A Twitch and an Owl

Who else out there knows that sinking feeling when you show up for a field trip in the worst possible weather–and there are people waiting for you? And who understands how just a few seconds of birding with friends can make the worst weather disappear and the day brighten?

That was our experience this morning at Kitsilano Point and Vanier Park. It was miserable when I arrived, but the four of us put up our hoods and had a great time–and the weather actually improved, with a patch of dry sky mid-morning and nothing really worse than mist by the time we broke up at 11:00.

As usual, waterfowl provided the major highlights. The strange Bufflehead x Common Goldeneye hybrid was bobbing around at very close range, giving us great looks at this strikingly beautiful bird; Alison and I had seen it yesterday afternoon on our scouting, too, so I was glad it deigned to perform for the group this morning. A drake Eurasian Wigeon was on the Vanier pond–yesterday afternoon we’d also found a female, but she was sensibly tucked up somewhere out of the rain.

The scoter flock was very close to shore this morning, hundreds of Surf Scoters forming and reforming their lines and blobs and clusters. At least half a dozen White-winged Scoters were mixed in, and the morning’s real prize was a female Black Scoter, the first for me on English Bay of a species said to have been hugely abundant there not that many years ago.

So a great morning in great company, and  with the rain tapering off, I met Daniel at the eagle-adorned totem pole (real Bald Eagles, not just carved ones) and stopped quickly at home for another waterproof layer before heading south to Alaksen. We pulled in just to find a small group of birders leaving. Smiling birders. Happy birders. And we shared their delight when we found the lingering Yellow-breasted Chat right away, not just near but actually under the breezeway leading to the offices. She (a dull lore) was even vocalizing, giving a chat-like buzz and wheeze as she fed on the ground and in the open trees. Poor Karen, trying to get from one building to the other, was stranded for some moments as she very generously waited for us to tire or the chat to fly off–the latter occurred before the former, but not before we’d had splendid views of a major December rarity.

Where to next? Skies were brightening, so we decided to go looking for owls nearby. Big ones eluded us, but our 700th or so search of a trailside holly turned up a splotch of whitewash and its snoozing author.

This was my first living Northern Saw-whet Owl of the year, and one of the sweetest little creatures of 2010 so far. And of course we paused on the way back out Westham Island Road for a look at the Northern Hawk Owl, making for a pretty good strigid day on top of a pretty good warbler day on top of a pretty good waterfowl day.

I like BC in December, I’ve decided.