Monday, August 7, 2017

Audubon's Shearwater in Nova Scotia

Field Encounter
The two best birds seen during the recent pelagic trip out of Pubnico were two Long-tailed Jaegers and an Audubon's Shearwater, but the latter was only confidently identified two days later. A small black and white shearwater was seen at 8:09 am on August 4, 2017, in 26-27 degree Celsius, 2 km deep, waters south of Browns Bank (Fig. 2). It flew off as we approached and landed nearby; another approach allowed more photos, and then the bird was off for good. In all, the encouter lasted about 3 minutes and 23 seconds.

Figure 1. Audubon's Shearwater south of Browns Bank, Nova Scotia, 4 August 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Some of the birders looked through their binoculars while others (including me) madly snapped away at it with their cameras. We knew full well that Audubon's was a possibility, in fact that species was one of the main reasons for making the trip. There was a short discussion about the bird once it disapeared. Manx and Audubon's Shearwaters are quite similar and some noted the appearance of dark undertail coverts while others mentioned that they had seen more extensive white on the face than on the typical Manx. The images of the bird on the LCD screens on the back of cameras seemed to show that the bird had white undertail coverts. Other birds were to be seen, so the group decided to leave it as a probable Manx.

Figure 2. This sea surface temperature map is modified and rectified from a map from the Rutgers Coastal Observation Lab, shows the location of the Audubon's Shearwater sighting as a yellow "X". The map is from 5 am local time, and is the map whose time stamp is closest to our observation at 8:09 am. I assume that the blue area n.w. of the sighting is an error since the water temperature stayed warm as we made our way through the area.

Identification
A more detailed look at the bird and a conclusion as to its identification was done on August 6, 2017, by Mark Dennis upon seeing photos that Richard Stern had posted to Facebook. The word was spread that we had in fact photographed one of the megas that we had hoped to see.

Audubon's is slightly smaller than Manx and has short and broad wings, and a longer tail (Howell 2012). The relative tail length can be seen in Figs. 3 and 4. Figure 4 shows how the tail feathers project farther past the undertail coverts in Audubon's. Howell (2012) states that Manx's upperparts are slaty-blackish relative to the browner upperparts shown by Audubons; this is visible in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Audubon's Shearwater south of Browns Bank (L) and Manx Shearwater on German Bank (R). This comparison shows how the tail tip in Audubon's falls farther past the primary tips than in Manx. Photos by Alix d'Entremont.

The wing shape of the bird in question is difficult to appreciate due to its current stage of wing moult, but the wings do appear less pointed and relatively shorter (Fig. 4). Howell (2012) describes how the undertail coverts of Manx are white while those of Audubon's are "solidly blackish (less common) to extensive white basally (most frequent)". It appears that our recent Audubon's has mostly white undertail coverts except for at least one dusky covert on the right side (Fig. 4). Figure 4 shows how the underwing in Manx often looks whiter overall whereas the underwing of Audubon's had broader dark magins (Howell 2012).

Figure 4. Audubon's Shearwater south of Browns Bank (L) and Manx Shearwater south of Browns Bank (R). Photos by Alix d'Entremont.

Manx is said to be darker-faced with a whitish hook cutting around the auriculars, relative to the whiter faced Audubon's lacking the white hook (Fig 5).  (Howell 2012)

Figure 5. Audubon's Shearwater south of Browns Bank (L) and Manx Shearwater south of Browns Bank (R). Photos by Alix d'Entremont.

Boyd's Shearwater is extremely similar to Audubon's, but has a smaller bill and blueish gray legs (Howell 2012). Our recent bird shows pinish legs and what appears to be too large of a bill for the much rarer Boyd's.

Range and Occurrences in Nova Scotia
The subspecies of Audubon's Shearwater believed to range up to Nova Scotia is lherminieri which breeds in the Bahamas and from Puerto Rico to Tobago. It favours warm waters over the continental shelf slope, often found on weed lines at ocean fronts in the Gulf Stream. It ranges north over the Gulf Stream waters from Florida to North Carolina. It is uncommon to rare north to southern New England (mainly Jul-Aug) and is casual to Nova Scotia. (Howell 2012)

Our first report was of an observation at Western Bank on 7 October 1979 by an experienced birder with few published details. The first fully confirmed and captured by camera was one photographed south of Browns Bank on 17 August 2012 by Tom Johnson. None had been photographed by birders on non-goverment birding trips until our August 4, 2017 record. The list below from eBird, Nova Scotia Birds and McLaren (2012) contains a total of 42 reports, but some of them, especially the early ones, are by a single observer and/or have no photos.

