Posts Tagged 'rare bird'

Gyrfalcon at New Brighton Park

Not far from where the Northern Waterthrush was hanging out a Gyrfalcon was reported. The bird had been seen at both the Hastings horse racing track and the Viterra grain terminal just east of New Brighton Park. The grain terminal is, naturally, flush with pigeons. The bird had first been seen on Tuesday (January 22nd) but today was the first opportunity I had to head back to the area to have a look for it (January 25th). After hearing and then having the briefest of views of the Northern Waterthrush at the sanctuary once again, I walked over to the nearby racetrack to look for the Gyrfalcon. The falcon had been seen in the trees along the northwest side of the track. From here it would have a good view of any waterfowl on the pond in the track’s centre or out on the grass of the infield. Unfortunately there weren’t many ducks in the area and, consequently, the trees were Gyrfalcon free.

The Viterra silos were also visible from the race track and once I’d walked around to the north side of the pond I began scanning the terminal. Although the distance was quite far I eventually managed to pick up on a light grey falcon shaped bird perched atop the structure. I used my camera to confirm the identification as the Gyrfalcon; another benefit to having a super zoom as I found out. After getting a few record shots I walked north to New Brighton Park to try get a closer view.

By the time I’d reached the waterfront park the Gyrfalcon had apparently decided to move on and I couldn’t relocate it on the terminal. It wasn’t in the trees by the race course either. Looking at the surrounding landscape from New Brighton Park did give me an appreciation for how large of an area was available for this bird to hunt and perch. In addition to the racetrack and Viterra terminal, the bird could have been anywhere along the North Shore’s industrial waterfront. There are also numerous spots nearby in Burnaby or Vancouver where large numbers of pigeons and/or waterfowl congregate.

Despite the extremely distant views I was quite happy to see this species today. Normally, Gyrfalcon are seen a few times during the winter around Boundary Bay in Delta, and as I don’t have a vehicle I can only get down there infrequently. That area is so large that it’s almost pure luck to bump into a Gyrfalcon; obviously the more you visit the greater your chances of seeing it. Thankfully this bird had decided to stick around the same area for the past few days, allowing me to see it!


Northern Waterthrush at Hastings Park

A Northern Waterthrush was reported at Hastings Park Sanctuary on Monday afternoon. I only read the post yesterday morning and by the time I got on scene it was already noon (Tuesday January 22nd). The park is not very large and is centred on a small lake with a set of paths encircling it. I started walking in a counter clockwise direction around the lake and in the north east sector of the park I heard the “spwik” call of the bird. The Waterthrush was along the waters edge and not immediately visible from the trail. By the time I had got into a better position I only had the briefest of split second views before the bird took off across the lake and into the brush on the west side of the park. It was enough to see the brown back and defined streaking on the sides and flanks, but hardly a satisfying view.

I made my way over to the other side of the lake but could neither hear nor see anything resembling a Northern Waterthrush. After waiting quite a while on the trail above the thickets where the bird had flown into I decided to keep walking around the park. Probably an hour or so later I was again on the eastern side of the lake when I heard the “spwik” call once more; however it was coming from the western side of the lake from the same spot I had seen the bird fly earlier. Naturally, by the time I got there, there wasn’t a sound to be heard!

The specific site where the bird appeared to be hiding was along the waters edge downhill from a memorial dedicated to workers. Despite staking out the area for over an hour the bird did not want to come out. I had all but given up and decided to take another, final, walk around the lake as it was already getting close to sunset. By the time I made it back around to the memorial the sun had already gone down and the light was quickly disappearing. After another fifteen minutes of waiting I heard the bird calling again! This time it was coming, not from the thickets and conifers I had seen the bird fly into, but just a few metres south where there were no conifers. I quickly popped my head over the hill and honed in on the source of the sound; the bird was visible for just a few seconds before ducking back into the thicker brush and going silent, but at least this time I had a good look! This was around 1645 and well into the twilight of evening but thankfully there was still enough light to see the pale eyebrow stripe and defined streaking on the chest and sides. I also observed the characteristic tail and rear body bobbing. Although the light was bad and the view brief, after putting in an entire afternoon’s worth of searching I was more than satisfied with what little time the bird offered me!

