Friday, December 31, 2010

Day 365

And now for peace...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good birds on the Penticton Christmas Bird Count

Yesterday (Dec 19th) I went out on the Penticton CBC, and helped cover the Okanagan lakshore and a portion of the local Indian Reserve (the Locatee lands). Despite the constant snow we had some great birds including 4 MEW GULLS, 55 GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS (high number for the south Okanagan), 7 RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS (all in the Locatee lands), 1 SWAMP SPARROW (Locatee), 1 PURPLE FINCH (my first ever for the Okanagan--also in Locatee), and this HERMIT THRUSH (my first winter-find of this species in the Okanagan... of course it was also in the Locatee property--what a spot!).

Today (Dec 20th), my Dad and I hiked back into Locatee and managed to re-find the PURPLE FINCH and as luck would have it... another 4 species I missed the day before! This would have brought the day list to close to 70 but ah well... The highlight was seeing 2 SNOW BUNTINGS flying over the West Bench on our walk home.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


It took 11 months and 17 days, but finally I nailed a HARRIS'S SPARROW! I chased them high and low last winter but didn't fret, assuuuuming one would turn up in the Okanagan this winter. Well I was beginning to doubt myself but finally yesterday (Dec 17th), I was able to re-find an adult bird first discovered a few days earlier on the Lake Country Christmas Bird Count (Thanks Don+Don+Margaret!). This was my second try at the spot so it was quite disappointing to pull up and see no sparrows whatsoever. But once the ever-lucky Tanya Seebacher dropped in, I spotted it 100+m away in a hedge down the road... not just another LBJ!

It's impossible to know, but perhaps this will be my final bird for 2010, as time is running short, and there are few birds to add.

Sorry for the lack of posts lately! I've been pretty sick, plus I had my computer stolen in Richmond last week. More on that later probably. I think I'll just do a big write-up at the end of the year and explain what I did to cap things off.

Merry X-mas all!


Sunday, December 5, 2010

Texas Itinerary now available!

Hi all,

Check out the itinerary for my upcoming TX tour in April 2011. Can't wait! Be sure to book ASAP as we're trying to keep the group to an intimate size. My Dad and I birded Texas in April this year and saw over 300 species... it's different every time so who knows what the highlights will be next year?! Not just for the hardcore, this trip will be fun for all skill-levels!

Also, let me know if you're interested in hearing about my birding tour to India in October, 2011!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ancient Murrelet meets its end in Okanagan Lake

This morning I woke up to a report of an Ancient Murrelet washed up on Okanagan Beach. There were no specifics in the report so I scoured the entire beach from the Penticton Yacht club over to the S.S. Sicamous. It was probably close to -20 with the windchill coming off the lake, so it's no surprise I missed the little dude covered in ice. Highlgihts of my walk include a single YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER at the yacht club and a single RUDDY DUCK hiding behind a tugboat with some coots and a PIED-BILLED GREBE.

Later in the day my Dad got a call from the woman who first found the bird. We followed her instructions right to the bird. As you can see it was fairly hard to spot!

Dad got out the ax and we rescued the specimen from the ice... I wonder if the Little Blue Heron will suffer the same fate this week? Someone should be checking regularly!

From the ice to our sink! (then to the freezer)

Typical Cannings Family dinnertime moment:

Dad; "Achk! There's an ancient murrelet feather in my potatoes!"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Little Blue Heron, White-winged Scoter, Northern Parula, Gyrfalcon and Lesser Black-backed Gull in just over 24 hours in the Okanagan---what a mix!

This weekend I joined up with 2 ol' birding friends in Avery Bartels and Ilya Povalyaev (now of Calgary, AB!). We birded West Kelowna region Saturday morning and after a few hours of squinting into the wind and snow we finally found the LITTLE BLUE HERON at a Beach Access of Whitworth Road. In its weakened state, I doubt it will survive the next couple nights. Also in the area, we spotted 4 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS heading south-- a nice Okanagan year-bird and only my 2nd fall sighting.

The rest of the day was spent in the south where we failed to turn up the parula thanks in part to a bitter north wind that shook the trees constantly. Avery turned up a HERMIT THRUSH and roosting GREAT HORNED OWL though!

Nov 21- We started off back at Inkaneep PP and it didn't take long to nab the NORTHERN PARULA which is still energetically feeding away but like the heron it was looking kinda cold! Afterwards we headed south to Osoyoos, picking up a gorgeous GYRFALCON along Black Sage Road! What a bird and my third close-encounter with this species this year (4 total I think!).

[crappy shot of it flyin away!]

Later that day, back in Kelowna we sighted the LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL (probably recently returned from an unknown breeding site). This bird winters in Kelowna every winter (for the past 8+ years I think).

All in all, a great weekend despite the cold!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anyone wanna go to Texas?

Join me in April for the spring spectacle!

