Birding, June 8, 2024: Warm weather, poopy people

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Shirley's Walk, South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area (Delta)
Weather: Sunny, 18-23°C

The Outing

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

It was all Delta all the time with today’s abbreviated birding trek.

This was the first time this year that Reifel actually felt warm. Almost of the marshland is now green, thanks to a generous amount of rain through May. It was also apparent mono/tripod day, as it seemed like every other person was carrying a camera with a ludicrously large telephoto lens attached.

Several people told us about an oriole in the area, which would have been hard to miss, as it’s bright yellow, but alas, we did not see it. What we did see were a lot of scruffy wood ducks and mallards.

There was also a Sandhill crane up close and personal right near the entrance, then a Rufous hummingbird at the nearby feeders, so a good start.

Goose drama was nearly absent, save for one brief incident that took place in eerie silence. The lack of honking was pleasant, yet disturbing.

A pair of cranes later made their presence known to everyone in the sanctuary with a very loud call/answer routine. It turned out they were parents-to-be on a small island in the middle of one of the inner ponds. We later encountered the presumed dad on the trail and he seemed skittish, which is not the way cranes usually roll. We also witnessed an idiot literally running after him with her phone out, causing it to move briskly away. Nothing like coming to a bird sanctuary and chasing the birds around. Hopefully, some geese pooped on her car, which would probably cause irreparable damage.

We saw some cedar waxwings this time, but they were far off and up in a tree (imagine!), so our shots were not great. Maybe they will be more forthcoming next time.

One not-exactly-a-highlight was in the canal running alongside the East Dyke, where a bunch of unidentified fish, or possibly small sea monsters, were thrashing about all over. Several ducks hanging out were suitably disturbed and moved away from them. I have never seen this sort of display before, and the fish were doing this in probably a half dozen separate spots, if not more. Maybe there was something in the water.

Overall, it was rather quiet, save for the crazy fish and cranes, but we did get treated to yet more marsh wrens showing themselves and singing. The swallows were also all over the place, being shiny and zippy. I tried a few action shots, then decided it was better to just imagine the great shots that existed in my vivid imagination instead. Nic got some very nice swallow shots, though.

Shirley’s Walk

This is a trail in Delta that skirts the marshland and is about 1 km long. It had some nice view, nice benches, two sturdy footbridges, but no birds to be seen.

South Arm Marshes Wildlife Management Area

This is a series of trails that go through woods, with a viewing tower at the end of one, and a view looking over the Fraser River toward Deas Island at the end of another. It was pleasant, and the shade was nice, though the abundant tree roots invoked mild PTSD. Has it really been eight years since I caught my foot on a tree root while jogging and came to a stop by having my body skid across the gravel? Yes, it has. A series of odd wood carvings featuring bearded men, owls and…things…also dotted the trails, giving it a unique vibe. Yes, unique, that’s it.

We did not climb the tower, as it was occupied by two other people, one of whom seemed to be delivering an extended monologue to the silent other.

We did see a few birds here, like a song sparrow, some bushtits, and a robin, which I got my usual fuzzy shots of.

And that was it!

The Shots

Soon™

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

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American bushtit
  • American goldfinch (maybe)
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Barn swallow
  • Brown-headed cowbird
  • Cedar Waxwing
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Marsh wren
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Tree swallow

Waterfowl and shorebirds:

  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Mallard
  • Sandhill crane
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • European starling

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Black squirrel
  • Some wasps and a phat bumblebee

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 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 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, 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

Birding, February 16, 2024: All the owls we never see

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Centennial Beach (Delta), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, cloudy late, 7-11°C

The Outing

A rare-ish weekday round of birding, thanks to sunny weather. We hit Reifel first and soon discovered that school was out today, as the place was chock-full of kids. They were fairly well-behaved, though.

We got off to a nice start with a pair of Anna’s hummingbirds sharing a drink at a feeder.

Surprisingly, there was a thin patina of ice on a lot of the ponds. I suspect most of it melted by mid-afternoon, but we did see one wigeon land on the ice, then sink into it as it waddled forth. This apparently displeased it, as it then flew just enough to land ahead where the water was clear. We also saw some shovelers hanging out like cool kids on the ice (geddit?)

