Vancouver – British Columbia Birding Part 2

Day 4 – North Vancouver

The next point of call in the BC adventure was the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area in North Vancouver. By reputation this is a great place to see birds but it was rather quiet while I was there. The usual suspects – which in BC means Black-capped Chickadees, Song Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, Juncos and Red-shafted Northern Flickers – were active but there were no visible shorebirds on the mud flats and not much in the way of warbler action. I did manage to dig up a Black-throated Grey Warbler though – a very smart-looking bird that I had seen once before in Arizona – and also an aberrant Short-billed Gull. Aside from that the main interest was observing the BC subspecies of Song Sparrow (morphna) , which is much darker than the melodia subspecies we see in Ontario.

Vancouver Birding - Song Sparrow
Song Sparrow, Vancouver-style
Vancouver Birding - Short-billed Gull
A key ID feature of Short-billed Gulls is the dark iris on their eye. This one didn’t get the memo.

I then took a jaunt up to Mount Seymour Provincial park but that turned out to be rather uneventful. It was cloudy and foggy and rather bird-free up at the top of the road, and a short walk down one of the trails revealed that I was seriously underdressed for the weather. So a tactical withdrawal to a coffee shop was in order.

Being somewhat at loose ends I decided to chase an American Avocet that had been hanging around a small parkette near Granville Island. My navigator, Mrs Google, took the opportunity to show me some of the seedier parts of Vancouver but the bird was eventually found and photographed.

Vancouver Birding - American Avocet
American Avocet in non-breeding plumage.

… and an unforeseen excursion

At that point, lacking a better plan, I decided to head down to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal in hopes of catching up with the mega-rarity Short-tailed Shearwater that had been seen that morning. A Vancouver native would probably have balked at a cross-town journey on a Saturday afternoon but fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

I arrived at the terminal without a clear idea of where the bird was likely to be, other than the fact that some people had seen it from the ferry to someplace called Duke Point. In the mad rush to find a parking spot, purchase a ticket, get to the gate, find out that a ticket back might be hard to get, rush back to the ticket office to find out that they don’t sell return tickets, and dash back to the gate I had not time to work out two key factoids: that the bird had been seen by looking backwards just after the ferry left the dock; and that Duke Point was in fact (as “everyone” knows) the codeword for a dock about 10km away from Nanaimo – two and a half hours sailing time from Tsawwassen.

So there I was, up on the foredeck in a stiff. cold breeze, staring off into a bird-free channel with a shearwater laughing in my wake. It was only after an hour of fruitless searching that I came in to warm up (note earlier remarks about underdressed for the cold), checked the rare bird reports and realized my error.

This could have ended very badly, with me searching on foot for a motel in Nanaimo, but fortunately it emerged that foot passengers can buy return tickets on the ferry, and even more fortunately I was in the right place to get a brief glance of a Short-tailed Shearwater as we pulled in and darkness settled around us.

Vancouver Birding - Pelagic Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant, as seen through the windows on the ferry dock. Note the gigantic feet!

Day total: 2 life birds (Short-tailed Shearwater and Pelagic Cormorant), 1 new-to-Canada bird

Day 5 – Retrenchment

By now the fatigue from many miles of driving, many early mornings and a rather harrowing experience was becoming a factor. I decided to recharge with a lie-in and a proper breakfast before continuing the chase. My original plan was to head over to Stanley Park, which by rights was a 13 minute drive away. Except that this was Vancouver and a bridge was involved, and when I got into position 13 minutes had turned into 47. I decided that Stanley Park would have to wait. Good thing as it turns out – I later learned that a coyote cull was being conducted and the park was closed for the week. So lacking a better alternative I went back to Maplewood Flats where I knew that I would at least have a nice walk in the woods.

Vancouver Birding - Spotted Towhee
Spotted Towhee, Maplewood Flats

Day total: no life birds, 1 new-to-Canada bird (Anna’s Hummingbird)

Day 6 – Boundary Bay

The next day held greater promise. I met Melissa at 0800 in Delta and the plan was to hit all the key hotspots in the area. The first stop was Brunswick Point, which turned out to be a sparrow-fest. In short order we had seen two of my most-wanted targets, Golden-crowned Sparrow and Sooty Fox Sparrow, and got my best-ever shot of a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

Then it was back to the scene of the crime – the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal – for a feast of waterfowl and shorebirds. Two more key targets went down as we spotted Black Oystercatchers close in and Black Turnstones on a far away island (within scope range but not camera distance). Lots of other good birds were present – Harlequin Ducks, all three scoter species, Horned and Western Grebes and Brandt’s Cormorant. All in all a highly successful stop that justified a proper morning coffee break.

