Archive for December, 2009

Maplewood: December 27th 2009

On Saturday the city was covered in a thick blanket of fog which, in my case, led to some less than stellar birding. On Sunday, however, the skies were clear. I arrived at Maplewood Conservation Area an hour or so after high tide which left a small group of birds congregating on a patch of exposed mudflats to the north of the viewing area.

I managed to slowly creep up to the northernmost viewpoint at the mudflats where two Killdeer were resting only eight or so meters away. One of them opened his eyes and looked me over before going back to sleep…

Killdeer are frequently found in habitat that has been created or modified by humans and this puts them at an increased risk of exposure from chemicals and pesticides (1). Over the summer the District of North Vancouver adopted a “cosmetic pesticide” ban (i.e. pesticides used on residential properties). For the most part this sounds like good news for Killdeer and other urban bird species on the North Shore but there does appear to be a bit of a loop hole in that a permit can be obtained to use pesticides when there is a “threat to health or to physical structures” (couldn’t one just remove the problem plant manually?). Ultimately the success of this pesticide ban will be determined by people’s willingness to put the health of the community ahead of their lawn.

Three Greater Yellowlegs were also in the same area; two of which were resting while the other was foraging in the shallows, nearby a small group of Green-winged Teal were preening and sleeping.

Reference:

  1. Jackson, Bette J. and Jerome A. Jackson. 2000. Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), 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/517doi:10.2173/bna.517

Serpentine Fen: December 17th 2009

Yesterday I had the opportunity to bird at Serpentine Fen located along the Serpentine River in the South Surrey area. It’s a location that I have never been to before.

From the observation tower closest to the parking lot I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk sitting atop a utility pole. These birds are typically “sit-and-wait” predators and so elevated perches in open country are an important habitat requirement (Preston and Beane 2009). Development, deforestation, and habitat fragmentation appear to have helped the Red-tailed Hawk to expand its range and maintain relatively stable population numbers over much of North America (Berry et al 1998 and Farmer et al 2008).

A little while later a group of eight Trumpeter Swans lifted off to the north of my position and flew to the south east. These birds were once prized for their feathers and skins leading widespread hunting pressure and subsequent population declines (Mitchell 1994). In 1935 only 69 birds were known to exist; however, undocumented populations persisted in areas of Canada and Alaska (Mitchell 1994). Today, numbers have rebounded as a result of effective conservation measures, but winter range habitat loss and lead poisoning from the ingestion of lead shot and sinkers still threaten the continued survival of the species (Gale et al 1987 and Blus et al 1989).

Most of the ponds were frozen over with a thin layer of ice. This Great Blue Heron decided that the middle of one such pond was a good place to rest…

The Serpentine River had several species of duck including large numbers of American Widgeon and Mallard, Bufflehead, Gadwall, Common Merganser, and two Lesser Scaup. There also quite a few American Coot. The surrounding brushy vegetation held Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing, and a lone Downy Woodpecker.

At the northwest corner of the property I observed a Northern Harrier chase a Red-tailed Hawk. It got a few swipes in before the Hawk landed on an electrical power line pylon. The Harrier continued hunting to the southeast.

I had an excellent time at Serpentine Fen and I look forward to birding there again.

References:

Preston, C. R. and R. D. Beane. 2009. Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis), 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/052doi:10.2173/bna.52

Berry, M. E., C. E. Bock, and S. L. Haire. 1998. Abundance of diurnal raptors on open space grasslands in an urbanized landscape. Condor 100(4):601-608.

Farmer, C. J., L. J. Goodrich, E. Ruelas, and J. Smith. 2008. Conservation status of North American raptors. Pages 303-420 in State of North America’s Birds of Prey. (Bildstein, K. L., J. P. Smith, E. Ruelas Inzunza, and R. Veit, Eds.) Nuttall Ornithological Club and American Ornithologists’ Union, Series in Ornithology, No. 3, Cambridge, MA and Washington, D. C.

Mitchell, Carl D. 1994. Trumpeter Swan (Cygnus buccinator), 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/105doi:10.2173/bna.105

Blus, L. J., R. K. Stroud, B. Reiswig, and T. McEneaney. 1989. Lead poisoning and other mortality factors in Trumpeter Swans. Environ. Toxicol. and Chem. 8:263-271.

