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.