Next on the programme was the mudflats of Boundary Bay. The high tide that day wasn’t very high so again it was telescope time but we were able to identify no less than 12 species of shorebirds, ranging from a pair of Marbled Godwits to 2000 Western Sandpipers. 44 species of bird at that stop and the day was still young!

As a break from all the shore action we dipped into Paulik Park in Richmond, looking fruitlessly for two of my targets: Bushtit and Hutton’s Vireo. The on to the last stop of the day, the near-legendary Iona Island. This is a fancy name for a set of sewage lagoons, but like many such installations there were birds galore, including shorebirds that were somewhat more camera-friendly. We worked the place over thoroughly before I left for the tedious drive back across town to North Vancouver.

Day total: 5 life birds

Day 7 – Vancouver Peregrinations

Melissa was determined that I would not leave without Bushtits and Hutton’s Vireos, so we met the next morning at Queen Elizabeth Park and had both in short order.

By this time I had seen most of my sea and shore targets, but it would not have done to miss out on the Reifel Bird Sanctuary so off we went. An hour’s visit netted 50 species including Black-necked Stilt, a welcome addition to my Canada list. Then, acting on a hot tip, we returned to the ferry terminal and ticked a Brown Pelican – another new Canada bird.

Now in full twitching mode, we headed into suburban Delta to see if a rumoured California Scrub Jay was still lurking around. These jays are not normally in the area but individual wanderers show up fairly regularly to hang out with the Steller’s Jays. Luck was on our side and a rather damp example was added to the day’s tally.

Vancouver Birding - California Scrub Jay
California Scrub Jay

The final port of call was Cypress Provincial Park, where we went looking for some of the higher-altitude forest birds. It went as these things go – half an hour of bird-free hiking and then the Chestnut-backed Chickadees arrived just as we were ogling a Red-breasted Sapsucker. Victory was declared and we went our separate ways, but not before Melissa filled me in on where to look for some of my last remaining targets.

With an hour or so of daylight remaining I decided to try a rocky outcrop near Horseshoe Bay where Surfbirds were rumoured to congregate. No Surfbirds presented themselves, but I got the scope on a large, long-winged shorebird winging its way across the bay. Based on shape, size, bill length and markings I was able to ID it as a Wandering Tattler – a very scarce bird in the Vancouver area. So score one for persistence!

Day total: 4 life birds, 4 new-to-Canada birds

Day 8 – A road trip East

Having booked an evening flight home, the dilemma I faced was: stay local and try to get better pictures of birds seen in the previous days?, or get up at 0315, pack up and drive three hours east so as to be at E.C. Manning park by sunrise, where one might see a Sooty Grouse?  The obvious answer is (b), and despite the perfidiousness of the local Tim’s for not opening until 0400 I made it to the “right” place in time to see the desired bird.

Sooty Grouse

There were two other potential targets on the way back. I was able to connect with Lewis’s Woodpecker at the Hope Airport for decent views and horrible photos, but despite a valiant effort the Black Phoebe near Chilliwack eluded me.

So it was off to the airport and homewards.

Day total: 2 life birds

Trip summary

Trip Total: 35 life birds, 15 new-to-Canada birds

One might observe that 35 life birds equals a good day out in Colombia, Peru or Ecuador, but those places were not open to me and it’s 35 more than I would have had by haunting my local spots in Kingston. Plus it has whetted my appetite to see more of the native birds that Canada has to offer.

So all in all I was most pleased with this trip. And a shout out once again to Chris Charlesworth and Melissa Hafting for helping me to see so many great birds!

2 thoughts on “Vancouver – British Columbia Birding Part 2”

  1. It may not be Columbia or Argentina but BC still has a lot of great birds. You certainly hit the highlights, Anthony! I think I will contact your guides on my next trip there.

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