Sunday, 3 May 2015

Alliteration Saturday: Solitary Sandpiper, succumbed Sandhill, and Self-found Success

I got a text this morning from Jody Wells about some shorebird activity at Saanichton Spit.  After a couple texts back-and-forth, I called him and we chatted for a bit.  At some point in the conversation, I was reminded that some people actually read this blog and that I suck at updating it.  That more or less forced me to get out and find some birds today and even though I could easily dig through the vault from the past month, I will post my current sightings instead.

After a rather late start, I headed out towards Thetis Lake Regional Park.  On the way, I thought I would check to see if any water remained at Hastings Flats.  Well, there is just enough water to host a couple dozen Least Sandpipers on the flats on the south side of the road and a decent-sized patch of standing water on the north side had a single Solitary Sandpiper.  Having just watched the one in the flooded area off Welch Rd. near Livesay St., I knew it was a Solitary without even raising my binoculars.  I probably see anywhere from two to ten in Victoria in a given year, so they're somewhat uncommon and always a treat to observe.

The barred tail, dark olive back with white spots, yellow-green legs, and prominent "spectacles" all point to Solitary Sandpiper

Last weekend, a Sandhill Crane was found at Hastings Flats and by early evening it was suggested it was not in good shape.  The bird was seen on Monday, but the reports ceased after that.  Today, I noticed a trail of feathers leading to a carcass on the southern flat.  I walked out to it and confirmed it was the Sandhill Crane.  I wonder if the long journey north was too energetically demanding for this bird and it couldn't rebound.  It was a cruel fate and I know some people don't like to hear about death in nature.  Well... if you're one of those people, you should probably stop reading now because you'll hate the next picture!

Turkey Vulture looming over Sandhill Crane carcass

Carrying on the theme of how cruel nature can be, I witnessed a rather remarkable scene just before leaving the flats.  I watched a Red-tailed Hawk heading rapidly to the patch of oaks flanking the southern flats on the east side.  It had its talons dropped and dashed right in to the oak.  It flushed out a second Red-tailed Hawk, which zipped out of the oaks and was soon followed by the first.  The first Red-tailed aggressively swooped at the second, which forced it to drop a meal from its talons. It turned out to be either a duckling or gosling, and the first Red-tailed pounced immediately and carried it up to the oaks.  Quite the macabre place today, but it instills awe over any other emotion for me.

Thetis Lake was pretty much a bust.  I was hoping to bump in to Dusky Flycatcher, but I would have settled for a Hammond's.  Neither obliged.  I did, however, hear my first Black-headed Grosbeak of the year and plenty of Wilson's Warblers, Townsend's Warblers, and Pacific-slope Flycatchers were singing and/or calling.

I headed back to the Saanich Peninsula before 6:00 p.m. because I had to pick up Janean from the airport.  I had time to scan some of the fence lines around the airport and also a nice plowed field off Willingdon Rd.  The plowed field was where the magic happened.  I learned to check this particular field a couple years ago when I had a single Whimbrel standing on the turned-over soil.  The field was plowed in the last week, so I have made a couple visits recently, but no shorebirds were found other than Killdeer.  This time, I scanned over the field with my binoculars and very quickly spotted a large shorebird with a decurved bill.  I have been able to observe several Whimbrel over the past week and could tell immediately this was no Whimbrel.  The overall colour was a warm tan with dark checkering and the bill was LONG.  I zipped back to the car to get the scope and confirmed my suspicion: a Long-billed Curlew!  The slightly closer views revealed the signature bill shape, indistinct crown stripes, and a prominent teardrop-shaped eyering.  I soaked in a minute of views and then rushed off to get Janean.  Even though she had just endured nearly a day of travel coming from Dublin, I informed her I was up to my usual antics and had to go back to document my curlew.  She's always a trooper and even joined me to watch the curlew through the scope while I snapped off some pictures.

Classic Long-billed Curlew!

We watched the curlew for maybe five minutes before it decided to take flight.  The bird called as it flew northeast over the airport.

