Archive for March, 2010

White-throated Sparrow and Slate-coloured Junco at Stanley Park

Thanks to the upcoming four day weekend I don’t have quite as much homework that needs to be done immediately, so I decided to head to Stanley Park after my classes were finished. A decision that paid off pretty well!

Both the White throated Sparrow and the Slate-coloured Junco (male) were seen in the brush on the south side of the stone bridge at the west end of Lost Lagoon.

I was there at about 12:30 when I first sighted the White-throated Sparrow foraging on the ground with Song and Fox Sparrow as well as Spotted Towhee. Unfortunately, having my cell phone as my only means of taking pictures makes documenting such a sighting quite difficult. This is the best of my efforts:

As you can see there are two bird shaped blobs in the photo; the top one is a Fox Sparrow and the bottom one is the White-throated Sparrow.

This is undoubtedly the same bird seen and reported since January. Upon checking the BC eBird records for White-throated Sparrow it seems most of the sightings at Stanley Park were from the second week of January to the middle of February; though, there are a handful of reports since then (of course, this could also be the result of a lack of visits to the area by eBird using birders). I had thought that I had missed this bird as school work prevented me from going after it when it was first seen and I was not able to locate it on any of my visits since the end of February. Sufficed to say it was quite a nice surprise to see it as I’d essentially given up hope.

The other and, perhaps, more unexpected rarity of the day, a male Slate-coloured Junco, was in the same general area as the White-throated Sparrow; though, a little further east along the path across the wood bridge. It was associating with a group of Oregon Juncos as well as the other regular assemblage of sparrows that inhabit this part of Lost Lagoon. I was only able to observe this bird for a few minutes before it took flight with a couple of other Oregon Juncos and, being unable to relocate it, I don’t have any photographic proof.

Coincidently, the last time I saw both of these birds was in New York City’s Central Park during the winter of 1999!

As if two rare birds in one day weren’t enough, I also witnessed a Sharp-shinned Hawk make an attempt at capturing a Song Sparrow at the marsh impoundment in the northeast corner of Lost Lagoon. Normally this would have likely been the highlight of any birder’s day; especially mine. So, as you might imagine, I had a pretty spectacular time out at Stanley Park.

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Maplewood: March 27th 2010

I was expecting it to be a bit of a wet Saturday but luckily the weather forecasts were a little off and it turned out to be a pretty decent day, which in turn led to an excellent time out at Maplewood Conservation Area. I think everyone else was expecting rain too as I only encountered one other person in my first hour or so of birding.

Soon after taking the path that heads to the mudflats I spotted a male Downy Woodpecker and not long after that a second one. The two were busily foraging for insects or other arthropods and after I stood still for a minute or so one of them came within two metres of where I was standing (1).

The tide was too far out for me to confidently identify everything at the mudflats but I was able to spot two Turkey Vultures soaring high above Burnaby Mountain and a little while later a Rufous Hummingbird spent a couple of seconds flying about the bushes at the lookout. At the south east corner of the property I heard the buzzing call of two Bewick’s Wrens coming from the brush which was shortly followed by a brief appearance of one of the birds. I wonder if these were two males establishing their respective territories as this type of call is used in such situations (2). In the distance a group of Red Crossbills were audible.

After heading across the footbridge that spans the Old Barge Channel I soon noticed the distinctive shape of a perched Red-tailed Hawk in a tree near the center of the west side. I quickly walked to the trail that runs through the middle of the area and took some pictures through my binoculars before a few crows managed to chase the hawk off.

While watching the hawk I noticed that it made frequent looks down at the ground below the tree it was sitting in. Perhaps it was looking for one of these Garter Snakes…

Over at the West Pond a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers (Audubon’s Warbler) were catching some flying insects. It’s great to see these birds again and I can’t imagine it’ll be much longer before some of the other Warblers start showing up on a regular basis.

References:

  1. Jackson, Jerome A. and Henri R. Ouellet. 2002. Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), 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/613doi:10.2173/bna.613
  2. Kennedy, E. Dale and Douglas W. White. 1997. Bewick’s Wren (Thryomanes bewickii), 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/315doi:10.2173/bna.315

Grebe ID Mix-up on Life

On Sunday Discovery Channel “premiered” the documentary Life; or rather the American edition of it which is narrated by Oprah Winfrey. I had already watched the version narrated by David Attenborough, which Discover Channel Canada aired in November of last year, but I enjoyed the series so much that I wanted a second look at it. Much to my surprise I noticed that they had incorrectly identified two Clark’s Grebes as Western Grebes in the series first episode.

Here is a clip from the version narrated by David Attenborough showing the courtship display of two Clark’s Grebes. Note that they are correctly identified as Clark’s Grebe.

I was unable to find a video from the American version showing this scene but it is pretty much the same footage, just edited differently. Does anyone happen to have a link to this version’s scene of the Grebes?

I did, however, notice that on Discovery Channel Canada’s website for the show they also incorrectly mention Western Grebes as being featured in the documentary.

It’s a bit disappointing to see this in a show with footage of such high quality, and seeing as how the original script had the correct ID I don’t know how this could have been messed up. It kinda throws into doubt all of the information in the narration; if they messed one thing up could there be anymore errors?

