Jan. 26 - A Day at the Goshawk Cafe
To have close-up views of a Northern Goshawk devouring its prey is usually a once in a lifetime event except if you are at the JERICHO BEACH PARK in Vancouver. At Jericho the amazing spectacle is more than a daily event as not just one but two Northern Goshawks have made the duck pond their personal "ducky" restaurant. If you hang around the duck pond for a couple of hours, you're pretty well guaranteed of seeing either the adult or immature Northern Gosawk dropping in for an order of Mallard a la carte or American Wigeon on ice. If you're really lucky, you'll see both.
The forecast for Jan. 26 was for sunny skies. It was the window of opportunity I was waiting for. I could still take advantage of the January fare sale on B.C. Ferries and the fare exemption for seniors. All I needed was a little cooperation from the Goshawks. I caught the 8:30 am ferry, and my spirits were high as I parked, unloaded my gear and headed towards the pond. I was pleased to see that there was already a congregation of photographers at the western edge of the pond. It always helps to pass the time talking shop with other photographers, and it's always fun to meet a few new photographers. As I neared the group, I responded to their curious stares by asking, "Am I too late?" That broke the ice immediately, and there was a laughing chorus of, "Yes, the adult was just here!" I didn't want to hear that as it meant there was one well-satiated Goshawk that wouldn't be back for awhile, but I knew there was still the immature Goshawk. Hopefully, it would be looking for lunch pretty soon.
I introduced myself to the nearest photographer, and was pleased to meet BRAD ESAU. I have enjoyed many his excellent photos on the FLICKR via the BIRDINGBC website. We exhchanged stories and opinions for a few minutes until a Winter Wren popped out of the dessicated bulrushes. It was a cute little fellow with no tail, but a shadow across the face rendered all my shots useless. The next interruption was from a few brave ducks that slipped and slid across the ice towards us to feed on some seed someone had thrown down. 15 minutes later, still no Goshawk until we noticed another group of photographers in the field towards the west. They had their cameras pointing up to a medium-sized deciduous tree. We grabbed our cameras and headed west.
It didn't take long to see the immature Goshawk perched in the middle of the tree, nicely obscured by an array of little branches. It took a lot of jockeying and repositioning before we all go some reasonable shots. For its part, the Goshawk was very cooperative in not minding the $100,000 worth of photographic equipment pointing at it. The branches didn't bother me as the face was clear. I was quite happy with a photo that reflected a typical setting for the bird. Besides, how could one complain with full-frame shots in perfect lighting.
The Goshawk showed no signs of leaving for awhile. That gave me a chance to say hello to AL and ELAINE WILSON. They are excellent photographers and their website http://naturespicsonline.com is a remarkable resource for all nature photgraphers from beginner to pro. Unlike my website, you'll never see a bad picture on their site, and unlike a lot of photographers they don't mind sharing all they know including the location of all their shots. After we exchanged greetings and updated each other on our activities, the Goshawk finally showed some signs of life. It shifted positions, peered left and right and then launched itself on a ground level flight directly towards the duck pond. We all headed east.
When we arrived at the pond, we were greeted by an extraordinary sight. The Goshawk was completely in full sun on the ice about 10 meters from shore, and it was plucking a live American Wigeon. Apparently, it had nailed the wigeon on its first pass. The adult took several sorties before it snatched a Mallard earlier in the morning.
Point-blank, full-frame, sunlit shots of a confiding bird is the stuff of dreams for nature photographers. It is even more special when the target is a special bird like the Northern Goshawk.
Most raptors would never have tolerated a battalion cameras clicking away at close range. I'm not sure if the duck was too heavy for "take out" or whether the hawk was used to dining in.
The Goshawk was oblivious of the paparazzi clicking away, but it did look up occasionally to check for any competition or intruders.
I was surprised that the usually raucous and opportunistic murder of crows kept their distance.
What's this? A cover up? As a few crows flew overhead, the hawk surprised me by pitching a tent over its meal. Was it trying to conceal the food? Make itself look invisible or bigger? I'll have to ask Dick next time I see him.
Are they gone? The coast was clear. The Goshawk put away its tent and resumed its meal.
It took about an hour for the hawk to disect most of the flesh.
All that was left was the least appetizing parts like the entrails.
Finally, the hawk was finished, and it sat down to reflect on a fine meal or was it waiting for its bill?
I would have liked to stay to try for a flight shot as the bird was leaving, but I had a schedule to keep. I thanked the Goshawk for its remarkable performance and allowing us to share the special time. It was another one of those very special days in nature that I'll forever cherish.
As often is the case, my plan was to stop at Boundary Bay on the way to the Tsawassen ferry. This time I thought the sun would cooperate, but as is often the case, the clouds were closing in. I would have my usual one hour visit with Shorty (the Short-eared Owl).
I spotted Shorty as soon as I stepped on the dyke on 64th. I was disappointed to see the sun disappear behind a thin layer of clouds. I upped my ISO to 1000 and hoped for a few decent record shots.
Shorty was relatively cooperative as he seemed to be hunting in the same general area of the grassy foreshore.
I decided to walk out to get a little closer to Shorty.
At first he didn't mind. but eventually he decided to bug me and flew right over to where I was originally.
He then flew over the dyke over towards the greenhouses. By now the sun was toatally under the clouds even though it wasn't even close to sunset.
When I finally got back to the dyke I looked back and saw Shorty jousting with a harrier. I thought they were just playing but ...
When I enlarged the photo I saw what the harrier was after. I hope Shorty was able to hang on to his hard-earned meal.
Jan. 27 - A New Bird Close to Home
Trust me to be off the Island when a rare visitor shows up a half hour from where I live. When I got home from Vancouver, I checked the BCVIBIRDS website and found out that a Northern Hawk Owl had been sighted and photographed just south of Nanaimo. It was another one of those "to-die-for" birds that I was hoping for.
Unfortunately, the forecast was for snow and when I woke up, there was snow, and it was snowing lightly. That didn't deter me. No one knows how long a bird will stay so this might be my only chance to ever see a Northern Hawk Owl. I was lucky. The bird was still there, and it wasn't snowing or raining.
When I arrived at 1819 Morden Road, Gillian, the Hawk Owl hostess had just come out to greet a few other birders. She had reported the bird two days earlier.
She happily pointed out the bird that was huddled on a small snag right beside the road.
My camera was already set for 1000 ISO from yesterday's session with Shorty. Despite the dull conditions, I was happy with the results. They would have to do unless I get another chance in the sun tomorrow.
The Hawk Owl looked like it was going to curl up for a big nap, but a few minutes later it flew off to some small conifers in the distance. I was grateful that I had arrived before it flew. Thanks again, Gillian, and thanks to those who posted and updated the information.