Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Herring Run in Point Roberts

It was mid-week and the bird alert emails were reporting a herring run at Lighthouse Marine Park in Point Roberts. Hundreds of Gulls and Brant Geese were seen the day before. I had a quick supper and headed west.

The first thing I noticed on arrival was high wind and pounding surf. This was going to be harder than I expected.

Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA

I soon realized the all the activity was to the north of the parking lot. There were some gulls on the shore and it appeared that they had caught some herring. The black and red on the bills and yellow legs indicated they were California Gulls.

California Gulls Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA

I'm not sure if this gull has its mouth open from just consuming some herring.

California Gull Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA

As I headed north, the scene became more chaotic, with Gulls and Brant in a feeding frenzy.

Brant - Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA - 2017 Species #90

Brant are a species of goose that prefer salt water and don't mix with other geese. If you see one, there are likely others close by.

This shot shows distinguishing features of the Brant, the dark head, white barred neck and white tail feathers.

Brant - Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA - 2017

Another chaotic shot:

With all of this going on, the regular occupants of the pier seemed to be oblivious.

Double-crested Cormorants and Glaucous-winged Gulls  - Lighthouse Marine Park. Point Roberts WA - 2017

I returned the next evening and everything was back to normal. there were no signs of Brant or California Gulls.

There was a barge coming into carrying a truck with a new house for someone relocating to Point Roberts. I guess this is the easiest way (and maybe the cheapest) to relocate there.

My final shot is Mount Baker, very imposing from this vantage point.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 25 Part 2 -Colony Farm Regional Park

Colony Farm is an interesting mix of land uses in Coquitlam. There is the park which includes communal gardens and an extensive natural area separated by the Coquitlam River. There is the Kwikwetlem First Nation lands. And finally the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, just south of the gardens.

I had planned to do a quick tour of the gardens as many people have installed Swallow boxes on their plots. But I was warned off by a man who told me it was ankle deep in muck in many places.

So I made the trek across the river over to the main wildlife area. There is a substantial drainage ditch/canal that runs parallel to the river and I often see ducks swimming there. I once saw River Otters in there.

On this day I spotted a pair of beautiful ducks, Hooded Mergansers. It was a sunny day so the light was very good for photography. the male is in the foreground with the female behind him.

Hooded Mergansers - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

I took advantage of the light to get some nice closeups of each of them.

Hooded Merganser - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

Hooded Merganser (F) - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

Further along the Hoodies were joined by a pair of Ring-necked Ducks. The male is in front followed by the female.

Ring-necked Ducks and Hooded Mergansers - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

Near the end of the path I was following there is a large duck pond bordered by a marsh. This is a good place to see Gadwall ducks in early spring. The female is front left.

Gadwall - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

These are dabbling ducks with the familiar head underwater and tail in the sky pose. At first they were taking turns doing this, but here's a shot of them both dabbling at the same time.

Gadwall - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

In the marsh, the male Red-winged Blackbirds were competing for territory. 

Red-winged Blackbird - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

On my way out I could see activity across the river on the other bank. It looked like there was some bathing activity going on.

Spotted Towhee - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

I'm not sure if this Song Sparrow had a dip or was looking for bugs in the water.

Song Sparrow - Colony Farm Regional Park, Coquitlam BC

The mirror in this last photo caught my eye as I was heading back to the parking lot.

That was it for the last weekend in March. As it turned out I had two more outings before April rolled in.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

March 25 Part 1 - Burnaby Lake and Maplewood

It was Saturday morning and I had the whole day for birding. I had heard about a possible Say's Phoebe at Maplewood Conservation area in North Vancouver. I decided to hit Burnaby Lake on the way, I needed a Fox Sparrow photo and this was a good place to get one.

Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

It was quite early and Burnaby Lake was not very busy, it usually becomes very crowded before noon. The location I visit is Piper Spit on the North side of the lake, accessible from Winston Ave in Burnaby. There is a boardwalk at Piper Spit that offers close access to the Ducks that frequent the Lake.

Piper Spit at Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

Just after parking my car I heard the familiar song of a Pacific Wren. Try as I might, I could not get a glimpse or photo. It was countable for 2017 as hearing a bird is acceptable under American Birding Association (ABA) guidelines. So this was 2017 Bird #86.

The photo below was taken at Deas Island Regional Park on Christmas Day 2016.

Pacific Wren

In the same area near the parking lot there were a couple of chickadees flitting around. This photo turned out quite well.

Black-capped Chickadee - Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

I walked out onto the Spit and spotted some Green-winged Teal. This is a great place to see these small ducks up close, they are close to the boardwalk and are accustomed to people.

Green-winged Teal Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

Another common small duck is the Wood Duck. Here's a close-up of a male/female pair.

