Sunday, September 22, 2013

Don't Forget Your Hood!

If today had a theme, it was the weather.....  For simplicity's sake, and to cut down on my typing, feel free to automatically add "... and then it rained" to the end of every paragraph.

I have been itching to head out west for the last week or so, for a number of reasons.  Firstly, an incredible number of southern birds have been turning up along the Pacific Coast much more north than usual.  Secondly, the winds have been blowing onshore.  Thirdly, I have been watching the weather and crossing my fingers that the rain and fog would conspire to push something down and then keep it down.  Lastly, fall migration at Jordan River and points west is a magical time, worthy of much more attention and coverage than it actually receives.

The first opportunity for me to head out being today, my wife and I saddled up a little later than I had hoped and, after the usual Tim Hortons fuel up, headed first for Whiffin Spit.  It was fairly quiet on the spit until we found the Black Turnstone flock, which was very active and moving from one side of the spit to the next.  Quite quickly, my wife informed me that there was something different on the shore.  There stood the Pacific Golden-Plover that has been around for a few days.  Tick.  We added five more species of shorebird, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Western Sandpiper, Black Oystercatcher, and Spotted Sandpiper, plus the female Bufflehead that has been around for quite some time, sitting on its usual log.  Not a bad start to the day!  Another coffee stop and off to Jordan.

I became a little discouraged as we drove into rain nearing Jordan, but reminded myself that I had pretty much asked for it.  I had visions of rarities dancing through my brain along the route.  Would I finally find my Rose-breasted Grosbeak?  Indigo Bunting?  Dare I dream of Asians?  The rain picked when we pulled into the gravel parking area in Jordan River, so I scanned the gull flocks... California, Mew, Glaucous-winged.... I'm sure I could have dug out a Herring had I the patience, but miraculously the rain stopped, and I crossed the road to my favourite three trees on Vancouver Island.  Small alders they may be, but they are an incredible migrant trap!

Finding nothing in the trees I circled around the back through the old WFP buildings.  Fox Sparrows were in numbers, and it looked like White-crowned Sparrows had had a banner breeding year.  There is a small clearing that opens up off the private driveway on the west side of this little patch, and I walked in there, drawn by the calls of Cedar Waxwings.  Immediately three birds flushed up in the blackberries.  Two more Fox Sparrows and a wait... what the hell is that?  The third set off bells, as it definitely didn't belong.  No sooner did I get a look than it disappeared in a flash of yellow-green.  No amount of pishing would draw it back out, and the waxwings and warblers had moved to the tree closest to the road so I circled back and met Thea, who had lost track of me.

Scanning intently into the tree I started counting the waxwings, which included a lot of young birds, and a few Yellow Warblers, when a different bird caught my eye, the bird which had played games with me a few minutes earlier.  Getting a fantastic look this time, I immediately noticed a longish, downcurved bill.  My first though was "Oriole-ish" and my second, "hey, you're not from around here, are you?"  A thorough look showed the bird to be slightly larger than the surrounding waxwings, with drab olive-ish uppers and uniform yellow-green underparts.  The bird sat upright and looked fairly slim, and the tail appeared long for the bird it was attached to.  Of course, my camera was in the car, and I sent Thea to fetch it while I studied the bird.  I had my suspicions, but would need Mr. Sibley to verify the potential lifer.  As soon as the camera was firmly in my hand the bird hopped into a very leafy part of the tree then took off east.  Another phrase familiar to birders was uttered at that moment, "Dammit, don't lose that bird, watch where it lands!"   Of course, we never saw it land.  It's long tail was apparent in flight as well as it headed east over the bay and disappeared into the trees on the other side.

Checking two different field guides back at the car, my suspicions were confirmed, a female/juvie type HOODED ORIOLE!  Not just a lifer but a spectacular one for Vancouver Island, Jordan River had done it again!

