Tree Swallow Box Program Monitoring Stage 2 and Birding by Kayak

If you missed my first post about my Tree Swallow project with the City of Richmond, you can read it HERE.

On Saturday, we went out to check and monitor all the boxes to see what their current status was. We wanted to see if the eggs had hatched, if nests that were previously empty on our last check now had eggs etc. We were pleasantly surprised to see eggs in several nests that were empty 3 weeks ago. The 2 Black-capped Chickadee nests in the swallow boxes had fledged. There was also a new Chickadee nest in a previously empty box. When we came upon our first newly hatched Swallow nest, I was so full of glee. They were sooo cute. My partner told me how happy he was to see me this happy. Both of us had never seen swallows this tiny. We guessed they had hatched about 2 days prior.

The first 5 live Tree Swallow chicks in my project at Garden City Lands - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We next went to Terra Nova where we ran into friends Mike Klotz and Tak Shibata. Here we saw an American Bittern and a few Cinnamon Teals as we checked the boxes. Tak and I were sad we lost the battle with the Ospreys who abandoned their nest at Iona. Boy did we fight hard for them though against Seaspan. Seaspan kept docking right beside an active nest despite pressure from Metro Van Parks and from the Conservation Officer. It still hurts when you feel so helpless and when the BC Wildlife Act once again fails the birds but you gotta keep fighting until the bitter end and all hope exhausted. I'm grateful to see the passion and commitment of those in this community to fight for these birds.

At Terra Nova we also cleaned up a lot (and I mean a lot!) of fishing line which was disturbing. Fishing line can really detrimentally affect and kill birds. Here we saw the oldest chicks. These guys will fledge before my next check in 3 weeks. I really hope they fledge successfully. I was really careful with this nest and didn't move the feather for a better photo because I didn't want them to fledge too early.

Tree Swallows soon to fledge in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Baby Tree Swallows at Terra Nova in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The City of Richmond has put up Tree Swallow "Do Not Disturb" nesting signs with QR codes, which is cool. It informs the public about the project and asks them not to not disturb the nests. I think the local artist did a great job drawing the swallow too.

Tree Swallow sign with QR code - Photo: Melissa Hafting

In one of the swallow boxes there was a huge wasp nest. We narrowly missed getting stung. I will get the city to get professionals to clean that one out!. So for the first year this project seems to be successful, just hoping they all will fledge alright. Checking the boxes is fun, entering the data not so much but happy to do it if it helps these birds nest successfully. Thank you to the City of Richmond,  Richmond Parks and Richard Kenny for all their support and funding. 

If you would like to take part in a citizen science project with a little less work involved (and you go birding on Mt. Seymour), please consider taking part in my friend Ben Freeman's project. He is an ornithologist that is studying montane birds in BC. Please click HERE to read how you can take part! It is super easy!.

There was a couple Barn Swallows at Terra Nova posing well too. We also found a few Barn Swallow nests as well in 2 of the parks in the project. They really are stunning swallows. If you haven't heard as of May 2021, Barn Swallows are no longer listed as "Threatened" under the Species At Risk Act but are now listed a species of "Special Concern."

Barn Swallows in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After the long day, we finished the evening watching 3 Common Nighthawks flying overhead. Each year I look forward to finding their nests but every year it seems we get less of them in Vancouver and the nests become harder to find. It is so nice to hear them do their "peent" calls and watch the males do the diving "boom" displays.

Common Nighthawk in flight - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I do love the challenge of finding these nests every year. I wish I could do more to protect them. Habitat loss, climate change and pesticides are really affecting these threatened birds.

Common Nighthawk nests are cryptic and hard to find - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Recently a local birder who is Asian, told me about racist slurs thrown at him when he confronted a relentless photographer who was white at Iona hounding a Killdeer nest. One of the killdeer eggs ultimately failed after this persistent encounter since the adult was constantly prevented from incubating. I was saddened to hear about the racism he experienced but also not surprised. A few months ago an Indigenous birder told me about a mysogynistic and vitriolic hate-filled rant she received from a white birder as well at Colony Farm. He spewed this on her because he "thought" she was playing a tape to a bird. Another older birder told me about a young man who threatened to beat him up while birding at Burnaby Lake. These incidents are very upsetting and getting far too frequent here in Metro Vancouver. It is why we must continue to advocate for inclusivity in this hobby and why birding organizations in this province and country need to do more. They must acknowledge there is a problem and take steps to ensure everyone is included and feels safe while birding. 

I needed a break on Sunday because it weighs so heavy on my heart. I decided to go kayaking far away (as possible with this travel ban) from many people. We put in our kayaks in Catbird Slough near Pitt Lake. It was raining, so I knew no one would be on the water, and as predicted once on the water, we didn't see a single soul. It was gorgeous and peaceful. We were hoping to get lucky and see an Ibis or maybe a pelican. Right where we kayaked there was a whole flock of 30 American White Pelicans in April but sightings have continued in Metro Van right into June.

We did not see any pelicans but the pristine beauty and quiet of the area was special. We saw Sandhill Cranes, a Cinnamon Teal, Osprey, Band-tailed Pigeons, Turkey Vultures and Gray Catbirds. We even saw Eastern Kingbirds collecting nesting material. There was a Red-eyed Vireo, Evening and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Swainson's Thrushes, Pewees, Willow Flycatchers, Yellow Warblers and Bullock's Orioles also singing away.  I was fascinated by the large flock of Black and Vaux's Swifts flying low over our heads. I leaned back in the kayak and just looked up mesmerized. We stayed out there for hours meandering down the little channels of the slough like a maze. At one point we had to portage over a beaver dam!. It was so nice to see the birds from a different perspective. I also looked for endangered Oregon Spotted Frogs that breed in the area but came up empty.

Travelling through Catbird Slough in Pitt Meadows by kayak - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We got out of the water and went looking for a couple of rare for June (and away from Reifel) Black-crowned Night-Herons at Sturgeon Slough found by Monica Nugent and Jim Palmer but we dipped. We did have a nice walk with Danny Tyson though. We saw the Yellow-breasted Chat that Dan found and several Chippers and Lazuli Buntings, which made it a beautiful walk nonetheless.

Eastern Kingbird taken from a Kayak in Catbird Slough in Pitt Meadows - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Osprey eating a fish in Catbird Slough viewed by kayak in Pitt Meadows - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After this, we wanted to Kayak some more, instead of going to Widgeon Slough we decided to go to one of our fave kayak spots Whonnock Lake. The sun came out for a break and it felt so good. Here we enjoyed a lake to ourselves. It is so lovely there too and feels like you are far away from the big city. We saw nesting Sandhill Cranes, Common Loon in breeding, swallows and more. It was so nice to just get away and truly relax from all the burdens in life. Getting out in nature really heals and seeing birds from the water perspective is wonderful. You feel so much more immersed in nature and the habitat and the experience is more interactive. It feels like the birds are all around you and there isn't any barrier between you and the birds. If you get a chance to please try birding from a kayak, just don't forget your drybag for your camera!.

Birding by kayak at Whonnock Lake in Maple Ridge - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next day we went shorebirding at Brunswick Point and found a very rare for Vancouver White-rumped Sandpiper. It is all the more rare here in the Spring. WA had two birds and I wonder if it was one theirs as it makes its way up to the arctic to breed. Even though we found it late at night several birders were able to get on it which was nice. A great way to end this amazing weekend.

White-rumped Sandpiper in Delta - Photo: Ilya Povalyaev


  1. Hi Mel great work on the swallow nest boxes I've never seen young swallows in any life stage. also im intrigued about birding by kayak. it is something I have always wanted to try. I do worry about my camera so will have to ask you how you manage this next time I see you. the composition on the eastern kingbird photo is impeccable. also I'm quite impressed by your common nighthawk photo taken presumably very late at night and in flight no less! well done. the barn swallow colours are fabulous they never sit long enough for me congrats mel. I always enjoy your adventures thanks for all you do!

  2. also congrats on the WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER!! WHAT A FIND!!

    1. thank you Mike! I Also hope you try birding by kayak!

  3. Mel
    It is great to see your Swallow project being so successful ! Love the sign with the QR codes, what a brilliant way to educate people. Glad to see someone else birds from a kayak out here in the Pitt. Great shots btw. It's always challenging twisting around in a kayak to follow that bird in flight.

    1. thank you so much ken. I really am impressed by the city of richmond's commitment to this program. it was you who inspired us to try the area. we have done widgeon slough but never in the channels you frequent it's just beautiful. I definitely will be back exploring more of the pitt-addington marsh area sloughs as well.


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