Short-tailed Shearwaters Around Malcolm Island

The following story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Thanks so much for sharing these amazing stories and sightings with us Gord!

I was alerted to the presence of Short-tailed shearwaters by a post from local whale researcher, Jared Towers, so I was off in my boat to find them. This was August 15 and I had just cruised past Sointula into Cormorant Channel, and to my surprise, there were 5 of the birds resting on the ocean amongst rhinoceros auklets and common murres. First I used the binoculars so I could confirm what the birds were, and then the camera to prove that these were not sooty shearwaters.

Short-tailed shearwaters giving me a good look at their underwings. Most of the brighter white is on the secondaries and not extending up into the primaries. Gord Curry Photo.

Apparently, separating short-tailed and sooty shearwaters is very difficult, and left to the domain of seasoned and highly experienced seabird observers to reliably tell them apart. I knew this before going out and had studied the subtle differences, knowing I was going to be asked to prove my identification.  Digital photography is a wonderful tool for this task, but you still need good pictures of the key characteristics.

I spent several hours in Cormorant Channel and wandered into Blackfish Sound but all the shearwaters I detected were in Cormorant Channel. I took over 500 pictures to get good angles on the shape of the head, slope of the forehead, the light-coloured area below the bill, relatively short thin bill, the white under the wing and whether the feet in flight extended beyond the tail. All these traits are to separate them from sooty shearwaters, that often arrive in this area in September, in large numbers.

Short-tailed shearwaters displaying their rounded head, steep sloped forehead, short thin bill and whitish area on the throat. Gord Curry Photo.

Short-tailed shearwaters breed in southeast Australia, with the Sooty’s also using New Zealand and the Southern tip of South America. The Short-tailed shearwaters spend our summer feeding in the North Pacific and Arctic waters. Such amazing wanderers!

Resting on the ocean with an ancient murrelet. Gord Curry Photo.

I submitted my descriptions and photos to a local reviewer and got a positive identification. Finding one or two of these birds would be common except for the difficulty identifying them, but counting 340, and the first observation of them categorized as a “lifer”, for me, made for one rewarding trip out in the boat.

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Malcolm Island’s View of the 2021 Shorebird Migration

The following story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Our thanks to Gord for continuing to provide updates and news on bird activity on Malcolm Island.

The excitement of the shorebird migration has just occurred from mid-April through mid-May, from the perspective of Malcolm Island (Sointula). These individuals and flocks generally include various species of sandpipers and plovers. During this time, most of these shorebirds fly past, but a few stop briefly to feed and rest before continuing their exhausting migration.  Most have come from southern locations on their way to their nesting areas in the northern tundra. After they are finished breeding we may see many of them again in late summer or fall when most will be returning to southern and coastal United States and Mexico, while a few will keep us company through the winter like the Greater Yellowlegs.

Greater yellow legs found dashing around tidal pools snatching up small fish with their very slightly upturned bills Gord Curry Poto

Low tide provides a smorgasbord of food catering to the needs of each species. The array of bill sizes, lengths and shapes give them the tools to capture their accustomed food. Their bills vary considerably from short to exceedingly long, and can be straight, decurved, recurved and even spatulate. These adaptations provide them with a specialized tool to capture their food of choice and makes seeing them that much more interesting while providing identification clues to each species.

Whimbrel probe the mud and sand with their decurved bills for invertebrates in their burrows Gord Curry Photo

Walking around the sand and rocky low-tide areas provides a great opportunity to see many of these species actively feeding. Two of these locations on Malcolm Island are Rough Bay and Lions Park. Many of these species allow for relatively close approaches but if they alter their behavior or move away from you, then you are way too close. Any good pair of binoculars will give you wonderful observations of these interesting birds. At high tide they may stay and rest waiting for low tide to make their food available again. Sometimes we can be lucky and have the migration stall due to bad weather providing large numbers potentially dropping out of their migration here until the weather improves.

Pacific Golden Plover feeding on insects molluscs and crustaceans found on the surface with its short stout bill Gord Curry Photo

When these birds return from breeding, they may be accompanied by their offspring or in some cases the flocks of adults will migrate first, followed a few weeks later by congregations of immature birds (e.g., Western Sandpiper). I am always amazed that young birds only a few months old know where to go instinctively, without adults passing on this information through experience. The wonders of nature.

Marbled Godwit resting after probing the sand and also picking prey from the surface with its recurved bill Gord Curry Photo
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Species Number Up Slightly at 21st Annual Spring Count

A small number of red-winged blackbirds, gadwalls and northern shovellers were among the lesser seen species at the 21st annual Doug Innes Memorial Malcolm Island Spring Bird Count.

