Thursday, January 9, 2014

2013: A Year in Review

In the 10+ year Derrick Marven of the Cowichan Valley has been keeping track of BC's annual bird species tally, no year was better than 2013. From January 1st to December 31st, birders combined to find 417 species throughout the province, beating the previous record by 6. Was it a bumper year for unusual sightings? It certainly started out like that, with multiple BRAMBLINGS successfully overwintering in Vancouver, Summerland, and even snowy Revelstoke--not the mention the dynamic duo of amazing Canadian firsts with a CITRINE WAGTAIL in Comox and a RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL in New Westminster--both apparently making it all the way through the winter months. Add to that a smattering of other great winter rarities such as Cranbrook's BROWN THRASHER and it was perhaps the greatest winter for "megas" in BC's recorded birding history.
The famous CITRINE WAGTAIL that graced Comox for an entire winter. This was the second record for North America and a Canadian first--Photo: Jukka Jantunen
But the great birds didn't stop there, with notable spring sightings including an unbanded BURROWING OWL (i.e. Probably "countable" as opposed to the introduced birds in Merritt and Kamloops) in Williams Lake on March 31st, a HOODED ORIOLE at a feeder in Powell River on April 13th, a DICKCISSEL in Lander from April 20-26, a male TUFTED DUCK near Cranbrook (April 23-28), a BLACK PHOEBE at Comber's Beach near Tofino (April 24), a WHITE-FACED IBIS at Wasa Lake in the Rocky Mountain Trench on May 10th, at least 3 separate sightings of male LARK BUNTINGS in the Kootenays (all late May), an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER on May 23rd in Agassiz (Fraser Valley), a singing BLACK-THROATED SPARROW in Osoyoos (May 30), and finally... another WHITE-FACED IBIS near Victoria--on Mandarte Island!
The Columbia region in SE BC experienced a mini-invasion of male LARK BUNTINGs in the summer fo 2013, including this bird that Jen Greenwood caught accidentally while mistnetting Savannah Sparrows.
Pheeeeeew. Take a deep breath. That's a good haul, though spring is always good for a few surprises, and this account leaves out may of the lesser rarities or scarce residents such as the WHITE-HEADED WOODPECKER seen on Anarchist Mountain in May, or the unprecedented flocks of SABINE'S GULLS that numbered close to 100 birds in Nakusp, Kelowna, and Banff! These reports may indeed constitute the largest flock(s) of Sabine's Gulls in the history of the interior of Norther America (at least in spring)! Please comment if you know of larger numbers on the Great Lakes or even Gulf Coast.

Summer usually sees a cooling off of rarities in BC, but this year we had lots to talk about, especially thanks to Paul Lehman and Co. who were birding from cruise-ships off-shore. Some of their summer highlights in BC waters included: 1 MURPHY'S PETREL and 7 PARAKEET AUKLETS on June 1st, 1 LEAST AUKLET on June 6th--and on the same day they had a THICK-BILLED MURRE and a MANX SHEARWATER. On July 11, during a similar cruise, a HAWAIIAN PETREL was observed, July 31 produced a SCRIPPS'S MURRELET, then the season was capped off with a GREAT SHEARWATER on August 5th!

Back on the mainland, the Okanagan's first photo-documented WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER was discovered in Kelowna on June 8th, a BROWN THRASHER spent mid-June on Calvert Island, yet another LARK BUNTING visited the SE corner of the province (Fernie) on June 21, and a singing NELSON'S SPARROW near Lumby (after some significant flooding in Alberta) was quite a surprise! To cap off the summer, our attention was drawn once again to the water, when a CRESTED AUKLET was photographed near Tofino and hung around for at least 2 days. Oh, and why not a BC-first to add to the seabird list for the year? On August 21st, a DOVEKIE was photographed near Banks Island!

For birders, August is considered full-on "Fall" when wayward juveniles start making their first migrations south, some straying far from their proper paths, at times to the delight of lucky birders. Even adults make a few slip-ups such as the gorgeous adult RED-NECKED STINT that spent at least 2 days on Boundary Bay near Vancouver. A male INDIGO BUNTING was seen at Tunkwa Provincial Park on August 6th; a FERRUGINOUS HAWK was photographed near Golden five days later; then an adult REEVE (female Ruff) was photographed at Pantage Lake NW of Quesnel--observers believed there may have actually been two reeves present! A young male PRAIRIE WARBLER was a big surprise in Revelstoke on August 23rd, but perhaps the best bird of all was a YELLOW-GREEN VIREO (a Canada first) photographed in Stanley Park, Vancouver, on September 18th!!!
Yellow-green Vireo from Stanley Park--Photo: Gary Thoburn
2013 was definitely the "Year of the Booby" with record numbers of both Brown and Blue-footed Boobies along the SW coast of North America, and even way over in Southern Ontario. BC was lucky enough to get in on the action with BROWN BOOBIES sighted off our west coast on Aug 23/24, Sep 4, and Nov 12/13! Even better was Canada's first record of BLUE-FOOTED BOOBY which was photographed near Port McNeill on Vancouver Island on Sep 24th!

