Someone sent me a link to a local news item which discussed Vancouver’s Bird Strategy. What a Lark, so to speak. Vancouver’s Mayor Moonbeam has an idyllic vision of “green”. However, this story caused me to reflect on the deterioration of local Birding, even during my relatively short time of embracing this hobby.
Back in my neophyte stage, I met a woman at Reifel who told me that a Barred Owl was sitting just outside the facility, near the entrance to the government installation. At that time, never having photographed that species, I went looking for it, but it was gone from the location described.
As I was looking for it, the woman came by in her car and stopped and told me that she knew an area where Lazuli Buntings were currently singing. She described the area with many “you know”s, but I didn’t know the area at all. So she volunteered to drive to the location and lead me there. Nice of her.
This was in 2010. The location was along 72nd Street in Delta. It was an abandoned military base and the entrance was gated. Visitors had to park along the side of 72nd. We parked and started to walk along the cement entrance road. There was a dilapidated guard shack at the entrance. Barbed-wire fences were on both sides of the road.
After having walked perhaps 50 meters, I spotted what I knew to be a Western Kingbird sitting on the fence wire. It would be a Lifer. I grabbed at the woman’s arm, saying “Stop!”, but she carried on, causing the Kingbird to take flight. It flew over the field and started to hawk insects. We then walked to a location where there was a piece of plywood that allowed us to cross a modest ditch and enter the bush. We quickly found another cement road and she pointed to a tall shrub, declaring that often the Lazuli Bunting would sit there and sing. Currently a Flycatcher and a Hummingbird were sitting in the area. She took me to an area where there was an active Red-tailed Hawk nest. She loved this species and could imitate their calls vocally.
The next morning I returned to this location early and shortly found a male Lazuli Bunting singing away. To get to this specific location I had to walk through a path with deep grass on both sides. As I was standing there, I caught a flash of orange. An orange bird was flying low along the grassy path and entered the open area where I was. There was a pile of sticks in a corner and the bird dropped down behind the sticks. He put his head out to look at me, perhaps with irritation. It was a male Bullock’s Oriole and he was gathering nesting material, the aforementioned sticks. Another Lifer.
I went looking for the Western Kingbird. Shortly I found a pair busy hawking over the same field where I had seen one the previous day. I watched them from a distance and saw that they always disappeared into the same location of deep cover. I tried to get closer, but couldn’t as they were wary birds. As I observed them throughout the Summer, I concluded that they had a nest in the area where they often disappeared.
To be clear, Western Kingbirds, Lazuli Buntings, and Bullock's Orioles were breeding in this location.
Nearby there was an Eagle’s nest and underneath it a number of Hummingbirds had nests. Perhaps 20 such nests. How do I know? One day I was in the area and, as always noticed some Rufous Hummingbird males. However, a flock of Chickadees came by and suddenly about 20 male Rufous came out of cover to confront the Chickadees. The didn’t dive at them, but slowly approached the Chickadees in a hovering fashion and started to nudge them, to get them to fly away.
The fields were filled with Common Yellowthroat. They were always calling and sneakily curious. The males often perched on grass fronds and watched from a safe distance. Sometimes they would fly straight up, like a Hummingbird, then dive straight down, but just before ground would veer off at a 90-degree angle. I think such behaviour was to keep the location of their nests hidden.
There was also a Downy Woodpecker that was easily viewable. Over a period of a couple of months I watched two youngsters fledge. When they first emerged from the hole, they clung to the sides of branches frozen in position.
The Western Kingbirds were joined by Eastern Kingbirds and were there all Summer. I think I have some photos of a fledgling Western.
The following year I started to visit this location earlier in Spring. I watched 3 Bullock’s Orioles arrive and the adult male chase off the juvenile male which had arrived with them. I took many photos of the female sitting on a branch in the open singing non-stop for at least 30 minutes. The Western Kingbirds returned, but set up their nest in a different location, but still adjoining their preferred hawking field. I saw as many as 5 Lazuli Bunting males at one time. I managed to take some photos of an unfledged Red-tail Hawk with red feathering on its head. There were also Owls in the area.
There were many fruiting trees in this location and another species which nested there was Cedar Waxwings. I spotted their nests deep inside blackberry thickets.
On one August morning, I arrived and found about 20 trailers parked in the Birding areas. I asked them what was going on and was told that a ham radio group had a permit for a sort of “rally”. Antennae were strung on many trees and the various amateur radio enthusiasts were competing to see who could set up communication with the most and furthest like-minded enthusiasts.
Unfortunately the tree with the most antennae festooning it was the one where I had spotted a pair of nesting Lazuli Buntings. I never found those particular Lazuli Buntings again. Within a couple of years, this species was gone.
Delta parks personnel started to “groom” the area. They cut down the tree where the Bullock’s Orioles had a nest. I never saw that species there again. The Western Kingbirds also stopped nesting in the area. The Hummingbird population declined. The Red-tailed Hawk nest was abandoned.
Doggers started to use the location and shortly afterwards the large population of Common Yellowthroat rapidly declined.
Now it is named “North 40”. Still some birds there, but not like before.
So when I read that the City of Vancouver has a “Birding Strategy”, I think to myself, “What a Lark!”. They seem to want to attract Birding Tourists.
The North 40 location experience is extreme, but it has been repeated to some extent all around the Lower Mainland. For example, I recall an area in Campbell Valley Park where I could always find Pacific Wren. One Spring I went to the area and found it denuded of cover. I asked about this change and was advised that it had been determined that the plants that had given the Wrens cover were invasive and had been taken out.
Some history of “North 40” here (perhaps explaining the presence of ham radio enthusiasts):http://www.jproc.ca/rrp/ladner.html