Horned Grebe

December 8th, 2019: Some Port Moody birding and a visit to the Ioco townsite

I met up with my friend Hilary in Port Moody today. She knows a lot about the history of the area and took me to see the Ioco townsite. It’s a birding hotspot in its own right and has had some impressive rarities: Broad-winged Hawk, Lewis’s Woodpecker, and Yellow-breasted Chat (to name a few). But, in addition to birding the area, it’s a fascinating place to learn about, particularly if you luck out and have a good guide!

Today's birding spots on a map
Today’s birding spots

The town was/is owned by the Imperial Oil Company (hence “Ioco”), which established the town in 1920. They built 83 homes, a grocery store, a school, lawn bowling green, tennis court, and 2 churches. Most of the homes have since been barged out and some of them show up in odd places in the area. There’s one at the entrance to the nearby Old Orchard Park, for example.

The Ioco Groceteria still stands at the corner of Ioco Rd and 3rd Ave
The Ioco Groceteria still stands at the corner of Ioco Rd and 3rd Ave

We started off just up the road from the Ioco “Groceteria” and several of the other remaining buildings. They’re not in good shape, with relatively modest heritage upkeep (a dehumidifier here, a fence or sign there). But you can sure feel the broadly applied vision of the place in the design, layout, and colours.

You can find out more about the Ioco townsite at Canada’s Virtual Museum or in this article. I’ve kept the info light here, but it’s a really interesting place to check out. Or you could ask Hilary about it: she grew up attending the school there, and buying candy at the Groceteria.

Some of the houses are still used, others are vacant, others have been removed entirely.
Some of the houses are still used, others are vacant, others have been removed entirely.

Looking out across the inlet, we didn’t see much beyond the usual Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Bufflehead, and a smattering of Mallard and Common Goldeneye. But a pair of Horned Grebes is always a nice little bonus. They’re common here, but I always love to see them (even if it’s just because they’re not yet another duck). These little divers spend a lot of the time you might like to be appreciating them under the water. They regularly dive for small fish, crustaceans, and aquatic insects.

Two Horned Grebes
Two Horned Grebes in nonbreeding plumage

Horned Grebe is far and away the easiest grebe to find along the coast in Vancouver, but we have several other grebes around. You’ll find Pied-billed Grebe in ponds and smaller bodies of water all over. Western Grebes are often way out offshore in large flocks. Red-necked Grebe are usually solo or in small flocks just offshore. And you can even find Eared Grebe in the fall (White Rock Pier is the best spot). Clark’s Grebe is the toughest around here, but a bird shows up at White Rock Pier every year or so.

Horned Grebe
Horned Grebe (nonbreeding)

After appreciating the view of the inlet, we departed Ioco. With a mix of woodland, lawn, bushes, open water, and intersections between them all, this almost ghost town is great place to spot some birds! We didn’t do particularly well today, but we observed a good mix. I’ll have to head back some morning when the weather’s a little nicer.

The view over the water from Ioco
The view over the water from Ioco

Feeling like a bit more of a walk after Ioco, we headed to Shoreline Park and entered at the north side (technically, Old Orchard Park). Despite the weekend traffic at this popular spot, it was quite birdy for the early afternoon. We turned up a good mix of passerines: mostly Spotted Towhee, Dark-eyed Junco, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Black-capped Chickadee. But a decent flock of Pine Siskins were making themselves heard too.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

Lots of fowl on the water too. There were way more Green-winged Teal than anything else (eBird list). We looked for the Eurasian subspecies, but didn’t turn up any today. And our best bird at Shoreline was the American Dipper that showed up!

American Dipper at Shoreline Park
American Dipper at Shoreline Park

These super cool amphibious birds are amazingly well-adapted for hunting in the water and most often found on rocks along rushing cold mountain streams. I usually see them on hikes in the mountains. But this guy loves the hatchery eggs and anything else coming down from Noons Creek Hatchery in Shoreline Park.

American Dipper with a fish at Shoreline Park
American Dipper with a fish at Shoreline Park

There’s often a Dipper present near the hatchery, but (weirdly) this is only the second time I’ve ever seen one there. He was right out in the open, hunting at the edge of the inlet when we first got there. Then, off he went upstream to find some more fish or salmon roe. And off I went home after another great day in Port Moody!

The base of Noons Creek as it empties into the inlet
The base of Noons Creek as it empties into the inlet

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