May 2/11 - As I sit down to write this journal, it's a cool, rainy morning - ideal for a little indoor activity on the computer before I venture out for any outdoor chores and activity. However, the weather hasn't stopped any activity from the birds. I've already seen the Pileated, Hairy, Downy, and Northern Flickers take their turn at the suet feeder while the host of juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and Purple Finches flitted back and forth wondering when I was going to fill the seed feeders. Oh yes, my less than welcome pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds were also waiting on the treetops for their breakfast. I was going to make them all wait for awhile until I saw the latest spring arrivals. I counted seven Golden-crowned Sparrows darting in an out from under the rhodo bushes foraging under the feeders. That was my cue to get dressed to fill the feeders. It was just a case of good hospitality for some weary travellers. In the past two weeks it was the White-crowneds and Fox Sparrows.

It's so easy to lose track of time that I've stopped trying to keep track. Even my computer can't keep track. I've reset the time on 3 different occasions and after a week it's skipped ahead 3 hours. For some reason it prefers to run on eastern standard time. If I used the computer for my time like one person I know, I'd be 3 hours ahead of all my appointments. I'd be better off with a sun-dial if the sun shone regularly. As for my watch, it's currently reading May 1 which means I'd be a day late for everything. I've tried to reset it twice and have given up. So if I'm a no-show at any event, you know why. In fact, if I go by my watch, I'll miss my chance at voting today. Meanwhile, I can figure out what day it is by watching for the the garbage truck as I know what days they do the various parts of our area. Thank goodness I my only other scheduled event for a long time is the TOFINO SHOREBIRD FESTIVAL this week (May 6 - 8) where I'll be doing a presentation on pelagic birds on May 7. Let's see, the garbage truck should be doing the Madrona area ...

Just a couple of interesting emails to mention. In the past I've turned down requests to do book reviews, but I'm turning over a new leaf. I've just agreed to accept review copies of bird books from PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. I expect to receive bird books on New Jersy, Antartica, Hawaii, and New Zealand in the near future.

On the deliquent side of the ledger (yes, I'm feeling very guilty) I still have to read the "Golden Acorn" by Catherine Cooper. Her book won the book of the year award in Great Britain last year and the film rights have been purchased by a major Hollywood studio. Our connection are the ravens, and I believe she has included the white ravens in her second book, "Glasruhen Gate." This is an amazing accomplishment for a young writer, and I wish her the very best. Move over J.K.!

Another very interesting email was from Robert Bateman's executive secretary. He had just discovered my first book sent as a gift in 2005. It was misplaced in a box with other books. He was very apologetic and thanked me for the contribution to their library. Meanwhile, I was never disappointed in the first place as I realize how busy Mr. Bateman is. As a novice birder, photographer, and publisher I was just looking for some acknowledgement that might be useful in selling books. It didn't matter as I sold out in 16 months, but I'm grateful to know my book didn't end up in Mr. Bateman's round file.

Back to some birding thoughts. I think mid to late April has to be my favorite birding time of the year. The weather is warmer, the days are longer, and best of all the few remaining seabirds like the Common Loons and Horned Grebes are in their exquisite breeding plumages. In fact, the impetus of my recent field trips has been to try to photograph both species in action before they head for their nesting grounds. I was lucky right away with the Common Loon. On my first visit to French Creek, I found a pair having breakfast in the northwest corner of the marina. It was almost the perfect setting, but no complaints. I had a great time and got some pretty good images to share with you.

The Horned Grebes weren't quite as cooperative. I usually like to go to Deep Bay for the grebes but this year I decided to stick with Lantzville or as a backup, try Brickyard Cove. On April 19 I stopped at Blunden Point in Lantzville and was just drooling when I saw a dozen Red-necked Grebes. Unfortunately, they were much too far away for photos. I waited over an hour in the beautiful sunny conditions to no avail. I finally decided to pack it up and was just leaving when I ran into a lady who asked if I were Mike. Apparently, she belongs to the Nanoose Bay Hooking Club where she met my wife and that lead to some pleasant conversation. Just as I was about to leave again, I noticed a squadron of grebes sailing in from the west. I scrambled back onto the rocks and watched as close to 30 Horned Grebes in beautiful breeding plumage foraged just outside of camera range. I took a few record shots from about 30 meters just in case I never saw them again and was surprised with the results. They weren't good but I've posted a shot of one holding a fish that was ok if you know what I mean. I had a good laugh later that night when I was checking the birdingbc website and saw Horned Grebe photos from Deep Bay posted by fellow photog Ralph Hocken. The funny thing was that Ralph lives in Lantzville and the Horned Grebes were within walking distance from his home. He didn't have to drive 65 km to Deep Bay. Fortuitously, I ran into Ralph at the Nanaimo River estuary a week later and we both had a good laugh about the situation.

Patience, perseverence, and knowledge is the key to successful bird photography and the Horned Grebes Grebes were a case in point. I knew when they would be in breeding plumage, I knew several locations where the might come close to shore, and I was willing to put in the time and effort. To make a long story short, after my 4th try at Blunden I was about to call it quits, but an unexpected circumstance arose. I had designed some posters advocating the "pristine" nature of Baynes Sound ( my favorite IBA )and opposing the proposed coal mine that would threaten not just the significant populations for seabirds but also a viable shellfish industry. I was unaware that Staples had only printed half the posters I ordered so that necessitated a second trip on Apr. 29 and a 5th opportunity for the Horned Grebes. It was 5th time lucky as a pair of grebes floated by heading east just a little out of range, but on their return they were close enough. If you've never seen them in breeding plumage, put it on your bucket list. They are gorgeous. If you can't see them in real life you'll have to settle for the consolation of my photos.

