Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reifel Bird Sanctuary - British Columbia (#182-187)

The great thing about "coming out" as a birder is that there are tons of people who are like, "hey, ya, I've been a birder all along!"

And so it was with Matt's uncle Al and aunt Deb. They asked if we would like to go to Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner BC for a guided bird walk a few days after the cruise. Would we?!?! This post was the tail end of our West Coast trip. What an amazing way to finish it off!

It was a gorgeous day, and our Sunday morning walk started at 10 (ha! birding is my church). Right away there were a ton of ducks and shorebirds in the pond at the entrance. We admired those (a lot of mallards in eclipse plumage, with a few green-winged teals mixed in). We were treated to a peregrine watching over the scene on a nearby tree.

We barely turned around and started up the path, someone spotted a black-crowned night heron perched in a tree in the sunlight. We all got spectacular looks through the scope. This is the great thing about group outings - 20 sets of eyes are certainly better than 1, and there were lots of birds I just wouldn't have pointed out. You also get the way more knowledgeable birders too, and there's lots to learn.

Then, in the same patch of trees, someone sees a little yellow bird. Yeah, little yellow cause for a stir there. But thank goodness this group is here to say, "Western Tanager!" Oh my,  I surely would have brushed it off as a finch or something!

#182: Western Tanager; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011

A bunch of mallards (now is that mal-erds or mah-lards?) were eating on the trail and I spotted one that didn't quite match the other females. I pointed this out to one of the guides, and she said, no, it's quite different isn't it? Do you know which one it is? At which point i grunted hard in comtemplation and was only able to muster up, "uh, gadwall?" birder FAIL. She's a beautiful northern pintail...her patterning is so delicate!

All the male mallards were in awkward eclipse plumage!
I've got to say, sometimes it's just as much fun to take pictures of birders as it is birds. Let me ask you...have you found a better place to keep your Sibley's?
All keenly paying attention!

Again, the group outing really did for me. Let's be honest, these birds pretty much all look like grey/white things with long bills on long legs. I could never, ever realize that there's something I need to be looking out for on one bird versus all the other birds that are darn near identical. Maybe one day...
I am SURE that I never would have picked these out. However, snapped the shots, pulled out the book when we got home and confirmed all of their IDs!

#183: Western Sandpiper; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011

I think I accidentally called 101 a Lesser Yellowlegs, but it was a greater, so here is #101 again:

One amazing thing being out west was seeing sandhill cranes. Totally magnificent birds that are seen only briefly as they pass near Ottawa.We saw them on a few occasions out there, and they are much more common. Still a treat to see. One had a bright orange band around its one leg, which was apparently a radio tag.

not a great shot, but there's the radio band
Ok, this part is a little disappointing because the next birds could have been 2 lifers for me. We saw a group of dowitchers and now I can't remember if they were short- or long-billed. Well, it was a group of lots of one with a single of the other, and I can't tell which is which or which is the single in any of my pics. So I guess it will have to suffice to say that I saw...dowitchers.

#184: Stilt Sandpiper; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011
I really thought this guy was a yellowlegs. Our wonderful companions pointed out the dark legs and the distinct downward pointing bill and we were on our way with another lifer under our belts!
Stilt sandpiper on left, dowitcher on right.
Gaswall getting some shuteye. Pattern on the underside is not nearly as fine as you normally see...interesting
#185: American Coot; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011
At the farther end of the pond, I thought I saw a black duck swimming....with white on its head. I was quite sure of it, but was drawing a blank as to what it could be. I asked the guy next to me, who says, "could it be a coot?" Omg! How could I forget?

Inside I squealed with excitement for triumphing over my friend Ron in spotting the elusive coot first. Poor Ron has been looking for one for years, and even visited Coot Bay Pond in the Everglades, where he left a comment card indicated in the suggestion box: "Coot Bay Pond should be renamed - no coots present." I have had similar un-luck --I can pull out a virginia rail most days but not a silly coot. Not today! The coot drought was over, and I can confirm, Ron, that they do exist.

