Monday, 5 November 2012

Tern'd Out Nice Again

The dark autumn mornings and evenings always plays havoc with my birding. The lack of available light before and after work means that, like all other keen birders, I'm restricted to weekends and the occasional weekday lunch break. Of course, most of us have other things going on in our lives too, which means that even the weekends are rarely open to non-stop avian exploration.
But the really frustrating thing is when a 'good' bird is found midweek. The last few days of the working week can drag by, as we keep our eye on the news - will 'it' stick around until Saturday? And even if it does, will domestic necessities get in the way? Such is the plight of the active lister!

Elegant tern
Thankfully, one of last week's local scarcities did stick around and I even managed to get out to see it. 
Following Ian Cruikshank's discovery of a tropical kingbird at Cattle Point late on Thursday afternoon, several local birders headed out in an attempt to relocate it on Friday morning. Unfortunately it failed to materialise, but Steven Roias did spot what he initially assumed to be a common tern fishing offshore. Common terns, despite their name, are not at all common in this part of the country these days and ordinarily this would be a noteworthy find. However, what Steven later came to realise was that he hadn't been watching a un-common tern but in fact a major rarity - an elegant tern
He immediately put the news out and before long the bird was relocated in the same general area. Now, having only seen this species once before (off Monterrey, California some 12 years ago) I was quite keen to catch up with this smart and distinctive seabird.
Elegant tern - look at that bill!
By noon on Saturday I finally got my window of opportunity and drove out to Cattle Point in the hope of seeing the tern. I arrived and noticed a complete absence of birders. I hoped that wasn't a bad sign… I took up position on the high bluff overlooking both the point and Bowker / Willow Beach, so I might have a wider sweep of the whole area. It turned out (no pun intended) to be a pretty good move as the tern soon appeared and landed on a buoy close offshore. After gorging my senses on this beautiful vagrant for a few minutes I got a few hasty snaps through my 'scope.
The tern would go off fishing for short spells, often returning to rest on one of the floats. After some time it headed off and went some distance offshore before swinging back around and fishing between the Oak Bay Beach Hotel and Victoria Golf Club.
I then spotted Rob Walker who was on the point, and presumably looking for the tern. I walked down to let him know where the bird was, and he mentioned that he had just seen a Lapland longspur. Before long the longspur was showing nicely and a few more birders were turning up. The elegant tern appeared and flew by us, heading in the direction of Cordova Bay. This bird likes to get around!
Other birds in the area included good numbers of marbled murrelets and other common alcids, plus a trio of ancient murrelets. Both red-necked and horned grebes were on the water as were plenty of American wigeon, plus hooded mergansers and bufflehead. Shorebirds were thin on the ground with just black turnstone and a couple of surfbirds.
Walking back to the car I came across a single mourning dove.

Happy with my looks at the tern, I then decided to stop off at a few of the regular coastal watchpoints on my way home. I started out at McMicking Point, just southwest of the golf club. On the greens was a small gaggle of ball-dodging greater white-fronted geese while the nearby rocky islets were teeming with roosting cormorants and gulls. Scanning through, there were also several shorebirds in the mix including a couple of dowitchers, plus black-bellied plovers, dunlin, surfbirds, black oystercatchers and black turnstones.
Gulls included lots of Bonaparte's, mew and glaucous-winged along with smaller numbers of Heermann's, California and a couple of Thayer's gulls.           
Next stop was at Harling Point and the Chinese Cemetery. A huge raft of surf scoter also hosted around 20 white-winged scoter and half a dozen long-tailed duck. A handful of common loons were alongside 15 Pacific loons and a single red-throated loon was close by. Red-breasted mergansers, more red-necked grebes and all the expected auk species were all present in varying numbers.
I made one final call at Government House before heading home but the only bird worthy of note was a barred owl.
Talking of owls, while Jenny and I were walking back from town on Sunday afternoon our attention was drawn to the sound of some agitated Northwestern crows near the Moss Street, Fairfield junction. On closer inspection, there was also a small group of people gathered beneath a tree and gazing upward outside the Fairfield Market. The two things weren't unconnected - looking up we saw a great-horned owl casually preening on one of the outer branches. The crows quickly tired of the unresponsive owl and left, but it was great to see many people enjoying the sight of this impressive predator in the middle of their neighbourhood!  

Monday morning I took advantage of the briefly lighter mornings (we turned the clocks back this weekend, a full week later than in the UK) and started my day at Clover Point. It wasn't too birdy, just a few dunlin, black turnstone and black-bellied plovers present plus the usual gulls, sea ducks and alcids. I also made a brief stop at Ogden Point, where I 'scoped the feeding Bonaparte's gulls in search of Saturday's little gull, but it wasn't to be seen. 
For a week or so, I may at least be able to squeeze a few more pre-work birding forays in before we plunge once more into days of book-ended gloom… sometimes spring seems such a long way away.     


  1. Hey Jon,

    Don't forget little ol' me...Steven and I both spotted what tern'd out to be the E. Tern....

  2. Of course Lynette - there were two of you who thought it was a common tern! (only kidding).
    It was a great bird to see here in BC, I wonder what amazing straggler will show up next?