Wednesday, 19 September 2012

It's a Frog's Life

A couple of weeks ago, while my brother Paul and Satty were still with us we took off for a couple of days to Mount Washington.
Pacific chorus frog
We broke up the journey with a couple of stops, including a walk along the trail at Roberts Memorial Provincial Park. This small but pleasant site was a regular haunt of mine when we lived in Yellowpoint. We saw pileated woodpeckers and red-breasted sapsuckers here, both always great birds to watch. A personal highlight came not in the form of a bird, but an amphibian. Despite having spent a fair bit of time trying to locate Pacific chorus frogs here on the island they have managed to evade detection, and so when I spotted one alongside the trail I was thrilled! Naturally I've heard them a thousand times but to actually see one of these diminutive tree frogs was quite a treat.
To celebrate we had lunch at the Crow and Gate pub.
The remainder of the drive up was relatively quiet bird or other-critter wise, with just occasional Steller's jays, turkey vultures and the like being seen as we headed up the highway.
Of course, things changed a bit once we arrived in the alpine region and gray jays soon became a common sight.
We spent a fair chunk of our only full day day out hiking along the relatively easy 6.8km trail to Battleship Lake - Lake Helen MacKenzie loop. We took our time and admired the stunning scenery while keeping all ears and eyes out for those bloody 3-toed woodpeckers. Unfortunately we only saw more sapsuckers, plus a few other common species including red crossbill, Cooper's hawk, band-tailed pigeon, the ever-present gray jays, etc. Of course, Paul and Sat loved the cheeky 'whiskey Jacks' and enjoyed sharing their snacks with the birds.
On Lake Helen MacKenzie I saw my first common goldeneye of the autumn, and a female common merganser was also present.
Vancouver Island marmot
While in the Mount Washington region I couldn't help but go and have another look for Vancouver Island marmots. Scrabbling around in the same general area I'd seen them last time, I came across a smart varied thrush before being being alerted to the marmot's presence by an ear-piercing whistle. I'd obviously been spotted by one! I soon located the animal on its lookout and managed a distant shot - I didn't want to spook the marmot by getting too close. Satisfied with my sighting I descended down the slopes and headed back to the condo for a celebratory beer or three with Jenny, Paul and Satty.

American dipper
When we headed back on the Friday we made a detour to Coombs Market to grab some grub and went to another favourite spot - Englishman River Falls.
I have always found this to be a reliable spot for American dipper (pictured), and we weren't to be disappointed with 2 birds seen - one above and one below the falls.

Red-legged frog
Another personal first came in the form of yet another amphibian, a red-legged frog, first spotted by Paul. With non-native bullfrogs being the only species I have consistently seen since my arrival here 3 years ago this was turning out to be something a productive trip!
The following morning, back in Rocklands, Victoria I was drawn to the sound of several American robins loudly calling outside the apartment. I stepped outside and noticed that the surrounding trees were dripping with the cacophonous thrushes. In among the 60 or so robins present, there were also at least 12 western tanagers feeding in the oaks and maples. At one point a tanager was flycatching from the turret of Craigdarroch Castle, not a sight you see every day!

Since then, it's been business as usual, with a return to work and the removal of three wisdom teeth...(ouch).
In between normal life, I have managed to squeeze in a few small birding forays including a rewarding early morning visit to Clover Point last Wednesday.
Common nighthawk
A pair of surfbirds and a couple of black turnstones were feeding along the kelp-strewn rocks along with a small flock of western sandpipers. A single black-bellied plover was also present. There was a real sense of autumn in the air, with a few savannah sparrows picking through the tideline debris, a scattering of remaining barn swallows feeding low over the beach areas and a notable increase in the number of mew gulls now appearing along the coast.
Common nighthawk - Clover Point
However, the most surprising find came in the form of a common nighthawk which flushed from the rocky beach and landed on a large rock off the point. I managed a couple of crappy pics through my 'scope as you can see here.
Having spent many an hour scrutinising horizontal tree branches in search of snoozing nighthawks (and never having found one) I was rather amazed to finally see a non-flying one in such an incongruous setting. That's the brilliant thing about birding - you can always expect the unexpected!  

I have also been making frequent stops at Summit Hill Reservoir. Wader numbers have fluctuated a little with varying numbers of western sandpiper, least sandpiper, killdeer, lesser yellowlegs and greater yellowlegs all dropping by.

Last Sunday, Jenny and I found time to go for a walk along Saanichton Spit and Island View Beach. Offshore there were lots of pigeon guillemots and small numbers of common murres and rhinoceros auklet. A pair of horned grebe were close inshore and a red-necked grebe also put in an appearance.
A flock of 12 horned lark were kicking around at the end of the point, but were very flighty.

On our way back in the afternoon we made a stop by Cordova Bay Golf Course to see if the long-billed curlew was still present. It was.
I got great views of the bird feeding on one of the greens before it was flushed by a couple of golf carts.
 Incidentally, when did people completely give up walking while golfing? This small private course hardly warrants the use of buggies. It seems even that fine old adage, "Golf, a good walk spoiled" is no longer pertinent. Lazy sods.
Anyhoo, the bird flew off calling and I was able to relocate it on the nearby beach soon afterwards. Before long it was flushed again, this time by a kayaker and it headed back toward the greens, once again calling loudly. Although it looked in good health while feeding, in flight the curlew dangled one leg, indicating some kind of injury. This was only the third time I had ever seen this species, and I certainly got better looks than on the two previous occasions.  


  1. Hi Jon,

    I haven't had a chance to really look over this nighthawk in great deal, but thought I'd send on this link:

    My thought is that this is a hatch-year Common Nighthawk, but I can't find any that look quite as shockingly buffy as the one you found.

  2. Thanks Jeremy. That pic of the buffy juv. on the link you sent is certainly close to the individual I came across at Clover Pt.
    The tail/wing length ratio really ruled out lesser, along with the placing of white wing spots, but I couldn't find any images of any common nighthawks that actually looked like this one. It's quite a striking bird!