Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great Birds at Underbirded Locations

After yesterday's great birding, Jeremy G and I decided to spend the morning checking out a couple of usually underbirded locations.  Seems the last few years a number of amazing birds have shown up in places birders rarely go anymore, so we figured we would try our luck.

G wasn't deterred by this being his first real day back on the continent after putting the birders of Hawaii on notice, and we met at Macaulay Point at 7am.  I made it a priority to grab a coffee on the way, apparently he hadn't..... nevertheless, we were both keyed up and ready to hit it out of the park.

Macaulay Point is an area that I have only birded twice previously but it has a lot of potential, and birds started showing immediately.  In the marina area inshore was a Red-throated Loon, a Common Murre, and a small number of mixed ducks.  There seems to be a lot of Red-throated Loons around this year, with many close in to shore or in sheltered areas.... a far cry from many years when a single offshore is reason for celebration.

We set up our scopes to scan offshore, with Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Double-crested Cormorants very evident.  It wasn`t long before G called out that he had two phalaropes.  Being November, we both figured on which species they would be, and good observation revealed them to be Red Phalaropes, the first really good bird of the day.

The rest of the area yielded a good number of species including Northern Harrier, Bald Eagles, Harlequin Ducks, 15 Bonaparte`s Gulls, a single Thayer`s Gull, and an American Pipit overhead.  Near the end of our walk we heard a Varied Thrush leading off a chorus of ticked off songbirds, and the level of aggravation had us thinking owl in a second.  The habitat led me to think maybe a Long-eared was hiding somewhere, but we couldn`t dig anything out.

After a quick breakfast and coffee stop at the James Bay Starbucks we headed to Beacon Hill Park and Goodacre Lake, where G was hoping to catch up with the Blackburnian Warbler, last seen 6 days ago.

While I was parking G started birding, and texted me immediately with his second great find of the day.

This male Pine Grosbeak was showing very well and being very vocal near the bandstand.  Interestingly, Jeremy had commented a couple of hours earlier how this was going to be the year for low elevation Pines.  After a few minutes of enjoying this bird from every angle it flew off and we lost sight of it in the direction of St Ann`s Academy.

While we never did relocate the Blackburnian, there were enough birds to keep us busy for two and a half hours.  Among the remaining highlights was an intergrade Northern Flicker, which was being constantly harassed by a pure Red-shafted male.  Our first view of the two birds was the Red-shafted powerslamming the intergrade (which at first appeared to be a pure Yellow-shafted) from a branch 8 feet up, and we could clearly hear the thunk as the intergrade was driven into the ground.  We watched their antics for 15 minutes, but try as I might the light was against me in the picture department.

Carrying on we found good numbers of Bushtits, Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees.  

We walked the trail behind the maintenance yard, near where the Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher was a few years back, but only succeeded in turning up two pissed off Anna`s Hummingbirds and a Pacific Wren.  We were almost done the loop when The Naturalest Naturalist scored his hat trick with another good bird.

It is always a treat to see owls, and this roosting Barred Owl was no exception.  It was extremely cooperative, and I managed a few pictures.

Nothing else turned up, though G did stick around a little longer than I did.  I managed a Merlin on the way home, but that is about it.

Until the next time, Good Birding!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

First Class (and first record) Birding

After last week's Blackburnian Warbler (lifer for me, Victoria first record), I have been wondering if anything else mind-numbing would show up.  In light of the fantastic birds just across the water, coupled with the intense wind we have had this week, I figured Jordan River would be a great bet for one or more rarities.

I got to my usual parking spot just before 7:30am, and started with a scan of the water and ever present gull flock.  Among the 60 or so California Gulls were a late Heermann's Gull and a single Mew Gull.  Out on the water were good numbers of White-winged Scoters and Pacific Loons.

Turning my attention inland and working my way gradually from one end of the Jordan River stretch to the other and back, I failed to find anything in the realm of rare, but did get nice looks at Evening Grosbeaks, 95 Red Crossbills, 180 Pine Siskins, and many others.  While unsuccessfully attempting to photograph 4 Red-throated Loons and a Western Grebe that had made their way into the river I heard a familiar call, and up popped this little guy:

Out on the water off the far end of the beach were 7 very close Ancient Murrelets, another Western Grebe, several more Red-throated Loons, 50+ Pacific Loons, and a few other species.

