title photo: Jan. 5/12 Female Common Merganser cruising down Englishman River

2011 - A Year in Review


photo - Herring spawn at Sandpiper Beach. It wasn't difficult to be seduced by the beauty of the islands.

2011 was without a doubt one of the more hectic years in my life. After publishing VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS, VOLUME 3 in 2010 I was totally prepared to spend a leisurely year tending to long-overdue domestic chores, lowering my golfing handicap, doing some casual island birding and photography, and reducing my book inventory. However, life is full of surprises, and on the way to the golf course, I was hijacked by Denman & Hornby NATURE. It all started simply enough when I decided to photograph the Denman Eagles in the spring of 2010. It didn't take long to discover that there was much more to the beauty and biodiversity of the islands than the Eagles, and by the end of 2010 the seeds of a new publication were impulsively sown.

photo - Eagle tree on Denman Road. An abundance of Bald Eagles enhances the beauty and mystique of the islands.

VOLUME 3 was my 4th publication, and like my previous books it was the product of the gradual accumulation of photographs until I felt I had enough to produce a book. In case you're wondering why you've only seen 3 of my books, the first may have been before your time. It was way back in 1971 while I was teaching in Inuvik when I self-published a 64 page photographic documentation of life in the Arctic town and region. Copies of "INUVIK" can still be found in cyberspace in used book stores, or if you're really desperate and have lots of spare cash, I just might part with one of my treasured copies.

photo - View of Chickadee Lake from Winter Wren.

Fast forward to the fall of 2005 - 36 years after my first publication. After almost a year of digital bird photography, I had collected enough bird photos to consider publishing VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS, Volume 1. With the material in hand, it was a simple procedure to plan, organize, and design the format and layout of a book. Two months later I sent the dvd to Friesens and released the book in the spring of '05. Volume 2 in 2007 and Volume 3 in 2010 followed the same pattern, but Denman & Hornby NATURE was completely different.

Denman & Hornby NATURE was conceived out of impulse and planned with virtually no photographs or material in hand. I was out of my element committing to a book without my usual collection of photos, but I thought I had something better than photos - an amazing resource person who knew just about all there was to know about Denman and Hornby, and she was a specialist in nature, sensitive ecosystems, and environmental issues. As well, in addition to her limitless wealth of knowledge, she was amazingly talented and creative, had great problem-solving skills, was an excellent photographer, and had superior writing skills. All I would have to do was chip in with some photography and help with the design and layout. It was a no-brainer, but my best laid plans were not to be. Four months into the project I discovered that my resource person was no longer available, and I was up the creek without a paddle.

For a few days I was numbed into submission and at a loss whether to abort, carry on, or just get stoned. It would be no shame to abort. The few people who knew about the plans would understand. Although I had gotten a quote from Friesens for the printing cost, I hadn't committed to any printing schedule. My original plan for a scholarly and well-researched review of nature and ecosystems on both islands was based largely on the knowledge and skill of my resource person, but that had just evaporated.

photo - Jenn's Creek? Beauty is where you find it - an idyllic meandering creek, the tranquill waters of Baynes Sound, the backdrop of Beaufort Mountains - an everyday view from Lacon Road ... (I just made up the name for the creek.)

After wallowing in the dregs of indecision for a few days my vision gradually clarified, and my confidence returned. After all, wasn't I the author and publisher of 4 successful books? (Did I tell you that I sold 5,000 copies of my first book in a town of 2,500 people?) My previous books were successful photographic journals of my experience. I knew that I could modify the project to become a "tourist-eyed" photographic journey of the islands. I had already done a significant amount of photgraphy and prepared several tentative mental drafts of the book. The key was that I had a concept and could visualize the book from beginning to end. The only point of concern was the "small market" appeal of the book. Could I successfully market the book on Denman and Hornby? How many non-residents of Denman and Hornby would be interested in the subject matter and/or my photography. On the other hand, there were several other reasons to proceed including personal pride in completing a job that I had started. As well, I had shared the book idea with a few people like Hornby Island diver, Amanda Zielinski. Amanda had enthusiatically endorsed the idea and gladly offered to provide her photos for a chapter on "undersea nature." I didn't want to disappoint her and others who offered support. However, the most important consideration was that it was a worthwhile project. As Juan mentioned there were no books about the Islands, and I had the opportunity and challenge to create something that could be enjoyed and cherished by islanders and visitors alike. I flipped the coin and decided to carry on. I had some marketing ideas I could exploit when the time came.

By modifying my approach I was able to eliminate the research and collaboration required for a more scholarly and informative publication. That simplified my task, and I was able to aim for an earlier completion date to take advantage of the Christmas rush. May, June, and July were filled with travel and photography, and by mid-July, most of the photography was complete. August was spent designing, laying out the pages, and writing the articles. By September the book was ready for the printers - 4 months ahead of my original schedule.

