Above photo - (July 10) Four's a crowd - Great Blue Heron's nest at Mystic Pond in Victoria.

Reflection Time

After I retired from teaching in 2001 my preoccupation was making birdies on the golf course. Two years later I spotted my first Northern Shoveler duck, and my life was transformed. Instead of scoring birdies on the golf course, I was twitching birdies all over Vancouver Island. Since then I have produced a website and posted 299 journals; contributed photographs to environmental and educational programs all over the world; published two books on Vancouver Island birds; written many newspaper articles; and presented powerpoint slide shows all over Vancouver Island as well as a few on Denman and Hornby.

It's a curious situation. I don't consider myself much of a birder nor have I progressed much in photography. My birding is usually defined by what I can see in my lens, and my identification skills are weak to say the least. However, I have made good use of my Sibley's Bird Guide; relied on websites like birdweb.org and allaboutbirds.org; and appreciated the kind assistance of expert birders like Guy Monty, Dick Cannings, Derrick Maarven, and even David Sibley. As for photography, my equipment has progressed from the Nikon D100 to the D300, but unlike most of my fellow photgraphers, I'm still shooting JPEG and using Photoshop CS while they're all shooting RAW and using CS4. In fact, I don't even have the software to download RAW so I don't shoot it. Despite my shortcomings, I have found a niche and audience that has been understanding and appreciative enough to learn with me. For that, I am grateful. (THANKS TO ALL OF YOU!)

I will be the first to admit that my images lack the exquisite detail you will find in albums of serious amateurs and professionals. Their interest and goal is usually to sell photos so they need the higher quality achieved by the rigorous post-processing of RAW images. The information they provide is often limited technical data such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. My goal is to document nature and educate the public about birds by providing some informative commentary. JPEG images are easier and quicker to produce and quite adequate for web presentation as well as meeting the printing industry standard of 300 dpi for publication. The precious time saved is used in my bird education activities mentioned above. Am I meeting my goal? I really don't know, but an average of 9,000 hits a month on my website; over 5,000 books sold; regular positive feedback on my articles; and frequent requests for presentations tell me that I'm on the right track.

You will never see an inferior image on the website of the serious amateur or professional photographer. They have their share of bad photos, but they will never post them. On the other hand, I'll always post an inferior photo if it illustrates something interesting and/or educational about the bird. For example in Journal 294 I posted a photo of a Wilson's Snipe in flight. It's out of focus, but shows a winnowing snipe in action. The Sky Lark photos in this journal are also out of focus, but the Sky Lark story is truly amazing and deserves the extra coverage. Besides showing the birds in their element, I do try to provide a little insight into the situation with a bit of commentary. I admit some of it is quite trite, but I am just learning and many people seem to appreciate my efforts. My hope is that I can motivate a few people to get interested in birds and nature, and if they want more information, there are many resources on the web that they can easily google.

Is it worth paying Yahoo $14 a month and spending about five to ten hours a journal to keep this website going? I know there's a lot of interest out there, but what useful purpose am I serving? Is my website Educational? Motivational? A waste of time? I can speculate, but it's time to find out from YOU. For my 300th journal, I want to include YOUR comments. Up to now I have been reluctant to ask for feedback because I am very sensitive and my feelings are easily hurt. Asking for feedback is a double-edged sword, and I realize that along with the good, there may be the bad. However, I've been preparing myself for the moment so fire away. I'll even try to provide a direct email link to make it easier for you.

Please email me. I've even tried to look up the html code to provide a direct link. Let's make Journal 300 a joint effort.

[Send your comments to Mike]


The Great Blue Herons of Mystic Pond

July 10 - Survival in Victoria for Great Blue Herons is a challenge. Along with the disappearing habitat, their nestlings are often the victim of marauding Bald Eagles. One of the few remaining successful rookeries is the one at Mystic Pond in Cadboro Bay. I didn't count the number of nests, but I think there were about a half dozen or so. I'm not sure if any nests have been victimized by eagles but most of the nests seemed to have from one to four nestlings. Michael Shepard had posted a photo of the rookery two months ago, and I made a mental note to check the nests periodically. Big mistake. Mental notes just don't work for me. The herons had completely slipped my mind until Cim MacDonald mentioned that she had visited the rookery last week. This time I wrote myself a note: "Visit the rookery on Friday." I was worried that the herons would have fledged by the time I got there, but I was lucky. There were still many nestlings filling the nests.

It was mid-morning by the time I got to Mystic Pond. One of the residents told me that I had missed the herons' breakfast by an hour.

Most of the nestlings appeared to be content and well-behaved. Too much noise could attract unwanted predators and incur the wrath of the nearby residents.

This little - I mean big heron wasn't making any noise. It was just stretching its jaw muscles.

