Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Taking a peep at Clover Point

The recent report of a possible Common Eider at Clover Point in Victoria couldn't have come at a better time. I needed to exchange a Christmas present at Mountain Equipment co-op anyway, and this was the perfect excuse for a combined trip. Jon Carter was visiting Victoria with his wife Jenny on the 27th December 2010 when he spotted this possible rarity and alerted BCVIBIRDS.
After 'finally' finding a parking spot and exchanging my fleece, Lori and I headed for Clover Point. We scanned each side of point but were unable to relocate the bird. No matter, we had fun anyway, and I spent some time watching Sanderling, Dunlin and Harlequin Duck in the sunshine.


Harlequin Duck

We then travleld from Clover Point to Oak Bay where we added a few more shorebirds including; Greater Yellowlegs, Black-bellied Plover, Black Oystercatcher, Black Turnstone, Surfbird (12) and Killdeer. At Oak Bay Marina Lori relaxed and read her book while I watched a Hooded Merganser preening and feeding close to some rocks.

Hooded Merganser
With our tummy's rumbling we headed for the Penny Farthing  for some wonderful and filling pub food. With time ticking we made our way back to Parksville, making a quick stop at Swan Lake. Here we found the feeders full of Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird and Spotted Towhee. The lake held Ring-necked Duck, Canada Goose, Pied-billed Grebe, Mallard, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant and Great Blue Heron. Just before leaving I snapped a shot of a Song Sparrow which looked really cool on top of some cattails. It was only when I got home that I noticed that this individual had been coloured banded on the left leg: orange above and pink bellow. I will report this bird and hopefully find out a little more. 

Song Sparrow (colour banded)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting
Today's excursion was completely random. I had no particular itinerary, other than the fact that I was going birding. My day started at Rathtrevor Beach in Parksville as Lori wanted to go jogging. I scanned the ocean and though the elements were perfect, there was a serious lack of birds. A few Barrow's Goldeneye and Harlequin Duck kept me content while I waited for Lori to finish her workout. After dropping Lori home, I headed north to Deep Bay. I checked the first beach access where I scanned through all the sea-ducks. Nothing unusual, but, as always, I am impressed with the close-up views you get at this location: Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead,  Harlequin Duck, Red-necked Grebe, Horned Grebe, Common Loon, Pelagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant. 

Next I headed down to the point where I bumped into John Purves. Our paths have crossed over the years, mainly at Christmas Bird Counts, but I had never spent any time with John. We decided to join forces and made our way through the long grass to the sandy shore; while Golden-crowned, White-crowned and Song Sparrow watched us with a suspicious eye from the sanctuary of their small bushes. While we chatted, John informed me that a Snow Bunting had been recently reported from this spot. This species has been avoiding me ever since coming to Vancouver Island, so I was very happy to hear that news. We got ourselves comfortable and scanned the shore and rocks for any sign of this northern beauty. After about half an hour we decided to walk along the shoreline and found the bird! It was feeding in some short grass and quite hidden but soon made its way onto the sandy shore, feeding on small seeds in the seaweed and debris. We were both thrilled to get great views of a bird that was a first for us both on Vancouver Island: Snow Bunting! We stood around for some time enjoying this specialty from the tundra and managed to get a few photos. After about twenty minutes the bird made its way around to the rocks until it finally disappeared behind some boulders.

Rich and John at Deep Bay

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Englsihman Estuary

Englishman River Estuary
After the Christmas festivities I was ready to sneak out for an hour to see what was around. And yes, I was very exited to try out my new Christmas presents:) I got a little spoiled this year, getting a new pair of Columbia hiking pants from my son Conor and a pair of Keen hiking boots from Lori. The estuary was fairly quiet with a sprinkling of the usual subjects such as Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Song Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Norhtern Flicker, Red-winged Blackbird, Dark-eyed Junco and Pacific Wren. The river channel had Common Merganser, Mallard, Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and Great Blue Heron.

New Gear
The beach access initially seemed very un-birdy but I decided to find a nice spot and just hang around for a while which produced two new year birds and a nice group of geese. Viewing the sand-spit opposite Parksville park I counted 33 Pacific Black Brant with another 9 individuals arriving, making 42 Brant in all. The straight was a little choppy which made things slightly challenging but there was a good selection of grebes, loons and sea-ducks to go through. Common Goldeneye were numerous with Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe,  Bufflehead and Surf Scoter filling in the gaps. Two small rafts of gulls were made up of Mew and Glaucous-winged. While scanning I spotted 8 Pacific Loon offshore and two Double-crested Cormorant. My first surprise was a pair of Western Grebe and my second was an Eared Grebe! Both species were year birds for me, though this is only the second time I have seen Eared Grebe on Vancouver Island. My first sighting was at Deep Bay about three years ago.Just before I headed home I got a nice fly-by group of shorebirds including: 14 Black-bellied Plover, 12 Dunlin and 3 Black Turnstone.

