Thursday 25 January 2018

BC calls again...

We're heading out to BC again in May 2018 for another wildlife-packed, two week birding trip; leaving the UK on May 19 and returning on June 1.
There are still a couple of places available - for more details see:

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Back In BC - 2016

It's been quite a while since I posted here but in the wake of a trip back to BC in May I thought it would be prudent to update the site!
For the second consecutive year I joined a group of birders from the UK for a two-week tour of the area. The trip was organised by Ribble Bird Tours and I was drafted in as itinerary planner / guide / driver / interpreter etc. As you can clearly see from the attached efforts I was not employed as a photographer... (pics taken using handheld snapper held up to my 'scope).
We flew out to Vancouver on Friday 20th May and returned on 5th June 2016.

Lewis's woodpecker
Our tour started with a couple of days in and around Manning Park where we searched for a range of alpine & forest birds and mammals. Sought after birds including varied thrush, Clarke's nutcracker, harlequin duck, sooty grouse and mountain chickadee got the trip-list off to a good start.

We then spent some time in the spectacular Okanagan Valley, making a couple of stops along the way for such cracking birds as lazuli bunting, Bullock's oriole, mountain bluebird and Say's phoebe.
The habitat changed dramatically as we headed into the drier interior, and so did the avifauna. Here we were joined by the always affable Chris Charlesworth, one of the region's best known birders, to maximise our opportunities. Highlights here included sage thrasher, white-throated swift, common poorwill, caliope & black-chinned hummingbird, Cassin's finch & American three-toed and Lewis's woodpeckers.

Say's phoebe
After a few days on the mainland we headed over to my old stomping ground of Vancouver Island. We did some birding at some of my favourite spots in and around my old home-town Nanaimo before heading up to Mount Washington where we were treated to great views of Steller's and gray jays along with ruffed grouse, chestnut-backed chickadees and Townsend's warbler.
We then drove west to the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Here we took a trip to see black bears and were treated to multiple sightings of these stunning beasts. We were also lucky enough to spot sea otters and grey whales from shore.
Bird highlights of the west coast included a range of species such as Pacific wren, MacGillivray's warbler, rufous hummingbird and black swift. We met up with my pal Ian Cruikshank who joined us for a spot of birding around the Tofino area - Ian is a top-notch naturalist who seems to be constantly finding everything from unusual ferns to rare birds!

Wilson's phalarope
After leaving the old-growth rainforest and wild west coast we headed south to my other former home-town, Victoria. From here we explored some of the best areas on southern Vancouver Island.
Days spent birding a range of habitats allowed us to catch up with marbled murrelets, pigeon guillemots, red-breasted sapsuckers, several more flycatcher and warbler species plus a couple of unseasonal wildfowl - summering trumpeter and tundra swans! Local expertise was provided by Rick Schortinghuis - a great guy and a great birder. 

From the island we headed back toward Vancouver but not without spending some time at Boundary Bay and the George C Reifel Bird Sanctuary. This famous area is worth a visit at any time of the year and here we saw a number of good birds including northern harrier, both lesser & greater yellowlegs and sandhill crane

For details of the 2017 trip to BC or any other birding tours with Ribble Bird Tours visit the website or email