View of the Long-billed Curlew flying off

So, to account for the final alliterative component to the title, this was a self-found Victoria tick for me.  As you may know from previous entries, my Victoria checklist area self-found list is one I take great pride in, so I was pretty thrilled to finally find my own curlew.  I even hoped it might be in that exact field.  When I had that Whimbrel two years ago, I was certain it was going to be a Long-billed Curlew.  Try as I might, I couldn't turn it into one.  I had a similar scenario last Tuesday when rolling along Lochside Dr. between Island View and Martindale Rds.  A field there had recently been plowed and there was a lighter brown spot that contrasted the darker, turned-over soil.  I was hoping for Long-billed Curlew because one had been reported by Mike McGrenere the day before.  It, too, turned out to be a Whimbrel.  For comparison, I have an even worse record shot of the Whimbrel.  It should give you an idea of how they differ even at a distance.  Features to look at, include: colder overall colouration, bolder head pattern, lack of a prominent eyering, comparatively shorter and more evenly decurved bill, and indistinct (less bold) checkering on the back and wings.

Record shot of Whimbrel from Martindale Flats

To wrap this up, the Long-billed Curlew was my 254th self-found bird for Victoria.  Catching up with one was a great way to end my sunny Saturday session.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Field Birding Season: Mountain Bluebirds!

I've been off on some adventures and if I know what's good for me I'll eventually post something about my travels in Colombia.  For now, though, I'll write up on my Saturday birding on the Saanich Peninsula.

As soon as it nears mid-March, the birding options really open up locally.  You can either head up to the Parksville/Qualicum area to take in the hordes of waterfowl and gulls that descend upon the area to partake in the feast presented by the herring spawn or you can search estuaries, driftwood-dotted shorelines, open Garry Oak hills, and any fields (e.g., airports or agricultural areas) in hopes of catching up with Say's Phoebes or Mountain Bluebirds.

Despite wanting to sift through the gulls and waterfowl up Island, I was a little too festive the night before to get up early.  I decided to visit some of my favourite field haunts on the Saanich Peninsula, starting at Maber Flats and ending around the airport.

At Maber Flats, I ran in to Randy Dzenkiw and we sifted through the waterfowl, but other than a couple Eurasian Wigeons there wasn't anything too exciting.  I told him my intentions to continue north up the peninsula and he had planned to check out Panama Flats, so we went our own ways.  I snaked my way along West Saanich Rd., up Mount Newton X Rd., and back south down East Saanich Rd. to the eastern portion Hovey Rd.  In 2007 I found a group of 12 Mountain Bluebirds at the tree farm on Mount Newton X Rd. and in 2013 I found a lone male Mountain Bluebird in the field between Central Saanich Rd. and the eastern end of Hovey Rd.  Both of those sightings were in the second week of April, but I know it is not without precedent to be searching now because there are sightings of both Say's Phoebe and Mountain Bluebirds from the Lower Mainland already this year.  Unfortunately I was unable to recreate the magic of those past sightings at either of those sites.

I then made my way over the Vantreight bulb fields (I refuse to call it Longview Farms) so check a small tree farm of Newman Rd., but also to check in on the Sky Larks.  As soon as I stepped out of the vehicle, I could hear the continuous song of a Sky Lark from above.  I don't check in on them often enough, so I'm always happy to confirm their persistence so I can continue to recommend this spot as the best place to get good views of the Sky Larks.  I walked north past the greenhouses and spotted a couple more and hoped I would be able to spot one sitting in a little open patch of ground for a photo.  As luck would have it, I did spot one just in the grass near the edge of the road.  My luck wasn't picture perfect, though, because some of said grass was in front of the bird and prevented a clean shot.  I was still happy with the results.

They're a pretty drab bird, but Sky Larks to more are more about the song.  Everyone should hear them at least once!

The little tree farm by the bulb fields only produced a flock of a dozen or so Violet-green Swallows and at least one Tree Swallow, plus a flyover Northern Harrier.  I should be promoting the use of eBird periodically, so to see the utility you can check out my list from the bulb fields here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22454775

Next, I made my way to the airport and checked almost all the fence lines around the southern half and the best I could muster was another Northern Harrier.  I was going to check the gulls where Wsikem Creek drains into Patricia Bay.  Despite it being a Saturday, there was construction going on right at the beach and the area was virtually devoid of gulls.  I continued into Deep Cove and came back to check the fields just north of the airport along Munro and John Rds.  When I got to the eastern end of Munro Rd. a short ways before it comes to a dead end, I scanned the fields to the north.  Almost immediately I spotted a mid-sized bird that had a flash of blue.  I immediately hopped out and got the scope set up.  It took a minute, but I managed to get a stunning male Mountain Bluebird in the field of view.  A search with my binoculars revealed a female Mountain Bluebird was also out there.  Now you're going to get a lesson in what record shots are all about.  I waited until the male and female could be captured in the same frame and fired off a photo.  Checking on Google Maps, the bluebirds were over 200 metres away.  It's always amazing to me to see the results when you crop in on the birds... they're still recognizable as Mountain Bluebirds!

