Archive for November, 2012

Cave Swallow at Iona

On Sunday night when I read about a Cave Swallow being reported at Iona Beach Regional Park I knew I had to try make every effort to see it. This is a new record for B.C. and who knows how long I’d have to wait to see another one here! Monday November 12th was conveniently a holiday in lieu of Remembrance Day and luckily my mom was open to giving me a ride out there to try locate it. I’d only be able to go after lunch so I was a bit tense hoping the bird would stick around till then. It had been reported in the morning but with rain forecasted for the afternoon I wasn’t sure whether it would stick around for much longer.

By the time I left home it was already drizzling and, if the look of the clouds was to be believed, it didn’t seem like it would be letting up any time soon. It was still wet when I arrived at Iona’s parking lot but the sight of a group of birders and a few swallows darting about above the southern outer pond looked promising. As soon as I got my bins out I had a look through the swallows and quickly separated the likely Cave Swallow from the few Barn Swallows keeping it company based on the differences of their respective tails. Although no Cliff Swallows had been reported in the same area, I personally cannot separate the two similar species based off of tiny, fast moving, and dimly lit birds in the rain. Consequently I wouldn’t have felt satisfied claiming the lifer and wanted to make the ID for my self.

I got my scope set up and after several frustrating minutes of trying to get the particular swallow of interest in my field of view I succeeded, for a few very quick seconds. My second attempt was a little faster and I was able to track the bird long enough to see the necessary field marks. What an awesome and completely unexpected lifer!

I noted the creamy coloured cheeks and throat that identified the bird to species in my brief scope view. The photographs posted online, as well as the expert opinion of other birders, indicated this bird to be a juvenile, and I could see the buffy rump and dark greyish brown feathers that distinguish it as such through my binoculars despite the rain. Unfortunately trying to get recognizable shots of swallows with my digiscoping rig and skill level would require a lot of luck, not to mention the fact that it was raining!

Cave Swallows are normally found in south east New Mexico, Texas, and southern Florida in the U.S. (1). They also inhabit northern Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula, as well as parts of the Caribbean (1). This species has benefited to some extent from increased human development; the construction of bridges, culverts, and similar structures has created more nesting sites (1). Historically limited to caves, sinkholes, and cliff faces, Cave Swallows have taken advantage of man made structures to expand their distribution north into the U.S. (1).

Many thanks to the birders who spotted and identified this bird! It is always a truly humbling and awe inspiring moment when observing such a rare bird as this in the field.


  1. Strickler, Stephanie and Steve West. 2011. Cave Swallow (Petrochelidon fulva), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Tropical Kingbird at Boundary Bay

Birding without owning a vehicle in Vancouver can be a bit challenging at times. I had been reading reports and enjoying some great photos of a Tropical Kingbird that had decided to stick around at a particular spot of Boundary Bay in Delta for about two weeks now. Quite possibly the same individual was first seen at nearby Blackie Spit, where it appeared to only reside for a day. Since then the bird had been reliably located at the south end of 104th street since it was first seen there, slowly driving me mad that an easy lifer was seemingly out of my reach. Thankfully though, the bird stayed put until I could finally secure a ride down to see it yesterday evening (10th November).

Arriving at 104th street around 1545 didn’t leave a whole lot of time before the light would be gone for the day. But it took about ten minutes of searching before I located the bird atop some power lines roughly fifty meters from the dyke. While I was setting up my digiscoping rig I lost track of the bird as some people walked their horses to one of the farm houses on the east side of the road. Luckily another birder relocated it in a tree just across the street from the power lines where it was originally perched as I walked down the street scanning for it!

The bird stayed put long enough for me to get a few record shots and some great views. After a few minutes things got even better when the Kingbird flew back to power lines about seven meters or so in front of my position! It sat eyeing me for a while and every time a car drove past it would perk up and nervously watch it pass. After ten or fifteen minutes the bird seemed to accept my presence and started hawking for insects near the airport buildings and occasionally right over my head!

In the United States Tropical Kingbird breed in southeast Arizona and the Rio Grande valley of Texas in addition to Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, and Central and South America (1). During the fall this species is known to disperse northwards along the Pacific coast in small numbers; ranging from California all the way up to southern B.C (1). eBird indicates the earliest records for the Vancouver area occurred in 2008. The species was seen again in 2010, a bird I dipped on in my two attempts to locate it, before the current individual showed up. Hopefully this little guy has enough food and is able to withstand the steadily dropping temperatures until it decides to depart.

I’m so glad this bird decided to stay put for so long until I could make the trip out to see it. And to get such fantastically close up views of a great bird, and a lifer, has to be among the most delicious icing on any birders cake.


  1. Stouffer, Philip C. and R. Terry Chesser. 1998. Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: