The roadsides and hills around the Island are still ablaze with golden hues of fall, which is a testament to the gorgeous weather we've been experiencing. Normally by now the autumn windstorms and monsoons would have stripped the trees bare of any leaves. Of course, we've had the occasional inclement day such as Oct. 24 when I journeyed north to Campbell River to do a presentation for the teachers' professional development day. I only booked a half day session so I could bird on the way home. Needless to say, Murphy's Law prevailed, and it rained all the way home.
I've often wondered if and how our weather affects bird migration. Would the fine weather accelerate the passage of our southbound migrants? If that were the case, that might explain the meagre showing of shorebirds on the Island. Would the fine weather promote the northward wandering of southern birds like the Cattle Egret and Tropical Kingbird? I guess we'll never know the answer unless we equip every bird with transmitters as was done with the famous Bar-tailed Godwit that flew non-stop from Siberia to New Zealand. (By the way, I came across a B.C. connection to the Bar-tailed as a pair of locals were involved with the project in New Zealand. I think they were volunteers who were on their way to China for a teaching assignment.)
Over the past two weeks there have been two exciting bird reports on the Island. First, Derrick Maarven was greeted on his morning dog walk at the Dock Road at Cowichan Bay by a perky Harris's Sparrow. Most Harris's migrate south on the central flyway, but the occasional one wanders west along the Pacific coast. It was a rare but not unexpected sighting for the Island. The second report with photo confirmation came from Gartley Point just south of Royston. It was a wandering Yellow-billed Cuckoo and another amazing rare bird on the Island. The Cuckoo is one of those southern birds that occasionally strays to the north like the Tropical Kingbird instead of heading south.
Meanwhile, the return of our winter residents is continuing steadily. In the past week I saw my first fall Buffleheads, Barrow's Goldeneyes, and Northern Shrike. The influx of Bald Eagles for the salmon spawning has also been obvious with eagles hanging from every tree near the estuaries and hatcheries. A side note for those who haven't seen the White Ravens - there was a huge flock of about 200 Common Ravens hanging around the Little Qualicum Hatchery where the salmon carcasses have been dumped. I've seen a white raven there twice in the past two weeks.
Regarding photography, it has been a good news, bad news scenario. The good news was the terrific sunny weather and a few great birds reported. The bad news was that I haven't been able to find any interesting birds to photograph, but I was still on a roll with the mammals which explains why my feature bird is a River Otter! One more good news item - my big lens just returned from Japan where it had to undergo radical transplant surgery. I've tried it out twice in the past two days and it works great, but oh, is it ever heavy.
Oct. 18 - The Clover Point Otter - Today was one of those gorgeous October fall days where it was too beautiful to stay home and do chores. The drive to Victoria was pleasant but uneventful. My best sightings were the Ladysmith Red-tailed on its usual highway lamp post and the hazelnut sign at Chemainus indicating it was time to purchase our winter supply from the local nut farmer. My first stop in Victoria was Swan Lake. The fog had just lifted and the perimeter of multi-coloured fall leaves was picture perfect. I decided to lounge around on the boardwalk hoping for a Bittern or Sora to show up, but none of the birds cooperated. After an hour I headed to Clover Point. There were tons of people and dogs but nary a bird in sight. A leisurely check along the shoreline and grassy slopes revealed nothing of interest, but some activity in the water attracted my attention. It was the Clover Point Otter putting on a show. It was diving and catching a variety of fish and underwater prey.
When the otter caught a larger fish, it would clamber onto a rock to enjoy its lunch.
When the otter caught something small it would just eat it in the water. The comical antics of the otter made my day.
After the otter I snapped a quick shot of a Harlequin just so I could claim at least one bird photo for the day.
Like Clover Point, Cattle Point was another dog park. It didn't look promising for birds, but I eventually located three yellow-bellied birds along the rocks. They were my first Western Meadowlarks of the fall. They were extremely wary, and the best I could do was a distant record shot. After Cattle Point I headed home. I stopped at Goldstream and braved the crowds to look for an American Dipper. I did locate one, but it was in the shadows and too distant for a photo. (The crowds were there for the spawning salmon.)
Back in Nanaimo I still had some sunshine so I dropped in to the estuary. It was a good time to look for Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers. I found a Harrier right away but there were no signs of owls. (They were reported a few days later.) The Harrier was out of range for pictures so I had to settle for a Savannah Sparrow. I got the unintended soft-focus look because I was shooting through a few stalks of grass.
As usual there was an abundance of Golden-crowned Sparrows in the blackberry thickets by the viewing tower.
Oct. 23 - Consolation Coot - The Harris's Sparrow is definitely on my photo wish list. I haven't seen a reliable report on the Island since I've started birding in 2003. Derrick Maarven's report on Oct. 21 caught my attention immediately. First, it was great to hear that Derrick was back checking the birds. Second, my schedule was clear and the weather forecast was good. The Harris's had showed up two days in a row for Derrick. I made it down to the Dock Road on the third day. I thought my chances were good, but it was not to be. Two and a half hours later I packed up and headed home. Art Mann Park and the American Coots were on my route.
As suspected, the usual collection of Mallards and Coots congregated around the boat ramp at the park. No one was feeding them. That didn't bother the coots as they helped themselves to the underwater salad bar.
The American Coot is one of those birds I tend to neglect, but as my old university room-mate used to say, "Beggars can't be choosy."
The American Wigeons have been here since September. I'm waiting for the Eurasian which usually arrives in November. I suspect that it is later because it comes all the way from Siberia.
Oct. 28 - According to the Weather Channel, this was the last day of sun for October. It would be a perfect day to check for the Long-tailed Ducks at Deep Bay. In most years they usually show up in the last week of October. The drive up was spectacular as the multi-coloured fall leaves were in their prime, intensified by the brilliant morning sunshine. As often is the case, Deep Bay was glassy calm with the coastal mountains perfectly reflected. I was disappointed not to see any Long-tailed Ducks, but a lone grebe emerged for the dark reflection of the mountains. I expected a Red-necked or even Horned Grebe, but to my surprise, it was a Western. I'd never seen a Western Grebe close to shore here, and I was even more surprised when it stayed around.
I tried for an hour to get some decent photos, but I was mostly looking into the sun. It was difficult to get the sun on the eye. Occasionally it would offer a side view, but the extreme contrast presented blowout problems even with generous exposure compensation.
The only other bird around was a Pigeon Guillemot.
It kept its distance for quite awhile but eventually worked its way close to shore where it was feeding on some kind of skinny fish or eel.
The most abundant form of life was the sealions. They were everywhere searching for salmon. Whenever a salmon was caught, the commotion always attracted an entourage of gulls that cleaned up the scraps.
My return trip from Deep Bay often includes a detour through the River's Edge Subdivision (often referred to a kaye Road. I have been expecting a Northern Shrike there for the past month, and finally, it was in.
The Shrike seemed to prefer the high treetops, but it came into camera range a couple of times.
I spent almost two hours trying to capture it in a variety of poses.
After an hour I think the Shrike got used to my presence and allowed me to get closer.
The scaled chest indicates that this is a first winter bird. It had a few brownish areas but it was distinctively a gray (not brown) first winter shrike.
Here's a picture that I didn't expect to be worth publishing. The female Hooded Merganser at French Creek was over 20 meters away which means this photo has been heavily cropped.