Classic record shot: a pair of Mountain Bluebirds through a mesh plastic fence.

I finished my day with a search along John Rd., which added a Northern Shrike, Hairy Woodpecker, and a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers for the day.  As I headed home, I saw Mary Robichaud had called and by the time I got back to her she had found the bluebirds.  When I checked the computer a while later I saw Brian Starzomski had also enjoyed the bluebirds, and the following morning at least a couple more (Liam Singh and Aziza Cooper) were able to find just the female.  I love being able to report a species in a timely manner and nothing makes me happier than seeing that others have been able to catch up with a bird I have found.  It's good to be back and hopefully this spring brings some rarities to break the birding dry spell the entire province has been under!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Going Bananas With an Anna's

It has been long enough that I figured I should at least put up a little something.  I have been very frustrated by the weather as of late.  We had absolutely immaculate weather for late January for pretty much five days straight: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  The forecast was looking good for Saturday until roughly Friday when the forecast shifted to pea soup fog in the morning and cloudy in the afternoon.

On Friday afternoon I started to feel a little under the weather and this feeling extended into Saturday morning.  Despite that, I still wanted to get out for some fresh air.  I had to drop my dad off at an appointment midday, so I decided that I would check out a park I had never been to after delivering my old man.  Beckwith Park is an interesting spot that I had somehow never been to, so I figured it was high time that I paid it a visit.

The park holds a little forested pond that hosts Wood Ducks and Mallards that local residents come to feed.  In a sense, it is like King's Pond and Bow Park.  I was hoping this water might draw in something else interesting, but the best bird I came across was a Lincoln's Sparrow.  Not exactly a big score, but always nice to see.

I had my camera handy and one bird really stole the show.  We are in the midst of the Anna's Hummingbird breeding season, so they can be quite territorial.  I found one male that was very cooperative as it worked its little Garry Oak rock outcrop territory.  It was quite faithful to a few perches in particular and it allowed close approach.  Despite the suboptimal light levels, I still got the shutter clicking away.  I will sign off here and just leave you with a couple of Anna's shots that I hope you enjoy!



Thursday, 15 January 2015

Two Palms and a Redpoll

First off, Happy New Year!  I have been unmotivated by the prospect of doing blog posts without photos go along with them.  I think the blog entry recession is over now that I've picked up a Canon 7D Mark II.

I've had the camera for nearly a week now and I've been able to take it out for a few sessions.  My first trial run was on Saturday, but it was pretty unsatisfying.  The weather was dull and moments of drizzle came and went.  My favourite shots of the day were had on the rocks at Cattle Point.

Black Oystercatcher

Song Sparrow picking around the rocks

The first day I had it out was on Sunday when I joined Ian Cruickshank for a bit of alley exploring in the Uplands.  The alley birding was pretty interesting, but we couldn't drum up anything unusual.  In fact, despite toting the camera in my backpack for nearly three hours, I wasn't even tempted to take it out.  I did finally pull out the new rig at the end of the day.  We decided to stop in at Clover Point where we bumped into Geoffrey and David Newell.  I asked if they'd seen anything of interest, but it was just the usual suspects.  Still, I prodded them to know whether they happened to come across the Palm Warblers.  They indicated they had not, so I asked if they had walked around the tip of the point along the beach.  They had not.  When I found the first Palm Warbler at Clover Point back in mid-November, I was standing right at the tip and it flew below me.  With this thought, I stared down at the beach and caught the movement of a bird out near some logs.  I raised my binoculars, soaked in some details, and was able to proclaim "There's a Palm Warbler down there!"  Ian and the Newells were equally elated.  After watching them for a minute, I decided I would put my 7D Mark II to its first test.  How would it perform in the dull, late day light?  It was already around 4 p.m. and I knew any photos would come out noisy.  Still, I had heard this camera has great high ISO capabilities.  I don't like to drop my ISO below 800, so I decided to see what I could at that setting.  My photos came out really cold and drab, but a little editing made the results look not too bad.  It was a nice first test, but it left me realizing there is a lot to learn on the camera.

