About this Blog

This blog details birding trips and vacations in 2017. The most recent update covers a short vacation to Ucluelet BC on the west coast of Vancouver Island. This was a birthday gift to Edith from our daughter Sarah and her husband Angus.

The older posts detail our vacations in reverse order:

  • October in San Francisco
  • August in Oregon for the Solar Eclipse
  • June in Alberta
  • June in the Okanagan for birding
  • April in the Okanagan for a birding tour

November 17 - Travel to Ucluelet

I did not take many photos on this trip, but the one I regret the most is a possible rare bird that we might have seen from the ferry as it departed from Tsawwassen. I was not aware that there was a King Eider, a duck seen in the far north, mixing with the more common Surf Scoters around the ferry terminal.

After a quiet ferry ride we arrived on Vancouver Island and made the drive west. My first photo opportunity occurred just outside of Port Alberni at Sproat Lake when I noticed some ducks on the side of the road.

Common Merganser - Sproat Lake near Port Alberni BC

The bird above is a male, here's a couple of females below.

Common Merganser and Ring-billed Gull - Sproat Lake near Port Alberni BC

We stopped at one other place on the winding highway where we found a collection of Lover's Locks on a small section of fencing.  This tradition may have started in Serbia during WWII. It gained popularity in Paris where many of the ancient bridges over the Seine are now festooned with locks.

After checking in at Ucluelet, we travelled to Tofino and bought some souvenirs and Christmas gifts. Upon return we drove south through Ucluelet and visited the start of the Wild Pacific Trail, a network of trails on the West Coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

You can't go very far at this end without encountering rock barricades. Tomorrow we'd tackle the more accessible parts of the trail.

November 18 - A day in Ucluelet

It was a rainy day so I didn't take too many photos. Our first item on the agenda was to explore the Rocky Bluffs part of the Wild Pacific Trail. Here's the map at the trailhead.

The trail was not too difficult for either of us and there were benches at a number of the viewpoints along the way.

There were plenty of views that looked like this, a reasonably placid day on the Pacific Ocean.

The video below shows a more active area where the waves were crashing on the rocks. They create waterfalls on the sheltered side of the outcrops.

After our walk we visited the Ucluelet Aquarium, but I didn't being the camera in with me. The weather was getting wetter as the day progressed, and we'd have to cope with a major storm the following day as we travelled home.

November 19 - Travel home

I don't have any photos for this post but here's a brief summary of our day:
  • We left Ucluelet early and had a reservation for the Duke Point to Tsawwassen ferry around noon.
  • It was raining heavily and the highway was in danger of flooding in some places between Ucluelet and Port Alberni
  • Upon reaching Port Alberni I got a phone message from BC Ferries stating that all sailings from Duke Point were cancelled due to stormy seas. Our reservation was cancelled and we headed for Departure Bay which would get us to Horseshoe Bay.
  • We arrive, but not in time to make the 12:30 ferry, so we had a 2 1/2 hour wait for the 3:00 PM sailing.
  • Due to heavy seas, the 3:00 PM ferry departs around 4:15. The ferry is absolutely jammed to full capacity due to the Duke Point cancellations.
  • We eventually arrive at Horseshoe Bay around 7:00 PM. With traffic it's 9:00 PM before I pull up at home.
  • I guess that's the norm for ferry travel in the winter.

October 1 - San Francisco Chinatown

It was the Sunday before the Oracle Conference. We'd flown in and had a harrowing taxi ride from the Airport. We were too early to check into our room, but the hotel graciously stored our luggage so that we could take in some of the sights near the hotel.

We were a short walk from Chinatown, so this seemed to be a good place to visit. I took a few photos and movies there.

San Francisco's Chinatown is very commercialized and tourist oriented, which was fine with Edith and Austin.

You never knew what you'd see at the next storefront.