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Anyone wanna check out New Zealand in the austral summer? I lived there for a year back in 2008 and I'm very excited to take some people down to "the seabird capital of the world." The tour is 20 days out of Vancouver for only $5350 plus airfare. Yes it's a little pricey but if you compare to other bird-tour companies like WINGS and Eagle Eye, it's actually quite cheap! We'll visit all my favourite spots both on the ocean and in the interior. New Zealand is home to a variety of unique endemic species (many of which are flightless thanks to thousands of years without mammalian predators) and I'll do my best to get them all for you! So essentially the trip will focus on 1) Having a good time, 2)Seeing some amazing scenery 3)mainland endemics and 4) Seabird bonanza!

Feb 13-March 4 (2011)

Highlights of the trip include:

-Hauraki Gulf pelagic trip: targeting the recently rediscovered NZ STORM-PETREL, as well as several other petrel and shearwater species.

-Kaikoura pelagic trip: should get arodn 5 species of albatross on this trip alone!

-3 species of penguin!

-visiting the only mainland albatross colony in the world (Royal Albatrosses at Taiaroa Head near Dunedin, NZ--- my home town!)

-Several night-time KIWI expeditions

-Black Stilt (one of the rarest shorebirds in the world)

-Wrybill (one of the weirdest birds in the world)

-Kea [alpine parrot](according a recent BBC study, the smartest non-human animal in the World)

much more!!! Please email me directly and ASAP as this thing will start to fill up soon. (] I can send you all the info you need, and of course answer questions on the birds, other animals, plants, and locations we will visit.

Here are some photos to tantalize your brain!

[White-capped Albatross-- a guarantee on this trip!]

[Campbell Island Albatross--- should see!]

[Battling Gibson's (Wandering) Albatrosses (3.5m wingspan) --- guaranteed!]

Saturday, November 13, 2010


[Photos by Jukka Jantunen]

Just when I thought I could get back to some casual Vancouver birding, my Dad calls me at 7am (still trying to catch up on sleep). "Russell, it's a Little Blue. I'm going for it right now. Watch out for snow on the Coq."

4 hours later I arrived at Power's Creek in West Kelowna, only to find out that the bird was "missing." Luckily within 10 minutes Doug Brown pulled up announcing that he had found it. Sure enough, there it was on some random beach about 1km away. After a few minutes it got up and flew off... back to the creek. After that I got to watch it along with several others from around 15 feet away as it hunted in the shallows. What a bird! 1rst record for the Okanagan and 3rd for the province!

Northern Mockingbird=YES, Philly Vireo=NO

After a pancake breakfast at my parents' place in Penticton, Jukka/Jess/I headed down to the coast where the NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD of Island 22 performed on cue, landing on a gravel pile before we had even parked the car. We searched the nearby woods for several hours for a reported Philadelphia Vireo but unfortunately could not pull it out from the hordes of chickadees and kinglets.

Northern Parula-- YES!

After completing another wild drive thanks to Jukka's steady hands, lots of coffee, "Beaver Buzz" energy drinks, Finnish heavy metal, and lots of bird-trivia, we arrived in the sunny South Okanagan. Here in Inkaneep Provincial Park it didn't take long to locate the immature male NORTHERN PARULA found by Don Cecile a few days earlier. Phew! I was stressin' out a bit on the islands but this felt great! I hadn't slept since 5:30 am the day before but I guess I'm getting used to it? Maybe not. Jukka suggested we continue on to Chilliwack for the mockingbird but I felt that sleeping in a bed tonight instead of a ditch was the smart thing to do.

[photos by Jess Findlay]

Haida Gwaii: The Southern Aleutians

Some have called Haida Gwaii (aka The Queen Charlotte Islands)—“The Northern Galapagos” because of its isolation as an archipelago away from the continent and its rich ecological tradition. I would argue that “Aleutians—South” is more appropriate from a birding standpoint at least. Breeding bird diversity is low on the islands, made up principally of a few hardy land-dwellers like Golden-crowned Kinglet, Varied Thrush, Pacific Wren, and Oregon Junco, and of course: the seabirds. Thousands of alcids (puffins, auklets, guillemots, murrelets, murres) and other seabirds (gulls, cormorants, storm-petrels) call Haida Gwaii home year-round and even more come through in migration and during the winter months. Waterfowl numbers can be very impressive also, especially at this time of year. Shorebirds stop over regularly along beaches and wetlands, and perhaps most interesting for us birders, the islands act as magnets for lost migrants. Birds blown off course by storms in spring and fall, taking cover in the first bit of land they see. The Aleutian Island chain is of course known as not only a breeding mecca for seabirds, but also THE place to find both Asiatic and southern rarities during migration.

That is why we decided to hit “The Gwaii” in early November... to find mega-birds. Most experienced birders chat casually about the rarity potential of the Charlottes but few manage to get out there at the right time. The weather can be dicey outside of summer and the ferry crossing can get very rough. This year, Jukka Jantunen, Cameron Eckert, Jess Findlay, and I made it happen.

Jukka, Jess, and I left Vancouver around 10am on Wednesday, November 3rd, and drove none-stop (more or less) to Prince Rupert. When we got there it was pouring rain and blowing around 100km/hour. “Just as I expected,” I said. “Too bad it’s coming from the south.” We were a little worried the new flat-bottom ferry wouldn’t run in conditions like this but luckily by the early afternoon, things cleared up and I guess the swell died down out on the Hecate Strait. Sometime after breakfast we ran into Cam (in the liquor store of all places) who had just driven down from Whitehorse to meet us. We packed all our gear in his van, boarded the ferry and off we went!

FERRY CROSSING (Nov 4th, 2:30pm until dark): We stationed ourselves at various points around the boat; unfortunately this vessel is not ideal for birders as there is no way to have a forward view unless you wanna camp out in the children’s play area and look through an awkward circular window... at least you’ve got non-stop cartoons in case the seabirds don’t put out. Anyways... the highlight of the trip was definitely getting good looks at several SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS [pictured above] that usually stood out well from the more abundant SOOTY SHEARWATERS (we ended up with around 20 shorties). BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES were fairly common and we were pleased to count at least 6 YELLOW-BILLED LOONS amongst the numbers of PACIFIC and COMMON LOONS. 5 NORTHERN FULMARS were the only other tubenose, both murrelets were noted, and Jukka had a probable POMARINE JAEGER (a fairly late record any jaeger).

Once in Skidegate, we transferred over to the Alliford Bay ferry (inter-island ferry to Moresby). Once on Moresby, we drove to Sandspit where good ol’ Captain Ron had a good set-up for us in his chalet and basement.

NOV 5: First Full Day on the Charlottes

We had assumed in Prince Rupert that our trip to Haida Gwaii/Charlottes would be a very wet ordeal. Therefore it was quite a pleasant surprise to wake up to clear skies this morning. After checking through the local flock of juncos for oddballs (thanks Ron for letting us seed your driveway!), we headed to Shingle Bay and eventually the famous Sandspit Airport. Along the beach Jess and I found a female HOUSE FINCH (a very rare bird here—only 5 or 6 records for the Charlottes), and a SNOW BUNTING was also a nice find. Shingle Bay was filled with good numbers of ducks and grebes (as usual) with around 200 HARLEQUIN DUCKS stealing the show.

[Rock Sandpiper]
At the Sandspit Wharf near the base of the main peninsula where the airport is located, we rain into a large flock of 300+ BLACK TURNSTONES that also contained 30+ ROCK SANDPIPERS (pictured), 3 RUDDY TURNSTONES, 60+ DUNLIN, and 50+ SANDERLING. Amongst the gull flocks, it was once again a treat to see BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES so close and especially over land. At the start of our airport circumnavigation hike we found a winter male RUSTY BLACKBIRD (less than 5 records for the Charlottes) feeding along the shoreline, and on the airport itself, all 5 species of geese (Brant, Canada, Cackling, Snow, Greater White-fronted) were found (not too often one can claim that!). We had more close encounters with ROCK SANDPIPERS out on the spits and more looks at SNOW BUNTINGS and LAPLAND LONGSPURS were nice. Several RED PHALAROPES were spotted feeding close to shore and around 300 PACIFIC LOONS were noted offshore (among many other things!).

We eventually made our way over to the Sandspit Golf Course where a large flock of CACKLING GEESE caught our attention. It appeared that several subspecies of Cacklers were present including at least two “ALEUTIAN GEESE.” Note (above--bird on left, and bird third from right) the overall structural differences—especially head shape, black throat (separating the pale cheek-patches), and thick white ring at the base of the neck. There were also several “DUSKY” CANADA GEESE present. Our first and only RING-NECKED DUCK of the trip flushed out of a nearby creek, as well as many WILSON’S SNIPES. Eventually it got too dark to bird and we retreated to “Dick’s Wok-in” the only restaurant in town where Cam’s fortune cookie read: “Head to the nearest coastline.” No encouragement needed!

NOV 6: Day 2 on Haida Gwaii

Last night a big storm hit and heavy rain continued into mid-morning. Luckily it cleared off and out we went for more hardcore birding. More “southern rarities” popped up like RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (under 10 records), BREWER’S BLACKBIRD (under 5 records), and PURPLE FINCH (under 10 records). Dang this is getting frustrating!!!

Luckily the crappy weather had blown in a bunch of seabirds into Skidegate Inlet, and so the seawatching from the end of the airport was fantastic. Within seconds of setting up their scopes Jukka had seen a LEACH’S STORM-PETREL and a THICK-BILLED MURRE, and Cam had spotted a HORNED PUFFIN. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get onto the murre which would have been a year-bird but that’s just how it goes! Both SOOTY and SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS came within 50 meters of shore and several NORTHERN FULMARS were spotted wheeling over the surf further out. After not seeing any LONG-TAILED DUCKS on the ferry, all of a sudden it seemed like hundreds were coming in, as well as loads of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, COMMON MURRES, and PACIFIC LOONS among others like this presumed female BLACK SCOTER. Single WESTERN and BONAPARTE’S GULLS were certainly nice finds, and the number of CALIFORNIA GULLS (100+) was certainly a high count for this late in the year (thanks to the strong southerlies!). All 3 species of scoters streamed by close to land, and a late CASSIN’S AUKLET buzzed by around lunchtime. The golf-course produced a single SLATE-COLOURED JUNCO (apparently quite rare for the islands), and our only 2 BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS of the trip whizzed on by. As the day winded down and the sky grew dark, that’s when the magic happened! We were all spread out birding a line of alders along a road—looking for rarities in with mixed flocks like they do in Newfoundland and Tofino. After a while, Cameron, Jess, and myself piled into the van and were about to go pick up Jukka when I got a sudden phone call from him... “CHESTNUT!!!! CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER!!!!!” Before Cameron could ask what the call was about I just yelled and gestured, “GO!! GO!! GOOO!!!!” I don’t think the Honda Odyssey had ever covered 200 meters in that short a time before but luckily the squeeling tires didn’t scare the bird. We arrived to see Jukka staring intently into the alders. He pointed it out and we all got onto it--- the first record for the Charlottes and my first ever for BC (let alone the year). In fact it was a BC first for everyone, so high-fives all around!

