30 Seconds of Fame

Wow! What a week. It all started on Monday (July 5) when I was driving my wife to the ferry in Nanaimo. I stopped at the Petrocan to grab a copy of the Globe and Mail to see if Tom Hawthorne's article had made it into print. (Tom had interviewed me by phone on Friday.) As I driving my wife looked for the article. She suddenly screamed, "Look at this! Did you ever make the news." Of course, I did my best to maintain my composure and keep the car on the road as I snuck a quick peek at the front page of the B.C. section. I couldn't believe it when I saw the almost full page photo of the White Raven.

My wife read the article to me, and I was quite impressed at the introduction. Tom had certainly done his research as he cleverly wove in fabrics of the Raven's mystique, mythology, and beliefs as a segue to the White Ravens. I wouldn't have minded if he had omitted a few personal details like my age, but I'm not trying to hide anything.

I was remiss in checking for the White Ravens this year. I didn't look until June 25 when the family group was probably dispersed. I think the ravens usually fledge around mid-May and stay together as a group for about a month - sometimes more. The family group at Qualicum is usually aclimatized to people near the ball fields and walking trails so they tend to be fairly approachable until they learn that humans can't be trusted. Anyway, my point is that I think I missed the time when the family group was intact. It would have been interesting to see the other siblings if there were any.

I submitted my photos and information to the Times Colonist. They carried the story on the June 29th and that's where Tom, a writer for the Globe picked up the idea for his article. Meanwhile, I also wrote an article for Brian Wilford at the Oceanside Star in Parksville, and that article was picked up word-for-word by the Vancouver Sun. Jonathan Bartlett from A-Channel caught up with me on Wednesday, and this morning,Mark Forsyth from CBC's BC ALMANAC taped a segment for next week. My 30 seconds is now over - but it was fun.

The White Ravens are a curiosity. They spark interest and imagination. I love seeing them and I love sharing my photos. If nothing else, I just might get a few people interested in birds and connect them to nature. Two years ago I was able to spark a little media frenzy with the pair of White Ravens at Qualicum for a previous 30 seconds of fame. It was deja-vu all over again for the latest White Raven, but it's ancient history for most people now. Of course, I won't be forgetting the White Raven. I'd love to know more about them. How well do they survive? Are they as long-lived as the black ones? Are there conflicts with other ravens? ... There are more questions than answers.

According to Haida legend, the sighting of a White Raven is to remind us of the courage and sacrifice made by the White Raven. The White Raven risked its life to release the sun, moon, and stars back to heavens to bring light back to the world. In the process the White Raven scorched its feathers and was foreven condemned to the blackness that we see in most ravens today. Without the sun and light, we would have no food, and life would probably cease to exist. Lest we forget, the White Raven is here to remind us that there is much to be thankful for.


Back to the birds, it wasn't a good week. On Monday I decided to look for shorebirds at one of my favorite locations, Holden Creek. I left a sad and broken man. I used to tremble with excitement as I pulled on the gumboots and slathered on the mosquito repellent before trudging down to the mudflats. My history with Holden began in 2005 and for 3 years it was "shorebird heaven." Despite the pungent odor, hoardes of mosquitoes, and slimy mud, it was a birder's and photographer's dream. Hundreds of migrating shorebirds often filled the shallow ponds feverishly foraging for nutrients to fuel their journey south. However, with the infill of salicornia and salt marsh vegetation, the shallow ponds for shorebirds have virtually disappeared. With shorebird habitat and populations disappearing all over the world it is a shame that a remarkable shorebird habitat like Holden Creek is allowed to disappear.

The bad news continued on Tuesday when Jenny Balke took me for a tour of her neighborhood heron colony on Denman Island. The scene was devastating and heart-wrenching as piles of feathers below every nest tree marked the massacre of almost full grown heron chicks by marauding Bald Eagles. It was a classic case of survival by the most brutal. Some try to rationalize with the explanation that traditional food resources such as fish have been depleted, but that doesn't make it any less tragic. Besides, I don't totally subscribe to the argument as it may simply be a case that the young herons were an available food resource that the eagles can't resist.

The third environmental "bad news" story of the day was at Rascal Pond. As I pulled up to the side of the pond to look for the Hooded Merganser and Spotted Sandpiper families, I was abhorred to see four monstrous and grotesque bullfrogs lounging on the bank beside the water. At least three other giant pairs of eyes stared at me from the shallows and echoes of the hideous belching echoed around the pond. I didn't see any Hooded Merganser Ducks and wondered if the ducklings might have met a bullfrog demise. With nothing to shoot with besides my camera, I wasn't able do anything about the environmental disaster that is quickly hopping all over the Island.

As I stared sadly at the bloated frogs, the cheerful calls of the Spotted Sandpipers caught my attention. Near the willow trees I could see a couple of fuzzy chicks foraging for bugs under the watchful eyes of one of the adults. I slowly drove a little closer, but the angle of the sun was already too extreme for photos. However, I managed a few distant shots and enjoyed watching them for about 30 minutes while marvelling at their ability to feed themselves once they leave the nest. I warned the little Spotties to keep away from the bullfrogs before I headed for home.


