Sunday, January 29, 2017

January 28 and 29 - More additions to the Year list

On this last weekend in January, I resumed another pass time, playing golf. You won't see a golfing blog from me any time soon, but I do intend to carry my camera in my golf bag whenever possible. I've recorded at least one lifer (Redhead Duck) on the golf course.

On this Saturday we ended up at Hazelmere golf course in South Surrey, just on the edge of the US border. Last year I saw a Horned Lark while playing here, but did not have a camera to record it. On this round the only notable bird was this Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk - Hazelmere Golf Course, Surrey BC

On my way home I took a detour down Colebrook Road, as there had been some Cinnamon Teal reported there. I did not see the Teal, but did encounter my first Belted Kingfisher of the year.

Belted Kingfisher - Colebrook Rd., Surrey BC - 2017 Bird # 47

On Sunday morning I decided to visit Reifel Bird Sanctuary as it would be the best place to pad my 2017 Year list. 

On the drive in, I spotted a a number of colourful ducks in the slough along the entrance road. They were Common Merganser males, a good bird to see early in the year. After breeding season, the females and offspring will still be around, but the males will have abandoned the family and headed for parts unknown.

Common Merganser - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #48

Here's a photo of a male and female. The female is on the left. She has a similar silhouette, but the head colour is reddish instead of green.

Common Merganser - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

After parking and entering the Sanctuary, I checked out the Black-crowned Night Herons. They are perennial winter visitors at Reifel. They're active at night, but always sleeping during the day. The don't try too hard to hide, I guess predators shy away due to their size.

Black-crowned Night Heron - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #49

Next up was a pair of Wood Ducks. It looks like they've paired up and selected a nest box. According to an article in Reifel's Marsh Notes magazine, they may wait until March to start incubating eggs.

Wood Duck - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 50

Another common duck at Reifel is the Ring-necked Duck. I saw the female first so she gets top billing on the year list.

Ring-necked Duck (F) - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 51

Here's a male seen a bit later:

Ring-necked Duck - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

The Golden-crowned Sparrow is very common here in the winter, and one always seems to give me one of my best photos of the day.

Golden-crowned Sparrow - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

I now reached the North-west corner where Owls are known to roost. I saw but did not photograph a Northern Saw-whet Owl. Here's a photo from 2015 when one was more accessible. 

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC (2015) - 2017 Bird # 52

These Owls sleep during the day and need to find a secure place to hide from predators such as the next one here. This Great Horned Owl was sleeping within 20 - 30 ft of the Saw-whet. The GH Owls prey on smaller owls as well as rodents and voles.

Great-horned Owl - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 53

I continued on my walk around the sanctuary. I came across this interesting scene near the end of my walk. I've often seen Chickadees eat seed from the visitors' hands, but this the first time I'd seen Red-winged Blackbirds doing it.

Red-winged Blackbird - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

My final bird was the common import from Europe, the House Sparrow. The photo quality is poor, I'll try to take a better one next time I visit Reifel.

House Sparrow - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC (2015) - 2017 Bird # 54

This capped off January 2017. The 54 species is the most I've seen in January since I started keeping year lists in 2012. It will be very challenging to maintain this pace in subsequent months.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Backyard Birds in January

The cold and snowy winter we've experienced has made it tough on resident birds to find food and water. The really cold days and nights are especially hard on them. We've done our part by keeping the seed and suet feeders filled. I've also been diligent about bringing in the hummingbird feeder most nights so the liquid didn't freeze.

Our reward has been a really nice variety of species. This blog details some of the regulars seen in the third week of January. An upcoming February post will have even variety.

The first species seen on the 22nd was a small flock of Bushtits at the suet feeder. It's hard to get good shots as you can't get too close and the window at the time was quite dirty. More on that in the February post.

Bushtit - Backyard, North Delta BC - 2017 bird #45

Bushtits always travel in numbers, perhaps because they are so small. There were only 4 or 5 in this flock.

