Exploring Burnaby’s Parks and Natural Areas

Saturday November 22, 2014 saw the inaugural walk in the series I’ll be leading over the next few months called Exploring Burnaby’s Parks and Natural Areas.

A keen group of eleven participants, we found ourselves outdoors on a beautiful fall morning – blue sky, fluffy cumulus clouds, and sun. Yes, sun. Luckily, it seemed the weather gods were looking upon our enterprise favourably. We managed to find the one fine day between soaking Pacific fronts that had been storming across the region on the belly of the jet stream for a week; and then continued the downpours afterwards.

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Searching for a Fox Sparrow skulking in a blackberry thicket

Starting at the rugby fields at the foot of Sprott St., we wanted to see as much as we could during a relaxed 3 hour walk by following the Still Creek corridor upstream from its outlet at Burnaby Lake.

However, before we got to creekside, the large flock of Canada Geese on the rugby fields (not playing of course) got our attention. Taking a closer look at the more than 150 birds happily grazing the grass fields we noticed that in fact there wasn’t a single Canada Goose among them. They were the Canada’s smaller cousin, the Cackling Goose. Originally thought to be just small Canada Geese, scientific studies, including genetics, have recently shown these birds to be a separate but similar species,

CACG

Cackling Goose. Note the darker colour, small, rounded head, short neck, and small bill which separate the Cackling from the Canada.

Looking around from the parking area, we had excellent views of a flock of American Goldfinches actively feeding in the treetops. After walking across the fields to the banks of Still Creek, we were soon appreciating the many waterbirds at the mouth of Still Creek including Double-crested Cormorants, Buffleheads, and Common Mergansers. Shortly after, we walked north-west along the creek where we saw our Bird of the Day, a beautiful adult Northern Shrike, an uncommon bird in Burnaby. Perched at the top of a large black cottonwood, it was out of camera range unfortunately, but the spotting scope provided great views for everyone.

As we continued, a shrubby area off the main trail featured our most active group of birds for the morning feasting on the berry-sized fruit of Pacific crab apple trees, and red-berried hawthorns. Cedar Waxwings, Purple Finches, American Robins, Spotted Towhees, and Fox Sparrows made up the mixed feeding flock.

In all during the walk, we saw about 30 species of birds, but I won’t retell the details of each sighting, but encourage you to join us next time to see them for yourself. The schedule of walks and details will be published by the City of Burnaby. The dates are:

Saturday Jan 10 – Burnaby Lake Winter Water Birds
Friday Apr 17 – Welcoming Spring at Deer Lake Park
Tuesday Apr 28 – BBY Mnt Conservation Area Spring Songbirds
Saturday May 9 – Dawn Chorus at Deer Lake

A full list of our sightings on November 22 is shown below.

Cackling Goose  150
Canada Goose  6
Wood Duck  2
Mallard  10
Bufflehead  8
Hooded Merganser  1
Common Merganser  3
Double-crested Cormorant  25
Cooper’s Hawk  1
American Coot  7
Glaucous-winged Gull  5
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  25
Downy Woodpecker  2
Northern Flicker  3
Northern Shrike  1
Steller’s Jay  1
Northwestern Crow  60
Black-capped Chickadee  8
Brown Creeper  1
Pacific Wren  2
Golden-crowned Kinglet  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  2
American Robin  40
European Starling  20
Cedar Waxwing  12
Spotted Towhee  10
Fox Sparrow  5
Song Sparrow  8
Purple Finch  5
American Goldfinch  25

 

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Still Creek – Urban Wild, Birds and Poetry!

Over many years, Still Creek has been trashed; it’s been abused, polluted, buried underground in culverts through much of its course in Vancouver; had its banks channelized and stabilised, and its valley mostly built upon. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of our urban waterways – [It] don’t get no respect!

Flowing mostly above ground in Burnaby and open to the sky, it is nevertheless, a highly urbanized stream – not a the first place one would of think to go looking for wildlife and nature. But yesterday, a quick look along the stream east of Gilmore made me determined to take a closer look today. I planned to travel from its mouth, taking pictures along the way, while following it upstream, staying as close to the watercourse as possible, and finishing my journey where Still Creek enters Burnaby as it emerges from under Boundary Road.

This morning, bright and early, I was at the creek’s mouth where it empties into Burnaby Lake. A frosty start to a mostly dull day, I began my biking and birding route enjoying the pleasant winter scene below, with the promise of an interesting morning’s birding.

