Townsend’s Solitaire

October 16th, 2016: An excuse to visit Terra Nova

I’m not much of a “twitcher”: I don’t really like to drive just a for a bird. I try to walk, transit, or bike, but this one necessitated a drive. But I’d tried to find a TOSO this year in a few places relatively near to me without any luck and this is one of my favourite birds; definitely my favourite Vancouver thrush for at least two reasons.

First, it’s in that uncommon-rare sweet spot where a few individuals show up each year (say 3–7 in Metro Vancouver). You have to work for them personally or follow on someone’s tip. Even then, they’re moving through and often don’t stick around in one place for long.

Townsend's Solitaire on Lulu Island in Richmond
Townsend’s Solitaire on Lulu Island in Richmond

And second, the Solitaire brings back strong positive memories from my first sighting of one in my first year of birding. I was at a conference in Flagstaff, AZ (also my first and only trip to AZ) where I stayed an extra day to hike the Grand Canyon (down to Phantom Ranch and back from the south side). The day before I went to the Grand Canyon I had time to walk along a place called Picture Canyon in the Flagstaff area and had an incredible time seeing my first northern AZ birds (e.g. Pinyon Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Black Phoebe, Say’s Phoebe, Virginia’s Warbler, Lucy’s Warbler).

More than that though, I was birding on my own in a foreign land–I suppose the U.S. is technically foreign to me, but I mean the habitat–in the evening and loving the newness of it all. I expect you’ve had a similar experience at some point, so you know it’s hard to avoid all of that flooding back (and why would you want to) when some bird or other triggers those memories.

Townsend's Solitaire at Cecil Green Park on UBC campus in Vancouver
Townsend’s Solitaire at Cecil Green Park on UBC campus in Vancouver

Today’s Solitaire was on the south side of Terra Nova Natural Area in Richmond, alongside a golf course, quietly sitting in a tree above a fence, minding its own business as many dog-walkers strolled by obliviously. These birds are so beautifully understated that I think even if I did grab the elbow of someone walking by to tell them I’d found the cool bird I was looking for, they’d look at it once and think, “Yeah, okay buddy…you know it’s grey and not doing anything interesting, right?” Well, whatever, I love the buffy wing bar and the “don’t pay attention to me” vibe.

I spent some time with him/her, taking some photos and just enjoying being there. And afterward had a nice walk along the dyke trail and part of the Terra Nova Natural Area, where a Hutton’s Vireo was a nice surprise (eBird list).

I was reflecting on other times I’d found “my own” (I don’t like to say that, but you know what I mean) TOSO and each was almost always in a relatively lonely tree next to a golf course or large manicured lawn. But more than that, each one was solitary. I mean, if you check your eBird or other lists for each time you’ve observed a species that you’ve seen multiple times, how many are there where the number recorded is always 1?

BONUS! On the way home I stopped off at the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty for a look at some Heermann’s Gulls that had been seen there (definitely my favourite PNW gull). I was not disappointed!

Heermann's and Mew Gulls at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty
Heermann’s and Mew Gulls at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty
A pair of Heermann's Gull perched on some flotsam at Tsawwassen
A pair of Heermann’s Gull perched on some flotsam at Tsawwassen

These gulls are definitely less common in Vancouver that the Solitaire, but they were also only viewable long-range.

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