Ian came running out to tell me that he had not only heard the warbler again but also seen it. 
I returned to the scene. 
This time the bird was calling frequently, but keeping well hidden from view. I hadn’t seen a northern waterthrush for well over a decade, and I was rather keen to clap eyes on this individual.

Yellow warbler
As Ian went off in search of seabirds, I decided to stick it out and my patience was eventually rewarded when the bird started flying around calling. It eventually settled, and landed on a log before giving wonderful views as it slowly picked its way around the weedy edges of the water, calling occasionally. I watched it out in the open for about 3- and-a-half minutes before it once again vanished into the emergent vegetation. Fabulous!

We left RPBO just before 1pm having seen some 70+ species. I can’t wait to go back and help out in any way that I can, be it conducting bird censuses, assisting with banding duties or adding general observations to the records.     
Read more about Rocky Point Bird Observatory. 

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