Full list of species seen on 2016 trip:
  1. Canada Goose
  2. Mute Swan
  3. Trumpeter Swan
  4. Tundra Swan
  5. Wood Duck
  6. Gadwall
  7. American Wigeon
  8. Mallard
  9. Blue-winged Teal
  10. Cinnamon Teal
  11. Northern Shoveler
  12. Northern Pintail
  13. American Green-winged Teal 
  14. Redhead
  15. Ring-necked Duck
  16. Lesser Scaup
  17. Bufflehead
  18. Common Goldeneye
  19. Barrow's Goldeneye
  20. Hooded Merganser
  21. Common Merganser
  22. Ruddy Duck
  23. Ruffed Grouse
  24. Sooty Grouse
  25. California Quail
  26. Pacific Loon
  27. Common Loon
  28. Pied-billed Grebe 
  29. Red-necked Grebe
  30. Eared Grebe
  31. Western Grebe
  32. Double-crested Cormorant
  33. Pelagic Cormorant
  34. Great Blue Heron
  35. Turkey Vulture
  36. Osprey
  37. Bald Eagle
  38. Northern Harrier
  39. Cooper's Hawk
  40. Northern Goshawk
  41. Red-tailed Hawk
  42. American Kestrel
  43. American Coot
  44. Sandhill Crane
  45. Semipalmated Plover
  46. Killdeer
  47. Black Oystercatcher
  48. Spotted Sandpiper
  49. Greater Yellowlegs
  50. Lesser Yellowlegs
  51. Sanderling
  52. Pectoral Sandpiper
  53. Wilson's Snipe
  54. Wilson's Phalarope
  55. Red-necked Phalarope
  56. Mew Gull
  57. Ring-billed Gull
  58. California Gull
  59. Glaucous-winged Gull
  60. Caspian Tern
  61. Common Murre
  62. Pigeon Guillemot
  63. Marbled Murrelet
  64. Rhinoceros Auklet
  65. Rock Pigeon
  66. Band-tailed Pigeon
  67. Eurasian Collared-Dove
  68. Mourning Dove
  69. Barn Owl
  70. Flammulated Owl - heard only
  71. Great Horned Owl 
  72. Barred Owl
  73. Common Poorwill
  74. Black Swift
  75. Vaux's Swift
  76. White-throated Swift
  77. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  78. Anna's Hummingbird
  79. Calliope Hummingbird
  80. Rufous Hummingbird
  81. Belted Kingfisher
  82. Lewis's Woodpecker
  83. Williamson's Sapsucker
  84. Red-naped Sapsucker
  85. Red-breasted Sapsucker
  86. Downy Woodpecker
  87. Hairy Woodpecker
  88. American Three-toed Woodpecker
  89. Northern Flicker
  90. Pileated Woodpecker
  91. Olive-sided Flycatcher
  92. Western Wood-Pewee
  93. Willow Flycatcher
  94. Least Flycatcher
  95. Hammond's Flycatcher
  96. Gray Flycatcher
  97. Dusky Flycatcher
  98. Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  99. Say's Phoebe
  100. Western Kingbird
  101. Eastern Kingbird
  102. Hutton's Vireo
  103. Warbling Vireo
  104. Gray Jay
  105. Steller's Jay
  106. Clark's Nutcracker
  107. Black-billed Magpie
  108. American Crow
  109. Northwestern Crow
  110. Common Raven
  111. Purple Martin
  112. Tree Swallow
  113. Violet-green Swallow
  114. Northern Rough-winged Swallow
  115. Bank Swallow
  116. Cliff Swallow
  117. Barn Swallow
  118. Black-capped Chickadee
  119. Mountain Chickadee
  120. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  121. Bushtit
  122. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  123. White-breasted Nuthatch
  124. Pygmy Nuthatch
  125. Brown Creeper
  126. Rock Wren
  127. Canyon Wren
  128. Bewick's Wren
  129. House Wren
  130. Pacific Wren
  131. Marsh Wren
  132. American Dipper
  133. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  134. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  135. Western Bluebird
  136. Mountain Bluebird
  137. Townsend's Solitaire
  138. Swainson's Thrush
  139. Hermit Thrush
  140. American Robin
  141. Varied Thrush
  142. Gray Catbird
  143. Sage Thrasher
  144. European Starling
  145. Cedar Waxwing
  146. Orange-crowned Warbler
  147. Nashville Warbler
  148. Yellow Warbler
  149. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  150. Black-throated Gray Warbler
  151. Townsend's Warbler
  152. MacGillivray's Warbler
  153. Common Yellowthroat
  154. Wilson's Warbler
  155. Western Tanager
  156. Spotted Towhee
  157. Chipping Sparrow
  158. Brewer's Sparrow
  159. Vesper Sparrow
  160. Savannah Sparrow
  161. Fox Sparrow
  162. Song Sparrow
  163. Lincoln's Sparrow
  164. White-crowned Sparrow
  165. Dark-eyed Junco
  166. Black-headed Grosbeak
  167. Lazuli Bunting
  168. Bobolink
  169. Red-winged Blackbird
  170. Western Meadowlark
  171. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  172. Brewer's Blackbird
  173. Brown-headed Cowbird
  174. Bullock's Oriole
  175. Pine grosbeak
  176. Purple Finch
  177. Cassin's Finch
  178. House Finch
  179. Red Crossbill
  180. Pine Siskin
  181. American Goldfinch
  182. House Sparrow

