Monday, January 11, 2016

1/11/2016 The Circus is in Town

Victoria-Surrey BC Canada

Big Year Day 11

Big Year Total:  293
Coded birds:  13
Cool animals: Bobcat, Harbor seal
Miles driven.  4450
Hours at sea: 4
Miles walked 26
states/ prov. birded:6
Flight miles:8200

I brought this traveling sideshow called my Bad Weather Big Year to Victoria BC to see something called a Redwing, a European thrush more commonly seen around Viking ruins in Norway and Denmark, but for some strange reason, one likes holly trees on the west cost of North America in Victoria.  I think this is only the second west coast appearance of this thrush, and so it is a really good bird.

 I was going to call this blog..Oh Canada! and do some parody of their national anthem, and tell Canada stories and I have many.  My favorite golf course is north of Vancouver (Furry Creek), a great nude beach is in BC, my favorite restaurants are in BC, and the only 4 NHL games I've ever watched in person is watching the Orcas in GM Place in Vancouver.  My first grizzly bear chase--Vancouver, my first bed bug attack--BC, my first chase by thugs--BC...I have too many stories, way too many stories.  But this is about birds...I guess...?  I'll save the stories for next time.

I met up with Jim, "I feel Good" Brown, or as he is known in the birding circuit, "Arvid" and we landed late in BC.  We woke up the 9th and immediately went to the Redwing stakeout which since this bird has been about for a while was a bit muted.  We met a nice couple from Texas and we started the wait.  Unlike some stakeouts this was an active one, only 4 of us and so we had work at it.  It took 20 minutes before the thrush was located and 15 before it came out and all 4 of us noticed it.  I shot a wonderful picture to get lifer #720.

Shortly afterwards at bird #248, my Canada Goose free Big Year record was broken, I finally spotted one, well more than one.  You try to see 250 species of birds without seeing a Canada goose, it isn't easy, but it was a FOY bird, #249, Canada Goose.

Worthy of a photo and hopefully not the last record I would break this year....

We watched as a series of cats as they eyed the hedgerow, also birdwatching I suspect if the redwing disappears we'l know the that Fluffy!  We are on to you.  Orangie slunk away without photographs, but the same for him.   Every circus needs a big cat....?

We met up with a local birder named Matt Cameron, a cool musician ex-pat from Iowa and he took us around.  We saw it all, birds, views and I want to say it here...the weather was GREAT!!  Our guide was better!

Mt Baker in the background.  You can't make up a view like this.

Year birds from the tour... 

Black Turnstones

Golden-crowned kinglet

Harlequin Duck

Northwestern Crow


We saw lots of birds,, 32 year birds and had a good time, after the long day, we toasted it with a beer at the White Spot.  I'm a little windblown from a seawatch but heck, the beer is all good.

Nothing says a lifer like a great beer!!  I logged in my last birds for the day, with the aid of a frosty malt beverage.

The next day, it turned out really was a circus, we caught the ferry to the mainland and went to a stakeout, a siberian accentor stakeout.   The morning ride on the ferry was fun and calm and then we arrive to this...60 people lined up on the edge of a road looking at an abandoned house.

Where does one even go? There is an ebb and flow to a large stake out and managing one takes a fine work of art.  First, there is all this pentup energy.  Everyone is looking so hard and diligently..hoping praying, like a vigil in a hospital.  It is then that as the passive birder, the "Skua" as I call myself that, one has to be loose and start scoping out the quarry, as this is a game and game theory takes over the rules.  I typically patrol the location and size up everyone.  If the bird shows up this early and easy, everyone is going to get it, so no worry.  

After an hour as people come and go, the chaff begin to leave.  Kids and younger birders like immature gulls come and check it out and go.  It isn't easy standing and waiting.  It is then that the chatter starts and people get distracted and stop looking at birds.  It is also then that the good skua starts to size up who the real birders are...who is in the know and who is really looking, not just pretending to look.  You always have to be weary of other skuas.  It is then that I stand behind them and just pretend, I'm either not there or I'm part of the 'group.'  One should never ever even speak during this phase. The worst case is that they notice you.

Now, mind you, I've photographed Siberian Accentors well and all I wanted was a good identifiable look.  Especially as I deduced this is not a very good photo op location.  One needs to be patient and many will come and many will go but the real birders will stay and I do what they do, and I go where they go.  It is the art of being an active wallflower but when they look at you, you need to look like you are working hard...but you are watching them without watching them.  

Then usually one of these guys or gals, spots the bird and then they share it on their scope.  With their friends of course birding with them, friends like the skua.  Since you have been there behind them like you belong for an hour or two you get dibs on the scope and more importantly, the other's won't push you other of the way as they have associated you now with THEM.

This is what happened, to a T!  The sharpest most diligent looker/ searcher saw an odd bird.  He was the guy I had pegged and I was 2 feet to his rear.  He asked the BC guru, to my left, chatting with buds, as he had seen the bird twice.  "Richard, Richard, ...Richard!  come and look at this."  He came over and said, "that is our bird."  Already third in line, I got a look before the throng got in line behind me and well, after a birder after me, it flushed and was gone.  It didn't come out again for 2 hours, and well..we were two parks away tallying Eurasian Wigeon and heading to the ferry.  The skua strikes, and he wins again.  A code 4 bird, Siberian Accentor, successfully off the board.   