7 Oct 1979 - Western Bank (few published details)
27 Aug 1980 - 30 km s.w. of Yarmouth (few published details)
9 Aug 1992 - 8 km west of Brier Island (details by experienced observer)
4 October 2003 - 175 km s.s.w. of Sable Island (details by experienced observer)
30 Sep 2009 - 240 km s.w. of Halifax (2 ind., details by experienced observer)
17 Aug 2012 - south of Browns Bank (eBird) **FIRST PHOTOGRAPHED**
6 Aug 2013 - 200-156 nm south of CSI (9 ind., Michael Force)
9 Oct 2014 - Seal Island (eBird)
1 Jul 2015 - south of Browns Bank (eBird, no details)
16 June 2015 - 78 nm south of CSI (photographed)
26 Aug 2015 - Bon Portage Island (3 ind., eBird)
30 Sep 2015 - 42.59, -59.00 by ECSAS
1 Oct 2015 - 40.8441, -60.28 by ECSAS (3 ind.)
31 May 2016 - Scotian Slope at 42.75, -61.66 by ECSAS
Summer 2016 - UNKNOWN by ECSAS (3 ind.)
28 Jul 2016 - US cetacean and seabird surveys, 180 nm south of CSI
14-21 Aug 2016 - south of Georges and Browns Banks (11 ind., NOAA surveys)

It is apparent that Audubon's Shearwaters occur May-Oct in warm waters south of Nova Scotia. It is observed infrequently because of the difficulties involved in visiting its extreme offshore habitat.

References
Howell, S.N.G. 2012. Petrels, albatrosses and storm-petrels of North America. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.

McLaren, I.A. 2012. All the Birds of Nova Scotia: status & critical identification. Gaspereau Press Ltd, Kentville, N.S., Canada

Monday, July 17, 2017

Leach's Storm-Petrels on Little White Island

On July 14, 2017, Keith Lowe and I left by Zodiac from Marie-Joseph, a little village east of Ecum Secum, and made a quick stop at Gull Rock then landed on Little White Island.

Alix d'Entremont (me) holding a Leach's Storm-Petrel on Little White Island, Halifax County. Photo by Keith Lowe.
Again this year I am doing colonial seabird surveys for Environment Canada and wanted to check the islands in the Eastern Shore Island Wilderness Area that were recorded as having the most Leach's Storm-Petrel colonies. Little White Island was last surveyed in 1981 when 616 pairs were recorded.

Location map of Little White Island, Halifax County. Bing Map.
Our anchoring area on the western side of Little White Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

We landed on the western end of Little White Island and found that there were quite a few. Considering the size of the island (350 m by 100 m) and the density of the burrows, we decided to follow the sample method described in Colonial Waterbird Monitoring Program: A Surveyor's Guide previously provided to me by Environment Canada. We sampled 5 areas that were representative of the different vegetation types and slopes on the island. The sample areas were squares with side dimensions of about 4 paces or 3.3 m which equates to an area of 10.9 m². We also noted the general densities to allow for better generalizations of densities by habitat type throughout the island.

Location of Sample 1, short grass, on Little White Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Below is the field data and key and the data for the 5 samples.

A = Adult
E = Egg
C = Chick
CRE = Can't Reach End
REN = Reached End, Nothing

Sample 1 - Short Grass, slight slope.
44° 53.657' N, 62° 6.093' W
6 burrows (A,E; A; A; CRE; CRE; REN).

Sample 2 - Short Grass, slight slope, near possible fox den.
44° 53.631' N, 62° 6.032' W
0 burrows.

Sample 3 - Tall Vegetation, slight slope.
44° 53.626' N, 62° 5.899' W
0 burrows.

Sample 4 - Short Grass, moderate slope.
44° 53.649' N, 62° 5.871' W
3 burrows (CRE; CRE; CRE).

Sample 5 - Short Vegetation, large slope.
44° 53.660' N, 62° 5.966' W
13 burrows (CRE; A; A; REN; CRE; E; CRE; A; CRE; REN; CRE; CRE; CRE).

Sample 5 had the highest density of all samples and this density of holes appeared to be consistent through the entire north slope. The sample was taken near the middle of the slope both east-west and north-south and was at an entirely random, central location.

The north slope of Little White Island, near the location for sample 5. Photo by Keith Lowe.

I roughly classified the entire island by habitat type in Google Earth and added the sample locations. The burrow calculation for each habitat type was calculated using a burrow density that I chose based on the sample points and the general feeling that I got while walking through the habitat and noting the number of burrows compared to the sample plots.

Sample points and habitat type on Little White Island. Google Earth Export.
Short Grass @ 3,500 m² (3 burrows per 10.9 m² = 0.275 burrows per m²)
3,500 m² * 0.275 burrows per m² = 960 burrows

Short Grass @ 12,500 m² (1 burrow per 10.9 m² = 0.09 burrows per m²)
12,500 m² * 0.09 burrows per m² = 1,145 burrows

Short Vegetation @ 6,600 m² (8 burrows per 10.9 m² = 0.734 burrows per m²)
6,600 m² * 0.734 burrows per m² = 4,844 burrows

Total number of burrows = 6,949 burrows.