The joy of publishing is producing the book - exploring, photographing, planning, designing, etc. The pain of publishing is the marketing - marketing plans, advertising, book-signings, distribution, etc. I didn't like it, but it had to be done. September was spent on promotions: an interview by Laura Bushekin for the Beacon, an interview by Brenda Gough for the NEWS, press releases to various newspapers, a self-serving article for my regular newspaper column, posters and flyers for Denman and Hornby, ads in the Beacon and Bookworld, and setting the groundwork for marketing partnerships. I knew that I couldn't just rely on retail outlets, craft sales, and personal contacts to market the book. I decided to partner with Conservancy Hornby Island, Denman Conservancy Association, and Comox Valley Naturalist Society. The groups were invited to market the book for 30% off and 20% of all sales would be donated back to them.

October was the month of reckoning. Launching a book is never easy. Without the resources to command a massive media campaign I had to rely primarily on word of mouth. I had to hope that the first buyers would be so impressed that they would spread the word to their friends. In other words, the book would have to sell itself. My moment of truth was Oct. 11 when I delivered the first books to Anna Z. on Hornby Island. Anna had spread the word and a dozen people were waiting. I held my breath as I passed the books around and waited like an expectant parent. I didn't have to wait long. The compliments were almost immediate and extremely gratifying. Everyone loved the book and within a few minutes we had sold 37. I had similar success on Oct. 16 at the Comox Valley Naturalist Society meeting where we sold 31 books. It was a good start, but could the momentum continue, and would there be a Christmas rush? Read the following press release:


Denman & Hornby NATURE has exceeded all expectations by selling 800 copies in its first 3 months. As expected the bulk of the sales was on the islands. In particular, the support of Hornby Islanders was outstanding. They had enthusiastically embraced the book and purchased close 300 copies (297 to be exact) - for many it simplified their Christmas shopping. The books were marketed through a partnership with Conservancy Hornby Island and 20% of the sales were donated back to CHI. Needless to say, Conservancy Hornby Island were extremely pleased with the donation to their programs. Support on Denman has also been good with 93 copies sold prior to Christmas.

Self-publishing a book represents a huge investment of time, effort, resources, and money, and it is a gamble. A book can fail as easy as it can succeed unless you know Oprah. In some cases failure can be avoided by shrewd and creative marketing. In this case the success was due mainly to the fundraising partnerships especially on Hornby and Denman thanks to the efforts of Anna Z. and Susan-Marie respectively. With the lack of mass media on the islands, sales depended mainly on word of mouth, and that was accomplished successfully.

2,000 copies of Denman & Hornby NATURE were printed, and it is expected to have a market life of 2 to 3 years. To sell 40% in 3 months is a giant step in paying the bills, but that is not the most important consideration. For any author, photographer, or publisher, the most important thing is artistic approval. Knowing that the book is meaningful, appreciated, and enjoyed is the ultimate accolade and validation of the creativity, time, and effort involved. Of course, the correlation between appreciation and sales is obvious, but it's hearing appreciative comments that's really meaningful for the heart and ego. For all of you who have purchased the book, I am truly grateful for your support.

It will still be a challenge to market the remaining 1,200 copies. The substantial influx of tourists to the islands in the summer has huge potential, but the logistics of connecting with them is extremely difficult. However, no one ever said it would be easy, and time will tell if we're up to the task.

Many people have asked about a possible Volume 2, but there are no current plans for that. Even if Volume 1 sells out sooner than anticipated one has to assess the appetite of the public for another book. Will there be enough material for another book? Again the public taste is an important consideration. For example, one of the topics I didn't cover was prehistoric nature. There have been world-class fossil discoveries at Collishaw Point, but is that a topic that has widespread interest? Other possible topics include the sensational annual spectacle of the herring spawn, the abundance and diversity of intertidal life, the fauna (especially river otters and other unique species), and insects like damsel and dragon flies. There is always the potential for doing another book, but would it be a good idea? Is the sequel ever as good as the original?

photo - The endangered Taylor's Checkerspot will always remind me of the beauty, biodiversity, mystique, and wonderful personalities of Denman and Hornby.


Obviously, I was unable to spend as much time with the birds as I was accustomed to in 2011, and I did miss my avian friends. The question is, "Did you miss my avian friends?" This will be my 9th year for this website. I have diligently shared my photographs and thoughts for 8 years now, but like the seasons, there has been a lot of repetition. How many more times will you want to see the Brant and herring spawn? Will you get tired of seeing another spring of Harry the hummer and his magnificent flashing orange and red gorget? These thoughts haunt me every year, but I have no answers for now.

Jan. 7, 2012 - My only birding of the 2012 was a brief 2 hour outing on Jan. 5. It wasn't a banner day for photography in terms of opportunities, but finally it was a pleasure to visit a few of my local spots from Lantzville to Parksville. There wasn't much in terms of photo opportunities - a record shot of the long-term, over-wintering Spotted Sandpiper at Blunden Point, a sleeping Greater Yellowlegs at French Creek, and the resident Pied-billed Grebe in French Creek marina. My best sighting this year was yesterday when a flock of Pine Siskins invited themselves to lunch in my alder trees. Amongst the siskins were a few Common Redpolls that have suddenly become quite commonplace on V.I. for the first time since I've been birding. Unfortunately, photography was hopeless in the rain. Just for fun I thought I would review some of my favorite shots for 201, and I'm inviting you to join me.


