Archive for Vancouver 2018

Apr
07

Vancouver Day Five: Steveston – Richmond Nature Park – Jericho Beach

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harbor seal

Perfect weather for harbor seals today here in Vancouver. For us, the rain was a welcome excuse for a late start — it was 9:30 by the time I picked Soheil up.

We started in Steveston, where mew gulls streamed over on their way, I suppose, to feast on earthworms in the wet fields. There was a small selection of ducks on the river, including red-breasted mergansers, and we enjoyed lingering close views of glaucous-winged and Olympic gulls loafing in the drizzle.

Olympic gull glaucous-winged

Soon it was too damp for us, so we headed to a place I’d never visited, Richmond Nature Park.

Richmond Nature Park in the rain

fox sparrow

We found comfortably dry seats beneath one of the picnic shelters, and watched as rufous and Anna hummingbirds darted between rain drops and fox and song sparrows scratched up the seed knocked from the feeders by the spotted towhees and purple finches.

purple finch

Among the many Oregon juncos was an especially pretty bird with symmetrical facial crescents, as if it were wearing a Prevost ground sparrow mask.

Oregon junco

To our surprise, at one point the sun came out, and the birds celebrated — with a bath, of course.

fox sparrow

sooty fox sparrow, Richmond, BC

We took advantage of the sudden change in the weather for a quick walk in what looks like a very birdy area indeed, then hopped back into the car for the drive to Jericho Beach.

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Just a short walk from our apartment in Kitsilano, Jericho was my neighborhood “patch” when we lived in Vancouver, and I was excited to see it again — even if the rain did set in again just as we arrived (and even if they still seem to have done nothing, absolutely nothing, about the off-leash dog problem).

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Though it wasn’t overly birdy, it was great to be walking a portion of my familiar route, watching pelagic cormorants and common goldeneye in the water of English Bay and bushtits in the blossoming trees. We were surprised to see only American wigeon on a first scan of the small flock, but eventually we found a single Eurasian wigeon on the edge of the pond; I remember excitedly reporting one here on our very first day in Vancouver, only to learn with some dispatch that the species is more common in this area than just about anywhere else in North America.

The rain grew steadier.

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Of all the places to seek shelter in the city, the UBC Museum of Anthropology may still be my favorite.

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There is vastly too much to look at in a single visit, and I long ago gave up trying, adopting the strategy instead of just looking at one object or two in the knowledge that I’ll be back. After all, it had been only seven years between this visit and the one before….

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Yes, tempus fugit, and this week fugit faster than most.

Birds

Canada Goose, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser

elagic Cormorant, Double-crested Cormorant

Common Loon

 

Great Blue Heron

Northern Harrier, Cooper Hawk, Bald Eagle

 

Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull

Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Mourning Dove

Anna’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird

Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker

Peregrine Falcon

Northwestern Crow, Common Raven

Violet-green Swallow, Purple Martin

Black-capped Chickadee

Bushtit

Pacific Wren, Bewick Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

American Robin

European Starling

 

Oregon Towhee, Song Sparrow, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Oregon Junco, White-crowned Sparrow

Western Meadowlark, Red-winged Blackbird

House Finch, Purple Finch

Mammals

Eastern Gray Squirrel

European Rabbit

Harbor Seal

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Apr
06

Vancouver Day Four: Blackie Spit – Mount Seymour

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Mount Seymour

A day of wonderful contrasts and wonderfuller birds, from sea level along the shores of Boundary Bay to the hemlock and red cedar forests of Mount Seymour. We started on a misty early morning at Blackie Spit, a site I hadn’t been to very many times but that I hoped would produce some good shorebird watching.

Blackie Spit

We wound up seeing only six individual shorebirds (!), plus a heard-only black-bellied plover. But you’d have to be a churlish birder indeed to complain about greater yellowlegs, black oystercatchers, and the traditional stars of a Blackie Spit winter, marbled godwits.

marbled godwit, Eurasian wigeon

Those big prairie pipers are spectacular enough on their own, but it’s twice the fun to see what strange roost-fellows they come up with. This morning the two godwits were sticking close to a little flock of Eurasian wigeon (with a few American wigeon mixed in), creating some disconcerting views.

