Title photo - Many years ago Adrian Dorst told me that some First Nations referred to the Marbled Murrelet as the "kiss my butt bird" in reference to its habit of showing its butt as soon as you see it (especially if you are just ready to take a picture). The same can be said for many birds including the majestic Bald Eagle and other raptors like the Red-tailed Hawk especially if you're toting a large lens. I have more than a few posterior shots of the eagles.
April never disappointed in terms of showers, but there were many breaks in the weather that allowed for some photography. Unfortunately, most of the trips weren't productive. For example, I made one trip to Victoria but was zero for two on targets. Likewise several trips along our local coastline from Lantzville to Qualicum Beach were fruitless. For the most part I was just looking for after spawn activity hoping to find an unusual gull or just some unexpected activity. Two items that I had in mind were my usual rite of passage with the breeding plumaged Bonaparte's Gulls while they fattened up on herring roe for the migration to their northern and interior nesting grounds. The other goal was to capture some better images of the Eurasian or Common Teal at San Malo. It was a challenge just finding them at all, and then there was the double problem of getting close enough with the proper lighting. As they say, "If at first you don't succeed, ..." Happily, several efforts later, I had some improved images but not the pristine results desired.
As inconvenient as the showers may be for humans they are essential for many plants, and significant for the migration of birds that rely on the "green wave." April is migration time for our summer birds. I was disappointed to miss Mark's Mountain Bluebirds and Epi's Western Bluebirds at San Malo despite my many visits, but that is the nature of birding, and I know my opportunities will come. As a consolation a pair of Townsend's Solitaires decided to camp in my yard for an unprecedented 22 days which is some kind of record. They have visited in previous years but never for more than 3 or 4 days. Two other consolations were the late (better late than never) return of my nesting Violet-greens and a late surge of Rufous Hummingbirds on April 29 that suddenly increased my local population at least 25 times from 3 or 4 birds to over 100.
Mar. 25 - A couple of book orders from Bolen and Munro's gave me the excuse for a quick trip to Victoria. Of course, I also took the time and opportunity to look for the Purple Sandpiper and Pink Geese, but neither were available, and since I didn't really expect to find them, I wasn't too disappointed. However, for consolations I decided to try for some new Wood Duck photos at King's Pond and Great Blue Heron nest shots at Mystic Pond. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring any duck treats, and the ducks responded by being stinkers by mostly staying under the over-hanging weeping willow. The only shots I got were a couple of full frame, uncroppable (is this a word?) images. While I couldn't do anything with the composition, I was satisfied with the colour and detail.
I fared a little better at Mystic where several Great Blues were enjoying the sunshine on their nests. Although there was the usual problem of distance, the trees were still leafless and some clear views were available from about 75 m. For the most part the herons just seemed to be waiting around for in preparation for the laying of the eggs.
While waiting around one of the herons stayed busy with domestic chores like rearranging the furniture.
Rufous returns - My first Rufous Hummingbird (Hariet) arrived on March 22. Not surprisingly it was a female and within a few days it was joined by another 1 or 2 girls. As the days turned into weeks the expected returns did not materialize. Checking the migration maps I could see that the migration was slower this year, but could it be 2 weeks slower or more?
I wasn't the only one wondering where the rest of the flock was. Hariet was also perplexed. She would sit for long periods of time on top of her favorite rhodo stem waiting patiently while I was only 3 meters away working on my taxes at the dining area window. From Mar. 22 to April 28 the hummers consumed less than 2 cups of nectar. On April 29 I spotted a bunch of hummers at the feeder and since than the consumption has been more than 3 cups a day indicating around 150 birds according to the Findlay Formula of 50 birds per cup.
The herring spawn sometimes lingers into the third week of March, but on March 30 I was surprised to see the milky green water from French Creek Marina up to Eaglecrest. Sea lions, gulls, and Bald Eagles were everywhere taking advantage of the late feast. Most of the eagle action was a little too offshore for photos so I didn't bother setting up my tripod and camera, but when a juvenile Baldie swooped down and grabbed a herring right in front of me it didn't take long to get my gear out.
Of course, as soon as I was ready, Murphy's Law kicked in. There was still a lot of eagle action, but none of it was close enough for good action shots. On the other hand, the gulls didn't have any problem getting close to the eagles as they looked for an opportunity to share in the catch.
There goes another eagle ready to pluck another herring for its lunch. The eagle's claws are very powerful with three talons facing back and one facing forward to grasp its prey in a vice-like grip. I'm still waiting for the perfectly timed shot of an eagle grabbing a fish.
It's a total mismatch but the gulls are fearless and always give it their best shot as they chase and harass the eagles hoping they would drop their catches.
