Archive for October, 2009

Emperor Goose at Reifel Refuge

I was at Reifel Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island today and managed to spot a juvenile Emperor Goose in and among several hundred Snow Geese. The bird was located in a field visible from the easternmost trail. The following coordinates were taken from Google Earth: Lat 49° 6’3.94″N Long 123°10’41.75″W and mark the approximate position of the bird while I was observing it. I spent about half an hour watching this little fellow forage for food at the edge of this particular field.

The Emperor Goose typically breeds in coastal western Alaska and spends the winter in the Aleutian Islands (Petersen et al 1994). According to the IUCN Red List the Emperor Goose is listed as near threatened. Subsistence hunting and oil pollution appear to be the cause for a population decline of 139,000 in 1964 to 42,000 in 1986; however, a 2002 survey estimated the population at 84,500. Climate change is expected to contribute to further population declines (BirdLife International 2008).

My pictures aren’t the greatest as they had to be taken at maximum magnification (60x on my spotting scope) but Paul (revs) has posted some excellent photos of a juvenile seen at the Steveston section of the Richmond Dike on the Birding in BC forums. This may be the same individual I saw today as Steveston is not far from the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I had a spectacular time watching this Emperor Goose and I would definitely say it is one of my best sightings of the year.

References:

Petersen, M. R., J. A. Schmutz and R. F. Rockwell. 1994. Emperor Goose (Chen canagica), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/097doi:10.2173/bna.97

BirdLife International 2008. Chen canagica. In: IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 24 October 2009.

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UBC: October 20th 2009

I was at the University of British Columbia on Tuesday and so I decided to check out UBC Farm as well as Cecil Green; two places I haven’t been birding before.

At UBC Farm I took the trail that follows the edge of the fields and winds through a section of forest on the northwest side of the property. I had a pleasant walk and spotted several common species including: Red-breasted Sapsucker, Varied Thrush, Winter Wren, Fox Sparrow, and Golden-crowned Sparrow. Nature Vancouver runs a bird survey every third Sunday of each month; this seems like a good opportunity to see more species of birds than one could see on their own.

It’s hard to believe that the farm faces an uncertain future but it is “threatened with being shrunk in size or moved to agriculturally unviable soils” to make room for more housing. You can find out more about future plans for the farm and the surrounding area at the South Campus Academic Plan website. I find it interesting that the plan talks about the farm leading “in the creation of new paradigms for sustainable and healthy communities”. It’s hard not to miss all of the construction going on in the area of the farm and I wonder what part of cutting down forest and building apartments, condos, and roads is actually sustainable.

After the farm I went to Cecil Green Park; the same place where a Lark Bunting was seen on October 11th and 12th. There was no sign of the Lark Bunting but there were two Snow Geese (an adult and a juvenile) resting on the grass behind the Museum of Anthropology. The brush on the cliff side of the area had a number of Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and a single Fox Sparrow.

I spent a great couple of hours birding; it was a welcome interruption to the school week.

Maplewood: October 17th 2009

As soon as I saw a break in the rain I grabbed my gear and headed out. The forecast was for rain the entire day but thankfully the weather network was wrong. When I arrived at Maplewood Conservation Area there was quite a bit of activity going on in the general area of the bird feeders as many of the birds were singing and drying themselves off in the sunshine. Black-capped Chickadee, Fox and Song Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Spotted Towhee, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, Northern Flicker, Downy Wood Pecker, and a single male American Goldfinch were all present and in splendid form. The birds seemed just as happy as I did that the rain let up for a while.

Out on the mudflats a lone Greater Yellowlegs was foraging in the shallows close to the viewing area. Despite being one of the more familiar shorebirds wintering in the Greater Vancouver area little is known about its breeding biology. Part of the reason for this lack of information is the fact that the species breeds in “muskeg, wet bogs with small wooded islands, and forests (usually coniferous) with abundant clearings” and small ponds or lakes nearby (Elphick et al 1998 and Peck and James 1983). The resulting swarms of insects in the summer are enough to keep most people away.

At the duck pond on the west side of Maplewood five American Coot were actively foraging and many Mallards were resting or preening. Within several minutes of scanning the pond it started to rain again, initially quite heavily, and I was forced to retreat to the car.