Townsend’s Solitaire at Terra Nova

According to the BC bird alert page for the Lower Mainland a Townsend’s Solitaire has been seen at Richmond’s Terra Nova park since December 31st. Yesterday was the first opportunity I had to head out that way and take a look for it. Arriving at the parking lot for the community gardens (49.170753,-123.196398 from google maps) around 0830, I witnessed several hundred Snow Geese in flight overhead! The birds were flying in a south easterly direction and must have come from the waterfront.

The Solitaire had been seen around the parking lot for the community gardens as well as in the gardens themselves. I started off by scanning the bushes on the west side of the parking lot. Near the red barn looking building I found a Bewick’s Wren. Occasionally the bird would call and pop into view before dropping back down and foraging through the undergrowth. As I was enjoying the wren a bird flew into a tree just at the edge of my field of vision. It was the Townsend’s Solitaire! I followed the bird as it moved south from tree to tree before flying across Westminster Highway and out of sight into the trees in that part of the park (this part of Westminster Highway is not really a “highway” but more of a quiet street).

I spent the next twenty minutes checking out what else was going on; which included some close up views of a group of Purple Finches feasting on berries. After scanning the marshes from the dyke at the end of Westminster Highway I turned around to find the Townsend’s Solitaire perched close by in a tree! Here the bird provided some of its best views yet. For a “grey bird” this species’ plumage is quite beautiful in my opinion; a subtle smooth grey, accented by the dash of buffy yellow on the wings and the white eye ring.

Red-flanked Bluetail in New Westminster

On Sunday afternoon a probable Red-flanked Bluetail was reported in New Westminster’s Queen’s Park. I had no idea what a Red-flanked Bluetail looked like yet alone even thought of it as a possible bird to show up in the Lower Mainland so needless to say I planned to make a run for it the next day (Monday, January 14th)! By the time I left home around mid morning the bird’s identity had already been confirmed, heightening my excitement and sense of urgency. Queen’s Park is conveniently located on public transit which made chasing the bird much easier as I don’t own a vehicle. The only potential dampener on my plans was that it was snowing today! Thankfully, not too heavily at least.

When I got off the bus at the park I didn’t have far to walk before sighting a group of birders observing the bird. The area that the Bluetail was foraging around in consists of some tall conifers with little to no underbrush (paste 49.216514,-122.9093 into google maps to see the area of the park where the bird was). The only understory cover comes from the low hanging leaves of the younger conifers, tree stumps, and the occasional leafless bush. There was also a playground and a number of picnic tables. Luckily for us humans this makes moving around quite easy, and the bird certainly made everyone work for their views. Thankfully it was hanging around low down underneath or at the bottoms of the conifer trees; however, it wouldn’t sit still for more than a few seconds at most before moving around the base of a tree or to an entirely different tree. Viewing the bird basically consisted of a few seconds watching through binoculars before it would fly off, then moving five to ten metres before repeating. Occasionally I and the other birders would lose track of the bird and we’d have to spread out looking for it. It also didn’t seem to associate with any of the Juncos and Sparrows also hanging around. I also don’t think it made a single sound the entire time I spent observing it.

The snow and low light levels underneath the trees made getting photos a bit difficult, not to mention the shy skittish nature of the bird! But I did manage to get a few record shots showing the diagnostic features of a Red-flanked Bluetail…

I also managed to get a shot of it with a small insect in its bill. I can’t say that I noticed many bugs around with the snow and all but hopefully this little fellow is getting enough to eat. Maybe it was moving around so much in order to find enough food.

I spent about four hours following the bird as it circled the playground from tree to tree. It was truly a fantastic experience observing and appreciating this spectacular rarity. Many many thanks to the birder who first found the bird!

Brambling in Fairview Neighbourhood

On Sunday a report of a Brambling came in from a backyard in Vancouver’s Fairview neighbourhood. See the BC Bird Alert page for details on the exact location. Normally I don’t like chasing birds reported in backyards because I feel a little weird walking around people’s houses staring into their backyards with binoculars. On Monday (January 7th 2013), however, I was planning on going to nearby Queen Elizabeth Park for my fourth attempt at locating some Pine Grosbeaks so I decided to swing by and try see the bird.

Thankfully I arrived on scene at the same time as some other birders, so I didn’t feel that uncomfortable staring intently at the bushes in someone’s backyard seeing as there were about six other people doing the same!  The house where the Brambling had been seen had several bird feeders as well as some dense bushes in the backyard; it was here that the homeowner first reported the bird and other birders had seen it on Sunday. My initial scans found that the bushes held a number of House Finches and Houses Sparrows, as well as a couple of Song Sparrows and a Fox Sparrow, but no Brambling. The other birders and I would have to wait about twenty minutes before the bird made a spectacular entrance flying into the bushes and perching in full view.

The Brambling continued to move about in the bushes giving some great views for the remaining twenty minutes that I stuck around for. My shoddy iPhone photos don’t do the bird justice as it is truly a handsome specimen. My visit to Queen Elizabeth Park also netted me four Pine Grosbeaks, another great looking bird! It was a nice way to cap the day off.

Little Gull at Ambleside Park

With school out of the way I’ve had a lot more time to bird, so it was a no brainer to twitch a Little Gull sighted at Ambleside Park on December 21. Ambleside is fairly easy for me to get to which also meant I could go after it the day after it was first seen (December 22) instead of having to wait who knows how long for a ride. The weather on Saturday wasn’t looking that great with a forecast for light showers. It turned out to be even more miserable with full on rain and a steady breeze at times…

My gloves soon soaked through, numbing my hands in the cold, and my jeans and thermals weren’t doing much after they got wet. I started off at the wood pier at the west end of Ambleside Park and worked my way eastward; thoroughly scanning off the two rock jetties as I went. There were scattered groups of gulls as far as I could see out onto English Bay, most of which were Mew as well as the occasional Glaucous-winged (or some hybrid variation) and Bonaparte’s. I paid particular attention to the Bonaparte’s as the Little Gull is similar in appearance and had been reported associating with them. Eventually I made it to the rock jetty near the dog beach where I could scan the straight spanned by the Lion’s Gate Bridge. There were a fair number of Bonaparte’s Gulls here but, try as I might, none of them matched the field marks of a Little Gull. I also ran into two other birders here who were similarly unlucky. After two hours I decided to take a break so I could warm up. Over some tea I checked the local reports and, much to my frustration, I saw the bird had been seen at 0930; half an hour before I arrived on scene!

After warming up I went to the northern section of Stanley Park’s seawall. I was similarly unlucky here despite putting in another hour and a half’s worth of scanning the strait and bay. Not content with calling it a day I went back to Ambleside Park with a few daylight hours remaining. I spent most of my time searching the bay from the wood pier with my scope. I could see quite a few Bonaparte’s Gulls feeding, resting, and preening at a reasonable distance but, again, I couldn’t locate the Little Gull. After another hour and a half I had to head home but made my mind up to come back the next day for a second attempt.

I decided to leave a bit earlier on Sunday (December 23) so that I could make the most of the daylight. When I arrived at Ambleside it was raining lightly but it soon stopped as I scanned the bay from the wood pier. Even though visibility was much better now that the rain had stopped I couldn’t see as many gulls out in the bay as I’d seen the day before so I quickly moved on to the next rock jetty. When I made my way to the easternmost rock jetty near the dog beach I ran into two other birders who had just seen the Little Gull in a group of gulls feeding over the mussel covered sand bars of the mouth of the Capilano River! We couldn’t locate the bird in this group and switched to scanning the birds out in the strait. After a couple of minutes we all got onto the bird as it flew up and down a section of the Stanley park seawall! Even though the Little Gull was closer to Stanley Park itself than Ambleside, the dark underwings combined with the white primary tips really stood out amongst the other flying gulls. I watched the gull for a mere ten minutes or so before losing it in the flock, but a successful chase always makes up for the time spent searching in my view, no matter how brief my time with the bird is.

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: