Birding, May 17, 2024: Follow the blackbird

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Boundary Bay Dyke Trail (Delta), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 12-16°C

The Outing

After The Burning™ of last week, I made sure to cover myself all over with sunblock and reapplied it midday. As it turned out, it was also so windy (14-20 km/h with gusts up to 35 km/h) that I ended up wearing a long-sleeved shirt, so most of my body was covered, anyway. My legs did not burn again.

We started out with our old standby of Reifel and this time we saw a few black-capped chickadees come out from hiding. Yay. Weirdly, though it was a Friday, there were many kids around. They were relatively well-behaved, but I’m assuming the schools must have closed early for the Victoria Day weekend, or home-schooling has suddenly gotten very popular. The geese were also relatively well-behaved, and I have no explanation for that. One approached me with its mouth open, but it wasn’t hissing or being aggressive, I think it just wanted whatever yummy seed I had in my pockets (I had none). It seemed sad at the loss.

We started along the usual east dyke trail and when a family went to bird blind B, we opted to go to bird blind A next door. After we were done (the return of purple martins to the bird boxes in the marsh flats confirmed), Nic wanted to skip bird blind B (see above: children), insisting we would see nothing (to be fair, most of the time we just see the slough and no birds, whales or anything else). But just as I pressed to go back, a blackbird suddenly appeared and landed on a branch directly above us. It screeched chirped insistently at us and was very loud, then flew off in the direction of the bird blind. It was A Sign.

We went to the bird blind and lo, there was a heron perched on a branch just on the other side of the blind. Granted, herons are not exactly uncommon (though this was the only one we saw on the ground), but still, it was something! Thanks, screechy chirping blackbird!

Reifel was otherwise pretty light on both song birds and waterfowl, with many ponds empty or sparsely populated. It gives the mallards more room to roam, though. We spied no Northern shovellers again, though maybe they’re just hiding. A few pintails were lurking, and the massive turtles at the entrance slough were still hanging out on their favourite logs.

We got more shots of marsh wrens. I guess this is the time of year when they just let it all hang out. Such is the way of love and seeking the same.

We next took a trip to the Boundary Bay Dyke Trail, which we haven’t been to for a while. Again, it was very windy, but we did see Savannah sparrows a-plenty–on logs, on fence posts, on the golf course. They never got very close, as is their way, and I had to use manual focus for all of my shots to prevent them from appearing as bird-shaped blobs, but we got some respectable shots. I opted not to shoot a distant robin.

I shot a lot of planes as we passed under the flight path of nearby Boundary Bay Airport. They’re like giant birds, but a lot more predictable. If I could shoot swallows the way I shoot planes, I’d be an award-winning photographer. In my mind, at least.

We rounded off the day at Piper Spit, which was pleasantly unpopulated by people. Here we saw a lifer: a semipalmated plover, which looks similar to a killdeer, but is somehow more adorable. We also saw (and Nic shot) a cliff swallow, which is a darker, non-shiny swallow uncommon to the area. Surprisingly, a lone wigeon and The Last Coot, which I’d thought had already left, were present.

Goslings a-plenty were being shepherded around, but off the main trails. It seems the adults have learned to keep their babbies away from people. And kids.

In all, a fine day of mid-spring birbing, once again being boosted by some unexpected visitors.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Cliff swallow
  • Marsh wren
  • Northern flicker
  • Purple martin
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow

Waterfowl and shorebirds:

  • American coot (one!)
  • American wigeon (one!)
  • Blue-winged teal
  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Long-billed dowitcher
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Sandhill crane
  • Semipalmated plover
  • Western seagull
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle

Non-birds:

  • Several squirrels
  • Butterflies!

Birding, May 11, 2024: It burns

Where: Tsawwassen Beach Trail (Tsawwassen), Iona Beach (Richmond), Tlahutum Regional Park (Coquitlam), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 15-25°C

The Outing

Today was kind of a weird birding day, with maybe the greatest number of steps to the smallest number of birds seen. Part of that is due to migrants having left for the warmer months, but we also didn’t see a number of the usual birbs, like black-capped chickadees. Also, the last coot at Piper spit has apparently finally joined its brethren to make more freaky-footed offspring elsewhere.