There was entertainment on the street, first the quiet kind:

And then the much louder kind:

Some onlookers were less interested than others:

We returned to our hotel and checked in. For the next three days, I'd be attending the Oracle Open World convention while Edith and Austin visited all the tourist sites. They didn't take very many photos of their activities, so the next post takes up on the day they went back to Vancouver and I had my first day off for birding and other activities.

October 5 - San Francisco Birding

This was my first free day in San Francisco after attending the Oracle Open World Conference all week. Edith and Austin had travelled with me, but they left for the airport in the morning to return to Vancouver.

I decided to walk from our hotel down to the Ferry building; located on the bay at the foot of the Embarcadero. Back in 2015 we'd visited this location and I'd seen Western and Heerman's Gulls up close. I felt this was my best chance for seeing them again.

The Ferry Building is a landmark on the waterfront, it is the terminal for the San Francisco Bay Ferry system, and als has upscale shops and restaurants. I borrowed this shot from Wikipedia.

The first bird I spotted was a Gull near the fountain on the right side of the tower. It wa a Western Gull, a darker version of our local Glaucous-winged Gull.

  Western Gull - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA - 2017 Bird # 199

I made my way to the pier on the left (south) of the Ferry Building and got a terrific look at a Heerman's Gull. We get the occasional stray of this species at Point Roberts, but they are common in Coastal California. This Gull features a bright Red/Orange bill with a black tip and black feet. It is smaller than the Western and has a dark gray appearance.

Heerman's Gull - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA - 2017 Bird # 200

There were quite a few Western Gulls in the area including this one. I don't know if this was a yawn or a threatening gesture towards the camera.

Western Gull - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA 

One more look at this species, this shows the field marks quite well.

Western Gull - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA

I also expected to see Brown Pelicans somewhere during my birding excursion and was not disappointed. These birds came in from the south passing under the Bay Bridge as they flew to the north.

Brown Pelican - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA - 2017 Bird #201

One last look at a pair of Western Gulls before I headed north towards Pier 39 and then west to the Presidio. These two look like they've been together for a long time.

Western Gull - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA

Offshore there were a few Double-crested Cormorants in the water.

Double-crested Cormorant - Ferry Building, San Francisco CA

My plan had been to get to the Presidio, the park that looks across the water to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a nice sunny day so I decided to walk. I headed north towards the famous Pier 39, and then turned west. I had an uphill walk, but this route offered the gentlest climb. Eventually I started downhill again and reached a small grassland area. There was some bird activity there, which turned out to be a bird I'd see quite frequently in the following days.

White-crowned Sparrow - San Francisco CA

This is a first year bird, it will have the adult black and white crown by next spring.

The local birding websites had praised the Presidio as a great place for birds, but I must have been there in the wrong season. The only bird I was was this Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrow - San Francisco CA

However there was a Harbor Seal quite close to the beach.

Harbor Seal - San Francisco CA

There were good views of the Golden Gate bridge to the west and to Alcatraz Island to the east.

It turned out that this was Fleet Week in San Francisco. There's a tradition of the Blue Angels putting on an Air Show on the weekend. This was Thursday and they were practicing over the skies of San Francisco. They were right overhead our location at the Presidio.

Also involved were the Canadian Snowbirds.

The Blue Angels were constantly disappearing over the city and then returning with a tremendous roar. I took a few videos of them with the Nikon and IPhone. This one from the Nikon turned out the best.

I now made my way back the way I came, about a 90 minute walk back to the Hotel. As I neared the Ferry building I spotted a bird in a Palm tree on the Embarcadero boulevard. It was a Starling, looking quite striking in this setting.

European Starling - San Francisco CA

I returned to the hotel. Tomorrow I'd be checking out and heading south for two days of birding before coming home.

October 6 Part 1 - Coyote Point Recreation Area, San Mateo County CA

I was up early to have a quick breakfast and check out of the Hotel in San Francisco. I had arranged for a town car to take me to the Airport where I'd rent a car. So much more civilized and safe compared to the cab we'd taken into town.