This shot of a Palm Warbler was one of my first low light attempts with the Canon 7D Mark II

I was able to head out again the next afternoon because I was itching to try some different settings in better light.  There was a report of a Common Redpoll on January 5th from some feeders near the intersection of Southgate and Quadra Sts., but all subsequent efforts to relocate it came up empty.  I arrived at the feeders just before 2:30 p.m. and amazingly enough found the Common Redpoll in a few minutes.  It was a distant and somewhat brief look, but I knew it was the redpoll.  I posted a message on BCVIBIRDS and continued to watch the feeders.  Mary Robichaud arrived in good time and I left her to watch the feeders while I patrolled the road to the north.  From Southgate St. I could see a few Cedar Waxwings, so I wanted to get a closer look to ensure my much sought after Bohemian Waxwing wasn't in the mix.  I spent ten minutes or so dividing my attention between a berry-rich holly shrub on the St. Ann's Academy property and a birch on Academy Close.  After feeling I had given that a fair scouring, I rejoined Mary back at the feeders.  A good five minutes later, the Common Redpoll mysteriously materialized at one of the feeders.  I made sure Mary had seen all the features before making an approach with my camera.  Getting a decent photo was tricky because the feeder wasn't stationary.  It was rotating as new birds landed on the feeder, causing the redpoll to vanish in and out of view.

Side profile view of the Common Redpoll just showing a hint of its red poll

Closer view of the Common Redpoll with an American Goldfinch at the back of the feeder

Common Redpoll sitting on an oak branch near the feeder

When the redpoll decided to fly up to the top of the oak, both Mary and I had seen enough to be content with the sighting.  We head back to our vehicles and I noticed a gull across the road.  It actually appeared to be somewhat pale compared to the handful of Glaucous-winged and "Olympic" Gulls nearby, so I actually thought it might be Ring-billed.  The size wasn't right for Ring-billed, so I headed over to get some photos and Mary departed.  The gull allowed close approach and I managed to get some decent photos.  The pigeon-headed look, small bill, and pink legs pegged it as a Thayer's Gull.  The age on this bird is the tricky part.  I thought it might be a fourth-winter bird, but when I put it up on the North American Gulls page most suggested third-cycle.  Note the switch in terminology - many subscribe to the use of cycles for aging, but I am more used to referencing the season.  From my understanding, a third-cycle bird would be in its third winter so I might be a year off.  Apparently it is very hard to determine the age between third- and fourth-cycle birds.  It has a pretty strong residual tail band, so maybe third-cycle is right.  Now that I've bored you with gull musing, the bird itself will be a little anticlimactic.  I think it's a nice bird, though.

Thayer's Gull, possibly third-cycle

I finished off my afternoon's birding back at Clover Point watching the Palm Warblers.  They were quite confiding, but it still required a good deal of patience to get good photo opportunities.  I eventually ended up with a handful of respectable shots.  I will include a few different angles, including one shot that shows that one of the birds has rufous feathers on the cap indicating it's an adult.  What a treat to have them around for over a month!

Here's my favourite Palm Warbler shot of the lot

A nice side profile on a piece of driftwood

The angled piece of driftwood made for an interesting shot here, I reckon.

As you can see, this bird has rufous in the crown, which should indicate an adult Palm Warbler

That's all the material I have for now.  I hope to get out again this weekend and will write up another entry if the birds cooperate.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

MEGA: Hawaii's First Spotted Redshank!

You know the saying "Go big or go home"?  Well, I defied that by going big, then going home.  I was in Hawaii visiting friends and enjoying its amazing natural and not-so-natural history from October 24th to November 8th, and boy did I ever make it memorable!

On November 2nd, I was hiking the incredible Pu'u O'o Trail off the Saddle Rd. that traverses the Big Island between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  I had the good fortune of bumping into Jack Jeffrey - a well-respected ornithologist and photographer in Hawaii - and he mentioned the Kona Wastewater Treatment Plant is a great place to search for migrant waterfowl and shorebirds.  There is almost an irony in this recommendation, as Jack's central focus is native forest birds.  Regardless, I immediately decided it was a place I wanted to visit.