And speaking of shovelers, they were all over the place and in large numbers, save, oddly enough, in one of the spots they usually hang out. We saw what seemed to be a couple of scruffy-looking juveniles.

And speaking of juveniles (I am master of segues in this post), we saw a bunch of juvenile bald eagles circling overhead multiple times. One pass apparently spooked some of the shovelers and they took off, only to land back where they’d flown from a minute later.

The Chickadee Empire was somewhat in retreat, as we saw fewer than normal, and the ones we did see seemed even less interested in sitting still for a moment.

Herons were dotting the landscape like broody sentinels, and we got to see the Sandhill cranes before exiting. Several of them even flew overhead, giving us a chance to behold their gangly forms in the air.

We even saw a common goldeneye, which I don’t think we’ve spotted at Reifel before, though I only got a single shot of it, as it flew away almost as soon as we saw it.

On the way out, an older man told Nic about all the owls we never see. He was still going on and adjusting the onion on his belt as we left. We did not see any owls, alas.

Next up was Centennial Beach. We actually didn’t see many birds here, but the tide was out, so we strolled offshore and took photos of Mt. Baker. We did some gadwalls, more herons and golden crowns. And Nic got a lot of heart points.

With the sun setting at the late hour of 5:34 p.m. we had enough time to visit Piper Spit. By this time the clouds had moved in, so the light went from good to so-so, but you work with what you’re given. Fortunately, the bufflehead was back and diving all over the place. The seagulls that have been occupying the land mass near the pier were completely gone, replaced by hundreds of crows, preparing for their nightly mini-migration. There were making a lot of crow noises, which complemented (?) the blackbird noises.

After seeing no wood ducks at Reifel and only a single coot (or two? It was only one or two), we saw plenty of both at Piper Spit. But mostly it was crows, crows and more crows. And the bufflehead. And actually, a lot more scaups than I remember normally seeing here.

In all, a good outing, even if the clouds made the shots at Piper Spit a bit more challenging at the end.

The Shots
Soon™. But here’s a shot of two hummingbirds as a start:

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

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

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Canada goose
  • Common goldeneye
  • Dowitcher
  • Gadwall
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Night heron (sort of)
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveler
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup (Lesser and Greater)
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow (a billion or so)
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Assorted and somewhat chonky squirrels

Birding, February 3, 2024: The return of berserk geese, plus a bad camera

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Cloudy, 6-7°C

The Outing

We expected cloudy skies today and that’s what we got, though it started to brighten just as we were winding up. But at least it didn’t rain.

For the first half hour or so at Reifel, things seemed about normal. It was cooler than the previous visit, and a bit of wind made it feel cooler, still, but nothing like the deep freeze of mid-January. I forgot my gloves, but while my hands got cold, they didn’t get numb or fall off or anything.

We saw a million mallards near the entrance, and the blackbirds and sparrows near the entrance were being much chattier than usual. Maybe they’re excited about spring coming next month. I am!

We continued down to the bird blinds (nothing to see there, boo) and made our way up the west dyke trail. It was there that I first had a glitch with my camera.

The first of what would be too many to count. If I had to put a number on it, though, I’d say at least dozens. It got progressively worse, persisted through two batteries and by the time we were wrapping up at Reifel, I was pretty relieved that I wouldn’t have to continue doing battle with the camera.

We made a short trip to Piper spit after. Good news: the light was better! There were shorebirds! Bad news: My camera was still being dumb.

I missed a lot of shots. Not one-in-a-million shots, but good shots all the same.

But when the camera was not testing my patience, we noted that Reifel was pretty waterlogged, maybe the worst we’ve seen it. The downside of this was we saw no shorebirds there. On the plus side, we did see wood ducks again, and most of the other species were well-represented. Raptors were present, but tended to be farther away, but we did get to see a Sandhill crane shove its head in a Rona bucket again. It loves that bucket.