Wood Duck Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

At the end of the pier  I have seen Pied-billed Grebes. Green Heron is an occasional sighting. Today there were a couple of Cormorants sunning themselves.

Double-crested Cormorant Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

The Red-winged Blackbird is a very common bird at Burnaby Lake. I've noticed that people here are feeding them seed out of their hand, just like chickadees. The female can be mistaken for a large sparrow. The Orange on the flanks is a good identifier for the Blackbird.

Red-winged Blackbird (F) Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

On my way back I checked the sides of the boardwalk carefully and eventually spotted a Fox Sparrow. I'd seen one in January but didn't have time to take a photo then. Today, there were a few around and I was able to catch them working in the leaf litter, searching for any morsel of food.

Fox Sparrow Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

This bird is quite similar to the Song Sparrow, but can be identified by the more rounded head, and the more strongly defined spots on the breast. The plumage is excellent camouflage for the habitat.

Fox Sparrow Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

For comparison, here's a Song Sparrow to show the difference in shape and plumage.

Song Sparrow - Burnaby Lake Regional Park, Burnaby BC

Maplewood Conservation Area

My next stop was North Vancouver, heading towards Deep Cove on Dollarton Highway. My luck has been spotty at this location, but I've had a few good days. Part of the problem here is that it is very well treed and the light does not reach many places.

As usual it was quiet when I started out. The Say's Phoebe(s) had been seen on the east and west saltmarshes. The east side was very quiet except for a few Spotted Towhees, which were camera shy. 

This photo is from the east side looking out onto Burrard Inlet.

I went to cross the bridge that divides East and West and stopped when I heard the familiar call of a Belted Kingfisher. This one was a male, as it was missing the orange/brown colouring on the breast.

Belted Kingfisher - Maplewood Conservation Area, North Vancouver BC

I met up with another birder and we circled the east side. We did not see or hear the Say's Phoebe, but as a consolation prize, we did see a Yellow-rumped Warbler, my first of the year.

Yellow-rumped Warbler - Maplewood Conservation Area, North Vancouver BC - 2017 Bird #87

This was it for Maplewood, another quiet day. I was not finished yet, I also stopped at Colony Farms Regional Park. That is detailed in the next post for March 25.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

March 19 - Reifel Rarity

I had a look at my spreadsheet of 2017 sightings and realized I was missing some of the common duck species. What better place to see them than Reifel Bird Sanctuary?

As soon as I entered, I checked out the house pond and spotted a male Gadwall. It was heading away and I took a couple of quick shots. The male is an understated duck, mostly gray with black and white on the wings. There's also a hint of Orange on the wings which shows a bit in this photo.

Gadwall - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #82

A couple of minutes later I saw some American Wigeon. I'm sure I'd seen them earlier in the year but had not recorded them. These are a colourful species, first a look at the male.

American Wigeon - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #83

Unlike many species where the female is quite drab, the female Wigeon has some colour, this photo does not do her justice.

American Wigeon (F) - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

Mallards are the most common duck at Reifel, this is one of my better photos of a male.

Mallard - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

I made my way west to the corner where the Owls hang out and was lucky to see a Northern Saw-whet Owl. It had it's back to the trail, but I caught it once when it was partially facing me, but with eyes closed.

Northern Saw-whet Owl - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

I was now out on the West Dyke and spotted numerous Tree Swallows flying above. However, they were moving too fast for a photo. Since they were not nesting yet, they seemed to remain in flight constantly. This was 2017 Bird #84. There will be many chances for photos during the spring.

Also above was this scary looking Northern Harrier.

Northern Harrier - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

The skies were busy as an young Bald Eagle also flew over.

Bald Eagle (Imm)  - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC

On my last trip to Reifel, I joined the Sunday morning bird walk. The walk is led by experienced birders and they usually find birds that others miss. I had not caught up with them yet and then saw them coming from the direction I was heading.  They had done a reverse loop on this day.

When I reached them, one of the leaders told me they had seen an American Bittern out in the open farther along the trail. This was a Holy Grail bird for me.

Last May I'd seen my lifer with my friend Mary-Jean out at Pitt Lake. It was a fleeting look while driving and Mary-Jean came up the ID on the following day. I saw one again at Pitt but again in flight. I hate having lifers with no photos.

I made my way along the trail as fast as I could and got to the spot. There was the Bittern, still out in the open.  This was a first for 2017 and my first photos ever.

American Bittern - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Delta BC - 2017 Bird #85

Bitterns are closely related to Herons and Egrets. They are normally very secretive and are crepuscular (more active around dawn and twilight). To see one out in the open around noon is quite a rarity.

The photos show how well camouflaged the bittern is. When it senses danger, it points its bill skyward to look more like a reed.

This one's on the hunt and the movie below shows what success it had.

I was just about at the end of my walk, the day had taken an unexpected turn for the spectacular.