Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Overview of My Trip to Vancouver

Russ and Laura on the ferry to Vancouver Island
The only photo of Russ and me from the entire trip, from the ferry to Vancouver Island.
This month, Russ attended a scientific meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I got to tag along as his plucky sidekick. I’ve never been to Vancouver before, so I wanted to prepare before we left, buying used copies of the two out-of-print birding guides about the area, Keith Taylor’s The Birder’s Guide to Vancouver Island, and the Vancouver Natural History Society’s The Birder’s Guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.

I didn’t have as much time as I usually do to plan for the birding—usually I’ve done a complete study of what birds I might find, and where the best places would be for me to go to find each one—but this time I was heading there pretty much cold. I’ve wanted to visit Vancouver Island since I started birding, and so Russ and I decided to take the ferry there on Saturday because Russ had the day off. That turned out to be fortuitous because we ended up chatting with a birder named Ken Kennedy, who gave us lots of suggestions and information.

Laura and Ken Kennedy on the ferry to Vancouver Island
Laura and Ken Kennedy

Thanks in part to him, we spent Sunday at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary—an unforgettable day.

Wood Duck
People are allowed to purchase bags of nutritious food to handfeed the ducks and chickadees, so a great many birds are wonderfully approachable at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.

Stanley Park is well known for birding and was less than a mile from our hotel, so when I arrived on Friday, we spent the afternoon there together, and I hiked to Stanley Park on my own on Monday.

Fox Sparrow
I love the western Fox Sparrows!

Russ took Tuesday morning off from his meeting so we could bird in Queen Elizabeth Park.

Queen Elizabeth Park

I went to North Vancouver on Wednesday. That was actually to meet my favorite composer in the known universe, Michael Conway Baker, but I managed to get in some quality bird experiences, too.

Steller's Jay
One of Michael Conway Baker's Steller's Jays

I spent Thursday, the last day of the trip, at Jericho Park.

Pacific Wren
Pacific Wren on the icy, rocky beach at Jericho Park

Russ and I rented a car to get to the ferry and to get to Reifel Sanctuary, and did all the rest of our travel on foot or using public transportation. As it turned out, we could have managed without the rental car entirely without changing the birding itinerary. That would have been both cheaper and less fraught—driving through Vancouver early on weekend mornings was a piece of cake, but getting back in late afternoon or early evening, even on weekends, was pretty awful. But Vancouver’s public transportation system was wonderfully easy to negotiate. The transit website gave perfect directions telling me where to catch the bus or train, which one I’d use, and where and how to transfer. All in all, I took the Sea Bus, trolley buses, regular buses, and Sky Train.

My Vancouver birding books are both over 13 years old, and Vancouver has seen a lot of development over the past decade, but the parks I visited hadn’t changed much, so the out-of-print guide books were still quite helpful. Just as useful was eBird—the bird-reporting website operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon.

I didn’t get any lifers on this trip—I’ve birded too long to have many opportunities for those over most of North America anymore—but did see plenty of one species I entirely missed last year on my Big Year. Northwestern Crows are all over the place in the Vancouver area, but I never got far enough north along the Pacific last year to see them.

Northwestern Crow
Northwestern Crow

I also got to see a few Ancient Murrelets on the ferry ride to Vancouver Island—that’s another that I missed last year.

Ancient Murrelet
Ancient Murrelets

But even though I seldom see new birds anymore, I did get some of the best photos I’ve ever taken for some species, and my first photos ever for Ancient Murrelet and White-winged Scoter.

White-winged Scoter
White-winged Scoters

The best thing about this or any trip is getting to experience birds in a whole new place. We lucked into a long stretch of amazingly clear weather, and even if most of the species were familiar, I got to see them in new places doing new things. I got a series of photos of a common, everyday Double-crested Cormorant swallowing a surprisingly large fish.

Double-crested Cormorant swallowing a fish
Looks like a snuff film for a poor striped bass

Double-crested Cormorant swallowing a fish

Double-crested Cormorant swallowing a fish

I also photographed a Common Murre swimming and diving wonderfully close to where I was standing on a pier.

Common Murre
Common Murre

I haven’t spent nearly enough time birding in the West, so every day was a treasure. It’ll take a long time to get through the thousands of photos I took, and to write about the most exciting things that happened, but for me, much of the joy of travel comes from savoring the wonderful experiences after I get home. Birding trips are like a gift that keeps on giving, long after the trip is over.

Black Oystercatcher
Black Oystercatcher