September 7th, 2019: Shorebirding with a visiting friend
I’m excited to have a good birding friend in town this week. We headed out in the afternoon to catch the high tide at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary and Boundary Bay.
Today was going to be another of those great fall tide days where there are two high tides close together: 3PM and 8PM. Both are medium-high, pushing the birds in close, but not off the flats and into the fields. This pushes shorebirds into the ponds at Reifel and pushes them up toward the dyke and Boundary Bay.
Reifel first. We arrived early afternoon and, with a light overcast, had great weather for some slow, methodical birding. We scoured the east dyke for a while looking for the Black Phoebe and Northern Waterthrush that had been reported there in the morning. But we had no luck whatsoever. (We even came back after walking around the sanctuary and still couldn’t find them.)
It’s hard to complain when you see 57 species though (eBird list). That’s a pretty good late summer day at Reifel. Our highlights were Cinnamon Teal, Virginia Rail, Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitcher, Cooper’s Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Peregrine Falcon, Willow Flycatcher, Bewick’s Wren, American Pipit, and Purple Finch.
But I was particularly excited to see two Stilt Sandpiper feeding with other shorebirds in the middle western pond. Their eyebrows and swept appearance jump out, of course, but these birds also tend to have a little more red-brown in their plumage this time of year. These combined with the long bill, drooped at the tip, make these birds easier to pick out quickly.
Stilt Sandpipers nest in sedge tundra and in very northern Canada. Since they migrate south across central and eastern North American to winter in the Central America, we don’t see them much in Vancouver. I’ve only ever seen them a handful of times. So, despite dipping on the Black Phoebe and Northern Waterthrush, I was pretty excited leaving Reifel.
I was also happy to be heading to Boundary Bay. When we arrived, the tide was receding, but only very slowly since there was another high coming in just a couple of hours. We both had scopes so we were able to cover a lot of the mudflats and find different things to point out to each other.
There were very large numbers of shorebirds in the area between 96 and 104 Street (weirdly, there is no “th” at the end of the street names there). We conservatively estimated 500 Black-bellied Plover, 200 Sanderling, and at the very least 2000 Western Sandpiper. Mixed in with these dominating species, we observed Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Dunlin, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, and a flock of American Pipit (eBird list).
But we were especially happy to find a few uncommon shorebirds: a single Red Knot, Willet, and American Golden-Plover were definitely our Boundary Bay highlights. And with the sun dropping and the wind picking up, we headed for the car and home. What a day!