We started our birding on the island at Westwood Lake on the outskirts of Nanaimo. There were still a few birds that we were hoping to see on the island, and this site had the potential offer quite a few of them. We worked our way clockwise around the edge of the lake, but the thick woodland made the birding difficult. However, once we were on the far side of the lake to car park there was an open track, cut through the woods for the benefit of the telegraph wires. The more open environment favoured small birds and we had much more joy with Warblers and Empidonax Flycatchers along this stretch. As the morning warmed up there was also an increase in bird activity. The walk around the site took a couple of hours, but we had walked all the way around the site by 9:30, leaving us with plenty of time to visit other sites. Westwood Lake was a really nice site, with some pleasant birding, but it’s also well used by recreational visitors. As we were leaving there we passed many joggers and dog-walkers, so it was just as well that we visited early.
McGillivray’s Warbler - Our last west coast warbler species would always be a challenge, so we had identified a number of suitable woodland sites along the east coast of the island where we might be able to find it. We did not anticipate finding a stunning male at the first site we visited, a real cracker of a bird, and quite showy compared to the other warbler species that we had seen so far.
Westwood Park Lake: Canada Goose, Wood Duck, Hooded Merganser, California Quail, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Anna’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Merlin, Northern Raven, Black-capped Chickadee, Hammond’s Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Audubon’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, McGillivray’s Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Black Squirrel,
For one reason or another, we had done exceptionally well at catching up with many of our target species for the trip. Many of the species we had planned to search for on the east coast of the island we had already seen at numerous points, but there was one species that we knew we would have to really target if we wanted to see it, and both sites we had for it were in this area. That species was American Dipper.
Because we knew that we might need to invest some time to see this bird, we decided to make it our priority, and made our way to the first site where we knew we had a chance to find one. Englishman River Park was a large area of dense woodland, with a medium sized river flowing through it. The woodland varied from tall conifer trees to short willows, so there was plenty of potential for passerines. We heard a number of different warblers, especially Townsend’s and Black-throated Gray, but they were coming from the tallest of the trees, and we failed to see either of them. There were a few other passerines in the woods as well; it was a very pleasant site for birding.
We did not know exactly where the Dipper would be, but our immediate impression was that were was only a few areas on the river that were suitable for Dippers to hunt in. We decided to head north up the river, as it seemed to follow that there would be more suitable habitat that way. Then began our journey to see American Dipper! We walked for over 10 kilometres along the river, every corner brought renewed hope and only to be subsequently disappointed. Our desire to see the bird kept us going, and by the end we had walked a considerable distance.
American Dipper - After all the walking we finally caught up with our target bird when it appeared on the rocks in front of us. It fed happily in the open for a few minutes before it flew to the opposite bank, where it then clearly flew up to its nest. It then flew down from the nest and upriver. We finally got our bird, albeit for just a few minutes.
Pacific Wren - One of the things we expected in America was a huge abundance of wrens. However, we had struggled to find any wrens at all. A large part of the problem was our lack of knowledge of what the wrens sing like, but as we were walking along the road we finally heard a song we were sure was a Wren. We tracked the source of the call to a rather showy Pacific Wren.
Englishman River Park: Goosander, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Belted Kingfisher, Anna’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, American Dipper, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Hammonds Flycatcher, Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Audubon’s Warbler, Townsends Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, Oregon Junco, Song Sparrow, California Darner,
With the Dipper safely under our belts we had an afternoon of exploring other sites. we had noted a small site not far from the main road that seemed promising for Sooty Grouse, so we decided to have a look, see if we could improve on the views we’d had previously. The site involved driving through the steepest suburb we could have imagined to an area of woodland on the top of a mountain. The site car park was at the summit of the mountain, and the views all around were fantastic. We had a very successful time on site, connecting with our target bird within 10 minutes.
Sooty Grouse - It’s worth saying that at each site we went to where Sooty Grouse was possible we had heard a deep booming noise, the source of which we were unsure of. When we heard it again at Little Mountain we realised we had been fools, and this was clearly the noise of Sooty Grouse. The sound was coming from somewhere near to us so we continued scanning all around us, but every time we moved around the angle of the noise changed. After five minutes we managed to work out that the bird was actually calling from the tree above us. A displaying a male Sooty Grouse! It was a fairly hefty bird, how it managed to perch so high up is a mystery. It was awesome to finally be able to get a decent view of these birds.
Turkey Vulture - Because of the height of the mountain, and the fantastic views and cliff faces, we found that the Turkey Vultures were flying at eye level with us, and they were flying extremely close, offering amazing views.
Little Mountain: Sooty Grouse, Turkey Vulture, Anna’s Hummingbird, American Robin, Audubon’s Warbler,
As a result of our efficiency on Little Mountain we still had nearly an entire afternoon of birding the east side of the island. There were a couple of estuaries that we could check out, and since we had already birded along the Englishman River we decided to head out to the mouth of the river. We parked on the east arm of the estuary and birded around the beach and adjacent scrub. We spent a solid couple of hours birding the area. It was low tide when we arrived so most of the birds were sat out on the edge of the estuary.
Harlequin Duck - The only real highlight was two pairs of Harlequin Ducks that were sat out on the edge of the estuary. As always they were stunning birds, but they were distant and only really viewable through a scope.
Englishman River Estuary: Canada Goose, Mallard, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Shoveler, Bufflehead, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, Goosander, Slavonian Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Pacific Diver, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, Mew Gull, Western Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Anna’s Hummingbird, Northwestern Crow, European Starling, Savanah Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird,
When we left the estuary we still had a good portion of the afternoon left, but we had visited all the sites that we had noted down. However as we left the estuary there was a small park that we had remembered reading about, and since we had time we decided to call in for a look. Although it was something of a spontaneous visit, we found it a brilliant site with lots of passerines in the bushes. The footpath went through open areas of scrub through to tall woodland. We found most passerines in the scrubby areas, but the thicker understorey vegetation was also extremely productive for birds.
Hutton’s Vireo - We had been checking every Kinglet we saw for this tiny predator, and we finally struck gold. Because of the subtleties in identifying this species we were initially sceptical that we had actually got a Hutton’s, but the more we observed it moving through the bushes the more we laid any doubts to rest. It was not a species we were sure we would see, so we were very excited to connect with one.
Hermit Thrush - Thrushes were not common around Vancouver, and a pair of Hermit Thrushes that we found today was the first that we encountered during our time here. They were extremely skulky, keeping very low in the vegetation, not affording good views.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park: Turkey Vulture, Northern Flicker, Merlin, Rufous Hummingbird, European Starling, American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper, Bushtit, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Hutton’s Vireo, Cassin’s Vireo, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, Wilsons Warbler, Purple Finch, Oregon Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow,
We decided that a good plan would be to make tracks on our way across to the east coast. Our plan was to call off at Port Alberni overnight, a small town mid-way across the island. The towns sewage farm looked a promising site for some good birding and was where we planned to bird in the morning. However, as it happened we had enough time to do a recce visit during the evening, so headed down to the location we had marked to see what the site was like.
Sadly though, once we reached the site we were met with a large sign with the words ‘private - no entry’ written on it. That seemed to be the end of that idea, so we had a wander around the outside of the site for half an hour or so before finding somewhere to sleep. We could then make a good start to our journey over to the western side of the island in the morning.
Band-tailed Pigeon - We finally connected with the last of the woodland species we had not seen when three of these birds flew overhead. Sadly we never got to see them on the deck but given that we had not seen any sign of them all day, it was just nice to see them at all.
Port Alberni Sewage Farm: Canada Goose, Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vulture, Band-tailed Pigeon,