Young Birder Trip to Vancouver Island and a Red-throated Pipit!

It was our final trip of the year yesterday. We went to Sooke for the hawk watch. On the ferry from Tsawwassen we had one Parasitic Jaeger right off the ferry jetty as we were 30 seconds into our departure. We also saw many Bonaparte's Gulls, Red-throated, Pacific and Common Loons and many Brandt's Cormorants. When we got off the ferry, we drove straight to Aylard Farm at Beechey Head in Sooke. It was the official hawk watch put on by the Capital Regional district, so there was tons of people out and about. As we walked up on the 20 min hike, with our scopes, we heard several Pacific Wrens. Last year we had an incredible time there,  see that post HERE.

This year there was far less action (there was no thermals for the hawks to really ride) but we still had a great time. We got to chat with old friends like Kevin Neill, Geoffrey Newell, Ann Nightingale, Kim Beardmore and Mike McGrenere. We also got to meet the new BCFO president Marian Porter and Dan Alcroft. The weather was not that warm but we did get to see Humpback Whales from a seawatch from the top. We also saw many Turkey Vultures in a kettle. We saw hundreds of Band-tailed Pigeons,  a couple Evening Grosbeaks and dozens of Red Crossbills that perched in front of us for excellent views. We got to see Red-tailed Hawks, Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and a Peregrine Falcon that zoomed in front of us chasing Band-tailed Pigeons.  We also had a lone Bald Eagle fly by and heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl calling softly. We had 2 Northern Pygmy-Owls here last year as well. We saw a large flock of Violet-green Swallows with some Vaux's Swifts mixed in. We also had a Long-billed Dowitcher fly right over us calling which was neat. On the ocean in addition to the Humpback Whale and whale watching boats we saw several Heermann's Gulls and Common Murres and Pelagic Cormorants. What was really neat, was a late Osprey that circled over the ocean.

We never saw a Broad-winged Hawk which was what he had hoped for and the activity was starting to really die down and people began to leave, so we left to chase the Red-throated Pipit found by Geoffrey Newell the night before at Saanichton Spit. I love Saanichton Spit, it's so peaceful there on the First Nations land and a real beautiful spot. We looked all over in every corner of the spit but we could not find the Red-throated Pipit. However, we did find many American Pipits, 2 Greater Yellowlegs, Surf Scoters, Western Sandpipers, Savannah Sparrows, Common Ravens, Common Loons, Pigeon Guillemots, Brandt's and some Pelagic Cormorants.

We searched for a few hours and found an American Pipit on the same long that Geoffrey had the Red-throated Pipit perched on. Click HERE to see Geoffrey's awesome photos. I decided to give the youth the option to chase the banded re-habed Brown Pelican but since the youth weren't comfortable counting a rehabed and released bird we didn't chase it. I also gave them the option of chasing the Palm Warbler and Northern Mockingbird at Cattle Point but they wanted to go and try for Skylarks and look for the other Red-throated Pipit that Jeremy Gatten had found where the Skylarks were. Since we get almost annual Palm Warblers and Mockers on the mainland they wanted to focus on finding the Pipit because it was a mega and they seem to only show up in the Victoria/Saanich area.

An American Pipit sits on a log at Saanichton Spit - Photo: Melissa Hafting

So we travelled to Longview Farms (Vanreight Bulb Fields). We walked up and down the fallow field and we found the large flock of almost 300 American Pipits. We found 2 Lapland Longspurs, 2 Eurasian Skylarks (always a highlight with the kids), many Savannah Sparrows, a Golden-crowned Sparrow, Canada Geese and a rare for the area Hairy Woodpecker! Hairy Woodpeckers are not rare on Vancouver Island but you rarely see them flying over a dirt farm field with no large trees around! It was apparently the first Hairy Woodpecker for the hotspot!

1 of 2 Lapland Longspurs at Vanreight Bulb Fields in Saanich - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We eventually found the Red-throated Pipit as we were immediately alerted to the call. It was a BC bird for all in the group and a lifer for most of the youth! We heard the distinctive loud "seeep" call twice. We saw the bird fly up in the large flock. We kept walking in the fallow field to flush the flock and we flushed several American Pipits but never the Red-throated again. We tried for an hour and 1/2 after first finding him but could not relocate him for photos or to make a recording sadly.

Katya walking the fallow field looking for the Red-throated Pipit - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Liron Gertsman looking for Skylarks, Pipts and Longspurs at Longview Farms - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We had so many laughs in the car, we discussed everything possible about birds. We went to the ferry and had a delicious meal on board with more good discussion while the kids teased me about the work I do on the bird alert and how I should charge for it. They teased me about the old GPS technology I use and how I text with no punctuation and how my generation grew up with Mr. Rogers! I told them I love Mr. Rogers and proud to have grown up with him, which caused them to erupt in laughs. We discussed which marine mammal we want to swim with and where we could travel if we had all the money in the world. Most of us said Antarctica for the penguins haha. It was a fun day. They were all very grateful and thanked me for the trip. I will never stop being amazed at these kids for their courteous nature and gratefulness, their intelligence and impeccable id skills.

I wish the days were longer so we could have chased the Palm Warbler and Northern Mockingbird as it would have been a lifer for 2 of the kids but summer is gone and the short days are now upon us. It is amazing how quickly time flies. I am nostalgic for summer and for all the great young birder trips we had this year. So many of the youth are 18 now and it is their final year in the program. Having watched them blossom and grow over the years, I will miss them. I am however so proud of the young birders now in the community who will continue to enhance it and be great conservationists through their hobby and future careers. Time sure flies when you are having fun.

Thanks to all the youth for being part of the young birder program and for coming to all the young birder trips this year. You really made this year special for me. I think it's been the most special year yet! I will always be proud of the work we have done together and never forget the immense joy, purpose and happiness you have brought to my life.



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