Admittedly, only a few of the photos in this journal were outtakes. The rest were simply neglected or forgotten mainly because of the amount of photos taken on my recent roadtrip. When I'm sorting through thousands, it's easy to miss a few. This is my chance to post a few more that I feel deserve a little recognition for one reason or another.
A popular tire - It was a surprise to see a giant tractor tire resting on Bottle Beach, but it was no surprise to see a mass of shorebirds huddled against the giant heat resevoir. It doesn't take a bird brain to recognize that the tire was a great windbreak and also a source of warmth.
Hiding in plain sight - After scanning hundreds of shorebirds for unusual species, I finally gave up. I shouldn't have. The next hundred would have revealed my target. Look at the larger shorebird against the tire. It wasn't until I downloaded the photos that I discovered the Red Knot, my prime target. I was only about ten meters away and missed out on a close-up photo opportunity.
A bundle of bills - What else would you expect when you're in the company of a flock of dowitchers. Based on the white on the bellies and the dense spotting on the neck, I'll guess they're Short-billed Dowitchers.
Who's the fattest of them all? - The Black-bellied Plover wasn't difficult to pick out from the mob of waders. It was the chubby one that should have been enrolled in weight watchers.
Birds of a feather stick together - A small band of Sanderlings stuck together and had a preening session in the midst of the swirling godwits, dowitchers, and peeps.
Flavor of the day - The common menu item on the beach seemed to be very long pink worms. Besides the one being caught by the Marbled Godwit, I saw several caught by a variety of birds.
Egrets everywhere - I'd never seen more than two or three Great Egrets at one time until Summer Lake. There were over twenty in the marshy area near the beginning of the autoroute. From a photo I saw on the internet, nearby Dutchy Lake was full of them.
Finally, a Swainson's - Red-taileds and Northern Harriers were the common hawks on our trip. It was a treat to finally see a Swainson's, but no luck on the Ferruginous.
The technicolour coat - This photo doesn't do justice to the remarkable coloured coat of the White-faced Ibis. Part of the problem is that they rarely stay still for the proper photo.
Good news, bad news - I've never had a chance to photograph a Forster's Tern up close until our arrival at Malheur. A tern hovered over a slough right in front of us, but the sun was in my face. Enjoy the silhouette.
The longest bill? - There was no contest in the longest bill contest at Malheur. The runner-up was the White-faced Ibis, but the undisputed winner was the Long-billed Curlew. The bill looked quite unmanageable to me - like a pair of crooked chopsticks, but it was a very efficient tool for the curlew.
More Cowbirds - I was surprised at the number of Brown-headed Cowbirds I saw on the trip. They seemed to be everywhere including the Malheur visitor's centre where they were competing with the California Quail for spillage from the feeder.
Fruit lover - All the other birds were at the seed feeder. It was only the Bullock's Oriole that frequented the orange feeder. No, i don't think oranges account for the Bullock's colour.
Reverse flight - Normally the Black-crowned Night Herons fly away from me when they are flushed. I was quite surprised to see one turn around and fly right by me. By the time I got the camera out, it was already too far for a sharp picture. This is what we call a "record shot."
Teenager - Black-necked Stilts always seem a little hyper to me. I think of the American Avocets as the more mature and sophisticated adults while the stilts are the youthful and hyper teenagers. Who else would wear pink tights.
The Least was least - Usually during shorebird migration I see a lot of Least Sandpipers, but on this trip, I only saw about three. My theory is that the Least Sandpipers migrated earlier than the Westerns and Dunlin.
Antelope Island - I don't regard Antelope Island as a very scenic, but it's charming in its own way. I guess the desert terrain and gnats detract from any romanticizing.
Darts - American Avocets in flight remind me of darts, or better still, arrows. This group was at a state park near Hurricane, Utah. There were also a few Black-necked Stilts in the group.
To batter that overused phrase again, "a bad hair day?"
I usually see White-faced Ibis in marshes or flooded fields. I was surprised to see them out in the open water at Bear River Lake.
How much wood can a Chukar chuck? None. It leaves it up to the woodchuck. It's amazing how widespread the Chukar has become thanks to the shooting clubs that released them for their hunting pleasure.
I'm always fascinated by the Loggerhead Shrikes. They always seem so focussed, business-like, and efficient. Same with the Northern Shrikes we see around Vancouver Island.
