White-winged Scoter

January 29th, 2019: There’s nothing better than being alone with your bike, bins, and birds at Iona Island

Iona Island is amazing, as I’m sure I’ve noted before. I love it there and I love that I can get there on public transit (the Skytrain) and about 7k on my bike. Easy! I love its sewage lagoons (I realize that sounds strange), freshwater ponds, a natural sand/grass jetty on the north side, and a 4k man-made jetty on the south side that juts way out into the strait. It attracts a great variety of birds and it’s just wonderful to walk around the place.

The rain had let up for the first time in a little while and, as I’d be heading back east to MN soon, I thought I’d better squeeze in a visit while I had the chance. I walked the sewage lagoons and came across 11 aythya: ~1000 Northern Pintail, ~400 Lesser Scaup, and lower numbers of a mix of others, including a Canvasback (uncommon here).

A friendly-looking Harbour Seal on Iona Island's south jetty
A friendly-looking Harbour Seal on Iona Island’s south jetty

There wasn’t a lot of passerine activity in the trees, marshes, or grasses today beyond the usual winter fare, so I spent more time on the south jetty. After biking the length of it, I was excited to have the tip of the jetty to myself. It’s so peaceful out there (minus the planes flying overhead to land at YVR) and there always seems to be a fair amount of bird traffic flying past the tip.

Watching the sun set over Vancouver Island from the tip of Iona's south jetty
Watching the sun set over Vancouver Island from the tip of Iona’s south jetty

When I have my own scope in the future, I hope to come back in the spring to look WAY out to where the water mixes. I can always see gulls or terns out there in massive numbers, but rarely make out species. This is especially frustrating when you can see probable Bonaparte’s Gulls or Common Tern fleeing something (read: almost definitely a Parasitic Jaeger) but not make out the bullet-like, ocean-going bird of prey.

I counted 21 Horned Grebe along the jetty (not many more than usual at this time of year), a mix of diving ducks, a couple hundred Surf Scoter, and well over 1000 gulls. This just didn’t seem to be the day for anything remotely unusual out here: no Long-tailed Ducks, no alcids, and only a single Pelagic Cormorant. I always love seeing Red-throated Loons though, and there were 3 today with one hunting alongside the jetty!

A Marmot hunts in the rocks along Iona Island's south jetty
A Marmot hunts in the rocks along Iona Island’s south jetty

That said, I love the look of White-winged Scoter. I like that they always seem to be out pretty far (except at White Rock pier) and I like that you sometimes have to work to pick them out of a flock of Surf Scoter at distance. Today, however, a pair zipped by the tip of the jetty and gave me a wonderful look in flight. The stunning contrast between their matte black bodies, brilliant white secondaries, and that quirky and unnecessary-looking inverted white comma cum eyelash always grab my attention and hold it.

A distant pair of White-winged Scoter
A distant pair of White-winged Scoter

As I said, “Goodbye” to the tip of the jetty for a few months, an Anna’s Hummingbird buzzed the very tip and gave me a chuckle. What’s he doing out here?

On my ride across the Sea Island, I was surprised to see two wintering Barn Swallows perched on the airport fence! They’re not unheard of in Vancouver in the winter, but uncommon enough that they made my day, along with a small flock of Cedar Waxwings (not too many around this January), and a scouting Northern Harrier. I can’t wait to come back here in June!

Great Blue Herons flying home to roost as the sun sets on Mt. Baker in the distance
Great Blue Herons flying home to roost as the sun sets on Mt. Baker in the distance

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