Photos by Rick Woolley
A beautiful December morning, cold but clear, Lorna, Terry, Don, Rochelle, Marg, Rick and Roger decided to head towards Westham Island to see if the recently seen Northern Hawk Owl could be found. Following the usual route beginning at the ferry jetty we passed some small grebes (probably Horned) on the north side but weren’t able to have a close look due to the ferry traffic. At the small pullout where the taxis park we were able to observe large rafts of Northern Pintails, American Wigeon, Mallards and a Common Loon, a few Buffleheads, and a Common Goldeneye. Getting some threatening looks from a ferry employee as we turned in to Tom’s usual “no parking” area on the south side of the terminal, it seemed prudent to move on and we parked instead at the apartment complex on the south side at the beginning of the jetty. Quite a few Great-blue Herons were sitting on top of the buildings and a few small rafts of Surf Scoters were in the lagoon.
Moving on to the reserve things started to pick up with a Northern Flicker, and juvenile Northern Shrike in a tree by the canal where the Belted Kingfisher is usually, but not this day, found. More Pintails, Mallards, a few Gadwall, and Northern Shovellers were seen in the channels paralleling the road. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon was perched on top of a snag and a mature Bald Eagle flew in and began to eat the Mallard it had captured. A bit further along another, but very large, Bald Eagle was sighted in a cedar tree but, on a closer look with the scope, it turned out to be a clever wood carving.
We decided to pick up the pace and get to the last spot where the owl had been seen by the winery on Westham Island but, despite other birders already present, there was no sign of the bird. Moving on to the Reifel bird sanctuary we walked the north trail where we, especially Lorna, were able to feed the chickadees and, surprisingly, Red-breasted Nuthatches out of our hands. While we knew Great-horned Owls were present we weren’t able to find them but did come up with a Barn Owl (Saw-whet?) hiding in the holly bushes near the trail to the north blind. The outer pond by the observation tower was frozen over and there were no water birds there. On the inner pond Terry was able to find a male Hooded Merganser, a lifer for Marg and Rick. One, female, Ring-necked duck, several female Hooded Mergansers, Pintail, Mallards, a few Lesser and Greater Scaup, Northern Shovelers and Gadwall were in the ice-free spots on the inner ponds as well. On the way out we had some great views of the Black-crowned Night Herons.
As luck would have it, the icing-on-the cake to a very good day was the sighting of the Northern Hawk-owl at the location we had searched on the way in. Several vehicles of birders were parked on the side of the road and we found out the bird had just recently appeared. Unfortunately the lighting was poor for photos but we had excellent views with the scope.
We eagerly await the return of leader Tom, and guru Anne, for next week’s outing, the location to be decided at that time.
Terry’s photos are available at
Rick’s shots at: