Mar. 21, 2010

Look at the first picture below and guess where I am. Hint - what's in front of the deer? Okay, where do I like to go duck hunting? If you're thinking King's Pond, you're correct. That's the first time I've seen a deer there. I was quite surprised, but my aunt who lives close by said she had to give up gardening because of the deer.

King's was on my route to Bolen Books for a book delivery on March 18 - so was Swan Lake. My 20 minute stop at Swan Lake was inconsequential. The only interesting shot I might have gotten was a male Hooded Merganser that flew right in front of me by the bridge and into the willows. Had I been on the ball I might have gotten a rare flight shot of the duck, but I was too busy watching rather than setting up the camera. In all my years this would have been my best opportunity, but I blew it. At King's Pond my goal was to catch a few "portraits" of some of the winter residents before they left for their breeding sites. I was pleased with my shots of the Wood Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, and American Wigeon. I didn't have time for the Buffleheads, Lesser Scaup, Mallards, and Ring-neckeds. Other stops in the area included Cattle Point and Mystic Pond which were on my route to Sidney from Ivy's Bookshop. Cattle Point was almost pointless as it was inundated with UVIC students and the usual pedestrians, but an Anna's saved the day for me. Mystic wasn't mystical, but I was interested in checking the progress of the heron rookery. I didn't see a single heron. Was I too early? Or was it too late in the day? I don't know, but my consolation was an amazing "Bushtit" ballet. Wait until you see the unbelievable pictures later on. Well, I thought they were great and that's what counts isn't it. Wait. There's more - a second consolation - a female Hooded Merganser preening and stretching. That might not be interesting for you, but it's not easy to catch them in the act.

The final photos in this journal feature the Barrow's Goldeneyes at Qualicum and a surprise meeting with a Slaty-backed Gull at Deep Bay. There's a small family group of several male and female adult Barrow's and a couple of juveniles that hang out with the Buffleheads just east of the viewing stand in Qualicum. I hadn't spent any time with the Barrow's since they first arrived in the fall, and I wanted to catch them before they left for the nesting grounds. As for the Slaty, an unexpected event on Saturday got me out of domestic chores and onto the beach at Deep Bay for the surprise discovery of a Slaty-backed. I can't say it was the same Slaty I had in Qualicum, but it was very similar. Despite a slight camera malfunction (forgot to check to see if I was at full zoom), I got some excellent shots that reveal the critical field marks. After the Slaty disappeared, I had more good fortune. I realized the gulls in front of me were sitting in a barrel of fish.

Deer Me!

What a surprise to see a deer emerge from the thickets at King's Pond. It is indeed a place of surprises. We all remember the Tufted Duck in 2008 and the recent Rusty Blackbird - not to mention the corpse the police fished out of the pond the day after I saw the Rusty.

I don't usually take the time to wait for the ducks to be in the perfect pose, but today was one of the days. The sun was at my back, and I wasn't in my typical rush. I waited for the light to reflect off the green headstripe of the male American Wigeon. It took about 15 minutes, but I finally got the shot I wanted. Do you like it?

One duck I didn't expect to see was a Green-winged Teal. They are generally scarce at King's, but I spotted a pair at the far end of the pond. It didn't look like they were interested in coming to my end of the pond, but after I threw out some seed, the male came half way. That was better than I expected. It didn't quite make it into an area with an exotic green reflection in the water, but I was pleased anyway.

There was also a pair of Wood Ducks at the far end of the pond. They were probably expecting a free lunch so they started to come towards me. Like every one else I usually shoot the male first and forget about the female. This time I made sure I got a decent shot of the female first. My goal was a 3/4 angle shot just like the one above.

Here comes the male. No matter how often you see it, you can't help but admire the beautiful colours.

Just look at this close-up. Every colour is there. It should have been named the Rainbow Duck.

I don't have to remind you that the Shoveler is my signature duck. It was the Shoveler that propelled my flight into birding, and I think I'm grateful.

Was it rule #9 that said never forget the female?

The Cattle Point Anna's

I don't know how many times I've visited Cattle Point in the past year. My success rate in finding something interesting to shoot is about 1 in 10. Today was different.

Today was my lucky day. An Anna's Hummingbird was enjoying the sun by the entrance. I managed about 10 shots before it got annoyed with the clicking of the shutter and left. Someone told me there's a silent shutter available. I'm going to check it out.

The Bushtit Ballet

We've all seen plenty of Bushtits. They are very common and quite predictable in their behaviour - or are they?

As mentioned in my introduction, I encountered the Bushtit at Mystic Pond. I thought I was I was just going to get the usual Bushtit feeding pictures, but was I ever in for a surprise. Stay tuned for an exclusive look at the "Bushtit Ballet."

As soon as the music started playing, the Bushtit started its rendition of Swan Lake.

