Friday, October 18, 2013

Tropical Kingbird

Every time a rare bird shows up on the Island, I cringe a little, and I can feel my chequing account shrink a little more. BC ferries should offer a big year discount, I think I'll write David Han a letter...
When I heard the news of a Tropical Kingbird showing up at Swan Lake, I bit my lip. Do I try for it? Or take the gamble and hope one would show up on the mainland?

I have a nostalgic relationship with this species, as in 2008 I found the first Lower Mainland Tropical Kingbird in 13 years. It was a big deal for me as its still the rarest bird I've ever found on my own. Since then, they have shown up almost every year, but unlike Vancouver Island, they are not an annual species.

I had two days to decide, so I waited to see more news in case the bird wasn't going to stick around. I still needed Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and was okay with scouring every Pectoral Sandpiper this side of the Pacific for one.

It didn't look good as Friday rolled along. Reports were coming up negative for any trace of the bird. It looked like it was gonna be another Lower Mainland adventure, but around 7pm I saw a post that confirmed, YES, the bird had been seen that evening, I reserved the 7am Ferry.

I made it to Swan lake by 9am, and saw that a few other birders were already staked out on the floating bridge of the lake where the bird was last seen. We waited and watched, checking the masses of willow trees that bordered the pond. There was no sign of the Kingbird.

For those who have never been to Swan Lake, it is a big park with lots of adequate habitat for a Tropical Kingbird to flycatch from. I decided I should take the loop trail around the park, and maybe it would turn up at another location. Along the way I counted at least 15 Anna's Hummingbirds!

Anna's Humminbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Swan Lake was becoming a favourite location to bird in, the trees were alive with fall migrants. Many singing, perhaps the nice sunny morning had stirred up some remnants of spring in the birds. Fox, Song, and Golden Crowned all brushed off their old songs and let loose. Towhees, Chickadees, and Robins joined in. I happened upon a trio of Hermit Thrushes darting back and forth in the darkest recesses of the forest floor.

Hermit Thrush-Swan Lake

As I returned to the bridge, the same group of birders was still planted there, scanning the willow trees. There was still no Kingbird. It was now 11am and I had hoped to do some more Pelican scanning while I was on the Island, and time was closing in on my window of opportunity to see one. I decided that I should check out Jordan River and East Sooke Park, maybe I would get lucky. I figured if someone did spot the Kingbird, it would be sent out via the Vancouver Island bird group and I could rush back for it. Of course, what I neglected to consider was that there is no cell service from Sooke to Port Renfrew, so I wouldn't know if it had been seen or not until I was back in range.

I don't know why I decided to drive all the way to Port Renfrew, I guess mostly because I had never gone before and wanted to at least say that I had been there.
Mother and Cub near Port Renfrew

The birding was fairly quiet along the way. Jordan River was all but dead for the standard flock of Gulls that seemed to always be in the same place each time I visited.

Heermann's Gulls

At Beechey head, I sat on the rocks, praying to the bird gods for a Pelican. None such came, all the while messages were piling up for me in the outer reaches of cell phone space telling of the relocation of the Kingbird.

At about 5pm, I figured it was time to head back. In Langford, cell service was restored, my inbox flooded, and I figured out quickly that the Kingbird had been seen pretty much all day after 11am at a different location, with the last post saying that it was seen just after 3pm at the floating bridge. I tried gunning it, but Victoria loves to drive on Island time and I was going nowhere fast.

Once I was on the main highway though, it wasn't long before I was pulling into the Swan Lake parking lot, scrambling to get my binoculars and camera and get out of the door. In a mad scramble, I scurried down the trail towards the bridge. Right in front of the Swan Lake nature house, I met a man with binoculars, I slowed my pace and sheepishly asked "Is the Kingbird still around"?
He replied, "Yes, I just saw it down the trail, at the top of a Willow, let me show you". We walked a few meters down the trail and there it was, right where he left it, flycatching from a big weeping willow tree.
Bird 351!

Tropical Kingbird!

I was very thankful to the birder, but wish I had gotten his name to thank him. I spent ten minutes watching him move from one branch to another, darting out into the air and returning to perch with a fly in its bill. I heard a pair of Evening Grosbeaks fly over, I looked up to spot them, and when I went back to the Kinbird, it was gone.

I spent 20 minutes searching for it, but it was never seen again by me. The luck of my getting there at that moment, seeing the birder, and seeing the bird could have all have not happened had there been just a ten minute difference. Luck has definitely been on my side at pivotal times throughout this journey.

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