July 9 - As far as I was concerned, the first-ever Black-necked Stilt breeding record on Vancouver Island was the bird event of the year, and this was my day to visit and see for myself. But, since I was going through Nanaimo, I decided to stop and look for the Green Heron family that was reported at Yon Place. I had spent an hour on the internet the night before trying to find the location, but evidently, it was too new for google or any other mapping site. Just as Ralph Hockin mentioned, it was a difficult place to find, but finally I spotted the street sign and turned into a small sub-division of about 10 homes. I drove in and out without finding any likely habitat for Green Herons. So I turned around and asked a carpenter if he knew where the herons were. He pointed to a patch of trees near the entrance. I parked and was surprised to find a narrow slough in the small grove of big trees. I walked up one side of the slough to no avail then tried the other and also came up empty. I was about to give up when I spotted one of the juvenile herons hunkered inconspicuously behind the grass, branches, and twigs at the front of the slough right beside the road. I hadn't noticed it when I first walked by a few minutes earlier. I carefully scanned the scene and discovered two more motionless fledgling herons well-hidden amongst the debris.
I returned to my car for the camera and set up beside the slough. I waited patiently for about 10 minutes when finally one of the herons started stalking some prey in the water.
There were no adults around so I assumed the herons were now parentless and on their own.
Like many other shorebirds, I think the the Green Heron's hunting skills are part of its DNA, and it is able to fend for itself right after fledging. In any case, these fledglings looked like they were able to stalk their prey like experienced hunters.
Yes, the young herons do have funny baby hairs on their heads.
Just one last shot. After spending a delightful hour photographing the herons, it was time to head south. I was extremely lucky to have found the herons because they were probably ready to search for greener marshes like Diver's Lake or Buttertubs and never return. The current habitat has been hopelessly encroached upon by urban development, and the slough is a dumping ground for garbage. In fact, it was fortunate that the young herons successfully fledged. With all the construction, traffic, and the elimination of the surrounding habitat it was surprising that the parents didn't abandon their nesting efforts. Although it is a travesty that the nesting area of the herons might have been irreversibly compromised, I'm not advocating the curtailment of development. I suggest that a comprehensive environmental assessment be carried out before any development and reasonable guidelines mandated to ensure sensitive habitats are protected. In this case an adequate buffer zone may have sufficed.
I couldn't let the historic first-ever breeding record of Black-necked Stilts go by without at least one attempt to document the chicks. I really didn't need a book order from Bolen Books for added incentive, but I was grateful for their order and happy to accommodate them. After my delivery I stopped at Mystic Pond to update my photo record of the heron colony and then headed for Maber Flats. I was so excited about the stilts that I'm going to skip the herons for now and get right to the stilts.
When I got to Maber I spotted one photographer and an environmental worker on the road. There was another worker wading in the flooded field. I stopped and asked the worker if she had seen the stilts. She kindly pointed me back to spot I had just driven past. I thanked her, parked, set up my camera, and started walking. Just then an adult stilt flew by and dove down to the water about 10 m in front of me. I wondered if that might be the clue I was looking for. Bingo! Just where the stilt dove there were three chicks lounging on a bed of dried grass. They were almost adult-sized, but their feathers were still fuzzy and their black back feathers were rimmed with light brown fringes. It was resting time for the chicks. All they did was lay down, stand, stretch, preen, then lay down again.
The stilts seemed very relaxed and didn't seem bothered by the regular clicking of the cameras from about 10 m away. I think the fact that the adult wasn't alarmed by our presence kept the chicks at ease. It was interesting to note that the parent was very protective. When two Cinamon Teal cruised by the stilt put the chase on them right away. However, when momma Mallard and her clutch of eight ducklings cruised even closer, the stilt didn't mind.
The most action we got was the wing stretch which was for stretching but it also looked like a good wing strengthening exercise. I had a good hour with the stilts, and even if there wasn't much activity, it was rewarding to have seen and photographed three of the chicks. I could hear the other family further to the north, but I didn't think they would be close enough for photos so I called it a day - a good day!
