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Mockingbird Summer

by George Bradd, Tofino


Summer birding season in Tofino offers breeding species of birds that spend the winter in the neo-tropics. Many of our common breeding birds spend our winter months in Central or South America. The Swainson’s Thrush, like many other Canadians, spends its winters from Mexico to Peru. It arrives in Tofino in mid June. Their flute-like songs ring through the forests until late July when they start to be less vocal. During August they leave again for the south, spending just a short time here.

The summer populations of songbirds swell the forests with singing birds. The vigorous singing of the nesting birds is a crucial help in locating rare nesting birds by their song. The rare Hutton’s Vireo has a distinctive song that it gives the bird away even though it tends to be shy, yet curious, and hard to find because it is found only in few places. Without summer singing this species would be even more difficult to find.

The end of July is a time when many young songbirds can be difficult to identify. Many young warblers are flocking together with adults and travelling together in migration. Many young Orange-crowned Warblers are in our area now. Immature Orange-crowned Warblers can vary in colour from brown to grey, have little facial markings and they do not sing. In addition, normally Orange-crowned Warblers stay low in the vegetation, but now they are feeding higher in the trees. No song or distinctive field marks make this one of the species that can be confusing in the late summer. Some young birds are very tame and curious and will approach very close to you. This close up view sometimes also confounds observers because you miss the field marks while getting blown away by looking at a bird only a foot away from your head.

Exciting summer rarities show up every year and provide a constant puzzle as to where they came from and how did they happen to arrive here in Tofino.

Chesterman Beach has hosted summer Long-billed Curlews and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. Pacific Rim National Park has had records of Ruff and Solitary Sandpiper during summer months. Seabirds seen off of Tofino include Horned Puffin (from Alaska) and Ancient Murrelet. A Prothonotary Warbler was seen at Long Beach for bc’s second record. This year a Manx Shearwater and Ancient Murrelet were seen off of the West Coast Trail. Brown Pelican were seen off of Tofino!

Early this July I was treated to a summer surprise. I was leading a birding group one morning after 3 hours sleep the night before and a full night of owling. I was groggy to say the least. When you have birdwatched in one area for a long time, you get used to common species and tend to give them less notice then something unusual. Having birded many years in California I have seen many Mockingbirds and they are a common backyard bird there. In Tofino they are rare.

As I led my group of keen British birders down Long Beach, a Mockingbird flew by me in full view. It snapped up an insect in mid-air and landed on a log on the beach. I noted the Mockingbird in my half sleep, walked by and ignored it, instead I was listening to warblers in the forest.

I realized an instant later what I had seen and turned to see that my birders were frozen in their tracks, with that look of, “What was that?” in their eyes. They were elated to see a Mockingbird in Canada on their holiday from Britain!

Summer is nesting season and a crucial time of year for birds. All nesting birds should be treated with respect. If you know where there is a nest in your yard try to avoid scaring the parent birds when they are bringing food home for the babies. Don’t trim garden bushes or hedges with nests, until after the babies have fledged and left home. Keep your cat or dog from disturbing the nest or killing the young birds. Domestic cats kill large numbers of bird every year and feral cats are a major predator of birds in the Tofino area.

On our rocky coastlines, the stunning Black Oystercatcher with its bright red bill lays its 3 to 4 eggs in a crack in the rocks. One parent bird attends the nest while the other forages for food. Beachcombers should be aware that if you get too close to the nest, you will scare the incubating bird away and gulls may eat the eggs or chicks. During the unusual period of heavy rain earlier this summer many Oystercatcher nests flooded with water resulting in up to 50% nesting failure in some areas. Next year it will be important for our local birds to be able to produce more chicks to make up for this years losses. If you see a large black bird peeping loudly, go the other way on the rocks. A little extra caution can go a long way in not disturbing nesting and feeding Oystercatchers.

Two other sightings of Mockingbird have been reported from the west coast this summer, one of them from the very same beach where we saw our bird! Nothing like a rare bird to provide a name for a magical place of beauty that I previously had not named. Now I have a place I will always think of as Mockingbird Beach.

George Bradd operates Just Birding, a Tofino company specialising in birdwatching tours. For more info, visit his website at www.justbirding.com

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Tofino bird watching guide George Bradd writes about his experiences during birding trips in Tofino for Tofino Time magazine.

tofino time august 2005

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