Obviously this estimate is simply that - an estimate. Given that there were only two people doing the survey, we weren't able to cover the island in detail, but this at least gives us an idea of the size of the colony. For a more accurate estimate, I would delineate the habitat types and slopes by GPS on the ground and take 4 to 6 samples in each habitat type and slope combination. This should result in a better estimate of numbers.

We did see at least 2 burrows and 1 adult that were predated and a few larger burrows and piles of crushed crustacean shells.

Large burrows and mounds of what appeared to be crustacean shells on Little White Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Predated adult on Little White Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

The Leach's Storm-Petrel colony on Little White Island was by far the largest that I've ever been to on a grassy island. I have visited Bon Portage that was estimated to have had 50,000 pairs, but it is a wooded island. These storm-petrel colonies are much harder to detect that other colonial birds, so I'm sure there are other large colonies around the province. I hope to get to Indian Island near LaHave in the next few weeks to check for storm-petrels.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

North Brother Tern Colony Collapse

This isn't all bad news - in fact colony desertion is entirely normal for terns. Read on.

Roseate Terns on the Brother Islands
North Brother Island has consistently been the best location in Nova Scotia to see Roseate Terns for decades. It was home to Canada's largest colony of this rare tern and was one of only a few known breeding locations in Nova Scotia.

Roseate Terns among the Arctic Terns and Common Terns on the Brother Islands off West Pubnico were first identified in 1982 when the Roseates numbered 55 to 60 pairs. The Brothers are two small islands off West Pubnico, Yarmouth County, known locally as "les Îles à Vert". Ted d'Eon of West Pubnico has been monitoring and managing the tern colony since 1983 in cooperation with the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Nova Scotia Department of Natural Resources. Ted's website (www.ted.ca) contains years worth of data and photos about his efforts. Due to the Roseate Tern's precarious foothold in Canada, the species depends on management for its survival (Erksine 1992).

The terns used to nest on the two Brother Islands, but since 2003, they only nest on North Brother. The number of Roseate Tern nests fluctuates from year to year with a high of 90 nests in 2002 and a low of 20 in 1991. Fifty Roseate Tern nests were found in 2016.

Roseate Terns are listed as Endangered in Canada under the Species at Risk Act. Its reproductive rate is limited by age of first breeding at age 3, small clutch size (2 for experienced birds, 1 for first-time breeders), and a relatively low survival rate of adults and young birds. One of the main threats to Canadian Roseate Tern populations is predation and displacement of colonies by Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls. The restricted distribution of this tern makes it vulnerable to localized threats such as human disturbance and weather events. (Environment Canada 2010)

Roseate Tern at North Brother on June 17, 2016. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Julie McKnight (Canadian Wildlife Service) holding a Roseate Tern with tiny GPS receiver at North Brother on June 17, 2016. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

The Brother Islands have been owned by the Province of Nova Scotia since 1990 and have been a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wildlife management area since 2007. Access to the islands between March 31 and September 1 is not permitted without written authorization of the Director of Wildlife at DNR.

Here is a video that I made in 2011 that shows the boat ride between Abbotts Harbour and North Brother Island, the Roseate Tern management area on North Brother, the eroding island edges and the terns flying above the island. The tern festival mentioned in the video is no longer running.



2017 Breeding Season on North Brother
It all began with low numbers of terns arriving at the start of breeding season. By May 8, 2017, there were only 15 terns above the island in comparison to 100 birds on May 6 of the previous year. It was noted that during the 2016 breeding season, the terns appeared to be more tightly packed than previous years, a product of the yearly erosion to the already tiny island.

A high tide event previous to a visit to the island on May 28, 2017 caused a lot of damage to the "management zone", an area with imported substrate and nesting shelters for the Roseate Terns. By June 4, 2017, it was obvious that the number of terns on the island was drastically lower than in previous years. The nest count of all three species was completed on June 12, 2017, and the results were bad; only 141 nests were found compared to 661 the previous year. This is a loss of more than 500 pairs of terns and the lowest nest count based on data from Ted's website which goes back to 1990.

Roseate Terns nesting in shelters in the "management zone" on North Brother on June 17, 2016. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

During the June 21, 2017 visit, the number of terns above the island had shrunk to about 30 and most Roseate nests that previously had eggs now did not or were missing an egg and the majority of the remaining eggs were cold. Most of the Common Tern nests were empty and the few Arctic Tern nests that were there, were gone. Four trail cameras were set on North Brother the following day and the photos showed that the predators were a group of 4 American Crows. The colony was now abandoned and for the first time in at least 35 years, there would be no breeding success at all.


Tern Breeding Site Fidelity
Fidelity to natal colony is variable, but usually high. Predation and other causes of breeding failure are known to cause colonies to be abandoned when birds move en masse to other sites, sometimes settling synchronously in contiguous groups. (Nisbet 2002)


The Search for the Missing Terns
On the heels of this year's low nest count, Bertin d'Eon and I searched the Tusket Islands area on June 15, 2017, for the initial missing 500 pairs. A few Common and Arctic were found above Murder Island, Peases Island had 11 nests and Green Island (south of Wedgeport) had 82 nests. The birds found nesting on the Tusket Islands were likely the same that were nesting there in 2016, but a majority simply moved around between islands.

