Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Little Mountain

If you are ever looking for a workout, try riding your bike from sea level, to the top of Little Mountain, a few kilometres inland from Parksville. It is as steep a paved road as I have ever seen. But, the birding is often worth it, and the ride back to Parksville, requires no pedaling at all. Just make sure you have really good brakes!

The birding today was quite good, although I was not able to find my target bird, Sooty Grouse. They are usually calling and displaying by this time of year, but no such luck today. I guess that means I will have to ride back up there again in a few weeks. Ugh.

After a few hours of hiking around and not finding very much, I decided to do a little pishing and owl tooting, to see if I could bring a few skulkers out of the salal. I picked a large arbutus near the escarpment on the west side of the mountain, and hid myself behind the trunk, and started pishing. A Yellow-rumped Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler responded almost immediately, flying to the crown of the tree and giving their alarm calls. They were followed quickly by a Hermit Thrush and a few Dark-eyed Juncos. Soon there were a dozen birds chipping and calling from the arbutus. I knew there were other species nearby, so I added a few pygmy-owl calls to the pishes. A Hutton's Vireo and four Cassin's Vireos blasted in with all of the ferocity that a five inch bird can muster. A Townsend's Warbler, a few Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees joined the fray. I gave a few more owl toots. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches flew in and began scolding me inches above my head. Another bird, which I thought might have been a Downy Woodpecker, landed higher in the tree but gave no alarm call, which seemed odd. Knowing better, but curiosity getting the better of me, I tilted my head back slowly and raised my eyes to try and get a look at the new bird. I opened my mouth to prepare for another few owl calls, and..............PLOP! One of the nuthatches dropped a gift right into my mouth. Bombs away. Direct hit!!! Luke Skywalker firing at the Death Star's exhaust port couldn't have matched this nuthatch. I gagged and doubled over and spit and spit and spit. The birds went crazy. I sat down and grabbed a water bottle out of my pack to rinse my mouth. Yuck! I kept spitting, and the birds continued to go crazy. Now there were probably 35 birds in the tree above me, and they continued to mob and squawk and chip and flutter. It seemed odd. In general, once birds figure out that it is a human doing the pishing and owl calling, they will quickly melt back into the brush. But these birds continued to go crazy. A Rufous Hummingbird zipped past me like a tiny fighter jet on an attack run. A pair of Pine Siskins and a female Purple Finch were now right beside me at eye level, looking up into the tree and calling like mad. Wait a minute. They are looking up at what? I backed a few feet away from the trees drip zone, and peered into the middle branches of the arbutus, to see a Northern Pygmy-Owl glaring back down at me. The birds were giving it a really hard time, but it sat passively, and seemed to be making plans in it's head to launch and go after one of the juncos that was getting braver and braver. I lifted the camera and got one shot off before the owl jumped and all the birds in the tree scattered in different directions. The last I saw of the owl it was streaking downhill in pursuit of a Red Crossbill that had just arrived. I gave my mouth another rinse and headed back to find my bike for the quick ride home.

Birds seen on Little Mountain today;

Turkey Vulture: 18 (12 were obviously migrating)

Bald Eagle: 10 (all migrating)

Northern Harrier: 1 (migrating)

Sharp-shinned Hawk: 2 (migrating)

Red-tailed Hawk: 2 (1 migrating)

Band-tailed Pigeon: 4
Northern Pygmy-Owl: 1
Rufous Hummingbird: 15

Northern Flicker: 2

Pileated Woodpecker: 3

Hammond's Flycatcher: 1

Cassin's Vireo: 7

Hutton's Vireo: 5

Common Raven: 3

Violet-green Swallow: 2

Chestnut-backed Chickadee: 14

Red-breasted Nuthatch: 10

Brown Creeper: 7

Pacific Wren: 8

Golden-crowned Kinglet: 16

Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 4

Hermit Thrush: 9

American Robin: 7

Varied Thrush: 4

Orange-crowned Warbler: 6

Yellow-rumped Warbler: 38 (all Audubon's type)

Townsend's Warbler: 3

White-crowned Sparrow: 2

Dark-eyed Junco: 49 (some nest building)

Purple Finch: 6

Red Crossbill: 23

Pine Siskin: 5


Dave Ingram said...

Great pics and hilarious story Guy - you are a true bird whisperer ... or should that be pisher? Awesome birds!

Abu Anka said...

Thanks Dave!

liuhebafagirl said...

OMG! Not to be read before breakfast! But very funny, Guy. ;) I had something similar happen when I got the brilliant idea to shoot straight up at the multitude of pigeons arranged on the hydro lines beside the Occidental - a posture that leads to an open mouth... Nice photo tho.


Abu Anka said...

Thanks Kim. At least nuthatches drop smaller bombs. Pigeons though? Yuck.

~Jen~ said...

ha ah ahahaha ahhahhha oooh that is so nasty....