Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Valentine Couples Bird Count

On February 16, 2014 Joanna and I once again competed in the Victoria Natural History Society's Valentine's Couples Bird Count. We've only done this count once before, in 2012, when we won the competition with a good count of 82 species. The rules of this count are simple: 1) Count between 6am and 12pm; 2) Both people must see or hear 95% of the species counted for the day; 3) the count must be completed in the Greater Victoria Bird Checklist Area.

As in 2012, Joanna and I were at our first site (Royal Roads University) at 6am. Our first bird was Canada Goose calling, followed shortly thereafter by Great Horned Owl hooting. The weather was not particularly favourable, as a strong wind blew in off the Juan de Fuca Strait and rain and sleet pelted us for the first hour. As we stood at our second location, Albert Head, we had nearly every ounce of heat whisked from our bodies as we squinted in the twilight trying to pick up some marine species. It was generally futile...we picked up a few gulls and some ducks, but nothing we couldn't find elsewhere.

From Albert Head we dashed to Esquimalt Lagoon where we picked up a good mix of ducks, gulls, shorebirds and several passerines, including our only White-crowned Sparrows for the day. We then started to head toward the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre, but suddenly realized we had not counted Mute Swan, one of the easiest birds to get at Esquimalt Lagoon. We did a quick u-turn, and as soon as we could see the lagoon, we located the swans on the far side...a close call and a potentially embarrassing miss. At the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre we walked through a small patch of mature coastal forest in search of typical temperate rainforest birds. We picked up Pacific Wren, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Pileated Woodpecker, but failed to locate Varied Thrush and Red-breasted Sapsucker which were know to be in the area.

Our next stop was Panama Flats, a reasonably large agricultural area that is mostly flooded in the winter and attracts a good variety of waterbirds and species that use the drier grassy and shrubby margins. There were no real highlights here, although we did pick up five Western Meadowlarks, Savannah Sparrow, and Northern Shrike...the only records of those species for the day. Next stop was Vedder Flats where we picked up Gadwall and lots of Ring-necked Ducks...the big miss here, as we later learned at the post-count gathering, was Canvasback.

From Vedder Flats we headed to Blenkinsop Lake where we made a mad dash down the trail to the old rail trestle. The lake was largely unproductive, yielding only a couple species for the list. On the hike back to the car we picked up Downy Woodpecker, our only observation of this species for the day. From Blenkinsop Lake we visited King's Pond, our guaranteed location for Wood Duck, and to our surprise our only observation of California Quail as it fed on bird seed in the parking area. From King's Pond we headed to Gonzales Bay and completed a coastal circuit that included Oak Bay, Cattle Point, and Mount Douglas Park. Among these locales we picked up Black Oystercatcher, Killdeer, Pigeon Guillemot, and Pelagic Cormorant.

At this point the count was nearly over. We quickly headed to Rithet's Bog and added nothing new in the strong winds. We ended the day at Swan Lake, where the post-count summary was to held. Here we added only Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pied-billed Grebe. Our final count for the day was 73 species, which put us in 5th place out of 13 couple. The winning tally was 82, the same as our winning tally in 2012. Big missed for the day, which we actually saw the previous day as we scouted our sites, included Barrow's Goldeneye, Herring Gull, Long-tailed Duck, Purple Finch, Snow Goose, Common Raven, Bushtit, and Greater White-fronted Goose. The full list of species follows:

American Coot 3
American Robin 6
American Wigeon 6
Anna's Hummingbird 7
Bald Eagle 3
Belted Kingfisher 1
Bewick's Wren 6
Black Oystercatcher 1
Black Turnstone 2
Black-bellied Plover 1
Brewer's Blackbird 2
Brown Creeper 1
Bufflehead 6
California Quail 1
Canada Goose 7
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 5
Common Goldeneye 3
Common Loon 1
Common Merganser 5
Dark-eyed Junco 2
Double-crested Cormorant 4
Downy Woodpecker 2
European Starling 1
Fox Sparrow 2
Gadwall 1
Glaucous-winged Gull 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 3
Golden-crowned Sparrow 4
Great Blue Heron 2
Great Horned Owl 1
Greater Scaup 1
Green-winged Teal 1
Harlequin Duck 2
Hooded Merganser 4
Horned Grebe 1
House Finch 2
House Sparrow 3
Killdeer 1
Lesser Scaup 1
Lincoln's Sparrow 2
Mallard 7
Marsh Wren 1
Mew Gull 2
Mute Swan 1
Northern Flicker 5
Northern Pintail 3
Northern Shoveler 1
Northern Shrike 1
Northwestern Crow 3
Pacific Wren 2
Pelagic Cormorant 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Pigeon Guillemot 1
Pileated Woodpecker 2
Red-breasted Merganser 4
Red-breasted Nuthatch 1
Red-necked Grebe 1
Red-tailed Hawk 2
Red-winged Blackbird 6
Ring-necked Duck 4
Rock Pigeon 2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Ruddy Duck 2
Savannah Sparrow 1
Song Sparrow 8
Spotted Towhee 5
Surf Scoter 3
Surfbird 1
Trumpeter Swan 2
Western Meadowlark 1
White-crowned Sparrow 1
Wood Duck 1
Yellow-rumped Warbler 1
Grand Total 188

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