February 8th, 2020: Searching for Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge specialties
Today, I had a chance to take a visiting birder out to Maple Ridge to look for some continuing specialties in the area. It’s not every day that someone is looking for a birding guide in Metro Vancouver and wants to head east. Usually, visitors prefer to see pelagic and shorebird species along the Pacific coast. I was excited to meet someone new and to do a little guiding out east!
Angela Granchelli (check out her blog) was visiting Vancouver for work and was particularly keen to see the Gyrfalcon and Prairie Falcon that have been hanging around Pitt Meadows. Coming from Nova Scotia, she hadn’t had a chance to see these awesome falcons before. I picked her up at her hotel and off we went!
We stopped at the Gyrfalcon spot first. It had been frequenting a large metal tower and hunting in the area for over a month. Gyrfalcons are particularly bulky, northern falcons that show up all over North America. Sadly, the falcon wasn’t there this morning, and it may be gone for good now. I’m hoping Angela tracks down a Gyrfalcon out in NS. They do show up on the east coast, but not all that often.
We certainly weren’t done yet though! Angela was particularly excited about the Prairie Falcon we next searched for. These birds have quite a southwestern range and have never (that we know of) shown up in NS. Their southwestern enough that we rarely even see them in Metro Vancouver.
No sooner had we arrived in the general (and large) area where other birders had reported the Prairie Falcon than a brown-and-white blur, slightly smaller than a Peregrine Falcon, zipped past overhead. Angela spotted it out the car window and we watched it carefully, expecting it to land in a distant line of trees along the Alouette River (which it kindly did). It was around half a klick away, but I managed to digiscope him at 60X. Not the clearest photo in the world, but it’s definitely a Prairie Falcon!
Prairie Falcons are exceeding cool. I mean, who doesn’t love a falcon? In addition to being a bird I rarely see, they’re some of the most vicious nest defenders of any raptor. They even fend off owls, eagles, and other Prairie Falcons. But other raptors haven’t been the only danger to their eggs. Like Peregrine Falcons and Merlins, Prairie Falcons fell prey to the hazards of DDT. In the late 60s, when Peregrines were nearly extinct, Prairie Falcons were suffering much the same eggshell-thinning symptoms of DDT accumulation in their diet. Fortunately, Prairie Falcons eat mostly small mammals, which meant they didn’t accumulate as much DDT as Merlin and Peregrine Falcon (which mostly eat other birds). With the U.S. banning of DDT in 1972 (and some intense captive-breeding programs), these species are mostly out of the woods and back in charge of their predominately grassland hunting grounds.
After drinking in our scope views of the distant falcon, we headed to Maple Ridge Park to look for American Dipper. This is usually a pretty great spot with lots of exposed rocks and rushing water for Dippers to hunt in. But the water was so high today, there was essentially nowhere for the little guys to be. We had a good look and enjoyed a nice walk. But it was pretty clear the Dippers were somewhere else today.
Off we went to look for another local rarity: California Scrub-Jay. We’ve been seeing these in the lower mainland for the past several years as rising temperatures push their range ever-so-slightly northward. We’ve even had a pair nesting off and on in the area. Today’s California Scrub-Jay was right where it was supposed to be! Always nice when that happens. (Shout out to Mel for keeping the BC Rare Bird Alert running smoothly as always.)
After a great all-you-can-eat Indian lunch buffet in Maple Ridge and a final (unsuccessful) Gyrfalcon check, we headed west to get Angela to the airport. With a little extra time, we stopped in at sunny(!!) Iona Island for some photos and a run at a few other species for the day.
Among the usual dabbling ducks, we were happy to come across a Northern Shrike in the inner ponds.
The many singing Marsh Wren really livened up the place and gave Angela a last lifer for the day!