Monday, November 30, 2009

NMT - November 2009

November 2009
Species list: 6 / Distance travelled: 113 kilometres

            The weather in November was atrocious, with rain practically every day. But the birds have been unbelievable! I had hoped for maybe two or three new species for the NMT challenge; I got double, including an island bird and a MEGA North American rarity!
November started off with two days of riding around the Englishman River Estuary and Rathtrevor Beach. I only travelled about 18 kilometres but added two new birds: Ancient Murrelet and an adult Long-tailed Jaeger, a huge surprise!
            On the 11th November 2009, Guy Monty and I rode out to Schooner Cove, Nanoose, in search of shorebirds. The ride was a real up hill slog and though I added another bird, Surfbird, we were both a little peeved as we saw what can only be described as a possible Rock Sandpiper. We couldn't make out any field marks because of the long distance and
poor light. This bird was with a group of 20 Surfbird and 4 Black Turnstone. It was small and had a hard time keeping up with the main group. These shorebirds flew across the ocean in front of us, after losing the sanctuary of distant rocks to the high tide. It was almost definitely a Rock Sandpiper, but it could have also been a similar looking Dunlin. We will never know. Though we were choked to say the least, we just couldn't add such a stringy bird.
            The next trip that Guy and I made on our bikes made a ride to Nanoose look like a picnic. Our day started at 07:30 a.m. on a dark and rainy morning in Parksville. Our mission; to ride our bikes to Port Alberni, in search of Canvasback, Redhead and Swamp Sparrow. It was a long 69 kilometrer ride over the hump. As the rain kept coming and my legs began to burn, I started to regret travelling this road again. Luckily, as we reached the highest point the weather broke and blue skies lifted our spirits. The ride down to port only took twenty minutes and after some refreshments we headed for the Somass Estuary. The sewage lagoons at the estuary were barren, with only a few dabblers and some Mew Gulls to sort through. We did, however, add Swamp Sparrow, which was calling from the reeds next to the pipeline.
            While making our way to the inlet, Guy was convinced he heard a strange goose call. A little later, we both heard the goose but were unable to locate it, so we carried on. The third time the bird called, it sounded much closer; we both looked around to see where it was? It was flying directly over us. First impression was that it was a Great White-fronted Goose. Second impression was a whole other story! We both raised our binoculars and it was immediately evident that it WAS NOT a Greater White-fronted Goose. I watched slack-jawed, staring at the head, noting the black bill with orange/yellow near the tip, the neck was long, "what the hell?"
The words “BEAN GOOSE!!” ricocheted through my head and body. Guy was screaming….”BEAN GOOSE!!!
Other than Attu, there are only three records for this species in North America that I know of: April 1993-Bowerman Basin, Grays Harbor County, Washington. October 1999-Whitehorse Airport, Whitehorse, Yukon and December 2002-Hoquiam, Grays Harbor County, Washington.
Bean Goose (taiga)
            Guy managed to snap one photo but the bird was half way across the estuary and then gone. A rare bird report will be submitted to a provincial committee when one has been formed. At the inlet we were losing light and time but we did add one more bird for us both; Canvasback. 

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Deep Bay

I sneaked out for a few hours this morning and checked Deep Bay and the mouth of the Little Qualicum River. The weather was kind, it didn't rain! Deep Bay produced the usual suspects but I enjoyed them all anyway. I prayed for a small gull with dark under wings at the Little Q but no such luck. One day...ONE DAY!

Black Scoter

Long-tailed Duck

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Palm Warbler

The night before I headed out to The Sunshine Coast with Mike Ashbee, I heard about a possible Palm Warbler at Nanaimo River Estuary. Though it was very tempting to chase this bird I had already made plans with Mike to go look for Rock Sandpiper. Luckily, Guy Monty was able to go and see if he could relocate the bird, which he did and confirmed that it was a Palm Warbler. Guy had received a call from Jon Carter, who has just moved to the island from the UK, and who’s suspicions were correct about this bird. Nice find Jon! England’s loss is our gain!  I got back from the Sunshine Coast trip Saturday night and read Guy's report and decided I would try for the bird Sunday morning. Leaving Parksville at 7:45 a.m. got me to Nanaimo River Estuary at about 8:30 a.m. It was raining hard on the way there, though it lightened up a little once I arrived.
            The area where the bird was originally seen was opposite a big Oak tree. So, I checked that area first, then checked the low shrubs close by, then the hedgerow. No luck. I headed over to the viewing stand, as there was a lot of bird activity, but still no sign of the warbler. It was then, I noticed a vehicle pulled into the parking lot; it was Mike Ashbee, who had decided to also look for the bird. I was on my way back to the oak tree to meet with Mike when I spotted the Palm Warbler! It was sitting just in front of the oak on a small snag next to a bush. I immediately indicated to Mike that I could see the bird and he promptly came forward. The bird flew into a weedy patch on the other side of the path and began to feed. We followed this rare, but annual, warbler for about ten minutes until it flew back over the path and disappeared into some thicker bushes. We stood around chatting for about an hour but did not see it again.
There was plenty to keep us occupied though; a Short-eared Owl flew over the top of us, being mobbed by Northwestern Crows. A few minutes later, the crows began harassing a Northern Harrier and drove it out of the estuary. A Lincoln’s Sparrow put in an appearance then a Northern Shrike. By then it was time for me to get going so Mike walked back to the car with me and we both noticed a group of Western Meadowlark flying across a field. Before I left, three more birders turned up and Mike stuck around to help them relocate the warbler. Though this bird should be wintering down near Florida it sure made my day!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Sandpiper