Remember when there was videotape? You had to rewind. Nowadays, it's just the back arrow. Anyway, it's now July 3 and almost a month after I last saw the baby herons. They are now almost adult-sized and almost overflowing the nest.
The super-sized chicks made it easy for photography from the road, but I was still looking for a better angle from a backyard. I did meet Simon who kindly offered his backyard, but branches obscured the view from his yard. It was quite a coincidence when I got home and watched the CHEK news. The article was about a wolf on one of the offshore islands and there was Simon placing a live trap for the wolf. Apparently, he is the warden for that island.
Actually, I was quite happy with the shots from the road and only curious as to whether I could do better from Terry's backyard, but Terry was still away.
Greeting ritual? I didn't have time to watch for other greeting rituals but I did see one. You tell me. Is this part of the usual routine? Anyway, it was a brief but elegant display for a bird the often seems quite awkward.
I was hoping to see an adult return with some food. I think these nestlings were also waiting for lunch. I gave it the extra 15 minutes before heading for Maber.
One other bird for the camera was a Young Hooded Merganser. While I was photographing the duck one of the local residents stopped by for a chat. I think his name was John. Anyway, John has done a lot of travelling and nature study. He said he had just returned from southeast Oregon from a wonderful spot hardly anyone knows about. I said that sounds like "Malheur." It took a minute for him to recover from the shock before he asked me how I knew about it. I told him I had been there 3 times, and then we traded a few stories. One place he had been at Malheur but I haven't was the Steen Mountains which he said was amazing. He never looked for the Black Rosy Finches, but scenery was great.
One of my regular feeder visitors is the male Black-headed Grosbeak. He would come by regularly, but whenever I tried to open the window for a shot, he would be gone. After being frustrated for the nth time I decided to take extreme action. I hastily improvised a collapsible blind out of some old 3/8" plywood and waited.
Before long I had a visitor. It was Mr. Pileated. As usual he landed above the suet feeder then shimmied his way down. He leisurely had his fill of energy food before shimmying back up to the top of the pole they flying off.
Juncos, nuthatches, Purple Finches, and chickadees came and went but no grosbeak. The next action was a Band-tailed Pigeon. It landed on the feeder pole and did its looking around. I stayed motionless. The sligtest movement would have spooked it. It finally decided the coast was clear then landed under the seed feeder where it proceeded to forage for sunflower seeds in the grass.
Finally, after an hour and a stiff back cramped in the blind, my target arrived. Just as I thought, it landed on the branch, and I had two quick shots before it dove onto the suet feeder. One out of the two shots turned out. It was worth the hour and stiff back. It would have been easy to get pictures while the grosbeak was pigging out on the suet, but birds on the suet feeder with suet all over their bills just don't turn me on.
July 9 - I couldn't resist one last visit to Maber Flats to see the stilts before they headed south. There were reports that the fledglings were now flying so I couldn't wait too long. I guess I could have waited another week or so, but I had a free day and took advantage of it.
The young stilts were busy foraging like adults. I was pleased to see all seven juveniles surviving nicely. It was a credit to the fearless protective instinct of their parents.
The young ones had also developed a healthy fear of photographers. One was resting in its usual spot, but this time it flew as soon as I put my tripod down.
During the course of the afternoon the stilt families both reacted instantly when an eagle flew overhead. They immediately to evasive action and flew away from the raptor about three times. However, in all cases the eagles were just flying by.
When the coast was clear they just settled in to their grooming or foraging.
They were joined by a group of dowitchers. At first the young ones weren't sure of how to react. Some of the young ones took a run at the dowitchers, but the dowitchers only flew a few feet away and continued foraging. Finally, the young stilts got used to the little strangers and settled back their own foraging or grooming.
For the next while it was just one big happy family. That's when I decided to leave because nothing was happening and my lens wasn't autofocusing properly.
