Cassin’s Vireo

June 22nd, 2019: A little birding on the Sunshine Coast

We departed from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal (eBird list) and headed west around Bowen Island to Langdale/Hopkins Landing on the Sunshine Coast.

Ferry route from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale/Hopkins Landing
Ferry route from Horseshoe Bay to Langdale/Hopkins Landing
Looking northward from the ferry in Howe Sound
Looking northward from the ferry in Howe Sound

It being summer, there were virtually no birds on the ferry ride. No mammals either sadly. And while this was not a birding weekend, some hiking and beaches on the Sunshine Coast promised some good birds somewhere along the way.

More northward ferry views
More northward ferry views
Approaching Langdale ferry terminal on the Sunshine Coast
Approaching Langdale ferry terminal on the Sunshine Coast

If you’re headed to the Sunshine Coast and the Sechelt area, make sure to stop at Roberts Creek Jetty for things like Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, and Marbled Murrelet. The latter were very nice to see in breeding plumage, since we see almost exclusively non-breeding winter birds just a little ways east in Vancouver.

The view south from Roberts Creek Jetty
The view south from Roberts Creek Jetty
Marbled Murrelet pair in breeding plumage
Marbled Murrelet pair in breeding plumage

But make sure you also find time to walk at the foot of the mountains a little way back from the shore too! The dense mountainside coniferous forest make it easy to turn up Townsend’s Warbler, Western Tanager, Varied Thrush, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and today some fledged Barred Owl begging from just off the trail.

Western Tanager (male)
Western Tanager (male)

While access can sometimes be tricky, Wilson Creek Estuary is a great place to bird. I just missed an Ash-throated Flycatcher that had stuck around there for a little while. And make sure you stop at Mission Point. It’s particularly good in the winter, when you can easily see lots of alcids, and Harlequin Duck and Black Scoter right up close. It’s also by far the best spot around for Rock Sandpiper.

Black Scoter and Surf Scoter at Mission Point from February 2016
Black Scoter and Surf Scoter at Mission Point in February
Mission Point on the Sunshine Coast
Mission Point on the Sunshine Coast

After some brief seawatching, we headed out to enjoy some farm fresh cider and food at Bricker Cider. Such a great and relaxed spot with a great food truck and cider.

Bricker Cider interior; there's lots of outdoor seating on picnic tables in the grass by the orchard
Bricker Cider interior; there’s lots of outdoor seating on picnic tables in the grass by the orchard

Next up, we hiked Mount Daniel. At 5km round trip with 350m elevation gain, it was not a strenuous hike, but a decent workout at least. For midday in mid-June there sure was a lot of singing on the hike. Highlights were the minimum 15 Townsend’s Warblers and a couple of Red Crossbill high in the conifers.

Ferns line the Mount Daniel trail
Ferns line the Mount Daniel trail

When we arrived at the summit, we were greeted by tremendous views of the surrounding harbour and strait. I’m also a big fan of Arbutus trees and there were lots among the rocks at the top.

Beautiful Arbutus trees at the summit of Mount Daniel
Beautiful Arbutus trees at the summit of Mount Daniel

Perhaps even better though, there was a small stagnant pond that nevertheless commanded the attention of close to 50 passerines! It was tucked in just behind the summit and packed with Dark-eyed Junco, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, and a single Cassin’s Vireo (eBird list).

The magic pond surrounded by passerines at the top of Mount Daniel
The magic pond surrounded by passerines at the top of Mount Daniel

I didn’t have my camera with me and I’ve never managed to photograph a Cassin’s Vireo, but it was thrilling to hear one singing, its strident, melodious song cutting through those of the other passerines as I devoured my lunch. It’s slow, methodical foraging also made it easy to pick out from the surrounding kinglets and chickadees, once I could find a gap in the trees.

NOT a Cassin's Vireo, but it's eastern counterpart: a Blue-headed Vireo
NOT a Cassin’s Vireo, but it’s eastern counterpart: a Blue-headed Vireo

There are one or two reliable places to find Cassin’s Vireo in Vancouver, but it’s far from an abundant bird. It was formerly lumped with Plumbeous and Blue-headed Vireo as “Solitary Vireo,” they are now considered separate species. It was already a great hike, but that Cassin’s Vireo made it particularly memorable.

The view (roughly) south from Mount Daniel
The view (roughly) south from Mount Daniel

On the way home the next day, while again enjoying mesmerizing views of the Coastal Mountains north of Howe Sound, we noticed some smoke in the distance.

Looking eastward as smoke fills Howe Sound
Looking eastward as smoke fills Howe Sound

It didn’t look like much from a distance, but as we got closer over the next 45 minutes, everyone on the ferry became transfixed by a terrible wildfire we could see burning right up to the Sea-to-Sky highway.

A water bombed drops its load on the forest fire north of Horseshoe Bay
A water bombed drops its load on the forest fire north of Horseshoe Bay
Two helicopters repeatedly drop baskets of water on the forest fire as it threatens the highway and homes
Two helicopters repeatedly drop baskets of water on the forest fire as it threatens the highway and homes

It was astonishing to see the amazing work the several pilots did to repeatedly douse the fire and beat it back. I was also pleased not to hear of any human casualties of the fire, nor were any homes destroyed. We’ve had a very dry spring and summer so far, so it’s likely we’ll see more of these, sadly. While forest fires have dramatically increased due to global warming, some forest fires are of course necessary and an important part of a forest’s life cycle. As such, it may be helpful to remember that smaller forest fires often directly benefit many birds.

Arriving back at Horseshoe Bay
Arriving back at Horseshoe Bay

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