Spring Surprise

Apr. 1 - It was no joke. We woke up to 4 inches of fresh snow despite the prediction of 13 degrees weather for the day. The prediction was accurate, and by noon the last traces of winter had evaporated. In fact, we took advantage of the beautiful sunshine with a short hike through the Fairwinds Lake Country but not before I snuck in a few morning photos of the snow.

Snow in April is uncommon but not unheard of. I can remember clearing snow off the the hummingbird feeder in April a few years ago.

It was business for usual for the feeder birds. Just to make life a little easier for them I shovelled the snow away from the feeder area. The Pine Siskins, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Purple Finches were quite appreciative as they seenm to prefer foraging on the ground.

The Junco population finally showed signs of decline. The winter population was well-over 50, but now it's probably down to about a dozen.

I'm still perplexed about whether all the winter residents leave, or do some stay. I think my winter birds leave and are replaced by others coming in from the south just like the American Robins.

The Purple Finch population has been at its peak for the past few weeks. One day I counted 5 splendid males and 6 females at the feeders.

Brant Day

Apr. 5 - I usually try to photograph the Brant at least once during their Oceanside spring visit. They have been in the vicinity since late February and persist until late April. My opportunity finally came when my wife had an appointment in Qualicum. I gallantly offered to be the chauffer. My wife kindly accepted even though my ulterior motives were more than obvious. My hour at Beach Creek was all I needed.

A flock of about 40 Brant were foraging along the tide line just south of Beach Creek where I was waiting. I was trying to decide whether to wander towards the Brant or just sit and wait. Before I could decide a few geese flew towards me.

It wasn't long before most of the flock followed. I think the fresh water from the creek was the main attraction.

We all know how salt from the salt water can adhere to the skin and feel sticky. There's nothing more refreshing than a freshwater bath even for the Brant.

Several factors contributed to my successful Brant shoot. First, the Brant were cooperative. Second, the people were cooperative - no one walked the beach while the Brant were bathing. Third, the sun was at my back for preferred lighting. And, fourth, the tide was coming in which brought the geese into reasonable camera range.

The Brant put on an excellent show of their bathing techniques followed by a preening demonstration.

After the bath or shower, it was time to shake off the excess water.

Here's my contribution to band-reading this year. I believe the white band represents birds banded in the Yukon.

Can you see any evidence of preening? Look closely at the bill. It is covered with loose down which was just removed from the chest.

Harry Time

Apr. 6 - Quite often at this time of year I take a break between 3 and 5 pm to photograph Harry. That's when sun is in the right position. The trick is to get Harry to cooperate. Some days he does and others he doesn't. It all depends on how many girls there are to keep him distracted.

I was in luck, but not for long. Harry was definitely distracted and took of just after I clicked the shutter.

He did return briefly, but I wasn't disappointed because the lighting was very poor. I was set at ISO 1000 and just managing 1/60 shutter speed at f 5.6. Yes, the recipe for a lot of noise.

A French Creek Hour

Apr. 7 - By now you know that I sneak in an hour to visit French Creek whenever I get the opportunity, especially during the spring. The spring provides opportunities to see and photograph a few birds in breeding plumage.

Today's first candidates were a pair of Red-necked Grebes. As expected, they did not venture very close to shore which left me a couple of well-cropped photos.

My second species was a wild-looking Horned Grebe. it surprised me when it popped up about 8 m from me while I was tracking the Red-neckeds.

The Horned Grebe was just starting its transition from standard plumage to its remarkable breeding costume. Just wait for a couple of weeks, and you'll see what I mean.

Pretty in black! The Pigeon Guillemot is white and black for most of the winter, but come spring it transists to a very showy black and white.

Another distinctive feature of the Pigeon is the neon red legs. They stand out like Rudolph's red nose.

Talk about a handsome black and white, the Common Loon is outstanding.

I was hoping to find a loon in full breeding plumage with a catch, but no complaints. It's always fun to catch any loon with a fish regardless of plumage. I just had time for a couple of clicks before a boat chased the loon away. I'll check back in a week to see if the molting is complete..

Another Harry Break

Apr. 9 - I never know when Harry's going to pose so I have to take advantage of every opportunity.

This was another poor light situation, but I had to take advantage of the fact that Harry was there. Last year there were very few females or other males to distract him. This year he seems to be quite a bit busier.