Gale, R. S., E. O. Garton, and I. J. Ball. 1987. The history, ecology, and management of the Rocky Mountain Population of Trumpeter Swans. U.S. Fish & Wildl. Service, Montana Cooperative Wildl. Research Unit, Missoula, MT.


Ambleside Park: December 12th 2009

A quick bit of birding was in order in between studying for exams and so I got out of the house and went to Ambleside for a little under an hour. The duck pond was partially iced over forcing the birds swim and forage in a smaller area. It was almost comical to watch some of the ducks gingerly walking across the ice as it began to crack underfoot.

Several Lesser Scaup were diving close to the edge of the pond and so it was possible to view them zooming around underwater from the trail. Their main source of food includes insects, crustaceans, and mollusks; although seeds and aquatic vegetation are also consumed in some areas (Austin et al 1998). I’m sure I’ve also seen them occasionally surface with a fish in their bill. Prey is primarily consumed underwater (Tome and Wrubleski 1988).

Other duck species included Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Hooded Merganser, and large numbers of Mallard and American Widgeon. The resident Mute Swans were also foraging and occasionally bullying other ducks that got too close.

It’s amazing what birding can do in terms of recharging one’s batteries. Once I got back to studying it almost felt as though I had just woken up from a good night’s sleep.

References:

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

Tome, M. W. and D. A. Wrubleski. 1988. Underwater foraging behavior of Canvasbacks, Lesser Scaups, and Ruddy Ducks. Condor 90:168-172.

Maplewood: December 6th 2009

Last weekend I took advantage of the clear skies and managed to get out birding before the end of term exam period began. The sun may have been out but cold temperatures combined with a stiff northerly wind led to an absolutely freezing outing… at least by Vancouver standards.

Upon arriving at the mudflats I noticed a Spotted Sandpiper foraging not far from the viewing area; it took flight shortly after and retreated to the northern corner of the mudflats preventing me from getting any pictures. Over at the Birding in BC forums there are some excellent photos taken by revs of what is undoubtedly the very same bird I observed. The checklist for Maplewood Flats (which can be found on the WBT’s website) lists the Spotted Sandpiper as “accidental; out of range” for the winter months making this an interesting and noteworthy sighting. Typically these birds begin moving south in mid-July and by the end of October this species has moved out of the province (Campbell et al 1990). I wonder why this particular sandpiper decided to stick around. Perhaps, it was a bird that bred further south and migrated north?

Also of note were twelve Greater Yellowlegs; a personal high count for Maplewood, and several Killdeer were foraging close to the viewing area.

It was nice to have the sun out while birding but I’m not used to it being that cold. How did the arctic front affect your birding?

References:

Campbell, R. W., N. K. Dame, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. M. Cooper, G. W. Kaiser, and M. C. E. McNall. 1990. The birds of British Columbia Vol. 2. Diurnal birds of prey through woodpeckers. R. Br. Columbia Mus. Victoria.

Naheeno Park: December 2nd 2009

The sunny weather conditions provided the perfect opportunity to take a break from studying and get out birding. I decided to check out Naheeno Park; a place I haven’t been birding before. It is located on Burnaby Mountain just south of SFU’s campus inside the “ring road” formed by University Drive and Gaglardi Way.

I ended up doing a trail that branches off of the main path (Mel’s Trail I think?) and does a loop across two creeks and then rejoins the main trail. It was quite peaceful, except for the traffic at SFU, but there wasn’t much activity as far as birds are concerned. This time of year isn’t exactly the best time to bird Burnaby Mountain; it’s better during migration when various species warblers are moving through.

At one point I did get some close up views of a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets that decided I wasn’t a threat (or they were just too busy gaining much needed energy) and came within a meter or so of my position. In winter they feed primarily on insects and a little bit of seeds (Ingold and Galati 1997). I was able to watch them glean insects of off the leaves of a young Douglas fir; often they would hover to get at the underside of the leaves.

Despite the lack of activity I still had a great time and I look forward to revisiting Naheeno Park in the spring when it will hopefully have a lot more going on.

Reference:

Ingold, James L. and Robert Galati. 1997. Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), 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/301doi:10.2173/bna.301