Wednesday 30 January 2013

A Fond Farewell...

Farewell Canada!
As most visitors to this site will have noticed, I am no longer posting regular bird sightings from BC. This is wholly due to the small fact that Jenny and I no longer live in Canada and are once more residing in merry olde England.
I will keep the blog 'alive' as a resource for anyone who is planning a visit to this wonderful part of the world - the sightings archive should provide some clues as to the sorts of things a relatively active birder can hope to see on Vancouver Island over a period of time. The links too, are a handy reference.
I am always happy to hear from anyone heading out to BC in search of birds and will gladly offer any tips on locations, etc. to traveling birders. Email me at joncbirder AT     

I would like to thank all the wonderful BC birders that I had to pleasure to meet during my 3 years as a resident in both Nanaimo and Victoria. I'm sure that I will be back to visit from time to time, so I expect that you haven't seen the last of me!

And, if you would like to keep up with my birding exploits on the other side of the pond I am frequently updating the Birding Aldcliffe blog, detailing sightings on my local patch in Lancaster,  Lancashire.

Cheers, and as Douglas Adams so eloquently put it - 'So long, and thanks for all the fish'. 

Sunday 25 November 2012

Palm Friday

Northern harrier
Amongst the confusion and chaos that inevitably occurs in the process of moving home, I have been thankful to find a few moments of escape in the past few days. On Friday I chose to abandon my recent obsession with all things oceanic and headed for the wonderful Panama Flats. My main target was to find a Eurasian teal in with the multitude of green-winged teal (despite the fact that I'll be doing it the other way round in week's time!). Of course, the optimist in me was really searching through the females in search of a Baikal teal. Well if a citrine wagtail can show up on Vancouver Island, so can pretty much anything...
As I got out of the car I glanced over toward the wee sparrow-fest taking place by the path at Hyacinth Park. One each of tan- and white-striped white-throated sparrow were feeding alongside golden-crowned, white-crowned, song and house sparrows plus several fox sparrows, including the 'resident' partial albino bird. This really is a striking individual, with at least 70% of its feathers being pure white. I didn't see hide nor hair of the Harris's sparrow unfortunately.
With water levels now at an impressive height, the flats are teeming with birds. On the downside the volume of water is such that access is fairly restricted even with wellies. As a result, a full circular walk of the perimeter is impossible and I could only make it to the southeastern quadrant if I was prepared to fully retrace my steps back to Hyacinth. The good news is that I had time and I was able to give the whole site a fairly decent bit of coverage over the 3 hours or so that I was there.
I scoured the dabblers but failed to locate any Euro-teal although I did spy 4 Eurasian wigeon in among the mass of American wigeon. Pintail numbers continue to impress, and alongside the many mallard there were also a few northern shoveler and gadwall. Bufflehead and American coot were present in small numbers and a lone drake ruddy duck was on the southwest quadrant pool.
As I trudged along the muddy bank path I flushed half a dozen Wilson's snipe from a boggy patch. By the end of my visit this number had doubled, although I expect that the true figures far eclipsed those seen. 

