Now I am sure that you’ve all heard the phrase Piggy in the Middle, well after much praying to the sun gods and a reverse rain dance I manged to get us a somewhat sunny day for our annual birding trip for the Herring spawn. I think that the spawn was not all that spectacular this year as we hardly saw any eggs on the beaches. Only a few passing Sealions were seen and no fishing boats.
The 11 birders/photographers arrived in Qualicum at 9:30 and straight away we got one of those special little species that always turns up for the spawn the diminutive Bonaparte’s Gull. Sadly I think we only spotted one with it’s black hood all the rest still in winter plumage, just like some of our party. The rafts of sea ducks were way out but with much scanning we did mange to see most of the expected species although some were in small numbers like: Long-tailed Duck, White-winged Scoter, Black Scoter and Loons which were in very small numbers. There was also another problem with the birds being so far out the photographers turned on their own kind and several were seen snapping pics of each other.
One of the stars at the Qualicum lookout was a Sanderling; this species was one that always gave the Old Country Twitchers a problem finding during those days of the Brant Big Day Birding Competition. Another nice species seen was a 1st year Herring Gull that looked massive against the Bony’s and Mew Gulls, it got disturbed and flew before most participants were up and running. Another good gull species was a 1-2nd year Glaucous Gull that fed out in the milling throng.
We had been there a while when Genevieve turned up, this greenhorn to birding was eager to see the masses and we tried our best to show her and the others all the species that were out there. This is always a problem with diving ducks and large flocks because one second they’re there and the next they’re gone and if your not that quick looking through the scope, well too bad.
We moved down one street in the hopes of the birds being closer and it was a bit better but not to the liking of the shutterbugs. A pair of Eurasian-collared Doves sat high up on a dead snag and a few Tree Swallows passed us by.
Our next stop was Kincade Road and good numbers of birds were had. There was still that little chill to the wind and we knew that it was still March and that we should not expect too much from the weather. A Great Blue Heron was added to our total and both Red-winged Blackbirds and House Sparrows were along the road. We scanned the birds in hopes of finding another good bird, sadly none were found so we moved on down to Columbia Beach. Here I’m afraid to say was a disaster as it was hard to even find a bird, there appeared to be more people than birds and they were sparse.
That was it time for our lunch break so off we went for much needed food, that is for some of us who didn’t get up early enough to make a sandwich.We grabbed some goodies and were off to the Parksville community park. I think it should be renamed parking lot as we were unable to find any spots out near the birds so us gimpy ones were dropped off and others shuttled out whilst the drivers parked out near Coombs, well somewhere that far away.
Things were slow here as we munched into our lunches, the ducks were far off across the bay, just one lonely Bald Eagle sat out on the gravel bar and Genevieve went out to chat him up. A few dabbling ducks were off the point all were American Wigeon with one Eurasian type with them which Caroline had spotted but kept it to herself, she’ll learn there are no secrets when I’m around. A single female Yellow-rumped Warbler sat in the tree and was camouflaged which made it hard to get the others to see it. I payed off some dog walker and managed to secure a parking spot for Dave, but it was all too late for the birds and us old timers made the long slog back to the vehicles, while some got in with Dave.
Our next stop was the Plummer Road side of the Englishman River Estuary, the number of gulls on this side was incredible and a massive flock took to the air as a Bald Eagle sailed over looking for that one that does not look too fast. It was here that we scored big time, Kurlene spotted a peep fly in and I got on it straight away and much to my dismay it was a breeding plumage Western Sandpiper an incredibly early arrival, not many have been recorded this early before on Vancouver Island. The other nice sighting was a hybrid American X Eurasian Green-winged Teal, you don’t see many of these around.
We headed around to the beach to have a look and well guess what the Scoters were all close in and a wonderful sighting was had by the happy campers. All this joy was brought to a sudden halt when this funny wet stuff started to descend on us , at first just a few drops which i thought was some gull passing over, but no it was the real stuff and it got a little heavy before that nasty cloud passed over. We all had wonderful looks at the ducks before we headed back south and the next stop the Ugly Dwarf meadows. We scanned from the top of the road but only a couple of Common Ravens were spotted, but down further we were treated to a very unusual sight 3 American Kestrels we had; I have never had three in one location before. A Red-tailed Hawk was spotted our only one of the day. Some of us were now starting to lag and a small flock of Turkey Vultures picked up on this straight away and circled overhead and so we got back in the cars and headed for home.
Our day was done and we had enjoyed some lovely sights and it is always a wonderful trip up that area to view the birds and scenery. Big thanks to all for their friendship and laughter which made for a lovely March day out with nature.Here is the list of bird species seen on our trip:
Green-winged Teal X Eurasian Teal
Great Blue Heron