Monday, November 19, 2012

Incredible Time To Be In Coastal BC

Over the past week, Donna and I have seen two incredibly rare birds here in coastal BC. Both new to the province, and one, only a second North American Record.
On the 15th, we travelled to the Iona sewage lagoons to see a Cave Swallow. We had good looks at this bird for about 40 minutes, as it fed over the outer ponds with three Barn Swallows. Eventually, several other birders showed up, also looking for the Cave Swallow. I pointed the bird out, but they were unable to get on it, having problems telling the difference between it, and the Barn Swallows. Eventually, the Cave Swallow flew towards the river, and disappeared. We tried to relocate the bird to help these folks see it, but never did. Apparently, it has been seen on subsequent days.
On Monday, the 19th of November, we headed up to Comox to see an even rarer bird, a Citrine Wagtail. This bird was located about a week ago by Dave and Adelle Routledge of Cumberland. The identification was up in the air for a few days, but eventually someone got photos, and voila! First year Citrine Wagtail. Wow.
We arrived in Comox at about 7:45 and had the bird by 8:15 or so. I spent the next few hours studying the bird through the telescope as it fed in wet grass at a field edge. What a spectacular bird!!!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yust A Raining

Not too much to report lately. Steady, heavy rains, and very damned few birds. We did see our first Buffleheads returning to the bay this morning. Other than a few Columbian Black-tailed Deer hanging out in the front yard, little else going on here. Yust a raining.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Cacklers in Port Alberni

On 18 October, 2012, we encountered app. 350 Cackling Geese in the fields around Port Alberni, hanging out with app. 700 resident type Canada Geese. We also saw two juvenile Greater White-fronted Geese. No Snow Geese or dusky type Canada geese were observed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hiking On Gerald Island

Yesterday I rowed out to Gerald Island, here in Nanoose. It is about 1 km out to the Gerald Island  shoreline, and takes me about 10 minutes of easy rowing in calm seas, and about 20 minutes of hard rowing in choppy seas with a contrary wind. Yesterday was fairly easy, with winds generally less than 1 knot. 

One the way out I saw all three species of cormorants and a few Harlequin Ducks on the large rock at the mouth of First Bay, here in Moorecroft Regional Park. A bit further out, was a single Western Grebe. A fly-by Rhinoceros Auklet was the only other bird of interest on the trip out, or for that matter, on the trip back. The large numbers of Pacific Loons and gulls that have been present the past few days, appeared to have moved on. Other than a few Mew, California, and Glaucous-winged Gulls feeding locally, gull numbers were way down. 

The first bird I noticed upon landing on Gerald Island, was am immature Sharp-shinned Hawk. It was in pursuit of a small flock of Pine Siskins. After giving up on catching one of these tiny finches, it flew directly to the shoreline of Vancouver Island, entering the forests of Moorecroft, somewhat below the canopy. I would see two more of this species do the exact same thing over the next two hours. I do not know how they got to Gerald Island, but I suspect they were using the Texada to Ballenas to Gerald route. The other bird of interest I spotted on Gerald Island, was a Northern Shrike, quite contentedly catching grasshoppers along the NW shore of the island. In many Octobers, the grasshoppers would be long gone by the time this migrant from the far north arrives.

Walking on Gerald is interesting. The island is only lightly forested with Douglas firs, red cedars, grand firs, arbutus and trembling aspen. An odd forest composition anywhere in BC. There is also some Rocky Mountain juniper, Saskatoon, ocean spray and Pacific crab apple in the shrub layer, which is places, is impenetrable. Rare coastal plants such as prickly pear cactus and coastal wood fern grow in fair abundance on parts of the island. For the most part though, much of the island is rock which is covered by thin grasses or lichen and moss. A small wetland dominated by red-osier dogwood sits in the center of the island, but because the vegetation is so thick, only the presence of wetland plant species and numerous mosquitos convinces one that there is any water at all on this otherwise dry and rocky island. Most of the shoreline is either sheer rock and short cliffs, or hills of steep rock, making hiking into the interior of the island difficult. There are three places to land a small boat on the island, which lead to routes to reach the center of the island, with varying degrees of difficulty. At it's highest point, it is about 175 meters high, and offers some great views of Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and the surrounding Salish Sea. There is one active Bald Eagle nest on the island. I have read undocumented reports of Peregrine Falcons nesting on Gerald Island as well. I have seen no evidence of this, and decent cliff ledges are in short supply here. Turkey Vultures do nest on the island, on the ground in dense vegetation. The island is well known as a major roost site for Northwestern Crows in the winter. The actual number of crows nesting here can vary quite a bit from day to day through the winter though. With the large amount of open ground and bare rock and grass on the island, it does appear to be an attractive migration stop for the more open country species.

The only presence of mammals on the island, are the numerous runways through the grass, and scat piles from River Otters. Harbor seals and both California and Steller's Sea Lions feed in the waters around the island, but do not appear to haul out here with any regularity. Probably because there are other more appropriate haul out spots nearby.   

