French Creek (Aug. 6/12)

French Creek is one of my favorite birding venues because of its variety of habitats. Starting from south there is a small bay with a mixed sand and pebble beach that occasionally hosts some decent shorebird activity during fall and spring migration; however, it is best known for gulls during and after the herring spawn. The prevailing wind and tides always wash leftover herring roe onto the beach. The beach is often rancid and foul-smelling for weeks which is great for the gulls and also keeps the beach traffic to a welcome minimum. Glaucous Gulls like to hang around the roe every spring and are occasionally joined by the odd Slaty-backed. Next is the marina which despite the usual petro-pollution from boats is a good hangout for Common Loons and the occasional Horned or Pied-billed Grebe. This is where I look for the loons just before they depart to their breeding lakes in the spring. Just north of the marina is the creek which almost dries in the summer but during the fall and spring it is is a good place for ducks, gulls, kingfishers, and a smattering of shorebirds. Between the creek and subdivision there is a small shallow pond which often has a few shorebirds during the fall migration. I mustn't forget, the gravelly and sandy waste area between the creek and subdivision. Savannah Sparrows are common there in migration, but other goodies are possible like the famous Northern Wheatear discovered by Ralph H. in 2005. Although the birds around French Creek aren't abundant, they are a little more habituated to human activity and often in the open which sometimes allows for good photo opportunities.

Just north of French Creek is the Columbia Beach subdivision. Admiral's Lagoon is at the north end of the subdivision, and has seen some good shorebirds in the past. Admiral's is not really a lagoon but it looks like one at high tide. It is dry at very low tides. Ruff, Red Knot, Ruddy Turnstone, and Whimbrel are among the shorebirds seen there in the past. The sand bar is reliable for Black-bellied Plovers and Black Turnstones as well as a variety of gulls. So far this year I haven't seen any migrating shorebirds in three visits. It's a good spot for gulls like the Bonaparte's, Mew, Ring-billed, and California as well as the occasional Common Tern or Jaeger during the fall migration. During the spring it is also a popular roosting and feeding location for the Brant.

Most of the Bonaparte's have molted out of their summer breeding plumage, but the occasional one still has its black hood.

Normally, if you are very slow and deliberate, you can approach the gulls and get full-framed shots.

The young juvenile Bonaparte's really stands out with the brown plumage on its sides and back.

Who's the stranger nestled in the rocks? It's the Ring-billed Gull. Admiral's is one of the few places in the area where the Ring-billed hangs out. There aren't many. The most I've seen is about five.

California Gulls are presently abundant, but most of them drift south for the winter only to return for the herring spawn in March.

As previously mentioned, there is a small shallow pond by the subdivision that is often host to a few shorebirds during the fall migration. On this occasion four Long-billed Dowitchers were the flavor of the day.

It is a good place for photography as long as the Killdeer don't panic and sound the danger warning. The best bet is to approach very slowly and watch the Killdeer. They will keep moving away increasing the distance from you by walking. Let them move out of sight before continuing your approach. If they flush, all the other shorebirds will follow.

It's always fun watching the Long-billed probe the mud for snacks. Their heads jab quickly like sewing machine bobbins while they feel for little goodies like worms.

After one part of the pond has been thoroughly checked, it's time to move on to the next part.

Blueberry Birding

Aug. 10 - Trudell's Blueberry Farm in Cedar is a great spot for Savannah Sparrows. The grassy fields are loaded with Savannahs as well as White-crowned, Song, and Bewick Wrens. Cedar is close to Holden Creek. just for old time's sake I checked the creek for shorebirds.

Okay, first the Savannahs. They are usually foraging on the ground, but if they are flushed, they just land on the fence. I prefer the more natural setting if possible. I think this is an adult with the brighter yellow markings on the face.

Juvenile birds tend to be darker. The yellow is still very pale.

I think this is a recently fledged White-crowned Sparrow.

Juvenile White-crowned Sparrows typically have a reddish crown.

After checking out the sparrows, I meandered down to Holden Creek. I wasn't dressed (mosquito-proofed) for an expedition onto the estuary so only checked the creek. I was in luck as a few shorebirds foraged near the far bank of the creek. The logistics of the situation did not allow for any close-up photography, but I enjoyed seeing my first gathering of shorebirds for the migration season. In particular, I enjoyed the Lesser Yellowlegs which I haven't seen for a couple of years.

A group of peeps were preening in the grass across the creek. Most were Westerns, but I can see one Least. Look for the yellow legs.

The road down to Holden always has a smattering of songbirds. They are usually quite flighty and difficult to photograph but I usually get the ocasional distant shot. Here's a House Finch in the blackberry patch.

There are lots of thistles beside the road and that attracts a lot of Goldfinches.

An Afternoon with Peter and Bernice

On Aug. 12 I had the pleasure of meeting Peter and Bernice from Texas. They are avid but not too serious birders who just happened to be visiting Parksville. I just happened to available on a late Sunday afternoon so agreed to show them a few of my favorite spots. It wasn't the best time of day, but it was then or never.

