I knew the odds were in favour of the bird sticking it out. What choice did it really have? Port McNeill is a long way from California. And being that it had found the only oasis within the endless miles of coastal coniferous forests, I doubted it could survive an escape attempt. But you never know. I had nightmares of a Cooper's Hawk picking off the Oriole which probably stuck out like a sore thumb in such bleak environs. Saturday could not come soon enough.
I would not be doing this trip alone though, Kevin Neill needed the bird for his BC and Canada lists. I jumped at the offer of splitting costs. These ferry trips have taken a big toll on the wallet. I think I've been on more ferries this year than all my years of living previous. Its also always nice to meet new birders, which I have managed to do alot of this year.
We set out early Saturday morning. The 630 Ferry was nowhere near full at this time of year. When we got to Nanaimo it was still fairly dark and we went straight up the Island Highway to Campbell River. Luckily for us the temperature had risen the last few days making the narrow winding road to Port McNeill virtually clear of snow and cutting down the expected travel time.
Around noon we arrived in Port McNeill. It wasn't too hard to find the house with the hummingbird feeders. As we parked in front, the sun had broken through the clouds for the first time that day. Creating an odd lighting effect as the wind blew the sprinkling rain, it glistened. The Oriole was not around, so we staked out, sitting in the car to avoid the wind. I felt the familiar anxious feeling when looking for a rarity.
After about 15 minutes of waiting, we exclaimed as a bright yellow/orange bird popped up in front of the house. Hooded Oriole! Three Hundred and Sixty One.
We oo'd and ahh'd at the tropical looking bird, looking much out of place. It finally flew off to make its rounds and I was relieved. I had finally gotten out of the longest bird less period of my year. On the way back I got an Ebird report of a Black Phoebe in Chilliwack! Well, looks like my Sunday had just been planned for me. Overall it was a 15 hour 750km trip for one bird. I guess this is how the last month of a big year goes, it was well worth it though.
Sunday Morning me and Vanessa set out for Chilliwack. Vanessa had come in from San Jose the night before, because of the Oriole I wasn't able to pick her up from the airport. I'm sure she was happy this year was coming to and end almost as much as I was. The Phoebe had been seen by Fraser Valley birder Dave Beeke during the Chilliwack Christmas Bird Count. What a count bird.
I followed my Google Map directions making a multitude of turns down suburban streets until I arrived at Kitchen Rd. The Black Phoebe had been observed hawking insects along the slough bordering the road. I felt like it would turn out to be needle in the haystack searching, but to my relief I came upon two birders who waved me in. They had found the Phoebe!
|A Phoebe on the ice. A rare sight indeed|
As I opened the car door I could already hear the Phoebe. It was hunting along the slough, landing on the Ice, hovering over the open water, going from perch to perch persistently giving its fuzzy one note call. I managed a few poorly lit photos. After about 15 minutes the Phoebe seemed to become more vocal and agitated, we couldn't tell what was causing the commotion.
The bird flew up from the slough across Kitchen rd into a large tree. It called again, and took off, flying high up into the sky and over the farm fields until it became a dot on the horizon not to be seen again. I don't believe in fate really, but I had to think about the timing involved. Had I arrived 15 minutes later, I would not have that bird on my year list. Talk about a wild weekend. I scored a Hooded Oriole and a Black Phoebe in mid December. Lets hope my last two weekends pan out as well.