Normally the shrikes are loners, but it was mating season. The mates were never too far apart.
Smile - click! Shrikes can be very obliging at times, especially if they're busy hunting. They won't leave a good spot if there's lots of food around. I've seen them catching grasshoppers and other large insects, but I'm still waiting to see other menu items.
Lost in the files - I knew I had a decent Western Grebe photo somewhere. It was simply overlooked in the mass of photos taken on the trip. I think this one was taken at Bear River.
Although my focus is usually on birds, it is difficult to ignore the natural beauty of the mountains, trees, waterways, and sky.
I've always felt that the best part of any trip is coming home, and it was. There's nothing like the comfort of your own proerty and worldly possessions. Anyway, it was time to get the garden in shape and continue with the long list of neglected projects that never seem to go away. What did go away was my local trio of Red Squirrels who normally plunder more than their share at the feeders. They didn't discover our return for over two weeks much to the delight of the birds. It was also time to get reacquainted with my local menagerie of yard birds that had to work on their own survival skills without the assist of backyard feeders. After 25 days of neglect, they weren't too upset to see my return. In fact, more than a few were quite delighted. Within a week I was totally forgiven and my feathered friends and their many offsprings were back on their visitation schedule.
Of course, it was also time to catch up on some of my favorite birding venues. I regret missing the Common Mergansers this year. The gorgeous little red-headed ducklings are one of my favorite targets, and I'm sad to say that I only made one little pathetic effort to find them. I did actually see them on June 22, but by then, they were tough-looking teenagers. However, I did manage a trip to Victoria and a visit to Mystic Pond for my annual Great Blue Heron nest shots. As an added bonus I was able to find the history-making Black-necked Stilts at Maber Flats (thanks for the directions, Mary). Heading north, I was delighted to see that the Denman Eagles had successfully rebuilt and nested after losing their home in 2010 and failing to nest in 2011. Unfortunately, disaster struck again before my second visit. I'll explain later.
June 9 - Welcome to the Mystic Pond Heron Colony. For some mystic reason despite its open location the colonyy has so far eluded devastation by marauding Bald Eagles. It hasn't been immune to the occasional attack in past years as one local resident told me of a nestling being unceremoniously carted off by an eagle, but it has been spared the same mass destruction as Beacon Hill Park a few years ago. It was a joy to see the huge alder tree decorated with about eight nests, and they all seemed to occupied by fuzzy little tenants.
Taking pictures of the herons can be done from the road, but the best view is probably from one of the backyards on the northern side of the pond. I was hoping to connect with one of the residents for permission but didn't see anyone. Someone across the street suggested that I try Terry, but it was just my luck that he wasn't home. Oh well, maybe next time. Anyway, I was able to document some activity from the triplets in one of the nests and wasn't disappointed with the results. If anyone out there has the key to one of the backyards, please let me know within the next week or two before they fledge.
Pile of sticks - Great Blue Heron nests aren't exactly works of art. However, the birds do their best to provide a safe platform for their reproductive activities. Judging from the thickness of this nest I think it is several generations old.
Sightings of Black-necked Stilts on Vancouver Island are extremely rare. The stilts seem to prefer the hotter climate like central and eastern Washington and Oregon and central B.C. I couldn't find any mention for V.I. in the birds of B.C. Apparently, there has been at least one past sighting, but I have no idea by whom, when, or if verified. That's the problem of having no official records committee and hence no official records. In any case, the current appearance of not one but FOUR stilts has been thoroughly documented thanks to the abundance observers and digital cameras.
The appearance of four stilts was sensational enough, but the coup de grace was that they mated and produced young. If that isn't tantamount to a miracle then what is? There is no doubt in my mind that this isn't just the top birding news of the year, it is the top news of the decade. What else is there? Okay, I've been birding since 2003 and I can't think of any other more amazing bird event. It sure gets my vote. What would you vote for?
There was no way that I wouldn't make at least one visit to see the stilts. Mary R. was kind enough to give me the directions to Maber Flats, and I conveniently placed it on the schedule after my Mystic Pond visit.
The Black-necked Stilt saga commenced at 12:51 pm on Apr. 24 when Mary Robichaud reported the amazing appearance of 2 stilts at Panama Flats.
