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!