Monday, February 27, 2017

February Backyard birds and March 18 visit to Iona

The weather conspired against me for the three week stretch between Feb 25 and March 18. We spent the March 4-5 weekend shopping for and buying a new vehicle, a 2017 Subaru Forester. This will be very useful for my upcoming Okanagan birding tour in April.

Here' a couple of backyard birds from February. The first is a Pine Siskin taken through a dirty window. They've been here for the last month and are eating bird seed at an unbelievable rate. This is Bird #69, a bit out of order from the previous post.

Pine Siskin - Backyard, North Delta BC - 2017 Bird #69

When I got home from my outing on February 25th, I was greeted by the call of a Pileated Woodpecker. I located it high in a bare tree in the back yard. I'd seen one earlier in the year in Burns Bog, but these photos are better than the one I took on that day.

Pileated Woodpecker - Backyard, North Delta BC

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Late February visit to Delta Turf farm and Point Roberts

Delta Turf Farm

I visited this location early Sunday morning and discovered that there was nowhere close to park. 72nd St is very narrow with ditches on both sides and people were causing problems for the local farmers. The turf farm has been popular since New Year with a few rarities, and the Eagles in the nearby trees attract a lot of photographers. Since my last visit, Delta had put up no parking signs and barricades. I found a spot at the nearby dog-walking park and hiked on over to the turf farm with my scope and camera gear.

I was hoping to see the Black-headed Gull that had been on the bird alert since Christmas. There's also been a Rusty Blackbird seen at the location for quite a while.

The challenge is that there are hundreds of Gulls on the site, most of them Glaucous-winged. I did not see the Black-headed but did spot a Gull that was somewhat different. It looked like a Gull that had been posted on a local birding site with a request for identification. The answer was Thayer's Gull. 
Thayer's Gull - Delta Turf Farm, 72 St Delta - 2017 Bird #75

The photo shows and adult on the right and a juvenile in the foreground. The ID marks for the adult are the dark pink legs, the darker wingtips and the red spot on the bill. The photo below shows the marks on the adult even better. The dark eye is more common with the bird, but the yellowish eye on the one above can occur as well. 

Thayer's Gull - Delta Turf Farm, 72 St Delta

In with the Gulls are a number of Bald Eagles, perched on the wagon-wheel sprinklers. Every so often an Eagle will charge at a group of Gulls hoping to catch one for a meal. This causes all the gulls to take flight.

I trudged back to my car and decided to check out Point Roberts, I hadn't been there yet in 2017.

Point Roberts Ducks, Loon and Special Guest

I'd been meaning to get to Point Roberts early in the year as it's the best place to find Harlequin Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers. I also expected to add one or more Loon species to my list.

It was cold there and the wind was blowing. This creates waves which make it hard to get good photos of the bobbing ducks. To add to my problems the sun was in my face which makes for poor photos as well.

I did see Harlequin Ducks as expected, this is the best shot I managed of the colourful male.
Harlequin Duck - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - 2017 Bird #76

I also spotted a female Red-breasted Merganser, and took a couple of mediocre shots. I've never seen a male here, only females.
Red-breasted Merganser - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - 2017 Bird #77

The red-breasted is similar to the Common Merganser, but has a much more spiky looking crest. The bill is much thinner and there is no sharp delineation between colours on the neck.

Red-breasted Merganser - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA

As I was scanning for loons, something caught my eye, a large brown shape in the water about 50 to 70 meters away. I got my scope on it and identified it as a Sea Lion. I tried to take photos with the IPhone through the scope but the waves made that quite difficult.  I eventually located in with my Canon SLR and took a few shots that blew up reasonably well.

When I saw the photos at home, I concluded that there were two Sea Lions rather than one. Based on the size I identified them as Steller Sea Lions.

