Monday Alaksen

December 6th, 2010

While the weather is still cooperative, I must bird! Rose early for another bicycle/public transit 2 hours commute (one way). Destination: Alaksen National Park. This park is adjacent to Reifel, so I passed Westham Island Road on the way, but no Northern Hawk Owl this morning.

Bird Studies Canada man Pete Davidson found a Yellow-breasted Chat at Alaksen National Park as he was looking through his office window a few days ago.
I’m not chasing after rare birds, but… the Yellow-breasted Chat breeds in areas across the United-States and also in south-central BC, and winters in Middle America from Mexico to Panama. The lower mainland BC is somewhat out of his normal range in summer, with only a few records per year. So what is it doing here in December?!

When I arrived, a few photographers and no Yellow-breasted Chat, so I went for a walk around Alaksen. It was birdy, and there were at least a thousand Mallards standing on the furrows of one plowed field. Apparently that’s what they grow there.

After a couple of hours I came back to the office area. On 13:15pm, a short stroll in the grassy field across from the said office – a bird – pale gray-olive above and a bright yellow breast – the Chat! I signaled the other photographers and we all started following the bird around as it flew from one thicket to the next, hiding and appearing by turns. All the while a Red-tailed Hawk was screaming, a male Northern Harrier and a Bald Eagle flew overhead and Marsh Wrens where calling.

Yellow-breasted Chat

Yellow-breasted Chat

After a couple of hours of Chat I headed back home. On Westham Island Road, I spotted the Northern Hawk Owl perched on a tip of a tree before I spotted the photographers (as they were not perched so prominently). The Owl moved from one perch to another, scanning the area, undisturbed by his human admirers.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl

Suddenly he dived to the ground a short distance from me, with spread wings and face down! Soon he flew back up to perch on another tree; now there was a rodent in his claws. He munched on it. All of a sudden a Merlin appeared and swooped the Owl! I was told the Merlin is a local and has territorial claims here. The Owl flew about and eventually landed on top of a utility poll, and got swooped by the Merlin again!

What a day. Very tired on the way back, and a tired, loyal, bicycle with a flat tire, that luckily exerted itself only when I was comfortably back home.

A birder initiation at Burnaby lake

November 5th, 2010

She came from Australia to SFU for a semester on a student exchange program. She answered the ad Marc put in the local student newspaper, calling for people who want to go bird watching. She didn’t know what she was getting into.

We set up a birding tour at Burnaby lake. It was all staged. The most charismatic birds went on a parade in front of us: Wood Ducks, a Great Blue Heron, a Bald Eagle, a Belted Kingfisher. A Pileated Woodpecker was hammering at the closest tree trunk to us with his thick, strong bill. She was impressed. She didn’t suspect a thing.

After the show was over, I excused myself and pretended to go the the washroom. The Pileated Woodpecker was just around the corner. “You did a good job” I said. The Woodpecker’s red mustache didn’t flinch. I handed in the money.

Mallards, Green-winged Teals and Long-billed Dowitchers at Burnaby Lake