Finally, a Birding Day

Apr. 9 - Birding days seem to have gone the way of the Passenger Pigeon, and I'm now counting anything over 2 hours as a birding day. Such was the case today when I suggested that we take a morning break from the chores for a little visit to Nanaimo. My targets were Marsh Wren and Virginia Rail. Marsh Wrens were available in abundance as every bulrush in the marsh seemed to be adorned with a serenading male hoping to attract a female.

Just as I stepped outside my house before heading for Nanaimo, a familiar trill greeted me. My Orange-crowned Warbler was back from its winter sabbatical in Mexico.

I didn't have to look far to find the warbler. It was sitting on the top of a small arbutus tree enjoying the morning sun.

After my session with the Orange-crowned, we headed for Nanaimo. It didn't take long to find some Marsh Wrens.

As mentioned previously, there was a wren on almost every bulrush, and the air was full of serenading music.

Occasionally, a female would fly in and the pair would disappear into the bulrushes. I assumed she was checking out the architectural skills of the males.

There didn't seem to be very many females shopping for mates. I wondered if they were already spoken for or if there are just more males than females.

I had the same thoughts while visiting the Sharp-tailed and Sage Grouse leks in Utah. There seemed to be a lot of males and just a few females. That reminds me of Jennifer, but only because it rhymes with Hennifer where there is a Sage Grouse lek in Utah.

In between the chorus of Marsh Wrens we could hear some Virginia Rails, but all I got was one quick glimpse as one slipped between some bulrush stalks.

Our next stop was the Nanaimo estuary hoping for a Mountain Bluebird. We found a blue bird all right, but it wasn't a bluebird.

I was just as happy to find a some Tree Swallows. I haven't photographed them in years.

I am always in awe to see the magnificent iridescent blue backs of the Tree Swallows. The backs and head literally sparkle like jewels.

After the swallows, I focussed on another FOY (first of year) bird - Savannah Sparrows. The grass was literally alive with these perky little yellow-crested birds.

SThey were difficult to approach. omehow they always maintained a distance of about 40 feet, but that was good enough for some record shots.

Another commercial break for our sponsor ... he's quite the showoff.

By now you've probably figured out that I'm obsessed with getting many different Harry poses as possible. No further comments needed.

2012 Pacific Brant Woodcarving and Art Show

On Apr. 14 & 15 I had the pleasure of participating as an artist in the Pacific Brant Woodcarving and Art Show held at the Mary Winspear centre in Sidney. The show was originally part of the Brant Wildlife Festival in Parksville, but moved to UVIC last year. Unfortunately, the venue proved to be less than satisfactory with pay parking and smaller rooms two of the concerns. From the remarks by many participants and customers, the new venue in Sidney was the perfect solution. The large hall was able to accommodate all the carving displays and artists in the same room which made the artists feel that they were really an important part of the show. Another plus was free parking in the very large parking lot which was definitely important for the customers.

For those of you who have never attended the woodcarving show, I definitely recommend it and guarantee that you will be impressed. Most woodcarvers are obsessed perfectionists who aspire to replicate their subjects to the minutest detail. Birders should be interested because most of the categories involve birds. Although I despaired not being able to take advantage of rare April sunny weather for real birding, I took my camera and was quite delighted with a little indoor birding. I was totally blown away by many of the carvings, but in particular, I was stunned by the remarkable detail of a life-sized Pacific Wren and so were many other people including the judges. (By the way, one of the judges was none other than Victoria's multi-talented birding ambassador, Ann Nightingale.) The wren walked or flew away with the Best of Show, People's Choice, and Carver's Choice awards for the expert skill level. The wren is one of the several birds I twitched and photographed at the show, and it is posted below.

Although the woodcarving has traditionally been the main event of the show, the artist component has steadily grown in prestige and the recent show included several internationally recognized artisans. I definitely felt privileged to be included in the same venue with the likes of Mark Hobson, Sue Coleman, Linda Jessop, Yvette Lantz, and Morgan Warren.

Besides a steady parade of visitors and customers, two other aspects made the show an appealing experience. First, the show was extremely well-organized. All the display tables and artists booths were strategically located and spaced nicely, and details like credit card terminals were available through the organizers. Second, most of the artists, carvers, and visitors were very interested and congenial making it a very pleasant and relaxing weekend.