Bushtit - Backyard, North Delta BC

Our most common bird seen year round is the Black-capped Chickadee. Although I have no way to identify them, it's possible this bird has been with us for years.

Black-Capped Chickadee - Backyard, North Delta BC

This was taken about 2 minutes later, I think it's a different bird.

Black-Capped Chickadee - Backyard, North Delta BC

We have another Chickadee species in the yard. I don't see it too frequently but I got lucky and got one photo of it. This is a western only species, mostly seen along the Pacific Coast.

Chestnut-backed Chickadee - Backyard, North Delta BC - 2017 Bird #46

Finally, here's our resident male Anna's hummingbird. I got buzzed a few times when I put the feeder out too late for it's liking. That's gratitude for you.

Anna's Hummingbird - Backyard, North Delta BC

That's all I got from the backyard in January, more to come in a future post.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 21 and 22 - Productive Weekend

Saturday Jan 21 - Iona Regional Park

I was back at Iona on Saturday to try again to see the Tufted Duck. On my way into the park, I saw a group of Snow Geese in the water. It was high tide, so they were quite close to the road. I pulled over and took a few shots.

Snow Geese - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC - 2017 Bird # 40

There is a small stain on the cheek of this goose. This is from the iron compounds in the soil in local farmlands. The geese dig in the ground quite a lot for sedges and other grasses.

Snow Goose - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC

I was joined by a married couple who were also looking for the Tufted Duck. This week the Southeast pond was not frozen, and there were a good number of ducks in scope distance. I described the difference between the back colouration of the Tufted Duck (black) and the Scaup (grayish white) and we stated scanning.

The lady found a likely candidate with her binoculars and we zoomed in with our scopes. It was about 100 meters away and it was hard to get a good shot, but I got this one for a record. The Tufted Duck is the one in the centre with head turned away.

Tufted Duck - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC - 2017 Bird #41

After we all had a good look we tried to get closer to the bird. This next shot is from about 30 meters.

Tufted Duck - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC

The Tufted Duck is classified as Rare by the American Ornithological Union (AOU), so this was my first rare bird of the year. As mentioned in last week's post, I have seen one before on three occasions.

The couple left and I crept closer again for one final set of shots.This clearly shows the similarities and differences between this bird and the Lesser Scaup. It's also obvious here how it got its name.

Tufted Duck - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC

I made one more stop at the rest area in the park and met up with the couple again. They were looking at a large raptor that appeared to be having a swim (or a wade) in the large outer pond. We finally agreed it was an immature Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle (imm) - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC

Saturday Jan 21 - Brunswick Point

After a Starbucks stop, I decided to try my luck at Brunswick Point. Some of the uncommon birds I had seen in December were still being reported and it would be nice to add Gyrfalcon and Rock Wren to my early 2017 list.

On arrival, I set out by myself on the long walk to the where I'd seen these two birds previously. I saw the usual Short-eared Owls and the photographers crowding their space too much. The first sighting I had was unexpected, a downy woodpecker out on the foreshore. It had found some stumps and branches to hang out on.

Downy Woodpecker - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

This was #1 on my year list on January 1st, but these were my first good photos of the year. The light was just right on this afternoon.

Downy Woodpecker - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

One more for good measure:

Downy Woodpecker - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

Another common bird that showed well in light was this White-crowned Sparrow.

White-crowned Sparrow - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

I had no luck with the Gyrfalcon and headed back towards my car. About halfway back, I met up with some notable birders who were working on a big day. The man and his wife had been on a cruise off of South America looking for birds there. They recommend Cruise ships as the best way to do pelagic birding without getting seasick.

Twilight was setting in but we spotted a couple of year birds for me. I did not get photos of them due to the fading light and our fast pace.
  • A Fox Sparrow on the ground, 2017 Bird # 42
  • A single Barn Swallow, quite a treat to see in January 2017 Bird # 43.
I'm sure I'll get photos of these two species sometime this year.

We again had no luck with the Gyrfalcon and the Rock Wren. I picked up one more year bird on the way back, some Trumpeter Swans flying overhead.

