Bird watching with Clyde

Bird watching with Clyde
by Janet May, 28 Oct

Clyde Burton led Young Naturalist bird enthusiasts to the estuary where we crept up on a dozen killdeer and saw a rare Eurasian widgeon!

Clyde had egg samples for all to feel and a hooded merganser.

As we said goodbye, a kingfisher scolded us and a pair of eagles twittered their approval.

Birding by Ear – Part VIII

Birding by Ear – Part VIII
by Andrew Bryant, 28 April 2018

Pierre Geoffray and I led a cosy group of 7 members to learn more about “birding by ear” at Wildwood Bluffs…and this year we had our work cut out for us!

It was, in a word, QUIET.

We began by walking along the newly-widened roads along the recently-sold “Block 55”.   What a difference a year makes!  Gone were the young forests filled with early-spring migrants such as Wilson’s and Orange-Crowned Warblers.  Indeed, we saw about about as many pieces of heavy equipment as we did birds.

Things improved a bit as we got off the road and hit the bluffs proper.  Hutton’s and Cassin’s Vireo, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and even my first Turkey Vultures of the year.  The walk back up the hill was also quiet, indeed, strangely so.

Pierre, ever the patient observer, kept an E-bird list which can be seen here.  Which illustrates two time-honored principles of field biology:
1) You always see more than you remember, when you record observations in the field, and
2) If you don’t record something, well in the end, it never happened

And if you don’t get out at all, well, enjoy the photos!



Birding by Ear – Part VII !

Birding by Ear – Part VII !
by Pierre Geoffray, 16 May 2017.

Fifteen of us met at the Italian Hall for “Birding by Ear”.  The weather decided to give us a break and we enjoyed the dry and cloudy spell (the best we can wish for this year!) as we toured the Wildwood Bluffs.

Right around the Italian Hall, we had some good views of our first Black-headed Grosbeak, singing for us in the open at the tip of an alder tree. Also there, a Yellow Warbler and a pair of Western Tanagers, all freshly arrived from their long migration, showed very well.

This year has been particularly quiet, with birds being shy and not very vocal. The cold temperatures surely have something to do with it. In a way it made it easier for us as it helped us focus on the fewer songs we heard.  The warblers especially can be confusing when they are all singing together!  So we unravelled them, mostly one at a time:

Sweet, sweet, I’m so so sweet” (Yellow),

CHI chi chi chichiCHI!” (Wilson’s),

CHICHICHI chachacha” (MacGillivray’s), and the new mnemonic found I think by Lois,

Chim, chim chim CHIMNEY!” (Black-throated Gray Warbler)…

The vireos were very present yesterday. We heard many Warbling, a rapid series of notes with the last two going up, encountered a cooperative pair of Hutton’s and heard the sluggish call and response song of a Cassin’s Vireo on the bluffs: ” Where are U? Here I am”, with that slurry Mexican accent that makes it roll the R’s, remember?

We walked along the bluff trail, so beautiful at this season with all the flowers blooming. There we had a different set of birds: Hammond’s and Pacific-slope Flycatchers… We heard an Oregon Junco singing, an uncommon breeder here, a musical trill very similar to the “dropping” trill of the Orange-crowned Warblers we had heard earlier in the second growth.

While admiring the view from the bluffs over the Straight, an Osprey flew by, another not so common bird for PR north. All in all we had 31 species.

It was a very fun walk, thanks to all participants for their enthusiastic and focused attitude.

Good Birding all!  And don’t forget to use those Binoculars when they dangle around your neck!

Note: Pierre also supplied his Ebird list for the day, and encouraged us to take advantage of that extraordinary internet birding resource:

Tiny Brown Birds

Tiny Brown Birds
by Heather Harbord, 14
January 2017.

Eight members joined Clyde at 8am on Saturday for the Tiny Brown Birds trip.  After carpooling from town, we drove to the Lang Creek Hatchery, crossed the road and walked among the prime TBB habitat.