[Cameron marked the spot on the coastguard-base's wall-map... I hope that's erasable! It was still there a few days later when we stopped by again.]

Nov 7: Day 3 on Haida Gwaii

Today we took the ferry back to Graham Island and headed north toward Masset at the north end. Along the way we stopped at a few flooded fields near Tlell that produced some good November birds like HOODED MERGANSER, GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and NORTHERN PINTAIL. Both HAIRY WOODPECKER, and PINE GROSBEAK could be heard calling in the distance (both are endemic subspecies to the Charlottes), but the best was yet to come....

Just south of the Naikoon Provincial Park headquarters, we were stopped on the side of the road, investigating a few flocks of juncos and checking for waterbirds on the Tlell River. For some reason Cameron decided to scope the spruce trees on the other side of the road--- which turned out to be a very good idea. “BRAMBLING!!! %$&#ing BRAMBLING!!!” After a panicked sprint down the road we all lined up behind Cam’s scope and took turns peering into it. When I first looked in I was shaking so much I could barely make out anything... “oh shit all I can see are robins.... no wait... got it!” Wow, a male BRAMBLING hanging out in a spruce tree with robins! My first lifer in a while and a BC bird for all present! Unfortunately it flew before we could snap a photo; Jess got a video of it flying away but that was it. Luckily we all had great looks through the scope and suddenly things were goin’ REAL well.

Up north we visited the Delkatla Inlet bird sanctuary, picking up trip birds like EURASIAN WIGEON and GADWALL. Next we headed out east, stopping at the Dixon Entrance Golf Course where I spotted a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (less than 10 island records). We made it as far as Tow Hill, unfortunately the tide was too high to walk out towards Rose Point. We made due by marveling at the pristine rainforest and rivers that remain here in Naikoon Provincial Park. We also bumped into one of the most handsome SOOTY GROUSES around.
[photos below by Cameron Eckert]

We returned to Masset and met up with local birder Margo Hearn who kindly treated us to some coffee and of course bird-talk. We saw our only WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW of the trip at her feeder... not a zono sparrow paradise this Haida Gwaii place... 1 WT, 1 WC, and only 2 GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS on the whole trip! After birding the Old Masset area for a bit we finished off the day at the Dixon Entrance Golf Course east of town. Here we picked up a couple NORTHERN SHOVELERS, loads of WILSON’S SNIPE, a few large flocks of OREGON JUNCOS, a NORTHERN GOSHAWK, and probably best of all: a late LEAST SANDPIPER hanging out with a large flock of KILLDEER at the local navy base.

On the drive back to Skidegate we stopped at a few places near Tlell to look for the brooksi Northern Saw-whet Owl (an endemic subspecies). At one of these stops a vehicle pulled up to ask us if we were okay. When we replied, “we’re fine, just lookin’ for birds,” they said, “OH! Are you the guys doing the big year!!?!?!” I guess birding is getting pretty big(?), we also met a couple on the ferry who had heard about all this... oh my. Anyways, we did indeed call in a nice “HAIDA SAW-WHET OWL,” in fact in nearly took off Jess’s head. Both its contact call and full song were distinctly higher pitched than mainland saw-whets... very neat. Perhaps a future split?

Nov 8: Day 4 on Haida Gwaii

Because of the reported Northern Parula that was apparently hanging around in Oliver, we decided (for my sake) that this would be our last day on the islands; plus the following day (Tuesday) was the last day for almost a week that the ferry would be departing during the daytime, a major plus for seabird enthusiasts. We started off in beautiful Copper Bay, just south of Sandspit along the east coast. Down there we saw our 3rd NORTHERN GOSHAWK of the trip, our first RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER, HERMIT THRUSH, and AMERICAN DIPPER of the trip. By this point we were getting pretty competitive about the trip-list so when Jess called out “dipper!” Cam, Jukka, and I sprinted all out to get there first. We didn’t want to dip on the dipper!

On our way back we birded the alders south of the golf course and I managed to relocate the CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER only 200m from the original spot. Moving north along the road our luck continued as Jess found a roosting (looks like a mainland bird!) NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL roosting in a spruce, and Jukka flushed up the Charlottes’ first ever GRASSHOPPER SPARROW!!! (no records for Alaska either)

[Presumed to be the nominate (mainland) subspecies of saw-whet--blown in with the sparrow!]