Red-tailed hawk
Raptors were few with just one northern harrier (pictured above), bald eagle and 2 red-tailed hawk seen. One of the red-tails appeared to have an over-long deformed bill (pictured).
Along the eastern edge of the flats I came across large numbers of foraging sparrows including good numbers of Lincoln's sparrows. Among a group of these near the grey building I was delighted to see a cracking adult swamp sparrow who charmed me with stunning out-in-the-open views.
A group of bushtits actively feeding by the path close to the Gladioli entrance (well, it would be an entrance if it wasn't under 2 feet of water) looked promising and I scanned through the darting birds in the hope of spotting something more transient. After a couple of minutes of being diverted by ruby-crowned kinglets I finally noticed a warbler. Hmmm, an eastern 'Taiga' orange-crowned warbler by the looks of it. Then it was gone. The flock moved away and I was stood staring into a birdless vista.

Western meadowlark
Determined to make sure that the grey-headed warbler was in fact 'just' an orange-crowned I chased down the roving bushtits and after a few anxious moments I was able to confirm its identity. Then another warbler popped up. This was no orange-crowned; it was clearly a palm warbler. Nice! It gave decent views for about 10 seconds before dashing off and vanishing into the undergrowth.
Only the second palm warbler that I've seen on the island, my first being one that I found at the Nanaimo River Estuary soon after my arrival on the island in 2009. In fact, checking the dates the two birds were only 3 days apart!
The flock once again moved off and faced with the discovery that I was flooded in I turned about face and walked the whole way round again. En route back to Hyacinth I did get to see swamp sparrow again and a dazzling western meadowlark (pictured) made a welcome appearance. 

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..?


Wednesday 14 November 2012

Panam Flghts

Dawn at Panama Flats
With a reasonable forecast for Wednesday morning, I got up dark and early and headed out to Panama Flats and had a decent root around from about  7.20am-9.45am.
The sun was just rising but there was enough light to scan through the mass of wildfowl on the southwest and northwest quadrants. 
As on my last visit to this wonderful site there were hundreds of pintail, American wigeon, green-winged teal and mallard. In amongst the quacking congregation there were also smaller numbers of northern shoveler, gadwall and a few hooded merganser and bufflehead too. I was hoping to locate a Eurasian teal in the mix, but only found a couple of drake Eurasian wigeons
There were good numbers of tiny cackling geese, in with many Canadas of varying sizes. During the first hour of daylight flights of ducks and geese continued to arrive and depart, truly adding to the wonderful feeling that many of these birds are just arriving from northern climes.

Walking along the path on the western side of the pools I flushed a short-eared owl which duly drifted off and dropped into an area of thick brambles. 
I walked the perimeter of the flats and stopped briefly to admire an adult peregrine (pictured) before coming across a flock of dark-eyed juncos and mixed sparrows feeding on the muddy path in the northeast corner. 
Among them were a number of Lincoln's sparrows and I got a brief but convincing look at what was almost certainly a swamp sparrow. Disappointed that I couldn't get the thing to emerge for a better look, I plodded on conscious of the time and my need to get to work.

Just after passing the grey building adjacent to Carey Road, another flock of sparrows exploded from the weedy pathside grass. A dark sparrow caught my eye as it flitted away and I got my bins on it as it clung to some tall grass stems. Now, that definitely was a swamp sparrow! It dropped down and strangely seemed to emerge again immediately several feet to the right. Odd. 
As I enjoyed more good looks at the bird it was joined by another from the left - there were two together! They flitted off in unison toward the central berm, stopping frequently in tussocks of vegetation. Nice! 

Northern harrier
Throughout the early morning a pair of northern harriers were hunting over the area (juvenile pictured) and a Cooper's hawk was patrolling the ringside trees, keeping the red-winged and Brewer's blackbirds on alert.

As I left I met Ian Cruikshank who was doing a survey of the site and before long Rick Schortinghuis arrived so who knows what else may be found at the flats this morning!

On my way to the car I noticed one of the wintering white-throated sparrows at Hyacincth. 

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. 

