title photo: Mission Accomplished - Finally! After 7 years averaging 5 stops per year, I finally saw and photographed the Swan Lake Bittern!
Oct.7 - "twas a beautiful sunny afternoon as I neared the entrance to the Nanoose Creek estuary. I usually pass by there an average of 5 times a week but seldom have the time or inspiration to stop, but the sun glistening off the alders and the tall grass bowing in the wind was too much to resist. I pulled off the road beside the entrance and unloaded my camera and tripod.
As I passed through the gate I scanned the nearest grove of towering alders for passing songbirds, but the only thing passing was a gentle fall breeze. Beyond the grove there was a lot of cackling and honking. I slowly edged my way around the trees and found myself almost in the midst of a sizeable geese convention - Greater White-fronted, Cackling, and Canada ... as well as green-winged Teal, Mallards, American Wigeons, and one lonely Wilson's Snipe. The meeting was similar to human gatherings where everyone was speaking and no one was listening.
It was impossible to get a photo through the branches so I had to expose myself - I mean get out from behind the branches. That was the signal for the Greater White-fronteds to fly.
The Canadas and Cacklers were nervous, but they were a little more tolerant. They were just a little too far away for quality shots, but I wanted to document my first Cacklers of the year. I always marvel at how petite they are compared to the Canada's.
Meanwhile the flock of about 20 Greater White-fronteds circled again and headed towards the end of the estuary.
The Canada and Cackling Geese eyed me nervously, but didn't take flight. There are four subspecies of Cackling Geese. I think the two above are either hutchinsii ot tavernerii. The one below might be a minima.
The minima has the darkest chest with a purplish cast to it. I'm not sure if it's discernible in this photo, or if this is actually a minima. I know it's not an Aleutian as they are rare over here and have a distinctive white collar.
I located the Greater White-fronteds at the end of the estuary, but even at a hundred feet, the were gun-wary and couldn't distinguish between a camera and shotgun. They took flight again.
The several Green-winged Teal seemed to be females or immatures. They were very playful and often engaged in play-fights.
A New Tenant? - It's been almost a month now since I first spotted an Anna's in the garden. That prompted me to fill a nectar feeder and hang it on my feeder pole. I was quite pleased to see it visiting the feeder occasionally. I saw it again yesterday morning (Oct. 29) while I was tending to the seed feeders so maybe I'll have my first-ever Anna's staying for the winter.
Oct. 15 - It was another beautiful fall day, and I was homebound with several chores, but I still managed to sneak in a little birding. The constant chirping in the garden was too much to resist. We have a crabapple tree in the garden with the miniature apples. I don't know what they are good for, but I knew the Robins liked them.
There was a flock of waxwings in the yard, and some were enjoying the domestic crabapples while others seemed to prefer the wild crabapples.
The Cedar Waxwings seem to visit when the crabapples are ready in the fall and they like the holly berries in the spring.
The sleek brown feathers, handsome crest, yellow tailtips, and waxy red tips on the secondaries make Cedar Waxwing one of the most attractive birds and a favorite to photograph.
Juvenile waxwings have the yellow tailtips but not the waxy red tips.
This shot is just to let you see the details of the tail and waxy red tips a little better. Other birds in the crabapple included a Golden-crowned Sparrow and Spotted Towhee.
Another garden attraction are the sunflower seeds. As usual, the Red-breasted Nuthatches were busy collectin seeds for their stashes.
The Chestnut-backed Chickadees were also enjoying the sunflower seeds. Unlike the nutchatches the chickadees flew off with the seeds to a nearby tree where they proceeded to devour the garden treat.
The challenge in photographing the sunflower birds was to wait until they came out of the shadows into the sunshine. It would be preferable to have the sky as the background, but my yard is surrounded by tall conifers.
Another problem with chickadees and dark backgrounds is that the black cap of the bird tends to fade into the background.
The third garden attraction is the apples, and that attracts the biggest visitor of all, the Pileated Woodpecker.
Oct. 17 - For me, B & B stands for books and birds. With my new book ready for distribution a month ahead of schedule, it was a good opportunity to sneak in some extra birding.
With books to deliver to Bolen, Munro's Vic Camera, and Tanners, I only had time to check out a couple of locations. Swan Lake was my first choice especially with recent reports of the American Bittern. As mentioned the Swan Lake Bittern was a mythical bird for me just like the Buttertubs Bittern still is. But, perseverence finally paid off, and I had my day with the Swan Lake Bittern. In fact, so have many others as the Bittern seems to regularly forage in the open near the floating bridge. On the way to the bridge an Anna's Hummingbird perched above me for a close but rather cluttered shot. One of these days I'll get some decent shots of this species.
Quiet! Here comes the Bittern. Despite its size it's capable of sneaking up on a variety of marsh and marine critters.
Since I've been birding I've never heard of any breeding record on Vancouver Island. I suspect all our bitterns are migratory birds that just stop on their way south.
The three regular herons on Vancouver Island are the Great Blue, American Bittern, and the Green Heron. The Great Blue is the largest standing up to 46 inches, the bittern is next at 28 inches and the Green is the smallest at 18 inches.