At the start, Clyde explained how carefully and quietly we should move to avoid scaring the birds.  Unfortunately, the sun went behind a cloud and it was very cold so only a few Towhees and Ruby-crowned Kinglets cooperated.  At the Hatchery, we saw a Pacific Wren beside the creek where the Dippers are often found at this time of year.

Next stop was Michael Stewart’s feeders which were much more fruitful for our purpose.  Hidden inside her house, after a slow start we enjoyed prime views of seven birds on Heather’s hand-out of TBBs plus several Anna’s Hummingbirds which sat on twigs to display their black throats and shocking pink and orange lapels, an iridescence caused by the way light hits microscopic barbules in their colourless feathers. Oregon Juncos were the commonest birds.  The red squirrel-proof feeder had both male and female House Finches on one side and Purple Finches on the other often interrupted by Spotted Towhees and Juncos.  Clyde showed us how to distinguish between them.

Both Song and Fox Sparrows put in brief appearances and also demonstrated Clyde’s distinctions.  We were grateful to him for sharing his vast knowledge of birds and their behaviours and setting us on track to become more competent birders.  The area has potential for a birding or tree frog field trip in the spring when the weather should be more clement.

Note: Apart from leading the trip, Clyde and Heather have produced a really useful “mini-field guide” to some of our local TBBs…you can get it here.

Neil Hughes – “Ethiopia: a birding extravaganza”

Neil Hughes – “Ethiopia: a birding extravaganza”
by Andrew Bryant, 17
 November 2016.

Long-time club member, professional forester, and die-hard birder, Neil entertained us last year with his talk about spring migration in the eastern Mediterranean.  Although he’s moved away from Powell River and now calls Victoria home, Neil made a special trip back to share his latest amazing adventure – to Ethiopia!

It was more than a succession of marvelous bird photographs (although there were a lot of those).  I did not know, for example, that Ethiopia had such a diversity of landscapes, including not only the famous Rift Valley, but deserts, savannahs, forests, and montane habitats.

Nor was I was aware of the tremendous bird diversity to be found there (over 800 species), or of the extraordinary challenges facing not only birdwatchers, but the country as a whole.

In between the fascinating tidbits of natural history (sunbirds are the hummingbirds of Africa) and birding humor (“this is a drab, little brown bird…indeed it positively revels it its drabness”), there were some wonderful insights into the sense of the place.  I liked the all-essential “spotters”, without whom visiting birders would see little, and the quite extraordinary “meeting at the waterhole”.   Brilliant.

Twin Islands and Mitlenatch

Twin Islands and Mitlenatch
by Heather Harbord, 26
 May 2016. 

Ten members boarded the schooner, Misty Isles, at Lund on May 26th bound for Mitlenatch and Twin Islands.  It was great to have extra time on Mitlenatch especially as the Tiger Lilies were coming into bloom in the meadow and the Glaucous-winged gulls were beginning to sit on eggs.  The Stellers and California sea lions, Harbour seals, Pelagic and Double-crested cormorants, Black Oystercatchers and a few Pigeon Guillemots gave star performances which we watched from the zodiac.   As the wind was a bit strong we only circumnavigated the southern part of the island on both sides of Camp Bay instead of going all the way round.   As usual, Mike and his staff gave a knowledgeable presentation of what we were seeing supplemented by two of us (Janet May and I) who had been wardens the previous week.

We then went on to Twin Islands stopping at the rock where the Arctic Terns had been seen for the previous four years.  Unfortunately, they did not return for us.  The lodge at Twin Islands was fascinating and we enjoyed Mike Yip’s talk and photos of butterflies and birds. He is a wonderful photographer and some of us bought his books which he gave us a special rate on.  The following morning, we were on the go at 7am for a bird walk with Mike.  We did a bit too much exploring and didn’t have much time to spend at the swamp in the centre of the southern island where there was a Kingfisher and a Red-winged blackbird.  In the well-fenced garden a wobbly fledgling robin looked down on us from a tree.

After breakfast, the owner of the lodge, Mark Torrance, showed us his solar power system which he can control from his computer.   This was quite fascinating.  As we sailed away after lunch, we put up the red sails, got into the dingy and admired our handywork.

Thanks, Mike and Jonah, for another wonderful trip on Misty.


