Friday, April 27, 2012

It's That Time of the Year Again.....

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is Baillie Birdathon Time once again!  Despite the huge number of migrating birds drifting through, and despite the fact that Jeremy Gatten managed to double the size of our Black-necked Stilt flock through some kind of bird whispering trick (and, I will add, he also predicted the previous day that our next good bird would be two more stilts!!!! Creepy, I  know.....), I have still decided to take time out to write about future birding.

This year, I will once again be putting my sanity to the test by embarking on a Tim Hortons fueled, 24 hour birding adventure in support of Rocky Point Bird Observatory, as will a number of others, collectively known as the Rocky Point Birders.  We are switching things up a little this year not only by having a dedicated RPBO team, but also by initiating an inter-municipal Mayors/Councillors Challenge!

There will be more news about this coming out very shortly, but in 500 words or less, a number of local Mayors and Councillors have joined with Rocky Point this year to take part in the Baillie Birdathon.  The represented municipalities will face off to see which can raise the most pledges on a per capita basis, and then hit the field with volunteer birders/guides to see how many species they can find!  I can't think of a better way to help Rocky Point, help the community, and have some fun!

To sponsor me for the Baillie Birdathon, and help me reach my target (which, the closer I get to it, the higher it will get) click here, or to sponsor one of our other team members or to join our team, click on "Rocky Point Birders" a couple of paragraphs up.

I have set the team target to $5000 which, on sharing with Dick Cannings a few weeks ago, I was told he raised all on his own last year!  With a portion of all pledges going to Rocky Point (the more money raised, the higher the percentage), let's see if we can beat this target!

Good birding,

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rarities sure are inconvenient critters.....

Having spent Friday night in Vancouver while my wife attended a concert, I was on my way back, trying to pull something different out of the thousands of Bonaparte's Gulls in Active Pass when I got an email about a Yellow-headed Blackbird at Panama Flats.  Minutes later, I got a text from my brother saying that he had refound the Arctic Loon!  These things keep showing up when I am elsewhere!

To say I was eager to get home was some kind of understatement, but I made it in the door just before 4pm, stayed long enough to grab my keys and scope, and headed back out again.  There were no birders at Panama Flats when I arrived, only a number of Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, etc on the water, and a few swallows overhead.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Several Red-winged Blackbirds sang and called from the cattails and grass around the building at the Carey Rd entrance.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.  Even an American Coot and a singing Common Yellowthroat.  No sign of the Yellow-headed Blackbird.

After 20 minutes of searching and a walk along the centre dyke, I was on my way back to the building side when I noticed a dark bird with white whing patches flying across the water and, with binoculars up, the brilliant yellow head came into focus!  Finally, the male Yellow-headed Blackbird flew in and settled on a log on the north side of the trail before moving to the grass on the south side.

I always hate to tick and run, but in this case bigger things were calling.  I managed to head out of Panama Flats at 4:45, and make the run to Jordan River, albeit with a coffee stop in the middle!

Once in Jordan River, it didn't take long to locate Mike Bentley, who had the same idea as I.  We carefully checked through every bird on the choppy sea, but failed to locate the Arctic Loon.

On Sunday I received a phone call with 40 minutes left in a Home Show shift.  Mike M. had found an incredible fallout at Mount Doug, which included 6 Townsend's Solitaires and a Western Kingbird!  The rest of the shift passed quickly, and I stopped in at home long enough to change and collect my wife.

We found Mount Doug almost as Mike described it, minus the Solitaires and Kingbirds.  Excellent numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers were foraging in what seemed to be every tree, and Orange-crowned Warblers sang from what seemed like every bush.  Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and Red-tailed Hawks cruised overhead, while Pine Siskins chased each other below the summit.  After an hour and bit of searching, we finally spotted a lone Townsend's Solitaire further down the east slope.

The million dollar question was where to head next!  With migrants dropping in, pretty well any location had the potential to harbour a rarity.  We decided to head for Whiffin Spit.

While birds were few and far between, we did find a flock of 60 Black Turnstones, along with 6 Western Sandpipers, 12 Least Sandpipers, 1 Dunlin, and the first of the year Semipalmated Plover.

I started this post earlier, and saved it for finishing later.  My intent was to end the post after Whiffin Spit on Sunday, but in between saving it and coming back to it, I received a phone call about a bit of a rarity, which also falls into the "inconvenient critter" category.

Having finished work for the day, I raced out to Panama Flats, where Mary R. had found two Black-necked Stilts, an incredible 4th record for Victoria.  When I arrived, still decked out for the office, I spotted Ann N, Rick S, and Agnes L, who had the birds sitting in the scope for me when I tip-toed through the soft ground to reach them.  The rain was coming down steadily as we watched the Stilts foraging back and forth, while my first Northern Rough-winged and Cliff Swallows of the year flew overhead.

Until this afternoon, this had been one of my most wanted Victoria birds, and was also my first for Canada!  I joked that I had stopped paying attention to them after getting the tick, but thoroughly enjoyed the hour that I got to spend admiring them.  I always hate walking away from a great bird like this, never knowing when I will have the privilege or luck of seeing another!

Conditions out there are ideal for more fallouts and more rarities.  Panama Flats has gotten better and better (and more and more birded) over the last couple of years, it will be interesting to see what turns up there next.  Good birds could be anywhere this week, watch especially for Ruddy Turnstones, Marbled Godwits, and more passerines to show up!

Good birding,

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Fast and the Furious, Migrant Edition

Well, the migrants are showing up too fast to keep up with!

We now have our first reports of Common Yellowthroat, Townsend's Solitaire, Osprey, Caspian Tern, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and others!

But, I digress.... The 19th Annual Big Day for the Brant was held this past weekend in Parksville, and the Steller J's were at it again, albeit with a lineup change, owing to a couple of certain someones being off galavanting in Alaska.....

We still managed to have fun, and placed third overall after leaving Victoria at 2am to ensure our arrival at the owling grounds by the 4:30am start time. We quickly picked up Barred and Great Horned Owls in Errington before making our way to Cameron Lake, our annual surefire spot for both Northern Pygmy-Owl and Ruffed Grouse. Cruising the usual spots, we dipped on both, but did find an incessantly calling Northern Saw-whet Owl. Travelling back down the logging road toward the highway, we made a last-ditch turnoff, and almost ran over a male Ruffed Grouse that was brilliantly illuminated in the headlights! Later, we did find Northern Pymgy-Owl at Hamilton Marsh, where up to three were reported during the day.

The four owls being the highlight, we spent the remainder of the day cruising the Parksville area, tallying 93 species to the winning 117 ticked by Guy Monty's "No Egrets" team, and the Old Country Twitchers' 103. By the looks of the post insanity gathering at Deez Bar and Grill, everyone had a great time, big thanks to Rhys, Sandra, and Tim!

Back at home, I have been trying to keep up with the arrivals, but I must be the only one who still hasn't seen Rufous Hummingbird in the Victoria area this year. I have heard the buzz of many, but haven't yet managed to lay eyes on one for the tick.

I have also been checking the Osprey nest at Colwood Corners every day, and was finally rewarded yesterday, when a single bird was perched on it. Following that, I found two of the three Caspian Terns that Mary Robichaud had reported from Esquimalt Lagoon.

This is where the birding starts to get fun, and more passerines and shorebirds should be showing up soon (such as Sandy Bowie's 3 Long-billed Curlews at Whiffin Spit!!!).

Time to go find some flycatchers, good birding!