May 19th, 2020: Lots of biking and lots of birds!
With a few of the later migrants coming through town now, I was excited to visit different (non-woodland) habitats today. I’ve still been heading to QE Park pretty much every day. But I was wanted to get back to Iona to see what I might find there. Today, I was particularly interested in Bank Swallows and any shorebirds that might turn up.
I headed to the outer ponds first. They were covered in a mix of swallows, as usual. It was mostly Tree and Cliff Swallows today, with a few of the others thrown in: Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Barn Swallow, Violet-green Swallow, and Purple Martin. But no Bank Swallows to be found. It was very cool to hear the crazy robot-cat-sounding Yellow-headed Blackbird cutting through the din of over a dozen Marsh Wrens.
Iona’s small woodland was hopping. There were Rufous Hummingbird, Warbling Vireo, Bewick’s Wren, Black-capped Chickadee, American Robin, Cedar Waxwing (coming back in numbers now), American Goldfinch, Song Sparrow, Spotted Towhee, Yellow Warbler, and even a Western Tanager!
I had to laugh when I heard a weird-sounding thrush call from a distance. It was much clearer what was making the noise once I got closer and he started doing more robin-y noises. I guess that’s what happens when someone’s trying to talk with their mouth full…
But the inner ponds were far and away the best spot for less common birds. First, there was a Greater White-fronted Goose among a small number of nesting Canada Goose on a dry muddy/grassy area. Weird… I checked to make sure it wasn’t a Canada X Greater White-fronted hybrid, but it wasn’t. Just a lost, solo goose that should have moved on by now.
I also found the first three Blue-winged Teal I’d seen this year. Even better though was a Wilson’s Phalarope! Phalaropes are incredibly cool. Male and female “roles” are completely flipped, including the female being the brilliantly coloured one! Anyway, he was foraging along the edge of a mudflat as they often do, then swimming and feeding in that uniquely phalaropey way. I was the first one to see this uncommon bird, so I texted it in and a few others were able to find him after me.
While I was enjoying watching Wilson feed, I got a text from our awesome local RBA operator (Melissa Hafting) about the White-faced Ibis being resighted! They’d been seen off and on along the flats in the very general area of Terra Nova Rural Park in Richmond. They’d mostly been seen in flight, so I was very pleased to hear that they had put down somewhere they were actually visible!
Fortunately, it turns out that Terra Nova is only a 40-minute bike ride from Iona. I left Iona early (eBird list), hoping they’d wait for me…
I arrived rather warm, but excited. And the bike ride, mostly along the shoreline, was quite pleasant. There were two other birders at the spot and they reported having seen the ibises not 10 minutes earlier. Exciting! But when you’re chasing a rarity (or “twitching”) you often wonder if that “10 minutes ago” was the last time they’ll ever be seen. It’s happened before…
Anyway, I waited only a few minutes before the three of them stood up out of the distant, long grasses to feed a little. Then they slumped back down again. Other birders arrived and we showed them where the birds had been popping up, and they obligingly popped up again. Everyone got a nice view and we were able to keep a safe Covid distance from each other. I even managed some very distant photos.
White-faced Ibis have been showing up in the lower mainland more frequently in the past few years. They still only move through when they do show up, and they aren’t seen here every year. But it’s exciting to think they might breed here in the future. Who knows.
Ibises are small heron- or stork-like birds, with a curved bill. But they’re actually much closer to the size of a crow. Seeing them next to a Great Blue Heron makes this point. In North America we have the White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, and White-faced Ibis. The White-faced Ibis breeds mostly in northeastern California, southeastern Oregon, and central Montana (and in parts of central and South America). Its White and Glossy cousins live and breed pretty much exclusively in Florida (and further south).
They breed colonially in marshes, feeding on all kinds of invertebrates, including leeches, snails, and crawfish. In fact, the first time I saw a White-faced Ibis was at Woolsey Wet Prairie in Arkansas, where I was attending a music theory conference. It surprised me to see one there, and I reported it with a photo on eBird (eBird list).
When I had a chance to visit the same (amazing) spot later in the weekend, I ran into two biologists studying a rapidly declining species of snake that feeds almost exclusively on crawfish. Maybe that’s why the ibis visited that spot too? (Wet prairies are an endangered and rapidly vanishing ecosystem, and they support more biodiversity than any other marsh habitat.) I was having a nice chat with them about their work when they asked me if I was a birder (I was wearing bins). I said, “Yes,” and they were very kind to share that “Someone saw a White-faced Ibis here yesterday!” I somewhat sheepishly said, “Yup. That was me.” Word gets around quickly!
Back at Terra Nova, I had a brief bike ride further along the trail before heading home. Checking my list later, I saw that these were the first White-faced Ibis I’d seen in Canada! That’s worth a beer, I think. =)