Of all the birds listed in my head as ‘most wanted’ on Vancouver Island, Rock Sandpiper is pretty much at the top, alongside Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. The season has come and gone again for the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper but for the Rock it is prime time! I made a real effort last year to find this bird with no luck. A few were reported in Victoria, but for one reason or another I never made it down there, and it seemed that these birds were one day wonders anyway. With December just around the corner and time slipping away, it was time to go where they have been historically reported; The Sunshine Coast!
            My birding friend Mike Ashbee and I discussed doing this trip on a few occassions and finally got around to making it happen. We left Parksville at 4:45 a.m. and headed up to Courtney where we took the 6:30 a.m. ferry to Powell River. We then made our way to Saltery Bay where we took another ferry to Earls Cove, taking the Sunshine Coast Highway 101 down through Sechelt. We made a few stops en-route including one stop where we saw an interesting shorebird with some Black Turnstone, off shore on some rocks. We couldn’t make a definite identification, as though it looked good for Rock Sandpiper, we couldn’t dismiss Dunlin, which looks similar at distance. We unforunatley had to carry on without being certain.
Black Turnstone, Surfbird and Rock Sandpiper
            Our Plan was to go to Wilson Creek, an area that is famed for Rock Sandpiper, but we made a stop just short of that, at Chapman’s Creek. We noticed a sand-spit with lots of gulls on it, so decided to check it out. The gulls were obvious, but on closer inspection we noted many shorebirds including Surfbird, Black Oystercatcher and Black Turnstone.
            We made our way along the beach, over some rocks, and hid behind some logs that had been washed up on the shore, so as not to disturb the birds. Within seconds a Rock Sandpiper came from behind the logs and began feeding with the other shorebirds! We were both absolutely ecstatic to get this bird, and after we finally calmed down, we settled in for an hour and enjoyed watching the dynamics of this mixed group of amazing birds, feed and squabble as they gorged themselves on the barnacle covered shells. Our final count was fifteen Rock Sandpiper, thirty Surfbird, fifty Black Turnstone and ten Black Oystercatcher. To the best of my knowledge this population of Rock Sandpiper breeds along the Berring Sea and can winter as far as California.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Black-headed Gull

When it comes to birding, especially chasing a rarity, nothing is guaranteed! But today we were in luck. On the 7th November 2007, a Black-headed Gull was reported at the Big Qualicum River by a couple of volunteers who carry out coastal waterbird surveys. So, the following morning Guy & Donna Monty, Mike Ashbee and I went to see if we could relocate the bird. We arrived on site at 08:00 a.m. and began to scan the gulls that were coming in off shore to bathe and preen in the mouth of the river. After an hour of searching we headed up-island to check a few good areas for gulls, but the tide was against us and we headed back to the river to wait it out.
Though we had no doubts that the report was reliable, we were beginning to think that we might be coming up blank on this chase, especially when we could see thousands of gulls way off shore. However, at 12:25 Guy raised his binoculars to check out a gull flying across us and shouted; “that’s our bird!” All of us were on the bird immediately. The bird landed and began to bathe and preen, but moved around enough to add some anxious moments! Within minutes all the birds were up and we lost our gull in the frenzy. Mike relocated the bird once more on a gravel bar, but that was short-lived as a dog ran in and chased everything off. We waited and searched for another hour but our bird was gone.
            As far as I am aware, this is the first documented and confirmed sighting for BC in 20 years. It was a great and memorable twitch and a big thanks to Guy for spotting the bird and Mike Ashbee, who, like me, added this bird to his life list! Mike kept his head on straight and nailed a fantastic record shot!