Monday, September 23, 2013

A Belaboured Labour Day

Boundary Bay
And it seems like forever since I have updated my blog. I had delusions of grandeur envisioning all the great posts I would create for each birding journey, but sadly, life gets in the way. I will just do a run through of some of the highlights dating from last entry to before my Pelagic Trip (the Pelagic trip recount will get royal treatment, as it was pretty epic). Let's get started.

I have begun to know Boundary Bay like the back of my hand, and it seems like I've spent an eternity walking the dyke between 96th street to the mansion this summer. 
This particular day started like any other: a hot late summer day at low tide. Things began to look promising when, pulling into the parking lot, I saw Rob Lyske's truck already waiting. Rob says I am a good luck charm, and usually when we both show up at the same location, he sees a good bird. I say the exact same thing about him. 
I met Rob up near the famous "pilings". We were both searching for a Red Knot, among other things.
The Pilings at Dusk
The first few hours went by slowly. There wasn't much around, and with the tide still far out we spent most of our time making the trek towards the mansion. It's always a gamble to make the full trek, there's either a reward waiting for you, or you are just looking at a bunch of Yellow Legs wishing you had stayed at the Pilings. Today was the latter as there wasn't much more than a few Greater Yellowlegs and some Dowitchers. 

These guys were all over the road

On our way back, we met up with the Diakow brothers. Just as we were approaching them, a shorebird flew up from a farm field opposite Boundary Bay, and down to settle near the pilings. The Diakows managed to stay on the bird, and after a couple of tense, hopeful moments, yelled out the magic words: "Buff-breasted Sandpiper!"
We all jumped at these shouts and luckily for us, got good looks for a few minutes before it took flight again, not to be seen again that day. 

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I was elated; Buff-breasted Sandpipers are never a given, and especially since the Turf Farm had produced absolutely nada this summer, it was a species I was especially glad to check off the list.
Me and Rob ended up walking down to 112th Street, where a large Black-bellied Plover flock was waiting out the high tide. It was a long walk but worth it, as after a few minutes of scanning I spotted a Red Knot darting into and around the flock of Plovers. I would end up seeing a few more over the weeks to come, but the first is always the best. 

Salmon Arm

As much as I enjoy shore birding Boundary Bay, I think I enjoy leaving town for the interior even more. I decided to risk missing out on something good locally and set forth to try for a Stilt Sandpiper that was being seen at Salmon Arm Bay. There had yet to be a Stilt reported in the lower mainland this summer, and I was beginning to get anxious waiting for one to show up. If they don't come to you, you must go to it, I guess.

The thing about Salmon Arm Bay is you either need a good scope, or you need a good pair of boots. Unfortunately I had neither, so instead I trudged out onto the mudflats in my hiking shoes, getting soaked up to my knees in the process. The amount of shorebirds here probably beats anywhere else in the interior: Yellowlegs, Dowitchers, Western, Least, Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers lined the mud around the edge of the lake where the Salmon River empties. After some searching, I finally noticed the down curved bill and greenish yellow legs of the Stilt Sandpiper. I also added a trio of Red-necked Phalaropes. Success!

Of course, 2 weeks later I would discover a Stilt Sandpiper at the mansion and have far superior views. Patience is a virtue, I suppose.

Western Screech Owls
The next night would be another attempt at one of my most wanted birds: the enigmatic Western Screech Owl. Sadly, these birds are all but gone from the Lower Mainland, a casualty of Barred Owl range expansion and possible habitat loss. Some still reside, but due to these birds' adaptations, they have stopped being as vocal or responding to calls, probably in fear that a Barred Owl would show up and eat them.

Luckily enough the Okanagan has a stable population, and because Barred Owls aren't an issue in dry Ponderosa Pine canyons, they still call at night. I had made a few night time excursions around the Willowbrook area near White Lake, but had not caught wind of a Screech. This time a hot Ebird tip lead me to Kilpoola Lake Road, so around 9pm, I set out.

Whats an Owling expedition without coming across a frog?
I made stop after stop without so much as a single hoot. I reached Kilpoola lake and decided to turn back, there were too many people camping and having bush parties, it made it impossible to hear anything.
On my way back, I stopped just before where the road goes down a steep hill. Standing out in the silence, I was ready to give up when I heard a faint "whoop whoop wup wup wup"....and then another. There were two!

I played a recording and the calls got closer and closer until I had one "whupping" right above my head. Using my small pen flashlight, I scanned the branches. For a few seconds, I had the glow of eyes stare back at me, and then they were gone. The Owls continued calling for a few more minutes and then, just as suddenly as they had started, the Owls stopped, and the woods fell silent.

I managed a short recording of the Owls, (don't mind the hissing, I think it started when I dropped my phone in a creek on my hike up Needles Peak).

And so that about catches me up to my Pelagic Trip, stay tuned.


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