Thursday, 27 September 2012

Irritable Owl Syndrome

Great-horned owl
After a couple of relatively unremarkable visits to Clover Point and the Summit Hill reservoir in recent days I headed down to the Government House grounds yesterday morning to see if there was any migrant action going on. 
As soon as I approached the grounds just after 7.20am I could hear multiple American robins stirring in the big leaf maples, which seemed pretty promising. Soon I was hearing small groups of pine siskins calling away as they passed overhead, further adding to my optimism.
Approaching the start of the woodland trail I hit into my first flock of feeding birds. In among the usual chestnut-backed chickadees, bushtits and red-breasted nuthatches were several yellow-rumped warblers a single orange-crowned warbler and a couple of ruby-crowned kinglet
A pair of downy woodpeckers picked their way through the garry oaks and 4 northern flickers squabbled noisily as they flew from tree to tree. On the ground, newly arrived golden-crowned and white-crowned sparrows were feeding along the path side, and then I noticed something quite different among them - a white-throated sparrow. This species, while not rare, is at best a scarce passage migrant on Vancouver Island and so I was rather pleased to encounter this individual.
As I continued along my regular route it became apparent that there were quite a few fox sparrows lurking in the denser areas, as well as a few Lincoln's sparrows. Joining the resident spotted towhees in the understory were at least 3 hermit thrushes, though I suspect more were scattered about the site.
Another surprise came in the form of a red-breasted sapsucker which flew low over the area, my first in the Government House grounds.
The distinctive, mournful calls of a varied thrush alerted me to the presence of a single bird sat in a fir - the first of what will doubtless be many in the coming weeks. Few birds sum up the Pacific Northwest better for us Brit birders than these dazzling forest dwellers!
As I rounded a corner at the western end of the woodland I noticed a large greyish bird preening on a branch. I couldn't see its head initially, and assumed it was a barred owl. Just as I raised my binocs for a proper look out popped its head, revealing a couple of intense yellow eyes and a couple of silly 'ears'. A cracking, if somewhat grumpy-looking great-horned owl. Only the second one I've seen in the grounds. This is without question the greyest great-horned owl that I have seen and doubtless belongs to the saturatus subspecies. 

After work yesterday I had another stab at Clover Point. Another bright and sunny day meant that disturbance levels were at optimum levels and as such the likelihood of finding any longspurs or larks were pretty close to zero. Similarly, shorebirds were notable only by their absence. Offshore it was reasonably decent with good numbers of alcids including common murres, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets and a handful of marbled murrelets
Red-necked and horned grebes were both present and as I chatted with fellow birder Daniel Donnecke a trio of elegant western grebes swam by, always a treat to see.

I decided on a repeat visit this morning and headed down to Clover Point nice and early in an attempt to beat the dog-walkers and joggers. Even still, there were no grounded passerines, probably due to the lovely clear and calm conditions. A couple of ubiquitous savannah sparrows were all I could find.
A dozen or so black turnstone were feeding alongside a couple of black oystercatchers off the point end, and the usual gaggle of mixed gulls including California, Heermann's, mew and glaucous-winged were present.
Mallard numbers have built up in the past few days (yippee) as have harlequin ducks and I noticed 4 American wigeon, my first of the autumn, flying over. 

Turkey vultures
My lunchtime walk by Langford Lake was reasonably productive in as much as there were common migrants including hermit thrush, ruby-crowned kingletsorange-crowned and yellow-rumped warblers feeding in the waterside trees and scrub. 
Overhead an impressive and steady stream of turkey vultures was moving southwest. Occasionally a group would stop and soar on a thermal before carrying on. 
I estimated around 180 passed over me as I walked back to the office from the lake.   


  1. Just love Van Island. Was led to yr nice blog by an article in Birdwatch magazine here in the UK. Have been over to BC and the Island several times - we have a timeshare at Pacific Shores Nature Resort in Parksville. Took in Clover Pt in our last visit a couple of yrs ago and got Rhinocerous Auklet, which was on my wanted list. Prev visit I met up with an ex pat Brit called Derrick Marven who at the time lived in Duncan - do you know him? P'hpas will contact you when we next come over .... Good birding!

    1. Hi John, thanks for your message. As you know, the birding really is great here, especially for those of us from the other side of the world!
      I do know Derrick but only via his postings and reputation. Oddly enough, I have never actually met him, though I have done little birding around Duncan.