I logged just over 30,000 steps and despite putting on sunblock (twice!), still managed to get a bit burned in a few spots. Not too bad, really, and the second application was too late to help (I kind of knew this as I put it on, but put it on, anyway). As you might suspect, it was sunny and quite warm, rising to at least 25C by mid-afternoon. We started out at Tsawwassen Beach Trail, or more accurately, the gargantuan Tsawwassen Mills mall, where we parked. We walked to the beach trail from there (only a few blocks) and covered probably around 11 km there alone, looking for shorebirds or any birds. And we did see some, including killdeer, some gulls, barn swallows and some smaller shorebirds that were too far off to positively ID (I did not get shots). And that was the main issue I had with Tsawwassen–we didn’t see much, and what we did see tended to be well off the shore (the tide was extremely low). Nic did get multiple chances to shoot Savannah sparrows, but they regularly foiled him by having their backs turned, or the lighting was bad and whatnot. Also, the kelp was really stinky.

I got some good shots of tires, though. And also some nice pics of a couple of cute marmots and a juvenile heron who wasn’t fully-developed yet, but already had perfect stabbyface eyes. And I would be remiss to not mention a trio of female buffleheads in a pond that apparently decided migrating isn’t for them. They were diving and swimming and having a good ol’ time without any pesky men ducks around.

We next went to Iona Beach, hoping to find a yellow-headed blackbird that has been seen in the area. We did not see it. We did see more swallows and regular blackbirds, but again, not much in the way of shorebirds. The tide was so low that the first cut in the north jetty (so the fishies can swim through) was passable by just walking across it. The most abundant creature was probably crabs and, well, they were all dismembered and dead.

Undaunted, we moved on to Tlahutum and its community gardens. We were teased by one crow, who almost let us shoot it up close, then flew off, probably doing the crow equivalent of a Nelson “Ha ha1”, but other than that it was mostly swallows again. I’m not complaining. Swallows are pretty and fabulous, but a little more variety would have been nice. We only went as far as the bridge over the Coquitlam River, as by this time we had walked about 5,000 km.

We made our last stop at Piper Spit and got a nice treat there–a Wilson’s pharalope, which could have been a bit closer, but gave us plenty of time to capture it on virtual film as it waded through the shallows, often with a smaller shorebird in tow (a least sandpiper, apparently). We’re outside the pharalope’s breeding range, so they are considered rare here. Neat! There was also goose drama, of course, but even fewer bird species than the last time. The remaining coot decided to scoot, I didn’t see any Northern pintails, even though they allegedly don’t migrate, but the one Sandhill crane was still hanging around. And several geese families had their new broods in a fenced off area adjacent to the park, which is a pretty smart way to keep the goslings clear of twerpy little kids (and adults).

In all, it wasn’t a bad day of birding, but the variety and quality of my shots were both a bit lacking. At least I know the extra spots to apply sunblock for next time.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow

Waterfowl and shorebirds:

  • Bufflehead duck
  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Killdeer
  • Least sandpiper
  • Mallard
  • Sandhill crane
  • Wilson’s pharalope
  • Western seagull
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle

Non-birds:

  • Several squirrels
  • Two marmots or one teleporting marmot
  • Butterflies!
  • A fat bumblebee
  • Those weird beetles again at Iona Beach
  • Tires (more than you’d think)

Birding, May 2, 2024: A wren in the works

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Centennial Beach (Delta), Blackie Spit (Surrey), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 8-17°C

The Outing

It was forecast to be sunny and mild, so we wore shorts! It was a bit brisk at Reifel in the morning, with a strong breeze blowing off the strait. An older man intoned to us, “It isn’t summer yet” but did not actually call the fashion police on us. I didn’t wear sunblock, so got some more mid-spring burning around my ears and neck. Next time I’ll wear sunblock, I swear.

Apart from being brisk in the morning, it was more like Reifel Bird Scarcity, ho ho. The overall bird population was down due to migrants heading off and the locals being busy in the bushes making babies (or so I assume). We didn’t see any American wigeons, though, oddly, there was a single Eurasian wigeon present. There were no coots at all, though we did see a single coot at Piper Spit. Likewise, there were no scaups, buffleheads or ring-necked ducks to be seen. We saw what appeared to be one snoozing merganser sleeping on a small island next to some geese, though they apparently don’t migrate, they just hide or something.

