March 19, 2008 - Herring Spawn Time - There's no better time for bird watching and bird photography in Oceanside. Ducks, gulls, and eagles galore. But, all is not well. The herring biomass has declined sharply again as part of the downward trend for the past few years. Gull numbers are down. Duck numbers are down. Salmon stocks are down. If the trend continues, soon there will be nothing. No herring, no gulls, no ducks, no salmon ...
Back to the brighter side of life ... Invariably, I always get to meet or renew acquaintances with a few other birders and photographers during herring time. Two weeks ago it was gull connoisseur, Mike Tabak from Vancouver. This week I was pleased to share my birds with expert nature photographers, Al and Elaine Wilson from Coquitlam. I was worried that the sun would never shine for them but, finally, it mooned yesterday, and the Brant, Bonies, and ducks were cooperating. It's been hard to stay away from the beach in the past week, and I do have a few photos to share.
Even the mighty sea lion will feel the pain. It has eaten fewer herring than ever this year, and there will fewer meals of other species down the road.
One of the birds that seemed unimpressed with the herring hoopla was the Common Loon in French Creek harbour.
It was looking great in its breeding plumage.
It's a wonderful time to watch the gulls. There's always a few rare ones among the flocks of thousands. Do you recognize the gull in the middle?
The white wing tips caught my attention immediately at Admiral's Lagoon. I would have loved to get a closer photo, but it was safely isolated on Admiral's Island with all its relatives.
Guy Monty, Cameron Eckert, and Jonathan Simms all think it is an adult female Glaucous of the barrovianus variety.
For the past two years we have had the pleasure of an adult Slaty-backed Gull. Both times I was lucky enough to encounter Jonathan Simms and the Slaty-backed at the same time. Jonathan couldn't make it from Germany this year so I had to rely on Mike Tabak. Two weeks ago Mike discovered a second winter Slaty-backed just west of the Qualicum viewing stand. From his photos, I had a good idea what to look for.
Finally, on my fourth try, the Slaty stared me right in the face. Strangely enough, it was exactly where the adult Slaty was last year.
Slaty-backed Gulls are uncommon on Vancouver Island with usually only one or two reported most years.
Bonaparte's Gull number are still down from past years, but there are a few around. They sure are easier to photograph without their black heads.
Ring-billed Gulls are not very common around here. I usually see about 3 or 4 a year. Guy tells me that there is a regular at the east end of Qualicum's beach.
I did mention that Bald Eagles are everywhere. This immature one was eating some fish at Admiral's Lagoon. That's why there were no gulls there today.
Not all the ducks are after the herring roe. The male Eurasian Wigeon at French Creek was enjoying his usual vegetarian breakfast.
I was hoping to find the female Eurasian with the male, but it turned out to be a female American Wigeon.
I wonder where the Eurasian has been going for supper? Roe, roe your boat?
The best place to watch the sea ducks is Qualicum. If your timing is right, you'll find them close to shore.
As I mentioned earlier, duck numbers are down, but they are still impressive to see.
What would my herring spawn journal be without a couple of Brant pictures. These were close to the walkway at Parksville beach. I haven't been checking on the Brant numbers, but I hear they are down this year. They are still hunted on their wintering grounds so that would account for some of the shortage.
The Brant also depend on the herring roe to build up fat reserves for their flight to Russia.
Big white gull at French Creek- It's unmistakably a Glaucous. From the white eye, it should a second winter bird.
Even from about 25 meters the white eye is quite obvious. It was very skittish. It flew as soon as I tried to get closer.
The Thayer's Gull also depends on herring roe. It needs the high energy food as it has a long migration journey all the way to the high Arctic.
On the other hand, some Mew Gulls nest just a short flight away on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
I've seen a few thousand scoters in the past few days, and they've all been Surf Scoters. I wonder where the Black and White-winged are?
Yesterday, a small flock of Surf Scoters came right into the beach at Qualicum. The big waves created a big challenge for taking pictures, but I caught this one doing the "scoter scratch."
Ducks, ducks, and more ducks. The Greater Scaup have also been coming in close. There were hundreds of Greater Scaup, but I only saw one Lesser Scaup.
I love it when the sky and water is blue. Doesn't the male Greater Scaup show up well?
The female Greater Scaup also looks good in the blue water.
Barrow's Goldeneye are scarce compared to the other ducks, but there are always a few small flocks around.
It's always fun trying to photgraph the Bonies.
You can tell from the raspy squawks that the Bonies are around.
Yes, they are still my favorite gull.
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