Whimbrel

July 18th, 2019: Birding the Fraser Delta and environs

I was excited to head out today with my friend Melissa Hafting, whom I hadn’t seen since January (you can check out Mel’s awesome blog here). We had planned a day birding in the Delta and White Rock areas. There are so many great spots down there, it’s always tough to decide where to go when there are only so many hours of daylight!

We were actually additionally restricted for time today, so we settled on three spots: Blackie Spit, the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, and the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty.

A panorama from the viewing tower at the northwest corner of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary
A panorama from the viewing tower at the northwest corner of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Blackie Spit is northwest of White Rock at the northern tip of Crescent Beach. It’s not a big area, but the marshy flats there are great for our (almost) resident group of a few Marbled Godwit and one Long-billed Curlew: birds that are otherwise difficult to find in Metro Vancouver. It’s also great for Eurasian Wigeon in the winter.

Satellite view of Blackie Spit
Satellite view of Blackie Spit

The tide was REALLY low when we arrived, so any shorebirds were way out on small islets exposed at low tide. There were a good 5000–10000 peeps out there. They were way to far to ID even with our scopes, but looked to be primarily Western or Least Sandpiper.

Western Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper

We had a quick walk around and turned up a few Purple Martin, Black-bellied Plover, Black Oystercatcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, and our Long-billed Curlew friend. I was very happy and surprised to see a Whimbrel with the Long-billed Curlew. At a very quick glance I mistook the one for the other before I was pleased to have good views of both.

Whimbrel
Whimbrel

Whimbrel are one of my favourite shorebirds. They’re not common in the Vancouver area, so their in that sweet spot where you can find them every year if you look, but their never really expected. I love watching them pick up crabs, feeding along the first inch or two below the waterline. After they pull a crab from their burrow, they rinse it off, remove the large claw, and then, gulp (like the one below).

A Whimbrel tries to swallow a live crab
A Whimbrel tries to swallow a struggling crab

Next, we headed west to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Reifel’s an amazing with good riparian habitat and shallow ponds/lagoons that are great for waders.

Satellite view of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary
Satellite view of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

At Reifel today we were pleased to find lots in the ponds, even while the tide remained low. Usually, the lagoons are best at high tide when the birds are pushed into them because their mudflats further out have vanished under water. We only counted 39 species at Reifel today (50+ is doable most of the time). But we were pleased to see that one of the Black-crowned Night Herons that roosts there outside of summer had returned.

There weren’t a large number of species today (just 5 shorebird species), but I counted 155 dowitcher: 154 Long-billed and one Short-billed Dowitcher. These can be awfully difficult to tell apart. You’d think the bills would help but there’s plenty of overlap in bill length between the two, so don’t bother with that. Fortunately, there was a clear Short-billed today that remained in breeding plumage with paler flanks and spotting along the sides of the breast. You can check out a more complete guide to differentiating Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitcher here.

A pair of Long-billed Dowitcher feeding
A pair of Long-billed Dowitcher feeding

We then headed south to the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty, which is great for pelagic species since it sticks way out into the strait. It also has rocks lining the jetty, making it ideal for Black Oystercatcher and Black Turnstone.

Satellite view of the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty
Satellite view of the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty

Today, we pretty much struck out here. No real pelagic species showed up: we only saw Surf Scoter, Pelagic Cormorant, and Common Loon in the deeper water. But we did see some Black Oystercatcher and a decent mix of gulls. I mean, you have to save something for the next visit, right?

A Black Oystercatcher catching oysters at Tsawwassen Ferry jetty
A Black Oystercatcher catching oysters at Tsawwassen Ferry jetty

I’ll just have to come back if I want to see a Black Turnstone like this one I photographed at Tsawwassen Ferry jetty on a different visit.

A Black Turnstone stretching at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty
A Black Turnstone stretching at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty

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