And speaking of geese, we finally saw goslings and plenty of them. More on them in a bit.

While many bird species were absent at Reifel, the ever-elusive marsh wren was actually seemingly ever-present. We saw and shot at least four of them, with varying degrees of success. A volunteer teased us with an alleged sighting of a pair of cedar waxwings in the area, but we did not see any. Boo. We did, however, see a few shorebirds on the inner ponds, the tiny and adorable least sandpiper, so that was neat.

The geese were taking notes from the blackbirds with regard to their table manners, proudly wearing their food all over their faces.

The wood ducks near the entrance were displaying their iridescent mullets along the railing. I swear they actually pose for people because they know how pretty they are. We did not see any ducklings, though.

After Reifel, we went to Centennial Beach. Here, I doffed my hoodie, opting for sunburn. The pond was largely empty, but we did spot a few Savannah sparrows on logs, and raptors above, the latter both in the sky and in trees. We then forged on to Blackie Spit because of reports of shorebirds. The tide here, as elsewhere, was extremely low. There were no shorebirds, unless you stretch to count seagulls. Which we do not. We did see some green-winged teals and various birbs, including more Savannah sparrows, a distant goldfinch and a train, which is not a bird at all. We also saw a bunny, also not a bird. It was hungry, so we watched it eat various wildflowers and things. Rabbits have an automatic “so damn cute” mode when eating.

We ended at Piper Spit, which, perhaps due to it being after 6 p.m., was quite busy. The number of waterfowl here is also down, through all the regulars were accounted for. The geese were out with their babbies, some of which are already showing their first growth spurt. There were many goslings, most of them huddled together in one mega-group. Amazingly, none of the small children present were unwise enough to try to go after them, so goose drama/murder did not occur. Or at least I didn’t directly witness any.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped warbler

Waterfowl and shorebirds:

  • American coot (one!)
  • Canada goose
  • Cormorant
  • Eurasian wigeon
  • Green-winged teal
  • Great blue heron
  • Least sandpiper
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveller
  • Sandhill crane
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Bunnies!
  • Several squirrels
  • A sweat bee

Birding, April 20, 2024: The Wire (Spotted Towhee Edition)

Where: Iona Beach, Terra Nova (Richmond), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sun and cloud mix, 14-20°C

The Outing

The day promised sun, with increasing cloud in the afternoon and a chance of showers by around 6 p.m., so we were good for birding. The forecast was…mostly right. It clouded up earlier than expected, and the first few drops came just as we were wrapping up at Piper Spit, but it was very mild–shorts weather, even, though I didn’t wear mine, because I thought it might be cool by the water, which was not the case. And because I don’t think of April as being a big sunblock weather month, I didn’t wear any sunblock and got a little sunburned. I’ll learn to wear sunblock in April eventually.

We started at Iona Beach, where the sky stayed clear for most of our visit. The highlights included a massive congregation of dunlins along the shoreline of the Fraser River, just east of the barge parking lot. They have black patches on their bellies when in their breeding colours (most were), which are equally cute and weird. The tide was very low, but on this day we opted to not go way out wandering the flats. We did observe what was perhaps the largest collection of crab parts I’ve seen at Iona. I mean, there are always crab parts, but today it was like the remnants of a crabfest.

Right near the start we noticed some bright yellow flowers that seemed odd, given their placement, and the flowers turned out to be a goldfinch, which promptly took off once we successfully identified it. The goldfinch thus became Nic’s white whale for the rest of the time we were at Iona. They thwarted him at every turn.

I shot a lot of planes. Like, a lot.

We next went to Terra Nova, where, thanks partly to people leaving strategically-placed deposits of seed along the trails (which you are not supposed to do), we saw a lot more birbs than usual, including another banded golden-crowned sparrow (not the same as Bandy at Reifel, as the bands were different. And yes, we checked.) We also saw a spotted towhee sporting bands and a wire (one golden crown also had a wire). They don’t seem to mind the wires. Maybe they pipe in soothing music through them in the evening. A rarely-seen Bewick’s wren could be heard singing in the trees, and we spotted it, though the angles were not great. Still, it’s always nice to see birbs you don’t come across that often. Unless they are goldfinches mocking you.