Despite seeing some of the incredible native forest birds that are too gawdy for words, I found there was also something equally incredible about seeing migrant waterfowl and shorebirds, ones I see here on southern Vancouver Island, way out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  How they manage to find terra firma when the nearest major land masses are thousands of kilometres away is beyond me.  That was the major stimulus for following Jack's advice to hit up the Kona Wastewater Treatment Plant on November 3rd.

The treatment plant is not open to the public, but birders have graciously been allowed to venture around the facility, staying outside the chainlink fence.  Janean and I ventured in and followed a dirt road onto a dyke that offered a good vantage of the wastewater treatment ponds.  Scanning the edges of the ponds, I found many of the expected Hawaiian marsh birds: Hawaiian Stilts, Hawaiian Coots, Pacific Golden-Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderlings, and a few Wandering Tattlers.  Additionally, I spotted a lone Cackling Goose that has apparently been a long-staying uncommon bird, plus a single Lesser Scaup.  I also spotted a large wader in the corner of the furthest back pond on the left (i.e., southwesternmost).  The heat haze was horrid and I figured it must be a Greater Yellowlegs, which would be a pretty good bird.  I tried my best to get good looks from the dyke, but the heat haze was too strong.  I got distracted by a small tern flying over the ponds and my attention was focused on it for a while.  Even my views of the tern were unsatisfying, but I managed to ascertain that it was a Least Tern.  A look on eBird confirmed that a juvenile had been reported there within the past month and since then I have learned that Least Terns actually bred in the area.

Coming from the wet Hilo side, the dry Kona heat not only made the viewing conditions difficult, but it spurred me to move on because Janean is quite fair-skinned.  Oh... and we were at a wastewater treatment plant in Hawaii.  How fair is that?!?  I gave one last look at that large wader and just had to shrug.  "Probably just a Greater Yellowlegs" I thought, but there was something that didn't sit right with me about it.  The legs seemed quite bright even through the haze.  I knew I would be coming back to Kona on the last day and I would have the whole afternoon to explore the area.  Janean is very accommodating and said I could go back on our last day.

November 7th was our last full day and we weren't scheduled to fly until 12:50 a.m. on the 8th.  We worked our way towards Kona in the morning, heading north from Ka'u.  We had a fairly leisurely morning, including stopping in for a nice coffee and using some WiFi, so we didn't get to the treatment plant until noon.  Janean said she would rather just relax in the car so she didn't feel like she was rushing me - what a lucky guy!  I marched out to the dyke and set up the scope, hoping the "vog" (volcanic fog) would cut the haze.  The large wader was in the exact same spot, but the heat haze still hampered views.  I scoped around quickly for anything else unusual and then focused back on the wader.  It moved up out of the water and onto the black plastic lining, which provided a much better contrast to evaluate the legs.  I thought "Man... those legs are glowing!"  I packed up the scope and decided that I had to get closer to see if there was any chance it was the outrageous thing I thought it might be.

I skirted the facility to the left of the entrance and got to a place that was much closer and hopefully still offered a view of the bird.  I set the scope up and started scanning... no dice.  I figured it was just out of view, so I waited a minute and checked again.  There it was... creamsicle orange legs just screaming "Hey dummy... my shanks are red!"  I started to piece together the other features I knew off the top of my head: the basal half of the bill's lower mandible was reddy-orange, the overall colour was tan-brown with the speckled pattern reminiscent of a yellowlegs, it had white supercilia and dark lores, and the neck down to the belly had a tan wash, including blurry streaking on the upper chest.  There was something else I was supposed to look for... right, redshanks are supposed to have a white wedge running up the back, in the same vein as dowitchers,  I watched the redshank as it bobbed its way along the edge of pond.  I was hoping the Hawaiian Coot would be curious enough about the foreign visitor to peck at its legs.  Instead, the noisy activity of a nearby Hawaiian Stilt caused the redshank to make a short flight.  As its wings opened, the white patch was revealed up the back and, to separate it from Common Redshank, it lacked broad white trailing edges on the wings.  I was looking at a juvenile SPOTTED REDSHANK!!!  I guarantee I was muttering expletives to myself and I was certain this was a mega rarity for Hawaii.  I wasn't sure exactly how good it was, but I knew it was going to cause a stir.

