A crazy birding weekend in Vancouver with Marshall Iliff from Team eBird

Well ever since my successful Ptarmigan Hike, I have been running around like a chicken with its head cut off. First moderating the young birder talks and attending some of the events at the IOC. But most of all birders have been keeping me busy with constant rare bird reports at the RBA I manage. The city of Vancouver is so busy right now with all the out of town birders and ornithologists reporting birds to me all day long and asking ID questions. Blackpoll Warbler and Black-and-white Warblers and Clay-coloured Sparrows were found. Also so many Northern Waterthrushes have turned up and American Redstarts (a bird I chased 12 times and only recently got at QE Park... thank you Cole!) and even a few Least Flycatchers.These are all birds I needed for the year. In this week of the IOC I was able to get over 250 birds for Metro Vancouver, before the end of August which is a new record for myself. Kevin Louth had turned up some great shorebirds in this past week, including a Buff-breasted Sandpiper that I was able to see twice now at Boundary Bay. I had met many nice people that were in town for IOC especially a group from Quebec and Prof. Bird who Roger Foxall and I helped get them their lifer Buff-breasted Sandpiper. I only met 2 very unfriendly European ones lying down and blocking the path at Iona to photorgraph shorebirds and screaming at anyone who dare walk by them and flush their peeps, their entitlement and behavior was beyond bizzare but thankfully they were not the norm of birders who came to visit the city.

Marshall Illiff, the eBird Project leader, asked me to go birding with him and his ornithologist friend and colleague Tom Schulenberg from Cornell University. I embarrassed Tom with this video that Marshall apparently hadn't seen. I decided to take them shorebirding and they loved it. First of all I have to say Marshall was such a warm and kind guy. Tom was lovely as well but Marshall and I have been speaking by email so it was nice to finally meet him in person and he was just terrific. I don't have enough good words to say about him. He was also a top notch birder spotting, aging and sexing shorebirds at great distances. We discussed counting shorebirds and I told Marshall how both Ilya and him love to count them to the exact number no matter how massive the flock. I could tell they would have liked one another and got along very well.  They both have a great attention to detail that way. It is too bad Ilya is away on field work because Marshall really wanted to meet him and vice versa. Kevin Louth and I for instance like to look at shorebirds but not count them. Anyways to each their own, that's what makes birders so unique and wonderful, we all have our niches, likes and dislikes. But Marshall may just get me to convert to eBird yet!

We birded boundary bay and had fun talking about everything and anything. We talked about ebird counties in Canada and how the divisions are made and how they are trying to engage eBird users all around the world,  particularly in Asia and Europe to use it more. That was quite fascinating. We talked about the devastating declines in Yellow-breasted Bunting, the Bird of Prey Film and non birding things as well.

2 days ago Kevin Louth found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper (a bird we usually only get 1 a year of) and there were many birders out to twitch it that night. We didn't see it that night at 96th St because there was 4 peregrines scaring everything. I was glad I had come out the last 2 nights and was successful in seeing the Buff-breasted because they are one of my favourite shorebirds. I was sad Ilya wasn't here because it is his favorite shorebird. Tom Schulenberg who is in charge of maintaining the checklists and taxonomic changes including managing the neotropical birds website, gave his opinions on the Mexican Duck split and referred me to paper he wrote which proves by tons of scientific evidence why the Mexican Duck is a separate species from the Mallard. However, the AOU has not accepted the change in the short term, they surely will in the long term. I am sure glad I have seen both species now! From Marshall I learnt that he is a big gull guy. He told me about the Ross's Gull he twitched that flew around a lake for him in the snow. I told him about the one I dipped on by a few mins in Nome haha! I wish I had his story! I am getting more and more into gulls I love the hooded gulls the most and Heermann's but definitely am learning to appreciate them all more. The hybrids sure can make them difficult though. We discussed the Gray Jay name change and why Magnolia Warbler should really be named the Yucatan Warbler haha.

So yes, back to the shorebirding. In addition to the Buff-breasted that Kevin Louth had seen earlier in the day (who isn't tidal in the slightest) all the Baird's were gone, along with the Stilt Sandpipers. So my friend Peter Candido who I invited along with us, noticed lots of Plovers down by 104th and when I had about made my mind up to move there I got a text from Kevin telling me he had 2 Golden-Plovers at 104th St. They were still too far to ID to species but by the time we got there the water had come closer to the dyke along with the birds. There we quickly found the moulting adult Pacific Golden-Plover. Soon after Geoffrey Newell who was birding at the dyke spotted a Ruddy Turnstone which turned out to be a juvenile (the one Kevin found 2 nights before). Marshall quickly spotted the Willet and 3 Red Knots that were walking very close to us now. We don't usually get to see Red Knots so up close like that so it was a real treat. Then a Peregrine came and flushed everything. I love Peregrines but when you are shorebirding they are the bane of your existence! A Black Merlin behaved much better by catching a dragonfly and quickly eating it. He perched on the dyke like a good Merlin, far away from any shorebirds. I let Marshall use my scope and Marshall let Tom use his and I just looked at the crowd of us gathered on the dyke. It was nice to see so many of the birding community out and to be having such a great day of shorebirding. We do have a great community here in BC that I'm grateful for.

Liron Gertsman found a Black Turnstone between the pilings and 104th St. A Black Turnstone is always a good bird at the bay since they prefer rocky shores. After some birders were starting to complain of experiencing "double vision",  Marshall spotted the juvenile American Golden-Plover (that Kevin had initially found a couple of nights ago). It was tucked behind several Black-bellied Plovers and sitting in close by the grass tussock. It was a year bird for me, so I was thrilled! Thanks Marshall I had dipped on it the night before. After we all got good views it flew off because guess what?A Peregrine! Brent Diakow told us about a Solitary Sandpiper that he watched stop on his apartment building which we all couldn't get over how funny is that seeing one so high up at a Apartment off Yew St! You have to love fall migration!

Well by now Kevin had biked home, because it was really chilly and he was in shorts. I told Marshall and Tom that if you want to see Stilts we better head back to 96th St. They did, so we drove back to 96th St to race against the fast incoming tide. As we arrived at the mansion we found 2 Stilt Sandpipers now swimming like ducks in the outflow! We were happy to have spotted them but there would be no way that a Buff-breasted would be present in so much water. They prefer dry habitats and both times I've seen him he's been walking in close to shore on the dry stuff. So we gave up on thinking we would see him, instead we focused on waterfowl and gulls.

We saw an American Coot, which is an unusual bird for the mansion. We saw a female American Kestrel and a Blue-winged Teal. Tom Schulenberg spotted a Eurasian Wigeon with my scope. Tom told me he liked my Kowa Scope better than Marshall's Swarovski! I like my Kowa too and Ilya and others have told me mine is as good as his and even better than his in harsh light! Anyways I am a Kowa girl so try to promote it, since everyone always promotes Swarovski as the best haha. However, I do have to say Kevin's new scope double binocular eyepiece by Swarovski is tough to beat!!! Sigh if only I was richer ;).

Well that Eurasian Wigeon was the first of the fall but but now the Stilts flew off with the Yellowlegs because the water was just too deep, there was so many migrating Barn Swallows out that night but we couldn't pick out a Bank.

After, we were cold and hungry and decided to go get some dinner. They asked me to pick the restaurant. Usually I cannot make a decision on which restaurant to go to... just ask Ilya, it can be painful sometimes between us because we both can never decide on which place to eat! haha but this time I decide to take them to Steveston and eat at "Sockeye City Grill". The food was delicious, we talked about the unfortunate planned Deltaport Expansion and how important the biofilm is to Western Sandpipers. We discussed how the expansion could wipe them all out plus the eel grass that the Brant feed on and in turn the Brant. I was surprised Marshall hadn't heard about the biofilm but Peter explained how it was a recent discovery out of SFU.

We had a funny discussion about captive and wild mute swans in BC and sockeye salmon and western grebe declines and everything in between. It was really a great night of bird discussion with like-minded and kind people. I really was so glad I got to meet these 2 intelligent and kind men,  Tom and Marshall. I was glad they could also meet my great friend Peter Candido another kind and wonderful man. If you haven't been to Sockeye City Grill in Steveston I highly recommend it. I had crab and prawn canneloni that was superb and both Tom and Marshall had Halibut and Peter had fin fish penne. I told Marshall I had recently read about his adventures in Attu in Victor Emmanuel's book but he hadn't read it yet it was pretty funny the discussion that followed over that. I was really honoured to see that Marshall had read my blog about Ptarmigans with the youth and held an equal passion to mine about working with young birders and helping them engage further into birding and conservation. I was touched that he thought the work I had done in the bc birding community with both old and young was so great.

As we left the restaurant, we were greeted by two elegant wild mute swans a fitting end to a beautiful day of birding and discussion. After saying our goodbyes and dropping Marshall off at the airport and Peter at his home, Tom and I bonded over our love of dogs and birding, except his dogs don't always have the same birding agenda he has haha!. It was a true honor to bird with these guys. I hope to bird with them again.Thanks again to Marshall Iliff for inviting me.

A full list of species we saw on our outing were:

American Kestrel
American Coot
American Golden-Plover
Pacific Golden-Plover
Bald Eagle
Peregrine Falcon
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Red Knot
Black-bellied Plover
Blue-winged Teal
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Northwestern Crow
European Starling
Marsh Wren
Common Yellowthroat
Barn Swallow
Great Blue Heron
Caspian Tern
Olympic Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
California Gulls (at least 1000 of them)
Stilt Sandpiper
Wilson's Snipe
Greater Yellowlegs
Green-winged Teal
Northern Pintail
Eurasian Collared Dove
Semipalmated Plover
Baird's Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Long-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher
Northern Harrier
Comorant sp (too distant to identify)
Song Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Least Sandpiper
Northern Shoveler
Harlequin Ducks
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
House Sparrow
Mute Swan


  1. Sounds like some amazing rare birds out there! Sounds like you had a great time found lots of birds!!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification


Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)

*UPDATED* The First Ever Black Birders Week May 31-June 5th

Smith Island Tufted Puffins Trip!