Thursday, March 31, 2011

Serpentine fen

Yellow-rumped Warbler
The Serpentine Fen Bird Sanctuary and Wildlife Area is Located in south-west Surrey near Mud Bay, the sanctuary offers a refuge for thousands of migrating birds during Spring and Autumn as well as a home for many year-round residents. The habitat has over 4 kilometers of trails passing through meadow, marshland, waterways and fen.

Rob and I arrived to a glorious sunny day which started off well with what seemed like an influx of Yellow-rumped Warblers, at least twelve were recorded on the path leading up to the fen. A Bewick's Wren was singing from the telephone wires and I recorded my first Brown-headed Cowbird of this visit on the same wires, bringing my species total up to 119. My 120th species was recorded when a quick look into a nearby hay-barn produced a roosting Barn Owl!

We spent a pleasant 90-minutes touring the rest of the reserve recording of note: Northern Harrier, Belted Kingfisher, House Finch, Bald Eagle, Coopers Hawk, Tree Swallow and Marsh Wren. As we made our way along the Serpentine River path a very pristine looking Peregrine was perched atop a power pylon, unfortunately too high for any good photographs but a magnificent sight in the sunshine.

Brown-headed Cowbird
After a good start to our day things deteriorated somewhat when we made our way across to Crescent Beach and Blackie Spit. The last time we visited around 10 days ago it was a gloomy and rainy day with very few people around. With the glorious sunshine and balmy 17C, today was entirely a different matter!

As a visitor to Canada, a place I love, it's very difficult for me to criticise what I can only describe as a mindless minority, but I feel that I must make comment on my observations today. I would also say that having walked the seawall of English Bay on numerous occasions the same observations would apply.

I refer to Dog-on-Leash rules which seem to be blatantly disregarded by a lot of dog owners, despite the prominence of many signs in the area both at English Bay Beaches and Blackie Spit. As a former dog owner myself I watched in despair today at Blackie Spit, a sight which boasts 'A Haven For Migrating and Wintering Birds', while irresponsible dog owners simply let their dogs run free, even though there is a designated Dog-off-Leash Area!

The Spit itself has some excellent habitat and it was probably no coincidence that Rob and I recorded very little in the area today. We even witnessed two couples, one who walked directly through a track which had a clear sign stating 'Path Closed to Improve Habitat', and another who walked off one of the perimeter routes and over a fence to the waters edge, flushing several Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer, and a number of waterfowl, a HAVEN it is not! As my birding buddy Rob stated "There's simply nobody around to police it", apparently there are only twelve animal control officers in Vancouver to watch over the estimated 100,000 dogs in the city, a great shame and unfortunately with so few officers the onus must be on the owners!

Anyway, my cup is always half full and we did manage to record a number of species in the area, mainly far out in the bay which included: Horned Grebe, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Loon, Greater Scaup, and a trio of Mergansers, Common, Red-breasted and Hooded, a nice end to a frustrating day!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

First Warbler!

Hummingbird Feeder (Library Picture)
I met up with Rob at Queen Elizabeth Park at around midday for some local birding, due to the early morning downpour we decided not venture too far. Queen Elizabeth Park is the second most visited park in Vancouver and holds within its perimeters some of the most beautiful public gardens anywhere, it also has an extensive outdoor arboretum and indoor Bloedel Floral Conservatory.

To be honest the conditions weren't the best for birding, and although the park made a pleasant enough stroll in the rain, we contented ourselves over lunch by watching Anna's Hummingbirds on the Hummingbird feeders located near the park office.

After lunch we moved across to Stanley Park for a look at Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon. By the time we arrived the rain had finally subsided. The weather here in Vancouver can change in a very short time and the afternoon turned out to be quite a pleasant one in the end.

Once again the birding was slow by comparison to previous days, but we did manage to connect with Rob's first Hutton's Vireo of the spring, and finally our first migrant warbler! One of the first spring warblers to arrive here is usually the Yellow-rumped and true to form we located two, looking quite bedraggled, on the perimeter of Beaver Lake. Also of note: Various numbers of Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglets, very vocal Red-winged Blackbirds, Bald Eagle, Spotted Towhee, Northern Flicker, Fox Sparrow and a lone Ringed-necked Duck.

A quick look around the lost Lagoon before calling it a day had the usual good numbers of Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, American Wigeon and Common Goldeneye, plus today I recorded my first Pied-billed Grebe on the lake for this visit.

Maplewood Flats

Male Purple Finch (Library Image)
Maplewood Flats Conservation Area is a birding hotspot located in North Vancouver, BC just east of the Second Narrows Bridge. With over 311 acres of land including tidal marsh, forest, shoreline, mudflat and meadow habitats, the Park encompasses over three kilometres of trails.

A later than normal start today Rob and I arrived at Maplewood at around 11am, continuing our ongoing search for spring migrants. Although we had heavy rain overnight the rain had cleared by the time we arrived producing an overcast but mild day. A quick visit to the office to familiarise ourselves with the reserve, and get the latest news, it wasn't long before we were off to investigate, especially as one of the species showing well was a Northern Goshawk.

As we made our way to the reported Goshawk location a Hummingbird whizzed past Rob's head, but recognition was impossible due to it's speed, possibly Rufous. Northern Flicker were plentiful, and vocal, with at least a half dozen causing havoc, they always remind me of our own Green Woodpeckers back in the UK!