On Apr. 25 by the process of meiosis the 2 stilts split into 4 stilts and relocated to Maber Flats where they were seen at 6:45 pm by Jeremy Gatten and confirmed the next day by Andy Teucher.
On Apr. 27 Isabelle Dufner observed two of the stilts mating.
On June 2 Daniel Donnecke spotted 4 stilt chicks! On June 4 Klaus Emmanuel thought he saw another 3 chicks and they were confirmed by Michael Simmons on June 14. (To be continued next journal ...)
One of the many Savannah Sparrows at Maber Flats couldn't understand all the fuss about the stilts.
Spotted Sandpipers were common at Maber and quite annoyed with all the tourist-types gawking at the stilts.
It didn't take long for my yard birds to rediscover that the feeders were full again. It's always a pleasure watching them come and go and see which birds have had successful nesting times. When I have time I sometimes stick the camera out the window for a little fun. Here's a few of the usual visitors.
I always try to take a camera with me when I work in the garden in case I find a photo-op. Anise Swallowtails are always very photogenic especially when the lilacs were in full bloom.
Red-breasted Nuthatches have been making their non-stop visits to the feeders. There are several parents with at least two generations of fledglings.
As usual, they grab a sunflower seed and fly off to their caching locations. They don't need GPS as they have phenomenal memories and can remember thousands of hiding places.
It was fun to see my resident Hairy Woodpeckers making their regular visits. On several occasions they brought their fledglings, but some of the fledglings also came on their own.
There's at least two chickadee nests around my house. One is in a nest box and the other is in a crevice in the carport. They are usually on the feeders to greet me in the morning.
A new resident this year were a pair of White-crowned Sparrows. They nested in the garden where I frequently saw them carrying food to their fledlings. The fledglings were extremely well-disciplined and almost always stayed hidden in the raspberry patch or mock orange bush where I think they nested.
At times I would see about five males at the feeders with a variety of females and fledglings as well as one juvie Brown-headed Cowbird.
After seeing very few Red Crossbills in the past two years I was surprised to find several making regular visits to the feeder.
I'd never seen crossbills making regular feeder visits in my yard before. I was pleased to find that they were quite cooperative about being photographed.
There's generally a pecking order at the feeder, but no one challenged the crossbills when they arrived.
Despite the prehistoric looking bills, the crossbills are very photogenic subjects. These pictures were all taken when it was raining lightly.
Another regular feeder visitor is the Black-headed Grosbeak. The female seemed to be the most regular visitor initially, but lately the male has been more frequent. I'm visualizing the female brooding in the nest.
June 11 - Most people are oblivious to the natural beauty around them. Such is the case of Harewood Plains in south Nanaimo just above the Nanaimo Parkway. Harewood Plains is one of the rarest sensitive ecosystems on the west coast. It is a coastal grassy plain similar to grassy plain at Helliwell Park on Hornby Island. The thin layer of soil on a rock base is suitable for only plants with shallow root systems and that includes a bountiful array of splendid wildflowers like seablush, common camas, and the rare and endangered bog bird's-foot trefoil. After years of procrastination I finally made the effort to visit Harewood Plains and was duly rewarded by a magnificent display of wildflowers. I enjoyed the plains so much that when my daughter visited a week later, I made it a point of taking her there despite the less than ideal weather.
I won't make any attempt to identify the flowers since you know most of them anyway but will tell you that the best way to get to the plain is to take the first right off Chase River Road which is just past Chase River School. You're now on McKeown Road which deadends right at the plain.
June 14 - It's always a treat to visit Reifel bird sanctuary in Ladner and even though the weather didn't cooperate, there was much to observe and enjoy. The fun started right in the parking lot when we caught Kathleen coming out with a handful of blueberries. She gave her best imitation of a Sandhill Crane and three young cranes came running. The first two knew exactly what to expect an reaped the reward of the blueberries. The third wasn't quite clued in and only watched in confusion.
The dull weather wasn't conducive to photography, but I never come away without a few shots. A female Wood Duck was resting on a familiar log and kindly posed for me.
The habitat of ponds, waterways, and saltmarsh is perfect for swallows. They are magnificent flyers but have to rest sometime. I was pleased to find a Tree Swallow rsting on a twig and not a birdhouse or bridge.