I have never been to such a stakeout....I have never seen.  1)  Birders arrive in Cabs.  2)  The owner of the property walk through the prime birding area in the middle of the watch after looking concerned we hadn't seen the bird, yet his purpose of the stroll...IDK and then have everyone thanking him for everything.  Canadians are so polite.  3) It was such a diverse group, that was cool!

Now, Arvid....Arvid needed this bird and in the moment of truth, Arvid (Jim) was nowhere to be seen, he was chatting up cute birders 2-300 meters away, and decided he didn't want to wait for a 2nd appearance when I finally found him.  The sad thing, he didn't get her number or her name.  Sigh, he just encouraged me to go, we did.  Arvid lacks the patience for being a good skua birder and he practices another tried and true technique, called the 'clean up birder.'

Jim is the guy who falls behind and gets things no one notices or in hunting gets the deer sneaking out behind the drive, but alas in this case, that didn't work.  The other pitfall of this technique is if someone on point spots something by the time the guy in clean up hears about it, he doesn't know where it is or in some cases even what it was.  Jim missed a far-eastern curlew in Attu when he looked left and the rest of us looked right at the bird.

We went looking for woodpeckers and I found this sign...

First, I thought that somehow the fungus was my fault like many of the "tree huggers" want to blame me as a human for, not that.  No this was one of those silly warnings.  be careful not to walk in the woods because a tree might fall on you and in the wind, it really may fall on you?  I think there was a bigger risk of being pithed and killed by someone at the stakeout being careless with the tri-pod.  DON'T WE HAVE BIGGER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT THAT BEING STRUCK DEAD FROM A FALLING TREE CAUSED BY LAMINATED ROOT ROT!!   HAS ANYONE EVER BEEN INJURED BY THIS?

The trees obviously need some condolences and I am at heart really a tree hugger.  They were sick.  I was feeling good so I got into the whole forest nature thing and I just had to hug the biggest tree i could find.

I love you man, I mean mam, I mean ....whatever.  Maybe it was that I just missed the wife...or ....I just really like trees, now I don't want any jokes or puns about "wood."  

It was time to head back to Victoria.

We had the bright idea on our last day to call for owls up on top of the Goldfield Ridge, we got there at 0530, two hours before first light and we heard notta, zippo...nothing.  Both of us fell asleep in the car.

We awoke at dawn and milled about.  I stumbled upon a red-breasted sapsucker.  It was still dark out and I felt we were very lucky.

We had heard this was the spot for sooty grouse and we walked up and down, through and over and then at the very top of the road, I heard one.  Some say a 5lb bird can't hide in the middle of a tree.  I not only say it can be done, I say it is being done right now in Goldfield Ridge.  The subtle sound of a grouse, regular low pitched grunts is as close as I can describe it.  We narrowed the bird down to 20 feet and I decided to go in there.  It swallowed me whole and I climbed back out and no bird to be seen, but alas, hearing counts and it was no doubt a sooty grouse.

We were on a role and we went to what is the best Dipper spot ever, there were so many, they were chasing each  American Dipper, bird #292.

The whole creek smelled bad with dead salmon and there were gulls and eagles all over.

I stumbled upon many varied thrush 20 feet away, bird #293.

We looked for pacific wren but it was one of the few birds on the island that eluded us in our 60 hours here and across on the mainland.  We really cleaned up.  48 FOY birds!

We took a 2nd stab at Skylark, we had heard one clearly at the airport and so we listened and watched.  It was clearly heard and counted.  I think they are much easier to get in the spring, when they 'skylark' but alas there are very few left around.  Someone said under 30 at last census? Searching an airport with binoculars seems that it may warrant unwanted attention by the authorities but we weren't bothered.

Let me just say Oh Canada.  Three coded birds, over forty year birds and a total of 293
Thank you Matt again for helping us out and now we head south again. I like Canada, and especially Victoria, the Travelodge was a bargain at $44 per night.  It was nice and the food was even good.  I loved Tim Horton's, enjoyed everything, even the sunny cold days we had, but alas, a skulky warbler awaits, and it awaits in Texas.  I was also notified that the ivory gull and left Duluth this morning, or at least moved locations and is on the lamb, good I swung up to get it.
Whew!!!!!!!!  I am the luckiest birder!

I should break 300 tomorrow...Taking me serious yet?
I'm not even sure I'm taking me serious yet but 293 in 11 days, I think I got the pace up to the standards I need.

watch your cats...and stay away from the circus



  1. You are in it for the long haul, but you sure have had a good start. More waiting in Texas and in Illinois.

    1. You know it is 1054 miles between the two birds? Why do I know that?

  2. Glad you got your Victoria birds, but sorry I missed you!

  3. Glad you got your Victoria birds, but sorry I missed you!

  4. Olaf... the Large.
    Your adventures/posts only get more interesting.
    Go get-em Bud!

  5. It wasn't my scope you looked through at the SIAC spot was it?



This is not a bird trip organized for sissies.  Seeing the King aside, this almost seems like work.  The typical day is up at 0530, load up ...