Rainy Day Birding

Nov. 5 - Normally I wouldn't bother birding on a rainy day because it's hopeless for photography. However, Because of a domestic situation, I was evicted from the house so my two options were birding or golf. Today I chose birding just because I hadn't been up to Deep Bay for awhile and I also had books to deliver to the Lighthouse Gift Shop in Bowser. That's killing - oops, I mean accomplishing two goals in one trip. Despite the rain I still took my camera just in case there was something special or unusual to document. In this case there wasn't but them's the breaks.

My first stop was Parksville Park to visit the Snow Geese. There have been a lot of Snow Geese reported on the Island in the past few weeks. That always leads to speculation about why, or if it's even significant. First of all, even though there have been a number of anecdotal reports, the fact is that there is no real sytematic data available so any conclusions would just be speculation and subject to the bias of the reporter. Anyway, I'm only mentioning this as a segui to the small flock of Snow Geese at Parksville Park. They've been there since about Oct. 27. The most I've seen and heard about is 8. On Nov. 8 there were 7. There was a report that 2 had died so maybe there were 9 or maybe there have been a few other birds scattered around that intermittently join the flock. What I do know is that one of them was banded. I recorded the 9 digit number by piecing together several photographs and sent it in to the "reportband" website. I got an immediate response that the bird was banded on Wrangel Island on July 28, 2009. At that time it was assumed that the bird was hatched in 2008 or earlier. That confirms my assumption that all the Snow Geese we see on the Island is from the Wrangel flock. Most of the Wrangel Snow Geese winter in Washington on the Skagit estuary, but many stage on the Fraser River estuary before moving south. Last year 2 spent the winter in the Parksville region and at least one stayed with the Canada Geese in Saanich. Of course, there may have been more that I wasn't aware of. All three seemed robust and healthy in the early spring which seems to contradict the notion that the Island stragglers are dying of lead poisoning.

Back to Snow Geese reports, they have continued to be posted regularly from Martindale Flats in Saanich and the Cowichan estuary in Duncan. Another report came to my attention on Nov. 10. A flock of about 500 small geese have been making themselves at home in Sayward. It was estimated that half were Cackling and the other half were Snow Geese.

When I first visited the birds at the park there were 6 of them by the skate park.

It amazed me how confiding the geese were. Despite all the pedestrians and dogs, the geese seemed as tame as household pets and were very easy to approach.

Several even took a break from foraging and rested about 6 meters from me.

I noticed that one of the geese was wearing a band. I decided to photograph the band just for the fun of it.

Just to be sure I took about a dozen pictures of the band. It was a good thing that I did as it took several angles to get the complete 9 digit number. I also got the phone number and website off the band.

Nov. 1 - I hate taking pictures when it's overcast, but I also hate leaving th camera at home when I'm out. On this occasion I had to deliver some books to Lighthouse Gifts in Bowser. I knew there was a good chance of seeing Black Scoters on the way. I was right.

At Qualicum Bay I passed some scoters right across the road from Henry's kitchen. They were smaller than the Surf and White-wingeds so I knew they were Blacks. I turned around as soon as I could and parked as close as I could to the Black Scoters.

The scoters came right in to dive for varnish clams, but dull weather meant dull pictures. That's my excuse for these pics.

The weather never improved when I was at Admiral's Lagoon on the way home, but it was high tide. That meant the shorebirds would be forced off the sandbar and onto the shore. It was a good chance to see the shorebirds up close and look for a possible stranger. There were about 50 Black-bellied Plovers huddled together on the shore with the other shorebirds. Too bad it wasn't sunny as it is rare to catch the plovers in a group facing you.

There were about a hundred Dunlin huddled with the plovers enjoying their high tide siesta.

Most of the 80 or so Black Turnstones were also having a siesta, but a few were foraging in the seaweed.

2 Greater yellowlegs weren't interested in a siesta. They were down the shoreline foraging for insects and other snacks.

I was going to delete all these overcast pics, but it's easier just to face your ridicule and criticism so here's the Red-breasted Mergansers I saw at Qualicum.

Yes, I love taking the flight shots just to keep in practice.

Here's another practice shot - American Wigeons flying in to to forage by the fresh water creek.

I was looking for the Great Blue Heron by the washroom pilings but got the residebt Bald Eagle instead.

The Bald Eagle was just finishing lunch when I arrived. Here it is, ready for take off.

I was right. I just managed 3 shots and the eagle was gone.

Here's a spectacle I'd never seen before. After Admiral's lagoon I checked French Creek and was amazed to see about 300 Bonaparte's Gulls in the creek right across from the restaurant.

As you can see from the previous picture, the gulls were feasting on caviar. I asumed they were after salmon eggs at first but dismissed that notion when I didn't see any bright orange eggs. I didnt realize that the eggs were transparent.

I had one last stop before heading home. I had seen 3 Cackling Geese at Fairwinds the day before. (That's when I got a hole-in-one on #14.) One of the geese had a bright chest that I wanted to record.

I'm assuming that this dark-chested goose is a minima subspecies.

Despite the white on the neck I think this is also a minima.

At first I thought this might be a Richardson's, but according to Guy the rounded head suggests tavernari.


