It's always a mad scramble preparing for a craft show. Besides the usual production of cards, calendars, and prints, the Denman Island Fair necessitated designing and building my own table and display cases. The limiting factors were a six-foot booth area, and it all had to fit in my CRV.
Now that the show is over I can say it all ran very smoothly. Setting up on Saturday morning took about half an hour and the take-down on Sunday afternoon was an efficient twenty minutes with five minutes to spare for the ferry. The fair was efficiently organized, the traffic steady, customers friendly, and it was a very pleasant experience. Besides the sale of books and cards it was a pleasure talking birds with the many customers and visitors who had bird stories to share and questions to ask. Many recognized me from my bird column and expressed their compliments and appreciation for the articles. (It's great to get the feedback and know that the column is being read.) The most popular topic discussed was the White Ravens, and the winter Anna's Hummingbirds were a close second. One couple shared a story about visiting a nature park in Hawaii where the guide pointed out a perfectly camouflaged bittern in the tall grass close to them. When they got home they were surprised to see my article about the American Bittern. Not only was the article coincidental for them, it was also a revelation that bitterns are seen on Vancouver Island. Another amusing incident was meeting a student who is attending North island College in Campbell River. He was very complimentary and put me in the same category as the distinguished and famous Dick Cannings. Thanks, Kyle. You made my day!
Although I have been spending less time with the camera, it's still a pleasure to get out once in awhile even if birds are less abundant. Mind you, being a fair weather birder I can always enjoy the sunshine and scenery even if the birds are absent. You might suggest that I could add more scenery photos, but that would require carrying an extra camera which I am reluctant to do these days for the obvious reason. (Less weight is easier on the old knees.) Most of the birds seen were common species, but it was a pleasure to get reacquainted and back in the saddle with the camera.
The Pacific Wren formerly known as the Winter Wren is a common and charismatic winter resident. I have one that often greets me in the morning with a few sharp "chips" from the garden. Although I see it from time to time, my garden is often in the shadows so I haven't tried to get its picture. Ironically, my only opportunity for a shot came in the shadows at Beachcomber Park where I was hoping for a Marbled Murrelet or some other interesting seabird. I did see a Horned Grebe close in, but it was hopelessly backlit so I didn't bother. As I was leaving I intruded on the domain of a feisty Pacific Wren. It signaled its annoyance with a few angry chips as it moved off the trail to let me pass. It was totally in the shadows, but since I hadn't photographed one since the name change, I decided it was worth the effort. That meant cranking the ISO to 1600 and opening the aperture to 5.8 just to get 1/16th shutter speed. Fortunately, the wren was fairly still while defiantly trying to stare me down. That permitted a few "record" shots as well as a silhouette for the title photo.
After the photo shoot the wren decided to play peek-a-boo in the driftwood which amused me for a few minutes. I'm not sure who got tired of the game first, but we both moved on at the same time.>
Another common winter sight is the Springford Kestrel on Northwest Road. I'm not sure if it is Fidel Kestrel that I used to see many years ago. Anyway, now that the property is owned by the Springfords, I've now renamed it. If they can change names for the wren, why can't I do it for the kestrel?
The Varied Thrush is a perennial winter favorite for many along the east coast of the island. During the summer it migrates to higher altitudes, the the cooler west coast, or the secluded north island forests.
Normally it skulks in the shadows of the forest and underbrush where it forages for insects and seeds. However, freezing temperatures and/or snow often forces it into the open. This one was foraging in the middle of Cougar-Smith Road on the way to Cougar Creek where I was checking for some shorebirds reported in the creek. When it snows I often clear a patch under the trees so the Varied Thrushes and American Robins can still forage successfully.
After a disappointing search for the shorebirds I checked Deep Bay Spit for the Long-tailed Ducks. The ducks weren't around. So far I'm zero for six this year which is very unusual and disappointing. My consolation was Deep Bay Baldy on one of its favorite trees by Mapleguard Point. Just as I set up the camera it decided to leave. I was lucky to get one shot and it was more interesting than the usual perching pose.
