Jan. 23/14 - Happy New Year to all! I was messing around with the Spirit Raven image as an addition to my birdcard collection. Striking isn't it? I like it, but will it sell? I'll find out at the end of the year when I do a couple of craft fairs.
If you're living on the east coast of Vancouver Island chances are you'll be looking out at the morning fog. Visibility is about 70 m out my window, but the sun was shining at the Petro-Can. As usual I'm inundated with too many chores and too little time. For example, I have to put together a PowerPoint presentation for the Access class at North Island College tomorrow. I've done presentations for the class several times in the past, and it's always a pleasure to share my bird photos and information with the younger generation. I also have to start thinking about a lecture for the Knox United Lecture Series. My topic is Vancouver Island Birds - Yours to Respect. Originally their theme was to PROTECT, but they've watered it down to RESPECT. What's wrong with that? Well, it may be just semantics, but what does RESPECT go far enough? Is it enough to just to understand and appreciate the value of our environment and turn a blind eye while sensitive ecosystems are being ravaged by indiscriminate development? Sometimes the destruction occurs out of pure ignorance, but it's tragic when knowledge is suppressed just to facilitate the development. It's even more tragic and pathetic when it's our own government that is suppressing the knowledge. Fifth Estate exposed the federal government's conspiracy in the feature SILENCE OF THE LABS. It chronicled the elimination of any federal research program that might expose environmental problems because of the pipeline projects.
Back to the fog, our high pressure inversion has been with us for almost two weeks which has put a damper on my photographic activities which means less material for my journal. However, there are a few good bird stories around, and even though I haven't been able to experience them personally, I've enjoyed reading about them on the BCVIBIRDS YAHOO site. The best story about three fantastic birds comes from Port McNeill. You can read about it in my NORTHISLANDER article which I've included. Another good story is the Rock Wren in Victoria on Christmas Hill. It was discovered by Courtney Cameron on Dec. 11 on Saanich Hill in Victoria. The Rock Wren is an uncommon visitor from the dry desert areas of BC and the US. Two or three are usually found every 5 years, but this is the first for several years. I remember one at French Creek in 2004. Most sightings have been in the Victoria region, but is that because of reporter bias or is it simply a preferred habitat for vagrant Rock Wrens?
The secret is out. Port McNeill is the birding hotspot of Vancouver Island. I'm not sure how or why they've kept it a secret for so long, but the word finally leaked out on December 5th when a vagrant Hooded Oriole was reported in the vicinity of McNeill Road. I've seen Hooded Orioles in Arizona which is the heart of their summer range. In the fall most of them head south to winter in Mexico. How rare is it on Vancouver Island? I think this is the second sighting in about 10 years so it is very rare. Apparently, most west coast records are in the spring. Winter sightings are less common. How long will it stay? Your guess is as good as mine. If it can survive the weather and predators like hawks and cats, it might stay the winter. In fact, there is a record for one that spent the entire winter (November 19 to April 2) near Prince Rupert. The Port McNeill bird was still enjoying the bird feeders on December 28 so it may stay for awhile.
If you haven't seen a Hooded Oriole, I would certainly recommend checking out the Port McNeill Christmas bird. It is close to the same size as a Towhee, and it'll be like a feathered ray of golden sunshine with its bright yellow or orange plumage contrasted with a black mask and black wings. If I could somehow justify the 325 km drive from Nanoose Bay, I would certainly be tempted to make the trip. Maybe it'll be a good excuse to make my first ever trip to Port McNeill. I know the folks in Port McNeill are increasing the ante. For good measure they've added a Harris's Sparrow and Dickcissel to the list. The Harris's was reported on December 23 and the Dickcissel on December 28. The Harris's is considered uncommon which means one or two are reported every year: On the other hand, the Dicksissel is very rare like the Hooded Oriole. It is a sparrow-like seed eating bird from the central and eastern grasslands of the US that normally migrates south to Mexico, Central America, and South America for the winter. The Harris's and Dicksissal were both discovered by birders while looking for the Hooded Oriole. Coincidental findings of rare birds actually has a name - The Patagonia Picnic Table Effect (also Patagonia Rest Stop Effect). The name comes from a rare sighting of a Black-capped Gnatcatcher at the rest stop. Not suprisingly, birders who stopped for the gnatcatcher discovered other rare or uncommon birds.
While I'm at it I might as well toss in a few other interesting reports. On November 25 a very rare Painted Bunting was reported and photographed in Bowser. It is a southern US bird with a similar migration route as the Dickcissel. On December 20 a Burrowing Owl was photographed at a beach in Comox. Although it is the second record for this winter on VI, I would still consider it very rare. Finally, on December 28 a Rusty Blackbird was photographed in Comox and confirmed on December 31. It is more common than the Harrisís, but very few have been reported north of Victoria.