Next we went to the Richmond Nature House. Actually, we went to the parking lot, which was full, turned around and left. They have construction going on there, so the already-small parking lot is currently even smaller. Worse, the final spot was taken by a Tesla. Boo hiss. But maybe they have stopped filling the feeders, so we didn’t miss anything. That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

We wrapped up at Piper Spit, which felt a bit weird to me on this day. A lot of the winter migrants have left, so the overall population is down, and while there are new arrivals like cowbirds and swallows, the place still feels quieter (the migratory waterfowl tend to be in greater numbers than the songbirds). By now it had clouded over, so the light was not great, but the change in conditions did seem to scare off a lot of people, because it wasn’t that crowded. A young couple were on a bench at the end of the pier making out, perhaps not realizing they were not at home on the sofa. If I’d had any bird seed, I would have gently sprinkled it around them, so the blackbirds could have joined in on their fun.

Even the Canada goose drama was at a minimum. There was still some, though, because you can’t have Canada geese without drama. Speaking of drama, I just missed getting a shot of a heron in flight taking a poop. This may be the most dramatic midair pooping in the world, at least in terms of volume. I witnessed it through my viewfinder, I just wasn’t quick enough to get the shot. Maybe it’s better that way.

Just as we headed out, the first few drops of rain began to fall, so our timing was pretty much spot-on as we wrapped up.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American goldfinch
  • American robin
  • Bewick’s wren
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Chipping sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Yellow-rumped warbler

Waterfowl and shorebirds:

  • American coot
  • Canada goose
  • Cormorant
  • Dunlin
  • Green-winged teal
  • Great blue heron
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Western sandpiper
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle

Non-birds:

  • Several squirrels
  • A wasp
  • A weird little beetle that Nic found adorable

Birding, April 19, 2024: They’ll need a crane

Where: Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 18-19°C

The Outing

It was sunny and warm, so I took the camera out for a bit of solo birding at Piper Spit.

Piper Spit has a very different vibe on weekday afternoons. A group of schoolkids were being shepherded off the pier as I arrived, and after that there was never more than half a dozen people there–half of them with a gigantic telephoto lens.

Likewise, without lots of people feeding the birds, the number of birds is also much lower. This was further compounded by more of the winter migrants heading off to other parts. A few scaups and coots were still hanging around, but their numbers are greatly reduced. Even the blackbirds (which don’t migrate) were far fewer in number.

It both made it easier to frame shots (fewer birds to photobomb the one handsome duck you’re shooting), while giving you less to shoot at. But it made for a very relaxing afternoon.

One Sandhill crane was also present, and it obligingly did a nice big stretch while I was getting shots of it. There were also several squirrels on the trail, mugging delightfully for me. One even came running right up to me, taking a moment to sniff my sneakers for possible seed/nuts, before hopping away.

I also got a few “But is it art?” shots. I’ll know soon if they’re also “But are they any good?” shots. EDIT: They were not good.

In all, a perfectly pleasant outing.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • Canada goose
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon (possibly)
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • None!

Non-birds:

  • Several squirrels

Birding, April 13, 2024: The goose definitely pecked my bag

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Centennial Beach (Delta), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 9-17°C

The Outing

This time the weather forecast panned out. It was sunny all day, though it was also rather windy, especially close to the shore, and this made mid-morning at Reifel a bit chilly (10C felt like 7C). But we had birbs to shoot.

With spring migration underway, we’ve observed a few changes at Reifel, the main being that the migratory waterfowl are way down in terms of numbers, with fewer wigeons, scaups and ring-necked ducks. Coots, on the other freaky foot, still seem to be in relative abundance. Northern shovellers, which allegedly do not migrate, have also seen a reduction in numbers. Birds are mysterious!

Equally mysterious is why we suddenly came across not a ruby-crowned kinglet, but multiple kinglets that capered about in nearby trees long enough for us to get pretty decent shots (I have never before gotten a decent shot of a kinglet). That was spiffy. But the spiffiness continued, when we also got good shots of a marsh wren, which chose to stop specifically hiding from Nic long enough for him to get a few good photos before disappearing back into the reeds, to mock us with its song for the rest of the season.

The snow geese were gone, which would normally have made it quieter, but the Canada geese were still around, so there was always honking somewhere. And hissing and chasing. One goose apparently convinced itself my camera bag was full of seed and started pecking at it. When I turned to face it, it gave me the closest a goose can come to a look that says, “What? I didn’t do anything.”