List of birds noted from Gerald Island on 7 October 2012:

Harlequin Duck: 8
Surf Scoter: 5
Red-breasted Merganser: 2
Common Merganser: 2
Pacific Loon: 32
Common Loon: 2
Red-necked Grebe: 1
Western Grebe: 1
Brandt's Cormorant: 5
Double-crested Cormorant: 11
Pelagic Cormorant: 9
Mew Gull: 22
California Gull: 10
Glaucous-winged Gull: 18
Northern Flicker: 5
Northern Shrike: 1
Northwestern Crow: 3
Chestnut-backed Chickadee: 11
Red-breasted Nuthatch: 5
Brown Creeper: 4
Bewick's Wren: 3
Pacific Wren: 4
Golden-crowned Kinglet: 23
Ruby-crowned Kinglet: 4
American Robin: 12
Varied thrush: 1
American Pipit: 3
Yellow-rumped Warbler: 6
Spotted Towhee: 11
Savannah Sparrow: 14
Fox Sparrow: 9
Song Sparrow: 26
White-crowned Sparrow: 5
Golden-crowned Sparrow: 22
Purple Finch: 4
Pine Siskin: 123

Friday, October 5, 2012

Raptor Migration Slow Again Today

Today I did 4 hours of monitoring from Vesper Point, and saw only one raptor island hopping. An immature Northern Harrier flew from Lasqueti Island to West Ballenas Island. Upon reaching the island, it was mobbed by two Common Ravens that drove it down behind the far side of the island. In the following three hours, I did not see it leave West Ballenas, so I have no idea where it was headed.

There were 678 Pacific Loons in the waters around Vesper Point this morning, and a few returning Red-necked Grebes and Harlequin Ducks. Golden-crowned Sparrows and American Pipits flitted about on the rocks at Vesper Point.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


Raptor Migration Continues.....Barely!

Did another three hour stint at Vesper Point today. It was slow raptor monitoring, but I didn't get skunked, and the massive number of Pacific Loons feeding just off the point kept me entertained.

At 10:32 the first raptor of the day, an adult western type Red-tailed Hawk, appeared over West Ballenas Island. I do not know how this bird got to the island, or even where it went. It spent 38 minutes alternating between hard flapping and rising by making tight circles in a thermal, until it got so incredibly high, that I could no longer keep track of it with the scope. It isn't very often that I loose track of a migrating raptor because of extreme elevation.

At 11:49 a lone Turkey Vulture island-hopped from Texada to Vancouver Island, pausing to gain altitude at South Ballenas, Gerald Island, and finally, Amelia Island. This bird came shore on Vancouver Island in the vicinity of Garry Oaks drive, in Nanoose.

Those were the only two raptors I saw today from Vesper Point. Passerine migration was very evident this morning, as the numbers of Varied Thrush, Pacific Wrens, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, and Purple Finches around the park, rose dramatically from earlier in the week.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Another Day, Another Migrant Turkey Vulture

I monitored the area offshore from Vesper Point between 09:30 - and 12:30 today. With very good conditions, there were very few raptors observed. This probably means that migration is slowing, which only makes sense.

At 9:48 a single Turkey Vulture was observed soaring from Texada Island towards West Ballenas. It used the typical route, and it took about 20 minutes to travel from Texada to Vancouver Island. At 11:06 I had a Sharp-shinned Hawk that did essentially the same thing, although once it was at South Ballenas, it flew directly across to Vesper Point, using powered flight. It did soar and use thermals on the initial crossing though.  

The only other raptor observed was an adult Bald Eagle which appeared to fly directly from the Sunshine Coast to South Ballenas Island, using a combination of soaring and powered flight.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Texada Island To Vancouver Island Turkey Vulture Migration confiirmed!

This morning I was at Vesper Point in Moorecroft Regional Park, doing a sea-watch and wondering if I might see a few Turkey Vultures migrating. I did not have to wait long. At 10:18, I spotted a kettle of 12 Turkey Vultures which had just left Texada Island, heading almost straight south. The birds were still fairly high up when the reached land, above South Ballenas Island. They then kettled there until 10:32. By this time they were fairly high up, and drifting SE. Suddenly, they all turned and began a steep descent towards Gerald Island. They came ashore on the back side of Gerald Island about 5 minutes later, and were quite low to the water, with some birds now flapping vigorously. The difference between their ability to soar from Texada to Ballenas, vs the much shorter hop from Ballenas to Gerald, was pronounced. After spending about a half hour perched in trees on Gerald Island, the entire flock began kettling over Gerald Island. By now the NW wind was very strong (app. Bf, 5) and the birds seemed to have trouble staying together. Within 30 minutes, all 12 birds had made the shoreline of Vancouver Island, although only 4 came ashore at Moorecroft, while the rest seemed to arrive somewhere about halfway down the shore towards Schooner Cove.

It remains to be seen whether these vultures are all birds that summer on Texada, or if some are migrating onto Texada from the Sunshine Coast.

Monday, October 1, 2012

One Year At Moorecroft!

Today marks the one year anniversary of our becomeing caretakers of Moorecroft Regional Park, and the begining of our second year of keeping a list of bird species recorded here. Below is a list of the 135 bird species noted from the boundaries of the park.

Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
Wood Duck
American Wigeon
Green-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Greater Scaup
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Black Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Barrow's Goldeneye
Hooded Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Merganser
Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Yellow-billed Loon
Red-necked Grebe
Horned Grebe
Western Grebe
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Turkey Vulture
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Black-bellied Plover
Black Oystercatcher
Spotted Sandpiper
Black Turnstone
Least Sandpiper
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Parasitic Jaeger
Bonaparte's Gull
Heerman's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Iceland Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous Gull
Caspian Tern
Common Tern
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Ancient Murrelet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Rock Pigeon
Band-tailed Pigeon
Great Horned Owl
Snowy Owl
Barred Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Common Nighthawk
Black Swift
Vaux's Swift
Anna's Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Steller's Jay
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Brown Creeper
Bewick's Wren
Pacific Wren
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Swainson's Thrush
Hermit Thrush
American Robin
Varied Thrush
European Starling
American Pipit
Cedar Waxwing
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
MacGillivray's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Wilson's Warbler
Western Tanager
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Evening Grosbeak