Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Knot The Bird I Was Looking For...

While just about every other birder in BC and beyond has been justifiably getting excited about the citrine wagtail discovered on Vancouver Island this week, my own birding forays have been somewhat more subdued.
For those not following the wagtail tales, this bird not only represents the first of the species to be found in British Columbia, but for Canada. And more remarkably, it's only the second record for the whole of North America. Given that the other record is 20 years old and comes from the geographically and culturally distant state of Mississippi it's little surprise that no-one saw this one coming!
To read more about this mega and to see some decent photos, check Jeremy Gatten's blog post here.
Being in the comfortable position of having seen citrine wagtail in the past, I chose to forego the 6+ hours round-trip up to Comox and have instead been dedicating my birding windows on trying to find interesting seabirds and shorebirds closer to home.
My main nemesis in this regard is the annual but unpredictable rock sandpiper, a species I have been searching for for some time. Of course, there are guaranteed stake-outs that involve drives and ferries but I'd really like to find one in the Victoria area. Being familiar with its Atlantic counterpart the purple sandpiper, there's something about rock sands that really appeal to me. Given the rapidly shrinking amount of time left to me here on the island, I suspect that I may have to save this particular tick for another day!

Male snowy owl
Even in the absence of that darned sandpiper, highlights have been had in recent days.
While checking the waterbirds from McMicking Point on Saturday I was rewarded with the sight of a pair of snowy owls sat on the small island just to the east of Trail Island. One was an adult male while the other appeared to be a 1stw female (both pictured, badly, here).
As I later scanned through the many seabirds off Harling Point, including long-tailed ducks, ancient murrelets and such, I relocated the Clark's grebe with a single western grebe and 4 brant flew by.

1stw female snowy owl
The following day (Sunday) Jenny came along and we once again saw the snowy owls, but they were more distant, sat on Trial Island itself. Later we saw a third snowy owl sat forlornly in the galeforce winds on a small islet off Oak Bay Marina.

Despite there being much to do at home, I still managed to find a couple of hours this week (now that I've finished work) to check out the local rocky headlands and the Government House grounds.
Brown pelican
In fact as Jenny and I walked home from town on Monday, we took the long route along Dallas Road and got crippling views of a brown pelican near Ogden Point. Unfortunately I only had my little point and shoot camera with me so the pic's even worse than my usual crappy standard but you can still tell what it is! There was also a Heermann's gull nearby. 3 sanderling were with black turnstones on the beach near Holland Point
This was my first brown pelican in BC waters; this bird is just one of several that have appeared in the local area recently presumably associated with an El Nino (also, as Jeremy Gatten pointed out, the likely cause of the Cattle Point elegant tern). 

Red knot
This morning I once again spotted the snowy owl duo on Trial Island but found little else of note from McMicking or Harling Points. After a thorough soaking I thought I'd try my luck at Clover Point before heading home for hot chocolate and some dry clothes.
I was rather glad that I did!
Having checked around the point for anything interesting (and finding just a lone sanderling) I had one last look down by the slipway and noticed a flock of black-bellied plover feeding on the grass. Just as I raised my rain sodden binos a soggy jogger flushed them and as they flew out over the water and back again I noticed a slightly smaller, drabber bird among them.
Red knot and black-bellied plover
They once again settled on the grassy area and I found the bird again, recognising it immediately as a red knot. Pretty scarce in these parts with one or two records a year or so, this was reasonable compensation for my drenching. Only problem is, as someone who spent most of his life birding around Morecambe Bay in Lancashire I'm used to seeing knots in multiples of tens of thousands! Now where the hell's my rock sandpiper..?


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