Journal 219 - Aug. 7, 2007
July 28 - Eagles at Columbia Beach
Jul. 28 - Most mid-island Bald Eagle chicks have fledged in the past week two or three weeks. The family at Columbia beach seems to be a going concern with one youngster as the centre of attention.
Doing what it does best, the juvenile is begging for more food.
July 28 - A trip to Chemainus with a stop at Holden Creek and a detour to Nanaimo Lakes on the return.
Jul. 28 - Gulp! - The juvenile Great Blue Heron has just swallowed a small amphibian or fish at Holden Creek. It has been encouraging to see a number of juveniles lately given that many rookeries have been ravaged by Bald Eagles. (There were only a few least Sandpipers in the fields.)
Crossbills at the Crossroads - Everywhere I've gone in the past two months, I've heard and seen Red Crossbills. Red Crossbills have also been reported more than usual around Vancouver Island. In the vernacular of the birder, this is an irruptive season for the Red Crossbills. For the past few years they have been relatively scarce. That didn't necessarily mean they were endangered or their populations were decimated. It only meant they were probably enjoying the scenery and cuisine in other parts of the country. Similarly, Pine Siskins disappear and reappear at various times.
Crossbills are usually foraging for cones and seeds at the tops of high trees in mature conifer forests. But they also need minerals for their diet. My first experience with Crossbills was at Nile Creek three years ago. A flock of them were foraging inside a large, rotten driftwood log. Presumably they were after the salt or minerals that had saturated the decayed wood. Yesterday I encountered the Crossbills at the crossroads by the gate to the Nanaimo Lakes. They were on the ground scraping muddy dirt from the road. If my high school science serves me right, they were after Calcium Chloride or some other deliquescent substance used to control the dust on gravel roads. Later I saw them further along doing the same thing.
The prehistoric-looking crossed-bills might look as intimidating as the tusks on a wild boar, but they are harmless. Crossbills are gentle songbirds, and the crossed bills are simply nature's adaptation for procuring seeds from cones. Different subspecies of crossbills have different sized bills depending on the size of cones most frequently utilized.
Males and females are easily distiguished because of sexual dimorphism. Males are a distinctive deep, brick red while females are greenish-yellow. Both have plain black wings with no wing bars. Juveniles have brown streaks with patches of yellow.
First year males can be a blend of yellow and orange.
Besides cone seeds, Crossbills also eat weed seeds, insects (especially aphids), and berries. However, as they are most dependent on seed cones, and the most serious threat to their existence is the depletion if seed bearing trees by logging and land clearing.
The breeding season for Crossbills can occur at any time especially where food is plentiful.
Summer Scene - What would a drive in the forest be without a grouse or two? After the crossbills, we were fortunate to see a maternal Dusky Grouse with 3 chicks. As usual, the hen boldly stayed in sight while the chicks scurried for safety.
Aug. 4 - Revisiting the Purple Martin
A couple of weeks ago I posted a photo of a male Purple Martin on Bird Forum (the largest bird sharing website in the world). One of the comments I got was, "Great photo but ugly bird." I was rather annoyed by the comment as Purple martins are beautiful birds. Like all swallows they are wonderfully streamlined and graceful fliers. Just to prove my point, I went out and took a bunch more pictures. I thought it would be easy, but it wasn't. I had to take about 500 shots (3 visits) to get a few presentable photos, and I'm still not satisfied. I'm not sure what the problem was, but it could be that the camera can't adjust the focus fast enough to keep up with my panning. Upping the ISO to 800 definitely helped.
Spending a few hours with the Purple Martins offered plenty of time for reflection. I marvelled at how their populations have recovered from a low of about 5 nesting pairs just over 20 years ago to over 600 pairs today. It certainly is one of the "feel good" stories in recovering a species on the brink of extirpation. The people responsible definitely deserve recognition for their efforts.
How could anyone think Purple Martins are ugly? I'm not going to try to argue the point. I'll let the pictures do the taking. By the way, they we still taking food into the nests which suggests that they are still nestlings to be fed.
Aug. 6 - While golfing at Fairwinds on Aug. 5, I noticed some birds feeding on the cedars on the 17th fairway. I thought they were Yellowrumps, but decided to take my camera to check it out. I was right. They were mainly yellowrumps, but there was one stranger. (Sorry for the poor picture quality - bad lighting.)