Steller Sea Lion - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA

Steller Sea Lion - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA

I spotted a Common Loon in the same area. It had caught something and was fighting with it to finish it off. This battle went on for quite a while, the Loon would throw it in the water and then retrieve it, give it a shake and then do it again.

Common Loon - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - 2017 Bird #78

Common Loon - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA

As I watched this battle, a group of Cormorants flew by. I took a couple of very poor photos and am identifying them as Pelagic based on shape and the thin bill.

Pelagic Cormorant - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - 2017 Bird #79

The last bird I saw at Point Roberts was a male Common Goldeneye, I'd seen the female earlier in February at Brydon Lagoon.

Common Goldeneye - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA 

I left Point Roberts and made a quick stop at a pullout on the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty. There was one duck close by and I got one shot of it. This is a Barrows Goldeneye. It can be told from the Common by the shape of the face patch (rounded on the common, crescent shaped on the Barrows). The head shape is also different (peaked on the common, low and flat on the Barrows). Finally, the white circles on the side are not present on the Common.

Barrow's Goldeneye - Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #80

This ended my February birding, it would be three weeks before I got out again.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

February 25 - Surrey and Langley Ducks and Grebes

Surrey Lake

A common theme in my blog posts is that I'll read an alert about some bird(s) at some location(s) and will decide to try my luck to see them.

So it was this weekend. There were reports of Canvasback and Redhead Ducks at Surrey Lake, a small city operated wildlife and nature area. The actual lake is quite small, but it is an attractive location for wintering ducks.

 I had seen a Redhead duck last year on a small lake on the neighbouring Coyote Creek Golf Course. Upon arrival  I checked out the golf course but only saw Mallards and Wigeon. 

I made my way along the path until Surrey Lake came into view. There were many ducks present and I started scoping the inaccessible southwest side of the lake. I did see a flash of red and managed one mediocre photo. It was a male Canvasback duck. It's possible that the Redhead report had been mistaken, but a Canvasback is just as good of a sighting.

Canvasback - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC - 2017 Bird #72

I made my way around to the east side of the lake and found a group of birders taking photographs. This side has much better lake access and the ducks tend to swim quite close in. A darker brown headed duck appeared and I got to play the expert for once. I identified it as a female Canvasback. My first shot included a male Bufflehead in the same vicinity.

Canvasback (F) and Bufflehead - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC

Over the next 20 to 30 minutes she came closer to shore, diving and surfacing frequently. It was a sunny day and the light was good and the bird kept coming closer.

Canvasback (F) - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC

This is just after she surfaced with a drop of water hanging off her beak.

And one last shot as she prepares to dive.

Another species that was quite close to shore was a Pied-billed Grebe. I'd seen one in January at Blackie's Spit, but at long distance. This one was as close as the Canvasback, and was in full breeding plumage. Since male and females have the same plumage, it could be either sex.

Pied-billed Grebe - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC

Always fun to get a head-on shot.

Pied-billed Grebe - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC

I was done here and decided to venture out to Brydon Lagoon again in the never-ending quest for the Green Heron.

Brydon Lagoon, Langley

I might as well say right away that there was no sign of the Heron once again. However, I did see a new 2017 bird just after arriving. 

There's always a group of Mallards near the lagoon entrance, today there was also a single female Common Goldeneye. This is a diving duck that likes both fresh and salt water (mostly in the bays). I believe that the female plumage is more attractive than the black and white male. 

The female features a chocolate brown head and large black bill with yellow tip. And of course the yellowish/golden eye. The head shape and bill size distinguish it from the related Barrow's Goldeneye. 

Common Goldeneye (F) - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC - 2017 Bird #73

There were still Common Merganser families on the lake, here's a nice shot of a first winter juvenile.

Common Merganser (Imm) - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC 

And a not so good shot of a female.

Common Merganser (F) - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC 

There is a large undeveloped area around the lake and I went for a walk to see what might be present. One person had seen some Wilson's Snipe out in the fields a few weeks ago. For me it was quiet. The only bird I noticed was a Robin, so I took a few shots of it. 