The seabird feast continued in September with no less than *3* GREAT SHEARWATERS reported, along with several MANX SHEARWATERS, a LAYSAN ALBATROSS, and yet another CRESTED AUKLET--this one photographed near Victoria on September 8th.

The third annual WildResearchBC pelagic trip was another success with close to 100 birders setting out from Ucluelet on a daylong trip offshore. In addition to the pelagic highlights, the biggest surprise was a hatch-year female CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER that landed on the boat!

Up in Haida Gwaii, Andrew Keaveney from Ontario enjoyed a fun birding trip along with local residents Peter Hamel and Margo Hearne. Highlights from up there included BC's first CURLEW SANDPIPER since 1993 at Sandspit on September 28th, at least 5 RED-THROATED PIPITS (including one photographed on Oct 16), and a very lost BOBOLINK on October 11th.
CURLEW SANDPIPER in Sandspit, Haida Gwaii--Photo: Andrew Keaveney
Back on the "mainland," the fall produced such delights as a juvenile RUFF at Pantage Lake near Quesnel (how amazing is that place?!), a HOODED ORIOLE on Sep 22 in Jordan River (Vancouver Island), 2 separate RED-THROATED PIPITS near Victoria, an ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE near Tofino in late September, a DICKCISSEL near Victoria on Oct 2nd, a spate of TROPICAL KINGBIRD reports from the Island and the Lower Mainland as well as the northern most record ever--from Bella Bella! An ORCHARD ORIOLE made an appearance near Tofino on Oct 12; and on the same day, a YELLOW WAGTAIL species was seen in Royston, BC. Oct 16th produced a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO at the Vaseux lake Bird Observatory, a BROWN THRASHER appeared in Tofino on Oct 17th, a CHESTNUT-COLLARED LONGSPUR showed for 2 days in Victoria in late October; an adult LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL paid Penticton a visit on Oct 26+27, then BC's 3rd ever GREAT CRESTED FLYCATCHER capped off the month in Chilliwack. Only days later, Prince George produced a rare flycatcher of its own with an ASH-THROATED FLYCATCHER showing well on November 1st and 2nd.

Things slowed a bit going into December but a few doozies still came out to play. The first was a female PAINTED BUNTING that graced a feeder in Bowser (Vancouver Island) for a few days to start the month, then a HOODED ORIOLE appeared in Port McNeill on December 5th and was still present as of January 4th. A BLACK PHOEBE was found in Chilliwack on December 14th, then near the end of the year a birder twitching the Port McNeill oriole found a DICKCISSEL in the same neighbourhood!
The last rarity of 2013: This DICKCISSEL was found on December 28th my Alex Grey in Port McNeill, right beside a HOODED ORIOLE and HARRIS'S SPARROW. Not bad.
It's mind-blowing to read this whole list in one go. Was it the best year ever for rarities in BC, or are we finally starting to get some decent coverage? Or are there other factors at play such as climate change? There is no question we had more people reporting from offshore vessels in 2013, and thanks to the growing popularity of eBird birders of all skill levels are connected like never before. Modern digital photography has led to more rarities being identified, and the internet in a general sense, has allowed for forums to improve the identification and communication abilities of the birding community as a whole.

This website is heavily biased toward rarities, but on behalf of everyone on the Bird Alert, I wish everyone a great 2014, with plenty of wonderful birds around your home patch and anywhere else you may travel to.

Russ Cannings
Nanaimo, BC
January 9th, 2014


  1. Russell, you asked about any reports of large numbers of Sabines Gulls in the interior of N.A. i saw approximately 127 (if my memory is right) at Frank Lake, near High River, Alberta possibly 10 years ago now! Also if i also remember correctly, someone also seen a larger number last spring as reported on Albertabird!
    Reid Barclay

  2. Thanks Reid! Can you recall where the recent sighting was from?