One of the herons landed on a log right in front of me and proceeded to drink some water. After each sip it would tilt its head back.


To Roost or not to Roost?

Some of you may recall my favorite lunch spot in Victoria is the Roost out towards the airport. (The Roost does sound appropriate for birders doesn't it?) After the heron visit my stomach was craving for a meatloaf sandwich on Russian rye. I concurred and off we went to the Roost. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full so I parked on the street and headed for the main door. By this time the lineup was out onto the porch. I decided it was time to visit the Sky Larks at the nearby bulb fields.

I've never gone to the bulb fields without seeing the Sky Larks. The bulb fields are supposed to be one of the three spots where Sky Larks are found, but the only place I ever look is the bulb fields. The other two are the airport and Martindale flats. The Saanich Peninsula has the only population of Sky Larks in North America.

The Sky Larks were putting on a show today. As soon as I stopped the car I could hear one singing on its way to the heavens.

Trying to photograph the Sky Larks is an exercise in futility, but one of these days ..."

It's hard to imagine that the Sky Larks have been here for over 100 years. It was in 1903 when the first efforts were made to introduce the songbird to the Island. At its peak in the '60's, the population rose to over 1,000 birds. With the loss of habitat through development and altering agricultural practices and predation from other birds and domestic cats, the population has plummeted to about 200. The odds-makers in Vegas bet that the population will be extirpated in 20 years.

The Sky Lark is a plain, brown-streaked bird when it is seen meandering and foraging through the stubble of the bulb fields.

Like Susan Boyle on "Britain's Got Talent" the Sky Lark blossums into a superstar as it bursts into song on its spiralling ascent to the heavens.


Birding About

Besides my Victoria trip I did make a few "quick stops" at some of my local spots.

July 14 - Legacy Marsh was quiet for birds today. Some of the common species seen included the Willow Flycatcher, Yellow Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow, and Swainson's Thrush. The only photo I bothered with was the Lorquin's Admiral. I had one last week in my yard but it never stopped for a photo.

The Lorquin's Admiral is quite common all over Vancouver Island and was named after an early collector named Pierre Joseph Michel Lorquin.

July 15 - On a quick Kaye Road stop I saw two juvenile Spotted Sandpipers at the drainage ponds and several Cedar Waxwings. The wawings were doing a bit of fly-catching before the took off.

Did you hear that? It was the chipping of the robins. That meant an owl was near.

I finally located the owl and the robins in a grove of alders south of the drainage ponds. It was a Great Horned Owl, and all it wanted was an afternoon nap.

It was not surprising to find a Great Horned Owl at River's Edge. I have seen them there for several years.

July 17 - This was my birding morning. On the way out I stopped at my feeders. It was busy as usual. I just missed the Pileated and had to settle for the Downy. My wife mentioned that there were two Pileateds later in the day. One may have been a juvenile.

There were three or four juvenile Spotted Towhees around the feeders. They would hop out for a few sunflower seeds then dart back under the rhodo bush.

I was undecided as to where I should go this morning. Buttertubs was a thought but it was often unproductive in the summer. I finally decided to check out a nearby garry oak meadow for the Propertius Duskywing butterfly. I'm glad I did as I discovered a nesting Common Nighthawk.

After the nighthawk flushed, it landed on a nearby branch. I was able to circle around to get the sun at my back for a few photos. The prominent field mark on this photo is the white bar across the primaries.

After five minutes for the photos I quietly retreated. On the way out I was surprised to see the two eggs close to the trail. The simple nest was made by pulling back the moss on the rock. The eggs were granite-coloured just like the rock.

On my way out I saw 3 Woodnymphs. I usually get one or two in my garden every year but haven't had one yet. They are relatively common on the east coast of mid-Vancouver Island. By the way, there was no sign of a Duskywing. Anyone know where they might be found?


Bird Droppings

1. I'm glad to see that Jim Martin has resolved his computer problems which means we'll soon be seeing more of his photos and commentary from Reifel and Boundary Bay. On a sad note, Jim reported that the Sandhill chick at Reifel hasn't been seen since he photographed it in June. On a happier note, the Tsawassen Willet returned on July 14 - the same date as last year. The Willet has wintered there at least the last 10 years. Jim's photos can be viewed at http://crazym.ca.

2. Local photog Martin Smart hasn't been able to get out much, but that didn't stop him for recording an uncommon Island bird. A Northern Mockingbird just happened to stop by his backyard for a quick photo shoot.

3. Ted Ardley in Victoria has posted a few Common Nighthawk photos on the flickr site. One of the shots shows a nighthawk standing on a log. If you want to see a nighthawk's tiny legs, you can access the flickr link from the birdingbc site.


Bird Poster

My posters are on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House; Nanoose Bay - Credit Union; Courtenay - Graham's Jewellers























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