I had some experience from previous visits and a tremendous resource with this website:
San Mateo County Birding Guide

I came to the conclusion that Coyote Point was the best choice for my morning, it had three different habitats and was in a safe area close to the airport. It also had a marina and a golf course, which allowed me to have a quick brunch.

The official name is Coyote Point Recreation Area, I'll just use Coyote Point for brevity.

The nearest habitat to where I'd parked was the freshwater marsh.

The very first bird I saw was a White-crowned Sparrow. I saw them most places I visited on the trip.

White-crowned Sparrow - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

Next I spotted a Black Phoebe, maybe my favourite California bird. Unlike our flycatchers, this bird is common and always on display.

Black Phoebe - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA
2017 Bird #202

There were some goldfinches in the treetops and I hoped they might be Lesser's, but the photo post-mortem proved them to be American.

American Goldfinch - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

I was on a path that had a salt-water marsh on the left and a fresh-water one on the right. I heard and then saw a bird that liked both environments:

Belted Kingfisher (F) - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

Next were a group of Black-necked Stilts in the salt water. They are more plain looking in Basic plumage compared to when I saw them nesting in Alberta in June.

Black-necked Stilt - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

I was expecting to see Egrets and was not disappointed. I see the Snowy Egret frequently in the San Mateo area.

Snowy Egret - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA - 2017 Bird #203

I made my way through the marina over to a short jetty. There wasn't a lot of activity in the water, but overhead the Pelicans were active.

Brown Pelican - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

I took a short video of them in flight.

And a close-up of a single one coming in for a landing.

Brown Pelican - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

I headed for the forest environment. It was pretty quiet and dark, which made photography difficult. I saw a few Juncos and the bird below. When I took the photo I thought it might be a Brown Creeper. After seeing the photo at home, I realized it was a Pygmy Nuthatch. I normally see this bird in the Okanagan, but missed out on it this year.

Pygmy Nuthatch- Coyote Point, San Mateo CA
2017 Bird #204

I returned to the marshes before leaving and saw the other Egret I was hoping for: the Great Egret. It's all white like the Snowy but much larger with a longer neck. 

Great Egret- Coyote Point, San Mateo CA - 2017 Bird #205

One last shot of a Snowy Egret and it was time to make my next stop, which is detailed in the next post.

Snowy Egret - Coyote Point, San Mateo CA

October 6 Part 2 - Holbrook-Palmer Park in Atherton

I've been visiting this park since 2013 and have recorded a few life birds here. It's a guaranteed place to see the California Jay and Black Phoebe. This is a city park that has a nice mix of grassy and treed areas.  In Autumn, there's an abundance of leaf litter on the ground.

Back in 2015, I saw my first ever Oak Titmouse, a small crested bird somewhat related to Chickadees. I saw one again this year but had bad luck getting a photo. I'd just walked from bright sun into a heavily shaded area and had not set my camera accordingly. The shot below shows the results.

Oak Titmouse - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA - 2017 Bird #206

Just as I reset my camera, a commuter by went screaming by just outside the park. The bird flew and I did not see it again. I took this photo in the same area in 2015.

Oak Titmouse - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA - October 2015.

There's a baseball field in the park and it has a famous name:

Along the back part of the park I encountered my first ever California Scrub-Jay. However, it was not a lifer as I'd seen many before when they were named Western Scrub-Jay.

The Western Scrub-Jay was split into two species in 2016. The more common one is the California Scrub-Jay, which I've seen quite a few times. The other species is called Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay and is seen from Nevada east to Texas.

California Scrub-Jay - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA - 2017 Bird #207 

Here's a couple of shots of Juncos in the same area of the park:

Dark-eyed Junco - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA

Dark-eyed Junco - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA

And one more Scrub-Jay in a different part of the park.

California Scrub-Jay - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA

Finally, one of the best photos I took on the day was this Black Phoebe.

Black Phoebe - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton CA

It was time to go check into my hotel and plan the next day's birding activities.