Monday, 12 November 2012

Another Lifer In The Bag

Clark's grebe
After a pretty busy weekend where I managed to do absolutely zero birding (oh, the shame...) I did find a window of opportunity today (Remembrance Monday is a stat holiday here in Canada) and took full advantage of it.
Mid-morning I set off to McMicking Point. A couple of days ago a photo was posted on the local birding forum of a couple of western grebes from nearby Harling Point. My attention was only drawn to these pics by fellow expat Brit birder David Caudwell who noticed that one of the birds was in fact a Clark's grebe and posted a comment on the forum.
Still somewhat irritated by that 'one that got away' a short while ago, (see previous post here) I thought I'd spend some time scanning the water in search of the rare beast. After all, this would be a world tick for me.
I arrived at McMicking Point around 11am and started methodically checking the mass of birds on the water. I soon found a pair of 'westerns' some distance away. Even at distance things didn't look promising. The birds got closer over the next half hour and I was able to confirm their identity as the commoner species. I couldn't see any other western-type grebes at all, just a handful of red-necked grebes.
Among the many birds on the ocean were huge rafts of surf scoter, along with smaller numbers of white-winged scoters and long-tailed ducks. Common and red-breasted mergansers were plentiful and among the commoner alcids, including good numbers of marbled murrelet, were at least 20 ancient murrelets
Pacific loons were fishing in several small groups and a single red-throated loon was also present, as were a couple of common loons.
While I was here, I thought I might as well check Trial Island just in case the snowy owl spotted there recently was to be seen. It wasn't.
A peregrine was hunting over the island flushing otherwise unseen flocks of black-bellied plover and dunlin. A northern shrike was also hunting on the island, perching up on prominent signs and posts near the shore while a pair of bald eagles sat around doing very little.

Clark's grebe with 2 western grebes
Having scanned and re-scanned the water, I decided to give Harling Point a try. There were far fewer birds here, but I was at least able to check the water between here and Clover Point. More loons, buffleheads, harlequin ducks and a horned grebe were to the west of Harling Point. Looking back toward McMicking I could see much the same birds I had 'scoped from there. There was the pair of western grebes, still between Trial Island and McMicking Point, but what was that bird way in the distance? Another 'western' type certainly, but even at a range of 1.5km it really did appear very pale flanked. Hmm. Back to the Jonmobile and a return to McMicking for a closer look methinks...
Of course, when I got back to the site I couldn't find the single bird for love nor money. Nor could I even locate the pair of definite westerns. Brilliant.
I continued to scan the sea for any signs of my quarry. Then, all of a sudden (just before 1pm) 3 grebes sailed into view right below me. And as I raised my bins, I realised that my quest was over. There, in front of me were 2 western grebes and a cracking winter plumage Clark's grebe. The white in front of the eye, the pale flanks, orange bill and narrower black stripe on the back of the neck were all clearly visible. I managed to snap a couple of half-decent record shots through my 'scope before the trio drifted a little further out. They remained together, snoozing on the water just off Trial Island.
That was a very well spent two hours!

Clark's grebe's are pretty rare in the Victoria area, and until the 80's the species was actually considered to be a pale variant of western grebe. 

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