Friday, 28 September 2012

Fur and Feathers 10 Most Wanted List

Our most recent trip to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec netted us 5 new species – Red Phalarope, Pomarine Jaeger, North Atlantic Right Whale, Beluga Whale and Northern Wheatear bringing our total to 493 which is tantalizing close to our target of 500.  However, winter is looming in Canada and the opportunity for new species is diminishing rapidly.

Our true most wanted list would include Cougar, Lynx and Wolverine but I’ve left them off this list as we are unlikely to get them.  Other “most wanteds” such as the Narwhal and Walrus have also not been included as they are no longer possible this year (based on our travel schedule).

WANTED: American Badger

Despite many local sightings, Bad Gerry has eluded us.  Now that the crops have been harvested, he should be easier to spot in the fields.
WANTED: Northern Pocket Gopher

This species is nocturnal and lives underground – always a tough combination for sightings.  It announces its presences with large mounds of dirt.  Our strategy is to find one actively creating the dirt mound and wait for it to pop its head out of the hole (this worked for me a couple of years ago).  We have tried dusk and dawn but may have to do a midnight stakeout.

WANTED: House Mouse

Mickey is well known to everybody but has been in hiding this year.  This city dweller can be seen at the base of feeders and occasionally has the audacity to move indoors (our spouses would not be pleased if we encouraged the latter activity!).

WANTED: Long-tailed Weasel

Often seen near golf courses (I saw one today), we will keep our eyes out for it while playing the final round of the Birders Cup next week.  Normally quite common around Calgary – perhaps its numbers are reduced due to a drop in the local rodent population.


This species often travels in packs though a lone wolf is not uncommon.  Wally the Wolf is known to frequent the valleys in Banff and Kannaskis Country in the winter.  Also known as a technology adopter and is sometimes seen with a radio collar.

WANTED: Yellow-billed Loon

We missed this Arctic species on our two northern trips and hope to see it from the Prince Rupert-Haida Gwaii ferry.

WANTED: Whooping Crane

This is one of Canada’s rarest and most endangered birds. It nests in Wood Buffalo National Park in the far north of Alberta and winters in Texas. Fortunately, it usually stops over for a few days in Saskatchewan on its way south.

WANTED: Short-tailed Shearwater

This shearwater looks remarkably like its more common cousin, “Sooty”.  It has also been seen on the Prince Rupert-Haida Gwaii ferry.  We have been studying its field marks but will want photographic evidence to be sure.

WANTED: Rock Sandpiper
“Rock” is known to hang around rocky shores on the west coast and is most reliably seen on Haida Gwaii.

WANTED: Ancient Murrelet

This murrelet is in Haida Gwaii waters year-round and we’re hoping to nab this guy from the ferry.

Other species on our wanted list are American Marten, Dall’s Porpoise, Killer Whale, Ermine, Least Weasel, Norway Rat, South Polar Skua and Buller’s Shearwater.

With so many possibilities, reaching 500 should be easy but we know it won’t be.  In October, we will make trips to Saskatchewan and Haida Gwaii and look for some local Alberta mammals.  With luck, this will get us to our goal; if not, we will consider making one more trip in November or December. 
So, if you live in the west, be on the look out for some of these most wanted species - successful leads could make you famous through the recognition you'll get on our blog!

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Of Whales and Wheatear

Sunday September 23 – Into New Brunswick

Ray passed the blog responsibilities to Phil onboard the ferry across the Bay of Fundy, as we crossed the border (wherever it is!) into New Brunswick. At about that moment the ship ran into a fog bank, and we took a short break from our lonely vigil on the foredeck. The sun then shone for a brief period, during which time we saw a lone Manx Shearwater as a break from all the Great Shearwaters. Soon afterwards the ship re-entered the fog and remained there till we landed in Saint John. As we faced a long journey to the Saint Lawrence River the next day, we elected to drive as far as Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Provincial Capital, for the night.

