Sunday 19 March 2017

Say Twitching

March 18 2017 Sea Island, Richmond BC British Columbia Canada

twitcher |ˈtwiCHər

a person or thing that twitches.• Brit. informal a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.                                                      *****

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and I'm in the dentist's chair. The last thing on my mind is birding. Halfway through the procedure I get a text. Being an important bird alert my dentist allows me to check the posting. The message is sweet and short, Say's phoebe Sea Island.
 Finally the drilling and filling are completed and I can make plans. The phone quacks again, this time fellow birder and neighbour Carlo is wondering if I can chase the phoebe. Why not, it's pouring rain but who cares, a Say's phoebe is a very good bird for Vancouver. By the time we reached Richmond the rain had stopped, there was even a thin ribbon of blue sky over Vancouver. Things were looking up.
We arrived at the YVR to find no one around but were soon joined by a number of Lower Mainland Twitchers: The chase was on. It wasn't long before the collective group numbered a dozen. We made our way along the perimeter fence with planes landing and taking off in the distance. A few of our more experienced group had already spotted the phoebe with their scopes.

Say's phoebe with VYR airport in the background.

We were all treated to some excellent views gradually getting closer and closer until everyone had had a good look. The listers were soon gone once they had seen the bird, another tick, a big smile and for them onto the next bird. Some of us remained while more birders arrived. I asked everyone if they had had a good enough look before I closed in a little closer for the shot below.

Say's phoebe sitting on a piece of re-bar eyeing any movement in the undergrowth.
Not only did out collective effort find one phoebe but soon a second was spotted. The two birds used the airport fence and some low lying rebar posts to catch insects and in one case a large grub which the bird beat to a pulp before swallowing.
Both phoebe's seemed to be doing just fine despite the cold weather and blowing wind, a testament to the hardiness of these dainty migrating flycatchers. 

To obtain the correct exposure against the grey sky I overexposed one stop, the same would apply when shooting in snowy conditions. A good example would be a ptarmigan against a snow bank. This is a situation where manual settings are the best method to obtain the best exposure. 

As we left a Kildeer did the wounded wing routine leading us away from the nest below. I didn't want to stress the bird by photographing it so we quickly left. As I looked over my shoulder the killdeer had already scurried back to her nest to keep the eggs warm.

Carlo wanted to see the cliff swallow at Iona so we made our way arriving at the sewage treatment plant where several hundred lesser snow geese were feeding on the lawns of the facility. Two of the geese were the dark morph variety. We never saw the cliff swallow but the geese were a good way to end the day.

Snow Goose Dark morph.
Carlo who has a wealth of birding knowledge explained that the dark morph's are normally found on the central flyways breeding in the arctic and Alaska while most of the snow geese found in BC migrate to and from the Wrangle Island in Russia.

Despite the bitter cold weather it feels that the migration is about to begin in earnest, let's hope that's the case.

 Note: So as not to miss any rare bird postings I have set my phone to a Quacking sound. Funnily enough my better half has taken to shouting out, "RARE BIRD, RARE BIRD" whenever she hears the text.

"It's never too late to stop birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada


  1. Beautiful shots of the 2 Iona Phoebes.The best I've seen! I have never seen two together in the Vancouver area before what a cool treat! Great post and what a pretty blue goose.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. After all the lousy weather it was a real treat to see not one but two Say's. They are the first I have seen in the Lower Mainland.