Sated by our kinglet and wren shots, we headed to Centennial Beach, where the tide was out about a hundred km. If it hadn’t been so windy and if we could have guaranteed seeing something, it might have been fun to see just how far we could have wandered out. Maybe in the summer.

In the meantime…more kinglets! Yes, there was a kinglet hopping around in a tree near the pond. Because of the extreme low tide, shorebirds were pretty much absent, apart from a few gulls and a couple of ducks in the pond.

What we did see were raptors: bald eagles young and old, and multiple harriers that were fighting/courting or both.

We saw plenty of swallows at both locations and our final stop, Piper Spit. Nic made it his BirdQuest to shoot swallows in flight. I did this with exactly one swallow at Piper Spit and of four shots, three were bad. Nic also got lots of “look for the blob that is the swallow” shots, but also some very good pics, too.

I missed the Sandhill crane at Piper getting all flappy and stretchy, though, because I was focused on a goose going berserk. The good news is I actually got some good (terrifying) shots of said goose, with some serious tongue and neck action.

My camera started glitching a bit at Piper, which was odd, since I’d cleaned it the night before. I gave it a bit of an on-the-spot cleaning, and it mostly behaved afterwards. Maybe the wind was blowing junk into it. It was very windy.

In all, a good day of birding, with the kinglet and marsh wren shots being nice bonuses.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Black-bellied plover
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Dowitcher
  • Green-winged teal
  • Great blue heron
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveller
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle (mature and juvenile)
  • Harrier

Non-birds:

  • Several squirrels

Birding, April 5, 2024: A lifer instead of a lifer

Where: Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach (Surrey), 1001 Steps (Surrey), Brydon Lagoon, Hi-Knoll Park (Langley), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Cloudy, 6-14°C

The Outing

The weather forecast was a lying liar again, promising “mostly sunny” and delivering the opposite. We did have some blue sky, but the sun was mostly blotted out. On the plus side, less harsh light to deal with.

We started out at Blackie Spit, delighting in the ease of parking on a weekday morning. It was perhaps a bit cooler than expected. The water was low, which bode well for shorebirds, and we saw…a few. A couple of greater yellowlegs were poking about. We also saw some cormorants, a few loons (the bird kind, not the people kind), and a horned grebe. The herons were on the pilings instead of their usual spot in the marshland. It seems the herons everywhere have shifted locations. Spring fever, maybe.

We also saw a pair of juvenile bald eagles on other pilings, with an adult in a nearby tree. Maybe a parent watching the kids? You know what trouble kids can get up to.

The bird boxes offshore usually used by purple martins appear to have been taken over by starlings, as Nic got shots of them all over the boxes, with some bringing in nesting material.

After wrapping up there, we made a quick return trip to 1001 Steps to see if we might spot more Harlequin ducks or birds of paradise or something. We saw a couple of cormorants flying off and a distant heron. I shot a lot of rocks. We moved on after working out our thighs on the trip back up the staircase.

Next we hit a new location, Brydon Lagoon in Langley, as Nic had seen reports of a rare Black Phoebe in the area (Black Phoebe sounds like a goth YA novel to me, but what do I know about naming birds?). While we did not see the rare bird, we did see birds. The lagoon itself, with a fountain in the middle, was actually well-represented by many species, sort of a mini Reifel or Piper Spit. We ventured south into Hi-Knoll Park, which consists of meandering trails, which offered pleasant views of creeks and things, but few birds. We saw a robin. I took blurry photos.

It was nice to check out new scenery, though.

We rounded off the afternoon with our usual last stop at Piper Spit and lo, a lifer1This is what fancy birder people call a bird they’ve never seen before. It has nothing to do with serving prison time. appeared in the form of a tree sparrow, which is a small birb with great camo. The water at the lake is still high, so no shorebirds to be seen, but most everything else was around, including the buffleheads, which seem to be at least semi-regulars now. The cowbird population is also much higher than it was from even a few days ago, when I was last here. When it comes to photos, cowbirds are still like migrant robins for me.

