A January First Big Day – Terry Thormin
I have been birding for more than 55 years now, and right from the beginning I have kept lists, life lists, country lists, provincial lists and year lists. For some reason the most important list for me has always been my year list for the province that I am residing in at that time. I always have a goal for the number of species I would like to get, and it usually involves a minimum number and a higher number to strive for. Since moving from Alberta to Vancouver Island three years ago I have revised my minimum number downward partly because I find it difficult to get off the island to do any birding and partly because I tend not to chase birds as much as I used to because I am far more involved in my photography. None-the-less there is still that minimum goal and for here I figure that if I am birding regularly throughout the year I should be able to get to 190 species without too much difficulty. Last year I aimed for 200 species and just managed to get there.
The upshot of this is that I like to start the year off with as many species on New Year’s Day as possible, a tradition that many keen listers participate in. So binoculars and spotting scope in hand I set forth on January 1st at the crack of dawn (well, slightly after) to see how well I could do. Just as with the year’s list I set a minimum for a single day, and for January first, provided that the weather does not end up being terrible which can destroy an hope, my minimum goal for the Comox Valley area is 60 species. Last year I made it to 67 species and I really think that 70+ species is quite possible, and who knows, maybe, on a really good day, 80 species.
I actually had five species from my backyard before I left the house, three at the feeder and two, Trumpeter Swan and Glaucous-winged Gull, flying overhead and calling. First stop, the lawn next to the Courtenay River Estuary behind Portuguese Joe’s, the only place in the valley that I know of where there is a good Western Gull. A very high percentage of the gulls in our area are hybrids between Glaucous-winged and Western Gulls, but finding a pure Western can be quite difficult. Sure enough the bird was there so this was my first good tick for the day.
Next stop the field where the Citrine Wagtail has been hiding out. As it turned out I was not the first person there as two other birders were already looking for the bird without success. While we were looking though a group of four Tundra Swans flew over. At this time of year Trumpeter Swans are thick in the valley, with a population that is generally over 3,000 birds, but Tundra’s are mostly long gone. But this year it seems that a few more Tundras than normal have decided to winter here, so another good tick.
While we were looking for the wagtail another birder came along and informed us that it had been relocated in another field a short distance away, so off we went. Sure enough when we got there a number of other birders were watching the bird as it foraged some distance away in the field. My third good tick.
Of course during this time I was adding other more common species to my day’s list, and by now I was up to 23 species. I now headed to Courtenay to do part of the estuary from the other side. By now I was concentrating more on the harder to get species in the valley, figuring that the easier ones would just fall in place. One species that can pose a bit of a problem is the Northern Pintail, and when I did not get this bird at the estuary in Courtenay, I decided to go on to Royston further down island. Here I managed to get the Pintail and a number of other species that I was still missing.
On the way back into Courtenay, just before I got into town I went into a residential area where I know that there was an active feeder. Here I added a few more feeder birds but also got another goodie. Across the road from the feeder was a large, leafless deciduous tree, probably a Big Leaf Maple, and in it were 19 Evening Grosbeaks. It is easy to go for a whole year without seeing a single one of these birds in the valley, so to get 19 of them on January 1st was decidedly good and my last good tick for the day.
I now went back into Courtenay and did a quick walk in part of the Airpark just to make sure a got a Green-winged Teal which had surprisingly eluded me up until then. Next I went to Goose Spit in Comox. By now I had most of the ducks and the spit did not produce anything new for me, but in the residential areas at the base of the spit I managed to get my first Robin and Steller’s Jay.
After doing some more residential areas without getting anything new I went to Lazo Marsh where I did a short walk in the woodlands surrounding the marsh. This is an area that is usually hopping with birds in the winter because some of the local residents feed the birds here. This day, although there was lots of activity, I only managed one new species, the Downy Woodpecker.
Next stop was Point Holmes where I hoped to get Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter and perhaps a Pigeon Guillemot or Marbled Murrelet. Fortunately both the ducks were there, but I could not find either the Guillemot or Murrelet.
By now it was almost two o’clock and I was only at 58 species with some rather conspicuous species missing. Well there was one more stop on my itinerary that had the potential of adding two more species, that was Little River Pond and the species were Ring-necked Duck and Red Crossbill. Once again the pond came through for me and I managed to get both birds putting me up to 60 species. By now I realized that my hoped for 70 species was not going to happen this day, but I sure did not want to be sitting at my minimum goal of 60 species.
Next stop was Airforce Beach in the hope of getting one of those elusive alcids (the guillemot and murrelet). After about 20 minutes of scanning the ocean I concluded that these birds just were not here this day. In actual fact I have seen practically no alcids in the Comox area this winter so far, and this is decidedly unusual. Fortunately, as I was leaving the beach area a Cooper’s hawk flew across the road right in front of me and landed in a tree right beside the road. At least I was past the 60 mark.
By now almost everything I was missing were species that you just happen upon by searching residential areas of driving roads. With time running short I opted for the driving and managed to add one more species, the Eurasian Collared Dove. With the light starting to fade I was back home by 3:45 and reasonably satisfied with my day’s effort. Now my goal for the whole year is 200 again, well, let’s say at least 201 so that I can say I bettered last years list.
One final note just so you know, none of these photos were taken on January first. I was way too busy birding to do any photography.