Of course I'm sure the other "serious birders" questioned why I got so excited. I certainly couldn't understand why they weren't jumping with joy as I was.

#186: Northern Shoveller; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011
I've never had the pleasure of seeing these at home. I probably wouldn't have spotted these either on my own as they were pretty far out, but once spotted, it's hard not to miss that broad bill on the shoveller.

#187: Eurasian-Collared Dove; Reifel Bird Sanctuary, British Columbia, September 4, 2011
A bird that wasn't on my radar, but it really stood out for me so I shot some pics. I checked the book and it wasn't even showing in BC on the range maps. As it turns out this bird is native to Asia and Europe, but it's "it has been one of the great colonisers of the bird world." Here's some more interesting info:
The Collared Dove was introduced into the Bahamas in the 1970s and spread from there to Florida by 1982. It has become invasive; the stronghold in North America is still the Gulf Coast, but it is now found as far south as Veracruz, as far west as California, and as far north as Alaska, the Great Lakes, and Nova Scotia.
We ended up also seeing them near the cabin we were staying at in Point Roberts. So maybe keep an eye open for a Eurasian-collared dove near you!
We actually saw other birds that I haven't even touched on. It was an incredibly successful day...about 40 types of birds seen, and so many lifers!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Grouse Encounter!

I'm going to go a litte bit out of order here but I just felt I had to post this. Last week Matt and I were out in the greenbelt in the west end and not too far in we hear something and then see a bird. We realized quickly that it was a grouse, and we made our best efforts to go stealthily as I cursed not bringing the camera. Wouldn't you know, it didn't matter...apparently this is a friendly grouse and he came right up to us and hung out with us until we left; during that time he also chased off a mountain biker. It was kind of surreal and the bird is such a beauty when you see it up close. I got lots of video on my iphone!

Listen at 1:49 of this makes the most AWESOME noises. Turn it right up!

Back soon with more posts I hope!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Cruisin II - Icy Strait and Ketchikan (#178-181)

Can't believe I've been back for almost a month and STILL posting stuff from my trip!

Day 4 we arrived at Icy Strait Point, and I pretty much had no expectations for this port because I could find hardly any info about it online. In fact, I didn't even know if we were getting off the boat, or if it was another glacier-type thing or what. The great thing about low expectations is that you almost always exceed them, and it turned to be a fantastic day.

There is a really nice walking loop around the beach that starts at the port, follows the beach and enters some really spectacular forest. Almost immediately we heard the little chips of little birds and we were off in hot pursuit. After much time and patience, we got one nice and close to us for pics, as an increasing crowd of people form around us. Any time someone stops and is clearly looking at something with interest in Alaska, it's worth stopping and having a look too. We did this and saw mountaingoats, bears, etc.-- Unfortunately, I think the people who stopped to see what we were looking at were a little disappointed. I heard "there's a bunch of little birds in that tree." I don't know if they were expecting an eagle or mountaingoats or bears or spaceships what.

#178: Golden-Crowned Kinglet; Icy Strait Point, AK; August 30, 2011

i be checkin' u ouuuuut.
Our second Steller's Jay of the trip

My best guess is pigeon guillemot for this one, because of the pattern on the wing.
  Went on nice walk along the beach and back through the woods. You can't miss my orange backpack.

Icy Strait is where most cruisers visit and it stops there for them, but you can also walk over to the neighbouring village of Hoonah. It's a cute little fishing village. I really remember this day because this is the day the sun really came out....I even took my sweater off!
hmm....murrelet maybe?

A dark-eyed junco (Oregon Junco). Very different from the ones at home!

such a beauty

#179: Lincoln's Sparrow, Icy Strait Point, AK; August 30, 2011
Sparrows are still hard, but at least I'm getting to the point where I get the feeling that there's something "different" going on here and take a picture in case.

