Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Day It Snowed Twice

The crocuses lied to us all.  During the week we had some beautiful sunny days and it really felt like we were marching forward to spring.  Instead, we were vaulted back to the depths of winter today with a morning of wet snow.

No, this female Ring-necked Duck does not have dandruff.  It snowed and snowed this morning!

I waited for the snow to slow down a little before heading out for a few hours of birding.  The first order of business was to check over Maber Flats from the east end because the ducks were all concentrated there a week ago and I wasn't able to scan through them.  From the end of Meadowbank Rd., I looked down over a large group of Green-winged Teals in hopes of at least finding a Common Teal.  I must have passed over the flock two times before a candidate popped out.  I initially thought there was a chance the bird was a hybrid because I saw the slightest trace of a vertical white bar that is typical of a Green-winged Teal.  I think this can be shown on Common Teal, so I believe it is likely is a Common Teal.  I will, however, try to get back down to the flats in the next couple weeks to give it a better analysis.  If you happen to be birding on the Saanich Peninsula, go check it out and let me know what you think!

After checking the flats, I wanted to head over to Hovey Rd. to see if there was a blackbird flock around.  Before I made it Hovey, I found myself pulling off to the side of Tomlinson Rd. because three white geese were in a field among the regular flock of Canada Geese.  They appear to be the same group of three - one adult and two juveniles - that was at Martindale Flats last weekend.  It appears that snow can strike twice in a day - take that lightning!

The adult Snow Goose with one of the two juveniles, seen along Tomlinson Rd.

I finished my day off out at Patricia Bay.  When I was there last weekend, as you might recall, the tide was high, it was raining, and ducks were just offshore.  By the afternoon today, the temperature rose a couple degrees and it was raining again.  The difference, however, was the tide, which was quite low when I rolled up at around 3:30 p.m.  When the tide is low at Patricia Bay it can be quite productive for gulls near the outflow of Wsikem Creek.  I pulled off the road and scanned out over the gulls and immediately noticed a dark-backed individual.  The gull had a clean white head, yellow-orange bill, and slate-grey mantle.  It was a picture perfect Western Gull!  This is the kind of bird that reminds you what a Western should look like.  When you only see the ones at Clover Point and Esquimalt Lagoon, you kind of lose track of what a good Western looks like.  I'm not saying there is never a proper Western at those spots, but there are a number of convincing hybrids and birds that are not quite as classic as you'd hope.  I was eager to get out and try to get some photos of the Western at Patricia Bay, so I trudged my way out across the shore until I got close enough for some shots.  The bird turned out to be quite cooperative as it feasted on clams and scrapped for prime shoreline real estate with the other gulls.

The Western Gull with what appears to be a cracked Manila clam

Absolutely perfect specimen

Western Gull scrapping with a Glaucous-winged Gull over a morsel

Another profile shot showing this is a classic Western Gull

I also had a handful of Thayer's and Mew Gulls, but only a couple of the Thayer's were close enough for a photo.  For me, the amber eyes, straw-coloured base to a somewhat short bill, streaked head, medium grey mantle, and bubblegum pink legs are the key features of a Thayer's Gull.

Two adult Thayer's Gulls on the shore at Patricia Bay

Even with the poor weather, the birds put on a good show today.  I think photos of bona fide Western Gulls are worth their weight in gold in the Pacific Northwest where "Olympic" Gulls - that's one name applied to Glaucous-winged x Westerns - are so prevalent.  And let's not forget that double snow action - good day!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Don't Forget to Duck When It's Raining

The post-Valentine's Day weather seemed to embody all the bitter singletons - it was miserable!  I decided to scout around a little to prepare for tomorrow's Valentine's Couples Birdathon despite the foul weather.  For the most part, the birding was slow and not worth waxing poetic or whatever you want to call what I normally do.  Instead, I will just focus on the fantastic views the ducks offered up at Patricia Bay today.