[Grasshopper Sparrow... not warbler]

We birded the airport one last time, finding most of the birds that had been there for several days. The only new bird to the trip after that was when I spotted a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET in a mixed flock near the coast-guard base. Because of the already-mentioned competitiveness, when I called it out Cam came running as fast as he could from across the road. Poor Jukka, who was around 300 or 400m away just happened to look up in time to see Cameron sprinting towards me. Thinking he was about to miss some mega Asiatic vagrant, he put his body to the test—sprinting the entire stretch of field and pavement in heavy-duty rubber boots (while a little out of shape I might add). When he got within shouting distance he gasped, “what am I running for?!”

“Ruby-crowned Kinglet!” I winked.

Nothing like a good bird to keep you in shape! Believe it or not, Ruby-crowns are quite rare on the islands so despite Jukka’s wasted panic, it was a great bird for the list! Perhaps I was just getting him back for when he shouted “Grasshopper Warbler!!!” by accident when he initially spotted the sparrow... good thing I didn’t hear him clearly the first time!

Nov 9: The ferry back, and another drive for the ages

We woke up around 5:30am to make sure we had enough time to pack up our gear, catch the inter-islander ferry to Skidegate, then board the ferry to Prince Rupert. Turns out it wouldn’t have mattered since the ferry was delayed for a few hours thanks to a new storm that had come in. After a good nap it finally departed around 11:30am and we resumed our seabirding positions on deck. It’s quite amazing how much a new weather system can change things; instead of 25 Sooty Shearwaters and 20 Short-tails, we had over 1,500 SOOTY and only 2 or 3 SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERS. Also our LONG-TAILED DUCK count went from 0 to over 7,000!!! 4,000 of those were in one flock, and 1 female decided to take a rest on the boat (pictured). Luckily after a bit of petting from her adoring fans, Cameron threw her overboard and she took flight with ease and was on her way!

[Jess with his youngsquaw]

We got-off the ferry around 6:30pm, said our goodbyes and thank-yous to Cameron for the great time, stopped at Timmy’s, and headed out.

13-15 hours later we were in Oliver...

Monday, October 25, 2010

This might be worth attending! Sounds fun. I'll be there too!


Just as I was pulling into the ferry terminal in Langdale... trying to get back to the "mainland" as the rainstorm set in. The phone rings, it's local Gibson's birder George Smith... "you might want to hold on to your hat, Andre Lapointe just had a SMEW on Keats Island..."

After a rainy night of tossing back and forth ideas... mid-day found me on a small boat piloted by Capt Tony. Roger Foxall, Al McTavish, and I were heading for Plumper's Cove-- site of the reported Smew. There are not too many people crazy enough to brave wind and rain in late October by ferrying to Langdale, driving to Gibson's, and renting a small boat, asking the cap't to "drive over to those small islands, we're looking for a little white duck." After an hour and a half of fruitless searching, we gave it up and headed back. Gotta try right? No guilty consciences tonight...



Oct 23-24: It's been about 8 months since I was on the lovely Sunshine Coast. Last time I was here I had just broken my scope and seen a lifer (Rock Sandpiper)... also had some awesome sandwiches, celebratory beers, and great birds. So when Lexi Harrington contacted me a little while ago to ask if I wanted to lead a walk for the birding club, I said "YES!" Here's the group that braved the rain and wind:

(Photo by Marcia Mason)

We managed to see some great stuff despite the weather... around 68 species I think! Highlights included 1 THAYER'S and 1 HERRING GULL (both locally rare), a drake EURASIAN WIGEON, a late CEDAR WAXWING, a calling VIRGINIA RAIL, several MARBLED MURRELETS, and a PIED-BILLED GREBE... of course many other things but I'm finding it hard to think right now.

Why? Well read my next post!

THANKS to the whole COAST for having me! Your weather is indeed better than Vancouver!

Friday, October 22, 2010


Oct 22: Today I drove to Creston in the hopes of tracking down a reported YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. I arrived at Gary Breault's place around 9:30am. He toured me around his fabulous property and showed me where the bird had been hanging out (present since the 20th). It took me about an hour, but finally the bird flew into view (or deep into the middle of a cottonwood I should say). I had to run back to the car for spare batteries (perfect timing right?), and ran into Linda Van Damme (local bird guru) had brought me a piece of plum pie! SCORE! After securing some fresh batteries, we walked back down into the hot-zone and immediately re-found the bird... who came out to pose in the rising sun (2 different angles too)! What a stunner! A lot more cooperative than the timid bird that visited Cawston a few years ago.

If anyone wants to go have a look, Gary is happy to have visitors but would appreciate some notice by email: (also for directions!)

Back in Penticton, 4am to 4pm... quite the road trip today! Heading to Sechelt tomorrow!

All the best,

Russ C

Count update: 367

Oct 17-18: Wood Sandpiper = NO

As luck would have it, the Reifel WOOD SANDPIPER (BC's second ever I think) showed up for around 5 hours at Reifel on Saturday (Oct 16th). Unfortately, I was in Victoria and decided to wait until Sunday morning to go for it (in hindsight there is no way I could have made it in time anyways).

