Saturday, September 27, 2014

Steller's Jays

Today while doing migration monitoring from Vesper point, I was joined by seven Steller's Jays who were doing their very best to eat each and every acorn still left on the Garry oaks growing along the point. They were also keeping a close eye on me. Whether they thought that I might be stealing their acorns, be some type of threat, maybe have some food of my own to share, or perhaps they just couldn't figure out what the hell I was up to, I don't know. I sure did enjoy them though. Few birds have as much character as Steller's Jays.

Heerman's Gull-A-Palooza

Last week Victoria birder Daniel Donnecke reported 100 Heerman's Gulls from Flora islet near Hornby Island. I assumed it was a typo, and forgot about it, as even one Heerman's Gull in these waters is noteworthy. Others then began questioning the sighting. One hundred Heerman's Gulls in the Salish Sea? Really? Well, yes, really! Daniel not only accurately reported what he had seen, he also took photos of large groups of Heerman's Gulls roosting on rocks. Wow! What a sighting!
On Friday the 26th, Donna and I had some time in the morning so we checked all of the spots around here where Heerman's Gulls have been seen in thee past. We were not disappointed. And had we searched on a better tide, and on a day without driving rain, I have no doubt we would have seen more. The numbers up here right now are unprecedented.
In 4 hours we saw 108 adults and 9 immatures,  for a total of 117 Heerman's Gulls.

Rathtrevor: 2 ad.
Englishman Estuary: 1 ad.
Parksville Bay: 0
French Creek Marina: 2 ad.
Columbia Beach: 3 ad. 1 imm.
Beach Creek: 5 ad.
Brant Viewing Stand: 22 ad. 2 imm.
Little Qualicum Estuary: 3 ad.
Big Qualicum: 0
Qualicum Bay: 0
Nile Creek: 54 ad. 6 imm.
Bowser Rd. 0
Jamieson Rd: 0
Shoreline Dr: 16 ad.
Deep Bay: 0

Today, I noticed an adult Heerman's Gull feeding in a large flock of California and Bonaparte's Gulls off Vesper Point. This is the third sighting of a Heerman's Gull for Moorecroft Regional park. There seems to be an amazing number in the central part of the Salish Sea right now.

Mystery Underwing Moth

On the night of September 14, 2014, we surprising large numbers of a very large moth fluttering about the porch light here at Moorecroft Regional park, in Nanoose Bay, BC. Watching them for a few moments, I felt that it was a species that I couldn't recall having seen before. Later in the evening, I realized that several must have come in when I had the door open, and were now noisily bumping into lamp shades around the house. As large as they were, it didn't take long to capture them and release them outside. Curious as to the species, I photographed one, thinking I could identify it later. Well, I should have known better. After sending the photos to quite a few different people, there was no consensus as to what the species was, although Catocala semirelicta and Catocala unijuga were the most commonly suggested species. Reading about the abundance,  distribution and habitat preferences of the two moth species, it seems that semirelicta is more likely. Next time, I'll make sure and wait to release the moth AFTER it has been identified.

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