After hearing that both of our Juan de Fuca pelagics (May 1 and 2) were cancelled due to high seas, Avery Bartels (who had just driven to the Okanagan from Nelson), Tanya Seebacher, and I decided to make the best of it by going over there anyways. Perhaps high winds out of the west would drive some things into shore?
Avery and I birded around the Kelowna area on Friday morning enjoying a great variety of new arrivals to the Okanagan including my first DUSKY FLYCATCHER of the year that gave us his soft "wit" call in Sutherland Hills Park. Several passes of Robert Lake and the dump didn't turn up anything out of the ordinary but it was nice to see that several avocets are starting to look "nesty." After lunch we met up with Tanya and headed straight to the coast where we spent the night in South Surrey with Ilya Povalyaev.
The next morning the 4 of us started off at Brunswick Point in hopes of tracking down the reported Ross's Goose. We did see a large flock of SNOW GEESE and 1 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE but no tiny white birds. Just as we walked up onto the dyke however we were treated to a fantastic display of WESTERN SANDPIPERS (a lifer for Tanya)!!! Several thousand lined the rocks along the dyke at high tide and allowed for a very close approach. Every once in a while the flock would take off and swirl this way and that, revealing a number of DUNLIN amongst their ranks (see photo).
I added a few other new birds to the year list here as well including: COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, WILSON'S WARBLER, and CASPIAN TERN. It was also nice to see a MARBLED GODWIT pass overhead calling away.
Next stop was the Beach Grove area where we met up with my dad who was in town for the big BC BREEDING BIRD ATLAS party. Lots of warblers moving through the woods including at least one BLACK-THROATED GRAY WARBLER (heard but not seen). Out on the shoreline at the foot of 12th some of the northern atlasers including Mark Phinney and Sandra Kinsey joined us for some shorebird scoping. Loads of DUNLIN and WESTERN SANDS out there of course, plus a few new BC birds for me: SEMIPALMATED PLOVER and LEAST SANDPIPER. The 4 of us mid our farewells then headed to 72nd street where we birded the old subdivision near the airport with Nathan Hentze. Wind was a factor but there was still a nice selection of warblers including a single male TOWNSEND'S. A quick afternoon stop at Crescent Park provided me with my first PACIFIC-SLOPE FLYCATCHER of the year... funny how the first Okanagan birds don't return until late May?
A mad dash to the ferries got us onto the 3pm sailing with 8 minutes to spare! The ride across was fairly productive especially around Active Pass where thousands of BONAPARTE'S GULLS fed in the tidal rip. Many PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and RHINO AUKLETS were also present and the highlight of the trip was an adult JAEGER of some sort that was spotted by Avery as it flew away. Unfortunately we couldn't confidently assign it to species but it was likely a Parasitic based on what we saw (plus they are the most likely jaeger to be seen from the ferry).
When we arrived on land we stopped in at the bulb fields on Central Saanich Road where we quickly got onto an inconspicuous SKY LARK (pictured).
MAY 2: We spent the day in the Victoria area fighting wind and rain but still finding a few neat things. At Clover Point a playful RIVER OTTER (pictured) put in appearance as well as a very large STELLER'S SEA-LION. Next up was Esquimalt Lagoon where the weather was really starting to get unpleasant and I had not dressed appropriately. The main highlight there were 2 flocks of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE totaling over 300 birds!--a novelty for an Okanaganite. (These geese would put on another great show the next day) Our last stop of the day was at the very scenic Witty's Lagoon where a great mixture of seabirds, shorebirds, and forests birds, all mingled amongst a backdrop of towering fir and arbutus.
May 3: PORT RENFREW!
Today 3 of us (Ilya had left for a job in Whistler) headed out early towards Port Renfrew hoping that the high winds might turn up a winged-treasure of some sort. We checked out the Sheringham Point lighthouse west of Sooke where about 30 SOOTY SHEARWATERS passed by well offshore. A single MARBLED MURRELET floated nearby and 2 ANCIENT MURRELETS whizzed by in quick succession. We left just before the rain really got going and headed straight to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew. There we met Louie ______(?) who was out there scoping the towering waves. Unfortunately there seemed to be very little in terms of birdlife on the sea itself but overhead a real spectacle was taking place: hundreds of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE (I'm sure it would have been thousands if we had spent the entire day) were pouring over the Strait of Juan de Fuca, struggling against the wind but always pushing north. In amongst the ~1000 white-fronts were a few CACKLING GEESE and oddly enough, single male NORTHERN SHOVELERS accompanied the geese in 2 flocks... a little desperate for company I guess but still keeping the V formation (pictured)!
While taking a break from scoping I noticed a mid-sized shorebird land on a rock in front of us-- a casual glance through the bins... "WANDERING TATTLER!!!" It took off right away (either because I yelled or because the winds were blowing at 100km/hour) then a second one joined it! They both flew over to another wave platform nearby where we all got it in the scope. Although this is a regular spring and fall migrant along the outer coast of BC, I was relieved to see one as they're passage is often in a few small window and they never stick around too long.
We checked a few more PR spots with Louie (who has birded this area quite a bit), turning up a few bits and bobs including my first LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS of the year, a single MINK (pictured), and 7 ROOSEVELT ELK!!! I seem to be racking up a good mammal list this year too!
After a great day out on the wild coast we set out on our long journey back to the Okanagan-- the only setbacks being a 4-2 canucks loss to Chicago, still no whimbrels or martins at Blackie Spit, and a massive snowfall between Hope and Merrit which eventually resulted in a 3am return home.
Looking forward to the next big trip!