Port Alberni CBC – December 30, 2012

The Christmas Bird Count season on Vancouver Island is pretty much wrapped up and it’s nearly time to put away the heavy duty rain gear and focus on better weather birding when one isn’t “required” to go out and count birds.

This weekend I joined the crew out at Port Alberni for their annual Christmas Bird Count. Those of you who make the summer drive out to Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast probably know it as the last place to get some gas, grab a coffee and take a washroom break as you carry on westward—I’ve actually stopped to do some birding and botanizing in the area and have been impressed with its rich potential as a natural history destination. Finding more good spots to bird in the Alberni Valley was one of reasons why I signed up for Port’s CBC, the other was that they really do need more birders to help out with their count.

On Sunday, December 30, 2012 I was up before dawn and on the road to meet up with two local birders named Stan and Roy. Port Alberni is about an hour and twenty minutes from the Comox Valley so an early departure and a travel mug of coffee were required. We rendezvoused at Stan’s house around 8:00 a.m. and then piled into Roy’s SUV. Our area was huge (it was actually two areas that had been merged) and stretched from China Creek Marina back through town almost to Highway 4.

Our first destination was China Creek with a few stops along the way, accessed by the gravel road that runs out from Port Alberni to Bamfield, not a pleasant road to drive in anything without good shocks and clearance. At our second stop we got a late morning great horned owl calling and a downy woodpecker. We dipped on an American dipper at a stream crossing but I picked up a hermit thrush feeding on some berries.

China Creek proved to be productive and we picked up both Barrow’s and common goldeneye, Western grebe, and common murre in addition to a number of other ducks, waterbirds and gulls. Forest birds were scarcer but we found a trio of varied thrush.

On the way back into town we stopped again at the stream crossing and this time got the dipper—it took some looking but we heard it just as we were prepared to move on and found it shortly after.

Bainbridge Lake
Bainbridge Lake was great for ring-necked ducks, pied-billed grebe, hooded merganser, and green-winged teal.

Doing a Christmas Bird Count in an area that you’re not familiar with local birders usually gives you an opportunity to “discover” new places to bird. Bainbridge Lake was one location in our count area that was very productive. We got good numbers of ring-necked ducks, pied-billed grebe, hooded mergansers, and green-winged teal. That it’s a beautiful little lake was a bonus.

A few more stops and we were back into Port Alberni and cruising the sub-divisions looking for urban birds, picking up the usual feeder birds, sparrows, crows, and starlings. This part of any count is somewhat arduous. It’s impossible to drive every street but fortunately both Stan and Roy knew where the good feeders were located. It was a bit of blur for me and I’m not really sure what route we took!

We did get out to walk some trail around the Burde Street Ponds. This is a wooded area across the road from a newish subdivision and should be very interesting in the spring. It was early afternoon by the time we got there and things were pretty quiet. We had hoped to get wood duck, but had to settle for more ring-necked ducks and hooded mergansers. We did get a fly over of  evening grosbeaks (thanks to iBird Pro app for helping confirm the ID by call) and red crossbills.

We had a bit of time to scope the Echo playing fields for killdeer and American robin but were skunked on both of those (although we got robins at a feeder location further on). I did get two good gulls on a ball diamond: a pale juvenile glaucous gull and a Thayer’s gull.

Port Alberni Mill
Excellent birding on the Somass River in downtown Port Alberni.

From there we made our way through town hitting a few hot feeder spots and searching for sparrows and finches that we still needed. Late in the day we ended up in on the Somass River waterfront in downtown Port to try for a few last waterbirds before the light failed. I was impressed at how good the birding was on this side of the river and was very happy to get some good looks at red-throated loon, a life bird for me. If you’re looking to add this species to your list, the waterfront in Port Alberni is pretty much a sure thing.

We could see large numbers of gulls over on the log booms by the mill but they were a bit to far to pull out much detail. The majority seemed to be the run of the mill glaucous-winged gulls but I did find a single Western gull that looked classic.

All in all it was a fantastic day of birding followed by a wrap-up dinner at the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Johnston Road (Highway 4) MC’d by the always entertaining count organizer Sandy McRuer. Not sure what the overall results as there was at least one area that didn’t report during the dinner but we did fairly well with a total of 61 species. This is a great count and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year!

Species Recorded:

  1. Northern Flicker
  2. Dark-eyed Junco
  3. Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  4. Golden-crowned Kinglet
  5. Spotted Towhee
  6. Fox Sparrow
  7. Common Raven
  8. Pacific Wren
  9. Downy Woodpecker
  10. Great Horned Owl
  11. Pine Siskin
  12. Bald Eagle
  13. Hermit Thrush
  14. Mallard
  15. Barrow’s Goldeneye
  16. Bufflehead
  17. Common Murre
  18. Western Grebe
  19. Double-crested Cormorant
  20. Mew Gull
  21. Canada Goose
  22. Common Merganser
  23. Trumpeter Swan
  24. Greater Scaup
  25. American Wigeon
  26. Pacific Loon
  27. Song Sparrow
  28. Common Loon
  29. Common Goldeneye
  30. Varied Thrush
  31. Great Blue Heron
  32. American Dipper
  33. Ring-necked Duck
  34. Hooded Merganser
  35. Green-winged Teal
  36. Pied-billed Grebe
  37. European Starling
  38. Steller’s Jay
  39. Red-breasted Nuthatch
  40. Northwestern Crow
  41. Glaucous-winged Gull
  42. European Collared Dove
  43. Rock Pigeon
  44. Hairy Woodpecker
  45. Belted Kingfisher
  46. Red Crossbill
  47. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  48. Evening Grosbeak
  49. Thayer’s Gull
  50. Glaucous Gull
  51. Sharp-shinned Hawk
  52. House Sparrow
  53. American Robin
  54. Purple Finch
  55. White-crowned Sparrow
  56. Golden-crowned Sparrow
  57. American Coot
  58. Surf Scoter
  59. Red-throated Loon
  60. Western Gull
  61. White-winged Scoter