Shortly after crossing the Old Barge Channel bridge it wasn't long before we had immature Goshawk perched up in the canopy of a tall Alder, several Crows not too happy about it's presence. A great tick for this visit and only my second sighting for Canada. You can see pictures of the bird on Les Lee's site: Here

As we made our way towards the salt marsh and our first look across Burrard Inlet, we'd pick up Downy Woodpecker and the usual Red-winged Blackbird, Spotted Towhee , Song Sparrow, Chickadees, Varied Thrush, Red-tailed Hawk, and both Ruby and Golden Crowned Kinglet. As we stood looking across the salt marsh we met one of the local birders, Les Lee and his mate Rob. I'd spoken to Les only online and he'd been extremely helpful regarding my many questions about BC birding, it was an amazing coincidence to actually meet up and I enjoyed our chat.

Ringed-necked Duck (Library Picture)
The West Pond had a male Ringed-necked Duck and Rob discovered an American Robin sitting on her nest. We had lunch overlooking the mudflats and this area had plenty of activity which included various numbers of: Northern Pintail, Greater Yellowlegs, Common Merganser, Pelagic Cormorant, Wigeon, Scaup, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye. On the several pylons which reach out from the water two Bald Eagles were keeping vigil, but the surprise of the day was when the ducks scattered and an Otter suddenly appeared! We enjoyed watching the Otter antics for around 10 minutes before moving on, a most enjoyable lunch break.

Three Purple Finch on the way back across to the salt marsh for a final half hour stint which produced of note: Barrow's Goldeneye, 3 Black Scoter, around 40 or so Surf Scoter and a single Pigeon Guillemot. Before leaving we spent a while at the bird feeding station talking to another local birder called Quentin and managed Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch and House Finch. A very enjoyable day but due to the dull conditions no photography was possible!

Monday, March 28, 2011

First Migrants!

Savannah Sparrow
After a weekend off from birding it was out and about again with my BC birding buddy Rob Catchpole. Another look at Boundary Bay Regional Park and the surrounding area and at last a couple of migrants to report.

We arrived at around 9.45am and although the weather was pleasant enough a rather nippy southeasterly breeze kept the temperature down. The bay produced good numbers of Green-winged Teal, amongst them a lone Eurasian, and as the tide edged slowly in around a dozen Greater Yellowlegs were feeding along the edges, a single Killdeer was also seen.

As we continued along the sea front a small number of Brant were the best we could muster, the opportunity of spotting anything further out not helped by the choppy conditions. As we arrived at the southern end of the bay around 200 Sanderling came in to feed, and after sitting watching these amazing little birds scurrying around for a short while, we decided to move into the interior of the park.

Two female Northern Harrier and a stunning male were quickly followed by our first spring migrant of the day as a Western Meadowlark made off to the east, this quickly followed by Savannah Sparrow, which was seen singing within the birch. A reasonably quite morning, apart from our new migrants, with various numbers of Tree Swallow, Song Sparrow, Marsh Wren and Bald Eagle also recorded.

Great Horned Owl (Library Image)
After lunch we decided to head north through the residential area and back along the bay towards Beach Grove, and finally ended up venturing into Beach Grove Park. Here we picked up Pine Siskin feeding on the Alder seeds, Band-tailed Pigeon, Brown Creeper and we were a little surprised to come across 2 Eurasian Collared Dove, a species I believe which has been introduced to North America in recent years.

The best of the day was saved until last, when thanks to some local information, we were able to connect with  a superb Great Horned Owl, which we found roosting high up in a tall Fir tree. Not a prolific days birding by recent comparison, more quality than quantity, but four more additions to my current visit list is very welcome.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hutton's Vireo

Hutton's Vireo, Another 1st For Me!
The weather here in Vancouver over the past few days has been very spring-like, with a light breeze and lots of sunshine, I've certainly taken full advantage. Yesterday Thursday, I took another look at Stanley Park, starting my walk once more at the Lost Lagoon and tracking back via the seawall overlooking English Bay.

Having spoken to a few local birders, amazingly a rare breed themselves, and checked various local birding websites, my target bird for the day was Hutton's Vireo, which had been reported as arriving in the Park. It closely resembles a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, but having researched the bird, and in particular it's song, I was confident of being able to ID this little chap.

Douglas Squirrel
My first bird of the day turned out to be Merlin, as one whizzed over the appartment block as I walked down to the lagoon. The Lagoon itself  had the usual waterfowl with good numbers of Scaup, several Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and today a pair of Ring-necked Duck.

The track around gave me my first opportunity to test my Vireo skills but no joy, both birds in question being very frisky Ruby-crowned Kinglet, the male displaying and giving stunning views of the vivid ruby red crown. By the time I disappeared into the park I'd spent several enjoyable minutes watching a Pileated Woodpecker absolutely destroy part of a tree, much to the annoyance of a Douglas Squirrel.

A good walk around Beaver Lake in the parks interior, which was very quiet by recent comparisons, but I still managed Spotted Towhee, Song and Fox Sparrow plus Bushtit and Red-winged Blackbird. When I did finally stumble on my main target for the day I needn't have worried about the ID, the bird was singing with gusto, popping out nicely into the open and thus delivering my first spring migrant, and indeed my first ever Hutton's Vireo!