Eurasian wigeon

Just as interesting, to me au moins, was a female purple martin, notably early for the location.

purple martin, Blackie Spit

She spent much of the morning sitting stoic in the mist, while a bald eagle dried its wings, cormorant-like, a couple of feet away.

Out on the waters of Boundary Bay, the many common loons were joined by a few horned grebes and red-necked grebes.

red-necked grebe

I enjoyed seeing all three species in breeding plumage, and wondered whether perhaps the red-necked grebes would be moving inland to Pilot Bay, where their weird summertime quacking is the constant background to quiet Kootenay camping trips.

By noon the mist had turned to light drizzle. A lunch break in White Rock was a chance to negotiate our afternoon plans. There was risk involved — rain down here could mean snow up there — but given tomorrow’s weather forecast, this might be our last chance to get up Mount Seymour for a taste of the higher-elevation forests.

Soheil birding Mount Seymour

It was very quiet up at the ski lift parking lot, where only the croaks of a common raven and the cackling of northern flickers broke the silence. We turned back down the mountain, carefully and mostly unsuccessfully checking the edges of the roads and scraped parking lots for bird. From one lot, while we were watching a raven and a lone and lonely Oregon junco, we heard the deep booming of a sooty grouse; the fog made it impossible to find the bird, even though it sounded like his song perch was not far away.

Mount Seymour

To our delight, a band of sunshine crossed the mountain when we arrived at the lower picnic area, and our walk there through the lush, damp forest was fantastically beautiful, a hint that true spring is on its way.

Mount Seymour

Another sooty grouse hooted and boomed from the hillside, and a cute little Pacific wren paused in its busy scurrying to sing a few times. A few varied thrushes played hide and seek on the edges, while a frantic flock of fifteen or twenty chestnut-backed chickadees fed their way through the long catkins of the tall alder trees.

soheil watching Pacific wren

The bird list was short today, I suppose. But the birding was great.

Birds

Canada Goose, American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser

Sooty Grouse

Common Loon

Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk

Black Oystercatcher

Black-bellied Plover

Greater Yellowlegs, Marbled Godwit

Mew Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull

Rock Pigeon, Band-tailed Pigeon

Anna’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird

Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker

Northwestern Crow, Common Raven

Violet-green Swallow, Purple Martin

Black-capped Chickadee, Chestnut-backed Chickadee

Bushtit

Pacific Wren

American Robin, Varied Thrush

Golden-crowned Kinglet, Ruby-crowned Kinglet

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Audubon’s Warbler

Oregon Towhee, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Oregon Junco, Golden-crowned Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow

Red-winged Blackbird

House Finch, Purple Finch, American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Mammals

Harbor Seal

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Apr
05

Vancouver Day Three: Swartz Bay Ferry – Tsawassen Jetty – Stanley Park

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Swartz Bay

Dark, dim, and drizzly: the perfect day to bird from the comfort of a ferry across the Salish Sea. Soheil and I caught the first sailing from Tsawassen this morning, then rode straight back, giving us two shots at Active Pass.

California sea lion

We didn’t see the particular mammals for which this crossing is famous, but harbor seals and California sea lions are a treat even when the black and white cetaceans stand you up. If birding was not quite as good as I’ve seen it on the route, it’s still always fun to see good numbers of pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets, along with a very few marbled murrelets and just two common murres.

pigeon guillemot

Surf, white-winged, and black scoters were in good supply, too, as were Bonaparte and mew gullsPacific loons were scarce, only three or four total, but what they lacked in abundance they made up for in nice close views on our way back to the mainland. Brandt cormorants were present in small numbers on the channel markers; our best views of Brandts were actually at the Tsawassen terminal, where a few perched on the breakwaters among the abundant pelagic cormorants.