A Spottie Surprise - It was high tide when I stopped at Blunden Point in Lantzville. My wish bird was the Pacific or Yellow-billed Loon. I had no expectation of seeing Spottie, the most photographed Spotted Sandpiper in the world. Okay, I don't know if it is the most photographed but the only way to find out is to make the claim then see if anyone disputes it. Meanwhile, just for the record, Ralph and I have photographed this bird multiple times every year since 2005. Anyway, since none of my loons were around I was more than delighted to spend some time with my favorite Spotted Sandpiper.
I was really surprised to see Spottie at high tide. It usually shows up at low tide when the point is really exposed and there is a large area to forage. At high tide there are only a few square meters. Another factor is the beach traffic. If it's too busy, Spottie usually retreats around the corner to the west. Today it was a bit crispy out which seemed to keep the traffic to a minimum.
Spottie is very organized and meticulous. It sets up a grid with its GPS over the exposed area and systematically checks all the quadrants. The best way to get photos is to stay put. Spottie will eventually get to your quadrant. Spottie's main diet is tiny aquatic insects, but once in awhile it will score a filet mignon - a small crab.
On Nov. 24 I decided to do some birding in Victoria which wasn't very successful - no Longspurs, Horned Larks, or Rock Sandpipers. On the way back I decided to brave the hordes of tourists at Goldstream Park. Finding a parking spot was a challenge. The pungent odour in the air confirmed that it was salmon spawning time. There were salmon carcasses lining both sides of the stream, wall to wall people, and many live salmon idling in the stream. My target was the American Dipper which I saw right away flying towards me. It landed in the middle of the stream for a quick photo before another wave of people crested by to flush it from its perch. I saw it a couple times more in my brief 15 minutes, but it was just flying back and forth looking for a quiet place to do its foraging. Besides the people there were snowdrifts of satiated gulls lining the far bank of the stream. There was no point fighting the crowds so I headed for Duncan.
Art Mann sometimes offers some interesting photo opportunities, but today was not the day. The only birds present were the Mallards and American Coots. I know the Coot is a vegetarian, but I wonder if it also likes a diversified menu.
If there is any local nemesis for me it is the female Belted Kingfisher. Most of my photos feature the male. Kingfishers are always extremely wary. You have to be lucky to get close to one. I spotted this gal down across the park from the boat ramp. Despite my careful approach I was not afforded a clear shot. It flew when I took one more step. French Creek is my favorite kingfisher hangout, but it's mainly the male that I see during the winter.
Yes, I try to stop at every eagle perch when the eagle is home. This one was at the end of Bonito on the way to Schooner Cove. It was there with its mate when I drove in, but by the time I parked and set up there was only one. My challenge for the coming year is to get a decent shot of a pair of eagles together.
Harlequin Ducks are always fun to photograph. My favorite location is Qualicum Beach because it's the closest to me, and it has the large boulders that the ducks like to perch on. So far I haven't seen any there this winter, but it's probably just a case of poor timing. Deep Bay is generally reliable for a couple either flying or swimming by the point, but there is no place for perching, preening, or congregating. The best spot I know of is Grassy Point on Hornby particularly during the herring spawn. Hornby is the known as the Harlequin hangout of the west coast.
Courtenay Airpark has been a favorite photography site for many years, but I've neglected it for the past year because of my preoccupation with butterflies. Strangely, it was the butterflies that gave my a recent chance to check out the Airpark on Dec. 3. I had promised Krista Kaptein of the STRATHCONA WILDERNESS INSTITUTE that I would design a butterfly poster and possibly a field guide for the park, and this was the delivery day. After a morning meeting I was free to enjoy an hour at the Airpark. The first birds I saw were a pair of male Common Mergansers diving at the entrance of the small marina. I set up my tripod and camera and watched. A few dives later one of the mergansers surfaced with a fish in its serrated bill. Like I've often said, it's not all patience and skill. Luck is often the critical factor.