Shoveller drake - Contemporary Decoys (non-floating) Expert Skill Level - Ist place - Michael Nesbit, Quincy CA

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Realistic Life-sized Landbirds Expert Skill Level - no awards - Thomas Parkes, Richmond BC

Winter Wren - Realistic Life-sized Landbirds Expert Skill Level - 1st place - Best of Show Wildlife Peoples Choice winner Carvers Choice winner - Ludo Bogaert, Edmonton AB

Brown Thrasher - Realistic Life-sized Landbirds Expert Skill Level - 2nd place - Rueben Unger, Clavet SK

Great Crested Grebe (UK) - Heads all species Advanced Skill Level - Ist place - Joe Green, Kalama WA

Saw Whet Owl - Raptors Advanced Skill Level 1st Place Harold Last, Victoria BC

Atlantic Puffin Seabirds, Shorebirds, Others Realistic Intermediate Skill Level - 1st place - Lacey Hansen-Bret, Duncan BC

Pintail drake - Hunting Decoys Floating - 1st Place - Best of Show - Floating Decoys - Bill Pinches, Arcata CA

Hummingbird on a Flower - Interpretive/Stylized/NaturalFinish Novice - 1st place - Best of Division - Robert Dunlop, Surrey BC

Red Tailed Hawk - Woodburned - Intermediate - 2nd place - Ken Crimp, West Vancouver BC

Wood Duck - drake Antique Style Decoys Expert Skill Level Ist place Michael Nesbit, Quincy CA

As mentioned, part of the charm of the show was the friendliness of many of the participants. To prove my point I introduced myself to Mark Hobson, and despite his considerable talents and fame, he treated me like a long-lost friend.

The smile tells it all. Linda Jessop was every bit as personable and delightful as the photo suggests. As for talent, anyone who can turn rocks and pebbles into masterpieces has my vote.

Meet Cimmy MacDonald. She's a talented artist and photographer and the curator of the famous Chamainus murals.

It was great to team up with fellow Oceanside photographer, Alan Cornall, again. He's been taking wonderful photos since the era of dinosaurs. Talk about dedication, have you ever heard of anyone sleeping under an eagle tree just to get the first of the morning shots?

A bird sighting - can you spot the Nightingale? Ann never ceases to amaze me with her many interests and talents - just add woodcarving judge to her resume.

A Reluctant Trip

Apr. 16 - Sometimes it pays to go even you don't want to. I have mentioned that book sales have been slow, but I still have to deliver, no matter how small the order. My only free day of the week was today, and I had promised to deliver 5 books to the Campbell River Museum. I was hoping for a sunny day, but the best the Weather Network could offer was overcast. I decided to view it as a "glass is half full" day - it wasn't raining, and I would have a chance to scout out the bird scene on the way. In particular, I was hoping to find some Horned Grebes in breeding plumage, and even more particularly, I was hoping to find them doing the wedding ballet. I know, I don't ask for much do I?

An omen? - With the overcast conditions I wasn't tempted to stop and check all my favorite spots enroute, but the Qualicum viewing area was right at the roadside. Just as I pulled in I spotted an eagle trying to imitate an Osprey. It did a brief hover then plunged feet first into the shallow water. If it were an Osprey it would have burst back into the air with its catch and flew away. but, without the Osprey agility, it was forced to slowly paddle about 20 feet to shore. By the time I got the camera out it was already on shore and resting with its well-earned catch. I was too slow to document the paddling, but I did witness the whole event. I viewed it as a good omen for the day.

By the time I reached Bowser, the sky was still a dull gray. I was undecided about going down to Deep Bay, but at the last minute I yielded to an unresistable beckoning. I slowed and made the turn. The Spit has always been one of my favorite venues, and I couldn't neglect it just because of some clouds. I'm glad I didn't. When I reached the end of the spit I was greeted by a host of Horned Grebes and Long-tailed Ducks.

There was also a pair of Red-necked Grebes, but they kept their distance. They seemed to prefer being off-shore by about 20 to 30 m.

I was surprised to see about 50 Long-tailed Ducks. In some years they would be gone by this time.

The Long-taileds were in various stages of molting to their breeding plumage.

A few of the Long-taileds seemed to be paired up.

My target was the Horned Grebe and you might say I was as happy as a pig in a mud bath.

There were about a dozen Horned Grebes close to shore. Most of them moved further out as I slowly edged my way to the shoreline, but two stayed and provided many full-framed shots.

Eight years ago I was privileged to witness the Horned Grebe dance off Brickyard Bay in Nanoose. I hadn't seen it since then despite watching for it every year. I was in no hurry so decided to wait another hour. Just as my hour was about to expire the music started to play and a pair of grebes took to the dance floor. It was the event I was waiting for.

