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.

Who’s afraid of Virginia Rail

October 17th, 2010

Well, I was afraid of getting up at 5:30am, but that’s what getting to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary by bicycle + public transit entails (giving myself some extra time).

This sanctuary is a duck’s Mecca and a birder’s Jerusalem. A hundred thousand birds were keeping me entertained.
About 2000 Snow Geese were flying in formation in the morning and rested on the field alongside the sanctuary at the end of the day.

11 Sandhill Cranes letting people feed them on the trail? ridiculous.
Not at all like the four Cranes who stood a field away from me, making me work hard and challenging the power of my binoculars at Grant Narrows a month and a half ago.

The multitude of birders out there (they were all looking for a lost Wood Sandpiper who didn’t show up) provided help: I got a look at the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (a rare visitor from Asia!) through someone’s scope.

The Marsh Wrens, who evaded me yesterday at Boundary Bay, did not evade me today. They were better looking than I expected.
I also got notified of Virginia Rails, and some patience paid off!
Day Summary: 40 species, 3 lifers. Not bad at all.