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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.