above photo: Spotty the Spotted Sandpiper at Sebastion Park in Lantzville
Quite often I plan my days by consulting the Weather Network, and that's what happened today. Cloud, rain, and snow was the forecast for Nanoose Bay and the mid-Island, but it was sun and cloud in Victoria. That was the only incentive I needed to deliver a few books. I expect a very slow year for book sales so I want to make sure I take good care my clients, no matter how small the order. I was pleased that BOLENS made their second order for '09; IVY'S restocked Volume I; and the WILD BIRD CENTRE is the latest venue to carry my books. I forgot to mention that my books are also available at the SWAN LAKE NATURE CENTER. Just to keep the economy going, I spent most of my profit purchasing Book III and IV of BIRDS of B.C. Crown Publications has Book III on sale for $37, but Book IV was at the regular price and had to be ordered from Toronto. The Birds of B.C. series is an invaluable resource for information on B.C. birds. Unfortunately, it will soon be 20 years out of date, and there doesn't appear to be any effort to systematically update the data.
As usual a Victoria visit was also an opportunity to look for a couple of birds like the WESTERN BLUEBIRDS and the SNOW BUNTING. My priority was to find and photograph the bluebirds. They have been regularly seen and photographed by Victoria birders for the past month, but this was may first opportunity to see them on the Island. It's hard to believe that they have only been extirpated for less than 20 years. They would be an interesting topic of discussion if I proceed with my 3rd and final book. My plan was to look for the bluebirds behind Sir James Douglas School, check for the bunting at Clover Point, and then make a second try for the bluebirds if necessary. Unfortunately, it was necessary but with the same fruitless results as the first effort. The news was better for the Snow Bunting which I found immediately just east of the pumping station. It was foraging on the decorative rocks exactly where I saw my last Snow Bunting in the fall of '07. Despite the filtered sun, the wind chill was about 10 below. That didn't bother the bird, but my fingers were numb after the five minutes I spent photographing the very cooperative bird.
Just as the Weather Network promised, we did find sun and cloud in Victoria, and as we headed back up Island, the dark clouds dissipated, and we enjoyed an exquisite sunset over Nanoose Bay on our way home.
I'm always amazed to see the birds foraging between the decorative stones at Clover Point. The main vegetation is moss. But, that might be similar to foraging in the Arctic barrenlands where they nest.
That sure doesn't look like any moss seed. I think some kind-hearted soul has sprinkled some corn and other seeds around.
This is more like the seed that the bunting was feeding on.
I always stop on the way through Duncan at the Somenos Rest Stop and the Forest Museum Pond hoping for a Green Heron or even an American Bittern. Neither were available today, but there were the usual Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintails, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, and even half a Canvasback. Did that get your attention? Well, it caught my attention. The hybrid I saw had a white body, reddish-brown pointed head like a Canvasback, and a bill like a Mallard. No, I didn't bother with a picture. I only took a couple of distant clicks of a pair of male Hooded Mergansers.
I made an impromptu stop at Sebastion today with visions of a Yellow-billed or Red-throated Loon. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the wind was gentle. It was the perfect day for taking pictures, but someone forgot to tell the loons. I was greeted by 4 skittish Black Oystercatchers, a pair pf American Wigeons, and a six-pack of gulls. Normally I wouldn't have stayed around, but it was too pleasant to leave. I lingered near the rocks enjoying sun, breeze, and view of the islands. I'm glad I did as an old friend emerged from behind a seaweed-covered rock. It was SPOTTY the Sebastion Spotted Sandpiper. SPOTTY is one of the few Spotted's that winters on Vancouver Island, but I haven't seen it all winter. Mind you, I don't think I ever stopped at low tide which is the best time to catch Spotty.
Spotty spends most of its time foraging in the seaweed next to the water line.
It's fun to see it saunter around, back and forth, and side to side with its bum bouncing up and down. I doubt if it could walk a straight line to pass a sobriety test.
Oh, yes. Spotty has those long, flexible yellow toes which are perfect for walking and balancing on those slippery rocks.
Spotty would stop, look, dart left, right, back, or forward as it foraged for prey.
Although Spotty usually foraged for insects and bugs in the seaweed at the water's edge, the receding tide created a few shallow pools and new opportunities.
Crabs! This was the first time I'd seen Spotty catching and eating crabs. Why not? Everyone else seems to like them.
The crabs were a delicious treat, but first it was a case of who was eating who.
