title photo: Oct. 27 - Snow Geese arriving to a farm field near Reifel. According to Mike Tabak there were about 15,000 in the main flock.

Notice Board

1. Meet the Author Day - Sat. Nov. 19, 12:00 - 2:00 pm at Salamander Book Store in Ladysmith. I'll be there to answer questions on birds, photography, books, and anything else you want to discuss.

2. Qualicum Village Christmas Arts Faire - Nov. 25 - 27 at the community hall.

3. Dec. 3 - Nanoose Craft Fair (10 am - 4 pm) at the community hall

4. NATURE TRUST is hosting a "Shell-lebration" fundraiser at the Deep Bay Shellfish Station from 4 - 8 pm to support conservation projects in Baynes Sound. A $50 donation gets you a tour of the state-of-art research facilities, reception, seafood buffet, guest speakers, and live music. RSVP tloewen@naturetrust.bc.ca or phone Tracy at 1-866-288-7878 ext 222.

A Day With Ichabod

Cold, tired, desolate, and lonely, Ichabod, the juvenile Sandhill Crane stood bewildered in a farmer's field in Merville. He had briefly wandered away from his flock, and when he returned he was devastated to see that his parents and the rest of the flock were gone. After several days on his own he was obviously despondent and unhappy. A few ducks and geese at the nearby pond tried to keep him company and cheer him up, but Ichabod clearly missed his family and friends. Sensing Ichabod's sadness and concerned about his health, Maj Birch and the volunteers at MARS captured Ichabod and gave him a physical to see if he had any medical problems. Fortunately, he appeared to be in good health so the problem was to find a flock of cranes for him. MARS contacted me to see if I knew of any other cranes on the island. I hadn't heard of any but offered to take Ichabod to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner if they had no better plan.

On Oct. 27 I left Nanoose in the darkness at 6:15 am and pulled into MARS at 7:30. It would be a long day for me, but even longer and more traumatic for Ichabod. I met Ichabod in his holding pen where Maj was rounding him up to put him in a travelling cage. He was as frightened as the storybook Ichabod fleeing down Sleepy Hollow to escape the headless horseman, but with expert care, Maj soon had him in the cage. The next stop was Errington where I had arranged for biologist, John Cooper, to band Ichabod. It was the second traumatic experience in less than an hour, but it only took a couple of minutes to carefully apply the band, and before long we were at Duke Point waiting for the 10:15 ferry. I'm not sure if Ichabod enjoyed the ferry ride, but it was a smooth and uneventful trip, and he seemed to be much calmer when we got back to the car at 12:25 pm in Tsawassen. After a leisurely drive through the Fraser River delta farmlands we arrived at Reifel exactly at 1:00 pm just as we had planned.

We were greeted by Reifel manager, Kathleen Fry, who would help us with the release, and Sandhill Crane researchers, Jay and Charlie, who were supposed to apply a transmitter to Ichabod. Unfortunately, permission was denied by the CWS so Jay and Charlie could only do a few measurements and apply a couple of coloured bands. This was the third but last indignity that Ichabod would have to endure, and by 2:00 pm he was ready for release at the west pond where several other Sandhills were feeding. At the release site we expected Ichabod to wander out of the cage to survey the situation, but he had other plans. As soon as the door was open he literally flew out of the cage like a bat out of hell and over the other cranes. He flew two laps around the pond and settled in the marsh on the far side of the pond. He was happy to get out of the cage, but he wasn't sure about the other cranes. It would take time to adjust to his strange, new surroundings and his new family. In the meantime he was starving, and it was time for lunch.

I don't know how Ichabod is doing at his new home, but it is a relatively safe environment with other cranes present. Was it the right move to capture Ichabod and relocate him to Reifel? I guess we'll never know, but I know that we all did what we thought was best. Six years ago a Sandhill did spend the winter in a field in Duncan. No one knows whether it successfully hooked up with the spring migration, but it did survive the winter with nothing but gulls for company.

Ichabod's final humiliation would be the installment of more plastic jewellery by Jay, Charlie, and Kathleen. Jay and Charlie are Sandhill researchers with Hummera and Kathleen is the manager at Reifel.

Freedom Finally - Seven hours in a doggie carrying cage was enough for Ichabod. He was hungry, thirsty, and restless. As soon as the cage door opened, he bolted. He couldn't get out of there quick enogh. It was great to stretch his wings fly. He was nervous about his new surroundings, but after two laps around the pond it was time to drink and eat. He would check out the other cranes later.