Greater White-fronted Geese are a fairly rare bird in Burnaby, at least on the ground. We get huge flocks flying high overhead in wonderful undulating chevrons in late summer, but they’re headed for points south: Washington and Oregon, and then on to California. Only the occasional bird stops here. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see six immature Greater White-fronted Geese grazing on the rugby fields at the west  end of Burnaby Lake. What a good start.

The Greater White-fronted is smaller than our resident Canada Geese. The picture below shows a nice size comparison to its larger cousin.

And here’s a close-up showing the orange legs, orange bill, and the dark face with just a hint of the white at the base of the bill that will be much more extensive when this bird is an adult.

Carrying on upstream, in a mostly westward direction, my route along the Central Valley Greenway became steadily more urbanized and built-up, but still allowed views of the creek from the numerous bridges that span it. But there were plenty of brushy areas, and small stands of trees that were holding an amazing number and selection of birds.

In winter, many small birds forage and travel in mixed flocks, and it’s possible to see eight or more species in one small patch of bush and trees. A regular member of these mixed flocks is the Downy Woodpecker, pictured above.

Below is a Dark-eyed Junco, another flocking bird that frequently mixes with other species.

Also a member of these mixed flocks is the tiny Brown Creeper. Today I was lucky enough to get a sequence of pictures showing this bird’s foraging technique. They’re perpetual motion machines, and with the poor light this morning, the pictures aren’t perfect. These birds are never still.

Here’s the Brown Creeper creeping (what else?) up a dead snag.

Here it’s probing with that long curved bill looking for whatever may be holed up under the tree bark against the cold weather.

Bingo! Capture! A spider, I think, and very quickly dispatched.

Fox Sparrows and Song Sparrows are common throughout the city in parks, gardens, and anywhere where beautiful thickets of Himalayan blackberries are established. Although the blackberries are non-native, and disliked unfairly by many, they provide some of the best dicky-bird (birder talk for small bird) habitat we have, especially in disturbed sites.

Above is a handsome Song Sparrow – a common resident species here. Note the striped face, and particularly the grey stripe above the eye which widens at the rear of the head.

Above is probably my favourite sparrow to spend the winter in these parts, the Fox Sparrow. I know it’s another LBJ (more birder lingo: Little Brown Job), but this guy’s really got attitude. I think you can see it in the above picture. And doesn’t it look just great among the red-osier dogwood stems?

In fact, I like Fox Sparrows so much I couldn’t resist showing a second picture I took today. Just look at this perky bird.

The quick and easy way to tell these two LBJ’s apart is to look at the head and face. Where the Song has stripes, the Fox has a mostly plain, unstriped head and face, plus a two-tone bill. The lower mandible is yellow, contrasting with the more horn-coloured upper mandible.

On the stretch of the Central Valley Greenway shown below, Still Creek is to the left, but inaccessible,  and mostly not visible from the path. It’s an urban landscape, but the bushes and trees are full of life – real Urban Wild.

And it gets increasingly industrial as you head west.

Here’s where your compost and garden waste bin contents get unloaded after being picked-up curbside, before they’re shipped off to Delta for composting. But even here in this industrial setting, the gulls, arch scavengers that they are, have discovered a food source, and are performing some clean-up functions even before our waste has been shipped-out.

The birds feeding here are about 50:50 Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Glaucous-winged Gull hybrids. I won’t get into gull hybridization here; I might lose my readership!

Continuing west, and finally getting back creekside between Willingdon and Gilmore, here’s a picture of one of the things that caught my eye yesterday, and set today’s adventure in motion.

A beautiful drake Green-winged Teal (left) and a drake and duck Mallard loaf in the middle of Still Creek. Both duck species are quite common along the creek, and are particularly easy to observe along this stretch.

Also making a home here, is at least one Great Blue Heron. I saw one today, and managed to get the picture below yesterday of this one (same one?) perched treetop.

Of course, this stretch of the creek is the site of the famous Burnaby crow roost, where 10’s of thousands of birds fly in each evening to spend the night. And there’s plenty of evidence of their presence, both olfactory and visual.

And on the final stretch, heading toward Boundary Road with the creek invisible to the left, we’re in the full concrete jungle. But even here someone, a guerilla poet I suppose, is thinking of the natural world amidst the bustle of the everyday. Stencilled neatly on the sky train supports, just at eye-level, the poem unfolds as one walks, or cycles to work.

And so it starts:

Each morning

We fly

To work

Steady steps

Spinning wheels

Till like the crows

We return

To roost

How appropriate. How marvellous. Like Still Creek itself, this most urban part of the city has its life and liveliness, and poetry too.

***

To see a full list of birds I saw today, click here – Thirty species – a good count for such an urbanized location.

All photographs in the above post were taken along the Still Creek corridor today and yesterday.