#1. The Rock Sandpiper is the rock star of our winter shorebirds. If you want to compare it to a rock star, how about Chubby Checker? These plump little beauties are elusive rockpipers that frequent the rocky shorelines of our coast during the winter. I saw my first one in Nov. 2003 at Clover Point and had never seen another until Feb. 2011. Fortuitous circumstances allowed me a trip to Cattle Point, and I was in luck. I thought I was in sandpiper heaven when I discovered not one but six. I almost missed them but just as I was about to leave, I spotted a Surf Bird. That prompted me to take another look, and I'm glad I did. Although they aren't considered endangered, the infrequent sightings makes me wonder if their populations are cause for concern.


#2. The Varied Thrush is a common winter resident that I hear every morning but seldom see. Their preference to forage under cover in the forest makes them a photographic challenge. The best opportunity is when there is snow on the ground. That tends to force out in the open close to my feeders or in the shelter of larger trees that have no snow under them. Sometimes I even clear the snow so they have areas to forage for insects and seeds. That was the situation last February, and it produced one of my best photo opportunities for the thrush. This is one of my all-time favorite female Varied Thrush photos.


#3 - Oceanside is renouned as a staging area for migrating Brant, and it is always a joy to watch the large flocks foraging herring roe and eel grass in Parksville Bay. I only tried to photograph them once last year, and that's when I spotted them foraging along the shoreline at Qualicum Beach. I decided to set up down the beach and wait to see if they would continue towards me. They did and the result was an interesting shot of the Brant feeding on herring roe. It's always fun to catch a picture of any bird involved in a little extra-curricular activity.


#4 - The herring spawn season is a monthlong feast for gulliphiles, and I admit to indulging occasionally as well. I was lucky enough to find a Slaty-backed in 3 of the previous 4 years, but 2011 was a strike-out. However, I was pleased with my consolation bird at French Creek. I have no idea of its heritage, but like the local White Ravens, it was fascinating.


#5 - Herring Spawn time is prime time for photography not just for birds but also mammals, especially the sea lions. It's truly exciting to see their massive bodies flying through the air during their feeding frenzies. It was also exciting to catch a photo of one in the air. The question is, "Why were they jumping?" Are they like fish who jump to shake off the sea lice?


#6 - Enough of the herring spawn or is it? I have never seen an otter participating in herring spawn activity, but I bet they take their share of herring. I'll have to keep my eyes open for them during the next herring spawn which is just 2 months away. Meanwhile, they are fun to photograph regardless of what they're doing like sunning themselves on the popular lounging rock at Qualicum Beach.


#7 - Marbled Murrelets are not quite as difficult to find as Rock Sandpipers, but they do fall into the class of "difficult to photograph." If you're in a boat, forget it. All you'll get is the rear end. My favorite location is Deep Bay where occasionally one will forage near the end of the spit. Another good spot is Gravelly Bay on Denman where I've seen them close to shore. Meanwhile, if they continue to log the old-growth forests, the murrelets will fall into the class of "impossible to photograph."


#8 - Lewis's Woodpeckers used to breed on Vancouver Island over 60 years ago. Although there is no data to validate the assertion that logging and development and the decimation of nesting habitat caused their extirpation, it seems quite possible. In 2011 there were several reports of the Lewis's on V.I., and I was fortunate to finally photograph one on the conservation lands in Courtenay. I had seen one previously in the Okanagan, but it was during a downpour as I was driving home. Other reports came from Hornby Island in August, Buckley Bay in Oct. and Port Alberni also in Oct.


#9 - Arguably the prettiest of our neotropical migrants is the male Western Tanager. I watched a female tanager dive into a thicket of broom and blackberry on Denman while the male foraged for insects on a small fir. I took pictures for about 5 minutes and when I left, the female was still in the thicket. That seems to contradict the notion that they nest in trees, but my assumption could be wrong. Maybe she was just socializing with a Bewick's Wren or Song Sparrow.


#10 - I hate to leave Vancouver Island for my 10th photo, but you know photographers. They love their flight shots, and the best I have for 2011 is the Snow Goose near Reifel. As I've mentioned many times, Reifel is great for bird photography, and if you don't believe me, I'll take you over some time. Meanwhile, the annual fall migration of 70,000 Snow Geese from Wrangell Island is one of the most amazing bird spectacles you'll ever see in B.C.


Happy 2012 everyone!

As mentioned previously I only have a couple of shots for 2012, but I'll share them now because who knows when the weather and other circumstances will allow me to get out.

photo - The Spotted Sandpiper at Blunden Point has overwintered for at least 7 years. Between Ralph Hocken and myself it is the most photographed Spottie in the country. The shade comes early at Blunden, but I had to post a record shot for my first bird photo of 2012.

The overwintering Pied-billed Grebe at French Creek Marina is my 3rd photo for 2012. (The second was a distant Greater Yellowlegs.) It's not unusual to catch the Pied-billed napping at the western corner.

Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)
























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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