The walk back to the appartment along the seawall was equally as quiet, smaller numbers of Barrow's Goldeneye and Surf Scoter, the majority of wintering birds now having moved off northwards. A lone Black Oystercatcher, a pair of Harlequin Duck and Hooded Merganser being the highlights.

Life's Such a Stress!
Friday, and my goodness how quickly the first two weeks have passed. Having trekked for absolutely miles around the Vancouver District over past 14 days, I actually took the day off from birding, well apart from Gull watching for a little while down on the harbour.

Surprisingly enough Vancouver Harbour is not as prolific as you might think for Gulls. The majority that are here are mostly Glaucous -winged, but having spent 90 minutes I did manage to pick out Thayers, Mew and Californian.

This weekend is an intense one and I have to put my corporate business head on, so sadly birding will have to take a back seat. Fortunately, next week I have more days out to look forward to with my birding buddy Rob Catchpole, and so here's hoping that more spring migrants appear over the coming days.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

10 Mile Hike

Vancouver International Airport
Out with Rob Catchpole once more and the plan for today was to take the Skytrain from Downtown Vancouver to Templeton Station, and then walk the five miles out to Iona Island.

Iona, is home to a primary sewage treatment plant, an animal refuge and a park. In fact it's actually no longer an Island, but is now a peninsula physically connected via a causeway to what is now known as Sea Island. Sea Island itself is in the estuary of the Fraser River and is actually the home to Vancouver International Airport. I hope that's all as clear as mud!

We arrived to clear blue skies, very little wind, and a pleasant temperature of around 12C, perfect conditions for a 10 mile hike. This was birding with a difference! The hustle bustle of an international airport on one side, and the tranquility of lagoons, meadows and estuary on the other.

Northern Shrike, 1st Bird Of The Day!
Within minutes of beginning our birding day our first species of note was a Northern Shrike, which we located perched on a nearby Birch. As we continued along our chosen route a farmers field yielded at least 24 Killdeer, which were happily feeding in the bright sunshine, a terrific start.

As per normal it wasn't long before our first Bald Eagle's were noted, by the day's end we had probably encountered around 50 of these iconic birds. Northern Harrier were also affluent with about 12 birds recorded. The surrounding brash had Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, Song and Fox Sparrow plus good numbers of Red-Winged Blackbird.

Arriving at the estuary large numbers of Green-Winged Teal, Pintail, Greater and Lesser Scaup were seen, plus huge numbers of wintering Dunlin were constantly in flight. We continued to the sewage works, which is a well known migration hot-spot and boasts four treatment ponds. The ponds unfortunately were in flood, much to Rob's annoyance, and so despite good numbers of wildfowl no shorebirds other than several Killdeer were seen.

Rough Legged Hawk
The Beach Regional Park, our final destination before heading back, hosts two artifical ponds, constructed with the aim of restoring marsh vegetation and providing wildlife habitat, and they are a significant stopover for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

Here we spent a few hours locating of note: Rob's first American Bittern of the year, my first Pied-Billed Grebe of this visit, plus Tree Swallow, Canvasback, Common Goldeneye, lots more Scaup, American Wigeon, Snipe, Red-Breasted, Common and Hooded Merganser, Bufflehead and a Garter Snake, which I almost stepped on!

The long walk back gave up superb views of Rough-Legged Hawk (pictured), other Hawks of the day were Coopers and Red-Tailed. Two more Northern Shrike were also seen. The only downer on yet another superb days birding was the lack of migrants, which seem to be only arriving in small numbers within the province, and completely evading Rob and I at the moment!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Raptor Day!

Pigeon Guillemot My 1st For Canada!
With the amount of ground covered over the past 10 days, and a long day arranged for tomorrow at Iona Island, we decided to stay a little closer to home, and so only ventured across the bay to West Vancouver and Lighthouse Park, about a 40 minute bus ride.

The park marks the point where Burrard Inlet meets Howe Sound and can be a good lookout for deep water birds. The rock type you see here is old, primarily granitic and varying in age from 96 to 187 million years. Most is blanketed by forest, including huge Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and Western Red Cedar Trees.

Having eventually reached the lighthouse we were a little disappointed that the access wasn't open to the general public, and so the view out across the bay was somewhat obscured. Mind you we spent a good 15 minutes scanning the surrounding areas and were rewarded with Winter Wren, Anna's Humminbird, Varied Thrush, Spotted Towhee and Golden-crowned Kinglet.

Eventually we did emerge at an excellent lookout area and spent a good 30 minutes sea watching, once again in the rain. A number of Bald Eagles and Ravens were observed, and during our scans of the deep water we managed Harlequin Duck, Barrow's Goldeneye, White-winged Scoter, Pelagic Cormorant and yet another first for me for Canada, Pigeon Guillemot (pictured Above).

This species is very similar in appearance to the Black Guillemot but show dark wing linings in flight. In winter, the upper parts are mottled grey and black and the underparts are white, quite an attractive bird in flight. Harbour Seals were also observed during our stay but disappointingly no further birds of note were recorded, perhaps a little too early for arriving Terns and most Warblers, which are probably being held up by some late winter storms further along the coast.

Band-tailed Pigeon
The 30 minute wait for the bus back into Downtown Vancouver provided the best birding of the day. With the constant rain subsiding into showers, the sun finally emerged and seemed to act as a catalyst for what I can only describe as a 'Raptorfest'. Firstly, several Bald Eagle flew northwest, these closely followed by 5 Red Tailed Hawk, Coopers Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Robs first in the Vancouver area, and finally Sharp-shinned Hawk, which Rob located perched high in a Douglas Fir, before the bird took off also flying northwest. Migration in action!

