Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Those pesky Plovers

There are a lot of things I've learned through birding over the years. One of the main virtues I've taken from my experiences is patience. In my earlier years, if I went looking for a rare bird, I often never spent more than an hour or so; my success rate was not very good. Now when it's something I'm looking for, I can spend hours, even days, on the hunt for one bird.

In the case of the Nelson's Sparrow, for instance, I can easily attribute a good 16 hours spent directly searching for that one bird..
I stood four hours for the Smith's Longspur. Others gave up after three, and never reaped the reward. I only wish I had been as dedicated as I am now at the beginning of this year.  For instance, when I should have been standing for hours waiting for the Citrine Wagtail, I ended up succumbing to impatience much too easily, and gave up.

The other lesson I've learned: Don't make assumptions. The day I visited Sooke after the Pelagics I made it as far as the Whiffen Spit Parking Lot, saw a bunch of dog walkers, and decided not to bother going further. The next day a Pacific Golden Plover was reported, mere minutes from where I stood.
My mistake would cost me a ferry ride and a day I could've spent looking for other species. Lesson learned.

Today was my do over. Daniele Mitchel texted me the night before proposing a joint Plover retrieval mission. We had both spent hours combing the Tofino airport together, and I was glad to have him come along, these Ferries were becoming costly.

We took the 7am ferry and were in Sooke by 9:30am. The weather was abominable: absolute pouring rain. My binoculars and scope were fogged up soon after leaving the car. We trudged along the Spit, noting Oystercatchers, Turnstones, a plethora of Sparrows, but no Plover.

It wasn't looking good. We split up to cover more ground but aside from turning up more Turnstones, there wasn't much else. It seemed like this was a bust. We were ready to give up and go look for Pelicans, deciding that maybe if we returned later in the day it would show up. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, like leaving would be a big mistake. I hurriedly scanned the middle of the spit again. My binoculars were barely functional from the raindrops, but just enough to make out a little Golden Plover tucked in between some rocks.

"I've got it! I've got it!"
I danced excitedly as sheer relief filled me. I set up the scope for a better look, and even risked my camera in the rain for a few photos.

Pacific Golden Plover

We savoured the Plover while enduring the downpour. Moments later, I happened to check my phone and saw a message from the Vancouver Island bird forum: Jeremy Kimm had just found a Hooded Oriole at Jordan River, a mere 25 km from where we stood. Could it be fate?

We pushed on to Jordan River, driving through the torrential downpour. As we reached the beaches, the clouds lifted, revealing the warm sun. I pulled into the parking lot and we set about checking all the deciduous growth we could. There was a Yellow Warbler, and lots of Sparrows but no Oriole. A few Dowitchers flew by but nothing too exciting, bummer. We decided to go to Victoria for some Pelican twitching.

Turns out we picked the worst possible day to try and get to the Victoria Waterfront, as there was some sort of bike race going on. Half the roads were blocked off, and the other ones were crammed with cars probably as confused about where to go as we were. After about an hour of zig zagging down side streets, we reached Clover Point.

Spotting a Pelican seemed easy enough, we just needed one to fly by. After 20 minutes of scanning the waters off Clover point, I noticed a large shape carousing through the fog. It glided from far out, close to the water with slow wing beats, everything said Brown Pelican, except for the fact it was like 2 miles out and through my binoculars, there was no way of a good identification. I hoped it would fly in closer, but instead, it cruised further and further out until it disappeared.

Was it a Brown Pelican? Me and Daniel agreed it probably was, but as anyone who knows Brown Pelicans can say, if you can't tell that it's a Pelican, you didn't see a Pelican. It was time to head back, and while there were more misses than hits, it was still a great day, with good company.

the Whiffin Spit Plover

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