TITLE PHOTO - Northern Shrike at Nanaimo River estuary on October 27/16. The shrike was perched about 30 m away and flew off a few minutes after this shot. It was high tide making most of the estuary was inaccessible even with gumboots, and there was no opportunity for a closer shot. The day before Mark Winja had reported 3 Short-eared Owls, 2 Rough-legged Hawks, 1 Sandhill Crane, a Northern Harrier, and several Northern Shrikes. On this day the shrike was the only bird seen. However, timing is everything and mid-morning may not have been the best time of day, or the birds could have just been passing through.
On October 15 Vancouver Island was bracing for the possible storm of the decade spawned by the remnants of Typhoon Songda. Winds gusting to over 100 km were anticipated, and BC HYDRO warned islanders to prepare for prolonged power outages. Meanwhile, optimistic birders were relishing the thoughts of a tsunami of tubenoses and seabirds birders being slammed ashore by the catastrophic winds. (That's what happened back in 1962 when Typhoon Freda roared into the west coast carrying with it a variety of tubenoses and seabirds like storm-petrels, Northern Fulmars, Sabine's Gulls, and Red Phalaropes.
A day later, much to the relief of many there were only a few isolated power outages and the bounty of pelagic birds was still where it belonged - offshore in the Pacific. However, there was the occasional interesting find like Christopher Stevens Red Phalarope find in Parksville just to give a hint of what could have been.
The annual Snow Geese migration is in full swing with multiple reports of flocks passing overhead and a significant number landing on various island locations. Locally, eight Snow Geese have been grazing at the Parksville Community Park for the past week and on Oct. 28 a small flock of about 10 landed at Springford's Farm in Nanoose Bay. In the past a few Snow Geese have spent the winter on the island but most find their way to the Fraser River estuary and then winter across the border in the Skagit Valley.
Meanwhile it was not surprising to hear reports of PALM WARBLERS down island which have become a fairly regular fall visitor. The first report came from Jody Wells on October 23 when he discovered a Palm Warbler at Martindale Flats near the McIntyre reservoir. Geoffrey Newell followed the day after with another at Uplands Park. Geoffrey's persistence paid off again on Oct. 25 when he heard, saw, and photographed a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH at Panama Flats. Persistence also paid off for Cathy Carlson on the west coast. She was rewarded with another amazing discovery when she located and photographed her namesake bird - a GRAY CATBIRD on Oct. 27 at Jordan River. The latest birds of interest also come from the west coast, but I'm not sure if it were a result of persistence or luck. Anyway we'll give Mike Shepard the benefit of the doubt and assume he was diligently birding and not drinking coffee in Tofino when he discovered the BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER and TROPICAL KINGBIRD on Oct. 28.
I'm sure there have been other interesting birds discovered, but my intention is not to mention them all. I just want to give you hint of what has been available. For more information check the various egroups like ebird, BCVIBIRDS, and birdingbc.
On Sept. 21 I received an interesting email from Debbie Harrison in Comox. She had a red-breasted bird coming to her feeders. Her guess was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and even though I had never seen one before from her photos I knew she was right. Over the years there have been several reports on the island, but I was never available to chase any of them. This was my chance and Debbie was most obliging in inviting me to visit. On a scale of 1 to 10 - 1 for easy twitch and 10 for very difficult twitch - this turned out to be a 2. We arrived at Debbie's house at 9:30 am, and after introductions and a briefing about the bird's habits we parked in her backyard and waited. Ten minutes later I spotted a bird on her feeder. Although the lighting was poor (overcast and dark), I was delighted to see my first Rose-breasted - an immature male. (THANKS, DEBBIE!)
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak breeds from the extreme northeast corner of BC and across the prairies to the east coast. Its normal southern migration route is down the prairie and Atlantic flyways to Central and South America. Casual sightings on the west coast aren't unusual and sightings occur on Vancouver Island about 2 or 3 times every 5 years.
The rosey breast was a distinctive field mark that confirmed the identification of the bird.
The bill on the bird seemed to be deformed, but the photos weren't clear enough for a detailed examination.
Although my birding opportunities have been limited in the past year, my motto is still "Don't leave home without it." Of course, I'm referring to my camera, and it just so happens that I have to pass San Malo on the way to Parksville and French Creek is just a couple of minutes past. If I have time I always try to squeeze in a quick visit to both locations. Lately I haven't had much luck in either place, but it's always worth a look just in case. However, even without a few new or different species to see, I always enjoy seeing the Belted Kingfisher at French Creek, and it's always a challenge to get a new and interesting shot. The most difficult shot is the frontal view because that means the kingfisher is looking at me. You guessed it. She'll fly every time unless you're a fair distance away.
On Oct. 7 I spotted the kingfisher on a tree stump in the middle of the creek. It was just far enough away not to flush the bird, but just a little too far for a high quality "not-too-cropped" shot. However, it provided an almost frontal view, and I liked the earthy background.
The kingfisher was focussed on the water watching for a possible breakfast. Occasionally it would turn around to check another part of the creek. With a brisk breeze blowing it was a trick to maintain its balance.