This small patch of trees has hosted 2 Lazuli Buntings and 2 Oriole species this year alone.
We hung around hoping for a return but none was to be seen, so we headed further west to Port Renfrew (and then it rained..).
The wind and rain were absolutely horrible between Jordan River and Port Renfrew, but again tapered off a little when we parked along the river and walked into the campsite.  Very few birds were to be found but we did have a Bonaparte's Gull, 35 Black Turnstones, and a Horned Grebe among precious few other species.  My main aim was to bird Botanical Beach, gateway to the open ocean and past host of such birds as Scissor-tailed Flycatcher and Lark Bunting.  The thick fog didn't deter us (it will keep the birds on the ground, right???) but no sooner had we started down the path than the rain became torrential.  I am definitely not a fairweather birder, but this had me running back toward the car, screw it!  Lunch and a dry off at Coastal Kitchen was most welcome, and we departed Port Renfrew still in the grips of a tropical style monsoon.
View from the bridge... maybe the rain will stop?
From the beach.... not exactly stellar weather.

Jordan was clear, sunny even, on the way back in but there were few new birds to be found.  A lone Greater Scaup was in the river, and Pacific-Slope Flycatcher and American Goldfinch made appearances. 
We decided that since we were in the neighbourhood we would scan from Gordon's Beach and Otter Point in hopes of pelicans, shearwaters, or the like.  Again, it wasn't to be, and we settled for Common Murres, good numbers of Marbled Murrelets in their winter finery, and Pigeon Guillemots in their winter drabbery.  Many gulls were around as well, but nothing exciting.  Two gulls that looked very Western-ish were at Otter Point, but I suspect they were a couple of the usual, dirty mutts.
The grey weather continued, looking out toward Sheringham
Our last stop was Esquimalt Lagoon where we found very few birds but ran into Daniel D.  Good birding conversation is always a great way to end a day!
All in all, a great day out west, even considering the bone-chilling weather.  I can only imagine what else would turn up in Jordan River or Port Renfrew if more local birders took the time to visit!
Good birding,

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Knot Getting Away This Time

It's getting a little tough to add new birds to my Victoria List, nevermind a couple in a week, but I figured I would give it a try.  Earlier this week I added Franklin's Gull, a long standing Victoria nemesis, at Esquimalt Lagoon.  I figured I might as well take a shot today at an equally aggravating nemesis, Red Knot.  A couple have been hanging around off of Oak Bay this week, and one has been seen fairly regularly at the foot of Bowker Ave.

The weather wasn't particularly attractive this morning, which was just fine by me.  Instead of prowling the beaches, many of the fairweather dogwalkers choose to stay home and leave the shorebirds alone.

The light rain and fog didn't seem to have much of an impact on the birds either.  Immediately after stepping down onto the sand at Bowker, I was greeted by Black Turnstones, Black Oystercatchers, Surfbirds, and Black-bellied Plovers.  A little further down the beach I found more plovers, and then a Short-billed Dowitcher popped up.  My hopes were getting a little higher at this point, and more birds were flying in, until a pair of kayakers pulled close to one of the rocks and sent most of the shorebirds flying back out to the island.  Glancing back down the beach I noticed that, in true shorebird fashion, a second dowitcher had popped up, and a Greater Yellowlegs had joined the party.  Since these critters can pop up out of nowhere, I figured a more thorough search was in order.  To my surprise the two dowitchers were joined by another two! 

Around the corner toward Glenlyon-Norfolk School, there were only gulls present, and as I turned to head back to where my scope was setup a small flock of shorebirds flew in.  The flock was made up of 6 plovers, a dowitcher, and..... finally after 15 years of misses.....


My Victoria Checklist Area Red Knot, species number 288 on said list!  I watched the bird for the better part of 45 minutes until I decided to head back to the Westshore.  Always a treat to be able to enjoy a great bird!

Esquimalt Lagoon was my other stop of the morning, as I'm still hoping for a stray Elegant Tern, a species that has invaded the Washington side of the strait....  It wasn't to be.  There were no terns at all present among the Heermann's, California, Mew, and mutt gulls.  No shorebirds either, except a distant calling Killdeer and a couple of Black Turnstones.

Midway down the Lagoon, at "the hump", a small gull slept, nestled in with a few others.  The Franklin's Gull that had been checklist area bird #287 a few days earlier was still present, and sat still for a few shoddy phone-through-foggy-scope pics.