The final bird of note was the above Band-tailed Pigeon, which Rob tells me are common in this neck of the woods, a nice end to the birding day.

Monday, March 21, 2011

100 Up!

Red Throated Loon (Library Picture)
The first day of spring and the rain returned to Vancouver overnight after a very spring like weekend.

Notwithstanding, I met Rob at Bridgeport Station, around 20 minutes out of Vancouver, for another days birding near the Canadian U.S. border, a further 40 minutes by bus. This time the plan was to try Crescent Beach and Blackie Spit in the hope of more spring arrivals.

Blackie Spit is renowned as one of the best bird watching areas in Canada with almost 200 species of birds recorded in a calendar year. The park is managed as a wildlife conservation area and habitat enhancement activities are ongoing throughout the park.

The sand bars are a favourite resting place for Harbour Seals and their pups. The sandy spit, surrounded by tidal marsh and eelgrass beds, is an important stop for migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds, as they make their way up and down the coastline of North and South America.

Before trying Blackie Spit we spent a good 90 minutes at White Rock Pier surveying the surrounding shore, and although raining constantly we managed good numbers of Common Loon, White Winged Scoter, 8 Long Tailed Duck, 15 Red Necked Grebe, and 11 Horned (Slavonian) Grebe, the latter another addition to my current visitors list.

Marbled Godwit (Library Image)
When we arrived at Blackie Spit the rain was falling heavier than ever and visibility wasn't too good for birding, but we continued on and were happy with the results. Despite the tide not working in our favour, it was ebbing when we arrived, we managed several notable species. Common Loon were in excellent numbers and amongst the many we were able to pick out Red-throated, another addition to my numbers. Rob had his first Belted Kingfisher of the year and I recorded my first ever Marbled Godwit for Canada, which was wading quite close in, accompanied by a lone Greater Yellowlegs.

A walk around the surrounding scrub areas provided us with an excellent view of Anna'a Hummingbird, which was looking quite forlorn perched in the pouring rain, and my 100th species for this visit as a group of American Goldfinch were seen feeding in the Alder. An excellent days birding despite the weather, and we eventually cut short our day due to the deteriorating conditions, and with little chance of any photography I've used library images for the day.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Dee's Weekend!

Dee's 'American Bittern'
With the wife having to work the whole week while I've been out birding every day, this weekend was entirely devoted to Dee, and with a hire car at our disposal we had the perfect opportunity to go a little further afield.

Dee chose The Reifel Bird Sanctuary for our Saturday trip, somewhere I'd visited earlier in the week, and Squamish for Sunday. I must say she couldn't have picked a more perfect weekend weather wise!

I was delighted that Dee had chosen the Reifel Sanctuary, firstly because I was desperate for her to see Northern Saw-whet Owl, Owls being her favourite birds, and secondly, because it's such an amazing place to visit. I can report that she certainly wasn't disappointed, personally finding not one but two Owls, and coming up trumps yet again by finding my first American Bittern of this visit, which posed for her beautifully while she happily snapped away. I was really pleased that we'd managed to see all of the species I'd recorded here last Wednesday, and was even more grateful when I recorded a second addition of the day to my current list in the form of Violet-Green Swallow.

Today, Sunday, was a gorgeous day with the temperature up to a very balmy 15C. We took the hour long drive northwards up to Squamish, a place we'd stayed and enjoyed last September when completing the final stages of our RV tour from Calgary to Vancouver.

Rufous Hummingbird (Library Image)
The first surprise of the day was when we were enjoying a coffee in Starbucks, our second favourite pastime, when to my astonishment a small orange flighty shape sped past the window, a Rufous Hummingbird no less! The Rufous was high on my hit list for this visit to Canada but I never expected to connect in such a manner, but who's complaining!

We took the drive across to the estuary which, although the sun was shining, was extremely blustery with a biting wind coming off the mountains. Consequently the birding was poor by comparison to recent days, but we still managed, Bald Eagle, American Wigeon, Barrow's and Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser and Bufflehead. However the second surprise of the day was during the drive back along the causeway, when suddenly to our surprise what I first thought to be a Canadian Lynx walked out in front of us.

Our First Bobcat!
Although the whole thing happened so quickly, Dee managed to fire off a few camera shots, a cropped version of one is displayed here. Having investigated our sighting I'm now certain that what we have is a Bobcat! With a grey to brown coat, whiskered face, and black-tufted ears, the Bobcat resembles the other species of the mid-sized Lynx genus.

The Bobcat is smaller than the Canadian Lynx, with which it shares parts of its range, but is about twice as large as the domestic cat. It has distinctive black bars on its forelegs, which you can clearly see in Dee's shot, and a black-tipped, stubby tail, also visible, from which it derives its name. Still another welcome addition to our Canadian Species list and a wonderful animal to see out of the blue.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Different Kind Of day!

Black Turnstone Takes Flight
Just like in the U.K. the spring migration is well underway here in Canada too. With this in mind I hooked up once again with Rob Catchpole for a days birding with a difference. We arrived at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal around 9.30am in the hope of catching a few early migrants in or around this deep water terminal.

The Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal is a major transportation facility in Delta, British Columbia. It is located on a 2 mile man-made causeway off the mainland at Tsawwassen, and is less than 550 yds from the 49th parallel, Canada's border with the United States.

With a strong easterly wind hammering the terminal we battled away for around an hour, much to the surprise of the many passengers setting off for the weekend to Victoria. This was hopefully a good opportunity to increase my Gull count but unfortunately the only additions were a Thayer's and California, the majority being Mew, Herring, and Glaucous Winged.

Brant Geese
The surrounding waters provided better results with large flocks of Brant Geese, plus among the many Scaup, Common Loons and Common Goldeneye a lone Red Necked Grebe, another welcome first for this visit.

After battling the wind for long enough we decided to take shelter and so took the 2 mile walk back across the causeway. The walk provided the first Waders of the day, firstly Black Oystercatcher, and then some 20 or so Black Turnstone (pictured above), their appearance is striking in flight, with white patches on the back, wings and tail, these birds are also high Arctic breeders and were definitely flighty and on the move.

Our next stop was Boundary Bay Regional Park a short distance away, renown for having Canada's largest population of wintering birds of prey. I can tell from today, having seen over 15 Northern Harrier, 12 Bald Eagle, Coopers Hawk, Red Tailed Hawk and Rough Legged Hawk, that the reputation is sound!

The bay also provided further additions to my birding day with Ring Billed Gull, Greater Yellowlegs, Pacific Loon and  2 Northern Shrike, a Virginia Rail was also heard but not see. Another wonderful day out, adding fifteen new species to my current visit list, which also included a small flock of Brewer's Blackbird seen while waiting for the bus back to Vancouver.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

The Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is situated on Western Island, just west of Ladner in Delta, B.C., a rural remnant of the once vast Fraser Estuary marshes, the sanctuary is comprised of 850 acres of managed habitat and estuarine marsh, preserving it as an area of crucial importance to the countless thousands of migratory birds which twice annually travel the path along North America's Pacific Flyway.

Black-crowned Night Heron
Without a car the sanctuary is quite difficult to get to from Downtown Vancouver and so after train, bus and taxi, and again meeting up with Rob Catchpole, we duly arrived around 9.30am. The first thing that strikes you as you approach the reserve are the thousands of Lesser Snow Geese that famously winter here, and which are now gathering before moving off to their northern breeding ground! Then it becomes even more astounding when before we actually reach the sanctuary entrance we've already recorded 6 Immature Bald Eagle, Bewick's Wren, Trumpeter Swan and Killdeer.

Once you enter the sanctuary it becomes clear to you that this is no ordinary reserve. Our attention is immediately drawn to a couple of figures visible within the trees, we soon realise that we have two Black-crowned Night Heron, a terrific start. Rob tells me that when he last visited in the late 80's and from what he remembered this species was here then. Using his prior knowledge we decided that from here our best bet was to continue by taking the route which leads to the sea path.

We continued on, passing through one of the many lagoons and marsh areas, recording Red-winged Blackbird, now arriving in good numbers, and looking stunning in the bright sunshine, Pintail, Gadwall and Shoveler, reminding me of home, plus various numbers of Green-winged Teal, Canvasback, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and Hooded Merganser.

Marsh Wren
Just prior to arriving at the sea path our first Tree Swallows were recorded, probably amongst the first arrivals, today's strong breeze from the south and glorious sunshine is great for migration. As I look out across the bay, surveying the many grounded logs which litter this area, I'm amazed at what greets me! I stopped counting when I got beyond 30 immature and adult Bald Eagle. Each log appeared to have one of these iconic birds perched on it, a truly astonishing and memorable sight.

As we progressed north along the sea path our first Marsh Wrens, more spring arrivals, were seen and heard singing, a very gratey song, not too dissimilar to our own Sedge warbler. A Short -eared Owl shot up at one stage being pestered by several Red-winged Blackbird and as we rounded a bend, the call of Sora from within the reeds. Unfortunately, despite a long stop and search, we never quite managed to connect.

More Tree Swallows were seen on or around the many nesting boxes, specifically designed for these birds, these boxes are placed within the reed bed and raised above by long poles. Before moving back to the interior of the reserve a number of Northern Harrier, plus a lingering Rough-legged Hawk, probably one of the few remaining as most have already moved further north.

Norther Saw-whet Owl
The remainder of our visit was spent in search of reported Northern Hawk Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owls. During this time our bird count of the day increased with of note: Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Wood Duck, Greater White-fronted Geese, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Great Blue heron and House Finch.

Despite our search we bombed on the Northern Hawk Owl, which we were told hadn't actually been seen for several days, but the best of the day for me was a lone Northern Saw-whet Owl found roosting deep within a Holly Tree. Seven or eight inches of sheer delight, this gorgeous little, mainly nocturnal Owl, is a regular here at Reifel and despite the other superb species encountered today was my absolute winner!

**I've dedicated this post to Paul Norman chairman of the Brandon Marsh Volunteers back home, who kindly informed me of the first Sand Martins arriving at Brandon Marsh this morning. Many thanks Paul but can we PLEASE remember the time difference!!! A 2am text is somewhat beyond the cause :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Lost Lagoon

The Lost Lagoon, Vancouver
Only a short two minute walk from our apartment lies 'The Lost Lagoon', a 41 acre body of water near the entrance to Stanley Park. The lagoon is occasionally used as a safe haven for migrating birds that use the migratory route known as 'The Pacific Highway', a major north/south route of travel extending from Alaska to Patagonia.

