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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Birding the Fraser River Delta

With friends turning up some fantastic bird sightings just north of the border, it was time for another weekend trip to the mainland and into BC to see what could be seen. First up was a stop at Blackie Spit where ring-billed gulls were the first addition of the day.

Ring-billed gull (photo year list bird #82)
There were also a crazy number of Eurasian wigeon there in with the American wigeon!

Another highlight were the relatively tame black oystercatchers:

As well as the crows opening shells by dropping them on the rocks:

Crow diving to retrieve a shell it just dropped on the rocks

Next up was an afternoon at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. I'm not entirely sure how I haven't visited this place before! It's a bit more park-like than many birding areas in that there are hours, admission fees, and many people feed the birds there, but there are also natural trails to walk and an astounding array of species. It got me a lot closer to some species than I've ever been before!

Northern pintail
Sandhill crane (86)
And while I have been close to wood ducks before, this was still one of my favorite shots of the day:

Wood duck (88)

 It was also clearly a very popular place, and it was cool to see so many people communing with birds, including people who otherwise might not.

Man befriends wood duck
Girl befriends red-winged blackbirds (I also overheard her declare this the best day of her life!)
I, too, had a special moment, with an immature bald eagle who didn't seem to mind at all that the path went right by his/her favorite perch!

It's not often you get the chance to take photos like this of a wild bald eagle...

We also got to see the great horned owl and two saw-whet owls that roost right near the trails at Reifel, and also within just a few yards of each other! Unfortunately none of them were very cooperative for photos - we counted this one for great horned owl:

Great horned owl (92)
But I couldn't quite convince myself that this northern saw-whet owl was identifiable from this photo:

And one more cool find:

One of four black-crowned night-herons (91)
There was still a little bit of daylight left, so we headed over to Boundary Bay, where I went to see snowy owls back during that great irruption year in 2012. After visiting many other likely habitats so far this year, I finally saw my first short-eared owl of 2017.

Short-eared owl (92)
While I added 12 species to the photo year list challenge on the day, just like when visiting Skagit county, it was the bald eagles who stole the show. We thought seeing over 100 eagles on the day in Skagit was impressive - try over 500 within a few miles of each other in Delta, BC! I've never seen anything like it. There could easily be 50 eagles in a single stand of trees, and in one location I counted over 250 eagles while standing in one spot. Apparently they've been congregating there in the winter months for the last 10 years or so, right around the landfill and the turf farm. At first they thought maybe it was indicating a problem at their normal winter food source, but I'm assuming by the fact there are more and more of them there each year including loads of immatures that they've just found something they like. I'm still not sure what exactly is supporting that many eagles in that narrow area, but it's an incredible sight!

I felt sorry for this fella trying to work on his nest in one of these trees...nothing like trying to defend your breeding territory from 500 rivals!

With that many predators/scavengers in one place, the skirmishes were frequent - not only among the eagles but between the eagles, gulls, hawks, owls, etc.

Harrier causes short-eared owl to drop large rodent - winner was an immature bald eagle who came in and grabbed the prey

The next day, before heading back to the ferry, we decided to try and twitch some of the many rare bird sightings in the area rather than go for other more common species we're likely to add at some point throughout the year. It was a mixed result, as it so often seems to be when looking for rare birds, but I did come up with a life bird! This very distant glaucous gull at the landfill site was not easy to find among the 10,000 gulls that kept reshuffling anytime one of the hundreds of eagles took flight. I was glad to find him; the black-headed gull that was also in there somewhere remained elusive.

Glaucous gull (93)

With the weather taking a turn we drove to Pitt Meadows, where again we went 1 for 2, finding the prairie falcon but not the gyrfalcon that have been there for the last several months. It's crazy to me that two such similar looking rare birds would hang out in the same block of each other! If it weren't for the photos proving otherwise I would suspect the same bird had just been ID'd as two different species!

Prairie falcon (94)
Back on the US side of the border, we had enough time to try for one more rare bird - the yellow-billed loon in Anacortes. I just don't know how some people have success in nearly all the rare birds they attempt - perhaps they just have much more time to wait! The loon was seen a few hours before we were there according to reports by others, but no such luck for us. The scenery was a good consolation prize, though.

No yellow-billed loon, but the view from Rosario Beach wasn't too shabby

Back home, I just added ruby-crowned kinglet as the 95th bird species photographed so far in 2017. I usually have a loft goal of 100 species on my traditional year list in January if I can - I had no idea I would get so close for photographed species in month number one as well! I'm closing out the month with 106 species on the year list and 95 species photographed, for a 90% photo rate that is far ahead of expectations!

Next up I'm hoping for a birding trip that will result in more owls and more life birds, but the tenuous weather forecast may postpone that - we shall see!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Birding Skagit County

After several birding trips on San Juan Island didn't result in any new species to our year list efforts, it was time to head off island and take advantage of a sunny (if chilly) winter weekend day. Skagit County is always a pleasure to bird in the winter, and it did not disappoint! In six hours we turned up nearly 50 species.

Our second bird of the day was a peregrine falcon - no complaints there!

64th bird species photographed this year - peregrine falcon

As hoped for, the raptors were everywhere, and for a while it seemed as if there was a new species to stop and observe around every bend in the road....

American kestrel (65)

Northern harrier (66)

Rough-legged hawk (67)
Taking flight!

Another rough-legged hawk
One species that was still a "big miss" on my photo year list was a red-tailed hawk - it had become a bit of a running joke, as Jason added it on day one and I always seemed to be on the wrong side of the car or it would take flight as soon as I lifted my camera, etc. I thought I might have to use this shot, which does at least show some field marks:

But luckily near the end of the day, after several others flew away before I could snap a photo, I finally came across this cooperative fella (or lady):

Red-tailed hawk (72)
Most water was still frozen, which put a bit of a damper on the waterfowl and shorebird front, but sure made for some beautiful landscapes:

And there were still hundreds of trumpeter swans and thousands of snow geese in the flats:

Trumpeter swans in front of the Olympic mountains
Snow goose (73)
Snow geese in flight after a hunter fires a shot

It was the bald eagles that stole the show, however. We started counting early and tallied over 100 for the day, including some fantastic looks...

A quick way to boost the count - more than 15 in one tree!
Lots of aerial acrobatics as an adult chased a juvenile out of its territory

Even as daylight dwindled all too early, we kept snapping photos in the dusk...

At the Anacortes ferry landing I was hoping for a ring-billed gull, but was happy to take the photogenic mew gulls.

Surprisingly there were more than 10 great blue herons roosting with them on the dock pilings - haven't seen that in this location before!

By the day's end I had added 12 new species to my photo year list total, and more than that to my overall year list. We heard a Virginia rail, though weren't able to see it or photograph it, though a couple of our friendly competitors in Vancouver, BC have gotten great shots of this species this year! We also flushed an American bittern but I wasn't quite quick enough on the trigger to get a identifiable shot of one. Also, I was surprised not to see any short-eared owls! But I guess that's what keeps us going back, isn't it? :)

So as of today I've got 88 species on the year list and 76 species on the photo year list - still keeping that 85% ratio going! I just love how much I've been out taking photos as a result of this challenge so far, and seeing what everyone else is turning up has been just as fun!