As always, I aim to get bad pics of great birds, and these don't threaten that!  All in all, a great day of birding.  A great week in fact, when I can add two Victoria birds in a few days.  The last time that happened was in 2011, and I can't imagine it will happen again anytime soon, if at all!  Now that I have the last two missing birds that can be loosely considered "annual", I have no idea what is next!
Things are picking up nicely out there, get out and make the most of it!  Our next Elegant Tern is just across the water.....

Monday, September 2, 2013

Westward Bound

One of my favourite local areas to bird is to head westward, to Sooke and beyond.  I've always thought the areas to the west to be under birded, especially given the potential for great rarities along rather small stretches of beach and forest.

With all of the jaw-dropping rarities being seen just south of us by our American counterparts, Jeremy G and I figured points west would be a great idea yesterday, and after meeting at our usual muster point, a certain Langford Tim Horton's at the usual ungodly hour, we headed first for Whiffin Spit, hoping to beat the human traffic and find some shorebirds.

A short-lived peep flock was the first sighting as we headed down the spit, and the usual suspects quickly showed - White-crowned Sparrow, Harlequin Duck, and a lone (early) female Bufflehead which made us wonder if it was the same one we had seen there last month.  The tide was well out and we walked down onto the slick rocks, hoping for some shorebird love.  Black Turnstones soon materialized out of the rocks, and before long Jeremy G was onto the stunning Ruddy Turnstone that had been seen for a few days.  What a treat to lock onto this great semi-rarity so early in the day!

Finding little else at Whiffin we headed further west.  Around Otter Point the second treat materialized when a Black Bear came out of the trees and crossed the road in front of us.  These may be commonplace in many areas of the island, but I can count on one set of fingers the number of times I have seen them on the south island.

Rounding the final corner into Jordan River I half expected to see a flock of Elegant Terns resting on the road, given the great start to the day, but it wasn't to be.  Instead, we were drawn to the small patch of brambles and trees across from the parking lot, which were so full of birds that we hardly knew where to look first.  Cassin's Vireo, Warbling Vireo, Yellow Warbler, and Orange-crowned Warbler were all well-represented.  A larger bird immediately caught our attention when it flew into the top of one of the trees, and binoculars quickly revealed it to be a Lazuli Bunting

We ended up spending 5 hours exploring Jordan River and found great numbers of migrants everywhere.  In addition to the above we found a couple of Bewick's Wrens (a great bird for Jordan), Hutton's Vireos, Lincoln`s Sparrow, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Swainson's Thrushes, MacGillivray's Warblers, and Pacific-Slope, Willow, and Hammond's Flycatchers, plus many more.  Gull numbers were good as well with five species in attendance, including a lone Herring Gull, and a Greater White-fronted Goose was seen in the river.  Out in the surf, 500+ Red-necked Phalaopes were a continual sight, and small numbers of alcids drifted past.

We left Jordan River with 72 species in the bag and headed to Muir Creek, which was fairly quiet except for a flock of Yoga Participants off in the woods somewhere, and a good collection of Barn Swallows which included one Cliff Swallow and one Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  At Muir Creek I also (with much help) scored a lifer bug, Saffron-winged Meadowhawk.

A swing through the usual Metchosin areas at Lindholm Rd and Swanwick Rd yielded little.  Albert Head Lagoon padded the species total a little, providing Mute Swan, Greater Yellowlegs, and two early American Wigeons.  We spent a fair amount of time scanning a large collection of gulls well out on the water, which didn`t yield anything different, until Jeremy G called my attention to the one bird neither of us had paid attention to - a lone gull 20ft from shore.  How long the bird had been puttering around in front of us I don`t know, but how the Ring-billed Gull had managed to stay under the radar still puzzles me.  Perhaps it was the lure of tern or jaeger potential out in the heat haze.....

The last stop was Esquimalt Lagoon, where we held out hope for a mega of some sort.  My much-desired Elegant Terns weren`t there either, but we did finally add Least Sandpiper after 11 hours of birding, as well as a lone tern of the wrong type, Caspian Tern.

All in all we netted 93 species, a great total considering the total lack of woodpeckers and only 4 species of raptor.  Migrant numbers were amazing, and it was the perfect day for a more leisurely approach to birding.

It is shaping up to be a great fall birding season, and with all of the great stuff across the strait, who knows what`s lurking around our neighbourhood!