Shorebirds winging their way back south

For the last few months birders’ eyes and ears have largely been focused on the passerines, also known as the perching birds or the songbirds. By the second week of July these birds have largely completed their breeding cycle for the year and, as a consequence, bright breeding plumages are moulted for more ordinary, workaday feathers, the exuberant song of springtime is no more, and there are lots of young, recently fledged birds around. At the same time, many species of shorebirds, which migrate huge distances to breed in the Arctic, are already winging their way back south to the warmer climes where they winter. These are now appearing at the Sunshine Coast’s favoured shorebird locations such as the Wilson Creek estuary and the head of Porpoise Bay. The movement began on June 28 when least, western and semi-palmated sandpipers, and both greater and lesser yellowlegs were reported at Wilson Creek and the Oyster Bay estuary in Pender Harbour. 

One species much in evidence this summer is evening grosbeak, which is notable and easily identified by its yellow, black and white plumage and its huge bill. Finches in general, and these grosbeaks in particular, are itinerant and wander widely across the continent in search of the best food supply, and the Sunshine Coast seems to be blessed with an abundance of these birds this year. I frequently hear them flying overhead with their repeated “chewp, chewp” flight call. Several people have sent me photos of this species. 

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Two notable rare species have recently visited us. For a week beginning on June 22, a yellow-breasted chat was present in the shrubby vegetation on the powerline right-of-way between Sechelt Hospital and the Hydro substation. This was only the second Sunshine Coast record of this large, yellow, aberrant warbler that is usually only present in Canada in the Okanagan. It was seen by all the keen local birders. 

On July 5, Arnold Skei was scoping the White Islets from the end of Jack Road in Wilson Creek and spotted the distant but distinctive profile of a pelican perched on the rocks. Later that day, Ian Bolden was kayaking near White Islet and photographed and videotaped the juvenile brown pelican. Brown pelicans appear irregularly in the Salish Sea in the months from June to November. This was the first report since 2012. Brown pelicans have been mooted as a species which might move northwards to B.C. in response to global warming, but the eight-year gap since 2012 does nothing to support this idea.

To report your sightings or questions contact or 604-885-5539. 

Good birding.

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