Members of the Mitchell Bay team spotted this Lincoln’s sparrow during the spring count. Gord Curry Photo

While only small numbers of shorebirds were seen and count participant numbers were deliberately limited due to Covid protocols, species numbers were up slightly from last year at 80.

This Least sandpiper was seen roaming the beach at Mitchell Bay during the spring count. Gord Curry Photo

Members of the team covering Pulteney Point to Bere Point and Big Lake were fortunate to see a yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s) at Pulteney. MIBC member Gord Curry captured an image of the bird in breeding plumage.

This lovely image of a yellow-rumped warbler (Audubon’s) was taken by MIBC member Gord Curry

Over in Rough Bay, MIBC member Chris Hurst photographed a pair of greater yellowlegs feeding in the tidepools.

This pair of greater yellow legs was roaming the tide pools in Rough Bay during the annual spring bird count. Chris Hurst Photo

While a smattering of rain from an overcast sky dampened the day a little bit, the unusually calm weather gave participants an opportunity to hear a number of birds calling and singing, including yellow-rumped, Townsend’s and orange-crowned warblers, brown creepers and hermit thrush.

This red-necked grebe was busy fishing the waters of Rough Bay the day after the spring count. Chris Hurst Photo
Golden crowned sparrows like this one spotted at Pulteney Point were seen throughout the count areas. Gord Curry Photo
This handsome belted kingfisher was one of a number seen in the Rough Bay area during the spring count. Chris Hurst Photo

Our thanks to all of our volunteer participants who implemented and endured fairly strict Covid protocols to make this year’s spring count a success, even under trying circumstances. Our hope is that, by next April, we will be able to gather in larger groups again to carry out the 22nd annual spring bird count on Malcolm Island.

To view a complete list of results, please click on the link below.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count … and Malcolm Island

This story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Thanks for your ongoing contributions to our blog Gord.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) (https://ebird.org/canada/news/great-backyard-bird-count-2021) is a February worldwide snapshot of birds entered into eBird (https://ebird.org/canada/about) over a four-day period. This year the count was held from February 12-15 and the local weather was windy, rainy, some snow and cool temperatures making it difficult for me and any other intrepid souls to get high counts. My goal was to, again, put Malcolm Island into the Canadian top ten in any category. This is a good individual event, suitable for Covid protocols, and just a great reason to get out and test the pulse of the local bird life, with an element of friendly competition.

This was one of three Wilson’s snipe feeding in a marshy area along Kaleva Road. Gord Curry Photo
Gord enjoys the haunting call of the black scoters found in the waters off Kaleva Road. Gord Curry Photo

My plan was to enter checklists from most of the different habitats on Malcolm Island (hotspots).  The focus was Kaleva Road as it has been a rich and diverse habitat likely to give up the most species. I started each day with a bird count right from our waterfront house in Sointula then planned where to go next. My yard counts through the late fall and winter are frequently number one in all of Canada, due in a large part to the rich variety of overwintering water birds. The rest of each day was spent at hotspots like Mitchell Bay, Rough Bay, Shiels Bay, Bere Point, Dickenson Point, Big Lake and the star, Kaleva Road.

Intrepid watchers can often count on seeing a small flock of western grebes in Mitchell Bay in winter. Gord Curry Photo

The scales at which checklist entries can be entered and compared include hotspots, patches (I have pre-selected Malcolm Island), county (Mount Waddington), provincial, country and global. Canada had the second highest number of checklists, only behind the U.S., although most of the migratory birds are south of Canada so we were 29th in the world for total species. For total species Columbia was tops with 1136 counted compared to Canada’s 262. The following is a snapshot of the results for Canada down to the county level to give you a picture of how rich and diverse Malcolm Island is, for the birds. Oh, and my 73 species with 18 checklists, on Malcolm Island … is tied for 9th in Canada ( 1st is 86 species) and Kaleva Road is the 5th best (1st is Elk Lake, Victoria with 70) hotspot in all of Canada!

Province

  1. B.C.                                       202 species            5,897 checklists
  2. Ontario                                  164                  18,472
  3. Nova Scotia                          156                  1784
  4. Quebec                                  137                  5194
  5. New Brunswick                 109                   179

County

  1. Metro Vancouver                   148 species            1731 checklists
  2. Capital                                    135                  951
  3. Nanaimo                               129                  385
  4. Comox Strathcona                 116                   268
  5. Okanagan Similkameen        100                  179
  6. 15.Mount Waddington          77              22 (10 participants normally 1-3!)