This was my last stilt photo. By July 21 there were reports that the stilts had been taking extended flights from Maber. I wish there were some way of tracking them to see where they migrate to. Regardless, it was great having them here and I wish them a safe journey and long life.
As I was leaving the stilts a family of Killdeer were foraging on the mud flats. The young are always worth a photo or two.
Unfortunately for me, the well-disciplined youngsters heeded the parent's warning to stay safely away from me.
Heading back to the car I spotted a couple of Tree Swallow fledglings sunning themselves on a blackberry vine.
The fleshy gape is a telltale sign of its age.
Just another Spotted Sandpiper ...
And a White-crowned Sparrow at Nanaimo Airport. Haven't seen any Vespers on my last 2 stops.
A successful year for the Violet-greens. They fledged on July 10.
According to Butterflies of B.C. (Guppy & Shepard) European Skippers were first recorded in B.C. in 1960 in Terrace and didn't show up on Vancouver Island until about 1995. As of 2001 when the book was published, the butterfly had not dispersed from the Victoria region.
Fast-forward to July 14, 2012. I discovered 4 European Skippers at French Creek, 30 at River's Edge, and 4 in Nanoose Bay. The European Skipper has now reached Parksville. Has it gone any further? On July 16 I stopped at the Horn Lake exit when I was returning from Courtenay. I took one step off the road and discovered 2 Europeans. Within 10 minutes I had seen at least 20 more. How far north has it gone? I tried to email invertebrate specialist, Terry Thormin, in Comox but haven't received a reply. I also emailed Jenn Balke on Denman who is the author of "Butterflies of Denman Island." Anyway, as a matter of scientific curiosity, if you see any of these butterflies around the Comox Valley, Campbell River, or Denman Island, please let me know.
Just one last thought about the arrival of the skipper - is it a case of range expansion, or is a case of a separate introduction? The answer would be simple if there were data documenting its gradual movement up the Island. However, if there is no such evidence, that would support the hypothesis of a separate introduction. That reminds me of the range expansion of the eastern cottontails from Sooke. By the mid-seventies they had crossed the Cowichan River to reach Duncan, and by the early nineties, they were in Nanoose.
It's interesting that the first skipper I found at French Creek was busy nectaring on dandelions and easy to photograph. The ones I found at River's Edge were in constant motion. It took a half hour to find one that was settled down. I eventually found one nectaring on bird's foot treefoil.
Although I didn't find any Europeans last year, Terry Thormin's website shows one photographed in 2010 at nearby Ship's Point.
July 20 - Knowing that my final few hummers would soon be heading south, I made the supreme effort to capture my last few images. That meant standing in the garden for an hour for a flower shot. I was hoping for the bee balm to show Emma since she gave me a few roots three years ago to start my little patch. The flowers are now in full bloom, but there were no takers today. I had to settle for the fox-glove which has somehow established itself in our garden.
After the garden it was an hour by the window staking out the feeder. I thought I would catch a juvenile, but the feeder was only visited by several females. I didn't mind. I enjoyed seeing them and know that they deserved recognition for another successful breeding season. By successful I mean they each successfully raised their own family. In terms of numbers, there have been more hummers around in the past three weeks than there was earlier on when I expected them.
Here's another juvenile Hairy. I'm not sure how many Hairy's are in my neighborhood. All I know is that they ae frequently seen at the suet feeder. The one juvenile i haven't seen this year is the juvie Pileated. They're always a bit later. I expect them any day now.
Right now the yard and garden are full of juvenile Towhees. I must have three or four breeding pairs. They are fun to watch. At first they were extremely shy and stayed out of sight, but now I almost trip over them.
July 17 - On a recent visit to Admiral's Lagoon to look for shorebirds, all I found were 80 Canada Geese and one lonely Brant.
Believe it or not? - Is the Canada Goose really preening the Brant? What do you think?
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.)