Thursday, January 5, 2012

Birds of Christmas: Haig-Brown House, Campbell River

Hooded Merganser on a side channel of the Campbell River

On the 2nd of January my wife Karen and daughter Maia and I had a chance to join some new birding friends here in Campbell River to take part in the Christmas Bird Count for the city and surrounding area. Kim, Lesley, and Vicki are responsible for counting birds in the area north of the river's estuary and then the side of the river from the Haig-Brown House on Campbell River Rd up to the dam.

We were lucky with the weather. It was a bit windy, but warm and no rain. During the day I got my best looks ever at Golden-crowned Sparrows coming to the feeder of a friendly old gentleman who enjoyed our stopping by and especially the hug from Kim.

We ended the day with a race against darkness to see if we could locate at least one American Dipper on the upper river. We looked at all the usual spots near the dam and the bridge and were heading back to the car when Kim spotted on sitting on a metal platform at the base of a stairway. I took this photo of a dipper singing in the same general area a few days earlier.

Other highlights included great flocks of siskins buzzing overhead in the hundreds, and good looks at hooded mergansers.

But for me the highlight was here on the Haig-Brown property when we found a bird who, to me embodies the contemplative, insular spirit of this place. We were making our way through the brambles on the eastern side of the property, and looking at kinglets. We had just counted 20 Golden-crowned and a single Ruby-crowned flitting through the mid to upper storey of the woods, when I came across a lone bird that looked much like another Ruby-crowned, except that it was moving very slowly and sitting still for a few seconds at a time. The broken eye ring looked different and it did not have the dark patch below the bottom wing bar that Ruby-crowned Kinglets show. But the thicker, vireo bill was the main feature that cinched the ID--a Hutton's Vireo.

This odd little bird has caused some confusion because after being vocal and easy to find all spring and summer it goes all quiet and solitary in winter, leading naturalists to assume originally that it was migratory.

Here is a note from an account of the vireo in an online atlas of B.C. fauna:
This species is generally more common than records suggest due to its quiet and retiring nature throughout much of the year, especially during the winter and in mid-summer when it is particularly difficult to detect.

Once people learned its call notes and how to separate it from the kinglet hordes, the Hutton's Vireo was established as one of the more interesting resident species of Vancouver Island.

In fact, the island has its own sub-species, vireo huttoni insularis. It is one of only four endemic birds on the island.

Kim, Lesley, and I stood transfixed as this quiet little greenlet foraged through the blackberry and rose brambles a few feet away. He was in no hurry to move on and in that moment seemed to me a wise forest hermit and I wanted to ask him what he knew of this place, this mid-winter of rain-drenched leaf and mossy branch.

I didn't have the camera with me, but made this drawing when I got back at the end of the day.

It was a fun Christmas Bird Count, and we recorded 48 species in our area alone, as well as this Red-throated Loon just outside our area.


  1. Being a Campbell Riverite and a bird lover, I enjoyed reading of your finds. I'll be on the lookout now for what you've seen.

  2. Thanks Diana--there are lots of birds in this town. Let me know if you need help identifying any of them.

  3. What a beautiful sketch! I wish I had that talent!

  4. Thanks Tracy--great to hear from "a writer, an activist, a photographer, and a small-town Kansas girl with big ideas." Big ideas are important.


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