Saturday, April 23, 2011

Spring-like Weather and More Spring Migrants

Today the sun finally shone hot, and we took advantage of it with a 55 kilometre bike ride, and a solid 8 hours of birding between Parksville and Qualicum Beach. Our first bird of the day was a calling Eurasian Collared-Dove. They seem to be getting more and more numerous around here, and we ended up seeing at least 12 of them today. Hearing one calling from the back door of our place was new though. The next thing we noticed was that Myrtle type Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere, as we rode north through Parksville. This race of the Yellow-rump generally passes through about a month later than the first wave of Audubon's types, probably owing to the fact that they will be heading much further north.

We rode to Columbia Beach, hoping to relocate the Whimbrel that I had been seeing all week while doing Brant surveys. Unfortunately, we could not find it. We did though, come across a few Least Sandpipers amongst much larger flocks of Dunlin and Black-bellied Plovers, all starting to look smart in their breeding colors. There were good numbers of Savannah Sparrows, American Pipits, and Barn Swallows moving up the coast along the beaches this morning, with some surprisingly large flocks of Savannahs coming in off the open water of the strait as late as 8:00. This was a bit surprising, as nocturnal migrants generally land by day break.

While cycling back through the large Sand Dollar development, we found three Townsend's Solitaires in a yard, and eventually saw two more a few blocks away. Nice to see them at all, but seeing more than one at a time around here is a real treat.

At the Morningstar Ponds we were thrilled to see a brood of just hatched Mallard ducklings, a few Wood Ducks, and good numbers of tree and Violet-green Swallows. Myrtle type Yellow-rumped Warblers were especially numerous here, with dozens fly catching from the newly leafed out willows surrounding the pond. A red-eared Slider turtle sunning itself along the edge of the pond left no doubt that it finally must be spring. We even saw a butterfly, our first of 2011. Too bad it was a Cabbage White, but after the weather we have had the past two months, we won't complain too much!

I finished the day with 129 species for my 2011 Non-motorized Transportation list today.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Little Mountain

If you are ever looking for a workout, try riding your bike from sea level, to the top of Little Mountain, a few kilometres inland from Parksville. It is as steep a paved road as I have ever seen. But, the birding is often worth it, and the ride back to Parksville, requires no pedaling at all. Just make sure you have really good brakes!

The birding today was quite good, although I was not able to find my target bird, Sooty Grouse. They are usually calling and displaying by this time of year, but no such luck today. I guess that means I will have to ride back up there again in a few weeks. Ugh.

After a few hours of hiking around and not finding very much, I decided to do a little pishing and owl tooting, to see if I could bring a few skulkers out of the salal. I picked a large arbutus near the escarpment on the west side of the mountain, and hid myself behind the trunk, and started pishing. A Yellow-rumped Warbler and an Orange-crowned Warbler responded almost immediately, flying to the crown of the tree and giving their alarm calls. They were followed quickly by a Hermit Thrush and a few Dark-eyed Juncos. Soon there were a dozen birds chipping and calling from the arbutus. I knew there were other species nearby, so I added a few pygmy-owl calls to the pishes. A Hutton's Vireo and four Cassin's Vireos blasted in with all of the ferocity that a five inch bird can muster. A Townsend's Warbler, a few Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees joined the fray. I gave a few more owl toots. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches flew in and began scolding me inches above my head. Another bird, which I thought might have been a Downy Woodpecker, landed higher in the tree but gave no alarm call, which seemed odd. Knowing better, but curiosity getting the better of me, I tilted my head back slowly and raised my eyes to try and get a look at the new bird. I opened my mouth to prepare for another few owl calls, and..............PLOP! One of the nuthatches dropped a gift right into my mouth. Bombs away. Direct hit!!! Luke Skywalker firing at the Death Star's exhaust port couldn't have matched this nuthatch. I gagged and doubled over and spit and spit and spit. The birds went crazy. I sat down and grabbed a water bottle out of my pack to rinse my mouth. Yuck! I kept spitting, and the birds continued to go crazy. Now there were probably 35 birds in the tree above me, and they continued to mob and squawk and chip and flutter. It seemed odd. In general, once birds figure out that it is a human doing the pishing and owl calling, they will quickly melt back into the brush. But these birds continued to go crazy. A Rufous Hummingbird zipped past me like a tiny fighter jet on an attack run. A pair of Pine Siskins and a female Purple Finch were now right beside me at eye level, looking up into the tree and calling like mad. Wait a minute. They are looking up at what? I backed a few feet away from the trees drip zone, and peered into the middle branches of the arbutus, to see a Northern Pygmy-Owl glaring back down at me. The birds were giving it a really hard time, but it sat passively, and seemed to be making plans in it's head to launch and go after one of the juncos that was getting braver and braver. I lifted the camera and got one shot off before the owl jumped and all the birds in the tree scattered in different directions. The last I saw of the owl it was streaking downhill in pursuit of a Red Crossbill that had just arrived. I gave my mouth another rinse and headed back to find my bike for the quick ride home.

