May 9th, 2020: Global Big Day…by bike

Every year, eBird’s Global Big Day falls either on, or slightly after, my birthday. So it’s unchangingly my birthday present to myself to make sure I get out birding for a whole day. Today was very hot by Vancouver standards, but I stuck to my plan to use only my feet, bike, and (empty) Skytrain for my transit.

Now that Common Tern and Parasitic Jaeger are starting to move through, it seemed sensible to start at Iona Island today. Specifically, the tip of the south jetty at the highest tide I could fit into my schedule.

Panorama from the tip of Iona's south jetty
Panorama from the tip of Iona’s south jetty

I got to the tip a little surpassing 8:30AM. The tide was still upper unbearable that I could hands see out into the deeper water where Bonaparte’s Gull wings and Harbour Porpoise fins were flashing just whilom the waves. I did a few long scans with the telescopic and, as I followed some Bonies, sure unbearable a Parasitic Jaeger zipped into view and settled on the water. Tada! I’m unchangingly excited to see a jaeger and was happy to reservation one early in migration. No luck with Common Terns today though. I could see hundreds of small birds diving into the water WAY out there in the heat haze. But I couldn’t make out unbearable detail to be sure any were terns and not Bonies.

A Parasitic Jaeger flies past the tip of Iona's south jetty (on a previous trip)
A Parasitic Jaeger flies past the tip of Iona’s south jetty (on a previous trip)

During a second scan with the scope, I got a text from my friend Mel that a Brewer’s Sparrow had just shown up in Richmond! Guess where… The Iona inner ponds! All I had to do was hop when on my velocipede and ride the length of the jetty and I’d be there.

A Coyote looks over the grasses on the other side of the Fraser River
A Coyote looks over the grasses on the other side of the Fraser River

It was tough to walk briskly past my first Yellow-headed Blackbird of the year. But I could find them then later.

A singing male Yellow-headed Blackbird at Iona
A singing male Yellow-headed Blackbird at Iona

I got to the inner ponds, found the group of people, and parked myself at least 6 feet away. One of the nice things well-nigh birding in the inner ponds is that there are lots of good vantages. It wasn’t difficult to alimony social distancing and get everyone a nice view of the Brewer’s Sparrow.

A Brewer's Sparrow in Palm Springs
A Brewer’s Sparrow in Palm Springs, CA (had the telescopic instead of the camera today)

Brewer’s Sparrows are a light-coloured, subtly marked, and lovely looking sparrow. I first encountered one on an wondrous trip to Washington State’s scablands in 2016. The area’s carved by receding glaciers, the Columbia River, and now covered in the sagebrush sea. It’s the place to go to find all your sage-y birds: Greater Sage-Grouse, Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher. It’s moreover unconfined for other fun birds like Vesper Sparrow, Burrowing Owl, Black-throated Sparrow, Ferruginous Hawk, White-headed Woodpecker, and many more.

A White-headed Woodpecker near Leavenworth, WA
A White-headed Woodpecker near Leavenworth, WA

Anyway, the only one I’d overly seen in Vancouver was moreover at Iona’s inner ponds a few years ago. Not too surprising that one was found here given the combination of lots of sparrows here during migration and Iona’s heavy birder traffic.

Dozens of sparrows line the path virtually Iona's inner ponds
Dozens of sparrows line the path virtually Iona’s inner ponds

Brewer’s Sparrows replay the “LBJ” (“Little Brown Job”). They’ve plane been tabbed the “bird without a field mark.” This is whimsically true, but it certainly feels like it if you’re a whence birder. Add to that the ID ravages between them and Clay-colored Sparrows (especially juveniles), and they’re kind of a IDing nightmare if you’re not familiar with them. There is plane a rather different-looking form of Brewer’s (called the “Timberline” Sparrow) with variegated markings to alimony you higher on your toes.

A Brewer's Sparrow in Washington State's "sagebrush sea"
A Brewer’s Sparrow in Washington State’s “sagebrush sea”

You’d be pretty unlikely to find a “Timberline” form of Brewer’s in Vancouver (they live up in the mountains). But the one I was looking at today (the “normal” Brewer’s, if you like) would have been most at home in sagebrush. They spend their summers in sagebrush and winters in desert grasslands. And the dryness of both of those habitats isn’t a problem. Brewer’s Sparrows can go weeks without a drink! I suppose the dry grassy zone I saw him in today was somewhat similar to its usual habitats and seemed like a good place to stop.

The Brewer’s was a fantastic bonus! But there was a lot increasingly at Iona today. I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen since moving when from MN and a group of students he was leading on a big day. Plus, I observed 62 species in just a few hours! (I consider over 60 to be a good day at Iona.)

Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Northern Rough-winged Swallow

I moreover saw Red-necked Grebe, Red-throated Loon, Turkey Vulture, Cinnamon Teal, Rufous Hummingbird, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, American Pipit, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Townsend’s Warbler, and Yellow-headed Blackbird. There were a good number of waders today too: Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Spotted Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Sandpiper all made an visitation in the inner ponds (eBird list).

A Spotted Sandpiper in the inner ponds at Iona
A Spotted Sandpiper in the inner ponds at Iona

But that was unbearable time at Iona. I headed home for a quick lunch, then headed to my local patch: QE Park.

A Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco enjoys QE Park's well-maintained gardens
A Dark-eyed (Oregon) Junco enjoys QE Park’s well-maintained gardens

I’ve been to QE Park scrutinizingly every day for two weeks. It’s made for particularly good birding this year. This afternoon was quieter, by which I midpoint louder. There were people everywhere! It felt like all of Vancouver had decided to meet friends, read, or tan at QE this afternoon. Granted it was a nice day, but how am I supposed to bird with all these people enjoying themselves in my park? I’m kidding, of course. But I wouldn’t have minded if there wasn’t a clarion stereo every 10 meters or off-leash dogs running all over the place.

A Black-capped Chickadee busily excavates its nest cavity
A Black-capped Chickadee busily excavates its nest cavity

It was a challenge, but I did find a few new birds for the day (eBird list). The highlights were some of the many flycatchers I’d hoped to add to my day’s list: Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, Pacific-slope Flycatcher.

A good tree! Can you find the Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and Western Tanager?
A prolific tree! Can you find the Olive-sided Flycatcher, Western Wood-Pewee, and Western Tanager?

I was moreover happy to add Western Tanager, Hutton’s Vireo, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Black-headed Grosbeak to the day’s list.

The calmest Hutton's Vireo I've overly seen...
The calmest Hutton’s Vireo I’ve overly seen…
A foraging Black-headed Grosbeak

I like to participate in eBird’s Global Big Day every year. This year, eBird’s Big Day statistics are pretty remarkable too. I finger a little spoiled that it’s right smack in the middle of peak migration for those of us on or near the 49th parallel. It was a unconfined day to get out there and bird, and an plane largest day for having run into so many birding friends!

Don't forget...
Don’t forget…

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