Birding by Ear Part VI

Birding by Ear Part VI
by Andrew Bryant, 30 April

Both Pierre Geoffray and I thought it a bit strange that nobody had showed at the Italian Hall by 8:00 AM – so we hung around for a bit, and decided to go birding anyway.

Thus I was horrified to later learn that I’d mis-remembered the time – our advertised walk was scheduled for 8:30 AM, and not 8:00 AM as I’d discussed with Pierre and announced at our last club meeting.   The fault is all mine, folks, and mine alone.  Fervent apologies to all who showed up after we’d prematurely left the scene.  Oops.  So Pierre and I decided we needed to do it again…

Birding by Ear Part VI !!! 
by Pierre Geoffray, 14 May

This morning a group of 10 birders walked the trails at the Wildwood Bluffs. The weather was perfect for birding, sunny but not too hot.  AND the birds were there for us too, specially in the first 2 hours and they kept us busy trying to unravel the threads of their songs!

We found 20 species and that was pretty good for such a big group… The Black-headed Grosbeaks took first prize. They were everywhere, calling their “spik” notes or singing their long melodious whistles with the long upward note we learnt to recognize this morning? ( am I right?)

I stopped counting them after 15…Another bird we heard a lot this morning was the Wilson’s Warbler.  A cascade of “chi chi chi chi” going down… The Yellow Warblers which just arrived in the last days were also omnipresent, further complicating things with their “sweet, sweet I’m so sweet!”, a song that can be easily confused with the MacGillivray’s two part (one high, one low) song… You are still following me?

Another warbler we had was the Orange-crowned Warbler.  A thin trill dropping at the end like the bird had suddenly lost steam, and we compared it to the even pitched trill of the Spotted Towhee.

Today was also the first sighting of Swainson’s Thrush freshly returning from their South American wintering grounds.  We had a small group of 4-5 birds at the beginning of the walk.  They were not singing yet but giving instead they “huit” call so typical of our summer evenings…

At the end of the walk, one more warbler, the cute Common Yellowthroat played hard to get with us as he called and sang incessantly near the parking lot, allowing only short glimpses of its beautiful plumage.  Birds can be difficult sometimes!

I really enjoyed the walk this morning and getting to know new birders in town was a real bonus.  Thank you to all participating.  Special thanks to Andrew Bryant to coordinate it.
Good Birding to you all.


Rand Rudland – “Melanesian marvels”

Rand Rudland – “Melanesian marvels”
by Andrew Bryant, 
21 April 2016. 

Rand Rudland, MD,  is just one of those people who’s hard to pin down. Physician to high arctic communities, whitewater rafting guide, globetrotting birder, Antarctic explorer, and Director of the Sunshine Coast Natural History Society,  Rand visited Powell River to speak about his recent travels in Melanesia.

As Ship’s Physician aboard the Spirit of Enderby, he was able to visit some of the most remote places in the southwest Pacific – islands with exotic names like Nissan, Mussau, VanikoroDuff, Bipi, and Espiritu Santo – together with places that might resonate for some – like Guadalcanal, the Coral Sea, and Rabaul.

Did I mention that Rand is also a very talented photographer?

Although he mostly focused on birds – and the incredible level of endemisn to be found there – he also regaled us with images of seldom-seen tribal “sing-sings”, artifacts from the second world war, scary spiders, even scarier snakes, gorgeous butterflies, orchids, flying fish, and some of the happiest children in the world!

It’s not every day that you have a guest speaker casually say “oh and that’s a Superb Pitta…I think that’s only about the 4th or 5th time this species has ever been photographed…sorry for the poor quality, but the jungle was a bit dark, and it was about 42° C in the shade…”

A talk not to be missed.  A more detailed description of his adventures was published in his own club’s wonderful Marsh Wrenderings, which I’ve made available here.

Gulls with Art Martell

Gulls with Art Martell
by Heather Harbord, 18
 March 2016. 

Ten members accompanied Art Martell to Willingdon Beach and Sliammon on Friday.

