Black Turnstone

November 10th, 2019: Ferrying to and from Victoria and a visit to Clover Point

I’m happy to have recently been listed as one of the Top 100 Bird Blogs by Feedspot.

This long weekend, my wife and I wanted to a Victoria visit using public transit instead of a car. It was really straightforward, easy, and surprisingly quick. We stayed over for one night and then came back.

I felt spoiled. I love taking the ferry because of the pelagic possibilities: birds and mammals (especially cetaceans this time of year).

Departing Tsawwassen in the gloom, I noticed one female Black Scoter in with the Surf Scoter.
Departing Tsawwassen in the gloom, I noticed one female Black Scoter in with the Surf Scoter.

On the way out, Active Pass was active as usual. Active Pass is the spot where you first enter between the islands (Galiano and Mayne), if you’re heading west from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. On Saturday, it was mostly Bonaparte’s Gulls, but I did pick out a pair of Rhinoceros Auklet. Coming into Swartz Bay, I was seeing a good number of Pigeon Guillemot in their beautiful gray-white non-breeding plumage. They were among the usual gulls and mostly Pelagic Cormorants.

Lots of Bonaparte's Gull feeding in Active Pass
Lots of Bonaparte’s Gull feeding in Active Pass

Once in Victoria, we focused on time with our friends and they introduced us to Mystic Vale: a beautiful ravine to wander in the fall. We also got lucky with a really nice meal at Agrius: a lovely tapas-style restaurant and a great last-minute find.

I did manage to get out in the morning for a walk through Beacon Hill Park (eBird list). Victoria has so much British influence that there are even peacocks roaming the place…sigh.

St. Ann's Academy...and some birds that don't go on your eBird checklist
St. Ann’s Academy…and some birds that don’t go on your eBird checklist

Anyway, not much in the park itself, but a nice walk. I was most excited about Clover Point.

Looking over the main pond from a bridge in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC
Looking over the main pond from a bridge in Beacon Hill Park in Victoria, BC

I hadn’t brought my scope on this trip, but was nevertheless looking forward to scanning from the point. It didn’t disappoint. The tide was quite low, so auklets and other offshore were pretty much out of the question, but there was a lot in close. Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Red-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Loon, a mix of gulls, and several Harlequin Ducks (Harleys) nice and close.

Looking southwest from Clover Point
Looking southwest from Clover Point

Even better, the exposed rocks were well generously coated in Black Oystercatcher, Dunlin, a single Black-bellied Plover, and especially Black Turnstone. I really never tire of the latter. They were putting on a show this morning too. Often flying between rocks with their stark white-and-black wings zipping around; they called; they foraged rapidly. It was great!

A Black Turnstone stretches (isn't that Warrior 3?)
A Black Turnstone stretches (isn’t that Warrior 3?)

It’s nice to see a bird actually do what its name says too. They literally turn stones (and other stuff) to find food. They’re super aggressive nest defenders and they perform aerial displays to attract their mates. For me they’re really gorgeous, fun birds with lots of personally. And, even though one can find them on visits to the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty on our side of the strait, it’s great to see the bigger numbers on the island (or on the Sunshine Coast).

A Black Turnstone avoiding the surf
A Black Turnstone avoiding the surf
Two Black Turnstones hanging out
Two Black Turnstones hanging out

It didn’t surprise me to see the turnstones at Clover Point though (eBird list). What REALLY surprised me was a Rock Wren!! What the heck!? It popped up on the west side of the point in the rocky slope just below the footpath. These birds live a few hundred klicks east of Victoria in the Okanagan Valley, but they’re seriously rare out here. I got the word out to BC’s birder/communicator extraordinaire (Mel) and she got the word out. (Mel’s a good friend who has her own blog and runs the BC Rare Bird Alert). The wren had been seen on October 23rd, but not since, so several people were able to “twitch” (travel to find) the wren after I reported it again. It was certainly a surprising and exciting encounter!

A Rock Wren in the Grand Canyon
A Rock Wren in the Grand Canyon

On the ferry ride home, lots of Pigeon Guillemots were again visible as we departed Swartz Bay.

Looking north into the islands as we leave Swartz Bay
Looking north into the islands as we leave Swartz Bay

There were still plenty of Harbour Seal–hunting this time instead of sunning–but nothing beyond a few hundred mixed (mostly Glaucous-winged) gulls. (I took the short video below as we entered Active Pass.)

But I didn’t care because there were orcas! I spotted two whale watching boats stopped well off to starboard and just trained my bins on them, waiting… It was less then a minute when the first giant black dorsal fins sliced up through the waves, followed shortly by a few others. (The photos below are from a few years ago, when I had my camera with me.)

Now THAT is a dorsal fin
Now THAT is a dorsal fin
A mother (Biggs) Killer Whale in Howe Sound
A mother (Biggs) Killer Whale in Howe Sound

There was general commotion on the ferry and most people saw them. Sadly, my wife was buried in a book and by the time I got to her, they’d slid too far behind us.

Mother and calf in Howe Sound
Mother and calf in Howe Sound

That wasn’t even the end of the cetacean excitement though. I had been hoping to see Humpback Whales (it’s a good time of year for them). But, even after seeing them from the south jetty at Iona recently, I didn’t see any in the strait today. Instead, a small pod of Dall’s Porpoise appeared once we got through Active Pass. Wow! I’d actually only seen these guys once before (on a pelagic trip out of Westport, OR). Stunning black and white colouring. I think of them as mini orcas.

A Dall's Porpoise off the coast of Oregon
A Dall’s Porpoise off the coast of Oregon
A Dall's Porpoise rides a wave
A Dall’s Porpoise rides a wave

What a great trip, despite being brief. We had a great time with friends, great food, and great sightings! I’m looking forward to a similar visit early in the new year.

Looking northeast as we hit the open Strait of Georgia
Looking northeast as we hit the open Strait of Georgia

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