Casual Birding outing #99
See Rick’s photos of the outing
Nine participants (Rick & Marg, Eleanor, Lorna, Anne, Valerie, Linda, a guest appearance by Roger, and me) enjoyed a gorgeous, almost hot, morning on the way to and from and at Reifel Bird Sanctuary. Our first stop was the Kingfisher Bridge at the entrance to the Tsawwassen First Nations Reserve. No Kingfisher, but a Spotted Sandpiper was foraging along the almost dry creek bed (very low tide this morning). Many Great Blue Herons around, since we were quite close to their nesting colony at Tsatsu Shores. Lots of Barn Swallows on the wires, and we also saw some Tree and Violet-green Swallows as well this morning. Driving through the reserve there were tents (~50) everywhere, housing participants in the annual RCMP-First Nations “Love-In”. I doubt that’s its official name, but a kid told us it was a friendly gathering as he prepared a long colorfully-painted canoe, I suppose for a run in the Bay. Our second stop was the end of the Reserve, near the dike path, where several little birds gave us good looks, e.g. Common Yellowthroat, House Finches, American Goldfinches, Rufous Hummingbird. We did not see any of the 16 Brant Geese that have recently been seen in the Bay here. And the tide was out too far for us to see any Shorebirds (plus no one reminded me to bring our scope).
Moving along the farm roads, past the construction for the SFPR and the huge TFN Logistics Base at 28th Street, we saw some Cedar Waxwings. Around Canoe Pass, we stopped to examine a couple of the resident Eurasian Collared-Doves. Linda keenly identified all the crops growing on Westham Island, especially the signed ones. At Reifel, following the required Ladies Pit Stop and savoring a few of Lorna’s smartie-laced nut mixture, we started our walk through the masses of Mallards, Canada Geese and House Sparrows lining the path. Lots of Brown-headed Cowbirds and many not-so-pretty Wood Ducks (i.e. not in breeding plumage) were there too. We took the inner trail and Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats were calling everywhere. In the ponds, we saw a few Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail among the many Mallard families. Surprisingly few Gadwalls were seen; they are normally large volume nesters at Reifel. We also saw a couple of Blue-winged Teals, but no Cinnamon. On the mudflats we saw a couple of Killdeer, our only Shorebirds. On the centre path, our day’s destination birds, the Sandhill Crane pair with their youngster (about a month old) marched towards us as though they couldn’t wait to meet us. Dad almost tore my hand apart trying to get at my peanuts. We fed them gently and got the requisite photos. At the tower, the view was awesome toward Cypress Mountain and Vancouver Island, but no exciting or unusual sightings. Roger made his guest appearance on the trail back, and then birding went even further downhill. A Spotted Towhee and a Downy Woodpecker aroused us.
We left Reifel to enjoy a fresh Strawberry Milkshake or Sundae at Emma-Lea Farms. We thought this was the day’s hi-light, until I decided to stop at an old dilapidated barn on 28th Avenue. The farm house was empty (expropriated for SFPR construction), so the lady who threw me off the property last year was not there. There were three Barn Owls (parents and young) huddled in the top corner of the barn. There was a nesting box at the other end of the barn and I had been told that several years ago, university students were studying the barn owls at this farm. This is another barn owl home that will be gone shortly.
<hr />The best thing about going out birding is that there is always something new to see and learn. At Reifel today I was very surprised to learn of a common event that for some reason I had never noticed before: Brown-headed Cowbird male – female duetting. Tom didn’t mention this in his report, but I thought it was the most interesting observation of the day! I am familiar with the cowbirds thin wheezy call and have occasionally heard their more chattery song, but this time the male’s song (and display) was immediately answered by the female, without a break in between. So much so that Tom said: the female is singing and I said, no, the male is singing, but actually we were both right, or at least half right. There wasn’t the slightest pause between them.
I have heard similar duets in Australia, for example between Eastern Whipbirds where the call sounds exactly like one bird. In fact, duetting between pairs of birds seems to be much more common in tropical birds than in temperate birds, and I had never looked for the phenomenon in Canadian birds. I will be more on the watch for it now.
Some GOOGLEing produced an excellent website Music of Nature showing the cowbirds’ display and the duet, with photographs and sonograms of the sound.