Arctic Tern nest on Peases Island on June 15, 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Common Tern nest on Peases Island on June 15, 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
The newly expanded tern colony on Green Island, June 15, 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
On June 23, 2017, the Department of Natural Resources flew a helicopter along the coast from Yarmouth to Lockeport in search of the missing birds. Three groups of terns were identified by Pam Mills: 150 individuals in Yarmouth Harbour, 120 in Pubnico Harbour and 30 at Green Island near Cape Sable Island.

Paul Gould, Alec d'Entremont, Florian Schmitt and I searched the islands west of Cape Sable Island on June 25, 2017. A small group of about 32 terns were found on an unnamed island in the Bear Point Thrums group. Our next destination was Green Island west of The Hawk on Cape Sable Island. Four Roseates were seen at Green Island in May 2016, but they were not present during my June 2016 nest survey when I counted 85 nests. Eight Roseates were at Green Island in May 2017, but there were only a few Common Terns left by June 25, 2017. The tern nesting site appeared to have been taken over by Herring Gulls. Later that day, Bertin d'Eon and I counted 27 nests on Île Ferré and none on Île Chespêque, both in Pubnico Harbour. In 2016, there were 30 nests on Île Chespêque, so those birds may have moved 3 km south to Île Ferré.

I am contracted to do tern surveys for Environment and Climate Change Canada with a focus on Roseate Terns, so on June 28, 2017, Bertin d'Eon, Duncan Bayne (DNR Biologist) and I visited Toby Island and Coffin Island in Lunenburg County. There were two Roseates on Toby last year, so it was important to check the island again. We briefly saw one Roseate and similar to the previous year, the bird was never seen again. I assume that the Roseate Terns aren't nesting on Toby since they are not seen returning to the colony once everything calms down from a flush.

Arctic Tern habitat on Coffin Island, Lunenburg County, on June 28, 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
On July 3, 2017, Calvin d'Entremont and I checked Common Eider nesting shelters on Pumpkin Island near West Pubnico and then followed a Common Tern carrying food from around Bar Island straight to Gull Island. We anchored the boat and then walked onto the island when I heard the distinctive harsh snarl of a Roseate Tern overhead. Once the terns lifted from the colony I was able to count at least 7 Roseates among the hundreds of terns. This was what I had been searching for!

That afternoon, Ted d'Eon, Ingrid d'Eon, Gavin Maclean, Roland d'Eon, Bertin d'Eon and I returned to Gull Island with Ted's boat to do a thorough count of the nests. There were 233 viable nests and an additional 15 or so chicks running around. Most of these terns were new to Gull Island since we only counted 10 nests in 2016. The new terns on Gull Island represent about 40% of the terns that used to be on North Brother. The Gull Island colony is spread along the western and southern edge of the pond. Based on the stage of development of the chicks, it appears that nesting began earlier on the southern edge of the pond. There were many large chicks running around in that area. The northwestern group of nests only had 3 small chicks out of 60 nests. It seems plausible that the birds that never arrived at North Brother in early June nested on the southern side of the pond while another wave of birds arrived and nested on the western side of the pond after the total collapse of North Brother.

Google Maps aerial photo of Gull Island.
Duncan Bayne had told me about how docile the terns were at North Brother this year. That wasn't the case on Gull. They were attacking nearby gull chicks and would hit us in the head, so the tern colony appears healthy. Multiple Common Terns were seen arriving from the north carrying food. This is in contrast to North Brother where the terns were mostly heading south in search of prey.

I was able to get two field-readable leg bands on the Roseates on Gull Island. Both birds were banded as adults at the North Brother colony; one was banded in 2014 and the other in 2016.

Roseate Tern on Gull Island, July 3, 2017. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

On July 5, 2017, Shawn Craik (Université Sainte-Anne), Manon Holmes (Acadia Univeristy), Nick Knutson (Université Sainte-Anne) and Ben Morton visited Gull Island and were able to get an accurate count of 24 Roseate Terns. They also confirmed two areas where the Roseates appeared to be nesting.

The closest mainland location from Gull Island is the southern tip of Surette's Island which is about 6 km away. It is about 7.5 km away from Abbotts Harbour, where Ted and I typically launch our boats. Gull is the island in Lobster Bay that is the farthest away from all of the others, so should be a good place for the terns. We saw 5 gull chicks on the island and only about 10 gulls around. There were probably more earlier in the season. If we can get a permit to get rid of the gulls early next year, that would be beneficial.