Monday September 24 – To the Saint Lawrence River

A crisp fall morning greeted us, with sunny skies and a brisk 6 degrees. Despite the first real sunshine we’d seen since arriving down east, a short walk in the Fredericton Botanical Gardens yielded only a few birds – perhaps they too were waiting for things to warm up – so we soon headed out. The Trans-Canada Highway winds its way through beautiful countryside, hugging the border with Maine. New Brunswick is 90% forested, and we noted the beginnings of the fall colours for which this part of the world is famous.  We made our way steadily north, stopping for short forays from time to time. The camping area at Woolastock was quite productive, and north of Edmunston we stopped outside the New Brunswick Botanical Gardens. It was quiet, but a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker put in an appearance.

Eventually we reached Riviere-du-Loup, on the south shore of the Saint Lawrence. With a few hours to spare before catching the ferry across the river, we explored the vicinity of the town. On the waterfront we saw a flock of about 20 Snow Geese. But the highlight of our brief time in this quaint town was a stroll in the Parc de la Chute, one of the most beautiful city parks we’ve been in. Not too birdy in the early afternoon and windy conditions, but a very pleasant walk. Brian got his first good picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet, a ubiquitous but retiring species.
Riviere-du-Loup on the Saint Lawrence
Golden-crowned Kinglet
The ferry from Riviere-du-Loup to the north shore at Saint-Simeon takes just over an hour. We stayed on deck in the hope of seeing Beluga Whales, and as we rounded Ile Verte, which lies in the middle of the river, we saw two groups of them. They were hard to count, but we thought there were about six of the shiny white adults and one or two slate-coloured juveniles. After a lean day yesterday, we were very happy to notch up species #492.
Beluga Whales
It was then a half-hour drive from Saint-Simeon to the Saguenay River, where we drove onto the ferry for a ten-minute ride taking us to Tadoussac: Brian spotted a Minke Whale on the river. Thirteen whale species have been recorded in the Saint Lawrence, and we hoped to add a new species or two on a whale watching cruise tomorrow.
Tuesday September 25 – Whale Watching on the Saint Lawrence

Our hopes were high as we boarded the 225-seat catamaran Katmar operated by Croisieres 2001 for a 3-hour morning cruise. There are three cruise operators at work at this tail end of the whale watching season. We chose the catamaran over a zodiac as it is good to be able to move around and also much better for taking photographs. Watching two zodiacs plying their way through the choppy waters, we definitely had made a more comfortable choice. 
On Board the Katmar
Tadoussac, Quebec
After leaving the dock at Tadoussac the Katmar went across the Saguenay to pick up additional passengers at Baie-de-Sainte-Catherine before heading out into the Saint Lawrence. There were about 50 passengers on board. We soon ran into a pod of about 4 Beluga Whales, and then a Minke Whale. All around us hundreds of Bonaparte’s Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes were diving for fish. An even more impressive sight was a flock of many thousands of White-winged Scoters. Further out into the river we hove to, beside a pod of about six Minke Whales, to allow everyone to take pictures.
Minke Whale
Going inside to get a coffee, Ray talked to the woman who was making the announcements over the loudspeaker. “Not good news”, he reported. “She says that they never bother to chase Fin Whales because they dive for 25 minutes, and they haven’t seen a Blue Whale for a week.” And indeed we did not see any of our hoped-for whale species. In fact this last of six whale watching cruises for the year was the only one not to add any new species of birds or mammals for us.

A highlight of the journey back to Tadoussac, with a short diversion up the impressive Saguenay Fjord, was watching a juvenile Parasitic Jaeger harassing a Bonaparte’s Gull. In the afternoon we took the ferry back across the Saint Lawrence to Riviere-du-Loup, then drove to Grand Falls, NB for our overnight stop.

