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.