The abandonment of North Brother is the end of an era, but the terns seem to have chosen a great spot to resettle. Gull Island isn't about to become a ledge through soil erosion like North Brother is. It isn't a tall island, but should at least outlast us. We hope to acquire a permit to destroy gull nests next year before the terns arrive. As stated by Erksine (1992), local control of gulls numbers may be unavoidable if we wish to retain breeding eiders, terns or storm-petrels. We provide easy access food to gulls in the form of landfills and fish processing plants which results in unnaturally large populations.


Tern Colony Changes in Southwest Nova Scotia 2016/2017
The nests at most of the terns colonies around Lobster Bay were counted in the last two years, so I thought I'd show the numbers on two maps. The only large colony that was missed is probably the one on Flat Island which are likely mostly Arctic Terns. A majority of the North Brother terns are still not accounted for, but at least the Gull Island colony seems to be doing well. Let's hope that it gets even larger in 2018.









References:
Environment Canada. 2010. Amended Recovery Strategy for the Roseate Tern (Sterna dougallii)
in Canada. Species at Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada. Ottawa.
vii + 36 pp.

Erskine, A.J. 1992. Atlas of breeding birds of the Maritime Provinces. Nimbus Publ./N.S. Museum. 270 pp.

Nisbet, Ian C. 2002.Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/comter
DOI: 10.2173/bna.618

Saturday, June 17, 2017

British Columbia 2017

My last birding trip away from Nova Scotia was back in 2014 when I spent two weeks in England where I gathered 72 new species for my life list. Ontario, Florida and British Columbia were options for this year's trip since I have friends in those places, and therefore a free place to stay. I decided on BC since I had never been farther west than Windsor, Ontario, and because I would get more lifers there than in Ontario. I decided against Florida at this time because I thought it was important that I get to see more of our country.


May 20, 2017
I dipped on a King Eider at Cow Bay in the morning and then headed to the airport. I chose window seats for both sections of my flight. I watched below as we passed the Annapolis Valley, the Bay of Fundy, Grand Manan and stopped looking once we passed Mount Desert Island in Maine and headed inland - I probably wouldn't recognize anything after that.

Annapolis River and Belleisle Marsh, Nova Scotia. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I saw the CN Tower before landing in Toronto. Upon landing I made my way to the gate for my next flight and soon we were off again, I watched 3 episodes of Breaking Bad on my phone and opened the window cover. I had never seen the Rockies before and they did not disappoint.

The Rocky Mountains somewhere east of Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

My first lifer was a Northwestern Crow from the plane's window as we were landing. Previous to the trip I had calculated from eBird that I had the chance of getting about 70 new species, but assumed I'd miss about 10.

I made my way to Rory O'Connell's house in Vancouver with my Volvo rental which was a free upgrade from the Toyota Yaris I had actually bargained for. I had attended UNB with Rory and hadn't seen him in 9 years.

Rory O'Connell and me. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.


May 21, 2017
The next morning I headed straight to Iona Island (hotspot), near the airport, an eBird hotspot with the potential of having quite a number of species that I wanted to see. I got Spotted Towhee and Marsh Wren on the side of the road before even reaching the hotspot. I walked around a bit seeing things like Glaucous-winged Gull and Yellow-headed Blackbird and ran into Cole Gaerber, a very talented young local birder. Cole and I birded together for a bit which resulted in brief sightings of Vaux's Swift and Rufous Hummingbird and a distant view of a few Cinnamon Teal. There were a number of pugetensis White-crowned Sparrows singing. They have pale lores and a yellow bill, unlike our leucophrys which has dark lores and pinkish bill. The gambelii subspecies of White-crowned is a regular vagrant to Nova Scotia, but pugetensis doesn't stray far from the Pacific coast.

Spotted Towhee at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
White-crowned Sparrow, Z.l. pugetensis with white lores and yellow bill, at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Marsh Wren, C.p. browningi which breeds from s.w. BC to w.-central Washington, at Iona Island, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Later that day I drove down to Boundary Bay, seeing Brewer's Blackbirds around the farms on the way, and ended up at Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal (hotspot) where I picked up Black Oystercatcher on the beach and saw my first big Great Blue Heron colony, a heronry of hundreds of nests.


May 22, 2017
I picked up Siobhan Darlington at her brother's place in West Point Grey and we headed across Vancouver Harbour to the Maplewood Flats Conservation Area (hotspot). I had previously met Siobhan in the Annapolis Valley where she and a coworker were doing swallow surveys. We did a quick loop around the area and saw Western Tanager, Purple Martins and a Willow Flycatcher. There is a feeder at the entrance to the forest where we happened to meet with Rob Lyske who showed us Black-headed Grosbeak and pointed out my first singing Warbling Vireo and Orange-crowned Warbler. We tried for Black-throated Gray Warbler, but none were singing.

Black-headed Grosbeak, Maplewood Flats, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
After Maplewood, we headed to Lonsdale Quay, which was suggested by Rob Lyske, to see the Pigeon Guillemots.