 Wednesday September 26 – Happy Ending

We set off early on the 600 km drive to Halifax. Ray skillfully skirted three skunks crossing the road in the pre-dawn hours and our first stop was at Kouchibouguac National Park where we hoped to see some shorebirds. There weren’t too many, but a Whimbrel posed nicely on a log for us.
Three Spruce Grouse were encountered next to the road – a catch-up bird for Ray, who was delighted he won’t have to spend days looking for one in Alberta. They soon headed for the cover of the forest.
On the road in New Brunswick
We had a quick lunch in Sackville, NB and took a stroll in the Waterfowl Park where we saw several species of ducks and some shorebirds before heading for Brule, Nova Scotia. Our target was a Northern Wheatear which has been around for a few days in the yard of John and Trish Rubin, beautifully located right on the north shore. They kindly invited us to come and have a look and Trish was waiting for us when we arrived around 3 PM. She was pleased to tell us that the bird had stayed around and we were very happy to see it within a minute or two of our arrival, perched on a pile of dried kelp.  After the disappointment of the whale watching in Quebec, it was good to notch up species #493, a new bird for Canada for all of us. Thanks, John and Trish!
Northern Wheatear
We had a pleasant dinner in Truro with Ray’s son Rob and wife Caroline, and Ray drove the last lap of a long day to end our trip back in Halifax.  Back home to Calgary in the morning.



Monday, 24 September 2012

Fog, Rain, Birds and Whales

September 20th
So here we go again, I thought, as we began our descent into Halifax. This is our third Fur and Feathers trip to Canada’s Atlantic Provinces this year and it’s good to be back! But it’s not quite the trip we had expected….
Many of our readers will know that this is hurricane season in the Caribbean. Hurricanes and tropical storms often track their way northwards up the U.S. east coast and occasionally they make landfall on Canada’s eastern provinces. In the aftermath of these storms one frequently encounters a “fall out” of unusual birds that have been swept north by the bad weather. For this reason we have been calling this September trip to Nova Scotia our “East Coast Storm Chasing Trip”. The trouble is, one can’t predict when these storms will strike. In the end, the only time we could juggle this week into our itinerary was late September so here we are! As it turns out, there’s not a storm in sight – not one coming up from the south anyway! As a result, the focus of our trip has switched to whales and sea birds. As we begin our time here, our species tally stands at 488 so we have 12 more to go to meet our goal of 500. With 2 or 3 whales and 3 or 4 new bird species, we could make a pretty good dent in this number.  There will be just three of us this time: Brian, Phil and myself. Mike has been away spotting exotic birds in South America recently and was unable to join us. He will be with us again on our next trip!
We touched down in Halifax right on time, courtesy of WestJet on this occasion. After picking up our rental car we set off for Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley, one of Nova Scotia’s very special places. A Yellow-crowned Night Heron has been seen in Wolfville Harbour recently and we reckoned we could arrive here with an hour or two of daylight left and if fortune smiled upon us, get our trip off to a quick start. No such luck! Our consolation prize however was a Marbled Godwit which is not really that exciting for us because it’s quite common out west. However, it’s pretty rare here in Nova Scotia and has caused a bit of a stir amongst local birders. We were very pleased to add it to our Nova Scotia list.
Marbled Godwit
We were pretty tired and very hungry by the time we found sustenance in Paddy’s Pub on Wolfville’s Main Street. A pint of locally brewed Chimney Swift Stout helped restore our good spirits.
September 21st
If you check out a map of Atlantic Canada you will see that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are separated by the Bay of Fundy, a rather unique place in Canada, known for its extremely high tides. This same map will show a remarkable land feature called Digby Neck, a long spit of land which runs straight southwest from Digby, parallel to Nova Scotia’s “mainland”. At the tip of Digby Neck lies Brier Island, well out in the Bay of Fundy. It’s a great migrant trap at this time of year and it’s a popular place for seabird and whale watching trips. Our plan was to bird our way south to Brier Island today and join up with a good birding friend, James Hirtle, who is leading a Nova Scotia Bird Society Field Trip down there this weekend.
We began the day by checking once more for the Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Wolfville Harbour. Again no luck!

