Marbled Godwit

July 28th, 2019: Great shorebirding at Brunswick Point

Today I had a car and a full day to look for shorebirds in Delta with my scope! I headed to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary again first. I was hoping to find a few shorebirds that are passing through and hit some riparian habitat in the morning. There wasn’t much there: over a hundred Long-billed Dowitcher, and a handful of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs was it for shorebirds (eBird list).

Long-billed Dowitcher at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary
Long-billed Dowitcher at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary

The highlight at Reifel today though was a trio of Cinnamon Teal. They took me a while to ID, not having seen Blue-winged or Cinnamon Teal outside breeding plumage in a while. I digiscoped the photo below where you can see the shoveler-like bill, absent white under the chin (and weak light patch at base of bill), dark eye, and warmer, darker tones that are all indicative of Cinnamon over Blue-winged Teal. Neither is particularly common in the summer. They were fun to see, and a bit of an ID challenge is always good.

Cinnamon Teal in non-breeding plumage
Cinnamon Teal in non-breeding plumage

After Reifel, I headed to the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty.

Looking north across a small grassy shoreline area at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty
Looking north across a small grassy shoreline area at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty

I was hoping to find some Black Turnstone and this time I did! They were right where they should be: literally turning over stones along the rocky south side of the jetty. There were also a small flock of Harlequin Duck and several Black Oystercatcher (eBird list).

Harlequin Duck
Harlequin Duck

A fun bonus on this visit was watching one of the adult Bald Eagles catch a fish just offshore and take it back to its two young on top of a telecom tower on the jetty.

An adult and two fledgling Bald Eagles on a tower at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty
An adult and two fledgling Bald Eagles on a tower at the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty

Next, I was excited to catch the high tide at Boundary Bay. I had decided to bird the stretch that’s usually best: between 96 and 88 St. at the “mansion” outflow.

The view from the Boundary Bay dyke, looking north toward Vancovuer
The view from the Boundary Bay dyke, looking north toward Vancouver

Before the tide was at its height, there were already plenty of shorebirds visible through the scope: Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Baird’s Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. There was even a solitary Bonaparte’s Gull out with a large mixed gull flock in the distance (eBird list). In the photo below, you can see some shorebirds already congregating even with the tide a ways out.

The view south from the mansion, toward the U.S.
The view south from the mansion, toward the U.S.

Sadly, the volume of birds did not grow appreciably as the tide came in and the main flock of Black-bellied Plover–which also often has other less common shorebirds mixed in–left to feed elsewhere. Several of us that had gathered decided we’d head out to Brunswick Point since the tide was expected to remain high and we still had several hours before sunset.

We arrived to almost perfect shorebirding conditions at the mudflats at Brunswick Point! The tide was receding incredibly slowly and was only a few feet back from the marsh grasses.

The tide continues to recede at Brunswick Point after well over an hour of great birding
The tide continues to recede at Brunswick Point after well over an hour of great birding

I was there with two great birders too, so between the three of us (and our scopes) we picked plenty of exciting birds. Among the usual suspects were Semipalmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Dunlin, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, and Lesser Yellowlegs (eBird list). And I counted 142 Caspian Tern today! But we also found an early Sanderling, a lone Pacific Golden-Plover, Red Knot, Willet, and 6 Marbled Godwit!

Lots of Caspian Terns taking a break on the flats
Lots of Caspian Terns taking a break on the flats
Mixed shorebirds on the Brunswick Point mudflats
Mixed shorebirds on the Brunswick Point mudflats
A lone Pacific Golden-Plover
A lone Pacific Golden-Plover

It’s not difficult to see Marbled Godwit in the White Rock area if you go to Blackie Spit to see the near-resident few. But they’re highly unusual anywhere else along Boundary Bay, especially if you see more than one or two.

A pair of Marbled Godwit in flight along the mudflats
A pair of Marbled Godwit in flight along the mudflats

I find their stunning red-brown plumage mesmerizing, especially alongside their long, swordlike, bicoloured (pink and black bill. Plus, they’re bigger shorebirds with an authoritative posture that jump out of the crowd. I’d enjoyed seeing a couple wade through the short prairie grasses back in MN several weeks ago and I was excited to see them foraging along the short back in the Vancouver area.

As this photo suggests, it's much easier to find Marbled Godwit if you're in Westport, OR
As this photo suggests, it’s much easier to find Marbled Godwit if you’re in Westport, OR
A single Marbled Godwit in flight in California
A single Marbled Godwit in flight in California

We counted 15 shorebird species in all: not too bad for late July. This will likely pick up even more in the coming weeks. It’s a great time of year to bird the Fraser Delta. And even if you didn’t see a single bird, Brunswick Point is a lovely place to visit in the evening…

Brunswick Point at sunset
Brunswick Point at sunset

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