Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Reifel Bird Sanctuary : Summer Birding

My mother-in-law is visiting from Los Angeles so I thought I would show her how I prefer to spend my days – birding at the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Westham Island. The day started off a little strange. We arrived early to find the ducks and Canada Geese mysteriously absent from the walk-up. Normally, there would be 20-30 ducks and geese waiting for the birdwatchers and other visitors…but not today.

We have set some heat records over the past week, in Vancouver, with the warmest day reaching 35c near the water, and 42c inland (a good 10c over the seasonal temperatures). Rain was also absent for over a month, in an area known as`The Wet Coast`. Perhaps the geese decided to head further North (a choice I would have made myself, had I not needed to earn a living in town).

I did see my first American Coot (identified with the help of my friends on Twitter) and a number of Great Blue Herons were also present.

Missing were the red-winged blackbirds and the cowbirds…replaced with even more Savannah Sparrows out in the grasslands. I followed the call of a mysterious bird, finally managing to get a photo of it high in the tree top. Once I returned home and analyzed the photo I had taken, I suspected the bird was a European Starling (non-breeding). The song/call was different so I thought perhaps it was another bird entirely. Once again, my friends on Twitter confirmed that the bird was, in fact, a European Starling — and that the Starling was likely mimicking another. I had no idea that Starlings were successful mimics. I went to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Website and looked up E. Starlings. Here`s what I read:

Starlings are relatives of the mynah birds, and like them they have impressive vocal abilities and a gift for mimicry. They can warble, whistle, chatter, make smooth liquid sounds, harsh trills and rattles, and imitate meadowlarks, jays, and hawks. The songs tend to consist of either loud whistles or softer, jumbled warbling. Whistled songs are a few seconds long, often used between males. Warbled songs can go on for more than a minute, and seem mainly directed at females. Males sing several varieties of each of these two classes of songs. Females also sing, particularly in the fall. Songs often include imitations of other birds, including Eastern Wood-Pewee, Killdeer, meadowlarks, Northern Bobwhite, Brown-headed Cowbird, Northern Flicker, and others.

We went over to the blind to watch the ducks and were shocked to see the sheer volume of Salmon swimming near the waters edge. I tossed in some seed for the ducks and the fish started jumping. It was the mighty ducks vs. the mighty salmon…and the salmon were winning.

Here are just a few more of the images I snapped:

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