Thursday 8 November 2012

Showy Snowy Courts Favour

Snowy owl, downtown Victoria BC
I spent an hour or so at Panama Flats this morning. Species-wise it was much the same as on my last visit with good numbers of common ducks on site (pintail, shoveler, wigeon, teal, gadwall, etc).
Two northern harriers, a red-tailed hawk and a peregrine were patrolling the area and I came across my first western meadowlark of the fall (always a treat).
I noticed a couple of white-throated sparrows along the trail at Hyacinth. We're all getting rather blasé about these ordinarily scarce-ish sparrows this year!

My lunchtime stroll by Langford Lake was unremarkable. Most of the diving ducks had vacated leaving 40+ American coot, up to 20 ruddy ducks and several pied-billed grebes. Curiously, all the ruddies appear to be juveniles or females with no sign of any adult males. There were lots of pine siskins around and a pileated woodpecker made an appearance. 

During the day I heard about a snowy owl that fellow expat Pete Boon had discovered near his home in Nanaimo. I've only ever seen one snowy owl - a bird that I twitched back in 1991 in Lincolnshire. Me and my mate Ziggy drove down in his scabby old Volkswagen Polo to that bleakest of English east coast counties. After a decidedly uncomfortable night trying to sleep in his car on a freezing January night, we spent hours the next morning searching for the owl. We eventually caught up with it, and got fairly decent views of the impressive Arctic predator as it hunted in the semi-distance over a ploughed field.

Urban owl
Unfortunately I missed the few that turned up on Vancouver Island last winter, and I frankly couldn't be bothered heading over to the mainland to Boundary Bay where multiple 'snowies' were hanging out. 
So, when I heard that a snowy owl had been spotted  - get this - on the roof of the Law Courts in downtown Victoria (?!) today, my mind was on a quick getaway from work. As it happened I was due to collect some brochures from the printer and headed there before they closed. That gave me just enough time to drive by the court house and have a quick scan while there was still some light.

Not exactly snowy owl habitat...
Amazingly, the owl was still sat on a section of roof over the court entrance and I quickly pulled into a space, leaped from the car and stood looking up at the remarkable bird. 
After I'd had a good eyeful, and taken a couple of snaps, I headed into the court building and took the elevator up to the fifth floor from where I was able to get exceptional views of the owl from the windows overlooking the portion of roof it had chosen as its daytime roost.
Both court staff and visitors off the street were gathering to admire the 1st winter female owl as she sat casually admiring the scenery from her lofty perch.
Not exactly the way I expected to see my second ever snowy owl, but hey - I'm not complaining!         

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Wetland Wonderland

Panama Flats (complete with cackling geese...)
Thanks to the clocks having gone back, I was able to get an hour's birding in before work on Tuesday morning - hoorah!  
I decided to concentrate my efforts on Panama Flats now that the water levels are sufficiently high to be attracting a mix of wildfowl.
As I stepped from the car in the parking area by Hyacinth Park I noticed a few sparrows along the footpath. They were mostly fox sparrows, but a handsome white-throated sparrow was showing well too.
At the flats, the southwest quadrant was positively teeming with ducks. Hundreds of pintail, American wigeon, mallard and green-winged teal were busily dabbling in the water. Scanning through, I couldn't find any Eurasian teals but I did see one drake Eurasian wigeon.
Northern shoveler and hooded merganser were also present in lower numbers, along with a few American coot.
Sat high in the usual conifer, a peregrine was keeping an eye on activity below.

Snoozing drake Eurasian wigeon (left)
Yet more birds were on the northwest quadrant, including the 'resident' flock of cackling geese and the greater white-fronted goose that has been associating with them for a few weeks. Two more drake Eurasian wigeon (one pictured) were found among the throng of commoner ducks and there were several gadwall present.
I flushed a Wilson's snipe from a wet grassy patch before walking along the central berm. A juvenile northern harrier drifted by and started quartering the marshy areas and as I watched it I heard the distinctive sound of a calling greater yellowlegs. The bird flew in from the north, settling and feeding for a few minutes before taking off once more, continuing south. 
Passerines were pretty thin on the ground, with just a scattering of savannah sparrows and red-winged blackbirds seen3 American pipits flew low over, but I didn't see whether they dropped down or carried on through.   

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.