Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Red-flanked Bluetail

Today I got out of bed at 03:30 so I could catch the first ferry to Vancouver to see the latest spectacular rarity in what is becoming a winter of spectacular rarities. After seeing the Citrine Wagtail in Comox, I thought it would be a decade or so before I saw a bird so unexpected, or beautiful. What a shocker to receive a message yesterday that a Red-flanked Bluetail had been reported from Queens Park in New Westminster. A Red-flanked Bluetail??? Although they have occurred in the western Aleutians a handful of times, and once on an offshore island in California, this is not a species expected anywhere in mainland North America. But the initial report was convincing enough that several of Vancouver's top birders headed out to New West, and in o time at all the chat groups were abuzz with the news. A Red-flanked Bluetail was indeed flitting about under the cedars in snowy Queens Park. I knew I had to go. As soon as possible.
So off I went at zero dark thirty. Only to arrive at the Duke Point Ferry and learn that the first sailing of the day had been cancelled. AGHHHH! Sometimes living on this island can be exasperating. I was not to be deterred though. I turned around and headed back to Nanaimo, and caught the 06:30 ferry out of Departure Bay. This got me to New Westminster about two hours later than I had hoped to get there, but it didn't end up mattering very much, because it took only a few minutes to find the bird. As most of the park is covered in snow, all one needs to do is pay attention to the bare spots under the cedar trees. The birds is feeding on the ground in these bare spots, and although it does move frequently, if one stays in one spot and pays attention, the bird is fairly easy to follow around the park. Unfortunately, some folks were a little overzealous today (seemed to be more a case of little field experience and too much excitement rather than malicious intent) and the bird was being pushed from spot to spot. When the crowds got a bit too dense for me, I moved on and headed to Vancouver to see a Brambling that had been reported yesterday.
It took about 40 minutes to slide through the busy streets of the lower mainland to the backyard in Vancouver, and about two minutes to locate the Brambling. This was one skulker of a bird though. I saw it probably 15 times over the next two hours, but it never did stop moving, and spent much of it's time barely visible in the blackberry thicket there. It was one of the more spectacular Bramblings that I have ever seen, and was well worth the extra hassle of driving into Vancouver, and then back out again to catch an afternoon ferry back home. I seem to be using the word "spectacular" a lot lately. With birds such as these, it warranted. A Red-flanked Bluetail, a Citrine Wagtail, and  Brambling in the same month? SPECTACULAR!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Western Screech-Owl

Tonight as we were closing the gate here at Moorecroft Regional Park, a Western Screech Owl flew across the road directly in front of us. The bird was briefly illuminated by our headlamps, and it was clearly the typical rufous morph variety.

This is the first Western Screech-Owl we have detected in Moorecroft, and the first I have seen in Nanoose in many years. Once a common and widespread species on SE Vancouver Island, they have all but disappeared from lowland sites locally.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Common Redpolls

Today I had a small flock of Common Redpolls in the forest at Moorecroft Regional Park. There have been plenty of reports of White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks lately, but I don't think there have been many Common Redpolls reported. That's Moorecroft for you. Always the exception...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year

Donna and I started 2013 off with a pre-dawn run up to Comox to see if we could add the Citrine Wagtail to the 2013 list. We hiked out to the regular spot, and stood around for about an hour wondering where the bird, and the other birders, had gotten to.

Standing on a wet, muddy road in near freezing temperatures on a dull January morning is not without it's benefits though, especially when one is on the Courtenay estuary. We had five Tundra Swans fly over, amongst the hundreds of Trumpeters going this way and that. The calls of so many Trumpeter Swans gathered in one spot was wonderful in and of itself. We were also able to study the myriad plumage differences amongst 1st winter Thayer's Gulls, as there were about 100 feeding in the partially flooded field where the wagtail should have been. Other gulls, mostly Mew Gulls, numbered about 1500. American Wigeons were abundant in the fields as well, with about 2000 sharing the fields with at least 11 Eurasian Wigeons and a scattering of Mallards and Northern Pintail. Keeping a close on this winged buffet, was a very dangerous looking adult Peale's Peregrine Falcon, and 25 or more Bald Eagles. In the hedgerows, Fox, Song, Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows kept us occupied trying to spy something different. Evening Grosbeaks called from the distance, and small flocks continually flew overhead, along with clouds of Pine Siskins and the occasional small flock of Purple Finches. But no wagtail.


Eventually, a little after 09:00, Ed from Quadra walked out and shared the news that the wagtail had moved about two fields over, and there was already a crowd of birders there looking at it. Apparently, it pays to check the internet chat groups or have friends in the loop. But such is life, being a Luddite and a social outcast. We thanked Ed, and rushed over to see it.

The Citrine Wagtail was easy to find, as it was about 60 meters in front of a half-dozen birders sporting various vintages of optics, typical western Canadian winter clothing, and some well earned New Years Day hangovers. The bird was now in a spot that I used to bird now and then, and as happy as I was to see it, I was also reminded of all the great birds I had seen at this site previously, and how much fun I had birding here with friends and family in the past. Friends and family that I have not seen in a very long time. But that was a long time ago. Before the dark times...before the Empire.

New Years day often brings such thoughts to the fore, and 2013 maybe more so than in the past. Never have I felt such dread at the direction things seem to be headed, and rarely have I felt so alone in times as confusing as these. But at the same time, never have I felt that change was so close, and that better times are waiting for us, if we would just push a little harder to catch up to them. If a little grey bird from Asia can survive a winter alone on the Courtenay Estuary,  our obstacles should be easily overcome.

Happy New Year friends. May 2013 be entirely different than 2012.