Pigeon Guillemot, a species very similar to our Black Guillemot, at Lonsdale Quay, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 23, 2017
I made my way to Vancouver Island on the ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay. A Pelagic Cormorant flew by giving me my best views of the trip, but otherwise, the ferry trip was uneventful with species like Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot but I did get bad views of California Gull and Rhinoceros Auklet.

Pelagic Cormorant on the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay ferry. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Once on the island, I drove to Victoria to drop off my things at Siobhan's and went to Clover Point where I was surprised to find a Harlequin Duck. I did get somewhat better views of Rhinoceros Auklet and Glaucous-winged Gull, or some sort of Glaucous-winged Gull x Western Gull hybrids. Ronnie d'Entremont had kept reminding me to go to Esquimalt Lagoon (hotspot), so I made sure to make the short trip there from Victoria. I arrived at the lagoon as the wind picked up to about 50 km/h; the parking lot dirt was flying everywhere. I got some better photos of Black Oystercatcher and California Gull and was excited to find a second-cycle (seemed to have started primary moult) brachyrhynchus Mew Gull.

Adult California Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
First-cycle/second-cycle Glaucous-winged Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Second-cycle brachyrhynchus Mew Gull at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Black Oystercatcher at Esquimalt Lagoon, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

May 24, 2017
I stopped in at McMicking Point long enough to get distant views of a Pacific Loon, about 108 Rhinoceros Auklets and a fly-by Black Oystercatcher. I was hoping to get Brandt's Cormorant or one of the murrelets, but you can't win 'em all. The next stop was Goldstream Provincial Park (hotspot) for American Dipper which I got within minutes of stepping out of the car. These birds are like nothing else. They are North America's only aquatic songbird, catching all of its food underwater. It is strange to see them flying low above the stream and suddenly plunging in. I got good looks of an Oregon Junco and heard what sounded very similar to a Mourning Warbler - it had to be a MacGillivray's Warbler. I did get to see it after a while. Other sounds at the park were Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Wester Wood-Pewee, Wilson's Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler and Wilson's Warbler.

American Dipper at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Dark-eyed Junco, J.h. shufeldti, at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
MacGillivray's Warbler at Goldstream Provincial Park, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I then made a quick stop to Swan Lake (hotspot) near Victoria for Violet-green Swallow and Bewick's Wren. The wrens were very vocal and actually quite easy to see compared to our Winter Wrens. That evening I met up with Michael Bentley at Clover Point (hotspot) in Victoria. Michael has an ABA Listing Central Canada Life List of 540 species, which puts him in 2nd place, 6 behind Roger Foxall. Michael had contacted me a few months prior to see if he could participate in a pelagic trip that Ronnie d'Entremont is organizing in August 2017. This trip will be the first of its kind. It will be the first time that a group of birders will visit the continental slope near Nova Scotia in Canadian waters. There have been research trips to this area, but nobody has ever chummed. There is the possibility of megas like Audubon's Shearwater, Barolo's Shearwater, White-faced Storm-Petrel and Black-capped Storm-Petrel. If the trip is successful, Michael could boost his Canada list and approach or pass Roger Foxall.

Bewick's Wren at Swan Lake, Vancouver Island. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 25, 2017
I met with Michael Bentley near Goldstream and we drove north to Goldstream Heights Drive (hotspot) where we had Hammond's Flycatcher, Hutton's Vireo, Cassin's Vireo, Stellar's Jay and Townsend's Warbler. We spent most of the time listening so I don't have any photos that are worth showing.

Michael Bentley and me on Goldstream Height Drive. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I left Michael and headed north to Nanaimo and took the ferry to Horseshoe Bay. I was chatting with a girl on the ferry who was just getting into birding when she pointed to a bird flying past the bow. It was a Parasitic Jaeger! Begginers luck. I ended up seeing one more before the end of the ferry ride. I had seen Parasitics before, but never this close.

Parasitic Jaeger on the ferry from Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I left the ferry terminal and drove up to Cypress Provincial Park to the viewpoint overlooking Vancouver.

Cypress Provincial Park lookout. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 26, 2017
I walked through the section of Pacific Spirit Park (hotspot) north of W 16th Ave and the place was full of Pacific-slope Flycatchers. I briefly saw a Hutton's Vireo and got to record the songs of Pacific Wren, Wilson's Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak and Pacific-slope Flyctacher. I then visited the nearby Camosung Bog (hotspot) and got better views of Hutton's Vireo and Bushtit.

Hutton's Vireo at Camosung Bog, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Bushtit at Camosung Bog, Metro Vancouver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
May 27, 2017
I left Vancouver and took Highway 3 towards the Okanagan Valley. I hadn't expected to be driving kilometre after kilometre without cell service or even FM radio. The amount of forest on the stretch of road through the Cascade Mountains is impressive. I stopped alongside the road to see what I could find and luckily heard the only Varied Thrush that I would get on the trip. I assumed that I'd see more, but didn't. I stopped at the highest point on Highway 3, about 1400 m, at Allison Pass (hotspot) and got good looks of a Townsend's Warbler. I stopped in to Lighting Lake (hotspot) in EC Maning Park to eat and got Clark's Nutcracker and my first photos of a Steller's Jay.