#180: Mew Gull; Icy Strait Point, AK; August 30, 2011
A lot of the gulls I had suspicions about out there, so I usually just took pics and check when I get home. I still have to pull out the book for most of them....
bill...check...leg colour...check...mantle...check...eye colour...check......

#181: Bonaparte's Gull; Icy Strait Point, AK; August 30, 2011
Too bad I didn't get these guys with the black heads!

Our final port in Alaska was KETCHIKAN, which I absolutely loved. The Fish Ladder was totally spectacular to watch and one of the highlights of the trip for me. We saw salmon returning to spawn all over Alaska, but nowhere had we seen them fighting the current as they did here. I'm not sure I have even been so aware of a wonder of nature as at that moment, watching these little beings fighting against something so much bigger, more powerful, so seemingly impossible--watching them jump, and fail, get thrown back to start again, or slammed against rocks ro concrete, and their bodies getting so destroyed that some of them are the saddest looking things once they make it. And I just kept asking myself, why, why, why do they do it? It is totally incredible, and maybe more of a miracle than much bigger things.

Ok, second try at video. The first one was way too small so went the YouTube route...

Creek Street in Ketchikan
Ketchikan from our balcony

Our birding was limited in Ketchikan, but the following day, which was our last day at sea and spent entirely on the boat through the inside passage (bizarrely enough, something changed and I could tell that this was "home" again), we were treated to other sightings, including a huge pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins swimming alongside our ship, and a pod of killer whales :)

Just because we were on the boat doesn't mean I missed out on birding entirely for that day. When everyone was hanging out at the pool on the last day (sea day), I thought everyone was joking when they said there was a little yellow bird hanging out in the solarium. No, there was actually a warbler. I don't know how he got in (not hard to imagine), but I can imagine how confusing it would be for him to find his way out. I felt awful to the point to that I tried to herd him out in the right direction but failed miserably (herding warblers proved rather impossible). At least the boat was headed in the right direction (south)...but if he didn't get out before it headed back up to Alaska, he'll be in trouble :(

Anyways, the other thing is I'm a bit bewildered as to what he is exactly. The black on its head immediately suggested to me that it was a Wilson's, but as far as I know, Wilson's never have streaks on their breast (the streaks totally look like yellow warbler streaks), what the heck??

Which brings me to another point. One night we were out on the balcony, cruising, when we noticed these little flecks of light coming in and out of sight. We realized that they were little birds flying alongside the ship, coming in and out of view and being lit up as they got closer to the lights. So here we are, way out in the ocean (land not even visible), with these little birds flying with us. Realizing we were in the middle of migration, I knew they were probably migrating with the ship. I'm not sure if it's easier for them to fly on the drafts created by the ship (of course, it would be easier to just land and enjoy the ride!), or if they like the light, or what exactly was going on. It could either pose a serious problem or be helpful to them.....I'm not sure which, but it's something to think about.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cruisin' - Juneau and Skagway (#174-177)

We boarded the Radiance of the Seas at night on the 26th...which felt a little unreal having planned this cruise nearly a year prior. Here's a little map of where we went (red and yellow dots)
The first day was spent entirely at sea, with a stop to admire Hubbard Glacier. There was word that an albatross had been cruising with the ship for a while in the morning; alas, I did not see it. I had a little hope in my heart for the odd pelagic, but didn't really spent a ton of time on my balcony with my eyes peeled on the skies...too much to do on the ship!