My friend Colin and I arrived at Reifel around 12:30pm and boy-o-boy were there a lot of people!!! I have never seen so many cars parked at Reifel and back along the road, not to mention the amount of bins and scopes cruising around the outer dyke. According to staff, over 800 people visited the sanctuary that day! Most of which were probably looking for the Woody including a large mob from Washington.

[Photo: Birders line-up, hoping for a glimpse of a mega shorebird]

Although both SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS were still present, all those hundreds of eyes could not turn up Mr. Wood.

Colin and I tried again on Monday but no dice. Hopefully he shows up in another couple days!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A few media links

Ever since I broke the record a few days ago, both local and national media have picked up the story. Here are a couple links: Sun/B.C.-birder-breaks-record/2pIHb2ToLuy30kaBvNNDZyEknrHeMsYP

I will also be on CBCs "Daybreak" on Tuesday morning (heard at least throughout the southern interior).

Sounds like some of my blog photos will be used in the big Fox production of "The Big Year" coming out next summer.

Take care and have a great Thanksgiving Weekend!


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Top 10 Most Wanted List

Hi all,

Several of you have asked for a "hit list" for the coming months. Here are 10 species that could turn up soon---

1. Harris's Sparrow
2. Cattle Egret
3. Ash-throated Flycatcher
4. Slaty-backed Gull
5. Little/Black-headed/Laughing Gull (any of these would be nice!)
6. King Eider
7. Tufted Duck
8. Hoary Redpoll (should be findable if I head north in November)
9. Thick-billed Murre (might need to hit Haida Gwaii again)
10. Brambling (keep those feeders busy!)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


The morning started off at 2am with a hard thunping on the car-window... apparently it's "not cool" to camp out beside the airport runway on the road to Iona. I retreated to South Van to catch a couple more hours of sleep, then returned to Iona for some dawn birding. After not finding much I decided it was high time to head over to Reifel to search for the reported Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.

Once there it was clear that no Sharp-tailed was present, but since the tide was out... it was time for the waiting game. Mark Wynja, Ilya Povalayev, Larry Cowan, Cathie Barron, Mike and Sharon Toochin and several others showed up, and watched as 4 juvenile PEREGRINE FALCONS took turns diving on the LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER flock. This was hardly an invitation for a wayward shorebird! Things eventually settled down, but suddenly the silence was broken when ILya shouted "KINGBIRD-- FAR CORNER!!!" Apparently he had overheard Cathy talking on the phone with Larry who was on the other side of the ponds, and immediately spotted what they were looking at. An Australian birder by the name of Daniel Mantle had apparently seen it first... YES... a TROPICAL KINGBIRD!!! Greenish back, greeny-brown and somewhat forked tail... Vavoom!

I had the record tied! Or did I? Mike Toochin (record holder) broke news that his record was in fact 364 and not 365... meaning that the kingbird was the breaker, not the "tie-er." After not having seen Mike since early January (at Reifel to boot), here I was standing right beside him after over a week of nervous doldrums, looking at the bird to put me over. Clearly, the "Bird Gods" exist. Poetic right? Haha, I can only thank Mike and Sharon for setting the bar so high; now it's my turn to keep pushing for more...

A few hours later, we managed to see not 1 but 2 SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS in the ponds (thanks to help from Rick Wright and Brian Self respectively). Seems like the high-tide was key! A single AMERICAN TREE-SPARROW and a NORTHERN SHRIKE capped off the day nicely.

Wow. Finally I'm here The pressure is off.

Time to go birding.

Russell Cannings
South Surrey, BC

Thursday, September 30, 2010

More Vancouver birding

Over the last two days I've been patroling all the possible Sharp-tailed Sandpiper spots and hoping for some other rarities along the way. Nothing mind-blowing to report yet but here is a sumary of some of the things I've been seeing.

On Wednesday (Sept 29) I started off at Cecil Green near UBC where a few sparrows were in evidence including this nice WHITE-THROATED SPARROW--- an uncommon migrant on the coast.

I checked the sewage lagoons at Iona but only found 2 PECTORAL SANDPIPERS and 40ish LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS. The highlights here were more of the waterFOWL variety. First I spotted this cute "minima" CACKLING GOOSE. My first of the Fall.

Then later, a single BLUE-WINGED TEAL was a somewhat late find... but weirdest of all was a PURPLE-WINGED TEAL! What is that you ask? Well while writing up some notes along the side of the road that overlooks the foreshore, I noticed that one of the "Green-winged Teals" hanging out with a swarm of pintails and wigeon had obvious PURPLE speculums. As many will know, mallards sometimes show purple instead of blue but I have never heard of any other duck with purple on the wings!!! (at least in North America). As I snuck around to the back of the car to get my camera out, I accidentally flushed the entire flock. UNfortunately I wasn't able to get a photo but I managed to refind the bird in flight and sure enough-- both wings had small purple speculums--- no green! Otherwise this was a "classic" female-type Green-winged Teal. Very odd!

Next up was Reifel where the 2 highlights were massive LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER numbers and close encounters with both the resident SANDHILL CRANES and a group of wild migrants. All together in the outer ponds, there were over 4500 dowitchers, by far the most I've ever seen anywhere in BC. They were all juveniles except for 1 lone adult, and 1 WESTERN SANDPIPER joined the mix.

