Gowlland Tod Provincial Park — a successful quest for Pine Grosbeaks

Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, BC

A misty December morning in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park, Southern Vancouver Island.

I was browsing through the Vancouver Island Birds list (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BCVIBIRDS/ ) and saw that on Dec 29 Pine Grosbeaks had been spotted on top of Jocelyn Hill in Gowlland Tod Provincial Park. Dec 30th saw me and about 40 lbs of camera gear on the trail in Gowlland Tod, searching for the Grosbeaks. I had company: husband Mike, tramping friends Jan and Alan, and “Winterpeg” Steve.

Female Pine Grosbeak

Female Pine Grosbeak

We rambled through the mist and fog up the Emma Dickson trail, over Little Jocey Hill, and on to Jocelyn Hill summit — all without so much as a sniff of the Grosbeaks. But, while having lunch on the summit, a female came in to check us out. We followed her down the southern slopes of the hill to a grove of Arbutus trees. The trees were overflowing with bright orange berries and the Grosbeaks, along with Robins and Cedar Waxwings, were gobbling them down faster than teenagers on a bag of chips. None of the birds are what you might call “dainty” eaters — the berries were flying every-which-way around the trees. You could actually hear the beaks crunching through the seeds.

Jocelyn was quite “birdy” on Dec 30. As mentioned, we had Robins galore, flying wedges of Cedar Waxwings, Ravens, and more than a few Purple Finches. Unfortunately, none of the reported Golden Eagles made themselves known to us. But, my goal of seeing Pine Grosbeaks was successful. In total we saw between five and ten over the course of the day. All were female.

Female Pine Grosbeak

Sitting still!

Taking photos of the Grosbeaks was also a goal. Unfortunately,  these are far from the best shots I’ve ever taken, but to paraphrase Inigo Montoya and Westley in the famous duelling scene from the Princess Bride: “I must have your picture” — “Get used to disappointment.”

I schlepped my big lens and tripod to the top of Jocelyn Hill and never took it out (I call it “taking my gear for a walk”). Finally, on the way home we saw a Grosbeak that looked like she was going to stay put in the top of a tree. I got everything out, set up tripod, and, just as I was about to mount the 500mm, the bird flew.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak by Alan MacLeod

The upshot of this tale (other than “Get used to disappointment”) is that all my Pine Grosbeak images were shot hand-held with my 200mm zoom at a ridiculously high ISO. More images on Flickr.  However, the bird is such an infrequent visitor I thought I’d put the images up just to show the Grosbeaks REALLY were on Jocelyn Hill.

The day wasn’t the best for taking bird photos — light was a bit too low and the birds were very active feeding. But what a treat to observe them far from the madding crowd. We even managed a tiny bit of bushwhacking on our way back down. All in all a very pleasing way to spend a Sunday.


Mt. Finlayson in the mist