I was hoping that the kingfisher would catch a fish or some other prey, but it didn't have any luck before it was time for me to head home.
On the way home I decided to check out River's Edge to see if I could find a Northern Shrike. I struck out on the shrike, but lucked out on a much bigger consolation, a Red-tailed Hawk. It was perched on the hydro lines and allowed me to drive within 15 meters for a full frame shot. It was quite unusual to be able to drive right up to the hawk. 99% of the time it would fly if you're within 50 m.
Oct. is the month for Snow Geese. Most of the flocks head for the Fraser River delta, but a few always stop on Vancouver Island. I think it was Oct. 25th when several were reported at Parksville Community Park.
I found some excuse on Oct. 27 to go into Parksville, and to no one's surprise I had time to stop at the park. Just as advertised, eight Snow Geese were busy excavating the grass roots close to the road.
There is very little nutritional value in the green grass, but there is a lot in the roots which is why the geese dig under the surface.
With only a few small flocks stopping on the island they don't pose any problems, but it would be a different story of a few thousand landed here.
After my Snow Goose fix I headed to French Creek. Right away I spotted Guy Monty who pointed out a very unusual pair of grebes in the marina. It was a Pied-billed chumming around with a Red-necked. I've seen both species individually at the marina, but never together. However, they are cousins so there's no reason for them not to get together occasionally is there?
The Red-necked Grebe was a new marina-bird for me this year. I saw the first in February, and this was my second for the year.
In the past three years the Pied-billed had been a early spring visitor at the marina. This was the first fall visitor I've seen.
On Oct. 16 Pete Boon reported a Rock Wren and a pair of Lapland Longspurs at Neck Point. I hadn't seen a Rock Wren on the island for over 10 years. I didn't wait for an excuse to go to Nanaimo. On Oct. 18 the sun was shining and I wasn't too busy so I grabbed my camera to take a look. Neck point was buzzing with birds - robins, flickers, sparrows, and warblers were everywhere. I was optimistic, but when I reached Last Beach, not a bird could be seen. After checking the area twice for the Rock Wren I headed back to the parking lot. I kept my eyes peeled for the Longspurs, but "not a creature was stirring" in waterfront grass.
As I was descending the boardwalk I spotted several juvenile Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging in the shadows of a nearby tree. The Yellow-rumped is my favorite warble, and it was a joy to catch them before they continued their migration south.
With the birds in the shade I cranked the ISO up to 1600 and opened the lens to f 5.6. The results were decent considering the conditions.
On the rocks offshore a few Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants for preening in the sun.
Although there was no Rock Wren or Longspur I was glad that I made the effort. I had forgotten how beautiful Neck Point is and i made a note to visit there more often.
After a hiatus from July through to the end of September, my yard birds are back. Now I'm not sure if they are the same individual birds, but they are the same species. I've always maintained that my summer birds migrate south and are replaced by other birds migrating in for the winter, but I am not 100% sure. Without banding and careful observation I will never know. Anyway, here's what I've got right now. The juncos, chickadees, towhees, nuthatches, flickers, and Song Sparrows are my winter regulars. The handful of Golden-crowned Sparrows have been here for three weeks and will probably move on. There are also a couple of Fox Sparrows that have recently arrived. I think they stay in the neighborhood for most of the winter but not necessarily in my yard. The exception to all of this are the woodpeckers. The Pileated, Hairy, and Downy are year-round regulars.
The Golden-crowned Sparrows are usually temporary yard visitors. I think they will move on once the supply of garden food such as sunflower seeds is finished and that will be in a couple of days.
It\s interesting to see the Spotted Towhee foraging for sunflower seeds. I've never seen that before and I think the reason is that I haven't put any seed out this year. In past years I have provided seed so they didn't need to forage.
If you're wondering why this Fox Sparrow photo isn't sharp, it's because I shot it through the unopened kitchen window. The glass in the window always introduces some refractive and reflective distortions that detract from the clarity of the image.
Fairwinds is only 6 km down the road so I cosider it almost "backyard." Anyway, I wanted to document the long-staying Trumpeter that has been there for at least three years. It can fly but is probably not strong enough to make the annual journey north to the Yukon.
Earlier in this journal I mentioned that I wasn't surprised to see the two grebes fraternizing. Is that true for the Trumpeter and Mutes at Fairwinds. So far the answer is NO, but is it a sexist thing or a species thing? I think all the Mutes are males so if the Trumpeter is a male maybe they don't like each other. As for species compatibility, I'm reminded of the Canada Goose that used to fly in every day to spend a few hours with one of the Mutes. That's an amazing species compatibility abnormality that might not be easy to explain.
Are you confused by the the Downey and Hairy? Just to help you differentiate between the two I've juxtaposed two females for you to compare. The smaller Downey is on the left. Pay close attention to the bill size relative to the head.
If it's too wet for birding or any other outdoor activity this weekend (Nov. 4 - 6), I'll be at Nanaimo Professional Craft Fair at Beban Park. I'll be available to any questions you have about birds, butterflies, photography, and self-publishing.
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.)