On the way down to the creek mouth at Willingdon, we stopped to look at a lone Mew Gull with magnificent mirrors on its tail feathers.  At the creek, we found three mature California Gulls which loomed clear in Art’s scope showing off their heavy bills with red and black spots. Unfortunately and eagle put all the gulls up and the Californias did not return, leaving only a small huddle of Mews.

Out at Sliammon, we saw Thayers Gulls, Glaucous-winged and Glaucous-winged x Western crosses.  Also, Art identified a group of Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull crosses which we likely would not have noticed without him.

He reminded us that among the previous night’s slides were some showing that dark or light eye colour by itself is not a sufficient identification mark.  It must be combined with size, beak configuration, shade of grey on the back and tail feather mirrors which all have to match.

Gulls likely to hybridize are those whose breeding colonies overlap such as Glaucous-winged and Western in the Pacific North West or Glaucous-winged and Herring (Larus smithsonianus) in the Gulf of Alaska.  The progeny of the former migrate up the centre of Georgia Strait and the latter come down from Alaska in the winter.

75% of Puget Sound gulls are Glaucous-winged x Western crosses and in the Seattle area are often referred to as Olympic Gulls.  Unlike popular beliefs about hybrids, these gull hybrids are not sterile and can reproduce with each other quite happily and continuously causing further confusion among birders.  A new species could be in the process of evolving.


Art Martell – “An Abundance of Gulls”

Art Martell – “An Abundance of Gulls”
by Andrew Bryant, 
17 March 2016

Dr. Art Martell worked for decades as a research scientist with the Canadian Wildlife Service, publishing numerous papers on caribou, small mammals, ticks, birds and other creatures. Now retired to the Comox Valley, Art visited us to provide an introduction to the diversity and characteristics of gulls found in the Salish Sea.  The photos above show our more common species.

Once one accepts that “there’s no such thing as a seagull”, it soon becomes apparent that identifying gulls is tricky – and becoming good at it takes work.

Starting with the basics, Art began by “narrowing down the field”, noting that of the 25 or so species which have been found here, only 8 are commonly encountered.  Much can be quickly learned from the general size, shape and “gestalt” or “jizz” of the bird.  Is it small, with a delicate, even dainty flight pattern?  Is it medium gray, or is it distinctly paler than others in the flock?  Much more can be determined by learning the common ones first, and then determining what a given bird is not!

 A handy gull ID chart can be found here.  Like anything else, but especially with gulls…practice is good!  

Art’s complete talk is below (note that you can enlarge slides to full-screen, and go backwards or forwards at will – hover over the 1st slide to see the controls).

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A low-tide stroll out to Myrtle Rocks

A low-tide stroll out to Myrtle Rocks
by Andrew Bryant, 14 June 2015. 

David Bedry, Heidi Rohard and I arranged (led is too strong a word)  a leisurely stroll out to Myrtle Rocks on a fine Sunday morning.

Fifteen club members and a few interested passers-by participated. Together we braved the bright sun, quiet winds, noticeably low tide conditions, and still waters  to cross the 500 metres or so that separate mainland B.C. and Myrtle Rocks.

Along the way we watched the noisy antics of purple martins, and were ourselves watched by a family of harbor seals.

My personal highlights were the solitary Bonaparte’s gull, a yellowlegs, a willow flycatcher and a pair of black oystercatchers that I’m convinced nested there.  David, Heidi and others happily overturned pebbles, finding crabs, worms and other intertidal critters.

I think most of us were content to watch fishing boats, converse about this or that, and chalk this one up as another nice day in paradise.


David Bedry wrote me the next day to say “Thanks for the tip yesterday.  I went back this AM for a look.  Found them, but not where I thought you said. Unfortunately all the wrong exposure conditions, and this is the best I got. Dark subject, dark background and into the sun, but still a great experience. I didn’t want to push the bird’s comfort level.   Pictures at 500 mm.”

Nicely done David!


Birding by ear Part V

Birding by ear Part V
by Andrew Bryant, 25 April 2015.

Pierre Geoffray and Neil Hughes led eight of us on a leisurely ear-birding expedition along along the muddy trails behind the Italian Hall.  We started at the crack of eight and walked neither fast nor far.

