NILE CREEK SURPRISE

August 22, 2015 - Nile Creek is a few clicks north of Qualicum Beach and just south of Bowser. It is known for an extremely successful salmon enhancement program. It's not a location I ever stop at to look for shorebirds especially at this time of year when the salmon fishermen are out in full force. Often it's difficult just to find a parking spot let alone find an undisturbed place for shorebirds. However, my unreliable bird intuition said to give it a shot so I turned into the short entrance road when I was on my way to Deep Bay. I was pleased to see a couple of parking spots, but I was less pleased to see the shoreline busy with fishers and picnickers. In fact, I was even hesitant to take out the camera, but since I was there, why not? I reluctantly unloaded the tripod and camera scanned the area. I had a glimmer of optimism because most of the people were out on the shoreline or in the water with their hip-waders. That left about 50 m of undisturbed intertidal zone in the mouth of the creek. As I scanned the bank of the creek my eyes were drawn to some movement in a floating patch of seaweed. I quickly peered through the camera and focussed. The first bird I saw was an immaculate juvenile Baird's Sandpiper - my first of the year (FOY). It was unmistakable with its short straight bill, buffy head and chest, and scaley looking sides. I took a few pictures then panned left and wasn't surprised to see a couple of Western Sandpipers foraging in the seaweed. As I continued panning left, I hit paydirt - a "yippee!" moment. A large steely gray shorebird with a longish straight bill and shortish yellow legs came into view. The pumping rump confirmed that it was a Wandering Tattler - the first Wandering tattler I've seen north of Ogden Point in Victoria (another FOY). Like the other birds, the tattler was very obligingly cooperating for some decent close range photos. Considering that I normally don't stop at Nile Creek for shorebirds, finding three species there was almost like winning the lottery!

Most of the late summer shorebirds like the Bairds are juveniles with bright, fresh, unruffled plumage. Its black feathers with white trim gives it the scaly look.

Baird's Sandpipers nest on the tundra close to the Arctic Ocean. The female abandons the brood before they fledge, but the male remains until fledging. The fledglings fend for themselves and eventually migrate south all the way to southern South America on their own.

The most abundant shorebird on the Pacific flyway is the Western Sandpiper. It is also the most common shorebird to stop on Vancouver Island during the spring and late summer migration. Their nesting grounds are along the Arctic coast in Alaska, and they winter along the Pacific coast from Washington to Mexico.

The steely gray juvenile Wandering Tattler looked like a giant next to the Baird's and Western Sandpipers. It was also foraging for aquatic insects, cructaceans, and worms.

After feeding it wandered onto the rocky shoreline for a rest and some preening.

10 minutes later it was back in the water to snack on some aquatic insects.

When I moved to get a different angle the tattler decided to cross over to the other side of the creek.

It then proceeded to move upstream a short ways. Despite increasing human traffic in the area, it did not take flight.

WWF ACTION AT FRENCH CREEK

June 13, 2015 - All's fair in love, war, and food - The gull flock at French Creek seems to coexist peacefully, but there's definitely a pecking order and a dominant gull. However, when food is involved, respect for the dominant gull goes out the window. In this case the roguish-looking juvenile hybrid gull on the right decided the challenge the adult Glaucous-winged for the salmon carcass.

The dominant gull on the wasn't backing down. It was time to man up and assert its dominance.

It struck first with a nasty head grab. (Notice the salmon skeleton on the ground.)

However, the challenger had a few tricks of its own. With a painful wing bite it forced the adult gull into submission and claimed the salmon skeleton.

PEEPING AROUND

Aug. 24, 2015 - Admiral's Lagoon used to be my favorite local shorebird locations. However, the past 5 years have been very bleak. I'm not sure if it reflects the declining populations of shorebirds around the world, a change in migration pattern, or negative changes in the local habitat.

The usual flock of gulls were huddled at the end of the sandbar. From the yellow legs I could tell that most were Californians. The one exception was a Ring-billed in the middle.

Shorebirds were scarce. I finally managed to find three along the shoreline to the east. Two were Least Sandpipers.

The third was a Western Sandpiper.

The only other bird was an Eurasian Collared-Dove pretending to be a shorebird.

MERLIN & CROW

Aug. 20, 2015 - Do birds have a sense of humour? I can't say for all birds, but it's true for Merlins and Crows. On several occasions I've seen them playfully playing tag. The latest was at San Pareil at the Englishman River Gallery. I was focussing my camera on a Merlin at the top of a fir tree when it suddenly disappeared. I looked up to see where it went and saw it being pursued by a Northwestern Crow. They flew a couple of laps around the tree and then the Merlin pulled a 180 and took after the crow for a couple of laps. The crow then headed north, and the Merlin landed on the dried up grass a short distance in front of me.

The Merlin was looking for something in the grass - probably grasshoppers.

Eventually it turned around to give me the evil eye before it was distracted by a grasshopper.

Lunch was definitely more interesting than me or my camera.

I'm not sure what the current status is for Merlins, but like many other birds, their populations seem be down. I think this was only the second Merlin I've seen all year. The closest Merlin hangout was adjacent to Springford's Farm but I think the sub-division development has displaced the pair that used to live there.

FALL FALLOUT

The great summer weather has been great for migrating birds. With virtually no serious weather systems to impede their flight south there was little reason for songbirds and shorebirds to stop on Vancouver Island. However, there were a few small weather events in late August and early September that caused a few minor fallouts. I was in the garden watching an Anna's Hummingbird nectaring on my heritage bean plants. The beans have been in my family for over 70 years and superior to any bean you can buy. They were producing a bountiful second crop and the Anna's was enjoying the new blossoms. While I was taking pictures a rush of birds through my willows, crabapples, and alders caught my attention. I grabbed my camera and set up close the the willow and crabapple trees. I knew the birds would be streaming through the trees in a southeast direction as they quickly foraged for insects. They are often too quick for pictures, but it's always fun trying.

The Anna's seems to be a regular garden visitor. I've seen it almost every day. I wonder if it is the offspring of the female that frequented my feeder all spring.

The first bird I managed to photograph was a gorgeous Townsend's Warbler. They are always part of the yellow wave that passes through my yard. I caught it a yellow wave because most of the birds seem to have some yellow plumage.

I saw several Orange-crowned Warblers. This one detoured into the garden to check out the insects.

My goal was to document as many species as I could so I clicked the camera at anything that moved. A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was an unexpected surprise.

What's a yellow wave without a Yellow Warbler. I was happy to see one working its way along an alder branch. I waited until it reached the sunny part of the branch and was lucky to get the shot.

I spotted a bird foraging in the shadows at the bottom of the crabapple tree. When it finally hit a sunny spot I was delighted to see a Cassin's Vireo. I'm always intrigued with the split at the front of the eye-ring.

As the yellow wave dissipated I looked up and noticed a woodpecker in the shadow of my hydro pole. Eventually it moved into the sunlight. It was a juvenile Red-breasted Sapsucker - a rare visitor to my yard. I had only seen one many years ago.

The yellow wave lasted for about 15 minutes and then it was gone. It was electric and a great adrenalin rush for me. I had managed to document 5 species which was the best ever for my backyard fallouts. Usually, I'm lucky to photograph 2. One of the misses were the Hutton's Vireo which were heard but not seen. There were probably a few Wilson's Warblers as well, but I never saw any. I'm sure there were other species as well - maybe even the long awaited mega-rarity ...

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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.)


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