With Jordan turning up nothing stellar, I headed back toward town with plans to check a few likely Cattle Egret/Emperor Goose spots.

At Journey Middle School in Sooke, a flock of 98 Greater White-fronted Geese and 10 Cackling Geese were hanging out on the field, sans Emperor.  Swanwick Rd in Metchosin, a spot I have been just waiting to turn up a Cattle Egret, were another 27 Greater White-fronts and 18 Cackling Geese.

Due to company and a quick work meeting, Swanwick marked the end of my days birding.  Or so I thought.

Just before 3pm I saw a message pop up on BCVIBirds about an Acorn Woodpecker at Cedar Hill Golf Course.  I was chomping at the bit to get out and get this bird, but when our company left I figured I wouldn't have enough light left to get any kind of look.

A last minute decision to go sent me scrambling through traffic, and I reached the parking area at King's Pond around 4:15pm, light fading fast.  I was encouraged by a followup report on BCVI, as well as a text from Jeremy G saying "showing well",  My legs were burning a bit by the time I reached a group of casual looking birders, and was greeted by Hawaii's newest celebrity birder, the Naturalest Naturalist, with "You just missed it!"

Several cuss words may have passed through my mind before G nodded at his scope, which was pointed up into an oak at one hunkered down Acorn Woodpecker.

I managed to rattle off a couple of grainy Victoria Birder style record shots in the near dark of this Victoria 1st record (number 298 for my Victoria list), and number 9 (my second) for BC, before it flew off about 4 minutes later.  Sweet timing on my part, as we only got a very brief glimpse of it flying overhead after that.

Not the worst record shots I have ever taken......

It's always a treat to be part of a Victoria first record, let alone 2 of them in 8 days.  Neither bird was on my radar on my march to 300, so it will sure be interesting to see what the next two will be!

I will be heading out in just under three months to take on some new (for me) birding ground with John Puschock from Zugunruhe Birding Tours on his Lower Rio Grande Tour from Feb 2-8, 2015.  John has put together an incredible deal on this tour, and I am definitely looking forward to beefing up my Life and ABA lists with this one.  Click here for details about this trip, he is also running a second from Feb 8-14.

Good birding!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Photo Round Up

I just noticed how long it has been since I have posted!

There have been a lot of well publicized rarities in Victoria this year, and among them I have managed to catch up with Hudsonian Godwit (lifer), Upland Sandpiper (new for BC), Little Stint (lifer), Buff-breasted Sandpiper (lifer), and most recently, Blackburnian Warbler (lifer).  I have been spending much of what little birding time I get searching Metchosin, Sooke, and Jordan River, in hopes of a rare bunting or hobby, but have yet to come up with anything.

The Blackburnian Warbler puts me at 297 for Victoria.... three more for that magic 300!  I am continually wrong in guessing what the next one will be, so I am going to let it ride for now and take what comes!

While I continue my searches, I figured I would keep things fresh with some pics from the last couple of months.

Bald Eagles, Tyee Spit, Campbell River

Marbled Godwit, Esquimalt Lagoon

Caspian Terns, Esquimalt Lagoon

Great Blue Heron and lunch, Esquimalt Lagoon

Western Sandpiper, Esquimalt Lagoon

Least Sandpiper, Jordan River

And, in the spirit and celebration of the lesser creatures (bugs n slugs, etc), I headed out with Jeremy G, Janean, Thea, and Liam in search of the near-mythical Blue-Grey Taildropper......  while the little slug did not materialize, we did get Yellow-bordered Taildropper:

And two Red-legged Frogs:

A certain naturalist is definitely turning into a bad influence on me.....

Until the next adventure, good birding and rarity finding!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This Turkey's Playing Chicken

This post is a couple of weeks late, but as they say.....

My wife and I decided some months back to take a long weekend in June, and head into the interior.  As she had never been to Creston and I was in need of a little tidying up on my BC list, it seemed like a great idea.  With the Thursday and Friday booked off, we both left work early on Wednesday, June 11, and headed for the 5pm ferry to Vancouver.  Great plan but for the one sailing wait that left us sitting in the line up for over two hours, and put us into Princeton sometime between midnight and 1am.  Thankfully we had decided against our original plan of spending that first night in Kelowna.

Thursday dawned a little damp, with rain threatening, but it didn't dampen spirits.  I had four targets for the following four days, all long missing BC ticks, being Black-backed Woodpecker, Forster's Tern, Wild Turkey, and American White Pelican.  I had considered a run to Fernie for Common Grackle, but that one can wait.