As expected, the sun started coming back out as we wrapped up. But it didn’t rain, we saw a lifer and got to see some new sights, so that was all right.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Northern flicker
  • Pacific wren (heard, not seen)
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Steller’s jay
  • Tree sparrow
  • Tree swallow
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Common loon
  • Green-winged teal
  • Great blue heron
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Horned grebe
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Pelagic cormorant
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Surf scoters (from afar)
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle (mature and juvenile)

Non-birds:

  • A squirrel

Spontaneous birding, April 3, 2024: Light makes right

Where: Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Mostly sunny, 11°C

The Outing

The morning started with:

  • A power outage
  • The internet later going down

Followed by:

  • A planned day-long lack of water due to repairs in my building

I decided to take my camera and walk it to Piper Spit for a bit of unplanned birding. It helped that the weather was mostly sunny and mild.

I opted to not take my camera out until I got to Piper spit itself, a decision I came to regret when I started to approach the bridge over Eagle Creek (this is near Piper Spit) and heard the unmistakable tapping of a woodpecker. I looked up and spotted it pecking away madly, as they are wont to do. The angle wasn’t ideal, but still, woodpecker! I unpacked my camera, put on the telephoto lens and got…a partial shot of its butt. Not even enough to identify it. Oh well.

To partly compensate, I turned around and there was an adorable bunny sitting behind me.

Early on a weekday morning there are far fewer people on the pier and initially no one had seed, so the waterfowl were mostly going about their business without paying too much attention to the humans. The lake’s water level is still up, so no island and no shorebirds. Most others were accounted for, and I got my first shot of a cowbird this year. Yeehaw, as they say.

A pair of sandhill cranes also showed up and made their way to the pier, walking around me so close I almost couldn’t shoot them with my telephoto lens. They are probably the most chill wild birds I’ve seen.

A couple of buffleheads were hanging out again, but were keeping away from the pier, so I couldn’t get good shots of them. Instead, I decided to take about 50 million shots of the swallows buzzing over the lake surface. Amazingly, I managed to get the swallow in every shot I took. Most of them were blurry, but still! A few actually turned out rather nicely, so it was worth the effort.

I missed getting good shots of a dramatic battle, though, because I just stood there watching with my jaw agape. A pair of geese decided to go at it, each one grabbing onto the other with their bills, then, circling tightly around, daring the other to let go first. Eventually, one did, and it got chased into the water by the other. The victor did the snaky head thing for a bit, then just stood there, looking ready to murder. You can see him post-fracas in the gallery.

The other birds were more in tune with the cranes, pretty relaxed, some snoozing, many poking about for seed. I also saw a pair of wood ducks higher up in a tree than I’ve ever seen them, like they thought they were crows or something. I also saw some crows.

Overall, this was a fine outing, helped by good light that never got overly harsh.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rarely-seen birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Woodpecker (unidentified)

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • None

Non-birds:

  • A bunny!

Bonus birding, March 31, 2024: Sparrow through my heart

Where: Tlahutum Regional Park (Coquitlam), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby) Weather: Mostly sunny, 13-15°C

The Outing

With the weather expected to be nice today, we decided to take advantage and get in a bonus round of birding. I was a bit pooped after two days of activity, so we opted for a simple plan to hit Tlahutum Regional Park, then Piper Spit.

It’s Easter Sunday and a holiday weekend. Combine that with the weather actually being genuinely pleasant, and there were a fair number of people out. Unlike the bad old days when the pandemic was in full swing, parking was not an issue. At Tlahutum we opted to check out the community gardens first, carefully avoiding the paths that were still filled with mini (or sometimes) maxi ponds from the rains. The area is dotted with bird boxes for swallows and they were making good use of them. We got plenty of shots of them hanging out on them and, in some cases, coming in or taking off (more on this later).

After getting our supply of swallow shots, we moved onto the trails and actually did not see many birds. The main pond did have a mix of mallards, buffleheads, coots and gadwalls, which sounds great, but they tend to stay farther away from the edges–security for them, a test of our telephoto lenses for us. A few blackbirds were flapping about as well.

We moved on to Piper Spit, getting much better light than yesterday–initially almost too harsh (not that I’m complaining about the sun). We parked at the Avalon parking lot and walked the 2 km to Piper Spit, which turned out to be a good choice, not just because we’d get heart points, steps and generally healthy exercise. Nic spotted a brown creeper (which looks way more adorable than the name would suggest) and there were a few Steller’s jays eating seed off a signpost farther along the trail. Spiffy.