Brian and Phil at Wolfville Harbour

We decided to forego any further birding activity in the Annapolis Valley and drive directly down to Brier Island. The weather forecast looked pretty grim for the weekend and we were beginning to worry that our pelagic trip scheduled for the next day might be cancelled. We thought it might be wise to get to Brier Island early and try to get on today’s excursion. This proved to be a good decision! By 12:30 we were all aboard the Chad and Sisters II, heading out into the reasonably calm waters of the Bay of Fundy. During the next three hours or so, we didn’t see any sunshine but nor did we get any rain – and we saw lots of seabirds! Almost immediately we saw Northern Gannets and Great Shearwaters, the latter in their hundreds.

Great Shearwater

There were also many cormorants and gulls and some puffins too. The first new species for the year however was Red Phalarope (species #489). We saw about 60 of them by trip’s end. Next, and perhaps even more exciting, was an adult Pomarine Jaeger (species #490).

Red Phalarope

Pomarine Jaeger
 Much to the disgust of Mariner Cruises, and their owner, Penny, we didn’t come across a single whale on this trip. This was all the more surprising given that 2012 has apparently been there best year ever for whales, especially Humpback Whales but also other species. (A few days earlier an ORCA was seen in these waters – a very rare occurrence here.) Mariner Cruises very generously hands out free passes for a future trip when this happens so Brian, Phil and I not only added two new bird species to our tally but we were set up to do the same trip again the next day for free!  

After returning to port, we drove out to Pond Cove, a good sea watching location. It’s a very scenic spot.
Pond Cove Area
Phil got us onto a handful of shorebirds amongst all the rocks and kelp on the beach including Black-bellied Plovers (2), Semipalmated Plovers (2) and a single Least Sandpiper.
We returned to Brier Island Lodge where we met up with James Hirtle. James assisted our Fur and Feathers team on our two previous trips here in January and June. It was good to see him again and meet his partner Pat this time too. James explained his plans for the following day’s activities, after which we packed it in for the day.
September 22nd

Our seabird and whale watching trip today was set once again for 12:30 pm so we devoted the morning to onshore birding with James as our guide. Aside from James and Pat, the only attendees on this Nova Scotia Bird Society Field Trip were our Fur and Feathers threesome and a couple from North Bay Ontario! I guess the rainy forecast dissuaded others form coming out. Or perhaps they knew that despite this weekend being the very peak of passerine migration on Brier Island usually, it certainly wasn’t so today! We saw relatively few species as we explored the island, though we did encounter one warbler flock that included Magnolia Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Palm Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo and Boreal Chickadee. We also saw about 12 Sharp-shinned Hawks including both males and females. We were all struck by the significant difference in size between the males (smaller) and the females (larger).
Despite the rainy weather, the seas remained relatively calm and we were able to board the Chad and Sisters II as planned for another afternoon of pelagic birding. Overall, the numbers of seabirds seemed to be lower than the previous day but we picked up several different species including Black-legged Kittiwakes (right in the harbour), Great Cormorants and Wilson’s Storm-petrels. None of these were new for the year but they’re all good birds to see for us land-locked Albertans!

Great Cormorant

We were beginning to worry that we might go two days in a row without a whale sighting when suddenly someone yelled out “Whale on the starboard side!” It was quite close and was very large. It showed no dorsal fin and the experts quickly declared it to be either a Northern Right Whale or a Fin Whale. The Fin Whale is a very large whale which actually does have a dorsal fin but it's set so far back toward its tail it may not always be visible. Either whale would be a new one for us but we needed to know which it was! After a long wait it resurfaced and gave us rather fleeting views before disappearing once more. It repeated this several times until finally it surfaced a bit closer to the boat and showed itself to be the Northern Right Whale (species #491) – the world’s most endangered species of whale and an absolute treasure of a sighting for everyone on board. Even better, there turned out to be two of them!