References:

Elphick, Chris S. and T. Lee Tibbitts. 1998. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/355doi:10.2173/bna.355

Peck, G. K. and R. D. James. 1983. Breeding birds of Ontario: nidiology and distribution, Vol. 1: Non-passerines. R. Ont. Mus. Life Sci. Misc. Publ. Toronto.

Maplewood: October 13th 2009

I was not in the mood for homework today and so I decided to head out birding for an hour or two. When I arrived at Maplewood the tide was out so I decided to check out the western area first. Nothing much was going on until I got to the largest of the ponds (the one that usually has ducks). I spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk flying above the trees to the east; it was being chased by two Northwestern Crows who managed to get a few swipes in before the hawk ducked into the treetops.

The two Long-billed Dowitchers and three of the Greater Yellowlegs that I observed on October 10th and 11th were still present on the mudflats and actively engaged in foraging for food.

On my way out I had a look at the birdfeeders hanging in the fenced off maintenance area and immediately noticed a single Evening Grosbeak. Unfortunately it flew off before I could get any pictures. Song Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, and a few Spotted Towhees were also at the feeders.

Maplewood: October 11th 2009

Thanks to the long weekend I was able to get out birding for the second day in a row. The tide was just beginning to recede when I arrived at Maplewood flats and so I was able to get some excellent views at the four Greater Yellowlegs and one of the Long-billed Dowitchers present.

It was quite amazing to watch the Greater Yellowlegs in action. They were very efficient at capturing prey. I observed one of them pull some sort of worm out of the mud and then a couple seconds later another had a small fish in its bill and shortly after that a different individual captured a crab.

Well I definitely have something to be thankful for. I hope your thanksgiving was as good as mine!

Maplewood: October 10th 2009

I spent a few hours at Maplewood yesterday and there were several good birds active on the mudflats. Besides the large numbers of American Widgeons several Bufflehead and a single female Lesser Scaup were diving to the southeast of the viewing area. On saltwater Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead predominately consume invertebrates such as crustaceans, and molluscs (Gauthier 1993, Austin et al 1998). Green-winged Teal were also present close to shore and I spotted a lone Northern Shoveler intermixed with a raft of American Widgeon. Various gull species (Mew, Glaucous-winged, Thayer’s, and Ring-billed) were on shore and in the water.

Two Greater Yellowlegs were foraging near the Blueridge Creek outflow in the northern section of the mudflats and two Killdeer were also at the same location. During the day Greater Yellowlegs acquire food through swift stabs at the surface. On mudflats their main prey is small aquatic and terrestrial invertebrates (Elphick and Tibbitts 1998).

Shortly after sighting the Yellowlegs I observed two Long-billed Dowitchers foraging in classic sewing machine like feeding behaviour in the shallows. Dowitcher’s feed primarily on polychaetes, bivalves, and amphipods present in soft muddy substrate (Takekawa and Warnock 2000). They detect their prey through the use of tactile receptors known as Herbst corpuscles at the tip of their bill (Burton 1972).

Both Short and Long-billed Dowitchers are in non-breeding plumage during fall migration making identification in the field very difficult. In addition to consulting numerous field guides I have found this article by Cin-Ty Lee and Andrew Birch on the surfbirds website to be particularly helpful.

I find it particularly interesting how the two species of shorebirds I observed yesterday differ in bill physiology and foraging behaviour and so can coexist on the same stretch of mudflat.

References:

Gauthier, Gilles. 1993. Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/067doi:10.2173/bna.67

Austin, Jane E., Christine M. Custer and Alan D. Afton. 1998. Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/338doi:10.2173/bna.338

Elphick, Chris S. and T. Lee Tibbitts. 1998. Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/355doi:10.2173/bna.355

Takekawa, John Y. and Nils Warnock. 2000. Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/bna/species/493doi:10.2173/bna.493

Burton, P. J. K. 1972. The feeding techniques of Stilt Sandpipers and dowitchers. San Diego Soc. Nat. Hist., Trans. 17:63-68.

Glaucous-winged Gull eating a Starfish

I observed this Glaucous-winged Gull attempting to ingest a starfish (I have no idea what species) at Maplewood Conservation Area on October 3rd. On several other occasions I’ve seen gulls with a starfish stuck in their mouth but I’ve never witnessed one actually swallow the starfish. This particular gull was seen from the footbridge that separates the east and west side of Maplewood. I watched it for several minutes before it spat the starfish out and then picked it up again and continued trying to swallow it.