At the pier, there were again a lot of people, but no Sandhill cranes today. Nic did get some shots of a turkey vulture (!) flying overhead. I never even saw it. They’re sneaky like that.

Initially a lot of the waterfowl were spread out beyond the pier, snoozing and such, but a few people started throwing seed into the water and that brought most propelling madly toward us for the free food.

I practised my technique for tracking birds in motion (with limited success), using fine focus on trickier shots (more successful), while Nic was determined to get some boffo shots of swallows in flight. And he did indeed get several very nice shots. He also got enough shots of just the sky to create a skyscapes gallery. But you only need one great shot to make it worthwhile, as some photographer person said one time, probably.

My robin curse renewed itself today. The light was good, so I can’t even blame that. I don’t know what the deal is with robins. I kind of hate them now. Or maybe I hate my camera. Or something that happens between my camera and any robin I aim at.

Still, it was a good bonus afternoon of birding, with good shots, some nice sightings and the pleasant weather we had been teased with yesterday actually materializing.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters). Rare or rare birds highlighted in bold.

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brown creeper
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Steller’s jay
  • Tree swallow
  • Violet-green swallow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Gadwall
  • Green-winged teal
  • Hooded merganser
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Scaup
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Turkey vulture

Non-birds:

  • A squirrel

Birding, March 30, 2024: Ruffling their mullets

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Mud Bay Park (Surrey), Piper Spit. Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Cloudy, 4-11°C

The Outing

We were promised mostly sunny skies, but it was cloudy most of the day, with a reasonably cool breeze blowing at times just to rub it in. Lousy Smarch weather.

We started at Reifel and had a migrant sighting almost immediately–a rufous hummingbird! It didn’t stick around long. The night heron, which has gradually been revealing slightly more of itself, was gone. Will it be back? Who knows. C13 and C19, two geese wearing radio devices on their necks were on hand, as was Radar1This is its official name as far as I’m concerned, a golden-crowned sparrow who is not only sporting multiple bands on its legs, but also has a wire for more technologically-accurate tracking. It’s kind of weird to think that with all the birds we encounter, that we would see the same ones multiple times. But birds have favourite hangouts, just like people. And who wouldn’t like Reifel?

Speaking of, despite the crowds, it wasn’t that bad. We went our more-or-less usual route through and these are the things I noticed:

  • Several areas were mostly empty that would otherwise be replete with waterfowl. I have no explanation for this.
  • Related to the above, the herons seem to have moved away from the large slough near the entrance to the marshy ponds closer to the western dyke (outer perimeter of the sanctuary).
  • The wood ducks are back! After seeing none or just one, we saw multiple wood ducks this time, engaged in courtship or…something. It got a little weird at times (hence the title of this blog post). The numbers are still tiny compared to before, but it seems some of them have returned for spring shenanigans.
  • The shoveller empire continues, with shovellers dotted all over the place, though it felt to me their overall numbers were down. Or maybe they were just hiding.
  • Wigeons still sound adorable.
  • Shortly after pondering if the snow geese had moved on, hundreds (possibly thousands) of them began flying in and landing along the shoreline at the edge of the sanctuary (where people can’t go). They seemed closer than previous times, which made for somewhat better shots. We would hear them all get Very Excited occasionally as we continued moving around the trails.
  • The Canada geese on hand were relatively well-behaved. Maybe love has a calming effect. Or whatever it is that geese feel in the spring.

We saw a few other rare birbs, like the marsh wren (Nic wants it noted that the marsh wrens or maybe just a particular marsh wren) is specifically taunting him. It did offer up its butt for one shot, so it at least knows what Nic likes.

A ruby-crowned kinglet also appeared, briefly, and did its usual spastic hopping inside layers of branches. Amazingly I got a shot–but didn’t have time to focus, so it’s really just a blob I can tell people is totally a kinglet.

After Reifel we headed to Mud Bay Park, which we had not been to in almost exactly three years. I donned an extra layer as by this point the weather forecast had revealed itself to be a sham. Mud Bay Park offered very nice views of Mud Bay. And really, not much else. We saw a couple of ducks, a robin and lots of highway traffic. We got a good number of steps in, I got a few bad shots of planes, and we moved on.