black turnstone

The rain was steadier still when we arrived back at Tsawassen, so we decided to bird the lower jetty road from the car. The experience was very different from yesterday: only a handful of black brant were in sight, and even gull numbers were low. Black oystercatchers were still carrying on in the air above us, though, groups of three performing their “piping” displays above the road and the water, wing beats shallow and stiff and wide-open bills pointing to the ground. And with the tide falling, we found a flock of 22 black turnstones on the cobble beach, where they fed utterly unconcerned about us and only slightly wary of the two off-leash dogs running the road.

black turnstone

We’d had an early start to the day, and were wet and cold in spite of the layers we’d piled on, so pulled in to Circle O for a very late breakfast. Time and traffic looked good for a drive across Vancouver and a visit to Stanley Park, where I hoped there might be some birds at the few parking lots with good views.

Stanley Park

Unfortunately, the rain had grown even heavier, and we had to limit ourselves to brief excursions out of the car, where we saw just the usual birds: Barrows and common goldeneye and surf scoters were the best of the ducks, while our passerine encounters were nearly non-existent.

Tomorrow we’re supposed to be back to Vancouver sunshine, so we’ve planned to do a couple of sites where we can walk our legs back into functioning after a day on and in vehicles. Should be fantastic, as each day so far has been.

Birds

Black Brant, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, American Wigeon, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser

Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Loon

Horned Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant, Brandt Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk

Black Oystercatcher

Black Turnstone

Rhinoceros Auklet, Marbled Murrelet, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot

Mew Gull, California Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Bonaparte Gull

Rock Pigeon

Northwestern Crow

Black-capped Chickadee

American Robin

European Starling

Oregon Towhee, Song Sparrow, Oregon Junco

 

Mammals

Eastern Gray Squirrel

California Sea Lion, Harbor Seal

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Apr
04

Vancouver Day Two: Tsawassen – Maplewood Flats – Point Roberts

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Port Roberts from Tsawassen jetty

Another great day, though the weather was less welcoming than yesterday’s. When I set out to pick Soheil up about 7:15, the clouds were high and thin, but we birded the Tsawassen jetty in occasional sprinkles and mist, Maplewood Flats in light rain, and Port Roberts — on the other side of the international boundary — in steady rain. But who cares? Lots of birds!

We timed it to arrive at Tsawassen with a good hour and a half of rising tide, hoping that the water would push some shorebirds into sight on the rocks. It’s worked before, but not this morning: the flock of half a thousand dunlin and a hundred or more black-bellied plover stayed out of sight most of the time, visible only when it was startled into flight by some activity at the ferry terminal.

Black oystercatcher

Black oystercatchers, happily, were more obliging. A pair was roosting on a gravel bar in the little mitigation marsh, and at one point a mad chase took place over our heads, with two trios flying low overhead with shallow, stylized wingbeats and incessant piping calls, bills pointed downward. The loafing pair wasn’t much interested in joining in, but instead flew over to the jetty beneath us, tucking their bills in disdain for their fellows who hadn’t got down to the serious business of napping as quickly as they did.

Lots of pelagic cormorants, common goldeneye, and horned grebes shared the waters with white-winged scotersgreater scaup, and a few common loons. The great spectacle, as usual at the site, was the black brant flock, hundreds of birds on the water, in the air, and on the gravel bars.

black brant, Tsawassen, BC

Other waterfowl may be more colorful, but few are as elegantly attired as these somber beauties.

The weather seemed to be getting no worse, so we decided to make hay while the … well, that isn’t really suitable for Vancouver; in any event, we drove north to Maplewood Flats, hoping for a pleasant walk and some birding. We had both, though the rain was noticeably heavier by the time we’d walked as far as the little salt marsh.

Maplewood Flats

Shorebirds were disappointing here, too (read: absent), but there was a good selection of ducks on the water, including both common and Barrow’s goldeneye and at least one dapper male Eurasian wigeon.

