Monday, 18 March 2013

Weekend at Bluetail's

This past weekend Calgary Birder, Mrs. Calgary Birder and our two nestlings flew to Vancouver.  We were taking their 98 year old great-grandmother to attend her big sister's 100th birthday party!  It was a wonderful celebration and we all enjoyed the time visiting with family.  
As many as twenty Steller's Jays, Cyanocitta stelleri, at a time in our host's front yard - but these aren't the blue tails I was looking for...
Of course, I wasn't going to pass up the chance to chase the Vancouver area's current "mega" - a Red-flanked Bluetail, showing in a park in New Westminster since being discovered by Colin McKenzie on January 13th.  For the non-birding followers of this blog (or birders who have been living under a rock for the past two months) this little Eurasian flycatcher, which should be spending the winter in Indochina, is the second ever mainland North American record of this species.

I slipped out of a dark house in North Vancouver shortly before dawn and headed for Queen's Park in New Westminster.  The only birds I saw on the half hour drive were members of a huge flock of Northwestern Crows leaving their roost in Burnaby but even in the predawn light the park was jumping with activity.  American Robins and Dark-eyed Juncos were busy feeding on the ground along with, to my delight, several Varied Thrushes - a life bird before the sun had risen.

Varied Thrush, Ixoreus naevius.  Not bad views for a shy resident of the damp, dark understory.   The patterning on the feathers gives a textured quality to the plumage.
I spent about thirty minutes exploring the area around the playground, enjoying the melodic but frantic trills and buzzes of Pacific Wrens high above, before seeing a little brownish bird flicking its tail in a low shrub.  It flew a short distance, landed on a tree stump and flicked its tail again.  I brought my binoculars up and, in the dim lit of the understory, made out a faint eye-ring and what looked like reddish sides.  Almost certainly the bird but far from definitive views.  I wandered a little further north in the park and eventually relocated the bird, getting a good look and a passable identification photo.
Red-flanked Bluetail, Tarsiger cyanurus, a long way from home.
Uncropped, 420mm lens!
By this time there were a couple of other birders in the area and we chatted for a little while, enjoying the cedar trees which maybe reminded the little wanderer of the Northern Russian forests where it should be heading to breed at this time of year.  With limited views of the Bluetail and a deadline to be back in North Vancouver, I decided to head back through Vancouver and try to find a Brambling reported in the Fairview neighbourhood.  Thanks to a great set of directions from Dave Ingram over at Island Nature, I had no problem finding the right alley and backyard where another birder was quietly peering through the brambles.  

"Brambling was here until 10 minutes ago"  


"Apparently it's often only seen before 9 or 10 in the morning"


I stuck around in the rain for as long as possible - about forty-five minutes - but no sign of the Brambling.  What we did enjoy was a great selection of west coast songbirds: Song Sparrow, Pine Siskin, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee, House Sparrow, and both the Slate-coloured and Oregon subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco.  To wrap things up, here are a few shots of those birds....
"Sooty" Fox Sparrow, Passerella iliaca unalaschcensis
"Oregon" Dark-eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia

1 comment:

  1. The Bluetail and the Brambling both sound like awesome and rare birds to see. It is fun to go on the chase, sorry you missed seeing them. The Varied Thrush is a beautiful bird, you saw a great variety of birds and photos.