Aug. 17 - I usually try to visit Holden Creek at least once a week during the shorebird season. As part of the vast Nanaimo River estuary it provides a nourishing and inviting habitat for migrating shorebirds. Although the numbers appear to have tapered off over the past few years, you never know what could drop in at any given time. I have fond memories of close encounters with a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, American Golden Plover, and a windfall of Stilt Sandpipers. Of course, there is always the hope of discovering other rarities such as the White-rumped and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and maybe a stint. But there is still another reason that entices me to the mosquito-infested, rancid-smelling, slippery mud flats, and that is photography. No matter what birds are available, it is a great place to take pictures because of positioning. I always love the sun at my back and that's usually always possible because the birds are in shallow ponds that you can walk around for the best lighting. There were no new birds today, but I had a very enjoyable and satisfying hour photographing a few common visitors like the Pectoral and Least Sandpipers and the Short-billed Dowitcher. In fact, I think I managed to get my best-ever photo of a Least Sandpiper.
Pectoral Sandpipers are normally common at Holden, and I knew it was only a matter of time before I encountered one, and sure enough, I found two today. The first one was rather shy. It hid behind the salicornia until it saw the peeps and Short-billeds foraging right in front of me.
It finally decided to join the other shorebirds next to me. The early morning sun cast an amber glow on the Pectoral as it foraged in a shallow pond. The ragged fringes on the feathers indicate that it is a worn adult.
Another aspect of shorebird photography that I love is the intimacy you can establish. There is no greater feeling than to be peacefully co-existing with the birds only a few meters in front of you. There is an undescribable feeling of being an integral part of nature as opposed to a destructive alien force.
The warmth and stillness of the morning was almost unbearable because of the swarming mosquitoes, but otherwise, the conditions were wonderful for photography. This has to rate as one of my al-time favorite shots of the Least Sandpiper.
The placid surface of the pond was a perfect mirror for the blue sky and ideal for reflection shots of the birds. Well, almost perfect - there were a few ripples to distort the reflection.
There was only one Semipalmated Sandpiper in the lot, but it did illustrate another variable field mark. It is not uncommon for them to have grayish-green legs. With my limited experience the norm seems to be grayish-black.
Semi-palmated means partially webbed and that's illustrated in this photo. Unlike the fuller webbing on the Western Sandpiper, there is only a thin web between the toes of the Semi-sand.
The Semi-sand usually forages non-stop, but like all of us, it has to occasionally stop and rest.
What a difference a year makes. I don't recall seeing a single Short-billed Dowitcher last year. This year I've yet to see a Long-billed at Holden.
Say "cheese." Here's a photo for the Dowi's family photo album.
The Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary is a favorite location for most mainland nature photographers, and I also look forward to the occasional visit. Photography aside, it's a great respite from your normal rut in life regardless of what rut your in. My window of opportunity came when I was able to hook up with Jim Martin to do a little mainland photography. Jim specializes in nature photography around Reifel and Boundary Bay but was only available in the afternoon so that gave me a couple of leisurely hours at Reifel.
I didn't have any geat expectations for Reifel as I heard it was very quiet, and it was in more ways than one. There were only a couple of cars in the lot when I arrived. That was the first quiet - hardly any inquisitive or overly exuberant visitors, and that was good. It was late morning and the sun was heating up. That was the second quiet - too late and too warm for the birds to be active. That wasn't good for me. It was mid-August and still too early for most migrants. That was the third quiet - also not so good for me. But, this was Reifel, and Reifel always has a few surprises.
By the time I reached the west pond, I had seen nothing but Mallards and an American Coot. It was refreshing to see the west pond busy with shorebirds. Lesser Yellowlegs and Dowitchers were everywhere, but there was one bird that had the classic posture of a Stilt Sandpiper. It was very upright with its head high and tail low and almost dipping in the water as it foraged. Its long slightly down-curved bill cofirmed that it was a Stilt Sandpiper. The rufous cap and edges on the scapulars and tertials indicated it was a juvenile. The Stilt was my first Reifel surprise. I hadn't seen one since the summer of '05 at Holden.