Our first destination was Old Hedley Road, one of my favourite scenic detours and always a good birding spot.  On this morning birds were good, and we picked up two unexpected birds, Lewis' Woodpecker and a Black-chinned Hummingbird that fed on flowers right under our noses.  We also had a few mammals, including the ever present Yellow-bellied and Hoary Marmots.

Yellow-bellied Marmot
Many a time I have given the Naturalest Naturalist a hard time about posting pics of what I call "lesser winged creatures", ie bugs, and here I am posting the first of a few critters that don't even have wings..... go figure.

Trucking on east we made a few stops, including Nighthawk Road, another stellar birding location.  Sparrows were very evident, and even though we didn't find Sage Thrasher we did get good looks at Clay-colored Sparrow, Lark Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Brewer's Sparrow, and a few other species.  I thought I heard a Grasshopper Sparrow through the symphony, but couldn't be 100% sure.

The lovely Lark Sparrow
Many new birds popped up between Osoyoos and Creston, including Swainson's Hawk and Williamson's Sapsucker on Anarchist Mountain, and birding was interrupted by a delightful lunch at the Greenwood Saloon with our new friend Dave (the things that only happen in small towns).

Once into Creston we headed up Topaz FSR, an area suggested by Russ C to get good looks into Leach Lake, a body of water frequented by the pelicans and recently a group of terns as well.  We tried several vantage points but came up empty-handed, so we headed off to Duck Lake before checking into our hotel.

Our first highlight was once again not a bird, but a mother elk with a shiny new little one, swimming across a pond.

Momma was having none of our attention, and took off....

Leaving baby to go at it alone, crying the whole way....

But momma waited.....

And waited......
Until finally they were reunited.
We dipped on our targets, but it was nice to see nesting Red-necked Grebes and Cliff Swallows.  On our way back, we finally encountered one of our targets, and my BC Wild Turkey tick nearly ended in disaster, for the turkey.  Driving south from Wyndell I noticed a Wild Turkey on the side of the road and pulled over, camera at the ready despite the fading light.  The turkey was unconcerned and starting walking toward us until a large truck with accompanying muffler issues drove by and startled it.  The turkey ran across the road directly toward an oncoming car that, in true disregarding human fashion, didn`t even bother to slow down.  I held my breath, expecting to see feathers fly, but the turkey pulled up at the last second and the tire must have just grazed the bird.  Shaken, but not stirred, the turkey continued on it`s way, as much to it`s relief as mine, I`m sure.

Post near-death experience.  Hopefully it will find a crosswalk next time....
The following morning found us back at Duck Lake, again hoping for Forster`s Tern and again dipping.  Brown-headed Cowbirds were very much in evidence, it seems they are having a good year everywhere this year.  Black Terns were very visible as well, and we watched a flock feeding over the lake for 20 minutes.  A spectacular surprise was a cow Moose, only the third I have ever seen, and Thea's very first!    A nice late anniversary gift!  A trip out to the Creston Wildlife Area Interpretive Centre was a little bit of a letdown, as bird numbers were much lower than my last visit 15 years ago (a sentiment echoed by all of the locals I spoke with), but we did have some good birds.

I don't speak Tree Swallow, but I'm sure this one wasn't happy
This Wilson's Snipe could not have been more co-operative
The Least Flycatcher played hard to get, but I won!
From there were headed back up Topaz FSR, where we finally got great views of a flock of 58 American White Pelicans lounging on an island.  Not entirely sure how we missed them the previous day, but..... TICK!

From there, back to Duck Lake, where we again dipped on the tern, but waterfowl numbers were much higher, and we managed to add what was at first a very distant white bird, but which turned into a very close Ring-billed Gull.  Black-headed Grosbeaks and Bullock's Orioles were very visible but not photogenic.  We decided to call it a night and take a bit of relaxation time at this point, and loaded up at a grocery store.

Duck Lake Osprey
Duck Lake Great Blue Heron

Keeping in mind that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results each time, we headed back to Duck Lake on Saturday morning, our fourth visit in a day and a half.  Each visit to Duck Lake had added some kind of value, and this was no different.  As we were driving down Channel Rd a Coyote ran out in front of us and stood in the middle of the road, right until I had my hands on the camera.  Nice trip mammal though.  This was our most productive visit to Duck Lake, turning up 49 species in two hours.  It was also our earliest visit, as we were onsite by 6:40am to beat the traffic. We walked the length of the road between Duck Lake and the south pond for a couple hours, and a flock of pelicans, 31 in all, had decided to drop in, my first for this location.

We were also confronted time and time again by the guardian of the road, much like the troll and the bridge...

You must answer me three riddles.......
Having dipped on our 11th hour tern, we were headed back when some kind of fate caused me to stop to take a picture of a flyover pelican, knowing full well that the light was terrible.  After double checking the photo I turned to see if Thea was following me, and she was gazing toward the far end of the lake.  "I don't think I see anything" were her words, but as I looked in the direction she was I saw a white bird, flying with a very bouyant flight.  Tern!  But..... Caspian had been report at Leach Lake as well.  I quickly got the scope on it and.....  Forster's Tern!  Thank you Thea and Pelican!

At this point it was easy to start heading west again, and we decided to drive the length of Reclamation Rd, just outside of Creston.  Our first Bobolink of the trip were co-operative but again not close enough for a photo, but birds were fairly plentiful.

Talk about using available materials!  Found on Reclamation Rd.
Birding between Creston and Osoyoos, where we spent our final night, was fairly quiet.  I had hoped to do some walking around at Stagleap Park to pick up higher altitude species, but....

Bridal Lake was still half frozen, much to the chagrin of the Spotted Sandpiper that flew from chunk of ice to chunk of ice, and the fog decended very quickly, causing a fast retreat on our part.

An uneventful lunch detour to Syringa Park north of Castlegar was a great picnic, but not much more.  We stopped back in at Anarchist Mountain, and were greeted by Western and Mountain Bluebirds, our only of the trip, plus more Williamson's Sapsuckers, Pygmy Nuthatches, Red Crossbills, and a Pine Siskin.  We also added to our mammal list, in the form of Yellow Pine Chipmunk.

Another slack night ensued, and the next morning we headed for Road 22 and Black Sage Rd, the one area in Osoyoos that is my absolute must visit. We added a few misses, including Yellow-breasted Chat, Lazuli Bunting, and Veery.  From there we went to Haynes Lease, where we added Rock Wren.

Osprey pair nesting on the bridge at Road 22.
A colourful Western Meadowlark at Haynes Lease
On the way west we had a single Chukar cross the road near Spotted Lake, and a pullover gave up brief looks at a total of 8 individuals.  From there we drove Chopaka Road, a spot I have never taken the time to bird.  It was a great detour, but the "Look out for Snakes" signs proved to be lies, much like the "Watch out for Caribou" signs at Kootenay Pass.

Manning Park Lodge and the Cascade Lookout were out last stops of the trip.  The views from Cascade were amazing, but the weather was threatening and the wind came up with a vengeance.  I was in the midst of making a sandwich on the hood of the car when the wind blew half of the bun onto the ground.  Within ten seconds, a Yellow Pine Chipmunk had hold of the bun and was trying to drag it off.  It was quite hilarious to watch, keeping in mind that if I were making my sandwich out of Yellow Pine Chipmunks I could have fit three or four of them on the bun.  Eventually it gave up, broke off a piece, and a Common Raven took the rest.  At Cascade Lookout we added Grey Jay, as well as a lifer mammal, Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel.

Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel in it`s natural habitat

Columbia Ground Squirrel
Up close and personal with a Clark`s Nutcracker

The view from Cascade Lookout
On the ferry home we encountered a lone Orca.  This was our last add, and in four days we tallied 127 species of birds, including 3 of my 4 targets, as well as 11 species of mammal.  Not a bad weekend!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Endemics, Undemics, and Everything in Between

My wife and I just returned from a week in Mexico and needless to say, I couldn't resist doing a little birding.  Of the seven days, four were assigned to birding and touristing, and only a couple to lounging at the resort in Cancun.

I had a big list of targets and high expectations when we landed in Cancun on March 31, and was greeted at the airport by two old friends from Costa Rica, Great-tailed Grackle and Gray-breasted Martin.  As we landed late, those were my only two birds of the day, and darkness found me without a lifer to start the trip with.  No matter, packing a new a camera and a lens I stole from Jeremy G, I was ready for the week!

