title photo: A very common bird along our coastal shorelines is the Horned Grebe. It's not unusual for it to be foraging close to shore which makes it a frequent photo target.
Nov. 14 - I've been waiting for an opportunity to visit Deep Bay and the Long-tailed Ducks, and my chance came when Anna called from Hornby to order 8 boxes of books for their Christmas Fair. She actually offered to rendezvous at Buckley Bay next week but a glance at my week planner told me that this was the day to travel. In other words, the forecast was for a sunny day. Besides, 8 boxes of books weighs 288 lbs., and I didn't want to burden Anna with that load.
If you've followed my site over the years, you'll know that Deep Bay Spit is one of the best places in SW B.C. to photograph the Long-taileds. They usually arrive in Baynes Sound at the end of October and frequently congregate around the tip of the spit. Even if the Long-taileds aren't around, the spit is an excellent venue for bird photography - both on the water and in the air. Some of my favorite photo experiences on the spit have included the much-desired Yellow-billed Loons and Marbled Murrelets.
There weren't any uncommon birds today, but I had a blast with some of the usual winter species. In a way it was like a family or class reunion to get reacquainted with birds I haven't photographed since last winter.
The Drifter - The first bird to drift within camera range was a Common Loon. It sat casually off the spit for about a half hour but never caught anything that it had to bring to the surface.
A Frequent Flyer - I wasn't surprised to see a Double-crested Cormorant cruising across my bow. There is usually a regular stream of cormorants flying back and forth from Denman to Deep Bay.
A Petite Visitor - You always have to be vigilant and scan the horizon watching for birds flying to the spit. I managed to track this female Bufflehead from about 100 meters so I was ready for the shot. The Bufflehead is our smallest duck which makes it one of the most difficult birds to photograph in flight or landing.
A Pair of Teasers - Marbled Murrelets are another difficult bird to photograph. Forget trying to shoot them from a boat. All you get is the rear-end as they dive. The best chance if when you catch them close to shore like I did a few weeks ago. Today they just tantilized me by cruising by about 50 to 100 m offshore.
Circus Time - I can't help but think of circus clowns when I see the face-painted Surf Scoters.
Clowning Around - Just to prove my point, Bozo and his buddy put on a little display of clowning-around.
As mentioned in the title photo, the Horned Grebe is a very common photo target. At Deep Bay I don't know if it's the same bird, but over the years there has been on that has cruised within 3 m of the shoreline on many occasions when I've been there.
Another bird that has passed by close to the shoreline many times is the female Harlequin. It usually travels with a mate, but today it was out shopping by herself.
So far the Long-taileds have been a no-show, but there was plenty of bird activity. I got to practice flight shots regularly. A small group of White-winged Scoters passed by a little further away than I wanted, but it was still good practice.
Here's another Double-crested heading back to Denman.
Pelagic Cormorants were also common, but I've never seen a Brandt's in this location.
The only scoters that have been feeding off the end of the spit have been Surf Scoters. Over the years I've never seen Black or White-winged Scoters here. Here comes another Surf.
And another two ...
I had arrived at the spit at 8:30 am and planned to catch the 10:00 am ferry at Buckley Bay. It was now 9:15 and no Long-taileds. I had another 20 minutes before leaving. Finally, another bird was flying towards me from Denman. Could it be? Yes, finally my first Long-tailed of the fall.
I did my best to track the Long-tailed but it was coming towards me which made it more difficult to maintain focus - landing gear deployed for a perfect two-point landing.
No need for water skis when the equipment is built-in.
Splash Down! - The Long-tailed is a fairly heavy duck and causes quite a splash as it hits the water.
Good thing that the water is a little more forgiving than land ...
Lunch Time? - I assume that the Long-tailed's fidelity to the waters off the spit reflects the general abundance of food.
So far I've only seen only three or four Long-taileds at a time off the spit. Later in the season when the migration is complete, I expect up to twenty at a time.
