The city of Burnaby is not widely considered a hotspot for birding. As a kid growing up in Kitsilano then later the Okanagan, I knew it only as “not quite in Vancouver yet” or “the place Joe Sakic is from.” I was always baffled by signs that labeled it “The Lake City” as I could see no hint of natural splendor as I sped past on Hwy 1.
Well now I know better! I am now officially a Burnibite… Burnabian? Burnabeast? And although, yes, it is still pretty much a series of suburbs and condos… there are actually lakes here! In the past week or so I have been able to start exploring a little bit—finding the area quite birdy indeed! On my first trip to Burnaby Lake, I was surprised to find how confiding the resident Green-winged Teal and Wood Ducks were. Even at Reifel Refuge where most other ducks are quite tame, the teal and wood ducks still avoid humans when possible—but here they take seed practically out of children’s hands!
On my second trip to Burnaby Lake I was rewarded almost instantly by a local rarity—RUSTY BLACKBIRD! Not a bad start… I’m liking this town!
So to really kick-off my Burnaby birding career in style, I decided to try a “Burnaby Big Day”—an attempt to see as many species in 1 day without leaving the municipality of Burnaby. Perhaps November is not the best time to try this but what better way to get introduced to all the ornithological nooks and crannies? To aid in this quest, I enlisted the help of local young phenom, Jess Findlay, who proved invaluable in showing me the local back-roads and hotspots, as well as helpfully pointing out that the Ruby-crowned Kinglet I had just called in was “actually a Hutton’s Vireo… duh.”
BURNABY BIG DAY REPORT
The day started off around 8am at my house of course. NORTHWESTERN CROW, NORTHERN FLICKER, SONG SPARROW, and HOUSE FINCH were ticked off the list in short-order… a great start! Things picked up at the Findlay residence, thanks to a feeder and the fact that they have more than one tree in their yard. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, PURPLE FINCH, CHESNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE, and VARIED THRUSH (among others) all became victims of our keen eyes and ears. I don’t mean to brag, but we were up to 13 species and we hadn’t even stopped at Tim Horton’s yet!
Surprisingly, Timmy’s yielded our only EUROPEAN STARLINGS of the day, as well as our first BALD EAGLE. In hindsight we probably should have stuck around for House Sparrow as we eventually missed that one… ooooooo… but who really wants to “try” for that one?
Just as we had carefully planned minutes beforehand, the list really picked up when we reached Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake. Out on the water, we scoped close to 40 HOODED MERGANSERS, along with scads of AMERICAN COOT, MALLARD, WOOD DUCK, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, RING-NECKED DUCK, LESSER SCAUP, BUFFLEHEAD (phewf, we were worried about that one), 7 PIED-BILLED GREBES, a few DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS (listed as "casual in fall" on the checklist---someone should update that!), and at least 5 HORNED GREBES (this species was until recently a rare commodity in the city but has benefited from the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in the dredging of Burnaby Lake for the rowing club).
The trails around Piper Spit gave us a few more woodland species including HUTTON’S VIREO, BEWICK’S WREN, and HAIRY WOODPECKER.
Next we made a quick stop at the Rowing Club at the east end of the lake. Here we nabbed another couple HORNED GREBES along with the much anticipated LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER flock along with a lone GREATER YELLOWLEGS. We didn’t immediately see the large goose flock that has been hanging around near “Joe Sakic Way” but were relieved to find a single CACKLING GOOSE mixed in with a small Canada flock on the side of some road somewhere nearby.
Jess had a dentist appointment so I dropped him back at his house and proceeded to the nearby Squint Lake/Eagle Creek Golf Club. I put in a solid effort here since this is only a few blocks from my house—a birder must know his/her patch! The first GADWALL of the day (as pre-scouted by Jess) was on Squint Lake, along with a lone CACKLING GOOSE… already seen it—damn! In the woods along Eagle Creek I bumped into a female ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD and managed to call in a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER with my barred owl hoots.
Next I headed up Burnaby Mountain—a location that is probably hopping in spring and fall migration but was decidedly quiet today. A single HERMIT THRUSH was a nice addition, although unfortunately I could not hear or see any of the hoped for grosbeaks or crossbills. Jess called with news that he was “frozen-up but ready to bird” so I headed downhill and picked him up.
[Below: Hermit Thrush wondering why I'm hooting like a Sooty Grouse]
Now it was time to visit Burnaby’s only stretch of saltwater (sliver of of Burrard Inlet)—at Barnet Marine Park. MEW GULL was added instantly, then after some careful scanning we picked up PELAGIC CORMORANT, COMMON LOON, and RED-NECKED GREBE. We parked illegally further east at some industrial marina complex, where our first CALIFORNIA GULL could not escape my scraping pencil… in my notebook that is. We could see a large work-up of gulls in the distance but were devastated to realize that they were actually in Port Moody…. NOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
No worries, on to the gull hotspot of Burnaby—the Deer Lake playground! Here we picked up a few more CALIFORNIA GULLS, along with numerous RING-BILLED GULLS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. A single THAYER’S GULL was a pleasant find, although the pre-scouted 3rd cycle Herring Gull did not perform today… bahhhh. Our first COMMON MERGANSERS were tallied out on Deer Lake itself, along with a good variety of other previously-check-off species. Just as we were about to leave, a flock of geese flew by and I noticed one was white… I love that feeling… “SNOW GOOSE!” And as luck would have it, the bird just to the left of the snow was a GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE. Splendid.
[Below: Strange immature Glaucous-winged Gull with pale yellow bill]
On to the meadows of Deer Lake-west. It started raining at this point but we trudged on; Jess got soaked checking for owls in conifers and flushing up RING-NECKED PHEASANTS, while I stayed close to the path and tested out the first umbrella I’ve ever owned… we make a good team. We tried for Virginia Rail at a few cattail marshes nearby but no dice.
We decided to try again at the Rowing Club at Burnaby Lake and this paid off with our only KILLDEER of the day… boooya! At dusk we finished off at Piper Spit… nothing new. Time for a quick dinner break—then onto “Birder’s Night” put on by Nature Vancouver.
After this social evening, we realized we were missing something big… not House Sparrow, or American Goldfinch, or the handful of other “easy” species we should have already seen… we didn’t have a single owl on our list. And ANYONE who has ever done a big day knows that “it’s not a big day unless you see at least one owl.” So off we went, into the foggy night of Deer Lake. We tried whistling and hooting for a variety of species, but it seemed that we might have to give up… at least at this location. Just as we started walking back though--- “WHO COOKS FOR YOU! WHO COOKS FOR YOU—AWWW!!” A female BARRED OWL! Ya Baby! Then the male answered, and we were able to make out his silhouette against the moonlit fog… I really need to invest in a flashlight, but still this was an awesome experience as always. Coming from the hot dry Okanagan, I don’t see or hear too many of these dark-eyed beauties.
So that was the day… 8am-midnight. 74 species in early November in the city of Burnaby! I suppose I could get used to this!