Yellow-breasted Chat

June 24th, 2019: A rare lifer in Vancouver!

At this point, it’s pretty tough for me to find a bird I’ve never seen before in the Metro Vancouver area. Even the rare birds that show up here tend to come a little too far north or west, making it likely I’ve seen them in California or Minnesota. We also get some Asian vagrants showing up in the fall, but I’ve seen most of the “regular” vagrants (e.g. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper) before too.

Still, I’ve never actually done a proper birding trip to the Okanagan Valley, so there are a few birds that are still new to me. The Yellow-breasted Chat that some good friends of mine found out at Grant Narrows is one such bird. It’s still a little strange I hadn’t yet come across one of these…

Looking out over the slough from the east dyke trail
Looking out over the slough from the east dyke trail

Fortunately, I had a rental car this weekend anyway for our trip to the Sunshine Coast. I decided to hang onto it another day to get in some birding and the little passerine had actually been hanging out in the same place for several days now. I headed out early, excited to have a nice long walk on the trails (and also because it’s almost an hour from me and I needed to return the car in the early afternoon).

Grant Narrows panorama
Grant Narrows panorama

Grant Narrows is a beautiful spot, tucked in between the mountains at the edge of the water and plains. It’s a great place to bird in the spring where it is probably the most reliable location for Gray Catbird and American Redstart in the Vancouver area.

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird

Sadly, it’s been in the local news a little this season because someone has removed the Cliff Swallow nests from a large structure twice(!). Many people in the birding community here are understandably upset about it. I suppose I should also note that I once found (and reported) a poached Black Bear nearby, which had had its paws and some organs removed. It had clearly been killed for these important ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine.

Hairy Woodpecker at Grant Narrows
Hairy Woodpecker at Grant Narrows

In any case, there were very few people there today and I felt like I had the place mostly to myself as I walked along the west dyke trail to the spot where the Chat had been seen. I’d love to draw this out and build up suspense here, but this was one of those times when I just stayed put for about 5 minutes before I heard him sing!

Once he got going, he kept going! I stayed with him for a while as he sang the 4–7 note song with the short, upward-sweeping individual tones; then “chatted” persistently for a while; then sang again. He was too far for really good photos with my camera, but I snapped (obviously) a few and took a few videos of his vocalizing.

Seeing a bird for the first time and hearing it sing, while by yourself on a quiet morning is just about perfect. As much as I love birding with others (and I really do), there’s a kind of vanity (that can be enjoyed only briefly) in letting yourself think the bird is singing just for you. I’ll admit to basking a little in the radiance of this little bird.

Yellow-breasted Chat at Grant Narrows
Yellow-breasted Chat at Grant Narrows

I did depart the area–eventually–to walk some of the looping dyke route to the east of the parking lot. That trail was hopping in a few spots. Highlights were the many Willow Flycatcher, Red-eyed and Warbling Vireo, Gray Catbird, Black-headed Grosbeak, Osprey, Sandhill Crane, and a flock of Vaux’s Swift (eBird list). I was even lucky enough to hear a Least Flycatcher “chi-bek”ing away. He was clearly incredibly annoyed at something, though I never figured out what it was.

An Osprey on its nest platform
An Osprey on its nest platform

What a morning!

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