The Violet-Green Scene

I had two concerns about my Violet-green Swallows this year. First, they had to relocate. A pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees laid claim to the original swallow's nest on my carport. Seems history had no bearing on ownership of the nest box. Despite many years of Violet-green nesting, it came down to first-come, first-serve. Fortunately, I had several boxes around the yard and the Violet-greens found one to their liking. My second concern was the Brown-headed Cowbirds. A pair has made a habit of spending their spring in my yard and neighborhood. I saw the female checking out the swallow box in the spring and feared the worse.

My fears and concerns about the new location and cowbirds proved to be unfounded. Last week I saw a little head peer out of the box. It was a swallow. I decided right there that I had better take some pictures before they fledged. That was July 2. I didn't have to rush. They didn't fledge until July 6 and 7. I was hand-watering my veggies on evening of July 6 when a flurry of wings and chirping directed my attention to the swallow box. At least two of the nestlings had fledged. It was marvellous to watch the youngsters soar high above the trees and glide through the air as if they had been doing it for years. They would then dive down and swoop up to the nest where there was at least one other nestling yet to fledge. You could almost hear them saying, "Come on, it's great fun!" But, the nestling didn't budge. It was feeling quite secure in the nest. The next morning I watched the adults feeding the remaining nestling while I worked in the garden. When I returned after a coffee break, all was quiet. The nest box was empty. There wasn't a swallow to be seen or heard. I'm happy it was a successful nesting season, but I do miss the delightful chirps and the sight of the graceful flights when the swallows circled over the yard.

Might as well show the dirty work first. It's important to keep the nest box clean. Mom gets to dispose of the fecal sac.

With three or four nestlings, keeping the nest clean is an endless chore.

Another endless task is keeping the nestlings fed. I wonder how many kilometers a day are flown by the parents. Here's the male with another snack for the youngster.

Last week was the first time I used the flash on my camera in 5 years. I didn't like doing that so today I used the bathroom mirror trick.

The results are much better using the mirror.

Damsel in distress? Or is it a dragon?

I haven't got around to identifying the insect, but I don't think the swallows care one way or the other.

It's been a a very successful breeding season for the deer. There's two singletons and one set of twins that frquent my yard, and I've seen many more including triplets around Fairwinds.

Another frequent yardbird has been the female Black-headed Grosbeak. I have my fingers crossed for a juvenile pretty soon.

The female (and male) grosbeaks have been frequent visitors at the seed and suet feeder.

Hummer report - As of today, July 9th, nectar consumption has dipped to about a cup a day from a peak of about 13 cups/day. In some years the hummers have all gone by the end of June. I think I saw a fresh juvenile yesterday but wasn't able to get a photo to confirm it.

Mission accomplished - For the past two weeks the Orange-crowned Warblers have been playing hide-and-seek with me.

Whenever I saw them in the holly grove just off my patio I would sneak out with the camera. Of course, the warblers would then disappear to the other side of the trees. Finally, after about a dozen tries I sat and waited until the warbler worked its way back to my side of the tree. I finally got a couple of decent shots.

A Kestrel Surprise - My past experience with the American Kestrels is that they disperse about four days after fledging.

This year Guy saw the fledglings in the first week of June, and Ralph photographed them around the same time. I didn't get around to visiting River's Edge until July 5th, and I certainly didn't expect to see any Kestrels.

I was absolutely astounded to see a Kestrel on top of the nest snag and then two more on the neighboring starling snag. Eventually they all flew across the road and there were four of them - all sisters. When I returned on July 7th, I didn't see any. Did they finally disperse?

What's this? I don't know but it has wings and it flies. I was attracted by the little rainbows in the wings.

At least one shorebird - In my rambling preamble I expressed my sadness regarding the demise of Holden creek as a premier shorebird habitat. That doesn't mean there are no shorebirds. The banks of the creek and sloughs still provide some habitat, and there were a few Least Sandpipers on the scene. As well, Jon Carter has reported a few Semipalmated Sandpipers in the past week.

I saw about a dozen Least by the creek. They were all worn adults foraging in the soft mud.

I'm constantly amazed at all the goodies they can find by probing in the mud.

Spotlight on the Spottie - At the end of the second field at Holden the call of the Spotted Sandpipers betrayed their presence by a narrow slough. As I neared the slough one of the adults flew up to greet me.

Of course, the adult was trying to distract my attention from the little chicks.

I kept still and finally spotted the little Spottie emerging from one of the crab tunnels.

The youngster looked to be one or two days old.

It was fun to watch it carefully make its way through the maze of tunnels and grass.

One last shot for the road. The little one was getting too far away for any more shots.

I was very happy to have seen the little spottie, and the parent was happy to see me leave.

Fast-forward about four or five days - The little spotties are looking quite spunky now. Just kidding. These are the little ones I found at Rascal Pond the next day. I'm guessing they were about a week old.

The little Spotties' greatest danger were the lurking bullfrogs.

One day later - I had to go back the next day to check on the spotties and catch the morning sun for some better photos.

I was happy to count three chicks and see that they had survived the night.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but they definitely looked bigger and more mature today.

They were foraging at the edge of the water where a half dozen bullfrogs were lurking yesterday. Fortunately, I didn't see any bullfrogs nearby.

The chicks were more than capable of catching their own food although they were very tentative at times.

Wow, that was a spicy little tidbit.

The ever-vigilant parent kept one eye on the chicks while it was also foraging.


Bird Poster

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

























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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