Day 2 we hit JUNEAU, the capital of Alaska and home of Mrs. Palin. In case you didn't know, there are NO roads that go to Juneau, so you must fly or boat in (unless you are in possession of a teleporter). It was a rainy day, so that was a bit of a downer, but didn't stop us from going at it full force anyway. I didn't take the camera out with me as our plans got a little switched around and once I decided I wanted it, we were off the boat already. We spent the morning climbing up Mount Roberts (elevation 3819 ft - there's a tram that goes up too, but that's just too easy isn't it?).
At the top there was a "Raptor Centre," which made always makes me anxious and conflicted, because I obviously love to see birds, but I don't really support keeping animals in captivity so I don't visit zoos, aquariums or any of the like. Well, at the top of the hill there was a little coop with a HUGE adult eagle. I spoke to her supervisor, who explained that she was rescued and that made me feel a little better: she had been shot through her beak (WTF?!) and lost her left eye, resulting in a crash that broke her wings. I asked how long she had been there and when she would be released; she had been there 5 years and would never be released because she would not regain her full flight capabilities or eyesight so she could not survive in the wild :( So I guess there is no option but to keep her in captivity, but that little coop was so small for such a magnificent bird. I dunno...maybe there is something I don't know.

In the afternoon we headed to Mendenhall Glacier. These falls are just beside it.
 Didn't see a ton in the line of birds, except these guys at the visitor centre:

But wouldn't you know what we did see!

I may have mentioned once or twice how terrified I am of bears, but for some reason I wasn't scared at all seeing these guys. And yes I was as close as it looks.  There are 17 actively feeding bears in the area (we saw 2). But they were too busy stuffing their bellies with salmon to be interested in me. After my trip to Alaska, I determined that I'm not all that scared of black bears but I am that much more terrified of grizzlies.
so scary

In the town of Juneau outside the Red Dog Saloon, I got a great shot of a raven in the street. The ravens there are kind of like crows here; I've never really seen them this close, and they are absolutely stunning birds. Check out the blue on the back, and the schnoz on that thing!
Day 3 we got to SKAGWAY. We took the White Pass Railroad in the morning, which follows the route of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Some pretty spectacular scenery.

After our ride we sort of wandered around. There was a little path that ran behind the houses away from the main drag where all the tourists were. We saw this beautiful little juvenile thrush. The spots around its head ans shoulders are just lovely.
Not far away we found a backyard where there seemed to be a lot of activity and a bunch of feeders. Well, it was a little weird peeking into a stranger's yard, but we determined "there's lifers in that thar yard" (oh haha I made an Alaska joke).
We see some chickadees..."hey now, that doesn't sound quite right...hey now, they don't look quite right."

#174: Chestnut-sided Chickadee; Skagway, AK; August 2011

And then a Steller's Jay (you know, Steller, also of Steller sea lion fame--no, I didn't either until I went to Alaska), gets in the frame too. Holy bigeeessis! Then, wouldn't you know, the resident opens her door, gets a peanut, and that jay hops ONTO HER HAND to eat it. Well, why the heck haven't I tried to hand train blue jays?

#175: Steller's Jay; Skagway, AK; August 2011

In the same area there were some little yellow birds. I had also seen them in Seward and thought immediately, black-throated green warblers, NBD. Woops, then I started seeing this "Townsend's Warblers" mentioned everywhere and wondering a) what the heck are they and b) why haven't I seen one? I look in the book--black-throated greens aren't even in Alaska, they have a similar looking counterpart in Alaska. The markings on the face are quite different once you get down to looking!

#176: Townsend's Warbler; Skagway, Alaska; August 2011
We're sort of moseying along (because when we we're birding we don't seem to get anywhere very fast) and hear a huge bunch of little birds, and we follow them. And by huge flock I mean HUGE. We find them in the tops of the trees and this is the first time we've got pics of Pine Siskins. Not great pics, but pics nonetheless!

#177: Pine Siskin; Skagway, AK; August 2011

We saw a few varied thrushes over the course of the trip. I remember well the first one that we saw, and had one of those really awesome moments that don't happen too often anymore..."Omg I have no idea what that is, and I don't even know where to look for it in the bird book."
There's never enough time at any of the ports, and certainly not enough to get birding in with all the other things you want to see.  Even though we could have stayed longer, that boat would leave without us. So back on we got, and  more big adventures the next day at a new destination!