Saturday, January 28, 2012

Dippers In Love

This week I went for a walk at the Little Qualicum River fish hatchery. This site is well known for an American Dipper nest which is built underneath of a bridge. This nest, which is a lovely little domed fairy hut made of green moss with a round opening near the bottom, has been active for at least 15 years that I know of, and produces young year after year after year. As American Dippers all look more or less the same, there is no way of knowing if these are the same pair that originally built the nest. Given the typical life span of a passerine, it is pretty doubtful.
One of the interesting things about this particular nest site, is how early courting and nesting begins compared to others in the area. I have been monitoring about a dozen American Dipper nests in the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere region over the past few years, and most are just beginning to incubate eggs around the time that birds from this nest fledge. This might be due to how rich the immediate area downstream of the hatchery is, but determining that for certain would be a major research project all of its own!
As soon as I stepped out of the car in the parking area of the hatchery earlier this week, I could hear the clear song of a dipper coming from the spawning channel, just a few meters upstream from the bridge and nest site. Carefully peering over the railing, I saw two American Dippers teetering on a small rock near the edge of the channel. The one highest on the rock would sing it's long, varied, liquid song, while the lower bird appeared to ignore it. Then the singing bird would leap off the rock into the water, and fly to the bottom. I say "fly", because this is essentially what they do. Although most aquatic bird species use their legs to propel them underwater, dippers use their wings, stroking along underwater in what looks like slow motion flight. When they reach the bottom, they then hop along on their legs, reappearing on the surface a few minutes later, where they will either take flight to the shore, or bob along the surface using swimming with their legs like a tiny duck.
When this particular dipper popped back up onto the surface, it began making some very excited calls, and then flew to the rock where the other bird was waiting. It then sang another long and complicated song, this time with its mouth full of some tiny aquatic invertebrates! The other bird suddenly dropped onto it's belly, tilted it's head back with its bill wide open, and began fluttering it's wings and vibrating its body slightly, much as a fledgling would when it was being fed. The other bird took the cue, and hopped over and stuffed it's bill full of food into the begging birds mouth. A second later, they were chasing each other up and down the spawning channel with excited calls and partial songs. Before I left, I saw one bird carrying some moss under the bridge, carefully tucking it into the existing nest under the watchful eye of the other bird. Clearly, courting is already well underway for this pair of American Dippers!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Moorecroft List Reaches 101 Species

Way back in mid October when I returned from my fall field projects in the NE part of BC, it was to a new home. My wife and I had been hired to be the first caretakers of a new regional park in Nanoose, and the contract started before I got home. Thankfully, our family all pitched in and helped my wife get moved in. So when I returned, all I had to do was start a new bird list (oh, if it were only that easy!). I entered the first records for Moorecroft Regional Park back on 8 October, 2011, just as the last of the neo-tropical migrants were leaving Vancouver Island. Within a month, the forests here were brutally quiet, with even the chick-let flocks seeming fairly sparse. Still, the sea-birding here has been good, and we finally have a few shorebirds using the park. The big excitement lately came after a huge dump of snow we got earlier in the week, when the birding seemed to be getting worse. At the far NW corner of the park, I found Bushtits for the park list, which turned out to be the 101st species! The fact that it took four months to add Bushtit says a lot about the habitat here. It is almost all heavily forested, and most of that is in mature conifers. The area where I found the Bushtits was in the only part of Moorecroft Regional Park where it borders on any developed land, which in this case is in the form of a Scotch broom thicket. Just the type of place one would expect to get a Bushtit. Anyway, here is the list of the first 101 species noted in/from Moorecroft Regional park;
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Cackling Goose
Canada Goose
Trumpeter Swan
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
Black Oystercatcher
Black Turnstone
Bonaparte's Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Herring Gull
Thayer's Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous Gull
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Ancient Murrelet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Great Horned Owl
Snowy Owl
Barred Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Red-breasted Sapsucker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Cassin's Vireo
Hutton's 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
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
Spotted Towhee
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Purple Finch
Red Crossbill
White-winged Crossbill
Common Redpoll
Pine Siskin
Evening Grosbeak

Sunday, January 1, 2012

And the first bird of 2012 is..........

Golden-crowned Kinglet. Calling from a grand fir near the house at 07:52, and quickly followed by a calling Pacific Wren and a Varied Thrush which flew to the top of the arbutus behind the house. All perfectly appropriate given the habitat here in Moorecroft.
May you find peace, health, good friends, and plenty of time to bird in 2012.