The lagoon is full of small islands and marshy grasses, bulrushes along the edge of the lagoon make a protective cover and nesting areas for various species. Kind of like their own security system to protect their nests from the other wildlife you’ll find in Vancouver like Coyotes and Raccoons.

I thought I'd take the opportunity over the coming few weeks to make the lagoon my home patch so to speak and make regular visits, after all it's spring here too come the weekend and migration has already started.

Spotted Towhee
Today's weather has been quite rainy as per usual, but during my walk the rain eased sufficiently for me to have a good exploration of the lagoon. As with my previous visits the first thing you notice is the place is simply alive with wildlife! Both Chestnut-backed and Black-capped Chickadee's are in good numbers and are amongst the most friendliest species I've ever come across. If you extend your empty hand they will even land on it in complete confidence!

The lagoon itself contained good numbers of Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, several Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, 3 Barrow's Goldeneye, 3 Wood Duck and 2 Ringed Neck duck. This being my 3rd visit since arriving I was pleased to connect with my first Canvasback, a very flighty male out near the centre.

Curious Little Chap!
The surrounding habitat was alive throughout my walk with many Song Sparrow, which have a really gorgeous melodic song, Spotted Towhee, which seem to enjoy skulking within the undergrowth, and lots of American Robin, a lone Red-winged Blackbird was also recorded. On the southern side of the lagoon Golden-crowned Kinglet, Pacific Wren, Brown Creeper, White-crowned Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Fox Sparrow were all noted.

One particular species of note that I found staring up at me as I crossed one the small wooden bridges was a Raccoon. Be forewarned if you ever visit, there is a maximum $5000 penalty if you are caught feeding wildlife in this park. Having said that, many visitors and regulars have for years fed these docile creatures so they have no fear of humans as many of these species do in the wild, they in fact will come right up to most hikers throughout the park to the delight of many who have never seen these elusive night crawlers.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vancouver Twitch

Western Scrub-jay
The world is such a small place. By a strange coincidence and through Bob Lee back in the UK I managed to meet up today with Rob Catchpole, once a regular Brandon Marsh birder and someone that I'd lost contact with when he moved back to Vancouver over 18 months ago.

Having met up at The Waterfront rail station at 10am it wasn't long before Rob had me on a bus heading for the east-side of town in search of a local rarity. Some 20 minutes later we arrived at what seemed to be a normal built up area with plenty of housing and playing fields. Within the area was a community allotment which surrounded a small pond and it was here that we began our search for a Western Scrub-Jay, which Rob had last seen in December.

The northernmost extent of the Western Scrub-Jay’s range is typically the southwestern region of Washington stretching up to Seattle, and so finding one this far north is highly unusual. You can view a map of this species 2010 distribution in Washington on eBird.

House Finch
During our 45 minutes searching for the illusive bird we managed 2 Northern Flicker, several House Finch, good numbers of American Robin, Song Sparrow, and one of my favorite small birds, Ruby Crown Kinglet. At one stage a Merlin was seen shooting through pursued by several Crows. What I found completely surreal about the whole thing, not least the species we were encountering, and baring in mind we were literally in a built up area of Vancouver, was when Rob pointed out a Bald Eagle nest, with a bird actually sitting within! I was in awe of the whole thing.

Our illusive Jay was finally located, much to my delight, skulking within a clutch of trees, Rob tells me roughly where he'd spotted it on his last visit, and so my first Canadian sighting of this colourful visitor was in the bag.

For our afternoon treat we took the bus back across to Stanley Park, which I later realised Rob knows extremely well, for a good scan around. On arrival we made our way towards Beaver Lake which is located within the interior of the park, picking up Brown Creeper, Varied Thrush, Golden Crowned-kinglet, Hairy Woodpecker and Spotted Towhee.

Beaver Lake is a small lake, mostly covered by lily pads, home to fish and water birds. As of 1997, its surface area was 3.95 hectares, but the lake is slowly shrinking in size. Here we connected with Red Wing Blackbird, our first Wood Ducks of the day and 3 stunning Bufflehead. The biggest surprise though according to Rob were the 2 White Fronted Geese, which we located within a small flock of Canada.

Red Necked Sapsucker
We eventually arrived at a well elevated area of woodland which overlooks English Bay, and due to a storm destroying many trees a few years earlier, had opened up into a wonderful diverse habitat. The next 45 minutes, with the sun finally showing through, turned out to be an amazing birding experience. Four species of Woodpecker, Pileated, Downy, Hairy and Red-Necked Sapsucker, plus Red Breasted Nuthatch, more Bald Eagle and an amazing sight of Anna's Hummingbird, which for me came totally out of the blue, and produced my first lifer of this visit!

Finally, a walk around the bay area produced similar large flocks, as reported in my last post on Sunday, of Barrow's Goldeneye and Surf Scoter, plus Common and Red Breasted Merganser, Harlequin Duck, Lesser and Great Scaup, Common Loon, Double Crested and Pelagic Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, 20+ Black Oystercatcher and a small flock of around 20 Sanderling. Glaucous Winged Gull were in good numbers today along with Herring and Mew, a truly superb day out!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

English Bay, Vancouver

Harlequin Duck (My new favourite)
The weather for this morning was looking reasonable, with heavy rain not forecast until the early afternoon, and so Dee and I decided to make an early start.