Northern right Whale

....and how lucky was this!

A boat load of camera shutters clicked away furiously for about ten minutes and then we turned for home. We were in for one more treat however. We came across about 20 Atlantic White-sided Dolphins which put on a great display all around us. This was not a new species for us because we saw some unidentified dolphins on our ferry ride from Cape Breton to Newfoundland back in July. This was the real thing however – dolphins behaving the way dolphins are supposed to behave and Brian got a fantastic shot of one of them.

Atlantic White-sided Dolphin

 Once back ashore, we wrapped up the day’s birding with a drive out to West Light, another very scenic part of the coastline here.

West Light
Things were still pretty quiet but we did see some American Kestrels and a Red-tailed Hawk. We also met friends of James here - Eric and Anne Mills. Eric is an experienced local birder and has actually written a comprehensive book on the birds of Brier Island. They were able to join us all for dinner back at the Brier Island Hotel Restaurant where we enjoyed trading stories about our various birding experiences.

September 23rd
Once again we were up at dawn and off to Northern Light to check for any overnight arrival of migrating passerines. Alas we struck out again! The weather continued to be damp and foggy and perhaps this was the problem.  James couldn’t recall a year with so few birds on the island. Birders never really strike out completely mind you, though we often whine a lot! The truth is, there is always a bird or two of interest to be found and this was true today as well. We came across an Orange-crowned Warbler (only found in very small numbers in Nova Scotia) and then later on, a Northern Mockingbird found initially by Eric and Anne Mills. We also came across about 50 shorebirds, mostly Semipalmated Plovers but with a few Semipalmated Sandpipers amongst them. No new species this morning however!
We said goodbye to Brier Island shortly after midday and drove north back to Digby. Here we took the ferry over to Saint John, New Brunswick. We came across quite a few seabirds on the crossing, mostly Great Shearwaters, but also Northern Gannets, Puffins and a single Sooty Shearwater.

Ferry to Saint John

The crossing was smooth enough but we were in thick fog much of the time. Perhaps the weather will be kinder to us during our travels over the next few days – but that will be a story for Phil to tell in our next posting.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Tofino - birding on the west coast of Vancouver Island

Last Monday, Sep. 11, we travelled from Victoria to Tofino with a slight diversion to Deep Bay.  We spent the first couple of hours at Swan Lake.  We enjoyed our walk around the lake but didn’t see anything too interesting (we weren’t expecting any new birds) and then drove up island.  A large number of jaegers had been reported from Deep Bay the previous day so we figured it was worth a couple of hours to check it out.  There were a large number of Bonaparte’s Gulls in the bay along with Surf Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Common Loons and Red-necked Grebes.  We did see one jaeger harassing a gull but it was too far away to identify it.
Bonaparte's Gull
Tuesday was a free day to bird the Tofino area as our scheduled pelagic had been moved to Wednesday.  We were focused on shorebirds and gulls and visited most of the accessible shoreline. 
Ray and Phil looking for shorebirds

Our highlight was a Western Gull (#480)which was visible from our motel.  We went down to the harbour for closer looks and the gull was cooperative enough to hang around.  On the BC coast, Western Gulls hybridize with Glaucous-winged Gulls and most “Westerns” are considered by some to be of dubious lineage.  We carefully checked out our gull – yellow-orange orbital ring, smudge-free head, dark mantle, deep black wing tips – and felt this was as good as we were going to get!