The Stilt was busy meandering back and forth as it foraged just a little too far out for my liking. Like most bird photographers, I also like to complain when I can't get full frame shots.
Suddenly, all the birds flushed and repositioned. When I finally relocated the Stilt it was quite close but in the wrong position for a decent shot. I waited for over an hour hoping for a better shot, but it never happened.
I had just given up on the Stilt when there was a small flurry of feathers. Surprise number two was four Red-necked Phalaropes that flew in an landed about 18 meters in front of me. That was good enough for a record shot, and that's what I got. Compared to the other shorebirds, the phalaropes were tiny.
The phalaropes were even less cooperative than the Stilt. After a brief session of circular foraging they flew off to the northern end of the pond. Despite only getting record shots, I really enoyed the phalaropes as I hadn't seen one since '04 while fishing out of Bamfield.
Most of the dowitchers were Long-billeds, and that gave me an opportunity to post my first Long-billed shot of the summer. As you can see from the previous shots, photography at the west pond is not ideal. It is impossible to get close and difficult to find a vantage point just for record shots. But sometimes you just have to enjoy seeing the birds and forget about the photos.
After my shorebird session I wandered up the middle dyke to the sheltered viewing platform which I had to share with a sleepy Mallard and also a nest of Barn Swallows. The adult Barn Swallows did not seem to mind my presence as they zipped close by with little concern to feed the nestlings. While I was phoning to let Jim know where I was I spotted a bird standing on a log beside some Mallards. I focussed my camera and was pleasantly surprised to see surprise number three - a juvenile Green Heron.
The Green Heron was busy foraging for its lunch. Occasionally, it would straighten up from its stalking stance and stretch its neck straight up as if to invoke some deity to call in some more prey. I'm not sure if it were the prayer or the stance, but after each stretching session the heron successfully snatched another fish.
Now it was back to business. The heron scanned the waters and assumed its stalking position.
Voila! Like a dart on a string the heron plunged it's bill and head into the water with unerring accuracy and snared another small fish.
It was a virtuoso performance, and after my enthusiatic applause, the heron graciously thanked me.
I did my best to keep the heron around so Jim could also get some pictures, but a passing pedestrian spooked the bird and off it went down the channel. When we relocated it, it was on a log with the sun at its back. We had to settle for backlit photos which sometimes can be very effective.
After the Green Heron escapade, Jim drove me down to the Fraser River to check out the Ospreys. Jim had been observing the Ospreys all spring and has excellent chronological photo documentation of the nest activity on his photo blog at [crazym.ca]. I knew the Ospreys had recently fledged so it was uncertain as to whether they would still be around the nest. I was hopeful when we approached the viewing spot, and was relieved when Jim pointed out one of the juveniles on the nest.
As you can see, the juvenile Osprey had lots of company in the nest. The attraction was the fish that Osprey was eating for lunch.
According to Jim there were originally three offspring, but lately he has only seen two. You can draw your own conclusions.
After its lunch the Osprey was happy to get away from the hornets. The aluminum capped pilings next door provided a hornet-free escape.
The second juvenile osprey was comfortably situated on a log on the beach. It must have been under parental orders to stay put as it didn't move an inch from its spot in the half hour we were there.
The only activity we observed was the occasional wing stretch and two "in-your-face" defecations. The Geneva Convention for ethical internet publication prohibits me from posting the defecation photos. The stretched wing display highlights the crisp, new plumage of the juvenile bird.
The parting shot from the Osprey was also my parting shot of the day. We were unsuccessful in locating the Common Nighthawk at Iona. While we were looking, one of the workmen informed us that he hadn't seen the nighthawks for a couple of days. My only hope was that they had successfully fledged and were safely enjoying the wide open spaces. Despite the missing nighthawks, it had been another full and rewarding day.
My posters are on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House; Nanoose Bay - Credit Union; Courtenay - Graham's Jewellers