Eurasian wigeon, Maplewood Flats

The feeders were busy with dozens of Oregon juncos and American goldfinches; a fine male rufous hummingbird fed from the flowers, and the couple of pine siskins we found were our first for the trip, as was a ruby-crowned kinglet high in the cottonwood twigs. A very pleasant surprise was two male mountain bluebirds in the marsh, hunting the spartina as if it were buffalo grass.

mountain bluebird, Maplewood Flats

This was only the second time I’d seen that species in Vancouver, after an early morning encounter on Jericho Beach when we lived in Kitsilano.

Fish and chips called, and we watched the rain settle in for real as we ate. The postprandial stroll we’d planned lost its allure with each raindrop; we decided instead to drive down to Point Roberts, that little disjunct dab of Washington State. I’d been there before only to mail packages, and was excited to get to bird this famous spot in spite of the drizzle.

Point Roberts, Washington

It was wet enough by the time we arrived at Lighthouse Park in the late afternoon that we simply sat in the car and watched the birds go by. And the mammals, too: we had at least five California sea lions, that many of more harbor seals, and a good dozen or more harbor (apparently) porpoises. Long-tailed ducks and surf scoters flew by continually, as did plenty of pelagic cormorants and black brant. I’m eager to go back sometime when it’s a little warmer and a little dryer — it would pay off well, I think.

Tomorrow morning, with more rain in the forecast, we’re going to start by taking the ferry to Victoria and back, then see if we can find something indoor to do. My vote: the anthropology museum at UBC, where we’re certain to see birds, too.

Birds

Black Brant, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, American Wigeon, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser

Red-throated Loon, Common Loon

Horned Grebe

Double-crested Cormorant, Brandt’s Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant

Great Blue Heron

Turkey Vulture

Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk

Black Oystercatcher

Black-bellied Plover

Dunlin, Greater Yellowlegs

Rhinoceros Auklet

Mew Gull, California Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull

Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove

Rufous Hummingbird

Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker

Northwestern Crow

Violet-green Swallow, Tree Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Bewick’s Wren

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Mountain Bluebird, American Robin

European Starling

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Oregon Towhee, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Oregon Junco

Red-winged Blackbird

House Finch, Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Mammals

Eastern Gray Squirrel, Douglas Squirrel

California Sea Lion, Harbor Seal

Harbor Porpoise

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Apr
03

Vancouver Day One: Steveston – Iona – Reifel Refuge

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What a blast! I picked Soheil up at his lodgings in Richmond a bit after 7:00 this morning, taking the time to enjoy northwestern crows on the way down; I’d expected rain, but there was just the barest hint of a sprinkle on my early morning drive, and though the chill never lifted, all day long we stayed dry — and even saw some sunshine by the time we enjoyed an early supper this evening under the watchful eyes of Ladner’s bald eagles.

I’d heard that white-winged crossbills were to be found in Steveston, so we zipped down there to start our morning’s birding. We stepped out of the car to the songs of Puget Sound white-crowned sparrows (yea) and Eurasian collared-doves (less yea), but after a few minutes of hearing and seeing nothing loxiac, walked the few feet down to the river. Glaucous-winged and mew gulls loafed on logs in the water, while several bald eagles kept the ducks busy; one of the eagles missed all the fun, assigned instead to incubating or brooding the contents of one of the huge riverside nests. A big, big-nosed pinniped moving through the water was probably a California sea lion.

rufous hummingbird

The lawn of the condo complex behind us was hopping, too. A suet feeder proved irresistible to a couple of pairs of bushtits, and the first of the day’s half dozen rufous hummingbirds was here, too — all but one of them were males, a couple of them in vigorous “shuttling” display.

varied thrush

The manicured bluegrass itself provided the feeding ground for a fine varied thrush, which eventually gave up being admired and flew up into the bare tree above our heads, where he sang several times that eeriest of Pacific northwest bird songs.

