Friday, July 29, 2011


Merlin eating dragonfly

After checking on a 'very' quiet Holden Creek I headed to Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. When I say quiet, I mean completely lacking of shorebirds. Not even a Killdeer. There was, however, a bonus bird waiting for me when I returned to the van. Three to be precise. As I packed my scope away I looked up to see three Peregrine Falcons, an adult and two juveniles. The young birds were making unsuccessful sorties on Cliff Swallows; until finally, the adult bird got a flock of Rock Pigeon in a panic. All three birds disappeared over the trees in hot pursuit of the pigeons. I guess that explains the lack of shorebirds in the area.


The usual suspects at Buttertubs Marsh included Marsh Wren, Bewick's Wren, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Common Yellowthroat, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, Mallard etc. I didn't make it all the way round today as I was distracted by the hunting techniques of two Merlin that were hawking above the marsh catching dragonflies. Other observations included two Mink crossing a path and a Beaver, though this I photographed a few nights ago.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Wandering Tattler

Jon Carter scanning at Clover Point

Had a really good few hours birding with my pal Jon Carter today! Jon showed me some of the local hot spots around Victoria. We started at Panama Flats where there was a good selection of shorebirds including Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, (Long-billed) Dowitcher, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper. Not a bad haul! After a bite to eat we headed to Ogden Point to see if we could relocate the Wandering Tattler Jon had found earlier in the week. We were in luck. Not only did we relocate this extremely cool and infrequent shorebird, we actually doubled our catch. There were two Wandering Tattler! This is the first time I have seen this bird in breeding plumage and the best looks I have ever had! We also added Black Oystercatcher and Black Turnstone.

two tattlers
Wandering Tattler
Wandering Tattler

Though Clover Point was absolutely packed with tourists and 'kite flyers', it was well worth the stop. As well as killer looks at Rhinoceros Auklet, Heermann's Gull and Pigeon Guillemot; we also got a great bonus bird: Red-necked Phalarope! 26 to be precise. All in all a great few hours birding.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mount Arrowsmith - Summit!

Justin and Mike moving up through the forest

On the 17th July 2011 I joined Justin Lynch and Mike Stewart on a focused summit attempt to Mount Arrowsmith. The previous two times to the massif were focused on locating birds, this time the birds came second to our goal. En-route to the mountain Justin and Mike, both experienced climbers, discussed the various routes that could be attempted.

Mike and Rich just before the gully

It was decided that we would take the 'gully' route which meant I would get some experience using crampons and ice axe. Though I was excited to learn, the terrain, at times, was somewhat intimidating. Fortunately both Justin and Mike are veterans in the mountains and have a strong ethical code for safety.

taking it slow up the gully

Roped in

Using 'old school' techniques we made our way up the steep gully; plunging the ice axe in deep and making a step, then repeating. After a few minutes rest at the top of the gully we continued on as we wanted to reach the summit as soon as possible. The weather was very sucked in and there was a good chance of rain. Though the summit is the focus, it, in fact, is only the halfway point: you still have to get down!

Nearly there
Log book canister
The book
It's official

Who am I kidding! Yes, of course I looked for birds! At the summit I scoured the rocks (desperately) for ptarmigan but I should no better. You don't find ptarmigan, they just appear. But not today.

Justin, Rich and Mike at the summit of Mount Arrowsmith

With time ticking and the weather looking ominous we started heading down. It was decided that we should take a different route down to the plateau as the gully would be a little tricky on the descent. So, we descended over the 'nose' with the use of a rope.

Down the nose
The Mount Arrowsmith humps

We did find sign of ptarmigan in the form of pellet and white feathers but that was a close as we got. Bird of the day for me was a pair of Townsend's Solitaire at the base of the 'nose'. Both contact call and full song was heard on several occasions.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Holden Creek and Nanaimo Estuary

American Goldfinch

Not much to report from Holden Creek; a flock of distant peeps (presumed Least Sandpiper) that got put up by a Red-tailed Hawk. That was it for shorebirds though I did enjoy watching swallows hawking over the farm fields including; Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Tree Swallow, Violet-green Swallow and Cliff Swallow. Other species noted were Bushtit, White-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Belted Kingfisher, Savannah Sparrow, House Finch and American Goldfinch.

Birds of note at the estuary was a Merlin that was hunting close to the car park and took a Violet-green Swallow right above me! And a female Northern Harrier seen from the look-out tower.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mount Cain - Summit

Justin Lynch
In October 2008, I joined Justin Lynch on my first visit to Mount Cain, near Woss, Vancouver Island. On Saturday 9th July 2011 we returned, this time with Jon Carter. Our target birds were Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan, though the main focus was to reach the summit of the west ridge.
Justin and Jon - Campbell River
We departed Nanaimo just after 06:00pm on Friday, to drive the 290kms to Mount Cain. We made a quick stop in Campbell River for food and arrived at the ski area about 10:00pm. As all the accommodations were empty, we pitched our tent and bivi under a covered deck next to one of the cottages. After sorting out our gear, we were all ready for bed. The noise of a thousand Tree Frogs (probably about 20) was extremely load, so sleep didn't come easy.