The cryptic colours on the bittern are generally effective in the dry grass and reeds, but most of the vegetation at Swan Lake was quite green and the bittern was easy to find.
As for the Buttertubs Bittern, I've pretty well given up on it, but our former resident Brit Birder, Jon Carter, was lucky enough to spot it about 3 weeks ago. Maybe it's time for a Buttertubs visit.
Since I had to visit Munro's Bookstore on Government Street, Clover Point was a logical place to stop. Unfortunately, there was nothing interesting to report. I did my best to scare up a mink and scoured the shoreline for otters, but the best I could do were three Surf Birds.
Yes, I know I had Surf Birds in my previous journal, but they weren't the same ones. That's a pretty weak excuse, but since I'm paying the bill for this website ...
Okay, faced with the choice of checking out Whiffen Spit in Sooke for birds or trying to pawn a few books at Tanners in Sidney, I had to do some serious deliberating. In the end the deciding factor was the Roost and their fabulous meatloaf on Russian Rye so Tanner's it was. As for birding, my only destination was the Sidney waterfront and wonderful wharf. At times it can be good for Rhinoceros Auklets, Pigeon Guillemots, or Common Murres. There was a guillemot catching fish about 100 feet from the wharf, but that was too far for my mediocre lens. I had to settle for a Pelagic Cormorant.
There was one roosting on a piling close the walkway. How close? I would say about 35 feet or 11.5 meters.
Pelagic Cormorants are actually red-listed and endangered as their populations are on the decline. The main reason? Bald Eagles.
Just like the Great Blue Herons, many cormorant nesting colonies have been under seige by the Bald Eagles. In fact, on Mittlenatch there are eagles nesting almost next to the cormorants.
Oct. 18 - Time to deliver books to Graham's Jewellers in Courtenay, Blue Heron in Comox and Save On and Coho in Campbell River. Of course, that meant a stop at Deep Bay.
On the way to Deep Bay I passed a Belted Kingfisher at Qualicum Bay. I wasn't interested in a Kingfisher on the wire so I didn't stop, but since most of my kingfisher shots are of the males, here was a chance for the female. I stopped a kilometer up the road and turned around for this shot. After a couple of clicks it flew to a snag further up the road near where a gravel truck was parked. It was the perfect picture in full sun. I slowly pulled up and was just ready to shoot when the gravel truck started its engine. The Kingfisher disappeared, and I carried on to Deep Bay. Just another missed perfect shot.
It was a bit early for the Deep Bay Longtaileds so I had to settle for a couple of female Surf Scoters and the Red-necked Grebe.
The grebe wasn't as close as I would have liked, but it was distant shot or no shot.
The grebe dove twice, but it didn't surface with any prey. You can tell it's ready to dive when it arches its neck back.
Down periscope. I was disappointed when it surfaced again without any prey. Perhaps, it was small enough to consume underwater.
On the way off the spit a Spotted Towhee was warming up in the morning sun.
Next stop, Courtenay Airpark. My target was the Green Heron but no such luck. The consolation bird was the Horned Grebe.
The grebe didn't catch anything when it was close, but as you can tell from the noise, theis was a well-cropped distant shot.
I'm always amazed at how seabirds can swallow prey that would choke you or I to death.
Oct. 25 - Occasionally things work out just as planned. I had a couple of hours for some midday birding. The sun was out and the wind was calm. All I needed was a couple of birds to photograph. I decided to check French Creek for some herons fishing and would finish with a search for a Northern Shrike on Kaye Road. I didn't believe it myself, but that's exactly what I got. Okay, the heron was almost a sure thing as they are frequently seen at French Creek. The Shrike was a bit of calculated luck. It was the right time for them to show up, and Kaye Road was my favorite location.
As mentioned, it was no surprise to find a heron in French Creek. The surprise was to find it in an excellent location fairly close to shore facing in the right direction for the sun.
You can tell when the heron spots a prey. It slowly moves its head into position, and then shoots it head just like a spear.
The heron rarely misses. I watched it strike three times, and it got its prey three times.
I was hoping to see a big fish, but all three catches of the day were on the miniature size.
There was no challenge to swallow the small prey. For large prey the heron has to kill it first.
Just like in the children's song, the heron just opened its throat and swallowed the fish.
Shrike One! Kaye Road is my favorite shrike location. Despite the rapidly disappearing natural areas, there is still some good habitat for shrikes - grassy areas with short grass and brush. I hit the jackpot at the top of Peterson Road on a small dead fir next to the where they used to chip up wood waste (including more than a few creosote ties).
The juvenile Northern Shrike had just caught an insect and was enjoying its snack.
Unfortunately, in my haste to adjust the exposure compensation, I turned the dial the wrong way and totally over-exposed the photos. The only way to recover was to Photoshop which also brought out the noise.
By the time I realized my mistake, the shrike had finished its snack.
It looked around for another minute but soon departed to another location. Depite screwing up on the first few photos, I thoroughly enjoyed my brief shrike encounter. It's a remarkable bird, and as grisly as it may sound, I'm hoping to see it catch another bird and impale it on a thorn as I'm told they do. I'm looking forward to "shrike two" if I may be so lucky.
My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House