Birds seen on Little Mountain today;

Turkey Vulture: 18 (12 were obviously migrating)

Bald Eagle: 10 (all migrating)

Northern Harrier: 1 (migrating)

Sharp-shinned Hawk: 2 (migrating)

Red-tailed Hawk: 2 (1 migrating)

Band-tailed Pigeon: 4
Northern Pygmy-Owl: 1
Rufous Hummingbird: 15

Northern Flicker: 2

Pileated Woodpecker: 3

Hammond's Flycatcher: 1

Cassin's Vireo: 7

Hutton's Vireo: 5

Common Raven: 3

Violet-green Swallow: 2

Chestnut-backed Chickadee: 14

Red-breasted Nuthatch: 10

Brown Creeper: 7

Pacific Wren: 8

Golden-crowned Kinglet: 16

Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 4

Hermit Thrush: 9

American Robin: 7

Varied Thrush: 4

Orange-crowned Warbler: 6

Yellow-rumped Warbler: 38 (all Audubon's type)

Townsend's Warbler: 3

White-crowned Sparrow: 2

Dark-eyed Junco: 49 (some nest building)

Purple Finch: 6

Red Crossbill: 23

Pine Siskin: 5

Monday, April 11, 2011


This morning I got a 30 km ride in before work, and turned up two flycatchers. Along the railroad tracks between Church Rd and Morningstar golf course in french Creek, was a Hammond's Flycatcher. In the pasture near the sea soil compost facility, was a Say's Phoebe, predictably, perched on a fencepost in a horse corral. Although we have had Say's Phoebe several weeks earlier than this, today date is about typical for early arrival Hammond's Flycatchers in the Parksville-Qualicum checklist area.

Another sign of migration were the scores of Savannah Sparrows at every weedy edge of a lawn, field, or beach. One day they weren't here, the next day they seem to be everywhere. The Virginia Rail poking around in a puddle along the railroad tracks should maybe keep on migrating until it finds some suitable habitat?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Our Little Day.....

Today, Donna and I rode our bikes about 40 kms around Parksville, birding at a fairly leisurely pace. We left about 7:00, and we were back by 13:00, which is about 6 ours of worth of quality birding time. We did OK, but we missed our goal of 100 species, by two. Although 98 species in six hours on bikes is a respectable total around here at this time of year, it hurts that we missed about 10 really easy species. Where do you suppose all of the Great Blue Herons, Double-crested Cormorants, and Black-bellied Plovers were today? Ouch. Ouch. And ouch! Enough complaining though. We had a great time, and we did see some really amazing birds, including a few new arrivals for the area. Highlights included;

Trumpeter Swan: 14 headed north.

Greater Yellowlegs: Several at the Englishman River estuary, the first we have seen this year.

Iceland Gull: 1 at Rathtrevor. I saw this bird yesterday as well.

Band-tailed Pigeon: 5 at Mills Rd. First this year.

Mountain Bluebird: a male and a female at the Englishman River Estuary.

Common Yellowthroat: several at the wetland in Rathtrevor.

Chipping Sparrow: 1 at the corner of Northwest Bay Rd and Hwy 4a.

Savannah Sparrow: several at the Englishman River Estuary.

Brown-headed Cowbird: 8 various places. First sightings this year.

Evening Grosbeak: very numerous and widespread. Several nest building already.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Birds In The Parksville Area Today:

Today finally showed a bit of promise as to a change of seasons, with some new arrivals, an increase in nesting behavior, and a few really good birds around the area. Rathtrevor Provincial Park: Iceland Gull: a 3rd cycle glaucoides type at the beach in front of the Brant sign. Common Yellowthroat: A single bird in the east end of the wetland, right next to the road. Barred Owl: Two birds dueting on the trail just west of the wetland. Cassin's Vireo: Mobbing the owls. Rufous Hummingbird: Mobbing the owls. Little Mountain: Blue Grouse: Calling on the east end of the hill top. Mountain Bluebird: Two adult males at the escarpment just west of SW most tower. Hutton's Vireo: Calling at the parking lot. Red Crossbill: a female building a nest at the SE end of the escarpment. Parksville Bay: American Pipit: 20+ flying around the bay through the day. Savannah Sparrow: 1 near the hovercraft base.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Today we rode our bikes up to Ermineskin Marsh, with hopes of seeing a few Spring migrants. As this is the traditional weekend that the Brant Wildlife Festival Big Day birding competition used to be held, it seemed like a good time to go out and have a look to see what has arrived lately. Well, it's a good thing they decided to hold the big day next weekend, because it is quiet out there. Really quiet! The unseasonably cold, stormy weather seems to have stalled migration fairly severely. Although we did see a few Rufous Hummingbirds and Oranage-crowned Warblers, and the Virginia Rails have returned to the marsh, others usually present by this time of year, were not found. We could not locate any Common Snipe, Common Yellowthroat, swallows, or Red-breasted Sapsuckers. The Red-winged Blackbirds were singing up a storm, the rails did eventually respond to my calls, and a striking adult male Northern Harrier was circling the marsh looking for voles, but overall, it really felt like February rather than April. Had the big day been held today, nobody would have broken 100 species. I hope it warms a bit this week, and the birds start arriving. It's April, come on!