June 11th, 2020: An afternoon at Burnaby Lake
I decided to bike out to Burnaby Lake Regional Park this afternoon. Not a great time of day to go birding. But it wasn’t raining and when that happens in Vancouver, you have no excuse for being inside!
It’s almost an hour bike ride from my place, but what a day for it! Overcast, a bit of a breeze, with some warmth in the air. I arrived and locked the bike up at the west entrance by the tennis courts, rugby club, etc. My walk today took me to Piper Spit and back (~6.5k round trip).
I hadn’t walked this side of the lake in ages and had forgotten how much of the trail is railroad- and highway-adjacent. Not ideal.
But there were birds! I heard a Black-headed Grosbeak‘s harsh call note, some warbling Warbling Vireo, a Black-throated Gray Warbler, and there were just tons of Cedar Waxwings in full display.
Anyway, soon enough the roadside trail veered into greenery, woodland, and Burnaby Lake itself. When I got to the lake’s edge, I noticed the boat-machine that was chopping up aquatic plants to keep the lake a lake.
I also noticed a drastic uptick in birdsong. Here, I heard the first Western Tanager and Pacific-slope Flycatcher of the day. There was lots there though. Listen for yourself, if you like… (Let me know what you hear in the comments!)
Continuing along the winding trail, it was a good day for nests. I first passed a Northern Flicker nest, made obvious by the begging youngster. Then later, I happened across a Yellow Warbler’s cute nest cup with a nestling being fattened up by its mother. While I was standing on my toes to try to get a photo of the YEWA nest over and through some foliage (obvious below), a Cooper’s Hawk zipped right by me. Whoosh! It had clearly missed whatever it was after. And the hawk was rewarded by being harassed by what sounded like every bird for a mile around.
I had a few pleasant surprises along the main trail too. A huge number of American Robin were dominating the soundscape, while several Willow Flycatchers and Western Wood-Pewee called from the marsh side and woodland side, respectively. Plenty of Swainson’s Thrush singing up a storm too, plus a smattering of others: Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Red-breasted Sapsucker (an uncommon bonus), and a Purple Finch were some of the highlights.
I also got a (wonderful) surprise call from my niece and nephews as I arrived at the viewing platform just west of Piper Spit. It was a treat to show them the great view I was currently enjoying over Facetime. They seemed to appreciate it, and my nephew all but demanded I walk over to see the baby ducks. (More face time with my niece and nephews has been a silver lining to this pandemic.)
After walking to Piper Spit (really a dock) and appeasing my nephew with some ducklings and goslings, I did a quick count of the numerous Mallard, Canada Goose, and Wood Duck…watched a Bald Eagle soar over…and noted the decidedly scruffy looking long-time Mandarin Duck on my way through a LOT of (human) families feeding ducks.
On my way back to my bike, while taking stock of the good number of birds I’d seen in the middle of a June afternoon (eBird list), I heard some harsh-sounding chatter just off the trail. A Bewick’s Wren! He was confiding too, popping right into view. Too briefly for a photo, but I do love those little guys. So much pep!
This spring I feel like I’ve heard many more Bewick’s Wren than usual. They’re all around suburbia near Queen Elizabeth Park for sure and seem to be everywhere else. It’s one of those birds that (it seems to me at least) shows up on eBird lists a lot less than it should. Perhaps they’re going underreported because their scold calls sound like they could be other angry little birds? Or maybe because their song is so varied. Some of their songs’ gestures sound pretty similar to Song Sparrows for sure. For me though, the timbre is far enough off to make them distinct: Bewick’s Wrens just sound too strident and bold to be a Song Sparrow. What do you think? (Keep in mind this is just one of many possible melodies for each bird.)
If you’re wondering what our other wrens sound like, look like, etc., I outline them in my House Wren post. In fact, out east, the sharp decline in Bewick’s Wren population was attributed to the success of the House Wren (the latter may be aided by nest boxes). And, while they’ve not yet suffered similarly out west, we are noticing an uptick in House Wrens. Thankfully, on the order of handfuls, not hundreds.
As fun as it is to see a House Wren in Vancouver, I hope they don’t become more common and push out our Bewick’s. Bewick’s are now only west coast and south central residents in North America. If you have a backyard in those areas and you’d like some Bewick’s Wren, start adding some native plants: willow, mesquite, elderberry, and chaparral. Or add a brush pile!
Like all wrens, and as you heard above, Bewick’s are pretty amazing singers and very active birds. They just about always seem to be making noise, before bouncing briefly into view to show off bold white eyebrows against their soft brown overall colour. Plus, that longer curved bill sets them apart from our other wrens.
So keep your eyes and ears peeled!