It was no contest as Spotty eventually over-powered the tenacious crabs.
When the crab was finally subdued, it was down the hatch.
Ouch! That crab still had some bite to it.
Spotty was like an eating machine. I watched it devour several crabs and numerous insects.
Just one last shot for the road, Spotty. Am I ever glad I stopped at Sebastion. It was a wonderful way to spend an hour.
The Northern Pygmy Owl is high on my list of photo wish birds this year. When I saw Holly's posting that a Pygmy had been occasionally visiting her yard in Cumberland I had to check it out. Of course, it meant the usual stops at Deep Bay, and the Courtenay Airpark, and both stops did provide some photo activity. I didn't have high hopes for the Pygmy as it seemed to be a casual visitor so I wasn't disappointed when it didn't show up. But it was a gorgeous sunny day, and Holly was kind enough to call in her Evening Grosbeaks for a consolation bird. Thanks, Holly.
On my way to the spit at Deep Bay I spotted some shorebirds in the grass at the edge of the water. I had never seen Black-bellied Plovers, Dunlin, and Black Turnstones in the grass before. I managed to pick out a Black-bellied Plover that was separated from the flock just to document an interesting setting.
Although I've seen and photographed the Long-tailed Ducks at Deep Bay on numerous occasions, I don't think I can grow tired of seeing them and taking more pictures. They are definitely one of my favorite ducks.
The handsome features of the male Long-tailed make it a stunning subject to photograph.
No matter what the Long-tailed is doing, it seems provide a good photo opportunity.
We all love flight shots. I missed some good ones when a couple of Long-taileds flew in close to shore.
Have I mentioned that Deep Bay Spit is also a great place to practice flight shots? Here comes a Surf Scoter.
Common Loons are a common resident to Deep Bay. Don't be surprised to see them cruising by close to shore.
And don't be surprised to see them devouring their prey just out of camera range.
I've seen Common Loons feasting on their prey many times, but it has always been just out of camera range. Pardon my cropping.
I did mention flight shots didn't I? Here goes another Double-crested Cormorant.
February is hawk migration time. I saw 6 Red-tailed Hawks along the inland highway today. I thought there would be more.
It was very quiet when I got to Holly's in Cumberland. The first bird to visit was the friendly Downy Woodpecker
The Evening Grosbeaks were extremely shy. It took over an hour before they worked up enough courage to visit Holly's feeding dish.
I don't know if this always happens, but the males stayed behind while the females were the first to check out the feeders. I wonder if the females were at the top of the pecking order or maybe they were the "sacrificial lambs."
Despite the oversized mandibles the Evening Grosbeaks are an attractive bird.
Here's a male. It was extremely difficult to photograph as it always stayed behind in both sense of the word. It seemed to stay behind until the coast was clear, and it was often hidden behind some branches.
It took forever to get a clear view of the males, but it was certainly worth the wait. Like Holly said, they have the look of an exotic tropical bird.
It took forever to get the birds to the feeder, but it only took a milli-second for them to leave. Just one sudden strange noise or movement and they were gone.
The Airpark is one of my favorite stops. You never know what you will encounter in the river, trees, grass, or lagoon. My first bird was the female Hooded Merganser right at the entrance in the small harbour.
The hoody was busy as it successfully dove for worms, crabs, and other goodies.
This looked like a worm or eel to me, but I'm clueless to what it really is. I saw her catch two of these and a pair of crabs.
It's a duck, it's a grebe - no it's a Red-throated Loon.
I certainly didn't expect to see a Red-throated Loon in the river. It was a first for me.
The loon swam up the river then stopped to preen as it drifted slowly back downstream.
Since I mentioned preening, I thought I had better include a preening picture just so you wouldn't think I'm hallucinating again.
I was standing at the river's edge when the loon drifted by. I would have loved to be closer for full-frame shots, but I didn't have a boat.
Like I said, the Airpark can have surprises. This was the first red-throated Loon I had seen in a year.
Oh, how I wished I could have cleared a few branches away. The Barred Owl was in the sun but totally buried in the tangle of branches about 5 meters above eye-level right beside the walking path. The constant flow of pedestrians was beneficial for the owl as it kept the crows away.
Here's another Red-tailed for you. It was on the connector from Courtenay to the inland highway.
My posters are on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House; Nanoose Bay - Credit Union; Courtenay - Graham's Jewellers