Birding in Victoria, BC at Swan Lake

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If you want to bird in Victoria, Swan Lake is a great local birding hotspot and probably one of the most well-known in the region. Its a nature sanctuary centered around a small lake in the suburbs nestled right along a major highway. A trail wraps around the perimeter of the lake and marsh and passes through wooded areas as well as providing access to a native plant garden and nature house. Besides the trails, there is a lovely boardwalk that crosses the lake and lots of benches in great spots for watching birds. The boardwalk is in need of repair as of writing this post, and donations of any amount are needed. To donate or learn more, please visit the Swan Lake Give a Sheet Campaign.

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A bench along the trail at Swan Lake

It is quite amazing the wildlife that lives here, right in an urbanized area, and is probably underappreciated by many visitors. Not only have there been 220 recorded species of birds according to eBird, but there are also mink, otter and muskrats living along the lake, too.

Whether it is spring or fall migration, winter or summer, there are always interesting birds to see at Swan Lake. On Sunday mornings, guided bird walks are put on by the nature house for free each time. Its a great way to learn about species new and old or to spot a rarity with an experienced birder.

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Wood Duck at Swan Lake
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Double-crested Cormorant
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Pied-billed Grebe

The lake itself is a great spot for all kinds of birds attracted to water; from Marsh Wrens to Red-winged Blackbirds to Great Blue Herons, and especially for ducks in the winter. Its also a great spot to remember to look up; I’ve seen many raptors flying high in the skies over the lake and the rest of the sanctuary.

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Cooper’s Hawk
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Cooper’s Hawk

 

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Bald Eagle pair shortly after mating

Each spring, the lake is a reliable spot to see baby ducks and earlier this summer, I got to see a Bald Eagle pair mating. Anna’s Hummingbirds are sure to catch your attention with their speedy buzzing all year long while Bushtits and Chestnut-backed Chickadees will chatter loudly in the fir and oak trees. My favourite moment of spring at Swan Lake is when the swallows arrive with their aerobatics and high-pitched calls that strangely remind me of dolphins. Even in the way they are social and group together, they are like dolphins of the sky.

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Violet-green Swallow takes a rare rest

There are certain pockets of bushes and trees where warblers abound in the spring and summer, and other densely wooded areas where you may reliably see owls and hawks. Northern Flickers are common and there is a bench along the trail where I regularly see (or hear) at least one, if not more. One lucky day, I saw a pair of them foraging on the ground and noticed something different about one of them. I see these birds all the time, but I realised one of them was an intergrade Northern Flicker; the first I’d ever seen!

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Northern Flicker, intergrade (with red malar of the red-shafted and the red nape crescent of the yellow-shafted)
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Besides neat and exciting surprises like intergrade Northern Flickers and my first Yellow-rumped Warbler, there are small moments I enjoy here, too. Among the tall grasses, I enjoy watching Bushtits hopping from grass stem to stem, leaving it trembling in their wake. Its here where I’d watch my Bewick’s Wren friend hopping busily about in the brush and dancing daintily up the branches of the garry oak trees crowded with Chesnut-backed Chickadees, who are always fun to watch.

These simple moments somehow mean more to me than seeing a new bird for the first time. I don’t know why, but maybe its the feeling of being connected with something other than yourself, other than another human being that makes it satisfying. Its even better when I know an area, and I see familiar birds, getting to know them and their habits. Sometimes I wonder if they ever start to recognize me, if they are ever as interested in me as I am in them. Probably not, but its fun to think about. Or do they ever think ‘oh its that girl back with her black box again.’ We’ll never know, and maybe its better that way.

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Bushtit in the grass
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Bewick’s Wren

Resources

Swan Lake eBird Page
Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary
Swan Lake Bird Checklist

Spring is a busy time for birds with hunting, singing and nest-building to do!

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Besides more sunshine and flowers, spring has brought other exciting things, too! I’ve had some lovely times out birding given the chance. Its been nice fitting in some adventures out and about on sunny or rainy days.

