Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Longspur

American Pipit-Boundary Bay

If there's one thing this big year hasn't lacked, its drama. I've climbed three mountains for a Ptarmigan species, missed birds by mere minutes, and had rare Warblers fall right into my boat. This blog basically writes itself, except for the fact that sadly, I still have to type it all out. That being said, it was no surprise that moments after returning from a successful Pelagic trip, I found out that my last two days on the Island were going to be ruined by a Smith's Longspur that decided to show up back home in Vancouver.

My plan was to drive to Sooke for the night and spend a few hours trying to track down a Brown Pelican or two. Since other people, namely Rob Lyske, would be looking for the Smith's in the morning, I would know if it had been spotted again or not, preventing a premature return home in case the little guy had taken off.

That night, there was a big rainstorm and I decided to stay in my car at the Sooke visitor info center. In the morning, I first hit up Jordan River, a notorious hot spot for rarities. Through the rain, I scoped a big flock of Gulls, picking out a Hermann's Gull. There were no rarities to be seen in the shrubbery surrounding the beach so I turned around and hit up East Sooke Park. 

Beechey Head Point is the main attraction of the park; it is a famed Hawk watching locale, the best place in southern BC to find rare migrating Broad-winged Hawks. Its also one of the best places near Victoria for sea watching. In this rain storm however, I would get neither migrating hawks, nor Brown Pelicans. I spent about an hour getting soaked and hoping for one of the massive prehistoric birds to fly by. Unfortunately, all I was met with were more Hermann's Gulls. 

I figured I should check out some spots in Victoria; Cattle Point was another good place to scope the ocean. I never made it there, however, as on my way, I received a text that the Smith's Longspur had been found. I booked it to the ferry, and thankfully caught the 12pm crossing.

By 3 pm I was back on the Mainland and racing to Boundary Bay. As I hurried to the old familiar dyke, the anxious hope began to build inside me. Near the Pilings I could see a large crowd of birders with their scopes fixed not on the mudflats, like they usually were, but on the opposite side of the dyke, in the adjacent potato field. Before I got to them, I found a few American Pipits that were unusually tame compared to the regular "flying over my head" way I usually see them.

American Pipit-Boundary Bay

Mike Toochin, who had originally discovered that the bird was there, was amidst the whole flock of birders, intently staring into their scopes. I found out that the bird had been seen a few hours before, but not since. I set up alongside them and began the patient waiting game. Catching a glimpse of a small bird in this massive field seemed like a daunting task. Things did not look good, to say the least. 

I waited, watched, waited, waited, and watched. My scope scanned back and forth for what would be another hour or so. The September sun beat down as my eyes began feeling crossed from staring so hard. It seemed all but hopeless, but we heard it call...once. All our scopes shot to the left, the direction of its rapid twittering. It was as if it had flown in from somewhere without our realizing.

My legs began to ache from standing in one spot, and with the weariness of the day, I almost didn't notice it at first. My scope, moving back and forth, suddenly hit on a small bird poking up from the dirt. At first I thought it was a pipit, but a pipit wasn't that orange...Mike called out he had the bird! Did I have the bird too? Birders rushed to his scope one by one, to get a look, I managed to sneak a peak, and yes! Through a nice Swarovski you could definitely tell it was a Smith's Longspur. 

I rushed back to my scope to keep looking, but it had already dropped back out of sight. A half hour later, it popped back up, for another 15 seconds and was gone again. Yes, this is what birding can sometimes be like, but it still counts and was well worth the effort.
With a Smith's Longspur in the bag, I had now seen all the breeding songbirds of BC in one year. 
What a weekend. 

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