Monday, September 14, 2009

Birding on Westham Island

The weather in Vancouver, B.C., this past Sunday was absolutely devine. The drab and rain soaked week gave way to blue sky and warm temperatures. While neighbors hauled out their lawnmowers and weed whackers, I was struggling with the question; where should I bird today? Do I take a chance and head out to Blackie Spit or Mud Bay in search of local shorebirds? Or, should I head out to Ladner, Twawwassen and Boundary Bay to search the skies for flocks of migrating southbound birds?

In the end, I drove out to my favorite spot on Westham Island, the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

As I was crossing the old wooden swing bridge that spans the Fraser River Estuary, something in the water caught my eye. I pulled off to the side of the road and walked over to the foot of the bridge, peering over. Swimming below was a solitary Mute Swan. Definitely worth the stop.

I snagged a few pictures of this beauty and hurried on my way.

Upon arrival at the Sanctuary, I couldn't help but notice that the flocks of diving barn swallows were absent from the skies. Normally, the swallows would dart from tree top to tree top along the winding path to the sanctuary, but not on this day.

Once through the gate, I was greeted by the usual suspects; flocks and flocks of hungry Mallard Ducks. I came prepared with several paper bags filled with quality seed.

I walked a short spell, stopping briefly at a blackberry hedge bustling with chickadees (my favorite song bird) and noticed a few red-winged blackbirds perched on nearby branches. Odd. I thought they had all left for the South.

I continued on to one of the observation decks that overlooks the first of many display ponds. I stood peering through my binoculars, scanning the waterfowl, wondering if there were any new migrants present in the pond. Suddenly, I spotted something unusual. I became excited as I thought this strange figure in the water was a Brant.

After observing this mysterious bird for a few minutes, I realized that this.....was a decoy! Gahhhh! I'm ashamed to admit I have over a dozen shots of this thing. Such an amateur, I am.

I followed the same route as Robbie and I had had taken last visit, but I deviated oh so slightly off the path to an unfamiliar outer trail. On the right, through the trees, I noticed some movement out in the farmer's field. I straddled a few tall trees and saw them -- a lovely pair of Sandhill Cranes, along with a few Canada Geese.

I made my way to the first observation tower that overlooks the largest display pond. As it turned out, this is where all the action was on this day. Not only were there several Long Billed Dowitchers feeding, but off in the distance, I spotted the same family of 7 Sandhill Cranes Robbie and I had seen before.

First, the Dowitchers (a Life Bird):

...and then the Sandhill Cranes...

Soon, a few of them were on the move...

I walked to the south display pond and saw these beauties feeding in the shallows:

It wasn't long before I noticed that a small pod of Japenese tourists, armed with compact cameras, were following me, stopping where I stopped, and snapping as I snapped. Suddenly, one of the ladies from the group started yelping and pointing. I glanced over and noticed a few American Coots, sunning themselves on a nearby log. It was my turn to follow the tourists as we all moved in to get a closer look.

I hucked some seed into the water in a futile attempt to lure a Coot closer. This one humored me...briefly...and then swam off on his merry way, doing whatever it is that American Coots do.

Overall, it was a great day! I saw more American Coots than I had ever seen at the Sanctuary, observed my first flock of Dowitchers, and darkened my tan just a tad.

Robbie and I plan to return on Friday.


  1. I love the chickadee shots, the decoy is amazing (snicker) and I am so fascinated by the dowitchers' beaks..they are so different!
    You did indeed have a very sucessful visit, I'm jealous!!!!!

  2. Is the Decoy listed in your Bird Books? (titter, titter) Lovely pictures again of what sounds like a very good and enjoyable day.

  3. Nice photos. The chickadees are fabulous and I love the pair of sandhill cranes. While the decoy made you feel amateur, having a tourist follow and copy you is a huge compliment in my book.