Harlequin Duck

January 21st, 2019: A big(ish) day travelling around Metro Vancouver

A rental car is always cause for some minor celebration when I have few other obligations. This time, I was going to have a chance early in the year to visit some of my favourite birding spots in the Vancouver area. I especially wanted to look for more pelagic birds than I can see in the landlocked (but awesome) city park near my apartment.

Today’s itinerary would take me White Rock Pier, Blackie Spit, Boundary Bay, Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty, Reifel Bird Sanctuary, and Brunswick Point. Yes! Off I went.

At my first stop, I felt a little dumb…apparently the White Rock Pier had collapsed in a storm some time ago, so that wasn’t happened. Fortunately, even with my 8×42 bins, I could look for some seafaring birds from the shore. Tonnes of Surf Scoter and White-winged Scoter, as usual, but no Black Scoter today. There were Horned Grebe and Common Loon, but I couldn’t turn up any other grebes or loons. White Rock was definitely a bust. Oh well. On to Blackie Spit!

I fared much better at Blackie Spit, counting 33 species and just a ton of bird life. This is a great spot for large numbers of ducks and waders, if not necessarily great diversity of either. I had no luck with the nearly-resident Marbled Godwits and Long-billed Curlew, but I counted several Greater Yellowlegs. There also appear to be rapidly increasing numbers of Eurasian Wigeon at Blackie Spit (it’s much harder to find them even a little further north in the city) and I counted a minimum of 31. There was a good mix of the usual passerines about and an adult Bald Eagle reigning over the area.

Brown Creeper foraging along a trunk at Blackie Spit
Brown Creeper foraging along a trunk at Blackie Spit
An adult Bald Eagle perched on the highest tree in the shoreline area of Blackie Spit
An adult Bald Eagle perched on the highest tree in the shoreline area of Blackie Spit

I was then off to a favourite spot (especially in the fall) for shorebirds and grass-/marshland species: Boundary Bay. I planning to skip the 102nd Street entrance where the shorebirds usually were and look for new year birds in the grassier areas near the foot of 64th Street.

Looking out over the wetlands at Boundary Bay
Looking out over the wetlands at Boundary Bay

Walking the dyke trail for only around half an hour, I turned up around 30 species. I was most pleased to find some American Tree Sparrow that had been reported, as well as some wintering Savannah Sparrow, among other passerines. Most exciting today were a group of 4 Western Meadowlark that I only glimpsed, flying low over the grass and settling into it out of sight. I’ll count the days until I get to hear their stunningly beautiful songs in the spring!

Now I was off to check out the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty. The jetty is notoriously good for passing pelagic birds: grebes, loons, Brandt’s Cormorant, and some alcids, if you’re lucky. Not many of those things today though, and the light was too bad even to ID any Brandt’s Cormorant on the breakwater where they’re almost certain to be. There were, however, around 1000 Brant (goose) on either side of the jetty, Black Oystercatcher, Pelagic Cormorant, 7 Long-tailed Duck in an exciting winter plumage (they have arguably 4 distinct plumages), and I counted 8 Harlequin Duck! These last are usually there, but one group in particular was far more confiding than usual.

Harlequin Duck at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty
Harlequin Duck at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty

I still needed to wait until the “Harleys” dove, to rush down to the waterfront so they’d not see me until they popped back up, at which point they proceeded to look at me puzzlingly. I’m sure they were thinking, “Wait…was that human that close when we dove? Enh, he seems harmless.” So I snapped away and got some decent photos of these gorgeous birds (something I’d failed to do in the past).

Two male Harlequin Ducks at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty
Two male Harlequin Ducks at Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty

Next stop: Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I love this place at any time of year. It’s just great to walk around. I counted 14 species of duck at Reifel, including a lone Ruddy Duck, which was the definite highlight. It was nice to lots of Long-billed Dowitcher in the west ponds and many Snow Goose and Trumpeter Swan out along the distant shore. Lots of passerines too, and I was happy to hear a Belted Kingfisher ratchet a little ways away, but no owls today…at least, not that I could find.

Wood Duck profile at Reifel
Wood Duck profile at Reifel
Someone was feeding the Mallards, and a Northern Pintail and (at least) two American Wigeon
Someone was feeding the Mallards, and a Northern Pintail and (at least) two American Wigeon

I enjoyed my walk around, coming across the resident Sandhill Cranes and their first-year offspring, but I was running out of daylight and I really wanted to see an owl today. I hit the road for a short trip down to Brunswick Point and note a rogue Mute Swan as I crossed Canoe Pass (and the oldest bridge in the Vancouver area at 107 years old. I was only just getting out of the car at Brunswick Point when a Short-eared Owl took flight from a nearby post as the sun lowered…and I called it a day.

Looking northward, and homeward, across the Reifel wetlands
Looking northward, and homeward, across the Reifel wetlands

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