Trumpeter Swan - Brunswick Point, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #44

Sunday Jan 22

The next day I decided to try for the rare Black-headed Gull that had been seen at the Turf Farm in Ladner. This is near the Boundary Bay Airport. 

On my way there I spotted an Eagle sitting on a large mound. I thought it could possibly be the Golden Eagle that had been seen in the area, but concluded it was an immature Bald Eagle when I studied the photos. I quite like this pose.

Bald Eagle (Imm) - near Boundary Bay Airport, Delta BC

At the turf farm I scanned through hundreds of Glaucous-winged and Ring-billed Gulls, but could not find the Black-headed. It was cold and windy, and there were football playoff games on TV, so I called it a day.

I did see one new species at home later that day, it will be detailed in a upcoming post for January backyard birds. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

January 14 and 15 - Unproductive Weekend

Chasing rarities is risky, if you don't see the bird(s) you were seeking, then there might not be much else around to see. So it was with this weekend, not a total bust but disappointing. I did add a few more year birds for my efforts.

Saturday - Tufted Duck no show at Iona

This is a common Eurasian duck that shows up on these shores every couple of years. My first one was in 2008 at Reifel, and I'd seen one at Iona in 2014 and 2015. There had been reports of one in the settling ponds at Iona for the last week. 

It was a cold weekend and two of the four ponds were completely frozen. There were a few hundred ducks on the north-east pond and I started scoping for the Tufted. I found one likely suspect and took some photos and digi-scoped a movie, but I concluded it was a Lesser Scaup. Both Scaup species are similar to the Tufted.

I did pick up a couple of year birds for my trouble.

Northern Pintail - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC - 2017 Bird #33

Northern Pintail - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC 

This was my first sighting for American Coot as well.

American Coot - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC - 2017 Bird #34

Here's the Lesser Scaup I mentioned. This was at quite a distance. The Scaup is missing the tuft at the back of the head and has a white/gray back. The Tufted has a dark back. 

Lesser Scaup - Iona Regional Park, Richmond BC - 2017 Bird #35

Sunday - Langley and Pitt Meadows 

On Sunday, I decided to try heading east. There had been a Green Heron reported at Brydon Lagoon in Langley, and the overwintering Prairie Falcon was still being seen in Pitt Meadows.

Brydon Lagoon is part of a Langley city park. It's about 250 metres long and 100 metres wide. There's a trail that circumnavigates the lagoon and there are other trails as well.

Upon arrival, the first thing I saw on the Lagoon were a pair of ice skaters and a few Gulls.

I looked for the Heron in the reported location, but there was no sign of it. I did see a few birds along the paths. The Red-winged Blackbirds are common here, I saw only females and immature ones. 

Red-winged Blackbird - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC - 2017 Bird # 36

The Golden-crowned Sparrow is a familiar sight in the winter and I saw a couple of them.

Golden-crowned Sparrow - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC - 2017 Bird # 37

Golden-crowned Sparrow - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC

My only other sighting was a Junco. Although I have them in my backyard all winter, this was my first photo.

Dark-eyed Junco - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC - 2017 Bird #38

My next stop was Pitt Meadows, which is a quick drive from Langley as long as you're willing to pay the toll on the Golden Ears Bridge. I drove around the area where the Prairie Falcon is normally seen but saw no sign if it. Since my trip out there, a Gyrfalcon has also taken up residence in the area. Both birds will head North sometime in early spring.

My one sighting was a Brewer's Blackbird in with a bunch of Starlings. Although much more common in the Okanagan, these blackbirds do like the rural areas in Langley and Pitt Meadows.

Brewer's Blackbird - Pitt Meadows BC - 2017 Bird #39

This wrapped up my "lost" weekend - I'd have better luck on the following weekend.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

January 7 Part 1 - White Rock Pier

After running some errands in the morning, I decided to head south to White Rock for some early afternoon birding. There had been a Ruddy Turnstone sighting the previous day. Although we may get one or two of these birds in Fall Migration at Boundary Bay, it would be a good one to add early in the year.