When it's pouring, sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is getting out of the car.  Well, maybe I'm just lazy and didn't bring a rain jacket.  Either way, I drove to the north end of Patricia Bay to scan through the ducks today and found the whole exercise to be rather enjoyable.  I will probably have to return when the light is better and I can stand on the shoreline for better photos, but it was certainly a satisfying challenge today from the car.

Greater Scaup were often close to shore, which allowed me to study their head shape.  I always take the opportunity to study their head shape, which, compared to Lesser Scaup, is more rounded and has the high point towards the front of the head.

A perfect side profile of a male Greater Scaup surrounded by four females.  Another feature to note on the male is the clean white flanks, which is apparently more commonly shown by Greater Scaup.  The females appear to show more extensive white on the face, which is commonly shown by Greaters.

One last shot of a male Greater Scaup, which again emphasizes the head shape and clean white flanks.  The grey appearance to the back is the result of fine barring; Lessers should have coarser barring.

Surf Scoters are always a treat to see up close, so this group consisting of two pairs was a nice sight.
A pair of White-winged Scoters momentarily made it in relatively close to the shore.  There is certainly a je ne sais quoi about scoters!

This appears to be a first-winter male White-winged Scoter to the best of my knowledge.  I believe an adult would show a more prominent bump on the bill and a more extensive white mark under the eye.

That's all I have to offer for now.  I hope the next time it rains, this has inspired you to take a drive and never your leave your vehicle.  Choose a good body of water you can drive right up to for best results!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Year of the Harris'

With all the Kung Hei Fat Choi going on with the Chinese New Year, I figured I would kick it off with some nice birds.  According to the Chinese calendar, it is the year of the horse but I think that's just because they don't have Harris' Sparrows over in China.  Here on Vancouver Island, it is definitely the year of the Harris'.  In an average winter, we have maybe one record of Harris' Sparrow reported somewhere on Vancouver Island.  This winter we've had at least three reported: one consistent bird near Summit Park in Victoria, a bird in Metchosin that put in a couple days of appearances, and an individual in Port McNeill found on a Hooded Oriole twitch.

I started things off today at Portage Inlet with Jeremy and Thea Kimm to look for a bird that Jeremy K. saw on the way to work.  He spotted a bird that appeared to be a grackle, but unfortunately we were unable to relocate it.  We did, however, have an enjoyable walk along Portage Rd. that was quite productive for birds.  The highlights of the area included: 13 Canvasbacks, 1 Hermit Thrush, 10 Cedar Waxwings, 75 Greater Scaup, 1 Merlin, and 2 Pied-billed Grebes.

A female and two males - part of the group of 13 Canvasbacks seen in Portage Inlet

After the Portage Inlet session, I headed back towards the Cedar Hill area and decided I would stop in to McNair St. because I had not followed up on any of the Harris' Sparrows this winter.  Luckily for me, it was almost too easy.  I parked at the end of McNair and immediately spotted the Harris' sitting on the rock wall near a rather elaborate feeder set-up.  The Harris' periodically joined dozens of Golden-crowned and House Sparrows, with lower numbers of Fox and Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Spotted Towhees in attendance.  A flock of Bushtits and lone Bewick's Wren and Ruby-crowned Kinglet also put in an appearance.  The Harris' Sparrow was almost always in low light and it really gave me a chance to test out my new Tamron 150-600mm f/5.6-6.3 lens.  I think the results, considering the low light conditions, were pretty good.  I did a tiny bit of basic post-production (something I definitely need to work on) and it looks pretty nice despite the slightly noisy feel to the background, which is expected with such a high ISO (1600).  What do you think?

The Harris' Sparrow on McNair St. is quite the sharp-looking sparrow and I was glad to finally lay eyes on it!

I am off to Jamaica on Sunday evening and come Monday afternoon I will be in Montego Bay with Nathan Hentze.  We will be touring around for a week and hopefully my new lens will result in some nice pictures to show off the rather exquisite suite of endemics Jamaica has to offer!  In the mean time, would someone do me a favour and find a Thick-billed Murre on this side of the strait!