Townsend's Warbler at Allison Pass. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Steller's Jay at Lightning Lake, EC Maning Park. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
From EC Maning Park I drove north of Highway 3 to Swan Lake (hotspot) in Priceton where there were Western Meadowlarks, Western Bluebirds and a Caliope Hummingbird.

Caliope Hummingbird at Swan Lake, Priceton. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
That night I stayed at the Samesun hostel in Kelowna. It was an alright place, but it was fairly big with a lot of people and more noisy than I'd like.


May 28, 2017
I met up with Ann Gibson, a friend of Michael Force, at Robert Lake (hotspot) near Kelowna. The water levels had been dangerously high in the area lately and were still high at the lake. This meant that the shoreline was closer as were the birds. I got full-frame photos of Cinnamon Teal and Wilson's Phalaropes.

Cinnamon Teal at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Wilson's Phalarope at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Ann Gibson and me at Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

Ann knew of a Swainson's Hawk nest near Kelowna, and we spotted the bird quickly as it watched from the top of a telephone pole. She then showed me Beaver Lake Road (hotspot). This was one of the best places that I visited during the entire trip. There were Western Meadowlarks, Lazuli Buntings, California Quails and Western Kingbirds. Later that day I made a quick stop at Robert Lake again and got Eared Grebe and returned to Beaver Lake Road to get photos of the birds we saw there in the morning.

Eared Grebes at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Meadowlark on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
California Quail on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Lazuli Bunting on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Wood-Pewee on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Warbling Vireo on Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Beaver Lake Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.

I decided to change hostels and booked a single room in Penticton at the Hostel International for May 29. This would be closer to the remaining spots I wanted to hit in the lower Okanagan Valley.


May 29, 2017
The Vaseux Cliffs (hotspot) are a must see if you visit the Okanagan Valley. I immediately spotted a Golden Eagle and was surrounded by White-throated Swifts as I looked up at the cliff face. It took a bit of driving around and listening to hear Canyon Wren and Rock Wren and I didn't even get to see either. Although, I did have a Rock Wren at my house back in May 2012. I noticed there were a number of birds with their mouths open panting in the heat. The maximum temperature each day during the 5 days that I spent in the Okanagan Valley was 35 degree Celcius. I was drenched in sweat and I had an air-conditioned car!

Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Golden Eagle at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
White-throated Swifts at Vaseux Cliff. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Black-billed Magpie at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Cooper's Hawk at Vaseux Cliffs. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
The White Lake Grasslands Protected Area (hotspot) west of Okanagan Falls is sagebrush habitat that is home to the nationally endangered Sage Thrasher. Its range in British Columbia is restricted to the south Okanagan and Similkameen valleys. The Canadian breeding population is about 6 to 36 birds, most of these are in BC (Cannings 2015)

White Lake Grasslands Protected Area. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Endangered Sage Thrasher at White Lake. Photo by Alix d'Entremont. 
Brewer's Blackbird at White Lake. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.


May 30, 2017
I travelled 17 km of the Shuttleworth Creek Road (hotspot) near Okanagan Falls and added Lewis's Woodpecker and Mountain Chickadee to my life list and was able to get a few photos that I wanted. I had seen a pale Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler at Point Pleasant Park in Halifax back in 2012, but it was great to see the adult males of the species. They would definitely stick out in Nova Scotia. I took quite a few photos of a Dusky Flycatcher on the road. I had twitched the one in the Annapolis Valley in 2014, so it was interesting to see one in its habitat.

The song of the Pacific-slope Flycatcher and Western Wood-Pewee are fairly distinctive, but I hadn't studied those of Hammond's and Dusky Flycatcher enough before the trip. I had to brush up on them while I was in the field and get some recordings to confirm I had them correct. That is one thing that you can never do enough of - listening to calls and songs before a trip like this.

McKinney Hill Road, Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Dusky Flycatcher on Shuttleworth Creek Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler on Shuttleworth Creek Road. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I had contacted Avery Bartels a few months ago to plan exactly where to go during the trip. His help was exactly what I needed and was very much appreciated. One of the stops that Avery suggested was a place in Oliver where Black-chinned Hummingbird is regular.

Black-chinned Hummingbird in Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
My only successful twitch in British Columbia was at Haynes Point Provincial Park (hotspot) where a Clark's Grebe was hanging out with the regular Western Grebes. I got to see both species in the scope and was able to compare them. They were much too far for photos. After the grebes, I headed to McKinney Road (hotspot) in Oliver to get Gray Flycatcher. I did see the bird well and noted the tail movements (slow downward wagging) and how it perched and hunted very low unlike other flycatchers that I've seen. I did not hear the bird, but got many photos. The Gray Flycatcher's range has been expanding northward and it first nested in BC in 1986 and only breeds in the Okanagan Valley and most choose the transition zone between Ponderosa Pines and shrub-steppe grasslands (Webber 2015).

