Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Phoebe Ain't No Freebie!

Last weekend, while I was in Whistler, news broke about a possible Eastern Phoebe discovered by the Saturday birding group in the abandoned Aquattro development lot near Esquimalt Lagoon.  I think we were just being humoured with the "possible" label because the fuzzy photos first posted had just enough detail to leave little doubt as to its identity.

The next day the phoebe was again found working its way around a small pond and several birders were able to see it.  The bird was elusive at times, though, and many birders also missed the bird after spending a couple hours searching for it.  I was first able to get out to look for this major local rarity - the first photo-documented record to be exact - on Tuesday and I spent the first few hours of the morning trudging around bearing boots and binoculars.  The weather was lousy.  It rained for almost the entire time I was there and I unfortunately had to leave just as the sun broke.  I was suffered with good birding company around me as Aziza Cooper, Barbara Begg, Jeff Gaskin, and, just as I was on my way out, Alan MacLeod and Ron Satterfield were all in attendance to look for the bird.  I believe only Aziza and David Stirling saw the bird by the end of the day and their sighting came about an hour after I had left.

Today, I had only two hours to work with and about an hour of that was dedicated to driving out to the site.  When I got there, I was quickly greeted by Cathy Carlson and her hour's worth of effort was fruitless.  Geoffrey and David Newell were also there and they also had not connected with the phoebe.  Good eyes had already covered the obvious spots, so I decided to search a spot I noticed on Google Maps.  The main pond the phoebe has been found around is actually part of a series of small ponds connected by a little stream.  I decided to walk west around a fence and try to find the uppermost pond that appeared to be of equal size to the main pond.  When I found the pond, I had a good feeling about it.  The unfamiliar chip note I was hearing from the far end of the pond was also promising.  The whitish spot in the alders in the direction of the call was very, very promising.  I raised my binoculars and my eyes soaked in the details of a perfect Eastern Phoebe specimen.  Dark cap, pale throat, and a very slight yellow wash to the belly were noted.  The bird then fluttered down to snap up an insect just over the water and sallied back up to the alders.

I didn't even take the time to enjoy the bird and decided I would try to Geoffrey and David Newell over to see it.  I wasn't sure if it was a lifer for them, but I have seen them many times when I worked in the Peace Region.  I ran back to the main pond as fast as I could, but by the time I got there they had seemingly departed.  I headed back to get better looks, but the phoebe had worked its way into the close corner and when I made it out near the pond it flew into the flooded marshy section of the forest patch to the south.  I could hear it calling for another minute and then lost track of it.

I was happy to see an Eastern Phoebe in the Victoria area, which puts me up to 291 in the Victoria checklist area.  The additions were very sparse last year and it's not too often I am actually around when something exciting turns up.  What's next you ask?  Well... hopefully the amazing-yet-heartbreaking news about a Redwing can be rectified with a miraculous relocation of the bird.  If you haven't heard the news, a photograph of a bird seen on Wilkinson Rd. in mid-December was recently circulated and identified as a Redwing.  What a dream bird!  It is not only the first record for British Columbia, but also just the third record for western North America!  So... fingers crossed!

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