While we saw juncos, their numbers weren’t as insane as they were at the Richmond Nature House last week. And we saw buffleheads! They moved to the other side of the pond when we got close enough to shoot. Coincidence, or were they toying with us humans?

And the Canada geese were back, subtly cluing us in to their presence through prolonged and loud honking. A collared goose approached me, not to hiss and dominate, but apparently hoping I had pockets of seed. It stood there so mournfully, I couldn’t bear to take its picture. Also, my camera wasn’t working.

Piper Spit offered a nice contrast, as we not only got brighter skies, but also a few species we didn’t see at Reifel, like green-winged teals and dowitchers. The gulls seem to be here semi-permanently now, and several were bathing, as they also seem to do a lot. And of course, there was coot drama.

Overall, a shorter but still productive bird outing, but I was very cross with my camera by the end. I am researching to see what the issue might be (cold? some mechanical defect? karma?), but would settle for winning the lottery and just buying a replacement.

The Shots
Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House sparrow
  • Marsh wren (heard, not seen)
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Dowitcher
  • Great blue heron
  • Hooded merganser
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveler
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Scaup
  • Trumpeter swan

Common:

  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • One very robust squirrel

Birding, January 13, 2024: Frozen

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Piper Spit (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, -7°C to -5°C

The Outing

The second birding trek of 2024 took place as we were breaking records for cold weather. It started out at -9C and got up to -5C by the time we left Reifel. Normal highs would be around 7C. So it was chilly. Fortunately, there was little wind, as earlier wind gusts had temperatures feeling like as low as -26C.

In fact, save for a bit of open water tucked under the deck that houses the warming hut (my second favourite place), every pond and waterway at Reifel was frozen solid. It was pretty, but this meant that diving ducks were nowhere to be seen, as they do not have tiny, duck-sized ice picks to break through the frozen surface.

Shorebirds were also absent for similar reasons. We were sad.

Canada geese and wood ducks, which might have otherwise been present, were both absent, though we saw them at Piper Spit.

But we were compensated by seeing a red-bellied sapsucker and a barred owl. I actually got a shot of the owl’s face, proving they exist (owls, not just owl faces).

Back on the negative side, it seems the extreme cold was playing havoc with our equipment at times. I had a sequence where all of my photos were super blurry, as if image stabilization was working in reverse or maybe the ghost of George C. Reifel was grabbing my camera and shaking it every time I lined up a chickadee.

There were a lot of chickadees.

My camera seemed to benefit from spending some time in the warming hut, as did I!

The cold not only affected which birds we saw, it also affected the behaviour of the ones that remained. I asked Nic1If you are reading this and you are not Nic or haven’t read a birding post before, Nic is the friend I go birding with. He still only has a single SD card, but his camera could totally beat up my camera around the back of the school. to offer his thoughts on the birdly behaviour, and they are below.

Nic's notes on winter birds as written by Nic:

Aggressive chickadees

Chickadees were landing and flying very close. They even landed on us a handful of times, which they’d never done before! 

Missing ducks

With every single pond frozen--and not just a little bit frozen, the ice looked really solid--there were far fewer ducks to be seen. Some species, such as hooded mergansers and buffleheads (diving predators) and shovelers (filter feeders), were complete no-shows. Remaining were some mallards, wigeons and pintails--all ducks that live on grass--clustering around the main pond behind the office and warming huts. That’s where people were feeding them, and the ice under the huts seemed mostly melted. 

Likewise, no shorebirds anywhere. Are the avocets finally moving on?

Coots (yes I know, they’re not ducks) were present, but in very limited numbers. They seemed to be scattered throughout the sanctuary: one by the small slough in front of the entrance, a handful by the observation platform in the centre.

More robins

Robins come and go regardless of temperature, but there seemed to be an unusually high numbers of robins around, and in unprecedented spots, like around the west dyke trail. Then again, maybe that’s where the best winter berries are found!

More Sandhill cranes

Staff said there were fifteen cranes hanging around the sanctuary, and they all seemed to stay around the main pond. Small wonder, since they were being fed mountains of grain 24/7! This is not without problems, because those birds are fairly finicky and territorial, and I could see a few small confrontations as they bumped up against each other's personal spaces; the local family (2 parents + 1 young) are the most put out, I'm told. And wouldn’t you be, if you suddenly found a dozen strangers camping in your front yard during lean times?