A Stroll Down the TCT

On Thursday I had a rare opportunity to get out for a little bit of birding in between classes… well, I should have really been working on homework but sometimes you get that itch and you just need to bird to get it scratched. With a limited amount of time I decided to check out a stretch of the Trans Canada Trail that runs parallel to University Dr. on Burnaby Mountain.

My first notable sighting was of a Chestnut-backed Chickadee digging into a snag. The bird would peck at the excavation sight for a few seconds before flying to a nearby branch with a small chip of wood or two in its beak. The chickadee would then drop the wood chips, fly back to the snag, and repeat the process. I watched the bird continue unabated for ten minutes or so before I had to continue on.

Interestingly, male Chestnut-backed Chickadees select the nest sight but it is the female who actually prepares or constructs the nest (1). It usually takes seven to eight days to build the nest; that’s just over a week of practically non-stop hard labour (2)! After finishing the nest the female will take a day off before commencing with egg laying (2).

Further down the trail from that tough-as-nails female Chestnut-backed Chickadee I came across a mixed flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, and a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet. In the distance a Winter Wren broke out into song and soon after a Common Raven cawed before flying above the trees where I was standing.

After my brief escape to reality I went back inside refreshed and ready for class.

References:

  1. Fowler, Jr., K. M. 1998. Breeding biology of the Chestnut-backed Chickadee. Typed manuscript of a paper presented at the North American Ornithological Conference. 11 April 1998, St. Louis, MO.
  2. Dahlsten, Donald L., Leonard A. Brennan, D. Archibald Mccallum and Sandra L. Gaunt. 2002. Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens), 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/689doi:10.2173/bna.689

Maplewood: March 14th 2010

With the forecast calling for rain I wasn’t expecting much in the way of activity but luckily the worst of the weather was just a couple of brief showers and the birds were out and about as usual.

After watching a mixed flock of Bushtits, Black-capped Chickadees, and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet near the entrance, I made my way over to the mudflats. The waterline and, consequently, most of the birds were too far out for me to confidently identify everything with my binoculars so I decided to check out the rest of Maplewood before finishing up at the mudflats. One bird of note, however, flew high above the area in an easterly direction; a Red-tailed Hawk.

In the trees on the western bank of the Old Barge Channel I found my best bird(s) of the day. A flock of eight Red Crossbills were perched at the top of two trees not far from the footbridge. This species feeds on conifer seeds; not something in abundance at Maplewood as there aren’t many trees of this type on the property when compared to the surrounding area (1). The nomadic nature of the species, a result of fluctuations in the seed crop, also contributes to the irregularity of birds at this location (1). As such, the Wild Bird Trust’s checklist describes Red Crossbill as rare throughout the year.

Elsewhere on the west side a group of five American Goldfinches were feeding on the seeds of a tree near the West Pond and at one point this large group of gulls circled overhead before heading west…

Back at the mudflats the usual ducks, gulls, and Northwestern Crows were feeding, preening and resting much closer to the viewing area than when I had first checked in. After twenty minutes or so of observation a lone Herring Gull buzzed past and I decided to call it a day.

Reference:

  1. Adkisson, Curtis S. 1996. Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra), 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/256doi:10.2173/bna.256

Stanley Park: March 6th 2010

I decided to stop by Stanley Park on my way home from school this past Friday to kick off the weekend with a bit of birding. Coming straight from school meant that all I had to take pictures with was my cell phone so the pictures are somewhat lacking in quality. I started off at Lost Lagoon and made my way over to Second Beach before finishing up at Beaver Lake.

The marsh impoundment at the north east corner of Lost Lagoon held two singing Song Sparrows as well as an Anna’s Hummingbird who gathered some fluff from a cattail before buzzing off. The fluff will most likely be used as part of it’s nest (1).

Large numbers of Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, and Dark-eyed Junco were feeding off of the seeds and crumbs people had dropped near the stone bride at the western end of the lagoon. A few Fox Sparrows and a single Golden-crowned Sparrow were interspersed within the larger flock.

Out on the Lagoon was a large flock of Lesser Scaup, several Common Merganser, and a single female Canvasback among the other, more regular, birds.

Over at Beaver Lake this Mallard hybrid came looking for a handout when I stopped for a break. Anyone care to venture a guess at who the non-Mallard parent might be?

Soon after the hybrid Mallard stopped by, a pair of Wood Ducks made an appearance. Such a striking duck is hard to miss and even non-birders can’t help but want to take its picture. Unfortunately our affinity for the species may have once threatened its existence. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries hunters decimated the population and it took nearly 70 years to recover (2). Today, the species still comprises 10% of all ducks shot by hunters; it is second only to the Mallard in terms of numbers killed (3).

Despite the abundance of people and their dogs, Stanley Park is still a top notch birding destination; a veritable oasis within the urban desert of the city.

References:

  1. Russell, Stephen M. 1996. Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna), 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/226doi:10.2173/bna.226
  2. Hepp, Gary R. and Frank C. Bellrose. 1995. Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), 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/169doi:10.2173/bna.169
  3. Bellrose, F. C. and D. J. Holm. 1994. Ecology and management of the Wood Duck. Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA.