Friday, 22 June 2012

That West Coast Vibe

Bird'n and Chill'n in Vancouver.  That's all I could really do.  Call it Zen Birding: Don't worry about the birds, just enjoy what there is to see and hear.  I had a day to bird around Vancouver, but only had a vague idea of where to find some good birds, based on a web search.   But it's summer and either too late or too early for a lot of birds that regularly appear in southwest British Columbia.  I decided to try half a dozen locations within easy driving distance of the airport so I wouldn't be late for my flight to my next Minor League baseball destination, Bluefield WV. Bluefield, by the way is somewhere east of Nowhere and very far north of Wheretheheckisthat.   It's one of those places you can't get there from here.

But I digress.  Back to Vancouver and up at the crack of dawn to see if I could crack the 400 species mark by the end of the day, having begun with 395.  I started in typical fashion, being stopped by the local constabulary,(that's the Police for those of you from Generation Twitter).  I was driving for the first time in Stanley Park, looking for a good spot to start my day.  I pulled into a vacant parking spot, they were all vacant at 5:30am, and walked over the pay station,(it's $3 per hour to park), to insert my credit card in the money eating machine, only to find out they require your license plate number to play. It's a rental car, I didn't know the plate number, so I walked the 100 yards back to the car - seeing the first 3 of the many crows I would see today, and decided to just drive back to park right next the the pay station.  I drive up a little, pull a perfect 5-point turn, and drive back, only to see the flashing Police lights approaching me.  I pulled quickly into a sport and the officer eyed me suspiciously.  He asked for my drives license.   Thanks to my fancy new Scotevest and its magic pockets I quickly located it, handed it over and explained my situation.  He explained that it's a one way street.  I wanted to suggest I was only going one way.  I held my tongue.  Luckily, it was all sorted out in my favor and I paid for 3 hours and added 6 more crows to my day list.

The birds were loud but not very active.  The foliage at this time of year is very dense and the birds were well hidden.  I really need to be a better birder-by-ear.  But I was birding in a new city, on my own and there were no locals to help me with the northwestern dialects I was hearing.   I combed the woods an found Wood Ducks and even the friendliest Red-winged Blackbirds ever, as unbidden they landed on my hand and one felt so comfortable with me, he left me a little present,(see below).

My first year bird came a little later in the woods, high in a tree, after a long search for other unseen calling birds.   I didn't have to hear a call to know I had a Red-bellied Sapsucker.  A cool woodpecker with a red head and a Howard Walawitz type red "dickie.".  It was dark and hard to focus, so I don't have a great photos.  I also added half a dozen more crows for the day.

When my 3 hours of parking was up I headed to Pacific Spirit Regional Park where the birds were plentiful and I do believe I heard a Hutton's Vireo, but was unable to get my eyes on it so will not count it as a life bird.  Oddly, no crows.

I spent the rest of the day adding local day birds but no new birds for the year until late in the day at my last stop before heading to the airport.  I headed across the Lion's Gate Bridge, which you could easily mistake for the Golden Gate, complete with spectacular view, to Lighthouse Park, hoping to add the Hutton's or maybe a Sooty Grouse.  What I got were not only at least 3 more crows, but a Common Raven that sent chills down my spine and scared me, just a little, with his bone numbing "CAW!"   And as a bonus I got the bird I had wanted in Alaska and kept missing, the Western Wood-pewee.  This bird is a perfect example of being able to bird by ear.  Without knowing the call of this bird, which I listened to the recording of incessantly in Alaska, and had memorized, I'd have never have found it.

I may be crazy, but my mnemonic to remember it was that is sounds very much like the first 7 notes to the opening of that hilarious 1960's sitcom, Green Acres.  I was nearing the end of the loop path through the woods, thinking I was heading out of town with just one new bird for the year, when I heard the call.  At first I didn't know what I was hearing, but knew it was something good.  I listened for about 5 minutes before I figured it out.  I played the appropriate call from my iPhone, iBird app and knew I had the bird.  Now I had to find it to count it.   For about 10 minutes it called and I scanned the trees above.  I tried to move closer crunching through the soft underbrush, perhaps I'd get a two for one deal and flush a grouse. All day I had been climbing over logs, and getting snagged on branches.  It was kinda an Indiana Jones like feeling, wearing my hat, cargo pants, hiking boots and new vest, with my camera slung around my waist on a holster like Indy's revolver and my binoculars in place of his trusty whip.

I finally got my binoculars on a clear spot on the correct tree and there he was, singing away.  I was so excited I could have whooped with joy.  Instead I pumped my fist and congratulated myself on some good birding.  Alas my photo, once again lacking the light for a good exposure and focus, was just good for a record of my find.

On my way to the airport I made a quick stop at Queen Elizabeth Park and got a dozen more crows and  a Black-chinned Hummingbird giving me more than 30 birds seen and heard for the day.

My two new birds were 397 and 398.  Now I have the Yellow and Red-bellied Sapsuckers and the Eastern and Western Wood-pewees.  And with a trip to Texas looming on Saturday I should hit 400 not long after my arrival in San Antonio on Saturday morning.  A Scissor-tailed Flycatcher or the Black-tailed Godwit being reported in Brazoria, Texas would be a nice 399 and 400.

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