Thanks to all the Mount Waddington participants who made for a very respectable result!

High Counts of Species in Canada from Malcolm Island

Pigeon Guillemot          48             1st Street Sointula

Pacific Loon                 152            1st Street Sointula (due to herring schooling before spawning)

Horned Grebe              29            Shiels Bay

Harlequin Duck    42            Kaleva Road

Mount Waddington and Malcolm Island Top Hotspots

  1. Kaleva Road (most effort)            57 species (5th highest in Canada)
  2. Rough Bay                              35 (78th highest in Canada)
  3. Mitchell Bay                           29
  4. Bere Point                            22
  5. Dickenson Point                22

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Hardy Anna’s Hummingbird Braves Winter Rains

MIBC member Peter Curtis recently took this photo of a male Anna’s hummingbird perched in a Japanese maple outside his house. Thanks for sharing this delightful late winter image Peter!
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An Irruption of White-winged Crossbills

The following story was submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Thanks for your ongoing contributions to our blog Gord!

A common sight through most winters, here on Malcolm Island, are flocks of Red crossbills flying around the conifer tree tops in search of seed cones. Their bills are actually crossed, a remarkable adaptation that allows them to efficiently access the seeds inside the cones.

Five White-winged Crossbills mixed with Red Crossbills after stones and minerals from the beach. Gord Curry Photo

This species will feed primarily on spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir and pine seeds they pick out of the cones. Cone crop abundance can vary dramatically from year to year. When the cone crop is low Red crossbills can even be scarce here, as they migrate to find better pickings. Crossbills can breed anytime of the year where food is abundant, and the females are olive yellow while the males are a brick red.

Although Red crossbills in North America consist of ten call types with bills slightly different and specialized to their dominant food source cones, they are not considered different species. There is one other, the White-winged crossbill, that is a separate species and generally found in the B.C. interior and to the north and east. There are flocks of them here on our little island feeding separately and amongst their cousins the Red crossbills. White-winged crossbills have two white wing patches, but the sexes are similarly coloured with the females brownish yellow and the males a pinkish red. The White-winged crossbills are slightly smaller than their cousins as is their bill is sized to feed on softer cones such as hemlock and spruce.

One male and seven female Red Crossbills having a drink from a beach log. Gord Curry Photo

This winter I have seen several flocks of White-winged crossbills here and sometimes feeding with the Red crossbills. In years when a species migrates in sufficient numbers away from their normal range it is referred to as an “irruption”. This is one of those years, as White-winged crossbills are enjoying the abundance of spruce and hemlock here and south through central Vancouver Island. South of this the climatic zone changes and the spruce/hemlock mix is no longer so dominant.

Two male Red Crossbills feeding on spruce cone seeds. Gord Curry Photo

I was lucky to see them up close when the two species were feeding in a same small spruce tree right next to the beach. First, I saw the Red crossbills land on a large beach log and drink from a knothole depression. Right after this both species landed right on the beach where they appeared to be picking up tiny stones, presumably for their crop and to obtain minerals. I managed a few pictures just as the showers were turning to rain.

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A Winter Warbler!

This story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Many thanks for your ongoing contributions to our blog Gord!

January of 2021 has started off with a very diminutive yellow visitor that should be calling Mexico home, while we go through the chilly season. For some reason, mild weather or frequent winds, this MacGillivray’s Warbler was feeding here on Malcolm Island on January 18th. Normally in this area in spring, summer and into the fall this would not be remarkable but its presence here now made this the first MacGillivray’s Warbler to be recorded in eBird, in B.C., in January!

This MacGillivray’s warbler, while common here in the summer months, has only rarely been seen on Malcolm Island in winter. Gord Curry Photo

I was out for a walk along Kaleva Road checking out the bird life when I heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the nearby salmonberry bushes. They are difficult to photograph as they rarely sit still and flit around gleaning insects from the foliage. I was soon aware of what I thought were two kinglets when I saw a flash of bright yellow. Kinglets are olive yellow as are another possible, albeit rare winter bird, an Orange-crowned Warbler, but this was much brighter yellow than both species. After following this little yellow jewel around and almost 500 pictures later, I figured I had captured a couple identifying shots. I suspected this was a MacGillivray’s Warbler so after pouring through my bird identification books, I posted pictures in eBird and emailed the Vancouver Island Rare Bird Alert http://bcbirdalert.blogspot.com/p/vancouver-island.html where it was posted as rare in winter.

These flashes of yellow were what kept Gord looking further to confirm the identity of this rare winter visitor. Gord Curry Photo

I do enjoy being very present in my surroundings, taking in and marveling at what is there, and occasionally being rewarded with something unexpected.

Happy viewing

Gord Curry

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Fair Weather Draws Out Birds and Watchers in 2020

Our thanks to MIBC member Gord Curry for picking a cracking good day for the 29th annual Christmas Bird Count here on Malcolm Island on December 27,2020. The species count came in at just above average at 63, with some 2733 individual birds spotted.

Mitchell Bay CBC participants Linda and Ross Weaver, Bob Field and Val Curry stop to compare notes and take a break. Gord Curry Photo

Despite limitations this year, due to Covid 19 protocols, we had sixteen participants, including six individuals who provided reports from backyard counts in and along Rough Bay, and downtown Sointula. Ivan Dubinsky joined Janet Lehde and Leah Robinson to provide observations for Kaleva Road, while Gord Curry was up before dawn, travelling from one end of Malcolm Island to the other to cover Pulteney Point, the North Shore and Mitchell Bay, where he was joined by Valerie Curry, Ross and Linda Weaver and Bob Field.

This Pacific loon was spotted off Pulteney Point by Malcolm Island CBC participant Gord Curry.

Count highlights included fairly high numbers of black oystercatchers on Kaleva and in Mitchell Bay, strong numbers of red crossbills throughout the count area, a higher than usual number of killdeer in Rough Bay and along Kaleva and some sharp shinned hawks on the North Shore and in Mitchell Bay.

These dunlin were caught plying the shore on count day by Port McNeill CBC participant Danielle Lacasse.

MIBC member Gord Curry has taken on the reins as coordinator for the Broughton CBC and has, along with providing photos from the Malcolm Island portion of the count, kindly arranged for some photos from the Port McNeill squad to be included in this review. The photos were taken by one of the younger members of our birdwatching team on the North Island, Danielle Lacasse – thank you Danielle, we hope you will join us at our spring count in 2021!

These trumpeter swans were a nice addition to the Broughton count from Port McNeill participant Danielle Lacasse

While we have tried to maintain continuity in reporting our results (next year will mark our 30th year of collecting CBC results for Malcolm Island), our Malcolm Island count areas have been modified slightly this year, as we have fewer observers able to cover the more remote parts of the Island.

To view the results of the 29th annual Malcolm Island CBC, please download the file below.

Our annual spring count is scheduled for the weekend of April 17-18,2021, but participation will likely be limited due to Covid 19 protocols. We will keep you posted.

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Bird Numbers Up, Birdwatchers Down For 2020 Annual Spring Count on Malcolm Island

This greater yellow legs and dunlin were among the few shorebirds seen on the count. These species two can be seen throughout the winter here. Gord Curry Photo

This greater yellow legs and dunlin were among the few shorebirds seen on the count. These two species can be seen throughout the winter here. Gord Curry Photo

Early arrivals of warblers include this Orange-crowned, which adds it’s song to the Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s warblers already here. Gord Curry Photo

Early arrivals of warblers include this Orange-crowned, which adds it’s song to the Yellow-rumped and Townsend’s warblers already here. Gord Curry Photo

Early migrants helped increase the total number of individuals and species over last year’s spring bird count, but the number of birdwatchers was greatly reduced due to restrictions associated with the CoVid 19 pandemic. We missed those of you who couldn’t join us this year and hope that circumstances will allow us to see you next year. Perhaps we can celebrate our 20th anniversary properly then!

Some large disorganized flocks of Cackling Geese filled the air with their high-pitched yelping. Gord Curry Photo

Some large disorganized flocks of Cackling Geese filled the air with their high-pitched yelping. Gord Curry Photo

 

 

Surf scoters and cackling geese cross in front of a troller near Pulteney Point. Sometimes the birds cooperate to make a nice scene! Gord Curry Photo

Surf scoters and cackling geese cross in front of a troller near Pulteney Point. Sometimes the birds cooperate to make a nice scene! Gord Curry Photo

These little grebes were just reaching breeding plumage. Gord Curry Photo

These little horned grebes were just reaching breeding plumage. Gord Curry Photo

A few large flocks of cackling, greater white-fronted and brant geese, Bonaparte gulls and surf scoters were spotted along the south shore of Malcolm Island and off Pulteney Point, and a scattering of greater yellow-legs, least sandpipers and dunlin were seen in Mitchell Bay. And the orange-crowned warblers were starting to join the Townsend’s and yellow-rumped warblers in the woods throughout the island.

This year’s count coincided with the American Pipit migration. Gord Curry Photo

This year’s count coincided with the American Pipit migration. Gord Curry Photo

These two least sandpipers represent the very earliest beginnings of the shorebird migration. Gord Curry Photo

These two least sandpipers represent the very earliest beginnings of the shorebird migration. Gord Curry Photo

Our intrepid north shore leader Gord Curry pauses for just a moment during the 2020 count. Linda Weaver Photo(1)

Our intrepid north shore leader Gord Curry pauses for just a moment during the 2020 count. Linda Weaver Photo

Thanks to Gord Curry for covering the entire north shore this year, and for supplying a variety of excellent photos illustrating some of the highlights of this year’s count. For a full report on birds seen during this year’s count, please download the file below.

MIBC Spring 2020 Tally Sheet

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What Hummingbird Is At My Feeder?

The following story and photos were submitted by MIBC member Gord Curry. Thanks for sharing this information with us Gord!

 

One of the facts most noticed and confused by many, is that we have two very different species of hummingbird on Malcolm Island. These two species not only look different but have some different characteristics. The Anna’s Hummingbirds are now here year round and breed here while the slightly smaller Rufous Hummingbirds arrive from Mexico near the end of March. Their northward migration takes them as far as southern Alaska. Many stay here to breed before heading back south by early September.

Anna’s Hummingbird male, notice the all gray breast and belly with pink gorget. Gord Curry Photo

Anna’s Hummingbird male, notice the all gray breast and belly with pink gorget. Gord Curry Photo

Anna’s Hummingbirds have emerald green backs and grayish underparts. The Rufous female has a green back with some rufous brown on her tail and sides, while the male is a striking orangey-rufous brown over most of his body. A handy rule for this area is, if you see any brown it’s a Rufous Hummingbird. The male gorgets (brightly coloured throat patch) of both species are quite impressive. The Rufous male has an iridescent scarlet gorget while the Anna’s male throat and crown is a brilliant rose red (pink) when the angle of the sun is right.

Anna’s Hummingbird female, has a green back and gray breast. Gord Curry Photo

Anna’s Hummingbird female, has a green back and gray breast. Gord Curry Photo

 

Originally only seen in California, Anna’s Hummingbirds have been extending their breeding range since the 1930’s. They were first seen nesting on Vancouver Island in 1958 and have continued to expand northerly. They still nest in February and sometimes have two broods. Interestingly, they survive cold weather by nightly going into a state of torpor by lowering heart rate to about 50 beats per minute and lowering their body temperature (about 55 degrees F). Normally at rest their heart rate is 250, and 1,250 when foraging (body temperature 104-111 F). Their diet consists of a wide range of small insects they can swallow and nectar from flowers. A supplement to their diet is the sucrose from feeders.

Rufous Hummingbird male, notice the rufous brown and scarlet gorget. Gord Curry Photo

Rufous Hummingbird male, notice the rufous brown and scarlet gorget. Gord Curry Photo

 

These little powerhouses are one amazing creation in nature and they continue to enthrall us with their beauty, intelligence and stamina.

Rufous Hummingbird female, has a green back with rufous brown on sides and tail. Gord Curry Photo

Rufous Hummingbird female, has a green back with rufous brown on sides and tail. Gord Curry Photo

 

If you commit to putting a feeder out you must adhere to the following or you may end up harming or even killing them!

Feeding hummingbirds:

  • Syrup = One part ordinary refined white sugar to four parts water boiled together for 3 minutes (e.g. ¼ cup white sugar to 1 cup water). Do not use any other sugars and do not use dye.
  • Feeders must be spotlessly clean and thoroughly rinsed (I use boiling water)
  • Locate feeder in a shady location to keep the syrup cooler.
  • In warm weather you may need to change the syrup every 4-5 days to avoid fungal and other harmful growth building up in old sugar water. This fungal growth can be so harmful to hummingbirds it can make them sick or actually kill them. If the syrup looks cloudy or has small bits of mold visible you must clean the feeder immediately. Hummingbirds themselves can introduce impurities that then grow in the feeder.
  • If you commit to feeding through the winter you have signed up to maintain the feeder through your absence and freezing temperatures. The bonus is that the syrup can last for up to 2-3 weeks without contamination.

Enjoy many observations of these feisty little creatures.

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