Sunday, March 17, 2013

Skylarks, Ferry Birding and To Home, March 15

Friday, March 15, is my last day in British Columbia.  The sun was out with partial cloud cover.  Beautiful!  I spent the early morning in my motel updating my blog and getting information about the exact locations to find the Skylarks.  I found the information at in an article about the Skylarks.  However, I needed the help of the motel staff to get readable copies printed of the maps, because I did not have cell phone service to look at it on line with my Droid Razr.  They also provided a brochure that had a convenient map providing easy directions to the airport.  I drove south to Victoria and went to the Mills Road location that borders the northern edge of the Victoria Airport to a high spot with benches honoring people who loved this location.  There is a sign with the number 302 on the fence.  There was a convenient gravel pull off along this road, apparently a popular spot.  I got out of the car, took my camera and binoculars.  There is a biking and walking black topped trail that borders the airport.  As I got up the hill, I heard Eurasian Skylark singing the beautiful and extended song that is hard to describe.  I will try to do so anyway.  It's a series of buzzy trills and higher notes that goes on and on to the point of wondering where does this bird get all of this energy to sing like this.  No wonder this song is a topic on British poetry and literature, because it is so distinctive.
To a Skylark    
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert-
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Eurasian Skylarks sing on the wing and high up, so I searched high but could not find the bird (s).  There were several more songs from different directions.  Finally, I realized that the hill sloped down to the airport runway area and that the birds could be sitting on the slope of the hill.  Finally, I found a Skylark fluttering in the wind, hovering, singing, dropping slowly and just before it disappeared below the berm of the hill, it spread its tail to show the white out tail feathers.  A second Skylark was also in the air and dropped below the berm of the hill.  There was a local man who stopped with his bicycle, so I told him why I was there.  He did not know about the Skylarks, and could not hear the song, because he did not have his hearing aid.  He promised he would look this up on the internet and try to see them in the future, because he biked this trail 2 to 3 times per week.  I stayed for nearly an hour thoroughly enjoying the Skylark songs and displays.  I saw several Skylarks on the flat grassy area near the runway below the hill, and saw a total of five birds and heard perhaps more.  Two local lady birders joined me for a short visit.  I told them about my Big Year and my blog address.  They confirmed that this location is the best choice recently to see and hear the Skylarks.  Guess my instincts were right about a hill being the best spot.  They also confirmed that my plan to take the nearby Swartz Bay Ferry to Tsawwassen was the best choice for my return to the mainland and Seattle.   In addition, one of them indicated that there would be enough light left on the 5:00 pm ferry to look for Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemot by going outside while on the ferry, and suggested that I leave soon, not later than 2:30 pm, for the ferry to ensure that I get on that 5:00 pm ferry.  We parted ways and I thanked them for their help.  When I arrived at the ferry terminal, I was informed that just for today, Friday, there was a 4:00 pm ferry.  Even better.  After boarding the ferry and parking, I started birding at the ferry terminal.  Immediately, I found two Pelagic Cormorants and a single Pigeon Guillemot.  The first Pelagic Cormorant photo shows the small red face patch,
partially obscured by glare.  The second Pelagic Cormorant photo shows the small head and relatively thin neck and thin bill.  The cormorant on the left may be an immature, while the bird on the right is probably an adult, because the squared off back of the head suggests a lowered crest.  See photos.  The Pigeon Guillemot photo conveniently shows the dark mark in the white wing patch, the red of the lining inside the beak and the red legs.  I scanned the rocky shoreline for Black Oystercatcher, and continued to do so as we got underway until the shoreline was too distant but without success.  There were more Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots on the way out. The lady birder also told me to look in the straits.  As we approached this area or what I thought was the area, I saw a large flock of gulls
on the water.   A large percentage of this flock of approximately 300 to 500 birds were Mew Gulls, another new bird for the year.  We landed at the Tsawwassen Ferry terminal and I drove to Seattle.  I stopped at a rest area when there was still some light and checked the conifers for Chestnut-backed Chickadee, but without success.  I stayed near the airport for

convenience for rental car return.  However, by  the time I had a late dinner, and organized my stuff and packed, there was little time to update my blog, as I am now doing at home in Cincinnati.
The trip to British Columbia was a great success.  I found the four target birds, Red-flanked Bluetail, Citrine Wagtail, Brambling and Eurasian Skylark plus additional endemic species. Citrine Wagtail (Life Bird) is unlikely to show up again this year, because it is only the second record for North America.  Red-flanked Bluetail (Life Bird) is a possibility on Attu but is a rarity.  I would have to be extremely lucky to see the Red-flanked Bluetail again this year or even again in my lifetime.   Brambling is more likely to be seen this year.  There have been up to four reports on Vancouver Island and several in Alaska this year,  a very good year for Brambling.  I plan to be in the Pacific Northwest for birding there or on my way to Alaska; therefore, Eurasian Skylark would be possible later this year.  With Eurasian Skylark, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot and Mew Gull, the total is now 180.     


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