After waking up to Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Laughing Gulls the next morning we took advantage of the resort, and spent a few hours exploring the Hotel Zone.  My first two lifers showed within seconds of each other, as we added Tropical Mockingbird and Black Catbird.  Shortly behind them were Vucatan Vireo, Yellow-Green Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, and Prothonotary Warbler.  The entire trip was a nice blend of Yucatan endemics, partial endemics (or, undemics as I have been calling them), southern species, and North American migrants.

Our second full day in Mexico was a day trip to Isla Cozumel.  I had a car rented, a number of areas to check out, and three target species.  Unfortunately the car pickup took longer than we thought it would and the lack of road signs contributed to less birding time than we had expected, but the main spot I had in mind, an abandoned subdivision south of town, delivered for us.

One of two Western Spindalis we found, neither got close enough for a great picture.
The first bird to show was perhaps my most wanted bird, Western Spindalis.  Immediately following that sighting, we had great looks at the distinct Cozumel subspecies of Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, though none of my pictures turned out well.

Another endemic, Cozumel Emerald, was frequenting the garden of one of two actual houses in the subdivision:

While on Cozumel, we also added Yucatan Woodpecker, White-crowned Pigeon, Yellow-faced Grassquit, and Caribbean Eleania.  We missed Cozumel Vireo, so I will need to go back at some point, but there are definitely worse places to go to!

The next three days were the bulk of birding, as we picked up our second rental car at Cancun Airport in the early morning, and headed off into the Yucatan.  Our plan was to spend some time at Chichen Itza before heading north to Rio Lagartos for an afternoon guided boat birding trip, guided land trip the next day before heading to Coba, then night in Tulum before working our way back to Cancun.

We threw in a couple of roadside stops on the way to Chichen Itza, which added lifer Mangrove Vireo, Plain Chachalaca, Yucatan Jay, Black-throated Green Warbler, Altamira OrioleBlack-headed Saltator, Black-crowned Tityra, and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture.  Chichen Itza was spectacular for the scenery, but the throngs of vendors lining every path between ruins detracted a little.

The trip up to Rio Lagartos added White-tailed Hawk, but the wind was blowing when we arrived.  Our guide, Diego Nunez of Rio Lagartos Adventures, made the decision that we would be better off land birding without sacrificing birds.  We quickly added Mexican Sheartail, American Flamingo, Tri-coloured Heron, Mangrove Cuckoo, Black-headed Trogon, Great Black-Hawk, Zenaida Dove, and a few others.  I will save the photos for the end of the post.  Early the next morning, following a breakfast of croissants with ham and cheese, we headed back out and ran into some more spectacular birding.  Aztex (Olive-throated) Parakeet, Lesser Roadrunner, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Orange Oriole, Painted Bunting, Rose-throated Becard, Yucatan Wren, Common Black-Hawk, Gray-necked Woodrail, White-tipped Dove, White-bellied Emerald, Northern Parula, a Turquoise-browed Motmot colony, Carolina Wren, Grey-crowned Yellowthroat, Wood Stork, Limpkin, Green Jay, and more.

That afternoon we drove to Coba, where the ruins were also spectacular.  Green Vine Snake was one of the first highlights, but we added very few birds.  My lifer Masked Tityra was a nice add.    A night in Tulum followed, and we spent the next day working our way back to Cancun.  We added very few birds, but found Olive Sparrow and Yellow-lored Parrot north of Chemuyil, and  Gartered TrogonWedge-tailed Sabrewing, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Red-throated Ant-Tanager, the final lifer of the trip, at Dr Alfredo Marin Botanical Gardens.

The last day and a bit we spent relaxing at the resort and exploring the Hotel Zone, but didn`t add much else.

All in all, Mexico turned up 158 species, including 65 lifers.  Cancun turned out to be a great base of operations, and if only there weren`t so many other places to visit, I would go back in a heartbeat!  Now, for some more pictures!

Tricoloured Heron at Rio Lagartos

Four of the 1000 or so American Flamingos we found
Lifer Least Tern at Rio Larartos
Yucatan Wren near Rio Lagartos
Another view of the Yucatan Wren
The Lesser Roadrunner wouldn`t give up a better shot
My favourite bird of the trip, Turquoise-browed Motmot, which also wouldn`t give up a good picture.
Common Black-Hawk
Green Vine Snake at Coba
White-winged Dove
Black-headed Trogon
Green Jay at the Doctor Alfredo Botanical Garden
What would Mexico be without Iguanas......
Or monkeys......