I saw my first Orange-crowned Warbler of the season, an absolute joy to see! Something about them brings a smile to my face watching them: with their yellow feathers and their lovely, cheery song! I listened to a pair of warblers sing to (or with?) each other in the trees. I wonder if it was a mating call or something else. Regardless, they’ve got to be one of my favourite birds to watch and I felt so lucky to see them!

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Orange-crowned Warbler
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Orange-crowned Warbler (the orange crown is just barely visible in this photo)

 

 

Just out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something that caught my eye in the trees – a bushtit’s nest! The Bushtit was flitting to and from the nest, from a small opening at the top. Bushtits build hanging nests from tree branches out of plant material and spiderwebs to make it stretch down. The breeding pair sleeps in the nest each night along with other male adults who help build the nest! Seems like this nest would be quite cozy. See photos below…to avoid disturbing the nest (as I never want to displace or reveal a breeding pair), I only took photos from afar behind the cover of a cypress tree nearby.

 

Its not just Bushtits working on raising young… I spied a Dark-eyed Junco between branches gathering nesting materials, her beak full of grass and moss. While Bushtits work together on nests, momma Juncos do it all on their own! Again, I watched carefully so as not to disturb her hard work.

 

Everyone else is busy, too. Song Sparrows have been particularly noisy lately belting out their variety of songs. While they tend to spend more of their time foraging in the brush on the ground, Spotted Towhees are out singing on their perches, too. Speaking of noisy birds, not many are noisier than the Bewick’s Wren.

I tend to bird a lot by ear, and I think I am finally able to identify this wren’s song reliably and they are much more common than I had thought! Walking a trail the other day, I heard a rustling on the ground and paused to watch and listen. After a few patient moments, out hopped a Bewick’s Wren with his lunch caught in his beak! At first I thought it was a seed but it turned out to be a fly. I watched him working hard, like a smaller, woodland version of gull dropping a crab on rocks, as he dropped the fly and repeatedly picked it up again. I imagine their down-curved beak helps them peck away at their prey.

I had my first-ever sighting of Green-winged Teals at a flood plain! They are just gorgeous and make the most interesting sounds! They were off on the side of the water doing their own thing while Buffleheads, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks and Northern Shovelers paddled about on the more open waters. Just after spotting the teals, I saw a Killdeer in the grass. Along the edges of the water and among the cattails were quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds.

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Green-winged Teals (female left, male right)
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Ring-necked Ducks (female left, male right)
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Killdeer

 

One of my most-anticipated spring arrivals just returned last week! Osprey have made their way back north to breed for the northern summer and our local pair have returned to last year’s nest. I went to watch them one afternoon but only saw one of the pair at the nest. She (I believe as she has mottled brown across the chest) was working on re-building and repairing the nest from last year and flew in and out, returning with new branches each time, then carefully placing them just so in the nest. She called out every now and again, I am guessing to stay in communication with her mate and became especially loud when a bald eagle flew far overhead. As predators of young Osprey, I have no doubt she was aware of the eagle’s presence.

 

It was inspiring to see them back again, like long lost friends, and I hope they raise successful fledglings again this year! I will be watching their progress again over the season and you can be sure there will be updates here like last year! The pair was successful at raising three fledglings last year and I watched them all the way from nest-building through to being awkward chicks to becoming proud juvenile sea-hawks! It is my hope I will get to see it all over again this summer!

The Bewick’s Wren in the bush

There’s a chatty little bird that chirps noisily as he hops around among the brush. He has a distinct, bright white eye stripe and a tail he holds aloft and flicks back and forth. His name is the Bewick’s Wren and he’s been a regular visitor over the last few months. Now I don’t know if he’s the same one or not, but I do think it could be; he is hopping along the same tree and the bushes every time I see him. I like to think its his established territory.

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The first time we met, he was climbing up the mossy limb of a tall tree frequented by chickadees and the occasional hummingbird. It was one of those autumn Victoria days with spots of sunshine peeping out between intermittent clouds. His quick stop and go movements caught my eye, as well as his noisy song. He would move along quickly, stop and tap the tree, hunting for insects for a bit before moving along again.