Just one last note. I saw my first Vesper Sparrow at the Nanaimo Airport on Apr. 23. I am always astounded and relieved to see the beleaguered and endangered coastal subspecies of the Vesper return to such a desolate and dangerous surrounding. Basically, it's an industrial wasteland surrounded by the airport, a pollution filled trailer compound, a junkyard, and the highway. Despite our best efforts to extirpate the species, it's hanging on.


Just in case some of you don't believe it's spring yet, here's a couple of spring flowers for you to enjoy.


And now for some birds ...

The Yellow-rumps have been in my yard for over a month now. I love hearing and seeing them, but I don't often try for photos because they are so difficult. They seem to be in perpetual motion and always behind some branches. However, if it's a sunny morning, and I'm procrastinating on chores, I like to wander around the yard with my camera.

For a change Mr. Yellow-rumped was reasonably friendly as he foraged in my apple tree. He didn't quite pose for any shots, but when he stopped for a breather, I managed a few clicks. The greatest indignity was 3 days ago when I was photographing the female Rufous Hummingbirds at the bullrushes. Mr. Yellow-rumped landed on the suet feeder 3 meters from me for a morning snack. Knowing that I needed about 7 m for my lens it then decided to taunt me by landing on a branch less than a meter above my head. My plan is to move the suet feeder next to the bulrushes exactly 7 m away. Stay tuned for any results next journal.

Waiting for the Horned Grebes wasn't entirely boring. There were a few other birds around like the Greater Scaup that just flew by.

Oh yes, I was drooling as the grebes stayed out of camera range - about 30 to 50 m from me.

If only I were about 30 m closer this would have been a wonderful picture.

The Red-neckeds also kept their distance. It was low tide. Perhaps the best fishing was where they were hanging out.

Every spring I check French Creek Marina for the Common Loons. I haven't done well for the past few years, but finally this was my time.

The was not one but two Common Loons dining in the northeast corner of the marina.

My theory was that the high tide had just brought in some fresh fish for the loons' breakfast. I didn't really care why as long as I got a few pictures.

Back down at Blunden, the grebes were still too far out. The consolation was Spottie. Neither Ralph nor I had seen him all winter. The big surprise today was that he had a mate. This was my only picture thanks to a frolicking black lab that flushed everything in sight.

My only other shot was a flock of Surf Scoters that was in a hurry heading west.


Apr. 23 - I was in Nanaimo looking for a pair of Mandarin Ducks that had been seen by some local residents on private property. They showed up occasionally to feed with the Wood Ducks that nested in the area. I had no luck with the ducks but enjoyed the spring displays of the Marsh Wrens in a nearby marsh.

The males were singing away trying to attract the females.

The marsh looked like great habitat for Virginia Rail. I was right.


Apr. 26 - I was on my usual morning yard walk when I heard the Townsend's Warbler above my head - like about 20 m up. I watched as it foraged in the treetops. It was too far for a decent photo, but why not a record shot for posterity.

Oh yes, this was the day to pick up the "pristine Baynes Sound" posters from Staples. Doug Carrick of the Hornby Eagle Group and I were splitting the cost for 60 posters to be donated to "Coalwatch" for their ongoing efforts to oppose the proposed Raven Coal Mine. This would give me another chance at the grebes. Once again the grebes were out of range. Fortunately there were a few Bonaparte's Gulls for a little diversion.

The Bonies were pretty well in their black-headed breeding plumage.

I was surprised to see a flock of about 70 Greater Scaup tentatively probing their way towards Blunden Point. They obviously saw me and didn't approach the the point until I disappeared to photograph the Bonaparte's Gulls down the beach.

When I saw the scaup come in I though I would get a few good shots, but just one click of the shutter, and they were gone. Yes, where's the silent shutter?

Here's another distant shot of a Double-crested Cormorant. Just 15 m closer, and I would have had another great sequence while the cormorant wrestled with the fish. I'm always amazed at the sized of fish the cormorant and other seabirds can handle.


Apr. 29 and still no Horned Grebe shots. How much longer will they stay around? My day started quickly. I cut and hauled firewood for an hour as a penance for being irresponsible - nothing specific. On my way back with my load I noticed that there was a fair amount of activity at the bulrushes. That prompted me to set up for my annual hummingbird and fluff session.

No need to elaborate on the rest of the fluff shots. My only disappointment was that the hummers all headed high into the fir trees. Despite the activity around the bulrushes, hummer returns are still 80% short of normal for this time of the year.

After my hummer shoot, I had to go to Nanaimo for the rest of my poster order. In the prologue I mentioned that Staples had missed half my order. My schedule was pretty busy so I figured this would be my last chance for the grebes. Well, it was my lucky day. I saw two grebes. Initially they were too far out but eventually after an hour they worked themselves in close to the point. The higher tide worked. It brought the fish in closer. Sun was at my back. Sky was blue making the water blue. And, the grebes were within about 10 m. I certainly enjoyed them. I hope you do too.


Taking a Stand

Deep Bay is part of Baynes Sound, one of my favorite birding areas. It is, in fact, a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) which means it is nationally recognized as major bird habitat. The nutrient rich, pristine waters of Baynes Sound support many aquatic and avian species as well as a very profitable shellfish industry that employs many people. The proposed Raven Coal Mine just a few kilometers away is a real threat to destroy the pristine quality of Baynes Sound and and all the wildlife and industry that currently thrives there. For coal mine information, go to




Bird Poster

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

























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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