Our first stop was none other than my favorite venue, French Creek. We were immediately greeted by one of the juvenile Belted Kingfishers that put on a good show for us. After that there wasn't much to see except for a few gulls on the sandbar.

Our next stop was Qualicum where a few Bonaparte's were lounging with a couple of Cals, Mews, and G. W.'s. With nothing else in mind I decided to zip up to Deep Bay, hoping for some migration activity. Mapleguard Point yielded a flock of White-winged Scoters which were just barely recognizable in the distance. Our last chance for something interesting was the spit. Things didn't look good with a throng of sun-worshippers at the base of the spit, but things improved marginally at the east side of the spit. Immediately, we spotted a black and white bird in the water. It was a Pigeon Guillemot - a lifer for Peter and Bernice. That made the trip worthwhile. As it turned out, there were three Pigeon Guillemots in the area close enough for Peter to get his record shot. By the time I fetched my camera, they were too far out so I also had to settle for a record shot.

While I was telling my visitors about the Marbled Murrelets, Long-tailed Ducks, and Yellow-billed Loons I've seen in the past, a shorebird landed a few meters from us. It's sparkling white with checkered black plumage shouted sanderling to me, but I wasn't a 100% sure so I settled in to getting some good shots. Like a chameleon, the sanderling took on the persona of slender sandpiper. We were all used to the usual plumpish look of the sanderling.

Regardless of what it was, it was marvellously cooperative, often foraging within a couple of meters.

However, a quick look at my Sibley's field guide finally convinced us that it had to be a Sanderling.

Although Peter and Bernice had seen Sanderlings before, this was a lifer fresh juvenile! We were all surprised at how friendly the Sanderling was. It even stopped to preen a couple of times right beside us.

On the way back from Deep Bay I decided to check out Admiral's Lagoon for Black Turnstones which Peter and Bernice had never seen. It was also a good chance to point out some features of the gulls present. They were familiar with the Bonaparte's, but I think the Mew was new for them.

The Black Turnstones and Black-bellied Plovers were roosting at the end of the sandbar. The latter were the first to flush.

While my visitors checked out the turnstones, I focussed on the bonies.

Considering the time of day, our little excursion was quite successful. One interesting bit of news they shared with me was the location of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet nest with nestlings they had seen the day before at Little Qualicum Falls. it would have been an interesting photo op but I didn't have time to check it out.

Looking for the Curlew

On Aug. 14 I stopped by the Englishman estuary for a quick look for the Long-billed Curlew seen and photographed the day before. My only sighting was Ralph H. who was on the same mission. As expected, there was no curlew in sight.

The only photo op was a Great Blue Heron trying to swallow a fish. i was surprised to see the heron abandon its catch when we tried to get a little closer. We were still about 25 meters away.

On the way up the river I spotted a lone juvenile Bonaparte's. I was surprised to see it coming towards me.

I wasn't sure what it was up to so I stopped and watched.

The gull continued to the edge of the creek where it started to forage for fish and other critters hiding in the creekside weeds.

The King's Kids

Aug. 25 - Every summer the King (my resident Belted Kingfisher at French Creek) relinquishes its territory to its offspring. This year there seems to be three young ones rattling and chattering around.

Juvenile kingfishers look a lot like the adult female, but there are two significant differences. First is the feathers on the back and sides. On the adults they are bluish gray. The juvenile feathers are also bluish gray, but they have white tips.

The second difference is the rufous belt across the chest. In the adult it is a solid and complete. In the juvenile it is incomplete.

After a pleasant hour trying for kingfisher pics I checked the shallow pond across the creek. The flavor today was Western Sandpipers.

Using the very cautious approach to avoid flushing the Killdeer I was able to move the Killdeer away and successfully approach the Westerns.

Mountain Retreat

Aug. 21 - Late summer at Mt. Washington is always a treat. Actually, it is more like spring with fresh, clean air; an abundance of wildflowers; and a few delightful butterflies. With fragile knees I've given up trudging the 8 km loop to Lake Helen Mackenzie with the big lens in search for the Three-toed. I'm now content to just carry the macro to focus on a few butterflies.

The 2 km boardwalk around Paradise Meadows can be very productive for butterflies. Last September a boardwalk stroll produced five different species. Today I was relegated to just a few Mariposa Coppers, but I wasn't disappointed. The flowers more than compensated, and the best was yet to come.

After the boardwalk I checked the perimeter of the parking lot. I followed a fleeing Meadow Fritillary for about 200 m down a gravel road before it disappeared. On my return to the parking lot I spotted a patch of of everlasting and daisies and a couple of butterflies. At first I thought they were Mariposas, but on closer examination they turned out to be a new buttefly for me, Purplish Coppers.

My luck even got better as two of the coppers decided to mate.

They landed on the gravel parking lot to allow a close groundlevel view.

My next find was also a new one. It was a beautiful Anna's Blue.

The dorsal side of the Anna's is very similar to the western Spring Azure.

It was also fireweed time at the mountain. Huge fields of fireweed transformed the clearcuts into a fireweed paradise.


Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)
























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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