The familiarity of the birds with humans often provides closer photo opportunities.
The challenge of photography is to find a more interesting compositions. The Great Blue Heron in flat light was an opportunity.
Here's one of my favorite poses. Just look up a bit. That's it. Click!
It can be intimidating to be face-to-face with Sandhill Cranes on the trail. Although they are quite gentle in most cases, never let your guard down. No problem with the big lens as i was about 10 m away for this shot.
Birth and death are all parts of life. We are joyous when new life is born, and we can accept that death will follow after a long and successful life. But, it is tragic, and we mourn when life is nipped in the bud before it has time to blossom and fulfill its potential. Such were my emotions in the past month at an aerie I was visiting.
Two eaglets were born in the first week of May while I was away in southern Utah. A friend sent me photos of the two balls of fuzzy, white down. I wished I were there to see for myself, but I was happy for the parents and the new life they produced. Last year they failed to reproduce. Their nest had blown down the year before. They eventually rebuilt, but it was too late in the spring, and no eggs were produced in 2011.
My first chance to visit the nest was on May 29, and I was delighted to see the two fluffy, gray shapes moving in slow motion on the nest. The eaglets were still in that awkward, gangly stage where they could barely roll over or sit up. I could hear the proud parents chattering from some nearby trees while they surveyed the waters for their next meal. I set up my tripod and camera and settled in for the long haul knowing it could be up to two or three hours before I saw some action.
It was my lucky day. Forty minutes later one of the parents flew in with a midshipman, a popular fish for the eagles during the breeding season. This was my favorite scene, watching the parent delicately pulling pieces from the fish and gently feeding the eaglets. It took about fifteen minutes to finish the midshipman. An hour later the other adult flew in with part of an unidentified fish and the feeding scene was repeated. In two and a half hours I had some decent shots. I would have loved to stay longer, but it was time to leave. As it was, I felt privileged to have witnessed and documented another fascinating chapter in the life of the Bald Eagles.
On June 15 I returned to see how the eaglets were progressing. The joy I felt on my previous visit soon turned to horror. I was aghast to see half of the nest was missing. I quickly set up my camera and peered intently at the fuzzy shape clinging to the remaining half of the nest. I was hoping that the second eaglet was hidden behind the first, but my worst fears were soon realized. There was only one eaglet. Unless there was some kind of miracle rescue, I could only assume that the other chick had gone down and perished when the nest collapsed. It was still too young to be able to flap its wings to break the fall. If branches miraculously broke its fall and it survived, it would still be at the mercy of other predators like martin, mink, raccoons, or other raptors. The loss of an eaglet was tragic, but the collapse of the nest was not surprising. Although wind and rain were contributing factors, the main culprit was the foundation. The nest was balanced precariously by two small branches with a few sticks leaning against a higher branch. If eagles had building inspectors, the foundation would have never passed inspection. As mentioned, the nest had collapsed two years ago as well as in previous years. Two years ago the eaglets were much older when the nest collapsed and were able to survive on the higher branch. This year the eaglet is much younger, and we can only hope that it can hang on until it fledges.
May 29 - Ever vigilant, at least one parent eagle keeps an eye on the young ones in the nest.
Meet, the 2012 generation and note the seemingly solid and secure nest.
It's always a treat to see the kinder and gentler side of a fierce predator.
The chick on the left seemed to be getting most of the food, but the other wasn't forgotten.
Sibling rivalry starts at a young age ...
June 15 - Fast forward two weeks - Life at the aerie seemed to be normal until I saw the nest.
Most of the nest was gone and the remainder was just hanging on. There was only one nestling left clinging to the top of the nest. I could only speculate that the other had perished when the nest started disintegrating.
The cup was half full - I was thankful and relieved to see that one of the eaglets had survived. It was sad to see the second collapse of the nest in two years. As mentioned in the preamble, the branches supporting the nest are inadequate. Someone needs to attach a crosspiece between the two small branches and maybe one two the large upper branch. (I heard of a person in Washington who actually does things like that, but I suspect our local authorities wouldn't approve of tampering with nature even though we do things like building Purple Martin nest boxes.) In the meantime, the eagles aren't any wiser than humans who build houses on a flood plain. A seaside location with the perfect view is more important than a secure nest isn't it?
My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)