The dance lasted for about a minute before the couple parted. I was hoping for more but that was it. I was delighted with the show and able to get the record shots. The grebes were just a little too distant and the skies overcast for quality shots. I wished I could see the replay under better conditions, but the rest of my week was booked, and it wouldn't be long before the grebes were gone.

Would you believe a reprieve?

Apr. 20 - I was incredulous. My appointment today was cancelled unexpectedly, and the sun was shining. There was no thoughts of doing chores today until after I had a Deep Bay visit.

I arrived at Deep Bay around 9 am, and on the way to the end of the spit I was surprised to see a Western Grebe. It was the first I had seen in this location for several years

.I was disappointed to see only two grebes at the end of the spit, but one pair was better than none. I thought my chances of seeing a dance had been reduced by 83%, but I was in for a surprise. I was just setting up the camera and tripod when the dance began. The grebes weren't as close as I wanted, but at least the sun was shining. I took as many pictures as I could and suddenly it was over. The wedding waltz lasted less than a minute. I was extremely fortunate to arrive when I did. One minute later and I would have missed it.

I'm the guy with two left feet. I'm not going to pretend that I know anything about ballroom dancing. Regardless of whether it Deep Bay Spit shuffle, mating mambo, Friday foxtrot, or wedding waltz, it was fun to watch.

Dancing is hard work. It probably took a lot of energy to stand up in the water. The grebes seemed to have worked up quite an appetite after the dance.

Gunnel fish was the special of the day at the Spit cafe. As usual, they came in several different sizes and colour.

All right, enough of the grebes. I never mentioned what else was going on. Let's start with a few Long-taileds flying in.

Just like Monday, the Long-taileds kept their distance, and just like Monday there was about 50.

The huge difference today was the other ducks. Would you believe 300 Surf Scoters, 200 Greater Scaup, and few other species like White-winged Scoter.

What was the attraction or event? Not being a duck, I could only guess. It reminded me of the large post herring spawn flocks, but this was much later.

More ducks kept flying and swimming in to join the party.

The large flock seemed to act like a posse hearding hearding schools of fish into shore.

At the right time they would all dive under to catch their prey.

The ducks were having so much fun that the local Mute Swan had to come out to see what was going on. The ducks had no trouble welcoming other ducks to the party, but they weren't sure about the big white bird.

I was hoping for a good close-up of a breeding-plumaged male Long-tailed. The opportunity never materialized. All I got was a few distant shots.

Just as I was ready to leave, a Red-breasted Merganser flew over. Other ducks seen during my visit were Harlequins, Buffleheads, and White-winged Scoters.

On the way home I decided to check French Creek to see if the Common Loon was in full breeding plumage.

Almost. Just a few white freckles left on the head.

Fishing wasn't very good. The loon had to settle for a crabby lunch.

White Ravens Hi-jacked

Apr. 21 - I received 3 emails from Poland today from concerned citizens who discovered that a Polish website had posted my White Raven photos and claimed they were taken by a Polish photographer in a secret location in Poland. I wasn't too disturbed to learn of the unethical and fraudulent behavior because it's a pathetic fact of life, and there wasn't much I could do about it. However, I was pleased to see that most people are honest and concerned with the truth. My thanks goes out to the many Polish citizens who bombarded the website with complaints that forced the website to finally give the correct credit to the photos. Personally, I tried to contact facebook with the complaint but wasn't able to get through, possibly because I'm not a facebook member.

One of the benefits of the whole incident was a surprising number of hits my site. On the first day I got 4242 hits followed by 6029 on the second day. That almost blew the graph off screen since it was calibrated for my average of 300 hits a day.

Believe it or not!

Apr. 26 - I have never posted another person's photo on my site, but I just have to share Wayne Duke's photo with you. Wayne unnecessarily apologized because the action was too far away and the lighting was poor for a high quality pic, but that didn't diminish the incredibility of the action. It's an amazing turnaround from the recent "believe it or not" in Victoria when an octopus was documented grabbing and submerging with a gull. I'm not sure if the eagle was aware of the dangerous game it was playing. In the ultimate struggle can you imagine what the other seven arms would be doing? I would have to place my money on the cephalopod. How about you? (Thanks, Wayne.)


Bird Poster

My poster is on display at: Victoria - Swan Lake Nature House. (Note: This poster has been produced in a more manageable size and is now available for $20 unlaminated and $32 laminated.)
























Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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