Common Goldeneye

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Parksville Christmas Bird Count 2010

Lori Lynch, Mike Ashbee, Rich Mooney and Jon Carter CBC 2010 - 86 species

Today was my 16th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) since living in British Columbia. My first count was in 2002 when I joined Chris Charlesworth and Chris Siddle on the Vernon CBC. On that day (28th December 2002) we tallied 58 species and this introduction got me hooked on this fun and important annual event.
            Our team today was the same as last year, (Lori Lynch, Mike Ashbee, Jon Carter and myself) though our area had changed. We covered the Parksville area from French Creek Marina to The Englishman River, including suburbia, the town of Parksville and Little Mountain. The weather was more than acceptable, as it was cold but did not rain. It also did not snow, like 2008, where I spent 5 ½ hours stuck in a snow bank, alone, with no toilet paper! Not a pretty sight.
            I digress. Today we started our count at 06:00am, though a calling Killdeer at 05:30am from behind our house was the first bird of the day. We made a few stops around Parksville to listen for owls, which, unfortunately, proved unproductive; traffic and wind definitely affected our chances. Our target bird was Great Horned Owl and despite being in good areas, we failed to hear any. In fact, today, none of the eight teams participating recorded this species.
            The next stop in search of these nocturnal hunters was Little Mountain. Here we got lucky and got our second bird of the day: Northern Pygmy-Owl. Any owl is a good owl but this species always warrants special accolade. 
Northern Pygmy-Owl (Rich Mooney 2007)
Rich, Lori, Jon and Mike - Englishman woods
            In the following hours we ducked and dived our way through the streets of Parksville as well as covering key areas such as The Englishman River Estuary, French Creek, Parksville Park and RV Park. As with any CBC or big day challenge for that matter, there are always highlights, lowlights, stringy what ifs and out and out misses! Last year our big miss was House Sparrow! This year that was not going to happen, no matter what the cost. House Sparrow was bagged as the fifth bird of the day following Belted Kingfisher. What a weird start! A kingfisher before a Song Sparrow? A kingfisher before a towee? It doesn’t seem right but I am not complaining, a kingfisher got me the award for ‘Biggest Miss’ on a Brant Festival Big Day Challenge one year.
Lori, Mike and Jon after bagging a few more birds
            Despite missing a few key birds such as Black Oystercatcher, Long-tailed Duck, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk and Ring-necked Pheasant, we did get some nice birds. The highlights were Pacific Black Brant, Eurasian Wigeon, Peregrine Falcon, Virginia Rail, 4 Wilson’s Snipe, Ring-billed Gull, Ancient Murrelet, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Barred Owl, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Shrike, Hutton’s Vireo, Hermit Thrush, American Goldfinch and Evening Grosbeak. We tallied up a total of 86 species (2791 individuals) for the day, covering 104 kilometres from 06:00am to 4:40pm. If I had to pick a bird of the day, it would be White-crowned Sparrow. It took all day to snag one of these lbj’s and the relief was appreciated. I didn’t want to go to the potluck with an empty check mark next to that species!

Reading the results at the 2010 CBC round up
 My sincere thanks again to Lori, Jon and Mike.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Yellow-billed Loon

Pacific Black Brant

This morning I headed out on foot from our home in Parksville. Lori and Nolan were visiting our friend in Victoria which left me without transport. No matter, I managed to go birding on my bicycle all last year, so a stroll to the park shouldn't be a big deal. The gray clouds seemed ominous but the rain didn't hinder my plans, though it did begin to drizzle after about four hours. My first good bird of the day was a Cackling Goose which was hanging out with a few resident Canada Geese in the fields behind our home. Five minutes later I was entering Parksville Community Park where I was welcomed by a foraging Varied Thrush. In the bay was a good close group of Surf Scoter including a few Black and White-winged Scoter. Further out were Horned Grebe, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Goldeneye and Common Loon. I followed the shoreline to the end of the park, hoping for a Snow Bunting, though all I got was Song and White-crowned Sparrow. The sand spit just offshore was loaded with shorebirds: Dunlin, Black-bellied Plover and Black Turnstone, which is fairly common, though big a group of Pacific Black Brant was a surprise! I approximated that there were about 48 individuals though the ocean and distance were not on my side. I phoned Guy Monty to inform of this group. Guy is a local biologist and has been monitoring Pacific Black Brant for many years. Guy had seen a group of 18 recently but was very happy to hear there were more birds. He made his way down to the park but the geese flew way offshore by the time he arrived. We chatted for a while until we spotted a small group of brant on another sand spit. There were 10 individuals with another 6 arriving ten minutes later. After scrutinizing the birds for a while Guy managed to read two leg bands; a great December record.

Guy Monty reading Pacific Black Brant leg bands at Parksville Park
As we both had some spare time we headed down to Schooner Cover to check out a Yellow-billed Loon that been hanging out at the marina. On arrival there was two Bufflehead, a Red-breasted Merganser, Common loon and a very cold Mike Ashbee. Mike had been there for the last two hours with no sign of the bird. We stood around chatting and catching up for about twenty minutes until the bird materialized in front of us. In between dives, we probably got to see the bird for about ten minutes, until it disappeared as quickly as it had arrived. We waited around for about another hour with just one re-sighting out in the straight.

Yellow-billed Loon