When I reviewed my 2017 spreadsheet, I realized it was my first recorded sighting for the year.

American Robin - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC - 2017 Bird #74

On my way out, I stopped by the Lagoon entrance again and got a nice close-up of the Goldeneye.

Common Goldeneye (F) - Brydon Lagoon, Langley BC 

That ended my Saturday, there be some more ducks on Sunday.  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Feb 19 - White Rock Turnstone Quest - Part 2

Back in early January I wrote a post detailing my quest for a Ruddy Turnstone that had been seen near the White Rock Pier. January 7 Part 1 - White Rock Pier

I saw  many species that day including Black Turnstones but did not see the rarer Ruddy.  The Ruddys are common in the East, but are only seen occasionally on the west coast, usually in the Fall migration southward.

It was a rainy Sunday and I had to force myself to go out. Luckily, The rain let up for a while.

The last sighting was just east of the White Rock, so I walked out along the shore in that direction. I was looking for any shorebirds as species tend to intermix.

I passed the Rock and had not seen too much, but then there was some movement. There were a couple of Killdeer foraging in the rocks. This was my first sighting of this species in 2017.

Killdeer - White Rock Shoreline, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #70

Killdeer - Shoreline, White Rock BC

By this time another birder had arrived and he helped me spot the Turnstone in with the Killdeer. It is just a bit smaller and blended in with the rocks quite well.  

Ruddy Turnstone (left) - White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #71

The Turnstone was not concerned by our presence and we were able to get some nice close-ups. 

I did not realize I had the shot below until I reviewed my photos at home! Turnstones get their name from their foraging practice of overturning stones looking for food. In this case, it hit the jackpot.

This is about five minutes later. I'm not sure if this is the occupant of the shell.

The rain started up again and I made my way back to the car. I'd seen Mew Gulls here back in January and spotted this one today.

Mew Gull - White Rock BC

It flew out as I passed it.

Only a few species seen on this day but well worth the effort.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Family Day Weekend Part 3 - Falcon good day in Pitt Meadows

There has been a Prairie Falcon in rural Pitt Meadows since November. This is likely the same bird that visited the area in the previous winter.

I had made a few trips out hoping to see it with no luck. This time I decided to spend most of the day, if necessary, to see the bird.

I arrived around 8:00 AM on the holiday Monday and saw nothing on my first circuit. This shot shows the nature of the area, the Alouette River is left of the area shown.

Pitt Meadows on a frigid holiday Monday morning

I decided to try walking the dyke along the river and met up with another birder. A short while later we found the Falcon. The sightlines were not great, but I got some record shots.

Prairie Falcon - Alouette River, Pitt Meadows BC - 2017 Bird #66

The bird flew out and I got this shot as it left.

Prairie Falcon - Alouette River, Pitt Meadows BC

It headed east towards the farmland and we followed in that direction. By this time we'd met up with three other birders. We returned to the rural location on Connecting Road (nice name for a rural road) and waited. Eventually the Falcon appeared in a large bare Cottonwood tree.

Prairie Falcon - Connecting Road, Pitt Meadows BC

I took this last shot with the Nikon, a little less sharp, but nice zoom in.

Prairie Falcon - Connecting Road, Pitt Meadows BC

I was told by one of the other birders that there was a good chance to see an American Kestrel if I headed for Pitt Lake. I'd seen one along this route in 2016 a couple of times. I took the turn towards Golden Eagle golf course and sure enough, I encountered this Kestrel on a telephone wire.

Kestrels are the smallest of the North American falcons and are quite common in the Okanagan. The habitat in Pitt Meadows seems to be to their liking as well.

American Kestrel - Ladner Road,  Pitt Meadows BC - 2017 Species #67

Here's one more shot:

American Kestrel - Ladner Road,  Pitt Meadows BC

I was close to Pitt lake and decided to go and check it out. It was Family day and the sun was shining. It would be busy, but I'm glad I went. I was lucky and found a parking spot where someone had just pulled out.