I was near the flight path of the resident eagles at Columbia Beach. I had several opportunities for shots of eagles flying by with their catch but only one where the sun was at the right angle.
Meanwhile, back at the marina the sea lions also discovered the bonanza of herring, and an orgy of feasting ensued.
The sea lions seemed to be working in teams or groups pursuing the herring.
On April 1 my first male Rufous appeared. At first I thought it was Harry, my dominant male for the past few years. But that was not to be. When I finally got to see its back, it had virtually no green feathers on its back. Harry had a significant amount of green feathers. Just for fun I named the new male Harry Junior.
It didn't take long for Harry Jr. to take over the perch at the feeder, but he was disappointed that there were almost no other hummers to chase.
Harry Jr. thought the perch was his, but he was in for a surprise. Hariet laid claim to the perch ten days earlier and she wasn't about to give it up. She buzzed him off and that was the first and last time I saw Harry Jr. using the perch. In fact, his visits to the feeder were few and far between, and I wondered if he had found other feeders in the neighborhood.
As mentioned I regularly checked the beaches looking for the Bonaparte's in particular and any other bird or activity in general. On April 2 I stopped at Qualicum Beach to check on the huge duck raft that was offshore a couple of days previous. The huge raft had disappated and only a few small clusters remained. However, gull activity along the tide line was abundant.
Most of the gulls were the yellow-legged California Gulls, but there were also many Mews, Glaucous-winged, and Bonaparte's.
My target gulls were the Bonaparte's which were dwarfed by the Californias. Many were in various stages of moult on their way to their breeding plumage.
With a little patience the gulls gradually accommodated my presence to allow for some close-up shots. This one had almost completed its molt.
I had to wait for quite awhile before I spotted one with a solid black head. It took some time to finally get a shot with the catch light in the eye. Notice the herring roe in the bill.
It had rained for most of the day on April 5, but it finally relented at dinner time. While setting the table I looked outside and spotted a gray bird perched in the red osier dogwood tree in the yard. I was ecstatic to see that it was a Townsend's Solitaire.
It had been quite a few years since the last solitaire visited my yard. I took a few photos of the solitaire in the tree from my bedroom window then looked around the yard. There was another solitaire hunting in the grass.
I went outside and quietly watched the solitaire as it perched then flew down to capture its prey. I carefully approached taking small and slow steps. The solitaire continued hunting right in front of me.
Eventually the solitaire in the osier tree flew over and both flew to a willow stump. They perched for a few minutes the continued hunting.
Shortly after, one of the solitaires flew to the holly tree to pluck a few holly berries. There seemed to be a pattern of foraging for bugs on the ground then downing a few berries for dessert. I expected the solitaires to disappear in a few days, but the days turned into weeks. By the time they disappeared I had the pleasure of their company for an amazing 22 days. It was quite an unexpected extended stay for the solitaires which saw them behave more like regular yard birds than wary open forest birds. The one behavior that I fondly enjoyed is the seeing a solitaire coming regularly to my homemade ground-level bird bath about 6 meters from the house.
I occasionally get tips from people regarding bird or bird-sightings, and I consider them gifts. On April 11 I received a gift from Sarah who spotted a bushtit nest near VIU. She kindly gave me directions and since I hadn't seen a bushtit nest for many years, I decided to take advantage of her gift. The nest was exactly where she described on a trail to the campus, and it was hanging like a Christmas stocking on a hawthorn tree. I waited for about 20 minutes hoping for a Bushtit, but the birds didn't show.
It's always exciting to see a fallout of migrants in the yard. It used to happen more regularly, but with more development in the area and few trees there is definitely less bird activity. Of course, that makes any activity much more special.
Apr. 11 - I don't know if you can call it a fallout when three migrating male Pileateds cruise into the yard, but it was definitely special. It didn't take long for one of them to discover the suet block while the others explored the yard.
I have two red ant hills in the yard that the Northern Flickers sometimes visit. The red ants also provided a tasty treat for one of the Pileateds.
The third Pileated seemed to be content with foraging in the grass, but I didn't see it catch anything. After about ten minutes the Pileateds carried on, and I never saw them again. However, I've had a local nesting pair for many years, and I'm I'm hoping they'll soon be making regular visits to the yard.
The Eurasian Teals at San Malo had eluded me for many years, but this year was different. After Mark W. reported them a few weeks earlier, I made a concerted effort to track them down. My problem was that in order to get them close enough for photos I had to have a three quarter tide in the morning so the teals would be foraging close to the mail boxes and the sun would be at my back. Unfortunately, the proper tide wasn't always in the morning, and being close to the mail boxes and trail meant there would be a significant amount of traffic to flush the ducks. After many unsuccessful visits I finally spotted one half way along the mud flat towards the former art gallery. The sun was at the wrong angle and the duck was too far away, but at least I had my first sighting and some record shots.