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He also hops along on the ground among the leaves and brush, hopping from cover to cover. I think he has a preferred little nook in between the low branches of a bush where he must stay warm and dry. I’ve seen him there a few times, and he always seems to hide there when other people walk by. Their footsteps crunching in the leaves and stones send him scurrying for cover. Looking at how tiny he is, fitting in his little alcove as small as a leaf, I wonder what it would be like to be that small. Would a blade of grass be like a tree and would a tree like a mountain?

 

Since I started birding, I remember seeing my first Bewick’s Wren in my backyard. This little wren was once found widespread across North America; today, their refuge is the west coast and parts of the southwest. They can be found in shrubby and bushy areas, such as parks and gardens, as well as open woodlands like the garry oak meadows found on eastern Vancouver Island (Seattle Audubon; Cornell). These little birds are a joy to watch and I am always extra excited to see them in my own backyard.

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I watch as he gracefully flits among the blades of grass, setting each one he lands on into a gentle sway.

Thursday morning birds are calling: will you watch and listen?

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I’ve been feeling anxious energy lately, between a changing schedule, Amber needing vet care again and other life things. I decided its partly because there haven’t been enough birds and nature in my life lately. So, I decided to remedy this by going for a nice walk this morning.

There is nothing more relaxing and refreshing to clear the mind than taking a walk outside, getting fresh air and listening to the chorus of sounds around you.

I went to scout on the bald eagle nest nearby, but no one was home. I haven’t seen any chicks as yet, though I don’t know if I should expect any this time of summer or not. They appeared to be prepping their nest, but even without bald eagles, a lovely walk was still to be had.

I continued on down to a rocky beach through a tree-lined path with the smell of ripening blackberries and the sea in the air. When I got there, the tide was low and the sunlight glistened and twinkled on the water, the sun still low in the eastern morning sky. I heard birds singing and chirping in the trees behind me. I must be the only person who goes to the beach and then turns around to look back at the land where I came from.

The tree-lined path was enveloped in shade from the gentle morning sun. On my way back up, I stood quietly listening, breathing and saw my fog of breath as if it were the middle of winter! It was definitely cooler and felt humid in the shade. I breathed out a few times like a little kid in the winter does, immensely amused by the fog in the middle of the summer.

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My rocky shore destination this morning, though this is a photo taken in the mid to late afternoon another day. Today, I felt like just enjoying the view without snapping photos.

As I walked the path, a scurrying in the leaf litter brought my attention to a Spotted Towhee. I often expect to see these spotted sparrows when I hear rustling on the ground as they rummage through the leaves for insects to eat. The sun peaked down through the trees just right, effortlessly lighting up his black, white and rufous plumage for this photo.

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Spotted Towhee commonly heard rustling in leaf litter like this.

To my right, I heard another bird singing. I edged slowly closer, trying to take the quietest steps a bumbling human like me can. I waited patiently and soon, a Bewick’s Wren hopped down the branches of a tree. He was singing his lovely little song with his tail up and his white stripe distinguishing him across his eye. I paused to watch and listen and smiled, appreciating his appearance. I didn’t manage to photograph him before he moved on, but here is one I saw a while back in my backyard. Sometimes the experience and the watching is better than snapping a photo.

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Bewick’s Wren

These are the only photos I’ve managed of a Bewick’s Wren. The lighting isn’t great, but that’s okay. Its more about seeing the bird than acting like paparazzi. Though I love getting nice photos of birds, especially new  species, its not what I’m in it for. After all, I still just use a point-and-shoot; nothing fancy.

After my walk, I feel happy. I feel lighter and calmer. There is no denying the calming and healing effects of nature. Its even backed up by scientific studies that say walking in nature is good for your brain. I believe it! Let this be my reminder to you to get out into nature regularly and enjoy the simple things and the living things and the beauty around you.

Immerse yourself in the blue sky, the green grass, the swishing trees, the singing birds. Even if just for a few minutes.

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