Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Flicker Wave

Northern Flickers are common enough year round here on the east coast of Vancouver Island, that it is easy to forget that they are actually migratory in much of this province, as well as Alaska and the Yukon. If one pays attention though, migratory waves of this species do occur, especially in Autumn, as the snow begins to fall in the far north.

In Moorecroft Regional Park, Northern Flickers do nest, but in low numbers. As far as I have been able to determine, there are only two breeding pairs occupying the 34 hectares within the park boundaries. Thus, except for the period right after fledging, or during a migratory wave, one rarely encounters more than a couple of Northern Flickers on a walk in the park.

On the morning of September 9, 2014 I was doing my morning walk around the park, and stopped in at Skipsey Pond to see if any migrants had flown in overnight. Checking the thickets of red-osier dogwood around the pond, I found a few Yellow-rumped Warblers, Black-throated gray Warblers, Warbling Vireos, and my first Ruby-crowned Kinglets of the fall. I also heard a lot of woodpecker activity in the snags that surround the pond. It took no time at all to spot a few of each of the five common woodpecker species here. And everywhere I looked, there were Northern Flickers. In the end I counted 17 of them around the small pond. A very impressive number for such a small area. Several hours later when I had finished my park rounds, the number had grown to 54 Northern Flickers, the highest count I have ever had in this park.

Returning home for breakfast and switching on the radio, reports of snow across the Yukon, northern BC, and even as far south as Calgary, made me wonder; Was it simply the time to head south, or were the large number of migrants all of a sudden triggered by the first snows of the season? Only the Flicker knows.    

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Return To Sandy Island

One of my favorite birding sites in the Vancouver Island region, has always been Sandy Island Provincial Park, or as it is known now, J├íji7em and Kw’ulh Marine Provincial Park. I have great memories of dozens of day trips and overnight camping trips to this large, partially wooded sand spit off the northern tip of Denman Island. Oddly enough, I hadn't been there in about 5 years. Difficulty in accessing this site, being the chief reason. In the past, one either had to own a boat, or do a moderately long hike in from Denman Island. Given the rising BC Ferries ticket prices, even getting to Denman Island has become expensive. A new, and slightly more affordable option was discovered by Sandy McRuer recently. We chartered a water taxi out of the Comox Marina, with a company called Scubashark. With 5 people, the cost was about $55 per person. Although the landing and departures at the island could stand some improvement (jumping off the bow into the water and wading ashore) it worked quite well, and I would highly recommend Scubashark to other birders looking for a way to access this excellent birding site.

We (Sandy, Don, Shelley, John and I) left the Comox Marina at about 8:40, and by 9:00 we were already birding. We spent the next 6 hours walking around Sandy Island, sometimes as a group, and sometimes by ourselves. We didn't bird all that intensively, and spent more time enjoying the looks at what we did discover, rather than rushing around looking for new ticks. With the leisurely pace, we were only able to explore one of the three Seal Islets, which would have undoubtedly increased the number of species seen. Still though, a completely enjoyable day out with some wonderful folks, and a few really great looks at birds one doesn't encounter here all that often. For me, the highlight of the day was a juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover that circled us and almost landed at our feet. The close up views of this bird in flight were spectacular, and although I've seen many of these birds in the past, this was the most amazing viewing I have ever experienced. This is the type of thing I look forward to at Sandy Island. We ended up recording 56 species on Sandy Island, and another 6 from the boat, for a 62 species day.

Species Recorded from Sandy Island: 56

Canada Goose
American Wigeon
Northern Pintail
Harlequin Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Common loon
Horned grebe
Red-necked Grebe
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden-Plover
Pacific Golden-Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Greater Yellowlegs
Black Turnstone
Wetsern Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper
Short-billed Dowitcher
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Pigeon Guillemot
Band-tailed Pigeon
Vaux's Swift
Hairy Woodpecker
Common Raven
Horned Lark
Barn Swallow
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Bewick's Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
American Pipit
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Purple Finch
American Goldfinch

Additional species recorded from boat: 5

Pacific Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Red-necked Phalarope
Common Murre
Bonaparte's Gull
Northwestern Crow

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Northern Bobwhite

Although never as exciting as finding a "real" rarity, coming across a seriously out of range bird that is surely an escapee from someones aviary, is nonetheless interesting, and worth noting. Using the example of the Silver Pheasant population in Nanaimo, BC, one never knows when introduced exotics will begin breeding on their own in the wild, and perhaps even establish a lasting population.

While driving to a survey site on Kamp Rd, East of Agassiz, BC on the morning of May 13, 2014, I spotted an unusual bird running alongside the road. With one quick view, I had no idea what it was so I stopped and hopped out with a camera. The bird then emerged atop a pile of sawdust in a blueberry field about 50 feet off the road. Now having a clear view of the bird, I was even more surprised. A Northern Bobwhite! Really? This is an eastern species, that does not wander much out of its range. And although there are a couple of small populations east of Ontario, there are none that I know of anywhere close to the upper Fraser Valley, although there was apparently a small population of introduced birds on the Fraser Delta at some point, but they were supposed to have died out many decades ago.

So, where did this bird come from? Generally, birds like this originate from a person who keeps exotic birds as pets, breeds them for sale, or for use in the training of hunting dogs. I have seen many Chukar over the years on Vancouver Island that were lost by dog trainers, but a Northern Bobwhite in BC is a first for me.  

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sooty Grouse

The hills surrounding the Fraser Canyon are alive with the hooting of male Sooty Grouse right now. Working above Emory Creek this morning, we encountered quite a few displaying male Sooty Grouse on rock outcrops and openings in the forest.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Patagonia Picnic Table Iceland Gull

While searching for the Baikal Teal that Russell Cannings found on the 7th of March, Bernard Schroeder and I found a first winter Iceland Gull about 200 meters from where all of the birders were standing in the rain waiting for the teal to return. It was a nice looking little gull, showing none of the Kumlien's/Thayer's Gull marks which can cause so much controversy with this species.

Other birds of interest seen while searching for the teal include;
American Black Duck: 5 at Quennel Lake, and Doole Rd, at Yellow Point
Tundra Swan: 3 near Yellow Point
Band-tailed Pigeon: 2 in Cedar
Northern Shrike: 1 near the parking lot on Raines Rd
Brown-headed Cowbird: 1 in a large flock of blackbirds along Raines Rd

As to the Baikal Teal, it was seen on the 8th until about 7:40. We arrived a bit later, and never saw the bird. Some that did see it, were suggesting that it may be a hybrid of some type. When I viewed the bird on the 7th, I did feel that the head markings were not quite the same as what I was expecting, but that overall, the bird looked good for a Baikal Teal. I assumed that the "slightly off" head markings were a function of age, if the bird were a first winter individual. While there are some photos on the web that show birds claimed to have been hybrids with odd head markings similar to this bird, they also show other features which are different than a textbook Baikal Teal. I'm not sure this bird shows any of those other features pointing to it being a hybrid. At this point, I'm not sure what to think, without a much better look at the bird. Keeping an open mind as to all of the possibilities and getting much better looks at this bird in the field, is the only way to approach the identification of this bird.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ring-necked Pheasant

This morning we were at the Little Qualicum Estuary looking for the Northern Mockingbird. We found the mockingbird fairly easily, but while we were looking at it, a surprisingly aggressive Ring-necked Pheasant started following us around. It called, displayed, and would make short runs at us, approaching to about 2 meters away. A stunning bird, although I'm not sure how long it will last charging at humans!