The record shots of the Eurasian fueled my obsession for a better photo. With only a couple of weeks before the teals would leave for their nesting grounds my desperation increased so I doubled my morning visits and threw in a couple of afternoon visits. The afternoon visits provided the revelation that the sun would be almost at my back if I were shooting from the roadside towards the gallery. Besides the reasonable lighting, the ducks seemed to be foraging in a area close to the roadside where they weren't disturbed by pedestrian or vehicular traffic.
On April 17 I noticed a bunch of Green-winged Teal foraging by the roadside in the late afternoon, but I didn't see any Eurasian Teal or the hybrid Eurasian-Green-winged. I decided to return the next day. The tide was still too far out when I arrived. To pass the time I snapped a few shots of the migrating Savannah Sparrows that were passing by.
Finally, the tide was right and a few teals flew over from the other side of the mudflats. They were soon joined by a few more ducks and one of them was an Eurasian and another was the hybrid. The hybrid was most obliging as it came close to shore right in front of me.
The Eurasian wasn't quite as cooperative but close enough for some decent shots. The only problem was that it had to be at the proper angle from the sun for a decent shot. I waited patiently for about ten minutes while it foraged with its back to me. It finally turned and provided a few reasonable shots before it was out of range. I was pleased with my improved shots because this was my last opportunity at the teals before their migration. Looking at the photo I noticed that the barring pattern on the feathers was much coarser than I have seen on any Green-winged Teal. I don't know if it's the same for all Eurasians. If it is, maybe it's another difference that will contribute to the split in species from the Green-winged.
I don't know if it's because we're empty-nesters, but my yard birds are special, and I look forward to seeing them every year when they return from their various vacations. I was saddened when my expected gang of Rufous Hummingbirds were delayed, but many finally arrived, and I'm now enjoying their playful antics. I don't mind admitting that I spend more than a rational amount of time sitting and watching sometimes with the camera and sometimes without. Besides the hummers I have a number of regular songbirds that nest in the vicinity and are regulars in my yard for the nesting season, and as far as I can determine, they're all accounted for with the exception of the \brown-headed Cowbirds which I don't miss at all. The cowbirds were actually here for a day but I haven't seen them since so I hope they have found an alternate site.
One of the earliest returning songbird is the beautiful Yellow-rumped Warbler. They usually arrive in mid-March and continue until the nesting season is over. Occasionally I'll see male or female at the suet feeder, but mostly they're happily foraging in the surrounding alders and other trees. Okay, I have to admit this is not one of my yard birds. This is one of the Yellow-rumpeds that was part of a fallout. I have had several occasions when my local birds landed close to me but only when I was sans Nikon. Whenever I have tried to photograph them they were too far or too obscured by branches.
The fallout of Yellow-rumpeds was really quite exciting. Besides the usual non-stop foraging in the deciduous trees there were several whirlwind skirmishes with two birds engaged in feathery combat. I'm not sure what was happening, but it was quite the spectacle. I was hoping to get a photo but it happened several times in the garden while I was on the wrong side of the fence.
I haven't looked back at last year's photos but I'm sure I took a photo of the Orange-crowned Warbler on the same branch. It was probably two weeks later than last year, but I'm happy to finally hear its gentle trill whenever I'm outside.
I was also anxious about my resident Violet-green Swallows. First I was concerned about their safety and well-being, but I was also concerned that if they didn't arrive soon their nest box might be taken over by a chickadee or even mud wasps which has happened in the past. As a precaution I always put up several nest boxes, and have some extras if you need one. In any case, they arrived on April 20 which is only one or two weeks behind the average. My best opportunity for photos is always the garden where the female gathers nest material while the male sits on the hydro line and watches.
My annual White-crowned Sparrows were also a bit late, but they are now common every day birds around the yard.
The Dark-eyed Juncos are deceptive in terms of migration. There is usually a hiatus during the late summer and early spring where they disappear and then reappear six weeks later. Are they the same birds or are they new ones that have migrated in from another latitude?
The Fox Sparrows are usually in the neighborhood for most of the winter especially if weather conditions are harsh. I think they head for the west coast or further north for the nesting season.
A group of Golden-crowned Sparrows have been here all winter and have just disappeared a few days ago (May 13). There was no major influx other migrating Golden-crowneds like there was a few years ago.
If you're wondering why there is a discrepancy between publication date and journal date, you're right - I'm just that disorganized. The other answer is that sometimes I produce a title photo weeks in advance and just guess at when the journal might be completed. In the final analysis, does it really matter? If you can convince me that it does, I'll try to get it right next time. Meanwhile, enjoy your day and do something that will make someone else happy.
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.)