Needless to say, I was delighted to witness the unexpected performance.

Wow! Bravo! I couldn't believe what I had just witnessed. I called for an encore.

The Bushtit was very obliging.

The encore was every bit as spectacular.

Well, there you have it. Here's the final curtain call. Another exclusive expose! All right, what do I think the Bushtit was really doing? Well, I think it was a distraction display to focus me away from the nest. Do Bushtits do that?

I didn't expect any more action after the Bushtit, but on the way out, a female Hoodie was doing her morning routine.

It's funny that I've seen several females in the act but never a male. Surely the males must also preen but maybe in absolute privacy.

One final stretch ...

Barrow's of Fun

I often see the Barrow's at Qualicum but never seemed to have the time to try for them. Today was different. It was my Barrow's day.

The Buffleheads and Barrow's were too far out when I arrived, but I was counting on them coming in. I took my position beside a big rock and waited patiently.

After about 30 minutes the ducks started to move towards me. I stayed as motionless as possible. A pair of males were the first to arrive.

The females soon followed and soon they were all diving about 40 feet in front of me.

There were several juveniles in the group and they soon joined in.

My goal was to catch the purple shimmer of the sun off the male's head. This was the best I could do without flushing the ducks.

Another Slaty Surprise

Saturday was scheduled as my domestic chore day - gardening, yard, cleanup, house cleanup etc. But Friday Helen phoned. She owns the Sandbar Cafe at Qualicum Bay. One of her recent pet projects is an in-cafe art gallery to support local artists. It's a very busy cafe with lots of traffic so the gallery is an excellent idea. She had scheduled me for a book-signing on April 17 and wanted me to produce some posters for the event. So, Saturday it was down to Staples to run off the posters then up tp Qualicum Bay. Of course, it was pointless to go all that way without taking the camera and looking for some photo opportunities. Parksville Bay had the usual Brant and gulls, but too many people. French Creek had the usual hordes of gulls, but they were across the creek, and I didn't think I would be able to find the Iceland Gulls that Guy saw earlier. Qualicum looked good with the usual Harlequins, Barrow's, Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Turnstones, and Brant, but I had been there two days ago. After morning greetings with Mike Ashbee and Alan Cornell I decided to push on to Deep Bay.

Deep Bay spit is one of my favorite locations, but it was dead when I got there. I waited five minutes for a Yellow-billed Loon, but when it didn't appear (neither did anything else), I decided to leave. However, all was not lost. I spotted Brian in his driveway and got to meet his wife and daughter. The best part was when he asked when I was going to do another book. I laughed and said, "I thought you would never ask." So that was another book sold to pay for the day's gas. (I sold two on the beach at Qualicum on Thur.!) Brian's wife mentioned there were lots of eagles on the beach by the auto court so off I went.

I was here last year when the eagles were lined up along the shoreline watching for herring, and that's how it was today. However, without the blue sky, eagle shots just don't look good. I made a half-hearted attempt to approach a pair of eagles, but they flew when I was about 40 m away. I decided to focus on gulls in a landlocked pond instead. Using my camera as a spotting scope I scanned the flock. At the far end a dark gull caught my attention. The mantle was darker than any gull around it. I kept the camera on it, and I was pleased to see it take off it my direction.

When I saw the Slaty in Qualicum, I only took pictures of it feeding. It never occured to me to flush it for a flight shot. That wasn't a problem today as the Slaty winged right in front of me.

For absolute identification of a Slaty, a wing-shot is essential. That was not a problem today. Jonathan and Alvaro both agree that it is a third cycle Slaty.

The Slaty circled and returned to the end of the pond.

It was only there for less than a minute when it caught a fish and was in the air.

After it swallowed the fish and flew by, I lost it, but I was almost happy with the shots I had. Okay, I was satisfied, but I had accidentally bumped my zoom ring and was only shooting at about 500 mm. Just think if I were at full zoom.

Fish in a Barrel

After the Slaty disappeared, I focussed on the other gulls. It seemed like every second one was grabbing a fish. I couldn't believe it. This was a great photo opportunity. I was having as much fun taking pictures as they were catching fish.

There was no shortage of action. It was incredible that so many fish could be trapped by the outgoing tide.

As soon as a gull got a fish the challenge was to escape the freeloaders.

Sometimes the gull was able to swallow the fish in mid-air. Other times it had to land before finishing the meal.

Swallowing the fish depended on orienting the fish so it would go down head-first. This one looks sideways.

This one is lined up to go down the hatch.

It didn't take long for an hour to pass. The Slaty never returned. I was cold and it was time to leave.

That's it for a while. I've got many chores to do before I take the camera out again. I heard you. I know it's tax time too as well as 4 more presentations in a month and already another round of book orders. It's good to be busy, but not over your head ...



Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House

























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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