Even if I missed that bird, I'd be guaranteed to add a good number of new birds to the 2017 list. Late Fall and Winter are the best time to see a variety of diving ducks from the pier. It's not uncommon to get great close-ups here as the ducks are oblivious to the people above them.

My first sighting was a common bird seen year round, but the presentation was terrific. It was a flock of Canada Geese swimming in formation. This was addition #20 for 2017.

Canada Goose - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #20

The next bird looked like the ticket taker for the pier attraction. All that was missing was a hat.

Glaucous-winged Gull - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

Scoters are diving ducks that are found in the winter on salt water. There are three species in North America: the common Surf Scoter, the less common White-Winged Scoter and the rare, for here, Black Scoter. The first two are easy to find off the pier in winter.

The male Surf Scoter is the most easily recognized with it's patchwork look.

Surf Scoter - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #21

I was fortunate to find a male White-winged Scoter close to the pier, they often stay a little farther off. This shot was taken my Nikon Coolpix.

White-winged Scoter - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #22

Here's the same bird with the Canon SLR. I think the Canon won today.

White-winged Scoter - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

I spotted a familiar Black and White duck diving deep and resurfacing. I was happy to identify it to a man and two kids as a male Bufflehead. Another first for the year. This is a notoriously hard bird to photograph. It dives frequently and its colours play havoc with camera exposure. After some digital tweaking, you can see the eye in this photo.

Bufflehead - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #23

The female bufflehead is very different looking from the male, but quite distinctive and attractive. You can see here that this duck species is one of the smallest.
Bufflehead (F) - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC 

Near the end of the pier I saw an immature Surf Scoter attempting to crack open a shell. I'm not sure who won the battle.

Surf Scoter (Imm) - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC 

There are always Rock Pigeons at the end of the pier. Sometimes there is a lady who feeds them and they will climb all over her. Today I got a nice natural shot of them on their normal habitat.

Rock Pigeon - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #24

While scanning the rocks for Turnstones, I spotted a small Grebe out on the water. It was pretty far away and I had to zoom the Nikon all the way out to get a half-decent shot for the record. It was a Horned Grebe, another first for the year.

Horned Grebe - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #25

At this point I checked the Bird Alert website and realized the Ruddy Turnstone had been seen at the base of the pier, not the tip. I headed back to the base, hoping to get lucky.

Once I arrived at the base, I started walking east along the rocky shoreline towards the White Rock. This would be perfect habitat for Turnstones. 

Immediately, I noticed some small gulls in the water and stopped to grab a look. I needed Ring-billed for the year, but quickly realized I had something else - Mew Gulls. These are similar to Ring-bills in size, but lack  the strong black ring on the bill. I was happy, as this is not a species I see every year.

Mew Gull - White Rock foreshore, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #26

I spotted some small shorebirds among the rocks, the trail was getting warmer. These ones were Dunlin, the most common shorebird seen here in the winter. They scour the shoreline looking for any morsel, and always seem to be in packs for safety.

This is their winter plumage, when breeding season starts they will turn reddish with a big black area on the underbelly.

Dunlin - White Rock foreshore, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #27

By this time I had teamed up with another birder and she spotted some other shorebirds. These were Turnstones, but Black, not Ruddy. They are common along the Pacific anywhere there are rocky shorelines. It was great to see them, but there Ruddy cousin was not with them. The Ruddy was spotted for a couple of more days but has not been reported since. I'll have to take my chances with Fall birding to see them here.

Black Turnstone- White Rock foreshore, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #28

I started making my way back to the Pier and spotted one more species for the outing, the common Ring-billed Gull. This photo catches the identifying features very well: smaller size, yellow legs, yellow bill with pronounced black ring and pale iris. Another bird for the year list.

Ring-billed Gull - White Rock foreshore, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #29

The day continues at Blackie's Spit in the next post.