When the Snows Fly

Many years ago during a clear sunny spring morning on the Arctic coast just north of Tuktoyaktuk, I saw day suddenly turn to night as a huge flock of Snow Geese completely obliterated the sky for about 20 minutes. Two weeks ago I was reminded of my Arctic experience as I marvelled at the sight of 15,000 Snow geese landing and staging on a farm field near Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner.

Migration is truly one of the most fascinating spectacles of nature. It is almost impossible to comprehend how fledgling shorebirds in the Arctic know exactly how and where to navigate to in South America with no adult guidance or previous experience. Even more incredible is the ability of young Rufous Hummingbirds the size of my baby finger to find their way from their Alaskan birthplace to their Mexican wintering grounds. And then there's the Bar-tailed Godwit that was radio-tracked on its non-stop odyssey from Alaska to New Zealand - a distance of 11,000 k (7,145 mi) in seven continuous days.

Vancouver Island is not a major staging area for large flocks of migrating birds, but as part of the Pacific Flyway we do see many smaller flocks ducks, geese, shorebirds, and passerines that stop to rest and refuel.

Oct. 27 - Just like clockwork the Snow Geese arrive around Reifel and Richmond from mid-October to mid-December.

Ted Ardley posted pictures last week of Snow Geese at Terra Nova in Richmond. This was near Reifel. Mike Tabak estimated about 15,000 in this flock.

The Reifel-Skagit Snow Geese are one of the two populations that nest on Wrangel Island which is part of Russia. The flock is estimated at 75,000 birds for 2011. The Reifel-Skagit birds stage on the Fraser Delta before moving south to Skagit estuary in Washington for most of the winter. The return again from mid-March to mid-April before heading north. The darker birds in the photo are the juveniles.

Adult birds are white with pink bills, pink legs, and black wingtips.

The orange colouring on the face of the Snow Geese is the result of iron in the soil and mud where the geese forage.

The geese did not mind landing close to the road despite the close proxinmity of photographers and bystanders.

The closeness of the geese provided excellent photo opportunities as well as a fascinating viewing experience for the bystanders.

The presence of geese foraging and resting close to us was an invitation for other geese to land and join the party.

The juvenile Snow Goose is darker than the regular adults. There is a dark or blue morph Snow Goose but it is more common in the east. Despite the thousands of geese in front of us, I could not find a blue morph.

The grin patch on the bill is a distinctive feature the Snow Goose and not present on the Ross's Goose. The stout bill of the Snow Goose is suited to grovelling in the mud and soil where it forages for plant roots such as the bulrush.

About a third of the birds seemed to be juveniles which suggests that it was a very successful nesting season. Snow Geese are the most abundant geese in Canada.

Barley, the Barred Owl

Oct. 30 - Just as I was to leaving Fairwinds Brad and Andrew mentioned that they had seen an owl on the clock at the 5th tee box. From the description I assumed it was a Barred Owl. They said they were within a few feet of it before it flew which I considered odd at that time. First, it was completely out in the open insted of concealed in the shadows of a tree. Second, I'd never been within a few feet of an owl. The closest was about 20 feet while it was in a tree. I decided to go home to get my camera and look for the owl. I didn't have to look very hard. I found the Barred Owl right away on a tree by the pond close to where it was first sighted.

While I was taking some pictures it flew down to the grass and foraged for a mouse, vole, or some other critter.

I didn't see it catch anything. It was only about 30 feet from me and showed no anxiety as I continued to take pictures.

Although it seemed alert I suspected that something was wrong with it. It seemed listless, tired, and weak, and some of its feathers were wet and ungroomed. On a positive note, its excretory system seemed to be functioning.

At times I was able to approach withing a few feet of the owl. That confirmed my suspicions that it was sick. I thought about trying to catch it, but I had no cage or box to put it in even if I were successful.

All I could do was enjoy taking pictures and observing its behaviour. It spent about five minutes on the ground before it flew on to a post. It wasn't facing me so I decided to see how close I could get before it flew. I got close enough to touch it, but decided not to.

It eventually flew on to a small stump where I took a few more pictures.

While I was taking pictures Bruce and Peter came along and asked what I was photographing. The owl was 20 feet away but blended in perfectly with the bark of the tree. We all had a good laugh when I pointed out the owl.

Finally after 250 shots and more than an hour I reluctantly packed my camera and left. I vowed to return in and check on it in a day or two.