Today (Sept 30) I returned and all the dowies were still there plus 1 juv SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER and 1 LESSER YELLOWLEGS. It was interesting to watch a pair of PEREGRINE FALCONS dive-bomb the waders but with little effect. The dowitchers didn't seem too worried even when the peregrines swooped within a foot of their heads.

Other birds of note from today (Sept 30) include 4 WESTERN MEADOWLARKS at Iona, another WHITE-THROATED SPARROW at Terra Nova in Richmond, a RED KNOT at Boundary Bay, and a couple PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS (also at Boundary Bay). It was neat to spend 4 hours out on the BB mud and get close and personal with the waders and ducks.

Hoping for sharpies tomorrow!


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New Update soon

Will be updating soon. No new birds to report but a few nice birds and pics from my recent wonderings in the Vancouver area. Also some sad news about my closest friend--- my car Francesca :(

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Rocky Point and other coastal spottings

On Monday I had the great pleasure of joining some of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory staff and volunteers. It is of course a fantastic place to bird, located at the southern tip of Vancouver Island on DND (Navy) Lands. A mixture of scrub, old-growth oak/fir forest, grassland, marsh, intertidal, and open ocean meet for a great variety of spectacles both avian and otherwise. Of course, because I was there, we had "one of the worst days ever" in terms of birds caught (this is a banding station of course)-- at 13. Still, there was lots to look at including hundreds of BAND-TAILED PIGEONS (pictured feeding on arbutus berries), several hundred TURKEY VULTURES kettling around the islets before heading south over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and good numbers of accipiters and the odd Red-tail mixed in. I also got to see my first HUTTON'S VIREO in the hand!

Back on the mainland, today-Tuesday, I suddenly realized that I am once again sick... aw man... thought I could fight it. Turns out 5 hours of sleep each night combined with sleeping in a car and birding in the rain everyday is not good for you. Therefore I decided to head back to the Okanagan to recoop... and of course, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper shows up at Boundary Bay.


Decisions, decisions...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

RUFF............. check

Beautiful bird eh? I was a little worried about this guy as I found out about it when I was in Revelstoke. Luckily this juvenile decided to stick around for a 3rd day in Sooke (southern tip of Vancouver Island). Got great looks from only feet away over a 5 hour period.

All in all a great day of Island birding today, looking forward to visiting the Rocky Point Bird Observatory tomorrow then who knows what next?

Also... because of a counting error (I counted Least Sandpiper twice on the blog list), I'm back at 364. Will have to re-do the list soon.

Keep on birding in the free world!


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Another drive for the ages... yawn.

SEPT 13th

I started off today "pishing in the bushes" at every pull-off in Pacific Rim National Park. Heavy rain had hit the coast over the course of the previous two days and warblers were everywhere. By 2pm I hadn't turned up anything "rare" but was quite pleased with the abundance of warblers... quite the spectacle. To put things in perspective, in one parking lot alone (North end of Long Beach), I bumped into a mixed migrant flock containing:

130+ Yellow Warblers
65+ Orange-crowned Warblers
3 Townsend's Warblers
1 Wilson's Warbler
1 Common Yellowthroat (a bit out of place high in an alder!)
1 Yellow-rumped Warbler
2 Pacific-slope Flycatchers
2 Warbling Vireos
1 Hutton's Vireo (is that a good bird in the Tofino area? I wouldn't know)
4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets
10+ Golden-crowned Kinglets
20+ Chestnut-backed Chickadees
1 Caspian Tern (okay, this guy was sitting on the beach... but close enough)
[Townsend's Warbler says 'hello' at eye-level]

Pretty good parking lot list and that's not including the bushes which contained 5 sparrow species, 4 thrush species, and some very young Pacific Wrens.

That's when the bombshell hit: "20 Forster's Terns at Duck Lake"

WHAAAATTT??? They're back? Or did they never leave and I just missed them? Not wanting to waste any time, I hopped in the car, drove to Nanaimo, caught the 7:30pm ferry to Horseshoe Bay, then drove through the night to the Okanagan, slept on the side of the road in Richter Pass from 2am to 6am, then drove to Creston, making it to Duck Lake just after 10am.


Those were the words of local birder Gary Breault who had heard from Linda Van Damme (who tipped me off in the first place) that I would be around, and he had hit Duck Lake in the morning to scout for me... why are people so nice!!! Unfortunately however, there were no terns at the usual spot at the south end of the lake. This is where the advantages of being "local" come in. Gary told me that the terns usually disperse to the north and that I would have a good chance at finding some if I walked the railway bed up the west side of the valley. I thanked him for his help and set out. I hadn't got very far however when I picked up a flock of terns in my scope. Sure enough 15 FORSTER'S TERNS were feeding in a tight group at the north end of the lake. Eventually they came close enough to feel good about the ID and then continued further north and out of site.

YIPPEEEEE!!!! Like the Black-necked Stilt, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Philadelphia Vireo before it, I had considered the tern as a massive bungle on my part... a missed breeder... but here they were! Just as Gary and Linda had predicted! Now I'm only 1 away from tying the record!

