Eurasian Wigeon

November 24th, 2019: A visit to Blakeburn Lagoons and DeBoville Slough

I was excited to head out to Port Moody to bird with a good friend today. In addition to good people, the Tri-Cities area has some excellent birding locations that I don’t get to very often. Today we opted for Blakeburn Lagoons and DeBoville Slough. The former was new to me, and relatively new in general. The latter is an old standby in the area.

Blakeburn was first. It’s quite a new wildlife area and not large. But Port Coquitlam has put a lot of effort into the paths, viewing platforms, and habitat rehabilitation. It’s a really great place for a relatively short walk. Most of it is pond (“lagoon”) habitat, with some narrow woodland along the edges. Many of the houses that back up to the north side have feeders out that’ll boost your species count a little too.

Looking north across Blakeburn Lagoons
Looking north across Blakeburn Lagoons

In the ponds we found a good mix of ducks; often tough to see here because of all the small, mid-pond islands of Alder. We turned up the usual fall suspects on the water: Mallard, Gadwall, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead, Hooded Merganser, American Coot, Northern Shoveler, Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and American Wigeon. And a Eurasian Wigeon in with the Americans was a fantastic bonus!

Two Eurasian Wigeon among American Wigeon at Blackie Spit in White Rock
Two Eurasian Wigeon among American Wigeon at Blackie Spit in White Rock

Eurasian Wigeon are not rare in Vancouver (though you’d be forgiven thinking they should be). But usually they turn up further south and along the coast. (If you want to find several Eurasian Wigeon, your best bet is Blackie Spit in White Rock, or take a scope to Boundary Bay in the winter.)

As with any bird though, it’s not necessarily the “rareness” that makes it exciting. Eurasian Wigeon have always looked a little exotic to me. I suppose that’s partly because of their relative scarcity or the “Eurasian” part. But they’re also objectively stunning birds. Those rich chestnut heads with a shining golden forehead and crown! And the delicately patterned black, white, and plush gray feathers that drape across their back as they float. Not to mention the way the pinkish hue on their breast effortlessly gradients toward their light silver flanks. Plus, they have that adorable whistle (like the American Wigeon).

A lively reflection of some dead snags at Blackburn Lagoons
A lively reflection of some dead snags at Blackburn Lagoons

Perhaps more exciting (and certainly less common) was an American Wigeon x Eurasian Wigeon hybrid in the same pond. I’m not sure why we don’t see more of these hybrids. It’s exciting to see a hybrid like this and sort through what’s “American” and “Eurasian” about it. In the photo below, you can see some of the chestnut head colouring of Eurasian Wigeon, but the broad eye line of the American intruding on what should be a darker chestnut and otherwise unremarkable face. The forehead is certainly gold, but with a little more of the paler American yellow to my eye.

A distant photo of a Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid at Blackburn Lagoons (American Wigeon at left for comparison)
A distant photo of a Eurasian Wigeon x American Wigeon hybrid at Blackburn Lagoons (American Wigeon at left for comparison)

It was a nice first visit to Blakeburn Lagoons for me. We turned up a good mix of passerines today too (eBird list).

Next we headed to DeBoville Slough. It was busy today: the trails were packed with visitors and their dogs. It was a little difficult to track down birds before we got far enough down the trail that the packs thinned out a little. Nice to see a beautiful public space like this being well used though!

A 1st year Bald Eagle, not yet "bald"
A 1st year Bald Eagle, not yet “bald”

The highlight at DeBoville today was the Northern Shrike my friend picked out. We also observed several other raptors today: Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, and Cooper’s Hawk. Plus a big flock of Pine Siskin, some Purple Finch, and thousands of distant Snow Geese. But the shrike takes the cake for DeBoville (eBird list).

Looking south from across the Pitt River from the DeBoville Slough trail
Looking south from across the Pitt River from the DeBoville Slough trail

We made one special last stop at Noons Creek Hatchery. We went in search of American Dipper feeding on the salmon eggs that washed downstream. Though we never found any Dipper, it was great to see salmon up close (though it’s a few weeks past their highest numbers). Here’s some identifying information about or 5 species of salmon in BC.

Two salmon at Noons Creek Hatchery

Also at Noons Creek right now, you can observe (as we did) Kwikwetlem First Nation artists carving the Kwikwetlem’s red fish story into a 600-year-old Red Cedar. (You can follow the carving’s progress here.) Kwikwetlem actually means “red fish up the river” and Coquitlam is an anglicization of Kwikwetlem. Our short visit to Noons Creek today was a fun way to end a great day in Kwikwetlem!

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