Birbs and ducks crouching down

Ducks tended to lie down on their stomachs when resting on the ice, and in at least one instance it looked like it was pulling its feet up and into the feathers. Likewise, birbs crouched down very low when eating, covering the legs with their belly fluff. Just some rarely-used tactics to keep their extremities warm.

In all, it was weird dealing with such unusual cold, one of those “interesting to experience” things that I can’t say I’m eager to go through again.

We wrapped up at Piper Spit, and while there was ice on the lake, it was not fully frozen and the area immediately around the pier had no ice at all, so most of the usual waterfowl were present, along with a bunch of gulls and crows. By this time the temperatures were starting to fall and, as is often the case, there was some wind coming across the water, so my hands were starting to defeat the image stabilization all on their own. I also took copious shots of gulls taking off and landing repeatedly, but most were with the sun shining into my viewfinder, so I was hoping the shots would turn out.

Most did not turn out.

But I did get some decent shots, even with the cold and complications. In all, I’ll be happy to go out next time with temperatures above freezing. It’ll feel downright spring-like in comparison.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American blackbird
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House sparrow
  • Northern flicker
  • Red-bellied sapsucker
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Sandhill crane
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Barred owl
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Gray and black squirrels

Birding, December 15, 2023: Chickadees for miles, plus a woodpecker

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Richmond Nature House, Terra Nova (Richmond)
Weather: Partly sunny, 6-8°C

The Outing

We headed out for a rare weekday trip to Reifel and lo, when we got there we didn’t have to check in. Instead, a sign indicated that due to low reservations, anyone could just drive on in, which we did. And it was probably the quietest I’ve ever seen the sanctuary. We were able to go for long stretches without seeing anyone, especially in the first hour or so.

What we did see were chickadees. A billion chickadees. And at least a million towhees, who were being unusually cooperative in having their pictures taken. The avocets were still in the main pond, so they may be settling in for the winter. Sadly, they were on the far side, so good shots were not to be had. Herons were scattered about, but none particularly close and most of them either sleeping or grooming, boo. I mean, good for grooming and staying tidy, boo for not showing off that fantastic “stab you” stare they have.

Noted by their absence again were Canada geese and wood ducks. We did see some geese in a field outside the sanctuary, but the wood ducks were nowhere to be found.

We also saw a bonus pheasant on the way in, which was spiffy, even if we couldn’t really stop to get photos.

It was a good day for raptors, too, with a pair of juvenile bald eagles perching high in a tree above us, a Northern harrier sweeping across the shoreline, and a red-tailed hawk perching atop a tree and posing, though perhaps farther away than we would have liked.

Squirrels were copious and rotund.

At one point, Nic slipped when stepping onto one of the slippery wooden viewing platforms. I proved I was not a hardcore photographer by first asking if he was OK, then checking to see if his camera was OK (both were OK).

And after lamenting no Sandhill cranes as we got ready to leave, a pair of Sandhill cranes appeared as if by magic, so we rounded out Reifel with some shots of the pair stalking through the parking lot.

Next up was the Richmond Nature House, where plenty of chickadees, juncos, assorted sparrows and several ambitious squirrels were working away on the feeders. As a bonus, we also saw a downy woodpecker.

We rounded out the day at Terra Nova, where we saw few birds, but got some nice scenery shots of misty mountains, the setting sun and, of course, more planes than you can shake a jet engine at. Well, I did, at least. Nic doesn’t do planes. I compensate by doing all the planes.

Overall, it was a perfectly pleasant outing. There was little wind and it felt relatively mild. A nice way to wrap up birding for 2023 (barring minor excursions here and there).