Western Gull
On Wednesday, we went on our much anticipated pelagic trip.  Ray had spent a great deal of time organizing it and we were relieved that the weather and surf conditions looked good.  Along with us for the trip were three keen Victoria birders – Rick Shortinghuis, Jeremy Kimm and Jeremy Gatten as well as Charles Smith from Toronto.  The Tofino Whale Centre, with Captain Mike and spotter Artie, dressed us up in red survival suits and we departed about 7:15 am.
Heading out from Tofino
As we headed out to sea, our first sea birds were Sooty Shearwaters.  Soon we had our first new bird – Pink-footed Shearwater (#481) – which was soon followed by Cassin’s Auklet (#482). 
Pink-footed Shearwater
Cassin's Auklet
Birds were rather sparse but we did spot Red-necked Phalaropes (we checked them all out as we were looking for Red Phalaropes) as well as some Rhinoceros Auklets.  Further out, we began seeing Sabine’s Gulls (#483).
Sabine's Gull
After about 50 kilometres, we reached an underwater canyon which was supposed to be good for birds.  There wasn’t much around but we travelled along the canyon for a while and eventually a Black-footed Albatross (#484) found us.  We continued out to almost 70 kilometres from shore where the water was over 300 metres deep.  We dropped some “chum” (fish guts and pieces of fish) hoping the birds would find it.  While waiting for the birds to find the chum, we saw a distant but distinctive Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (#485).  We were just about to leave when an albatross flew in followed by a Parasitic Jaeger (#486).  Eventually, a few other albatrosses joined in along with a four shearwaters.
Black-footed Albatross
Parasitic Jaeger
The ride back was fairly quiet but we did come across 3 Tufted Puffins (#487) swimming with a group of Cassin’s Auklets. 
Tufted Puffin
About ten miles from shore, we spotted our first (and only) whales – a large group of Humpback Whales.  The whales were surface feeding and we spent some time in the midst of a group of eight of them.  The other mammal highlight was seeing Sea Otters resting on their backs in the kelp beds nearer shore.
Sea Otter
After 7 ½ hours on the boat, it was a strange feeling coming back to shore.  We had enjoyed great weather, calm seas, and great views of a few new birds as well as a very memorable Humpback experience; on the other hand, we hadn’t seen as many new birds as we had hoped for.  This trip was kind of a “make it or break it” outing – if we had a great day, we would have no problems meeting our goal of 500 species; if we didn’t do the trip (because of weather which happens often with pelagics), we would have great difficulty making our goal.  We certainly didn’t “make it” but we didn’t “break it” either though we have our work cut out to find 12 more species.
Our route on the pelagic

With that in mind (and after an ice cream to refresh us), we went out in search of a new bird.  I had asked Jeremy Kimm where we were most likely to find a Pacific Golden-Plover and he suggested the airport.  Shortly after arriving at the airport, we found two Pacific Golden-Plovers (#488).  I forgot my camera at the motel so no photos but we did spend quite a while checking out all the field marks.  One was a classic juvenile (as described by Sibley) while the other was a bit different but definitely a Pacific Golden-Plover.
Next week, we will head to the East Coast for the third (and hopefully final time).  We will spend most of our time in Nova Scotia as we have a couple of whales to get and it is also a good time for vagrant species.  With luck, we will be in position to accomplish our goal with a Whooping Crane expedition to Saskatchewan and a ferry trip to Haida Gwaii in mid-October.




Monday, 10 September 2012

Third Trip to British Columbia

Thursday September 6 – Starting the Final Stretch


We need 25 species to achieve our goal of 500 bird and mammal species, and our trip to the west coast is critical to success. On the eve of our departure from Calgary, Brian and Phil head into the Weaselhead natural area to look for Northern Flying Squirrel and Northern Pocket Gopher.

It is a fine evening and when we arrive 20 minutes before sunset the trail is packed with walkers, cyclists and skateboarders as well as a small troop of Boy Scouts. Fresh mounds of soil thrown up by Northern Pocket Gophers are in evidence beside the paved trail, but we see no signs of activity this evening. Among the songbirds near the Elbow River, we hear Veery and White-throated Sparrow.  Eventually the other folks enjoying the evening head for home and we wait for the Northern Flying Squirrel near some unofficial feeders. It is an hour after sunset when one finally glides across the path to one of the feeders, but it leaves the scene pretty quickly upon discovering the feeder empty. No matter, we both see it and it is #476 on our list.