My next chance to look for the owl was two days later on Nov. 2. Garnet had seen it the day before on the 4th fairway. I checked the 5th tee box where I had seen it before and then the 4th fairway but came up empty. Next I drove around to the second fairway, but all I found was the Red-tailed Hawk that I'll tell you about later. After a fruitless hour I gave up and was on my way home when I heard some ravens calling in the forest. I decided to stop and investigate. When I got to the spot where the ravens were calling, there was the owl on the ground. I assumed the ravens were doing a death watch and waiting for a Barred lunch. I decided to try to catch the owl in a blanket and take it to the recovery centre, but the owl wasn't ready to be captured. I was within 3 feet and ready to toss the blanket when the owl flew up to a branch about 12 feet high. It was on to plan b which was to try to feed the owl. I found a long stick and placed a small piece of raw chicken breast on it. I pushed the stick up to the sleeping owl's nose and gave it a nudge. The owl opened its eyes and grabbed the chicken with its bill and gobbled it. I placed a second piece on the stick, but this time the owl was waiting and grabbed the chicken as soon as it was within reach. I had one piece left, but this time the owl didn't eat it. It just held it in its claw. I hoped the snack was enough to get the owl back up to speed. That was last time I saw Barley. On Nov. 6 I found a scattering of feathers near the 3rd tee box, and then on Nov. 8 Bill Stewart told me a dead owl was found on Nov. 7. It was probably Barley. We all felt bad that he didn't survive, but I don't know if he could have been saved anyway.

Red-tailed Premonition

Oct. 31 - We had just passed Buckley Bay on the Inland Highway heading north, and I had a feeling that I would soon see a Red-tailed Hawk on a fence post.

About 5 k north I spotted the Red-tailed on a post on the west side of the road.

When I got to the Courtenay exit I decided to turn around to take a photo. I'm glad I did because the weather got progressively worse and photo opportunities disappeared.

In fact, this was the last shot of the day. At Comox Bay Farm I just missed a skirmish between a harrier, Kestrel, and Bald Eagle. All I got was the Kestrel as it hovered in the distance.

Snakes in the Grass

My next encounter with a Red-tailed was on Nov. 2 when I was searching for the Barred Owl. I was driving past Fred Noyce's house when I spotted the Red-tailed on a lamp post right in front of the house. I stopped, got ut, set up the camera, and then looked for the hawk. It was nowhere to be found. I was ready to give up when I heard some rustling in the tall grass across the road. It was the Red-tailed, and it had just caught a snake. I pointed the camera just as it flew up to Fred's roof.

As I headed into the bush to get to the other side of Fred's house, I thought the hawk was fortunate to find a snake in November. Snakes should be in hibernation shouldn't they?

For awhile it looked like the snake was crawling down the hawk's throat but I guess the hawk had some peristaltic mechanism to swallow the snake.

I guess if the man in the circus could swallow a sword, the hawk could swallow a snake.

For it's part, the snake seemed to be fighting all the way down the gullet.

Now that looks like a satisfied hawk doesn't it. I thought it would be through eating for awhile, but guess what? 15 minutes later I saw it catch another snake.

#&%$@*+^ ! If you can decipher a little heron profanity, you might get an idea of Great Blue's state of mind. He had just gotten a good dunking after missing a tasty fishy treat.

On a happier note the French Creek Pied-billed Grebe was in a good mood. The brisk winds were keeping the boaters at bay and the grebe had the marina to itself.

I first spotted two Pied-bills at the marina two weeks ago. I wasn't aware that they were taking up winter residence. Hey, it's time for a shower.

After watching the grebe dive several times, I'm still pondering why it was necessary to take a shower.

In fact, the grebe repeated the shower four times. I'm thinking that during the dive the feathers are closed and don't allow the penetration of water to the skin.

During the shower the feathers are loosened to allow some penetration of water necessary for the grooming process.

Before I forget I want to mention how the grebe gets underwater. The usual is the dive where it propels itself into the water for the head-first dive and pursuit of prey. The second is the submarine dive where the grebe simply fills the ballast tanks and quietly submerges. The latter is less conspicuous and generally in response to the presence of danger.

After the shower the excess water has to be shaken out of the feathers.

All the shaking also gets rid of any debris or parasites lodged in the feathers.

Since the grebe doesn't have a comb, the final grooming is down with its bill.

All misplaced and disarranged feathers are straightened out put back into their proper places.

The presence of the Pied-billed at French Creek is uncommon but not unexpected.

Most Pied-billeds are found in fresh water ponds and marshes, but after the breeding season some disperse to the salt water for the winter.

Bird Poster

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
























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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