New birds for a new year: winter visitors from the north

As I walk the path of beginner birding, I am frequently viewing, identifying and learning new birds! I thought I would share with you some of my more recent sightings of some special visitor wintering over around BC and the Pacific Northwest. I find marine birds are sometimes a bit easier as a beginner, while sometimes they can be tricky to identify, at least they tend to stay still a bit more than songbirds.

Harlequin Duck

The Harlequin Duck…what a beauty! Though I am particularly partial to all kinds of ducks. But this one caught my attention with its distinct white, black and brown plumage. Sadly, this beautiful diving sea duck is on Canada’s Species at Risk List for the Atlantic population and as such are protected by the Canadian Migratory Birds Convention Act1.

Their Northwestern counterpart seems to be faring better. In the Pacific Northwest, they typically spend the winter in turbid coastal waters and migrate inland toward mountain rivers in the warmer months.2, 3, 4 I had to patiently wait to snap this one in-between dives.

Surf Scoters

These visiting diving sea ducks from the sub-Arctic regions spend winter along temperate coasts down to Mexico. Warmer months are spent breeding as far north as Alaska and across the continent east to parts of Newfoundland. With beautiful multi-coloured beaks, Surf Scoters seem to have been given an unfair nickname of “skunk-headed coots” due to the white spots the males bear in resemblance of a skunk.5, 6

Black Turnstone

Blending in on dark rocky coasts, the Black Turnstone is another winter visitor from the north. They breed in coastal Alaska and migrate south along rocky coasts as far as Baja California. They look especially striking when in flight with their contrasting black and white colouring. They were named “Turnstone” for their feeding behaviour – funnily enough, they turn over rocks and pebbles and other objects to look for food (crustaceans, barnacles and limpets) underneath.7 Not surprisingly given their similar body shape and habitat, they are in the same family as sandpipers.8

While not technically a winter visitor, but a year-round resident, I was excited to come across the Black Oystercatcher recently! I used to see Variable Oystercatchers all the time in New Zealand, and had been wondering where their North American relatives had been hiding. This was my very first Black Oystercatcher sighting! They live along the Pacific coast from Alaksa down to California year-round.9 They are especially vulnerable to pollution and habitat disturbance due to their specific inter-tidal niche where they like to feed.10

Black Oystercatcher

6 thoughts on “New birds for a new year: winter visitors from the north

  1. Lovely photos – you are so fortunate to be in a place to see these amazing birds. (And I wouldn’t feel too bad for the Scoters – I think skunks are gorgeous creatures.)


    1. Thank you! 🙂 I am very fortunate to live where I do. Vancouver Island is surrounded by water basically everywhere – so lots of opportunities to observe some amazing marine wildlife especially.

      True, me too! I love just about all animals…I think the raccoon in my backyard are so cute even though they are considered pests.


  2. Great shots Hazel! I’d say you are well on your way to being a lifetime addict to bird-watching and photography. Thanks for sharing such wonderful photos of the beautiful species in your area!


    1. Thank you! 🙂 I would agree with you I think I most definitely am!! I am okay with that…its a great hobby that gets me out and about and you can do it anywhere in the world!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great specimens and shots there, Hazel. I will never forget my first Harlequin Duck in 2014. It was my bird of the year! Best wishes for a fun-filled bird-filled 2016. 😀



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