The challenge in photographing the Long-taileds is the correct exposure. Notice the blowouts of the white where the reflection is the brightest. I had the exposure compensation set at -1/3 but had to go to -2/3.
Unlike the males the female Long-taileds don't have long tails.
The female Long-taileds are very similar to the juveniles so this and the previous two might be juveniles.
Just a couple of more pics before heading to the ferry ... If I had time I would have hung out at the spit for at least another hour.
Walmart Greeter - After my visit with the Long-taileds I caught the 10 am at Buckley Bay and then the 10:40 at Gravelly Bay. Although it was sunny, a stiff northeast wind convinced me too stay in the car on the crossing instead of looking for Western Grebes or an elusive Yellow-billed Loon. As usual, the Double-crested Cormorants were on the pilings to greet us at the Shingle Spit terminal. There were also a number of Pelagic Cormorants on the pilings. I had intended to do some birding on Hornby, but the the ice-cold winds completed frustrated that idea. Ditto for Denman. I settled for a delicious grilled cheese sandwich and soup at the Bistro instead.
Nov. 15 - Another sunny day and book deliveries to Campbell River and Comox - very convenient for another session of birding. Actually, most of my birding was done from French Creek to Qualicum before heading north. By the time I made my delivery to Coho Books in Campbell River and Blue Heron Books in Comox, the weather had degenerated to overcast, but I made a point of having my first fall visit with the Trumpeters at Comox Bay Farm followed by an original White Spot Hamburger.
I hope you're not getting bored with the King at French Creek. We're all creatures of habit and need a certain amount of consistency in our lives. I've really enjoyed seeing and photographing the King over the years and will rue the day when it's not possible for one reason or the other... Lots of gulls in the creek and on the shore. I scanned those in camera range. but didn't find anything unusual.
I also stopped to check the gull roost at the south end of Qualicum. The best I could find was a solitary Bonaparte's. I imagine most of them have moved out to deeper water where they seem to spend the winter.
Where else can you stand on the sidewalk and take pictures of seabirds? The only problem is the high angle of the shots.
Notice how the black bill of the Bonaparte's disappears in the dark background of the water. If I weren't in such a hurry I would have tried for some ground-level shots with a lighter background.
Surprise! I had never seen California Quail along the Qualicum waterfront before. This was at the viewing stand just as I was driving in. I rolled down my window for a quick shot just as a pickup truck zoomed in and frightened the quail away. There's very little vegetation and cover in the area so the quail probably didn't stay long.
Further along the beach I spotted some shorebirds busily foraging along the shoreline. They were mostly Dunlin, but there were also two lighter coloured birds as well as one Black-bellied Plover. If you've had any experience with the Black-bellied Plovers, you'll know how skittish they are. Most of my shots of them are usually from about 12 m or more. My second surprise in 10 minutes. This Black-bellied Plover wandered within 6 m of me.
I know the plover saw me because it hesitated while I was setting up. Anyway, I had to take a few shots before getting back to the other shorebirds.
Do you recognize the shorebird in the back? Right, a Sanderling. They aren't very common around here at any time of year except maybe spring migration. During the winter I'll be lucky to see one or two, and I suspect that they might be the same birds.
Whenever you see a flock of Dunlin, look for a similar-sized bird that's much whiter in colour. That'll be your Sanderling.
Black Scoter Time - I saw the Black Scoters on the way to the viewing stand but there were too many people around so I didn't stop. I was going to leave them for another day, but after my little shorebird session, I knew the conditions would be excellent for the scoters. In other words, the sun was optimum, the wind was reasonable, and I was hoping the pedestrians had gone. Hello Blackie!
My winter is never complete without a good session with the Black Scoters. They are part of the consistency in my life that I look forward to.
I love watching them dive for the varnish clams. This must have been a fertile location for the clams as everyone was having success.
This is a female Black Scoter. Back to what what I said about a fertile location for clams, another possibility is that early in the duck season there are more clams available.
By the end of the duck season the clam poplation might be thinned out considerably.
