May 26th, 2020: So many great birds at Colony Farm!!
I was excited to head out to Colony Farm Regional Park today to meet with a birding friend for some social distancing birding. I was also hoping to see a few Colony Farm specialties. Today’s wish list of birds that can be tough to see within the city proper (where I live) included: Bullock’s Oriole, Band-tailed Pigeon, Mourning Dove, Eastern Kingbird, and (mostly importantly) Lazuli Bunting.
We had a FANTASTIC birding day! Starting at 10AM, in order to give me time to bike/Skytrain out there, we saw a whopping 54 species at Colony Farm. It was pretty hot too, so we were a little surprised the birds were so active and vocal.
I had the best start possible when I spotted a male Lazuli Bunting singing as I biked along a less trafficked part of trail, entering the park from the south. We saw at least one other Lazuli later on our walk too. But seeing this gorgeous bird first thing made me very optimistic for today. (Especially when I ran into several photographers who hadn’t seen one all day.)
I met with my friend, who didn’t even recognize me at first… Apparently, I need a hair cut. And we set out along the dyke trail. Colony Farm is a great spot for finding tons of Willow Flycatchers and we weren’t disappointed. They seemed to be everywhere, and we even spotted one eating a Cabbage White (butterfly)!
All 6 typical swallow species were around too. Plus a nice mixed bag of finches, warblers, and sparrows. After the Lazuli, the next bird on my wish list was a Bullock’s Oriole. We didn’t get a great look, but a brilliant orange male perched up briefly on a very distant oak. They’re the only oriole we get out here and they’re an uncommon bird at the best of times.
At the main dyke trail junction, we found another target bird for the day: Eastern Kingbird. We were especially pleased to find one since we’d recently run into another great birder who hadn’t seen one all day. We came across a pair of Cinnamon Teal too. Lucky us!
We struck out on rails at the southeast pond though. It was too late in the day to expect any Virginia Rail or Sora to be calling. Sadly, we didn’t manage to turn up any American Bittern along the path just south of the gardens either. The water was particularly high. Either this pushes the bittern onto different nearby habitat, or they just creep invisibly up into hiding spots when their favoured waterways get too deep.
But this is a fun time of year regardless of what species you find with all the fledglings around. Some birds are still settling down to nest, of course. But there are lots of adorable fledglings just getting their bearings. Today, we came across a particularly plump and unflinching Red-winged Blackbird.
After the pond, we ventured further toward the northeast side of the park and toward the densest woodland area. Out that way we encountered more Western Tanager and Black-headed Grosbeak. Plus, the Band-tailed Pigeon and Mourning Dove I was hoping for today! We also found a smattering of other woodland passerines: mostly warblers, thrushes, and flycatchers.
We found the best bird of the day on our way back to the parking lot. Actually, some beginning birders found the bird and were puzzling over it in the distance when we arrived. It wasn’t showing much other than “medium-sized bird, gray back” with no other detail at that distance. Then it moved: a Western Kingbird! I was very happy to convey what a great bird this was to the beginning birders that had spotted it, and to tell them a little about the bird. They were thrilled (as one should be)!
Western Kingbirds have popped up in several locations within Metro Vancouver this year. Most years we get one or two for a day or two, so it’s a treat for them to show up in multiple locations! This year two birds showed up on the Cecil Green grounds on UBC campus, two up in Squamish, and this one at Colony Farm.
They’re a big tyrant flycatcher, especially around here where our other flycatchers are on the small side. And such a gorgeous bird with their plush, ash gray and lemony yellow colouring! They move through every year, but they haven’t bred in Vancouver in a while (a pair used to breed at Colony Farm). They eat mostly insects, but they also eat some fruits. I wonder if all the elderberries at Colony Farm is what allowed them breeding success there in the past…
WEKIs are aggressive birds too. When I caught up with a different individual out at UBC several days ago, I watched it snap its beak and fend off a harassing American Robin. And they have quite a large range in North America, spanning the entire western half of the U. S. and the southern half of Canada’s prairie and mountain provinces. Their wintering grounds are Mexico, Central America, and the southern part of Florida.
After a great several hours at Colony Farm, I was pretty psyched to have found every one of my targets. I hope to get back out there soon (eBird list)!
Don’t forget to celebrate Black birders with the very first #BlackBirdersWeek!!