September 24th, 2016: Rock Wren reported at Maplewood Conservation Area
Finding a Rock Wren in Metro Vancouver is not an easy task (we’ve only had a couple of reports in the past several years). But that task is made considerably easier when the bird is reported to an online forum and a friend of yours texts you with the precise location. So, off I went, a-twitchin’.
I was happy to have an excuse to visit Maplewood Conservation Area on the North Shore where the bird had been reported (map). This is a beautiful area that’s a must-visit in the spring especially. It sports extensive riparian habitat and some sheltered mud flats that have seen many uncommon-to-rare birds over the years. (Earlier this year, I saw my first Western Kingbird—we get only one or two of these each year—and enjoyed watching it hiding from the pouring rain, as I got soaked.) But this time I was looking for a Rock Wren (Salpinctes obsoletus), and it wasn’t nearly as challenging to find. As soon as I arrived at the bridge area—where it had been seen—I asked two optics-laden people if they’d seen the wren recently. They said it had been here but they hadn’t seen it in a little while. They must have been pleased with their views, however, because they were happily ensconced in conversation and were emphatically NOT birding. Some young and inexperienced birders had arrived during my brief chat with these “birders” and they appeared confused and frustrated that the bird wasn’t here. I felt a little strange as I walked about 10 feet and peeked over the edge of the rocks and there it was. I was a little surprised since so many people were around and when I noted, “Oh. There it is” no one appeared to notice. I felt a little awkward, but I wanted to make sure the younger birders had a chance to see it, so I reiterated, “Umm. Hey. I found the bird.” That got their attention and we all excitedly took in this rarity, snapping some photos in some decent overcast lighting and enjoying watching this little bundle of energy foraging among the rocks. The buffy-pinkish hues on this particular bird’s flanks seemed to stand out among the various rocky greys and I happily took in its understated beauty.
Since I was at Maplewood anyway, I thought I’d better have a look around and was rewarded with lots of other wildlife (eBird list). The highlights had to be a calling Horned Lark in flight above me at the mudflats (before landing just out of sight) and a VERY close encounter with a deer that surprised us both equally. The poor guy was definitely injured—as evidenced by a pronounced limp—and we just about walked into each other in the western part of the area, alongside the marshlands. After a nice walk I left Maplewood, very pleased I’d had such great looks at our little visitor.
The Rock Wren is in its own genus (salpinctes) and the second part of its Latin name, “obsoletus” seems a little unfair. It seems to me that this bird isn’t “worn out” in any way at all, except for colour, where the name would seem to derive. The wren’s subdued brown and hard gray barring on the wings and off-granite throat and breast are wonderfully understated, but the (often pale, rosy) flanks—while offering further camouflage in most cases—can only be fully appreciated at close range.
Entirely apart from its aesthetics, however, Rock Wrens have some pretty cool idiosyncrasies. While male wrens are often known for their songs, the Rock Wren can boast a repertoire of over 100 song types. Rock Wrens also have not been observed to drink water…ever! Apparently, they can get everything they need from their six- or eight-legged prey. Their nesting is interesting too: the nest cavity itself is often hidden from sight, but can be given away by a walkway of pebbles that lead up to it. Classy. Add to this the bird’s curious and energetic demeanour and it’s pretty easy to become enamoured with these little insectivores. I’d glimpsed a few Rock Wren in eastern Washington earlier this year, but only really had a good view of one at the Grand Canyon in the past. In every case, I enjoyed spending a moment with a confident little bird and its apparent surplus of personality.
P. S. This turned out to be a good week for rarities in Vancouver and I caught up with a Lewis’s Woodpecker the next day!