When you're close, there's no doubt about its identity! (Photo: Eric VanderWerf)

Excellent shot showing the white between the wings (Photo: Eric VanderWerf)

White supercilium and dark lores showing well here (Photo: Eric VanderWerf)

So, I had just seen a Spotted Redshank in Hawaii and I had no idea what magnitude the rarity was and I wasn't sure who to contact.  My only attempts to contact locals failed, so I did the next best thing: social media.  I contacted Jeremy Kimm and asked him to put the word out on the ABA Rare Bird Alert page on Facebook and anywhere else relevant.  He did just that and the more relevant page he got it on was the Hawaii Birdwatching group on Facebook.  From there, enthusiastic local birder Lance Tanino grilled Jeremy K. for more details.  It was, after all, a Hawaiian first - that's when I truly grasped the weight of the sighting.  I called Jeremy to get all the information out in a prompt manner and this convinced Lance and also Jean Campbell that they should be there first thing in the morning the next day.

I was grateful to Lance and Jean because they got down there and photo-documented the bird.  My camera was out of commission, so I wasn't able to document the bird.  They both managed to obtain tangible evidence that it existed and soon more Hawaiian birders were making the trip to see this far-flung Asian shorebird.  Similarly, I must thank Eric VanderWerf for supplying the photos he managed to obtain, as they make this entry less bland!  This is conceivably the rarest bird I have ever found: a state first!  I have had two provincial second records (Ross' Gull and Painted Bunting) and one third record (Lesser Nighthawk) for BC, but never a first.  What a thrilling event and one hell of a way to end my first trip to the Hawaiian Islands!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

I'm Not Getting Rusty...

Well... this is hardly the resounding post I should be putting together to break the silence.  I was away working for six weeks without internet and then I was back in Victoria for a whopping four days before heading up to Fort McMurray for a few weeks.  I have been back in Victoria for just over a week now and I'm finally starting to feel like I'm settled back in.

I have been sneaking in little birding excursions when I can and this morning was rather productive.  With a Red-throated Pipit reported along Puckle Rd. near Martindale Flats last weekend, I thought I would see if I could sift through some pipits.  I arrived at the fields at around 8 a.m. and there was a light veil of fog hanging over the fields.  This was a little discouraging as it reduced the visibility, but I could hear pipits out there.  I pulled to the side of the road, grabbed my scope, and did my best to find tail-bobbing birds popping up from furrows in the soil.  While doing this, I noticed blackbirds and European Starlings flying in from the northwest and landing on the wires.  I gave them a quick scan because a Rusty Blackbird was reported in local flock a few days earlier.  My mind was set on pipits at this time, though, so I quickly went back to trying to pick out a Red-throated and among the Americans.  After half an hour or so of looking and listening to the same group of American Pipits, I decided it was a bust.

As I headed back to the car, I noticed Eurasian Collared-Doves were at the edge of one of the fields with the starlings and blackbirds.  I moved the car closer to the action and shortly after parking a truck pulled up.  Jody Wells, a birder I had bumped in to once before at Tod Creek Flats, provided good company as we scanned through the blackbird flock and small groups of sparrows dropping down to the ground along a fence line.  While chatting with Jody, I said he should let me know if he ever finds any interesting birds during his walks.  He said he wasn't as intense with the birding as others, but he has come across some interesting birds.  One sighting he recalled in particular was three Yellow-headed Blackbirds on Saanichton Spit.  I was impressed - that's my spot and I certainly haven't found one there!  At that point, I mentioned there was supposed to be a Rusty Blackbird around and it could well be in the flock we had in front of us.  Well, wouldn't you know it... I couldn't dig out the Rusty Blackbird, but I did find a first-year male Yellow-headed Blackbird!  I got Jody on the bird and we both marveled at the brilliant yellow patch on its chest when it turned the right way.

The flock was rather restless and Jody noticed that they all put up after a Mourning Dove darted in towards them.  They must have mistaken the swept back wings for a Merlin that we'd seen zip by earlier.  Eventually the Yellow-headed Blackbird ended up on the road near the very end of Puckle Rd., surrounded by Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, a few Brown-headed Cowbirds, and a smattering of Brewer's Blackbirds.  I crept my way up to the flock and maintained a healthy distance to take some record shots.

First-year male Yellow-headed Blackbird with three Red-winged Blackbirds

Easily the best look I've had of a Yellow-headed Blackbird in Victoria!

Another familiar face, Barry McKee, rolled up as Jody was heading off.  I managed to get Barry on the Yellow-headed Blackbird and he snapped one shot with his camera before it flew, likely rejoining the flock on the fields.  This was only my second self-found Yellow-headed Blackbird for the Victoria checklist area and I would gladly take that over a Rusty!  This sighting paired with seeing a couple of familiar faces made for a great morning.