The rains held off, but the woods were relatively quiet.  There were a few warblers (Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped, McGillivray’s, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s  and Common Yellowthroat) which were skittish and hard to photograph, but provided wonderful practice for the ears.  The Spotted Towhees and Song, White and Golden-crowned sparrows also showed off their amazing repertoires.  We saw or heard a total of 30 species.  Pierre has posted a complete checklist on eBird that can be seen here.

Highlights for me were hearing a Common Loon from the bluffs, encountering a very cooperative Red-breasted Sapsucker, seeing the nice gaggle of Turkey Vultures as we were leaving, and hearing and watching numerous Rufous Hummingbirds performing their vibrant and wonderful “J”-shaped courtship flights.

Also of note were the flowering salmonberries, Pacific bleedingheart (Diocentra formosa), and carpets of sea pink (Armeria maritima) atop the rocky outcrops.

All in all an enjoyable and educational day out, even if that Yellowthroat was more than a little bit exasperating!


Neil Hughes – “Spring migration on the Isle of Lesvos”

Neil Hughes – “Spring migration on the Isle of Lesvos”
by Andrew Bryant, 21 Apr 2015. 

Neil is a Powell River-based forester during regular business hours, and a keen birder and globe-trotter at all other times.  In 2010 he travelled to the Greek island of Lesvos (or Lesbos) to experience spring migration there.

And what an experience it was!  After the difficulty of getting there (a volcanic eruption had grounded air travel around the globe), Neil was treated to a magical mixture of quiet off-season resort restaurants, pastoral  landscapes, and olive groves.  And, of course, birds!

Lesvos is Greek in name, but Asian-minor in terms of biogeography.  Situated closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, the island is also the epicentre of several major bird migration flyways.   Thus it is similar to Canada’s Point Pelee, but it also unusual in that the avifauna of Europe and Asia meet here, so it presents a rare opportunity for European birders to see many Asian species that rarely show up further west.

For anyone interested in learning more about birding on the Isle of Lesvos, there’s a really nice website with annual reports, bird checklists and more located here.

Finally, Neil only touched on some of the conservation issues facing migratory birds in Greece, particularly regarding the illegal trapping of birds with mist nets or limesticks.   You can learn more about the severity of the issue from the Hellenic Ornithological Society or BirdLife Cyprus.

Casual birdwalk

Casual birdwalk
by Andrew Bryant, 28 February 2015.

Saturday was sunny and calm as nine of us gathered for a low-key birdwatching excursion with Neil Hughes and myself.

We began at Palm Beach Regional Park, where we saw a hundred or more Surf Scoters, together with smaller numbers of the “usual suspects” (Horned Grebes, Harlequin ducks, Buffleheads, Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye, American Wigeon, a few loons in the distance, and the ever-delightful Black Oystercatcher.  The woods were pretty quiet, with only the occasional Spotted Towhee or Song Sparrow breaking the silence.   We did get some nice views of a Red-tailed Hawk.

After a couple of hours spent happily spent peering through spotting scopes, comparing binoculars, and discussing the finer points of identifying Lesser versus Greater Scaup, a few of us ventured out to Stillwater Bluffs.  It was again very quiet, except for a quick glimpse of a hummingbird (Anna’s?) and the continual din of sea lions way over at McRae Rocks.

All in all, a quiet but deeply satisfying day, and much more fun than staying home to mow the lawn!


Updated Christmas Bird Count Results

Audubon Christmas Bird Count Results, 2004-2014
By Andrew Bryant
31 Dec 2014

Since 2004, Clyde Burton, John Treen, Heather Harbord and others have organized our members to participate in the long-running Audubon Christmas Bird Count.  This magnificent example of “citizen-science” has now been running for over 114 years, and has led to literally thousands of of scientific papers and greatly improved understanding of bird population trends across the continent.

In Canada, the program is coordinated by Bird Studies Canada, and you can find and download recent and historical data through the Audubon data  portal here.

I did just that, and thought that providing a summary of our local results over time might provide a useful additional resource for the ornithologically-inclined!