Thanks to Linda and Gary and all the other Creston birders who have kept me informed over the last couple weeks! And now I hear that Harris's Sparrow is an annual visitor??? Might hear from me again soon!

After a celebratory sandwich at MUGWUMPS, I hit the road again... finally getting back to Penticton around 5pm.

I just hope no one finds anything rare in the next 48 hours... I need rest people!!!

Why not another pelagic?

In the days leading up to September 12th, birders kept asking me: You've already seen all the regular stuff, why blow money on ferries and another pelagic when you can't anything to your list?

Two answers:

1)Pelagic birding is awesome

Because a) the birds themselves are unique, interesting, and therefore AWESOME. And B)----See reason #2-------

2) Every trip is different. Therefore even though I have seen all the usuals, there is always a chance of seeing something UNusual. And you're not going to see anything UNusual unless you GET OUT THERE.

Oh and maybe there is a third reason too... I'M DOING A BIG YEAR! Everybody who has done a serious big year in an area that boasts a coastline, knows that "victory lies at sea." Anyone can chase down an Indigo Bunting coming to someone's feeder, but if I told you to "go find a flesh-footed shearwater" (after all, there are probably hundreds off the coast of BC as I type), you would be hard-pressed to succeed.

I guess what I'm getting at is a general big year strategy. The late summer and fall is probably the best time to get out on the sea because birds dispersing from the south (e.g. most shearwaters, south polar skua, etc.) are mingling with northern breeders heading south (e.g. jaegers, phalaropes, etc.). Here's a mathematical formula to explain what I'm trying to get at:

BIG OCEAN (Pacific) touching 4 continents + no physical obstacles + ability to fly hundreds of miles in a day + WINDY!!! + workable 10x42s = unlimited possibilities.

So if you're doing a big year and you're not kicking up rarities in the weedy fields behind you're house, I would suggest going on as many pelagics as possible! Just look at what has been reported off BC in the last few years: Slaty-backed Gull, Lesser Nighthawk, Hawaiian Petrel, Murphy's Petrel, Solander's Petrel, Parakeet Auklet... and on and on.

Of course it makes things easier if you're not prone to seasickness... but a little extra "chum" never hurts!

Perhaps this picture from my most recent trip can illustrate my point:

LAYSAN ALBATROSS-- a much anticipated lifer for me, my 13th albatross species for the world, and #363 for the year in BC!
[ALL PHOTOS ON THIS POST COURTESY OF BEN LASCELLES-- who kindly sent me some of his pics since I was too much of a sissy to bring my own camera... it was pouring rain most of the day okay??!!]

Here are couple more photo highlights from Sept 12th out of Tofino (full report below):
[Sabine's Gulls]

[Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel with lunch]

[Buller's Shearwater-- a lifer for many on board]

[Black-footed Albatross mob]

***Once again, BIG THANK YOU to Ben Lascelles for the great photos***

Trip summary taken from my post to the BCVIBirds site (because I'm lazy):

Hi all,

I have just returned from a local Tofino pub where 17 other seabird enthusiasts
and myself celebrated a very wet but successful day out on the waves. I had the
pleasure of joining a bunch of attendees of the World Seabird Conference (held
in Victoria this year)--in today's case: a mixture of French, South African,
British, and American birders--on what turned into a 9 1/2 hour pelagic.

We had to deal with a steady drizzle for most of the day which kept us soaked
and for the most part, unable to use out optics. Luckily however the birding
didn't drop off and we were very fortunate to run into a fleet of fishing boats
towards the end of the day which boosted some of the numbers and provided for
excellent views of many of the usual species. Ironically, our bird of the day:
a single LAYSAN ALBATROSS was not among the hundreds of Black-foots tailing the
trawlers but floating by us earlier on in the day. This bird had very sooty
underwing parts so could possibly be a sub-adult? Here is the day list in
rough tax. order:

Anas duck sp. 300+
Harlequin Duck 12
Surf Scoter 50
Pacific Loon 1
Common Loon 3
Red-necked Grebe 30+
LAYSAN Albatross 1
Black-footed Albatross *300+
Northern Fulmar *2,500+
Pink-footed Shearwater 250+
Buller's Shearwater 2
Sooty Shearwater 100+
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel 40
Leach's Storm-Petrel 2
Peregrine Falcon 1
Pomarine Jaeger 3
Parasitic Jaeger 6
Sabine's Gull *200+
California Gull 750+
Herring Gull 30
Heermann's Gull 100+
(prob.) Common Tern 1
Sanderling 50+
Western Sandpiper 1
Red-necked Phalarope 15
Red Phalarope 1
Ancient Murrelet 2
Marbled Murrelet 3
Pigeon Guillemot 30+
Common Murre 50+
Rhinoceros Auket 30~
Tufted Puffin 4
Cassin's Auklet 600+

All this rain seems to have brought in a lot of migrants. Both this morning
before the trip and this evening walking out of the pub I can hear that the
trees are alive with YELLOW WARBLERS. Will have to check the bushes carefully
tomorrow morning!

All the best,

Russell Cannings
Tofino, BC