Our first stop 'The Lost Lagoon', which is literally 250 yards from our apartment and is an artificial, captive 16.6-hectare body of water near the entrance to Stanley Park. Surrounding the lake is a 1.1 mile trail, which in the summer is a nesting ground to many species of birds, including Great Blue Herons.

The first bird of the day astonishingly turned out to be a Turkey Vulture, which we noted soaring over the opposite side of the lake high above the huge Cedar's which form much of the park. The lake itself contained good numbers of Common Goldeneye, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Common Merganser, Hooded Merganser, a dozen Scaup and good numbers of American Coot. Most of the Gull population consisted of Herring and Glaucous Winged, and I'm almost certain that an immature Franklin's, which mainly come to inland pools during the winter, was also present.

Delighted with our start we took the trail down towards our next stop of English Bay adding to our list with Spotted Towhee, Song Sparrow, Downy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco, Black-caped and Chestnut-backed Chickadee, and of course the ever present American Robin.

English Bay, which is located west of the downtown peninsula, separates the bay from Burrard Inlet connecting to the northwest, and False Creek to the southeast. What greeted us here was nothing short of stunning! It turns out after researching that over 60% of the worlds population of Barrow's Goldeneye lives in British Columbia all year round. Thousands of them, sometimes up to 7,000, have been seen here and in the surrounding shores during winter. We stopped counting today after our less than generous estimate of 1,000, It's a sight I'll never forget and one I'll certainly be revisiting during my stay.

Black Oystercatcher
We continued our walk along the sea wall northwards passing Ferguson Point and heading on towards Prospect Point. With the sea conditions relatively slight we managed an array of diving and swimming wildfowl you'd simply die for. These included some decent flocks of Surf Scoter, which dive for mussels throughout the winter, shortly they will fly to their breeding grounds in northern Canada and Alaska. Also seen were Black Scoter, Buffleheads, Lesser Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, and what has now become my favourite, Harlequin Duck!

Barrow's Goldeneye
One of the most breathtaking sights today away from the sheer volume of Barrow's was when we witnessed a Bald Eagle, the fourth of the day, diving for prey near Siwash Rock, despite missing out the bird appeared to stay on the water for at least 30 seconds before flying off. Also present and worth a mention on our birding day were good numbers of Double-crested Comorant and Glaucous-winged Gull, plus our first Waders of the trip when we connected with 9 Black Oystercatcher, my first for Canada.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arrived Vancouver

Squamish Estuary, British Columbia
Finally touched down at Vancouver Airport at 3pm local time having been in the air for just short of 10 hours to the usual precipitation, but the temperature was quite mild at 10C.

Having watched the dreadful scenes emerging from Japan on TV at Heathrow we weren't surprised to see most of the west coast was on tsunami alert, fortunately Vancouver wasn't one of them. We were even more thankful to see that nearly all the coastal area's and Islands on alert escaped any major damage!

Our apartment suite at Lord Stanley, where we'll be staying for the next 2 to 5 weeks, is extremely comfortable and lies right next to the famous Stanley Park in downtown Vancouver, even more exciting is that it's only a two minute walk down to the harbour. The several visits I've made to Canada over the previous years have mainly been in the interior and so I'm really looking forward to adding to my coastal birding list during this stay.

Bald Eagle (Taken in 2010)
Having said that, this is also a working holiday for my wife Dee and so excursions further afield will be  limited to weekends, but we have several plans in place. One of the most exciting is to visit the Squamish estuary and wetlands which are just to the north of Vancouver.

The wetlands are created by the fresh water of the rivers entering into the salt water of the ocean. The waterways interacting creates fresh water and salt water Eco systems coexisting and changing with each tide. A natural environment ideal for many migratory birds. Unfortunately we're a little late to view one of the largest wintering populations of Bald Eagle, but we're hopeful that a few will still be around!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Canada Beckons!

Newlands Phase Three Project
With all the planning for tomorrows departure to Canada, this past week has been a hectic one to say the least. Fortunately I've still managed to fulfill all my chainsaw commitments at Brandon Marsh, and even managed to fit in a walk around my moorings and the marina grounds.

With only a few weeks left before the Brandon Conservation Team have to suspend work on the Newlands Reedbed Extension, this to allow for the arrival of breeding species, we're currently running two work parties a week to remain on schedule for the final stages of the project in the autumn/winter.

Green Sandpiper
Locally the Marina has been quite active this week with plenty of Tree Sparrow around, several Yellowhammer, the odd Brambling on the feeders, and even a brief visit from a lone Green Sandpiper on Wednesday morning. Our resident Little Owls were even out enjoying the evening sunshine on Tuesday, the local Ravens and Buzzards have also been very actively enjoying the thermals. As the migration starts to build a number of Skylark and Meadow Pipit have been on the move with several passing overhead, and a distant Curlew was heard while laying in bed reading on Wednesday night!

