Brown Booby

October 5th, 2019: A stake out for a real rarity at Iona Island’s south jetty

Yes, you read that right. A Brown Booby was in Vancouver. This is an extremely uncommon bird in Vancouver, but there have been a few local reports of the species over the years.

It was initially a big “maybe” as a few birders–who didn’t know what it was–watched it for a while last Saturday only an hour before I happened to arrive. They saw it plunge-diving off Iona Island’s south jetty. Other birders saw it again a couple days later from the jetty tip and then from a boat. It was then only seen for a matter of seconds or minutes during the week.

Perhaps it goes without saying that I got up before dawn, hopped on my bike, and headed out there at the beginning of my weekend. I (and 4 other birders) got to the end of the jetty within about 20 minutes of each other and we all started our stakeout. I was ready to sit it out until I knew I needed to leave about 4 hours later.

A Harbour Seal on Iona's south jetty
A Harbour Seal on Iona’s south jetty

As the Bonaparte’s Gulls started to congregate, we were happy to see a big uptick in activity in general. Humpback Whales slid by on the horizon and dozens of Harbour Porpoises hunted in pairs around an accumulating mass of birds. It was certainly a good morning for mammals: there were several Harbour Seal and River Otter near the jetty too! There must have been tonnes of fish! Sadly, because of everything I needed to carry, I wasn’t able to bring my camera today. Instead, I really enjoying viewing birds in my scope in great light and very calm seas.

A light morph Parasitic Jaeger flies past Iona's south jetty
A light morph Parasitic Jaeger flies past Iona’s south jetty

Within about half an hour a Parasitic Jaeger seemed to appear out of nowhere. They’re just so fast! Right beside it, a larger bird did one little bank with it and then flew due west. I watched it vanish into the distance after having seen it for no more than 20 seconds.

Two other birders managed to get their scopes on the bird. Sadly, the other birders didn’t get to it in time. I was sure it was the Brown Booby. Though I had expected the size difference with the jaeger to be bigger than it appeared (albeit at great distance), the larger bird’s powerful flight, dark straight wings, and bright contrasting belly did the trick. I sure didn’t get a photo, but we agreed that was it!

I stuck around for another 2 hours, hoping it would return and that the other birders would get a look. More birders showed up and we all watched for hours before I had to leave. The Brown Booby never returned.

Sticking around at the jetty tip with a scope had some other benefits though (eBird list). In addition to several more Parasitic Jaeger (mostly light morph birds, but some darker), I was happy to see Western Grebe, Horned Grebe, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-throated Loon, and Pacific Loon. I also saw a Rhinoceros Auklet, several Common Murre, and even two Ancient Murrelet! The Ancients were particularly surprising (I’d only ever seen them at Point Roberts, WA).

As I was leaving the jetty tip, I was surprised to hear a Yellow-rumped Warbler chip, immediately followed by the flash of a Merlin in pursuit. Not sure if he got that one, but earlier he was eating another one further back along the jetty.

It's nice to see many ducks starting to return to Vancouver: fall/winter are well on their way.
It’s nice to see many ducks starting to return to Vancouver: fall/winter are well on their way.

On my way out, I stopped by Iona’s inner ponds and caught up with some Long-billed Dowitcher and a good number of Pectoral Sandpiper (no Sharp-tailed Sandpiper mixed in though). I saw a good mix of sparrows: White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song, Lincoln’s, and Savannah. And it’s nice to see the duck numbers growing as their return for the winter (eBird list).

This must be one of the best free-hand digiscoped photos I've ever taken. These Long-billed Dowitcher were calmly feeding in the southwest inner pond.
This must be one of the best free-hand digiscoped photos I’ve ever taken. These Long-billed Dowitcher were calmly feeding in the southwest inner pond.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Hi Jim
    Great post but there has been quite a few records of Brown booby that were confirmed they just weren’t put on eBird . Two were photographed in different years in steveston a few years ago.

    Great post and congrats on the Booby wish you could have come
    on the boat with us but I know you work Tuesdays

    Great shot of the Jaeger and seal.

    Ps wish I knew how to digiscope!

    1. Good info, Mel. And thanks. I’ve updated the post!

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