Back in the Sun

Nov. 5 - What a difference the sun makes. I had another chance to catch the shorebirds at high tide but this time in the sun so I didn't hesitate. Fortunately, the good weather didn't bring out the dog walkers. The downside was that it was late afternoon and the sun was getting low in the west creating some harsh shadows, but everything else was to my liking - calm seas and cooperative birds.

The Black-bellied Plovers make great subjects because of their big eyes. It's easy to catch the catch-light from almost any angle. So you see two other birds in the picture? They look like chocolate mounds, but they are actually sleeping Black Turnstones.

This is the usual position of the Black- bellied Plover - facing out to sea.

High tide siesta time with the Dunlin is also one of my favorite times when I really feel a part of nature. I won't try to describe it, but if you want a cool experience just sit quietly on the beach about 8 meters from a shorebird roost about a half hour before high tide. If the conditions are right, you'll soon have a couple of hundred shorebirds resting right in front of you.

Invariably, it is the Black Turnstones that are the first to finish their siesta.

A few start foraging and the rest soon follow.

Some of them were roosting on a log so it is where they started to forage.

This one is just waking from its siesta.

American Wigeons are one of the first ducks to return for the winter. A good spot for photographing them is the east end of the beach at Qualicum by the gull roost. The wigeons hang out at the mouth of the fresh water creek and are used to human presence on the sidewalk.

I should clarify the previous comment. High tide is the best time becuse that's when the sea lettuce is washed up by the tide then pushed back by the creek. Otherwise it would be on the beach.

If you set up and wait, the wigeons will return to the mouth of the creek to forage for the sea lettuce.

As mentioned in my last journal, Clover Point is one of my two favorite venues for Harlequins. Qualicum is my other favorite location.

The best time at Qualicum is a high tide. That's when the Harlies, Black Turnstones, and Dunlin love to sit on the rocks to preen, clean, and rest. If you're really quiet and stealthy, you can get great close-up photos.

There's not enough rocks for everyone to have their own rock so sharing is required. However, that doesn't stop the occasional Black Turnstone from complaining.


The Nile Creek Dip

On my last visit to Deep Bay I stopped at the Sandbar Cafe for breakfast and ran into Ken Kirkby. Ken thinks big. He is internationally renouned for his 152' x 12' painting of Inukshuks, ISUMATAQ, presented to Parliament in 1992. Ken is now a resident of Qualicum Bay and the driving force of the Nile Creek Enhancement Society. Besides enhancing Nile Creek and restoring it to its former glory, Ken is also trying to document the progress and biodiversity of the creek and adjacent lands in a national publication. He approached me for assistance with the bird photography. I agreed to help and Nov. 8 was my first sunny day opportunity. Of course, I couldn't make thtrip withou a few stops on the way.

First it was Snow Geese Check at Parksville Park.

The geese were still in town. I counted seven. Last time there were eight. Someone said a couple hadn't survived.

My next stop was French Creek where I played hide 'n seek with a Horned Grebe. When I parked it was right in front of me but by the time I got my camera out it was gone. I spotted it again near the end of the breakwater, but again it disappeared while I was setting up the camera. As a consolation a Common Loon swam over from the other side of the creek. It dove a couple of times and surfaced right in front of me.

I was happy to get a few close-ups as they usually like to stay just out of camera range.

When I returned to the car guess what I saw. Yes, it was the Horned Grebe back up the creek.

When it dove I snuck up to where I thought it would surface. I was almost too close when it popped up. Fortunately, I had my zoom lens and knocked it down from 800 mm to 500 mm. The angle of the shot wasn't the best, but the proximity and the reflection of the sky was awesome. That made my day even if I didn't see anything else.

A quick check at Admiral's Lagoon was a little disappointing as the tide had already retreated enough to expose the sandbar. That meant all the shorebirds would be off the beach. The only shorebird left was a lone Greater Yellowlegs which I caught earlier by the creek.

The Yellowlegs was obliging enough to forage right in front of me so I had to take a few shots before I continued north.

While I was there a flock of Dunlin flew onto the sandbar. As usual they made several approaches before they landed.

Next stop, Qualicum at the east end gull roost. A few Common Mergansers were at the creek mouth getting a drink but left when I got the camera out. I didn't have time to stay and just settled for a couple of distant shots

To make a long story short, all I saw at Nile Creek were a few gulls on the other side of the creek mouth. I couldn't even conjure up the ubiquitous Song Sparrow so I carried on to Deep Bay to check on the Long-taileds. Usually by the end of October the Long-taileds would be a common feature off the spit. I was in luck. Two drakes were diving near the spit.

With the sun at my back and beautifully calm waters I settled in to patiently wait for them to come closer.

Just when they were moving ing in, guess what happened. Yes, a huge black lab charged up to me barking vigorously oblivious of its owner's commands. The ducks swam away and I packed up my camera and left. It was a quick end to a promising day.

As for Nile Creek, I was prepared to find nothing. That's all part of birding, but so is knowing where specific species might nest, roost, feed, or frequent. That would certainly be a big help if people would share this information. So if you live around Nile Creek and know where some birds are, please let me know.



Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House

























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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