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American blackbird
  • American robin (maybe)
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Downy woodpecker
  • European starling (sighted, not shot)
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Northern flicker
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American avocet
  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Hooded merganser
  • Long-billed dowitcher
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Northern shoveler
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Snow goose
  • Trumpeter swan

Common:

  • American crow
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle (adult and juvenile)
  • Northern harrier
  • Red-tailed hawk

Non-birds:

  • Black squirrel, gray squirrel and Douglas squirrel

Gallery for November 26, 2023 birding is here

Yes, I finally put some photos together. Enjoy!

Birding, November 25, 2023: I was talking to the ducks

Where: Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Delta), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 4-8°C

The Outing

It was a sunny if brisk day. I headed out before sunrise! I took this photo while waiting at the SkyTrain station for the train to arrive:

We headed off to Reifel and the lack of any real wind helped a lot with staying warm (the extra layers helped, too). We were immediately greeted by the sight of at least four sandhill cranes, grazing about in the grassy area near the hummingbird feeders, and covetously eyeing the yum-filled Rona bucket. The light was pretty terrible here, and proved to be an interesting challenge throughout the day. The birds, however, were plentiful and adorable.

Also, for reasons I could not fully suss out, the sanctuary and Piper Spit (and the restaurant we lunched at) were all super busy. It’s not a holiday (sorry, Black Friday doesn’t count :P), so I’m not sure what was up. I speculated that maybe people were afraid this would be the last sunny weekend for the next four months.

The crowds meant the birds were being well-fed, which meant we had plenty of targets of opportunity. Even the towhees, normally on the shy side, were feeling friendly, with one hopping right up to me, too close to even get a shot. A chickadee casually hopped between Nic and me, Another swooped right past Nic’s face, perhaps as a show of force by the Chickadee Empire.

It was also a heronpalooza. They were all over the place at Reifel, including in the air. And we saw a rare harrier perched on a tree (if only for a few moments), so that was neat.

Four avocets were still in the big pond by the outer dyke, so they may be settling in for the winter. They were too far out for me to get good shots, though. Boo. A guy coming out from the haunted bird blind1It’s more isolated than the others, but I can’t say I’ve seen any ghosts there–yet! gave vague directions on an American bittern he’d seen, but we never saw it. I was a little sad, Nic was a little bittern.

The shortage of wood ducks at Reifel continued–we only saw a single pair, and they were too obscured by low branches to get good shots of. Also, somewhat weirdly, no Canada geese were present, though the snow geese were raising a ruckus along the shore, along with some swans (which we got shots of flying overhead, woo).

We also saw buffleheads and mergansers. Nic caught a shot of one male merganser that looked like he was about to take off, but was actually just taking a massive poop instead. Nature is not always pretty.

The wigeons were being whacky, and we observed various bits of wigeon warfare. I also witnessed some wigeon wuv2Sorry! Mostly. as a pair did this strange head-bobbing ritual, followed by the male, er, doing the deed, then the female going into a flapping frenzy afterwards. I’m not judging!

And I took pictures.

Since the shorebirds were not close by and in bad light, we headed to Piper Spit for some golden hour hijinks and hopefully get better, closer shots of some dowitchers. As I mentioned, it was packed here as well, with lots of bird feeding, feeding frenzies, and birds all over the place. The only disappointment was no Steller’s jays this time.

The light at the lake was especially weird–not just increasingly golden as we neared sunset, but also with lots of interplay between shadow and light, in part due to so many people moving along the pier, with the sun being low behind them. It produced some dramatic shots, as well as some not-so-great ones.

We also saw the world’s largest gray squirrel. I’m not one to fat shame a squirrel, but let’s say this particular one was set for this winter and possibly several others.

In all, a fine outing, and we got out just as the temperature started to plunge (though we got caught by a train and had to take photos of it while we waited). I feel I got a much higher ratio of good shots vs. last week, so I am pleased.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House finch
  • Red-winged blackbird
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee

Waterfowl:

  • American avocet
  • American bittern
  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Canada goose3Technically we didn’t see them at either location, but I saw some in a field outside of Reifel
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Hooded merganser
  • Lesser scaup
  • Long-billed dowitcher
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Ring-necked duck
  • Snow goose
  • Trumpeter swan
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Black and gray squirrels
  • Rusty the pipe