Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Somass Estuary

Marsh Wren
While driving out to Port Alberni this morning I was lost in thought and realized that it has been almost twenty years since my obsession for birds was re-ignited. It was while serving my last few months of service in the British Army in Alberta, Canada that I spotted my first Great Gray Owl. This northern specialty  fueled a passion that had been put on the back burner for almost a decade. The discovery of punk music, football, girls and finally beer (in that order) had changed my focus from a school boy egg collector / young naturalist (some what of a contradiction:) to a stereo typical teenager. A few years of work and three years in the army grounded me back to what is important to me; Birds.

Where am I going with this you ask? Well, in some ways I have still not changed from that grubby little nest robber. I still daydream about the amazing discovery that I am about to find! I still set myself up for failure on nearly every excursion. Instead of thinking about what I will possibly see, I constantly focus on the near impossible! For example; today I was headed back to The Somass Estuary in Port Alberni, a forty minute drive from our home in Parksville.
En-route my mind drifted back to the last time I had been at The Somass, it was November 2009 and it was then that Guy Monty and I got a one minute look at an extremely rare bird; Taiga Bean-Goose. So, in a way, it felt like returning to the scene of a crime. The crime being that we could have had but didn't get killer photos of this bird, though Guy did get one record shot. This bird was now on my mind. Hmmmm...could it still be there? Maybe it is! Maybe there are three and one of them might have a neck collar! A neck collar I could read!..and so on and so forth. However, this is just one example but one is all I need to talk about. You get the picture. In reality the nearer I get to any such destination the more my mind comes back to earth. Within the first hour I normally come crashing back to reality and I start thinking straight. "Ok, i'd take a Swamp Sparrow today". Twelve Song Sparrows and four Marsh Wrens later I begin to change again..."come on! Just one Swamp Sparrow"..another four Song Sparrows later."Please..come on" Now, every so often this does work, like today for instance. Song Sparrows were popping up all over the place but I continued to check everyone until I finally got my five second look at a Swamp Sparrow!

Downy Woodpecker
Anyhow, enough jabbering. My time in Port Alberni today was spent at The Somass estuary where I recorded 52 species. The temperature was good but the fog held over the main reservoirs which made searching the scaup flocks challenging. Highlights for the day included a Cackling Goose which was mixed in with a group Canada Geese. Awesome looks at Marsh Wren. One Swamp Sparrow along the main water line. An immature Northern Goshawk that was held up in a Cedar tree,(until I turned up) possibly waiting for one of the seven American Coots to venture into open ground. Four male Canvasback out across the inlet. A close-up view of a Downy Woodpecker, gleaning bugs from the bulrushes and a party of 36 Bushtit.
So, no mega rarities to brag about but I did have a good days birding and that is what it is all about. (ish)


Monday, January 11, 2010

Nanaimo River Estuary

American Tree Sparrow
Today has been a good day! Luckily Lori took the kids to get a hair cut in Nanaimo and dropped me off at the Nanaimo River Estuary. I was very glad to be out and looking forward to  relocating two sparrows found by Jon Carter recently. I arrived at the estuary at about 10:00am and made my way down the hedgerow. A Bewick's Wren scolded me as I made my way along then a Northern Shrike flew from its perch, flying high across the estuary. About half way down  I bumped into a few Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows. Eventually I located a Dark-eyed Junco flock of about 40 birds, mixed in with them were Song Sparrow and House Finch. I watched this flock for a while, feeding on the ground when a very pale sandy bird flew up into a tree. I raised my binoculars and bang! American Tree Sparrow! About a minute later a second bird arrived. I took a couple of photos when I heard "oi!" I looked around and Jon had arrived. We followed the flock for a while getting wicked looks at the American Tree Sparrow.
We then walked back to the viewing tower to try and locate the other sparrow Jon had found. A White-throated Sparrow. We spent about an hour searching without any luck. Jon had to get back home and I stuck around with Mike Ashbee who had arrived.
Mike and I checked all of the small flocks of sparrows but came up empty-handed. With the weather looking a little gloomy we decided to walk back down the hedgerow as Mike had yet to see the American Tree Sparrow.
Ryder Lynch checking out the swans
En-route we met up with my brother-in-law Justin and my nephews Ryder and Oliver. They joined us on our quest for a while but we decided to hang back and let Mike go ahead to find the sparrow. While Mike was searching, Ryder and I enjoyed watching the Trumpeter Swans that were down near the water. Soon after, Lori, Nolan and Emily arrived with spiffy new hair-cuts and we all headed back to the viewing tower.
With the day slipping by we started to head back to the car when I spotted the White-throated Sparrow! It was all alone, perched for a few seconds opposite the viewing tower before disappearing. A big thanks to Jon Carter for finding and posting these two great sparrows.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Duncan Christmas Bird Count

I awoke this morning at 5:30 a.m., glad that I got some sleep after the New Years Eve celebrations and exceptionally happy to be going birding especially without a hangover! Today, I joined Guy and Donna Monty on the Duncan CBC. We departed Parksville at 6:30 a.m. and stopped in Ladysmith for breakfast before starting our count.
The weather, from start to finish, was absolutely miserable. The rain fell all day with only a few small breaks in between. Our first stop set a trend for the day: jump out of the car, record birds, shake off as much water as possible before getting back into the car and do it again and again..
            Well, if you do that enough times, you are rewarded with the best currency;  good birds, and a good bird on a CBC can be pretty much anything that you haven’t got! So, the highlights were as follows: Northern Shrike, Ring-billed Gull, Eurasian Wigeon and a beautiful Golden Eagle spotted by Guy. This bird, a juvenile, was soaring with a juvenile Bald Eagle and it was interesting comparing the two. The Golden Eagles' smaller head was really apparent, as was the white base of tail. With time slipping away, we went back to counting birds. In the fields opposite the eagle there were 657 Trumpeter Swans! As we scanned through these swans we found four with neck-collars, two of which had satellite transmitters attached. I believe these birds were found to have been banded in Galena, Alaska.
            Our total species list was 56, which isn’t bad considering we had 67 species two years ago in cool calm crisp conditions.