I just looked back through the BCVIBIRDS archive and learned that my first self-found Yellow-headed Blackbird was almost two years ago to the day.  I went to the Vantreight bulb fields on October 19, 2012, the day after returning from a work trip, and found a female Yellow-headed Blackbird in a large blackbird flock off Wallace Dr.  I guess mid-October is a great window for uncommon icterids!  Is it too much to hope for a grackle?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

I Heard It Through the Kiwi Vine...

A few weeks ago, if you'll recall, I managed to see my first Clay-coloured Sparrow in the Victoria checklist area.  I even made brief mention of the next five species I anticipated to add as I work towards 300.  Well, you can pretty much guarantee it won't work out the way you anticipate and I pretty instantly derailed my list.

On June 24, Ann Nightingale headed over to Livesay Rd. where Bullock's Orioles were first noted four days earlier.  Not only were the orioles still around, but a song rarely heard in Victoria was being repeated in the backdrop.  Luckily Ann recognized the repeated "che-bek" phrase as a singing Least Flycatcher.  Unfortunately for me, I was working in the interior and heading to Valemount for four more days of work.  Even worse, the trail went cold the next morning after it put in a brief appearance.  It wasn't reported over the next two days and I figured it was yet another Least Flycatcher that had slipped through my grasp due to my absence from the Victoria area.

The Newells are a persistent bunch and they not only checked in on the orioles on June 28, but they also decided to check around the kiwi farms near the intersection of Martindale and Welch.  Surprisingly enough, they relocated the Least Flycatcher singing around the kiwi farm - awesome!  I was finishing up my work that day and had a day of natural history mayhem planned for the next day down in the Okanagan.  I wasn't about to rush back to Victoria for the Least Flycatcher, but I made sure to stay updated on its status.  After a morning in Princeton and Manning Park on the 30th, I was bound for Swartz Bay on the 6 p.m. ferry.  While on the ferry, I read an update from Mike McGrenere saying that he had the Least in the morning.  I wanted to pop in to drop off some Okanagan cherries to my dad, but I planned to make it quick so I could put in a bit of time before dark trying to hear or see the flycatcher.  I mentioned it to my dad and he wanted to join me, so we hopped in my work truck and we headed on over to the kiwi farms.  I am fortunately very familiar with Least Flycatcher due to the areas I work, so I stood still and just listened.  It took a minute, but I heard a distant "che-bek" at the far end of the kiwi farm on the south side of Martindale Rd.  We tracked the bird down to the row of poplars at the south side of the farm.  I popped just inside the row of poplars along the road and managed to see a little empid with obvious white wingbars high up in one of the poplars.  It wasn't the best view, but it was most definitely my first Least Flycatcher in the Victoria checklist area!

My dad didn't really get a great view of the bird before it flew to the north end of the farm.  I listened for it to sing again and determined it was half way down the north line of poplars.  Then it stopped singing for a bit and when it restarted, it was over in the kiwi farm kitty corner to us.  We crossed over to it and there my dad was able to briefly observe the Least as it sat on a drooping kiwi vine about 10 metres away at eye level.  What a great bird to add and it didn't quite make my cut for the top five next expected species.  It was pretty close and I debated putting it on over Pink-footed Shearwater and Long-tailed Jaeger because I don't do much in the way of "pelagic" birding here.

I don't have any audio files or photos to support this blog entry, so I will have to make up for it with a photo extravaganza soon.  Photos would have been miserable anyways due to the low light conditions.  Knowing this is a new Victoria bird for me, I will do the standard update on my progress towards 300 species in the checklist area.  The Least Flycatcher is my 294th species and it was actually a tiebreaker for me to jump back ahead of Jeremy Kimm.  I probably fretted at his progress over the past few years as he quickly closed the gap and then momentarily passed me.  At the same time, I knew he was adding species I hadn't seen and it was only a matter of time before I recouped those losses.  Mission accomplished!  If that sounds extremely competitive, it's actually all in good fun.  We congratulate each other genuinely when we add new birds to our Victoria checklist and JK even prods me to hurry up and get my Grey Jay already.  I think we both enjoy the friendly competitive edge and schoolyard maturity taunting.  So... bring on the next one!