When the lake came into sight, the view was worth the visit.

I ran into another birder and he told me that he had seen Canvasback Ducks far out on the Lake. Since I had my scope, I decided to take a look.

The first creatures I spotted were not birds, they were a group of River Otters moving around in the marshy area before the lake.

River Otters - Grant Narrows Regional Park, Pitt Meadows BC

Here they are on dry land, moving towards the lake.

River Otters - Grant Narrows Regional Park, Pitt Meadows BC

I started scoping for the Canvasbacks, but could not see any. But near a group of Bufflehead were a pair of Mute Swans. These are not our native Trumpeter or Tundra Swans, but a European import. Most people are more familiar with this species than the others. They certainly dwarf the ducks in the background.

Mute Swan - Grant Narrows Regional Park, Pitt Meadows BC - 2017 Bird #68

Another Swan was nearby, a juvenile Mute Swan (also known as a Cygnet).

Mute Swan (Imm) - Grant Narrows Regional Park, Pitt Meadows BC

By this time I was tired of birding and headed for home. It had been a productive long weekend.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Family Day Weekend Part 2 - Ladner and Reifel Bird Sancturary

After not seeing much variety on the day before, I decided to head for Reifel Bird Sanctuary and join the Sunday morning bird walk. This is an informal tour of the sanctuary led by volunteer guides.

I always take the back roads on the way to Reifel and was rewarded when a I spotted a small killer on the side of 34 St in rural Ladner. It was a Northern Shrike, a good bird to tick off on the year list.

Northern Shrike - Ladner BC - 2017 Bird #61

It did not mind my presence resulting in a few good photos. This photo shows the hook at the tip of its bill.

Northern Shrike - Ladner BC - 2017

I arrived around 10 at Reifel and was lucky to get a decent parking spot. With the good weather and the long weekend it gets very busy.

The first place I checked was the pond beside the entrance. Across the way was a group of Sandhill Cranes. These birds are in a state of flux currently as the dominant male died in January. I believe it was over 30 years old. The remaining males are trying to sort out who's the boss now.

Sandhill Cranes - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 62

I met up with the birding group and started out on the tour. One of the first birds sighted was a very distant Peregrine Falcon. This was 017 Bird #63 for me. I got a good look through a spotting scope but it was too far for a photo. I'm substituting a photo I took in 2013 at Boundary Bay.

Peregrine Falcon - Boundary Bay, Delta BC - August 2013

The group approached the North-west corner of the Sanctuary where the owls are normally seen. Someone on the trail told us there was a Barred Owl visible in that area. This meant the we'd be unlikely to see any of the smaller Northern Saw-whet Owls in the area, since they are prey for the bigger Barred Owl.

When we reached the corner it was easy to locate the mid-sized Barred Owl. It was half asleep, but birefly woke up to check out the crowd that had approached its roosting site.

Barred Owl - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 64

After a brief look, it went back to sleep.

Barred Owl - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

As we got out into the open, we spotted a pair of Bald Eagles in a tree. This appeared to be a mated pair.

Bald Eagle - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

Further along the trail I got this shot of a Song Sparrow, probably the best shot of the day.

Song Sparrow  - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

I did see one more year bird before leaving, a Hooded Merganser. The photo was long distance and not worth putting here on the blog.  It was 2017 Species #65. I did see the species a couple of weeks later and will show the photo in that post.

On my way home I took River Road along the Fraser River and stopped to take a couple of shots of some male Common Mergansers. It won't be long before the males disappear, leaving the females to deal with this year's ducklings.

Common Merganser - Fraser River, Delta BC

Common Merganser - Fraser River, Delta BC

That wraps up day 2 of the Family Day long weekend, on day 3 I'd go falcon hunting.