Friday, May 30, 2008

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane

One of the most unforgettable times birding with Guy Monty was a trip to northern Vancouver Island. Guy was surveying a large bog for the presence of breeding Sandhill Cranes and invited me along to help. We drove up to Port Hardy, enjoying the Black Bears, as they casually grazed the roadside fringes along the way. After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, we set off for the helipad.

A clear-cut top up
            The last time I had been up in a helicopter was 1989, during my time in the British Army;,  this trip was definitely going to be less stressful! We met with our pilot and boarded a 206 Jet-Ranger. Guy sat up front with the pilot, using his GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) to coordinate the search, while I sat in the back with a very simple job description: spot Sandhill Cranes! Sandhill Cranes are a big bird, similar, but larger than a Great Blue Heron, and have a gray plumage with dull red skin on their crown. Vocally, they are unmistakable, making a gar-oo-oo call when in flight; a sound I was very familiar with from living in Alberta.
Sandhill Crane nest

Sandhill Crane eggs
            Our day was spent running transects over a large area of bog and on our second sweep  I spotted a flying crane and pointed it out to Guy and the pilot, receiving a big thumbs-up! We circled the area but were unable to see a nest. The remainder of the day produced more sightings and Guy spotted a nest with two eggs. We landed the helicopter, took some record photos and recorded GPS coordinates at the nest site. The only small technicality we faced that day was that we did not have the correct wrench at a fuel station that was located in one of the clear-cut areas. Luckily, our pilot contacted another helicopter that was working near us and within thirty minutes we were on our way.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Englishman River

This morning I decided to walk the Top Bridge trail. It was the first time this spring I had done that and I wasn't disappointed. There is a good selection of both deciduous and coniferous forest to walk through, plus access points to the river and and open scrub. There was a great selection of birds with two new species added for the year; Willow Flycatcher and a pair of Spotted Sandpiper ,who displayed right in front of me as I was taking notes.

 Species list today:

Bald Eagle
Sharp-shinned Hawk
California Quail
Spotted Sandpiper
Band-tailed Pigeon
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker (top)
Pileated Woodpecker
Willow Flycatcher (bottom)
Hammond's Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Violet-green Swallow
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Cedar Waxwing
Winter Wren
Swainson's Thrush
American Robin
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
European Starling
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin
Orange-crowned Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Black-headed Grosbeak
Brown-headed Cowbird

Sunday, May 11, 2008

American Dipper

I took the opportunity for a mornings birding to Mount Arrowsmith. The weather was overcast at first but the sun broke through late morning. I was unable to reach the summit as the road was still heavy with snow. I reached km20 and birded my way back down. Species of note were 4 Sooty Grouse calling, 2 Hairy Woodpecker, American Dipper (nest) and 2 Gray Jays.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hairy Woodpecker

A few hours spent at the gravel pit in Parksville today were really worth it. There were lots of warblers around and I discovered a Hairy Woodpecker nest. The nest cavity was situated about 27ft up an old Red Alder snag. Both male and female were visiting the site about every 3-5minutes with food. The young inside were very vocal all the time I was there (45minutes). Occasionally the male would fly to another snag and drum, while the female drummed on the nest tree, right next to the cavity!

En-route home I stopped in at the Englishman River Estuary and watched a shorebird flock feed on the mudlats: Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Western Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ruffed Grouse

Today I checked a few areas to see what migrants had shown up. I checked Parker Road in Qualicum first where I was greeted by a very co-operative Ruffed Grouse which posed for me as I clicked away with my camera. Next I went to The Little Qualicum Fish Hatchery where I was tripping over Chipping Sparrows! Pasific-slope Flycatcher, Hammond's Flycatcher, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Cassin's Vireo, Hutton's Vireo and Warbling Vireo were all present. 

The birding was going good so I made a few more stops: Rivers Edge Road in Parkville produced some of the above plus MacGillivray's Warbler and Great Horned Owl. The Englishman River Estuary was fairly quiet though there were 40 Brant at the beach access and 16 Least Sandpiper feeding on the mud flats. Finally I checked Blower Road where California Quail and Ring-necked Pheasant finished the day off nicely.