Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sunshine Coast Big Weekend (Feb 4/5)

Feb 4—This morning I woke up at 4:50am to catch a series of buses from my friend’s house in East Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay, in time to catch the first ferry to Langdale. As the sun rose over Howe Sound, the snow-capped mountains lit up the sky, reflected perfectly by the glass-calm waters around Gambier Island. Once on land, Sechelt birder Alexis Harrington and fellow Vancouverite David Hodkison were waiting for me. I hopped in the car and we were off—bent on breaking the February “Big Day” record for the Sunshine Coast (70 species), set in 1987 by Tony Greenfield. Yep, the “February Sunshine Coast Big Day” record… this is a big deal! What better way to spend a sunny Saturday in the “doldrums” of winter.

Our first stop was the Gibsons Marina, where we picked up a few easy waterbirds like COMMON GOLDENEYE, PACIFIC LOON, and MALLARD. We were pleased to pick out a few CACKLING GEESE in a flock of CANADA GEESE, then we realised there was also a single SNOW GOOSE present. If that wasn’t enough, just as we were about to pull away, a group of 4 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE came in for a landing! Not a bad start!
Next we drove westward along Gower Point Road, stopping at Gospel Rock—a nice look-out over Georgia Strait and Keats Island. Here we picked up all 3 MERGANSER species, our only COMMON MURRES of the day, and a few more ducks like SURF SCOTER, BUFFLEHEAD, and BARROW’S GOLDENEYE. On some far-off islets, we scoped some BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS and BLACK TURNSTONES.

[4 species of geese are in this photo, although the Cackler is somewhat hidden]

Although there was bright sun along much of the southern coast today, the closer we got to Roberts Creek, the thicker a band of marine fog got. At Chaster’s Beach (still in Gibson’s), we could only see about 30m offshore. This would definitely hurt our seabird tally for the day, but still we were able to pick up the first BLACK SCOTERS of the day, along with HORNED GREBE, COMMON LOON, and HARLEQUIN DUCK.
Next stop was the Roberts Creek Jetty (of 21,000 Ancient Murrelets fame), where we had hoped to pick up a few alcids etc., but with thick fog, we had to settle for a single AMERICAN DIPPER in the middle of the creek.

[Taking advantage of Roberts Creek's vibrant biking scene, this dipper has found a nice perch from which to scope out unwary invertebrates]

In the forested area nearby we picked ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD, VARIED THRUSH, PACIFIC WREN, and a few other inland birds.

The Sechelt Airport was fairly quiet, but we did see out only COOPER’S HAWK of the day—a nice adult keeping an eye on a flock of DARK-EYED JUNCOS and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES nearby… probably too small for a meal.

After a quick coffee-break, we hit the Wilson Creek Estuary which is a great spot for waterbirds and sparrows. Although the fog was still thick, we picked up our only GREEN-WINGED TEALS of the day, floating out in the middle of the estuary, along with our first BELTED KINGFISHER of the day. The best bird here though was a single LINCOLN’s SPARROW that came in to my pishing. This is apparently the 2nd February record for the Sunshine Coast. This certainly has been a great “Linky” winter.

[The foggy Wilson Creek Estuary]

Upon arriving at Mission Point in Davis Bay, we were disappointed to see the massive flock of gulls fly off over the city, scared by a pair of BALD EAGLES. This would cost us a few species, as we only ever had Glaucous-winged and Mew Gull on the day. Luckily, our number-one target: ROCK SANDPIPER did not disappoint. 2 of these local specialties were picked out amongst a feeding flock of 85 BLACK TURSTONES and 1 SURFBIRD.
[David and I scoping his lifer Rock... Sandpiper!]

Willow Pt on Porpoise Bay was our next stop. Although this inlet is on the north side of Sechelt, the fog was thick here also, so we had trouble scoping through the wigeon for the staked out Eurasian—we never did see it. We did however pick up both GREATER and LESSER SCAUP, along with a pair of RED-THROATED LOONS, and our first STELLER’S JAYS of the day.

A quick walk through Sechelt Marsh was fairly quiet, but I was excited to finally get my first BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES for the Sunshine Coast (a rare bird here!).

[The rare endemic known as the "Lesser-tailed Sparrow"]

From Sechelt, we headed inland and uphill to the area known as “The Shores.” Here we counted 8 WILSON’S SNIPE (the record-breaker!) in a wet field, along with a few KILLDEER. Other than a few bits n’ bobs, it was fairly quiet up there. On the way back to the coast, we passed the new Sunshine Coast Botanical Gardens. Once again it was quiet, but finally the sun was poking through the fog, and so it was fitting that we finally spotted a HUTTON’S VIREO squeaking away in a Western Hemlock.

The mouth of Wakefield Creek produced our first RED-NECKED GREBE then further NW a stop at Sargeant’s Bay delivered VIRGINIA RAIL. We were now running low on light, so we burned it up to Ruby Lake where we picked of 3 out of our 4 targets, nabbing RING-NECKED DUCK, PIED-BILLED GREBE, and AMERICAN COOT but missing Wood Duck (which are probably all gone for the winter anyway).

Our final stop of the day was Secret Cove, Lexi’s old stompin’ grounds. Just when it appeared we were going to leave empty-handed, Lexi picked up a distant flock of WESTER GREBES to put our daily total at 79 species--not bad considering the poor visibility out on the water. After a long drive back to Sechelt, we were all pretty exhausted so opted to enjoy some dinner and a few drinks instead of owling. Nothing wrong with celebrating the biggest February birding day in SC history!

Feb 5—Today I had the great pleasure of leading a morning outing for the local naturalist club. Everyone met at Roberts Creek, and there was a good turnout. This time, the fog burned off pretty quickly so our views out into the Strait were great. The water was calm and sure enough, there were birds out there! COMMON MURRES were picked out right away, then I spotted a single RHINOCEROS AUKLET come in for a landing. Although many were too far for identification, there were plenty of MURRELETS out on the water—mostly MARBLED by the looks of it. The AMERICAN DIPPER was still playing around in the creek, and a decent flock of 50+ SURFBIRDS and ~40 BLACK TURNSTONES came in to feed although unfortunately there were no Rockpipers mixed in.

From here we followed a similar route to yesterday, heading to Wilson Creek, Mission Point, then Sechelt Marsh. Inland things were very quiet, but we did well on the water, getting good views of LONG-TAILED DUCKS, RED-THROATED LOONS, WESTERN GREBES, and RED-NECKED GREBES. This time the gull flock stuck around at Mission Point, so after some careful scoping we were able to pick out 4 HERRING GULLS and at least 1 THAYER’S GULLS (which are surprisingly scarce on this side of the Strait).

After lunch, two of the Coast’s young phenoms—Kaidon Bosch and Rick Wagner—took me and a few other keeners to see a ROCK WREN that has been frequenting the beach in front of Kai’s aunt and uncles place. This is a very rare bird on the coast, especially in winter, but this is in fact the second one Kai has found in the last year! We spread out, and it didn’t take long until I caught a quick movement in the corner of my eye, and out he popped!

I can’t think of a better way to spend a sunny (albeit sometimes foggy!) weekend. The seabirds are great, the shorebirds are great, and the people are the greatest!

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