Common or Barrow's? The golden eyes tell me that it's probably an adult female. The large dark bill and pointed head-shape suggest Common Goldeneye. Am I 100% sure? No. I leave the identification up to the pros.
On my way home from Courtenay I often stop at French Creek. I ways really pleased to see that the Eurasian Wigeon was back with the flock of American Wigeons. I always tell my friends that for every 200 American Wigeons there is always one or two Eurasians.
An occasional visitor to the creek is the Hooded Merganser. I've only managed to photograph his perfectly rounded crest once at a distance. As you can see, he wasn't cooperating today.
Just in case I don't get another opportunity before Christmas, I'll call the following my Christmas birds. Thanks to the excellent birding intuition and information sharing of Jeremy Gaaten, we all knew there were a few Swamp Sparrows hanging out behind the Red Barn at Todd Flats. Jeremy knew the habitat was suited for Swamp Sparrows so he checked it out after a Red Barn shopping trip. He wasn't surprised to find a Swamp Sparrow, but he was surprised to find at least four or five. As any birder will tell you, finding one is excellent, but more than one in a location is almost unheard of on Vancouver Island. If you check the distribution maps, all the Swamp Sparrows should be in the southeastern U.S. at this time.
I had my opportunity to visit the Red Barn on Dec. 4 on a clear, cold, subzero morning. The flats were 95% covered in ice with a few open patches at either end. Fortunately, I was prepared for the cold with my winter jacket, gloves, and Denman Island touque - if it were any colder I would have needed my Inuit parka and wolverine mitts. The first birds I saw were the Trumpeter Swans that stood out like shining beacons in the morning sun. I didn't do a thorough check or I might have found a Tundra Swan. Apparently there are several in the region this winter.
Have you ever seen SWAN LAKE performed by the swans? I was given a brief rehearsal preview by the Royal Trumpeter Ballet troupe.
The performance was remarkable and birds flew in from all directions to catch the show. Yes, even the American Coot flew in to get a front row seat.
Several flocks of Northern Pintails joined the rush to catch the rehearsal.
American Wigeons were not to be denied. They also wanted to see the performance.
The reception for the brief display was so impressive that the audience called for an encore and the swans obliged.
After the show it was Swamp Sparrow time. I walked slowly to the south along the edge of the water and almost immediately tow birds flushed. One was the dark ubiquitous Song Sparrow, but the other was much lighter and similar to a Lincoln's Sparrow. I didn't get a clear view but I was sure it was a Swampie. The Swampie dove into the tall reeds and I barely could see it as it was plucking seeds from the reeds. Walking south was also into the sun which wasn't any good for photography. My plan was to go down the south end and work my way back with the sun at my back. On the way down I flushed three or four more Swampies.
I waited 15 minutes for the birds to resettle before slowly heading north. A Swampie flushed and seemed content to stay about 15 meters in front of me. Here it is on one of the reeds that it seemed to be feeding on.
My best opportunity came when it landed on a small willow. The bad news was that there was a big shadow right across its face. However, luck was with me when it reached out to pluck something from another twig. That was it, my best Christmas shot. Thanks, Jeremy and to all, a MERRY CHRISTMAS!
My plans for 2013 were to photograph as many butterflies as possible from the Vancouver Island list and then produce and publish VANCOUVER ISLAND BUTTERFLIES. Unfortunately, I only managed to find 50 out of the 69 species, and not all of them were suitably photographed. Consequently, I have decided to delay the publication until the fall of 2014. That has also worked out well for James Miskelly who was very busy with other commitments. James is still onboard as my co-editor and will provide as much updated information as possible. My apologies to all those who were waiting anxiously for the book launch, but theoretically, with more time we should be able to produce a higher quality publication.
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.)