As soon as it nears mid-March, the birding options really open up locally. You can either head up to the Parksville/Qualicum area to take in the hordes of waterfowl and gulls that descend upon the area to partake in the feast presented by the herring spawn or you can search estuaries, driftwood-dotted shorelines, open Garry Oak hills, and any fields (e.g., airports or agricultural areas) in hopes of catching up with Say's Phoebes or Mountain Bluebirds.
Despite wanting to sift through the gulls and waterfowl up Island, I was a little too festive the night before to get up early. I decided to visit some of my favourite field haunts on the Saanich Peninsula, starting at Maber Flats and ending around the airport.
At Maber Flats, I ran in to Randy Dzenkiw and we sifted through the waterfowl, but other than a couple Eurasian Wigeons there wasn't anything too exciting. I told him my intentions to continue north up the peninsula and he had planned to check out Panama Flats, so we went our own ways. I snaked my way along West Saanich Rd., up Mount Newton X Rd., and back south down East Saanich Rd. to the eastern portion Hovey Rd. In 2007 I found a group of 12 Mountain Bluebirds at the tree farm on Mount Newton X Rd. and in 2013 I found a lone male Mountain Bluebird in the field between Central Saanich Rd. and the eastern end of Hovey Rd. Both of those sightings were in the second week of April, but I know it is not without precedent to be searching now because there are sightings of both Say's Phoebe and Mountain Bluebirds from the Lower Mainland already this year. Unfortunately I was unable to recreate the magic of those past sightings at either of those sites.
I then made my way over the Vantreight bulb fields (I refuse to call it Longview Farms) so check a small tree farm of Newman Rd., but also to check in on the Sky Larks. As soon as I stepped out of the vehicle, I could hear the continuous song of a Sky Lark from above. I don't check in on them often enough, so I'm always happy to confirm their persistence so I can continue to recommend this spot as the best place to get good views of the Sky Larks. I walked north past the greenhouses and spotted a couple more and hoped I would be able to spot one sitting in a little open patch of ground for a photo. As luck would have it, I did spot one just in the grass near the edge of the road. My luck wasn't picture perfect, though, because some of said grass was in front of the bird and prevented a clean shot. I was still happy with the results.
|They're a pretty drab bird, but Sky Larks to more are more about the song. Everyone should hear them at least once!|
The little tree farm by the bulb fields only produced a flock of a dozen or so Violet-green Swallows and at least one Tree Swallow, plus a flyover Northern Harrier. I should be promoting the use of eBird periodically, so to see the utility you can check out my list from the bulb fields here: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist?subID=S22454775
Next, I made my way to the airport and checked almost all the fence lines around the southern half and the best I could muster was another Northern Harrier. I was going to check the gulls where Wsikem Creek drains into Patricia Bay. Despite it being a Saturday, there was construction going on right at the beach and the area was virtually devoid of gulls. I continued into Deep Cove and came back to check the fields just north of the airport along Munro and John Rds. When I got to the eastern end of Munro Rd. a short ways before it comes to a dead end, I scanned the fields to the north. Almost immediately I spotted a mid-sized bird that had a flash of blue. I immediately hopped out and got the scope set up. It took a minute, but I managed to get a stunning male Mountain Bluebird in the field of view. A search with my binoculars revealed a female Mountain Bluebird was also out there. Now you're going to get a lesson in what record shots are all about. I waited until the male and female could be captured in the same frame and fired off a photo. Checking on Google Maps, the bluebirds were over 200 metres away. It's always amazing to me to see the results when you crop in on the birds... they're still recognizable as Mountain Bluebirds!
|Classic record shot: a pair of Mountain Bluebirds through a mesh plastic fence.|
I finished my day with a search along John Rd., which added a Northern Shrike, Hairy Woodpecker, and a couple Yellow-rumped Warblers for the day. As I headed home, I saw Mary Robichaud had called and by the time I got back to her she had found the bluebirds. When I checked the computer a while later I saw Brian Starzomski had also enjoyed the bluebirds, and the following morning at least a couple more (Liam Singh and Aziza Cooper) were able to find just the female. I love being able to report a species in a timely manner and nothing makes me happier than seeing that others have been able to catch up with a bird I have found. It's good to be back and hopefully this spring brings some rarities to break the birding dry spell the entire province has been under!