Friday September 7 – Back to the Okanagan


Brian and Phil set off for the long drive to the south Okanagan. There is little to stop for along the way and we reach Penticton in the late afternoon. Before heading to our overnight stop at Osoyoos, we drive some of the roads which were productive earlier in the year, but by now many birds have migrated. A stop at Vaseux Cliffs is Phil’s last cha-chance to see a Chu-Chukar, which was seen by the team in March; we are encouraged by a recent report of a hen with 12 chicks at this location but alas we are out of luck.

Saturday September 8 -- Squirrel Chase

The main reason for taking the southern route across BC to the coast is to look for a ground-squirrel and a chipmunk in Manning Provincial Park. On our way out of Osoyoos, we make a short detour to the US border to look for Sage Thrasher, but there are none to be found. Indeed, there seems to be very little bird life of any kind.  On arrival in Manning Park, we head up a road to Cascade Lookout which had not been open when we came in May due to lingering snow.
View from Cascade Lookout, Manning Provincial Park
We are the only car on the road and upon arrival at the parking area at the lookout we are pleased to see several Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels scampering around [species #477].
Cascade Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
On our way back down the twisty road we encounter three small family groups of Dusky and/or Sooty Grouse – hard to say which they were, but having seen both this year we are not too perturbed.

The next few hours are taken up with a search for Townsend’s Chipmunk. We check out various trailheads, camping and picnic areas, during which time we see three chipmunks which we take to be Yellow-Pine. (However, the two species are not strikingly different and we plan further review of Brian’s photos before ruling out the possibility that we actually did see Townsend’s.)
Yellow-pine Chipmunk
Another Yellow-pine Chipmunk .. or is it a Townsend's Chipmunk?

 By the time we reach the coast, there is little time to look for shorebirds at Boundary Bay, and in any event the tide is way out. The ferry ride from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay is uneventful, and after checking into our motel in Sidney we meet up for dinner with Ray, who flew in a couple of hours earlier.

Sunday September 9 – Sidney Island

Sidney Island is reached by a short ferry ride from Sidney Pier – in the summer. As the ferry has shut down for the season, we travel to the island at 7:00 AM in comfort by water taxi. Our target on the island is Fallow Deer, a species introduced from Europe which has adapted so well that a culling program began three years ago. This year’s cull won’t be until November so we are optimistic in finding the deer.

Shortly after running across a female Black-tailed Deer (a sub-species of Mule Deer) with two fawns, we encounter a group of students who are on a weekend field trip to the island. Their leader gives us some very helpful directions on where to look for the Fallow Deer, which they had seen from their campground at around 6:00 AM but had then dispersed. After walking another 1 km, we spot a herd of three young males, which look at us warily for a few seconds before running off [Species # 478]. 
Fallow Deer
Although an introduced population of Townsend’s Chipmunks may still remain on the island, we are unable to find any, despite an encouraging report from the fellow who had helped us find the Fallow Deer. 

On the trip back on the water taxi, our driver stops to let us have good looks at Heermann’s Gulls, one of the most striking of Canada’s gulls [Species #479].
Heermann's Gull
Ray has lined up a whale-watching tour for the afternoon, but we discover that although the tour expects to find Orca Whales, they are in U.S waters which will not suit our needs. Instead we head to Clover Point, where we encounter a small flock of Western Sandpipers, a catch-up bird for Phil, and a lot more Heermann’s Gulls.  
Western Sandpiper at Clover Point, Victoria
A young man comes up to us and introduces himself as Jeremy Gatten, who’ll be joining us on our pelagic tour out of Tofino on Wednesday. We check out some other shoreline areas before returning to Sidney for an enjoyable pizza meal at Ray’s condo.