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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!

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