Ski lodges


We all got up at 05:20am and after some oatmeal and tea we began our hike. Our first bird was a female Common Goldeneye on the small lake behind us. Within twenty minutes we snagged a few birds including Gray Jay, Sooty Grouse and a stonking male Pine Grosbeak!

Common Goldeneye

Pine Grosbeak

Sooty Grouse
 After about four hours of hiking we stopped on a small plateau where we rested and ate. Here we spotted two nice alpine birds: American Pipit and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch; the finch being a lifer for Jon. We did, however, pay Kudos to this bird by using our new birding slang (invented by Ryder Lynch): "You've just been LIFED!"


We were all feeling very optimistic about locating ptarmigan, as we had noticed lots of sign; pellet and small white feathers. After resting, we stashed our backpacks and began ascending to the summit. It was nice to be out of the snow and scrambling over rocks. We carefully checked each area for ptarmigan, as we made our way up, but came up empty handed on each attempt. 

Ptarmigan sign

Jon and Justin at the Summit
One rock added:)

Rich, Justin and Jon

The views from the summit were spectacular and Jon actually used the word 'awesome', a word not thrown around lightly by Mr. Carter! The only thing missing was a small white grouse. Unfortunately we never did connect with this alpine specialty. After a little more searching back on the plateau, we began making our way back down. This, however, was a lot more challenging than going up, as we descended some really steep snow runs. Jon slipped on one particularly long steep run; slipping for some 100 metres! Luckily, he was ok, though a little shaken and scratched up.

Jon's long ride!

Justin made his way down to Jon, before I attempted to 'heel' my way down. After a few steps, I too slipped and found myself in the exact same predicament as Jon. Though I dug my hiking pole hard into the ground, I could not stop the momentum. I finally came to a stop after Jon used his pole to stop me. Jon mentioned that it would have been nice to get that on video? Justin pipes-up; "yea, I only got the last 97%!!"

Click below:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Adding to the Atlas

Wood Duck
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I woke at my 'normal' time of 06:00am and decided to just get up and go birding. Living so close to Buttertubs Marsh is great, so that was my first stop. I spent two hours slowly walking the trail and added some more breeding records: Wood Duck with four young, Chipping Sparrow feeding young, Common Yellowthroat carrying food and a Pied-billed Grebe nest.

Common Yellowthroat (male)

Common Yellowthroat (female)

Pied-billed Grebe on nest
After a quick pit-stop for breakfast at Justin and Amanda's I headed to Westwood Lake. Highlights here included a pair of agitated Wilson's Warbler (couldn't find a nest or notice them carrying food but they were clearly sticking around), MacGillivray's Warbler, Western Tanager, Townsend's Warbler and Willow Flycatcher were singing everywhere. Best bird for me though was a male Black-headed Grosbeak.

Wilson's Warbler

MacGillivray's Warbler

Black-headed Grosbeak

All birds recorded will be added to: British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ryder gets LIFED at Buttertubs Marsh!

Ryder ready for action
Having lots of time on my hands at the moment, I took the opportunity to take Nolan and my nephew Ryder down to Buttertubs Marsh in Nanaimo. Ryder, who is five years old has taken a real interest in learning about birds and nature, so it was extra special to be able to show him some new birds. When we arrived at the marsh we got to see some Wood Duck from the first viewing tower.

Uncle Rich and Ryder

Ryder checking out the Wood Ducks
 After scanning the marsh we followed the trail seeing American Robin, Tree Swallow and Bushtit. We also heard Yellow Warbler and Marsh Wren singing. As we walked Nolan and I told Ryder that when you get to see a new bird, a bird you haven't ever seen before, we call it a lifer! Anyhow, we followed the trail and Ryder suggested sitting on the bench to listen for birds as it is easier to hear them. We were only sat down a few seconds when I could hear young birds begging for food. We walked around the corner and looked up to see a nest of Cedar Waxwing being fed by both parents! It was absolutely fantastic to see these cracking exotic looking birds at the nest! Both Ryder and Nolan (and ME) were very excited and we watched as both parents arrived with food, feeding their fledging young. There were three birds in the nest and one had already branched out. 

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing adult
At one point Ryder started jumping up and down and saying "I JUST GOT LIFED!!!" Nolan and I thought that was awesome and I think Ryder may have just invented a new slang term for the birding world! Click on the link:   I just got LIFED!

Ryder and Nolan keeping it real!
We really did get lucky on this discovery as within ten minutes all four young completely fledged and flew with the adults to the other side of the marsh. Continuing on we found Brown-headed Cowbird, a family of Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Song Sparrow. We ended our day with an ice cold slushy form the local store....I believe Ryder got LIFED about 10 times today:)

Brown-headed Cowbird

Monday, July 4, 2011

Atlas work in south Nanaimo

Spotted Sandpiper
Today I joined Guy and Donna Monty on one of their atlas squares in south Nanaimo. We had a wonderful morning with lots of highlights including a Cooper's Hawk nest with three downy young, a Red-eyed Vireo (target bird), a new Osprey nest; with one adult on the nest and the other close by. A breeding site for Northern Rough-winged Swallow, in a low river bank and a Glaucous-winged Gull nest, on the roof at the pulp mill. Best of all was a brood of Spotted Sandpiper. We noticed an agitated adult bird and after a little searching discovered a brood of four recently hatched chicks!
Spotted Sandpiper young