We rounded off the afternoon at Piper Spit, where someone had dumped copious amounts of seed all over. When I say copious, I am not exaggerating. Most of the birds were wearing the stuff, particularly the geese and blackbirds, who are never the neatest eaters at the best of times. We saw multiple buffleheads, which was neat–they seem to be showing up regularly here now–and there were swallows darting about, daring you to capture them mid-flight. Nic has made it his mission this year to do so, right after or possibly right before getting the ultimate marsh wren shot.

A couple of Sandhill cranes were back at Piper, but the crowds made it tricky to shoot them. Being Sandhill cranes, they didn’t care at all about all the people finding them neat and/or adorable.

The sun even came out a bit at the end, allowing us to get a few shots in decent light. We paid by having to wait for not one, but two trains, as we left,. I took pictures. When life gives you lemons and all that.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Ruby-crowned kinglet
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow
  • Violet-green swallow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Hooded merganser
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveller
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Snow goose
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Various squirrels

Birding, March 15, 2024: Shoveller? I hardly knew her!

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Richmond Nature House, Iona Beach (Richmond), Piper Spit. Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Mostly sunny 4-12°C

The Outing

Taking advantage of the switch to Daylight Saving Time, we hit four spots today and I ended with over 24,000 steps and am now tired.

First up: Reifel, where even a breeze in the morning didn’t feel too chilly, as the temperature rose fairly quickly. While we did not see owls or the legendary mallard/pintail hybrid, we did get our best shots ever of the night heron, sleeping as always. This is not to say the shots were great, but they were the best we’ve taken! Or the best I’ve taken, at least.

We noticed perhaps a few more shovellers than usual and came to realize that there were dozens of them everywhere, including spots we never usually see them, because there were so many they were crowding themselves out of the usual spots. It had me wondering if their huge numbers and omnipresence may have pushed other waterfowl out. We saw a single wood duck, for example, and normally their numbers are decently represented at Reifel.

We took a bit of a haphazard route through the sanctuary, as there were quite a few more people than you might expect for a Friday, including a tour group from exotic Washington state! This meant we probably missed a few little bits here and there, but we got our shots and had more to do!

Next was the feeders at the Richmond Nature House. The area here was dominated by juncos and to a lesser extent, chickadees. Two squirrels showed up, but neither was quite as dedicated as others we’ve seen when it came to tackling the feeders. The smaller squirrel established a peace treaty with a pair of mallards that arrived (which in itself is unusual). No fancy woodpeckers or jays, though.

We moved onto Iona Beach, where the tide was so far out (how far was it?) we were able to walk the shoreline without getting our feet soaked. Birds were in lesser supply here, though we did see crows, gulls and some others. No yellow-headed blackbirds, alas. I also shot at least eight different boats and ships, which I think is a personal record and will inevitably lead to my first aquatic vehicle gallery, which I may call Holy Ship! With the sun out, we were still able to get plenty of nice scenery shots.

But wait, there’s more! Nic’s phone died while giving us directions from Iona Beach to Piper spit, and it did so while we were on a route we’d never taken before. We switched to my phone and the last update had switched from the sassy Australian voice I know and love to some weird American accent that sounded like, I don’t know, about four regional accents all smushed together. Yuck. I switched back to the Aussie, and we got to Piper spit just in time to wait for the long, long train to go by so we could park.

Songbirds were a bit scarce here, though blackbirds were well-represented. There was also a single pigeon representing all of pigeondom. And also a single seagull. Maybe some bird species were out of town at a convention.

There were again more people than usual here, probably because of the unusually pleasant weather, and several were feeding the waterfowl. Since these people were often at opposite ends of the pier, this had the effect of causing dozens of ducks to move en masse from one end to the other, then back again. They earned their seed today.

And the buffleheads were back! Buffleheads are adorable, as determined by science.

There was some goose drama, but they were reasonably calm today. Maybe it’s because it’s early in mating season, and they need to behave. Behave, relative to being a Canada goose, that is.

By the end I was on my third battery (they are getting old) and I was having intermittent issues with focusing/shutter activation, but I only missed a few shots and no error messages. More importantly, I got some rather nice shots to boot.

Overall, despite a bumpy start1Private joke. You had to be there., it was a good day for birding.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead
  • Canada goose
  • Dowitcher
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Hooded merganser
  • Killdeer
  • Mallard
  • Night heron
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveller
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Trumpeteer swan
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Squirrels big and small