Sunday, 1 April 2012


Our first day in the Victoria area was a busy one. After meeting guide Rick Schortinghuis we visited a fallow daffodil field known for Sky Lark activity, and were rewarded with the sight and sound of two singing birds. We then checked Island View Beach where Phil and Mike catch up with a Pacific Loon, and Centennial Park for a miss on Hutton's Vireo, which becomes our nemesis bird. A Virginia Rail called to us from the Quick's Bottom wetlands while Phil noted a Northern Shrike.

Swamp Lantern
Rick directed us to Monk's Road and successfully located three Red-breasted Sapsuckers -- at least one of which was hammering on a steel transmission tower. Moving on to the lovely campus of Royal Roads University in Colwood, we searched (and searched) once more for Hutton's Vireo. No luck of course, but were rewarded by the sight and scent of hundreds of colourful Swamp Lanterns (Western Skunk Cabbage) flowering in the damp spots.

We finished out the day by visiting a series of coastal pullouts looking for gulls and waders, and at Clover Point found Black Turnstones, Surfbirds and a Mink. A River Otter was spotted at Cattle Point, and somewhere an Iceland Gull.

The following day (March 27) is again rain-free in spite of an ominous forecast, and we are back to Royal Roads to dip once more on the unco-operative vireo. Then at Esquimalt Lagoon we cover the long spit seeing many waterfowl -- but no new ones. We hope the heavy seas are quieter tomorrow for our boat ride. Rick then takes us to Mount Wells, a known Sooty Grouse hangout. After climbing steadily for an hour we scour the summit, but no grouse.
Mike, Ray, Rick & Phil near the top of Mount Wells
Consolation prize is a close-up view of a brilliant orange Red Crossbill, captured well by Brian's camera.
Red Crossbill

After lunch in Sooke we walked the nearby Whiffen Spit finding a Thayer's Gull we could agree on. The highlight was sighting four Mountain Bluebirds, rare here. Rick immediately called a friend to pass the word. Final stop: north of Sooke, for a last desperate search for the vireo. In fading light we walked along a gravel road, where Phil picked up a note. We advanced carefully, slowly, and eventually all got satisfactory looks at the Hutton's Vireo. Never has such a small plain-jane bird looked so lovely! At supper at the 4-Mile Pub we toast guide Rick and celebrate our two days of satisfying birding.
Hutton's Vireo

On Wednesday (March 28) we walked the path around the lake at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary in Saanich, finding no "reported" bittern. But an elderly birdwatcher pointed out the roosting Barred Owl near the visitors centre. The owl appeared to give us a cursory glance and immediately went back to sleep.
Barred Owl

After visiting Glencoe Cove and taking a bit of lunch our host took us out on his sailboat around the Chain Islands. No new bird species but we enjoyed close views of a number of seagoing birds and Harbor Seals. It was a delightlully pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
Harbour Seal

The following morning gave us an hour or so of light rain, our first. Hoping for a new bird (a murrelet, a Western Gull?) we visited Cole Bay Provincial Park, Patricia Bay (many loons and Harbour Porpoise), Harling Point and Clover Point. We were pleased to spot a couple Dunlin with a small flock of Surfbirds. Then it was off to the airport and home, thankful for good friends, fine weather and great birding.   -- Mike --

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