Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Redwing AND Siberian Accentor!

A redwing (ABA code 4) was discovered on Vancouver Island, BC in late December.  Neil Hayward called me to see if I wanted to join him and Gerri on the 1st of January to try to see the bird.  I could not get away, but they were successful in finding it after 7 hours of diligent searching on January 2nd.  My friend Laura Keene, who is doing a photographic full ABA area big year, was there on January 1st to look for the redwing to begin her big year.  The photo below of the redwing was taken by Laura (click on any photo to enlarge).

I kept checking Narba on the redwing's status.  While difficult to see in the dense holly hedgerow, it was being found each day.  Then Narba reported that a siberian accentor (ABA code 4) had been found on the Christmas Bird Count in the town of Surrey which is a large suburb of Vancouver.  With 2 potential life birds so close together, I decided I needed to make the trip out to try to see both of them.  I caught a flight Friday afternoon the 8th to Seattle, and by 11 PM was settled into a motel in Bellingham, WA for the night.

I was up at 4:30 to make the drive on into Canada to catch the 7 AM ferry from Tsawwassen over to Swartz Bay which is about 30 kilometers north of Victoria where the redwing had been found.  I watched a beautiful sunrise on the ferry, and arrived at the redwing location about 9:15.  There were 5 other birders there including Olaf Danielson who is doing a full ABA area big year.  I was shown a photo that Olaf had been able to get, and was told that the bird had not been seen for at least 15 minutes.  We all kept looking for it to show itself again, but only one fleeting glimpse of it occurred which was not good enough for a definitive ID.

Sightings of the redwing in the holly had mostly been between 8 and 9 AM, and again between 3 and 4 PM, with some random visits during the day to the holly.  Otherwise it might be encountered anywhere in the general area, but the odds were much lower.

The other birders departed about 10, and I was left on my own under mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 40 degrees.  Sometime after 11 AM I was joined by Daniele, a birder from Vancouver, who had come over on the 9 AM ferry.  He told me he had seen the siberian accentor the day before, and that it was still being seen that morning. My hope was to see the redwing today, and then be able to look for the accentor the next day.

We patiently kept up our vigil, watching many different birds moving thru the holly as well as flying overhead, but no sign of the redwing. About 2 PM a few other local birders began to come by in hopes of seeing the redwing when it returned to the holly for the night. About 3 PM 2 birders I know from Texas, Nick Cooney and Lucie Bruce, stopped to say hi.  They had seen the redwing in the morning, but had left the site before I arrived.  We had last seen each other in Florida in October looking for the variegated flycatcher.

After 4 PM most of the other birders slowly departed.  I stayed until 5 PM, as did Daniele, but we never were able to find the redwing.  We did see a total of 37 bird species though during our stake out. By then I was so cold from standing around all day on wet, cold ground that I was more than ready to check into a motel, and get into a hot shower.

I was up early, and back on watch by 8 AM.  Daniele arrived soon after, and then a couple of other birders as well.  About 8:30 Daniele briefly saw the redwing along with a woman from the area, but it moved back into the holly before I could find it.  20 minutes later Daniele saw it again, but again I was not quick enough to spot it before it disappeared.

I left about 10 to go have breakfast and warm up.  I ended up watching the Seattle Seahawks lucky win over the Minnesota Vikings when the Vikings place kicker missed a last second short field goal attempt.

I was back at the redwing site by 2 PM.  Unlike in the morning when it was overcast, this afternoon was beautifully sunny. I found several local birders including Ann Nightingale who had set the big year record in 2015 for Vancouver Island.  She told me she had seen Neil and Gerri the previous weekend.  About 3:45 the redwing was spotted by 1 birder, but then it hid before anyone else could get on it.  A little after 4, the same thing happened again.  I finally threw in the towel at 4:45, and checked back into my motel for a 2nd night.  After 14 hours of looking for the redwing, and the near miss sightings, I was beginning to feel like when I was searching for the Key West quail-dove in Florida back in December of 2014.

I arrived Monday at 8 AM under overcast skies, and was joined by Wayne Weber and Ann Nightingale from the day before. Soon after a car drove up.  Dottie Robbins from Florida, and Liz Southworth from Massachusetts--both of whom I know--joined us.  About 9 AM Liz saw the redwing, and this time it stayed out in the open long enough for all of us to get on it.  Over the next 30 minutes we were able to see it well a couple of more times.

The day before Liz had been able to see the siberian accentor, but Dottie had not arrived in time to visit the accentor location, so we all decided to get back on the ferry to return to Surrey to look for the other bird.  After a nice ferry ride where we were able to watch various seabirds, we drove 30 minutes to the accentor site.  We arrived to find 10-15 birders standing in the rain.  We were told that the bird had just been seen for the first time that day.  We got out our umbrellas, and joined the group.  When the bird was not immediately relocated, several birders departed, but there were still a half dozen of us to scan the area.  Fortunately, the accentor was soon found only about 100 yards away sitting up in a tree.  My views were not great, but I could definitely see the key field marks to identify the bird.

With the rain falling steadily, I bid farewell to Dottie and Liz, and began the drive back down to Seattle to catch my redeye flight home.  I was feeling very fortunate to have in the end been able to see 2 more ABA life birds.  And as so often happens on rare bird chases, I was also glad to run into Lucie, Nick, Dottie and Liz.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Year End Review

Another year has begun today, so it is time to look back on my birding year in 2015 as well as a wrap up on last year's big year efforts.  I would not say I birded extensively in 2015, but I did make my usual trip to Magee Marsh in early May, and spent 2 weeks in Alaska, mostly on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs.  I also did some chasing that was highly successful.  Those chases are all recorded in last year's blog posts.  I was able to add 7 life birds (in chronological order: Eurasian kestrel, rustic bunting, bananaquit, black-faced grassquit, rufous-necked wood-rail (accepted in 2015 as a new ABA area species), jack snipe and variegated flycatcher.  This raised my ABA area life list total to 795.

I also saw a common scoter and a Pallas's rosefinch, which if accepted by the ABA, would both be first ABA area records (click on any photo to enlarge).

Turning to big year efforts in 2015, the only declared world big year was by Noah Strycker, who completed his world big year with the absolutely stunning total of 6042 species, which blew away the record of 4341 set in 2008 by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller.  And Noah wrote in his last blog post that Arjan Dwarshuis from Holland is aiming to break Noah's new record in 2016.

As far as ABA area big years, only Dan Gesualdo from Ohio established a blog to track his lower 48 states big year.  He was not able to bird full time, but he still ended the year with 678 species.  Other apparent big years included Brandon Reo's who did the full ABA area, and finished with over 700 species seen.  Based on his communications with Neil Hayward, his exact total is not clear because he had over 20 birds on his ebird list that are not countable as ABA birds.  Wendy and Mike Schackwitz finished their full ABA area birding year at 692 species based on their ebird list.

As for 2016, my friend Laura Keene is on Vancouver Island today beginning her full ABA area photographic big year.  She was able to see the ABA code 4 redwing yesterday, and hopefully will see it again today.  1 other birder has declared that in 2016 he is doing a full ABA area big year--Olaf Danielson.

My next birding adventure will be a 10 day trip in February to San Blas and the Durango Highway in Mexico.  I will be joined by 6 other birders who have birded with me often. Here's to a great year for birding in 2016.