Here's one last clam for the road. I was surprised to see that my scoter session took less than a half hour. That was good because I still had many miles to go.
By the time I finished my book deliveries, the clouds were everywhere. I made a quick trip to Goose Spit and was repelled by a strong northeast wind. It was too cold and cloudy for any photography even if I lucked out with a good sighting. My best bet was to retreat to Comox Bay Farm to check on the Trumpeters and maybe a Tundra Swan or even a Short-eared Owl. (2 years ago a Short-eared popped out of the grass right next to my car.) Neither of the latter two materialized so I relaxed and observed the Trumpeters for awhile. Comox Valley is the host to a major wintering population of Trumpeters, and Comox Bay Farm is one of their staging areas.
Many of the swans had orange stains on their heads that reflected the iron content of the soil.
I was amused at some of the swan behaviour especially a pair that was practicing synchronized drinking, one of the new competitions at the next swan olympics.
A very small juvenile caught my eye. I was hoping it might be a Tundra, but the black base of the bill suggested a stunted juvenile Trumpeter.
With rain clouds threatening from the west I took one last picture then headed home. I was right about the rain as it poured all the way home.
Nov. 21 - A chore in Nanaimo gave me a chance to visit the Lantzville waterfront. The first bird I saw was a House Finch in the blackberry thicket by the parking lot. I complained that the finch was in the shade so it obliged by flying into the sunshine.
What a difference a little sunshine makes. Now you know why I do most of my birding when the sun shines.
My next stop was Blunden Point. It was high tide, and the wind was whipping in from the the east. The good news was that the sun was shining. The only bird within photo distance was a female Red-breasted merganser.
It passed by heading north and shortly after came back heading south and a little closer to shore where I was situated. As soon as I started shooting the duck thought I was pointing a rifle instead of a camera. That gave me an unexpected opportunity for some flight shots.
I wasn't ready for this so wasn't positioned the best for panning.
I was extremely pleased regardless. These are my best flight shots of a female Red-breasted Merganser.
On the way home I spotted a Northern Shrike - my second of the season.
The shrike I posted a few weeks ago was more brown than this one. However, I think they are both juveniles representing two different flavors or morphs.
I watched for a few minutes to see if the shrike would do any hunting, but I think it was just enjoying the morning sun.
Nov. 22 - After doing a little birding yesterday, today was supposed to be my chore day. The forecast was for rain, but when I hopped out of bed the sky was clear. When the sun finally illuminated the trees, I couldn't resist the temptation.
My first stop was the San Malo mudflats at the Englishman River Estuary. I was hoping for a Snowy Owl but had to settle for a pair of immature Bald Eagles.
The two baldies would be the first of many I would see during the morning. The eagle population increases considerably during the winter.
After a couple of quick pics of the baldies I headed for the waterfront but was intercepted by a few Golden-crowned Sparrows. They were playing hide-and-seek with me but would pop up every time I threatened to leave. We soon got tired of the game and went our separate ways.
The view of the snow-capped peaks was splendid in the morning sun. The dominant species on the water was the Red-breasted Merganser. There was a small flock foraging close to shore but many more were flying by heading west towards the river mouth.
I was tempted to follow the ducks to see where they were going but decided to stay put.
A short wait was rewarded by a male merganser landing nearby albeit a little too far away for a full-framed shot..
I'm constantly amazed by the length of the body of the Red-breasted Merganser that's why I generally like to post pictures that show them from an angle.
On the way through Parksville I spotted a half dozen Eurasian-collared Doves. I tried for some photos but was experiencing camera problems. For some reason it didn't want to focus and when it did, the exposure was off.
When I got home I had a phone message from Frank Marcan (thanks Frank) regarding an owl at Fairwinds. I hopped back in the car and soon had my camera pointed at a sleepy Barred Owl near the 4th fairway.
After 20 minutes the owl showed no sign of waking so I took a few more shots and left. That may have been one of the two owls that were present last week, but it could also be another one either passing through or here for the winter. Anyway, it was a pleasure to see even if it was only sleeping.
My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House