Meet Mr. Cowbird??? Whoa! What's Mike smoking these days? ... For those of you new to birding, you can sometimes identify a bird if you know the parents or vice versa, but not all of the time. The problem is brood parasitism, an unscrupulous habit practiced by birds like the Brown-headed Cowbird and European Cuckoos. These birds do not build any nests at all and simply deposit their eggs in nests of a multitude of other species. In fact, the Brown-headed Cowbird victimizes over 200 species including the diminuitive hummingbirds. That's like you or I trying to sit on a thimble. P.S. - don't adjust your set. Mr. Yellowrump is fanning her wings.
Most of the Cowbird's victims are smaller than the Cowbird which often has detrimental consequences on the victimized bird's own offspring.
As you can see, the parasitic fledgling is much larger than the host bird as well as the host nestlings. The parasitic bird hogs all the food which jeopardizes the survival of the host nestlings. In fact, there are some parasitic nestlings that actually murder the host nestlings and throw them out of the nest.
Some host birds have learned to detect parasitic eggs and remove them. But, that doesn't stop the European Cuckoo. The European Cuckoo has the unique ability to mimic the eggs of the host! It can actually lay eggs of different size and colour to match the host eggs. How incredible is that?
Aug. 7/07 - Wild Bird Chase #1001
Just to keep track of my wild bird chases, I thought I would start numbering them. Of course, I have no idea of how many I've been on, but it feels like a thousand so today's chase could be #1001.
Every chase requires a motivator - a posting on the internet or a direct message. Last night I received an email from Erdine Mills in Courtenay. She had seen and photographed two Green Herons at the Courtenay Airpark in the morning. One was a juvenile with light wisps of cotton for its hairdo. I've been cutting back on my birding to focus on chores, but I couldn't resist a juvenile Green Heron or a chance at a close-up shot of an adult. With rain in the forecast I needed a better excuse to hit the road than the chance of a bird photo. It just so happened that I had rounded up a few copies of my Volume I book (from the Aerie and Tofino Botanical Gardens). That was it. I knew Blue Heron Books in Comox had a waiting list.
When I arrived at the Airpark, it was overcast, and all was quiet. There weren't even many people around. I carefully checked the river bank and then the lagoon. Only a few Mallards, Hooded Mergansers, a single Long-billed Dowitcher, and a solitary Great Blue Heron. I was disappointed but not depressed. This wasn't my first miss.
At the end of the lagoon as I was passing a lady, gentleman, and dog, the lady asked, "Are you Mike?" It was Erdine, the lady who emailed me. We had a friendly chat, and she described where she had seen the herons.
After a brief look around, I proceeded to Comox then headed to Boston Pizza for Pasta Tuesday. The toast and tea I had for breakfast didn't provide much energy. After a delicious bowl of "Jambalaya pasta" I returned to the Airpark for one last look. Just for fun I was clicking a few photos of the birds I saw earlier when a new bird landed across the lagoon from me. It was the juvenile Green Heron. I managed a few shots before someone shouted and frightened everything away. Unfortunately, I wasn't close enough, and I had the wrong focus setting on the camera. I had switched to dynamic area for the Purple Martin flight shots and hadn't switched back to spot focus ... yes, rookie mistake. Always check your settings before you even leave the house. (I hope Jamie in Courtenay phones me with a book order soon.) I'm not proud of the results, but as the preacher says, "for better or worse ..." here they are.
It's always satisfying to find the bird you're looking for. Thanks for the tip, Erdine.
SIDNEY - VICTORIAN BIRD HOUSE, TANNER'S BOOKSTORE COMOX - BLUE HERON BOOKS BOWSER - LIGHTHOUSE GIFTS DEEP BAY - SHIP & SHORE VICTORIA - BOLEN BOOKS, MUNRO'S, Crown Publications, Ivy's UCLUELET - WORDS END BOOKSELLERS Comments, questions, or book orders? email email@example.com
SAANICH - WILD BIRDS UNLIMITED
CAMPBELL RIVER - SAVE-ON FOODS
DUNCAN - VOLUME 1 BOOKSTORE
CHEMAINUS - Willow's Wild Bird Store
LADYSMITH - SALAMANDER BOOKS
NANOOSE - SCHOONER COVE MARINA
LAKE COWICHAN - GALLOPING MOON GALLERY
TOFINO - BOTANICAL GARDENS
Quadra Island - EXPLORE & BOOK BONANZA
SIDNEY - VICTORIAN BIRD HOUSE, TANNER'S BOOKSTORE
COMOX - BLUE HERON BOOKS
BOWSER - LIGHTHOUSE GIFTS
DEEP BAY - SHIP & SHORE
VICTORIA - BOLEN BOOKS, MUNRO'S, Crown Publications, Ivy's
UCLUELET - WORDS END BOOKSELLERS
Comments, questions, or book orders? email firstname.lastname@example.org