Here they are:  Powell River Christmas Bird Count Results 2004-2014

3rd Christmas Bird Count for Kids!

Christmas Bird Count for Kids!
by Andrew Bryant, 6 December 2014

For the third year in a row,  the Young Naturalists participated in the Christmas Bird Count for Kids.  Although not an official Audubon event, it’s a great excuse for families to get out and about, learn some new birds and socialize with others.

Nicely organized by Elizabeth Tenhoeve and Michael Stewart, nine children and about a dozen adults braved the somewhat scary-looking weather and showed up at Willingdon Beach.  In fact the rains parted and it proved to be a great day.   Thanks also to John Treen, Neil Hughes, Heather Harbord, Janet Bingham, Clyde Burton and Nick Hauser for the scopes and birding expertise, and to Angelique Veerman and Gillian Andrew for the hot chocolate!

In all we counted 26 species and 156 individuals.  Highlights for me included a Thayer’s gull, Mew gulls, a very cooperative Varied thrush, and a flock of about 30 Kildeer that showed off their amazing ability to hide in plain sight!

Birding by ear Part IV

Birding by ear Part IV
by Janet May, 10 May 2014.

Ten members met Pierre Geoffray at the Italian Hall in Wildwood and immediately we began listening for birds. We encountered several migrant flocks passing through the area. Warblers of many varieties sang out, and we were delighted to spot orange-crowned, black-throated grey, and Townsend’s as well as a warbling vireo who gave us a sweet generous trill.

We spotted only a fraction of the birds that we heard, underlining the importance of learning to bird by ear. But the grand finale, a pair of enormous bears, reminded us that we shouldn’t keep too quiet out there either.

2nd Christmas Bird Count for Kids

2nd Christmas Bird Count for Kids
by Elizabeth Tenhoeve, 7 Dec 2013.

Once again a few of us braved the wilds of Willingdon Beach and added to our birding identification skills.

 We’re pleased that our kids are participating in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count – and having fun in the process!

First Christmas Bird Count for Kids

First Christmas Bird Count for Kids
by Janet Southcott, 1 Dec 2012.

This is the first year our Young Naturalists have participated in a nationwide bird count.

We were thwarted by the weather, high winds, rain, not ideal conditions for bird watching.  But a few brave souls came out to help.

We worked with experienced birders and walked through Millennium Park.  Everyone learned how to use binoculars and the names of birds seen during the count.

Banding Purple Martins

Banding Purple Martins
by Elizabeth Tenhoeve, 14 July 2012.

Among other things, Andrew Bryant is the local coordinator for the Purple Martin nest box project at Myrtle Rocks.  He invited the Young Naturalists along while Bruce Cousens, Charlene Lee and he collected nestlings from the nest boxes to be banded.  It was great fun, many of the children were able to hold and learn more about these beautiful little birds.

It was amazing to realise that, because of the nest boxes, populations of these once endangered bird are climbing steadily, to over 735 breeding pairs this year.  We were glad to hear it!

The Powell River Peak published a story about the Purple Recovery Program, which be found here.

Shoreline birds

Shoreline birds
by Janet Southcott, 15 Nov 2011.

We went down to the Hulks, at the south end of Catalyst Paper Corporation mill and looked at the Californian and Steller Sea Lions in the log-sorting area.  We were lucky to see both species together as it was easy to tell them apart.  We also saw shoreline birds such as surf scoters, Barrow’s goldeneye and bufflehead, plus cormorants and common loons.

Audubon Christmas Bird Count – 2007

Audubon Christmas Bird Count – 2007
by Heather Harbord, 27 December 2007. 

Members participated in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, followed by a potluck luncheon at Sherri’s house. This was a species count only and emphasised the fun of learning to identify birds in a relaxed atmosphere for a limited amount of time. Some members met at Willingdon Beach at 8am and divided into groups that covered Saltery Bay to Lund, Texada, Harwood and Savary islands. Others sat at home watching their feeders.

Unfortunately, it was a snowy, windy and generally nasty day so we only counted 45 species.  However, more were added till we had 70 by New Year’s. In 2006 we counted only 41 species.