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The sparrow flock was shyer, but we had great looks at Lincoln, song, sooty foxgolden-crowned, and Puget Sound white-crowned sparrows, all popping out onto the grass to feed for a moment or two before taking refuge again in the hedge.

song sparrow morphna

Wonderful to be back in a place where golden-crowned is the most abundant passerellid, the song sparrows are red, and the fox sparrows are plain-headed.

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The biggest surprise was a flock of 34 swans that flew overhead, not trumpeting but whistling as they passed. I was too startled to make entirely certain that all of the birds were tundra swans or if perhaps there were just a few vocal birds of that species joining up with the much more expected trumpeters; tundras are rarish birds here, and we were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. We would not see any trumpeter swans until the last stop of our day, when we found sixty or seventy loafing off Westham Island.

I could have spent the rest of the week there, and we will certainly drop back by at some point to have another listen for the crossbills, but there are even birdier, even more scenic sites around Vancouver than condominium parking lots.

Iona

With an eye on the tide tables, we dashed north to Iona, where spotted towhees, another rufous hummingbird, and a few hundred noisy snow geese greeted us. The ponds were full of water and full of ducks: pinwheeling northern shovelers, elegant northern pintail and ring-necked ducks, and busily feeding lesser scaup by the hundreds.

northern pintail

Sparrows of what were now the expected species fed on the roads, and flyovers included my first violet-green swallows of the year and a surprise western meadowlark.

If the meadowlark was a surprise, the American minks were a shock.

American mink

Soheil saw the first one while I was busy with song sparrows; a few minutes later we saw it or another, and a few minutes later three more or less together on the path. As we watched, one of them dropped into the water and re-emerged with a dead, probably long-dead, duck, holding it tight in its teeth as it dragged it backwards across the trail, only to lose its prize when an adult bald eagle dropped out of nowhere to steal the corpse and send the mink, lucky not to have been the eagle’s second course, scampering into the next pond.

We walked out and around the “outer” pond, where marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds were busy staking out their territories and a nice flock of tree and violet-green swallows skimmed and drank in front of us.

Iona outer pond

We’d planned to head out the jetty, too, but the rapidly ebbing tide and the cold breeze off the Salish Sea convinced us that there probably weren’t many birds out there anyway. So how about Reifel?

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The place was insane, as always, with the pushy half-tame mallards joined by ducks of several other species, sparrows, and blackbirds in the rush for birdseed.

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We braved our way through the madding crowd, pausing to admire a rare black-crowned night-heron at its sullen roost, and headed out to the foreshore. Another flock of snow geese did its best to deafen us, watched closely by as many as fifty-five bald eagles perched out on the tidal flat.

Oregon junco

The real show at Reifel this afternoon, though, was the northern harriers. We’d seen scattered birds all day here and there, but as afternoon ceded to early evening, the big cattail marshes gave up their store of long-winged hawks; eventually we were watching at least five, including two beautiful silver males. It made us wonder how many owls were waiting on the ground out there for the sun to set.

We wouldn’t find out: Reifel has an early curfew, and I was cold and hungry. We stopped in Ladner for supper, fish and chips while we watched eagles fly up and down the water out our window. In the sunshine. Tomorrow is going to be a great day!

Birds

Snow Goose, Canada Goose, Trumpeter Swan, Tundra Swan, Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, Mallard, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser

Double-crested Cormorant

Great Blue Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron

Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk

Virginia Rail, American Coot

Killdeer

Wilson’s Snipe

Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull

Rock Pigeon, Eurasian Collared-Dove

Rufous Hummingbird

Northern Flicker

Northwestern Crow

Violet-green Swallow, Tree Swallow

Black-capped Chickadee

Bushtit

Marsh Wren

American Robin

Varied Thrush

European Starling

Cedar Waxwing

Oregon Towhee, Sooty Fox Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Puget Sound Sparrow, Gambel’s Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Oregon Junco

Red-winged Blackbird, Western Meadowlark, Brewer’s Blackbird

House Finch, American Goldfinch

House Sparrow

Mammals

American Mink

Eastern Gray Squirrel

California Sea Lion

 

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