As the official start of Spring is only 11 days away lots of migration reports are starting to emerge. On Monday the first Redshank of the year was recorded at Brandon and on Tuesday our lonesome Ringed Plover was finally joined by a mate, although I personally recorded two briefly a few weeks ago. On the East Marsh Path, under the large Oak Tree, a huge colony of Mining Bees were out in force enjoying the spring sunshine on Tuesday afternoon. Two Kingfisher, which shot by the works party on the same day was a welcome sight, and an unconfirmed report of Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in Horstail Glade is an interesting one! Also of note was a Curlew on East Marsh Pool this morning, and I was delighted to see a half dozen Frogs with spawn while working on Newlands today. One of my coleagues who was also working nearby made contact with a least 6 Wood Mice, which quickly scurried away when he moved a log pile.

Other patch sightings such as a single Avocet at Draycote Water, plus a more unusual sighting of 15 in flight over Brandon on the same day. Two Swallows I noticed reported today in Devon and Somerset, and more Sand Martins are now beginning to appear nationally along with sightings of Osprey, Wheatear and Little Ringed Plover, the latter being Brandon's next imminent arrival.

Surprisingly I must say that my trip to Vancouver is somewhat of a bitter sweet event! The Spring in the UK is simply the most exciting time of the year on any birders calendar, and for me something that I live for, from a birding prospective that is! I'll be sorry to miss the start! Having said that, Canada in the spring migration can be a truly awesome place, and something that I'm once again very much looking forward to over the coming weeks.

Well that's about it for my UK birding for now, thanks to Graham and Hazel for 'boat sitting' in our absence (keep out of the wine chest!!!), and I look forward to posting my first update from Vancouver very soon, happy birding!

Saturday, March 05, 2011


Slimbridge WWT
The last time I visited Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands I was cruising the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in 2007. Today Dee and I decided to make the journey by road and arrived in hours as opposed to days, personally I prefer the cruise to the drive!

For those who've not visited this 3 square kilometer reserve, a little history: The reserve exists to care for and study ducks, geese and swans of the world. To cater for the many bird and duck watchers sixteen hides overlook the fields streams and lakes which border the River Severn and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.

The reserve was the first WWT reserve to be opened in 1946 thanks to the vision of artist and naturalist Peter Scott. Winter is a great time to visit with large flocks of White Fronted Geese, sometimes with the rare Lesser amongst them. Bewick's Swans are a main feature in Winter, arriving from Russia to enjoy the milder climate of southern England.

The weather was reasonably kind for our visit today, dry with the occasional sunny interval. For a wildfowl lover it's difficult not to get swept away with the hundreds of specimens from every continent, and so the camera got a real bashing before I finally managed to drag Dee away to the hides.

The first 'wild' bird of note was the recently arrived Spoonbill which was showing well from the Zeiss Hide. Here we enjoyed a nice picnic lunch and during this we had good numbers of White Fronted Geese, several Bewick's, and before moving on made contact with 2-Ruff, which arrived with a small flock of Lapwing, Curlew and several Pintail were also on the pools.

Bewick's in Flight
After visiting the remaining hides, checking out the various bird feeders and a good scan of the Severn Estuary, we achieved an excellent haul for the day. Both the female Lesser Scaup and Greater Scaup, which have been around for a while, were showing well, and I also managed my first Redshank of the year.

The White Fronted Geese were in excellent numbers, so too Wigeon and Pochard, plus several Oystercatcher were also seen. If your planning a visit, I would suggest sooner rather than later, as the Bewick's are now heading back towards the continent and the weather conditions are looking perfect for the coming weeks migration. If your on Twitter you can follow James and Martin two of the reserve wardens for the latest updates.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Nice Day Out!

Many Goosander today!
As another week draws to a close I was glad I decided to pick today for a hike around Draycote Water. Finally the sun broke through the persistent low cloud which has dogged us all week and the sun shone on what has been a glorious day.

Trolling around my local patch and Brandon Marsh hasn't thrown up anything new over the last several days on the birding front. The Conservation Team managed to prepare the Islands at Brandon for the forthcoming breeding season in break neck speed on Thursday, we'd cleared off by midday causing only minimal disruption. We also managed to complete works on the Sand Martin structure, this has been slightly altered with a surround to prevent predation from Mink and other species such as Stoat and Weasel.

Reifel Migratory Santuary, Vancouver
On a personal note I received some great news today and it's now definate that my next trip to Canada begins in a weeks time! Five weeks out there and I'm really excited that it's come together so quickly. I'm hoping as part of my visit to work alongside some of the volunteers at the George C Reifel Migratory Sanctuary in Delta, Vancouver.

The Sanctuary is a popular bird watching locale with hiking trails, bird blinds, lookouts and is a wide ranging habitat for hundreds of species of permanent and migratory birds. Species such as Sandhill Cranes, Bald Eagles and various Owls nest and raise their young on the marshlands and dikes, while birds such as Lesser Snow Geese, Chickadees, Western Sandpipers and Long-billed Dowitchers can be spotted during their migratory journeys!

Back to Draycote today, accompanied by Jim Rushforth and Alvin Burton and I'm glad to say that we managed to make contact with the male Smew and both male and female Scaup. Although the Scaup were not that obliging and managed to stay asleep the whole time they were in view. Three Grey Wagtails are also worth a mention, plus lots of Goosander and good numbers of Goldeneye. A little debate regarding a possible Yellow-legged Gull among the many hundreds did however remain unresolved. No signs today of the Finch flock containing the Brambling behind the Inlet, and we also drew a blank on the recent Rock Pipit which apparently only appeared for one day. Our thanks to Bob Hazell for his absolute knowledge of Draycote once again, I don't think I've ever visited and not seen him around!