Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Feb 13: Vancouver Big Day (131 species)

[Black-crowned Night-Heron having a soak----Reifel Refuge]

Last Monday, Jeremiah Kennedy, Jess Findlay and I set out to set a new Canadian 24-hour record for birding in Canada. From 430am to 1030pm, we scoured the birding hotspots around Vancouver in search of new species for the day. The all-time Canadian February record was 109--we beat that fairly easily-- but we really wanted to beat the all-time winter record (127) which was set in around Vancouver several years ago (in January).

Making this attempt in February has a few advantages (like slightly longer days) over Jan and Dec but it also has many drawbacks. Some early migrants are starting to show up (e.g. Canvasback+Barn Swallow), but many lingering birds from fall or rarities turned up during the CBCs are long-gone or a lot harder to find than earlier in the winter (e.g. alcids, shorebirds, warblers, Lincoln's Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Brown-headed Cowbird etc).

It is fairly easy to run up a day-list of ~90 species if you're willing to bird dawn to dusk around Vancouver, while hitting all of the top places. To get 120+ however is much tougher. Knowing bird distribution in the area in question is critical. You must construct an itinerary that maximizesthe bird species possibilities while saving the most amount of time. With limited light in the winter, time-management is critical-- and you must keep several important factors in mind such as weather, tide-times, and traffic delays. We did this on a Monday so were slowed up on several occasions waiting to pass over bridges/tunnels etc. A weekend would probably be better but then again... we figured the weather would be better on Monday than on the weekend.

In a rushed, all-out attempt like this, you see some great birds but you also miss some common things! This day was no different. Despite picking up local winter rarities like CINNAMON TEAL, REDHEAD, GYRFALCON, SORA, TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, and SNOW BUNTING, we also managed to somehow miss Pied-billed Grebe, Ring-necked Pheasant, Peregrine Falcon, Bushtit, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Red Crossbill!

There were many great birding moments-- too many to recount today I'm afraid. Some highlights include nabbing both Townsend's Solitaire and Hermit Thrush before 730am, watching Snowy Owls at night on Boundary Bay, hearing/watching 3 Barn Owls interacting with each-other along 96th Street(Boundary Bay), and 2 great spurts of new birds at key locations--#1 Serpentine Fen, where we stopped in on a whim and picked up all 3 hoped-for tough-species (Cinnamon Teal, American Kestrel, Northern Shrike)--#2: Near the end of the day when we weren't sure if we'd have enough to break the record, Iona came through, where we picked up 7 new species in less than 10 minutes, including SORA and BARN SWALLOW.

FUN FACT: Only 6 American states have achieved a higher Feb day-total (Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, California, and Texas)

Below is a break-down of the itinerary and the new birds we saw (in chronological order)-->

0515-0540 Richmond: Mallard

0550-0620 Sea Island/Iona Island: American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Virginia Rail, Dunlin, Canada Goose, Northern Saw-Whet Owl

0650-0725 Queen Elizabeth Park (East Vancouver): Glaucous-winged Gull, Varied Thrush, Pacific Wren, Song Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Brown Creeper, HERMIT THRUSH, American Robin, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northwestern Crow, Bewick’s Wren, Dark-eyed Junco, TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, Black-capped Chickadee, Fox Sparrow, Gadwall

0730-0735 East Van bird feeders: European Starling, Pine Siskin, House Finch, (Slate-coloured Junco), EVENING GROSBEAK, Steller’s Jay, Rock Pigeon

0745-0750 Richmond (Hwy 99): Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker

0805 Deas Slough: Great Blue Heron

0810-0815 Delta (Hwy 99): Ring-billed Gull, Brewer’s Blackbird, Trumpeter Swans, Mew Gull, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Red-winged Blackbird

0820-0835: 40th Ave (South Surrey): House Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Northern Harrier, LINCOLN’S SPARROW, Double-crested Cormorant, Red-breasted Merganser, Belted Kingfisher, Common Merganser, Red-throated Loon

0845-0900: Elgin Heritage Park: American Goldfinch, Killdeer, Merlin, Hooded Merganser, Northern Shoveler, Downy Woodpecker, American Coot

0903-0920 Blackie Spit: Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Horned Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Bufflehead, Long-tailed Duck, Brant, Common Loon, Pacific Loon, Common Goldeneye, Greater Yellowlegs, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Scaup, MARBLED GODWIT, LONG-BILLED CURLEW

0922-932 Crescent Beach: Ruddy Duck, COMMON MURRE, Pelagic Cormorant, SANDERLING

0940-1007 White Rock Beach: Barrow’s Goldeneye, WESTERN GULL, EARED GREBE, Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter, Western Grebe, SNOW BUNTING

1015-1020 Sunnyside Woods (South Surrey): No new species

1030-1045 Serpentine Fen: BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD, Northern Shrike (not very numerous right now!), Purple Finch, Ring-necked Duck, CINNAMON TEAL (single female), AMERICAN KESTREL

1105-1130 96th Street, Boundary Bay: Herring Gull, Thayer’s Gull, Black-bellied Plover

1135-1145 88th Street, BB: GYRFALCON

1200-1230 72nd St: Snowy Owl, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Western Meadowlark, Rough-legged Hawk, Marsh Wren

1240-1315 Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty: Brandt’s Cormorant, Black Turnstone, MARBLED MURRELET (2 pairs), Black Oystercatcher, WILLET

1315-1320 41B Road, Ladner: Snow Goose

1330-1445 Westham Island: HUTTON’S VIREO (singing at Alaksen), Barred Owl, Great Horned Owl, Sandhill Crane, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Lesser Scaup, Wood Duck, Common Raven, LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER, Canvasback, Mute Swan

1510-1511 Ferry Road (Lander): REDHEAD, Hairy Woodpecker

1540-1550 Garry Point (Richmond): HORNED LARK

1610-1645 Iona Island: CALIFORNIA GULL, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, Ruby-crowned Kinglet (phew!), SORA, Wilson’s Snipe, BARN SWALLOW, Cooper’s Hawk (But no Pied-billed Grebes! Ouch…)

1710-1730 Dunbar/Pacific Spirit Park: COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRD (*but could not find any additional forest birds…)

1750-1830 Sea Island: Short-eared Owl (phew again!)

1840-1920 Richmond: Nothing new (trying mainly for Barn Owls)

2015-2100 Boundary Bay area: Barn Owl (3 seen along 96th Street)

2100-2230 Owling around Surrey/Langley area: No new species (trying for Long-eared & Western Screech-Owl) but we did pick up another Barn Owl near Fort Langley.


  1. Congratulations!

    Amazing list.

    Out here(15 minutes east of Ft Langley)we've had a white-throated sparrow, pileated woodpecker and Red-breasted nuthatch at our feeder most of the winter.

    I wish you could have included them on your list.

    It'll be tough to outdo yourselves next time.

    Chris B

  2. Hi Chris,

    I would be very interested in seeing your White-throated Sparrow if it is still around. Send me an email at russellcannings@shaw.ca