Gray Flycatcher on McKinney Road in Oliver. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.


May 31, 2017
I drove back to Vancouver again through Highway 3 and EC Maning Park, but stopped in a few places on the way and got better photos of Mountain Chickadee, Clark's Nutcracker and Western Tanager. I stopped to see an old classmate and her family in Langley. It was great seeing her.

Clark's Nutcracker in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Mountain Chickadee in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
Western Tanager in Keremeos. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
An old classmate and her kids in Langley. I believe this is my first selfie ever. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.


June 1, 2017
Jason Dain, a birder from the Halifax area in Nova Scotia was in Vancouver for work, so we got together in the morning and went to Delta (hotspot), south of Vancouver, to look for the Bar-tailed Godwits that had been reported there. We didn't see those, but did get to see a Western Sandpiper, although it was quite far. Jason has photos of it on the eBird Checklist. We then made a quick trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary (hotspot).

Rufous Hummingbird at Reifel. Photo by Alix d'Entremont.
I was still missing Black-throated Gray Warbler so I made a late day trip to Maplewood Flats (hotspot), but couldn't locate one. This warbler species along with the Black swift were my only remaining species that should be fairly easy to get.


June 2, 2017
I returned to Delta (hotspot) the following day since another person had reported that the Bar-tailed Godwits were still present there on June 1. I again dipped on the godwits, but got to see 5 Western Sandpipers, but the looks were still less than favourable. I tried Burnaby Lake (hotspot) for Black-throated Gray and missed that one as well.


June 3, 2017
I still needed Black-throated Gray and Black Swift, and I was determined to get them. I visited Maplewood Flats (hotspot) for a third time and finally heard a Black-throated Gray Warbler in the canopy. I got horrible views of it, but was happy to have found one. I finally made it to famous Stanley Park (hotspot) and walked around for 1.5 hours. I was about to open the car door to leave when I caught the shape of a swift circling high. It was a Black Swift and was the last "easy" species that I needed.


Concluding Remarks
I ended the trip with almost exactly the amount of lifers that I thought I'd get. The total was 59. These are all listed below in chronological order.

# Species
1 Northwestern Crow
2 Spotted Towhee
3 Rufous Hummingbird
4 Vaux's Swift
5 Glaucous-winged Gull
6 California Gull
7 Cinnamon Teal
8 Brewer's Blackbird
9 Band-tailed Pigeon
10 Black Oystercatcher
11 Black-headed Grosbeak
12 Western Tanager
13 Pelagic Cormorant
14 Pigeon Guillemot
15 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
16 Bushtit
17 Anna's Hummingbird
18 Rhinoceros Auklet
19 Chestnut-backed Chickadee
20 Pacific Loon
21 MacGillivray's Warbler
22 American Dipper
23 Western Wood-Pewee
24 Red-breasted Sapsucker
25 Bewick's Wren
26 Violet-green Swallow
27 Townsend's Warbler
28 Steller's Jay
29 Cassin's Vireo
30 Hutton's Vireo
31 Hammond's Flycatcher
32 Pacific Wren
33 Clark's Nutcracker
34 Western Meadowlark
35 Western Bluebird
36 Pygmy Nuthatch
37 Calliope Hummingbird
38 Black-billed Magpie
39 Wilson's Phalarope
40 Bullock's Oriole
41 Lazuli Bunting
42 Red-naped Sapsucker
43 California Quail
44 Eared Grebe
45 Canyon Wren
46 White-throated Swift
47 Golden Eagle
48 Brewer's Sparrow
49 Sage Thrasher
50 Cassin's Finch
51 Mountain Chickadee
52 Lewis's Woodpecker
53 Black-chinned Hummingbird
54 Clark's Grebe
55 Western Grebe
56 Gray Flycatcher
57 Western Sandpiper
58 Black-throated Gray Warbler
59 Black Swift

As I write this (June 17, 2017) I am in a three-way tie for 7th place in eBird for species seen in Canada during 2017. I'm sure I'll be pushed down fairly quick, but I'll enjoy it while it lasts.

eBird Top 100 eBirders in Canada for 2017 - June 17, 2017.

I had a great time and would recommend a similar trip. A birding trip to BC should include the Okanagan Valley without a doubt. For me it was the most unique place that I saw and had the most interesting species. Thank you to all that gave me information before the trip and to the people that I had the pleasure of meeting during my stay there.


References
Cannings, R.J. 2015. Sage Thrasher in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca/accounts/speciesaccount.jsp?sp=SATH&lang=en [17 Jun 2017]

Weber, W.C. 2015. Gray Flycatcher in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca/accounts/speciesaccount.jsp?sp=GRFL&lang=en [17 Jun 2017]