With all these wonderful winter visitors on VI people will be asking if itís because of global warming. For now Iím going to stick to my guns and say, ďIf you had wings, you would probably end up in some strange places too.Ē However, Iíll change my tune when we start growing bananas here.
Birder's Surprise - A Hooded Oriole in Port McNeill. (I took this photo in Arizona.)
Burrowing Owl - A rare visitor in Courtenay. (I took this photo in Utah.)
In the previous journal I had a distant photo of a male Common Merganser at the Airpark. The mergansers are wary and difficult to approach unless you can sneak up on them. French Creek is one of my favorite photo venues because I can sneak up on some of the birds. Sometimes I set up and wait for them to come to me. Other times I can sneak up on them if they are close to bank on the marina side of the creek. This is almost a full frame shot of the male.
Another good location for ducks is Goose Spit. You can't sneak up on the birds there, but you can park and wait until they come to you. White-winged and Surf Scoters are the most common targets, but Buffleheads, American Wigeons, and Greater Scaup also like to hang out there. I've only seen Long-tailed Ducks there once in 10 years, but I've seen Eurasian Wigeons several times. The clown face duck above is the male Surf Scoter., and the 3 following pics are White-winged Scoters.
Moon Shot. I normally don't take shots of the rear end of birds, but I was bored and impatient as I waited for the belted Kingfisher to turn around at the end of the Goose Spit Road.
Finally, 10 minutes later it turned the other cheek before zipping off across the lagoon.
A study of patience - I can learn a lot about patience from the Great Blue Heron. It can hold its pose for literally hours as it stalks its prey by doing nothing. After the kingfisher left I decided to wait to see if the heron had any luck.
I thought I was going to be in luck as the heron smiled and stealthily moved towards the water.
20 minutes later it was still frozen in its ready-to-strike position. I don't know if it got its lunch because I was on my way home. As usual, I stopped at French Creek on my homeward sojourn and discovered the topic of my next NORTHISLANDER topic.
They say a good photographer needs patience. Would ten years qualify? Thatís how long Iíve waited for the female Belted Kingfisher at French Creek. For ten years Iíve been photographing the male Kingfisher who I affectionately call THE KING. I never saw the female, but I knew THE KING had a significant other because I would see his offspring every summer. I also knew kingfishers were territorial, and mated pairs split after the family was raised. That would explain why I only saw THE KING from late summer into the winter, but the pair had to unite by late winter or early spring. Where was she hiding? Was she using a different territory further up the creek, or was it just a case ten years of poor timing on my part? It was a beautiful sunny day on January 4th when I decided to deliver the books to the Blue Heron book store in Comox. On the way I stopped at French Creek. It was high tide and THE KING was sitting on his usual perch in a tree beside the creek. He was still in the shadows because the sun wasnít high enough so I didnít bother trying to take a picture. I checked the marina for any other photo opportunities then carried on to Comox. After delivering the books and my usual delicious teriyaki rice bowl at the Black Fin Pub I headed home. As usual, I stopped at French Creek again just in case some interesting birds showed up. I was in luck. A group of three male Hooded Mergansers and one female were foraging in the creek. The males are the most handsome ducks with their striking white and black crests, and they are one of my favorite photo targets. I was just setting up my tripod and camera when I heard the familiar rattle of a kingfisher behind me. I slowly turned around, and there she was sitting on the fence post of the security gate just six meters away. The red belt across her chest told me she was THE QUEEN. I couldnít believe my eyes. I did my best to contain my excitement while I slowly manoeuvred the camera for a shot. I managed six quick shots before she flew to a piling in the marina. I smiled as I played back the six full-framed photos. A bird sitting on an aluminum post anchoring a barb-wire fence wonít make it as a Christmas card photo, but to me she was beautiful and special and worth waiting ten years for. If you arenít familiar with kingfishers, they are pigeon-sized birds with slate blue backs, white undersides, shaggy crests and large bills. The males have a blue belt across their breast while females have a blue belt as well as a rusty orange belt. They are the most unique birds on our avian roster. There are no other birds that launch themselves as spears or harpoons to capture their prey underwater. You will often see them near the shorelines of creeks, lakes, and other salt and freshwater waterways. They will be perched on a tree, post, or rock watching for fish, crayfish, frogs, tadpoles, or any other small aquatic creatures near the surface. They can launch themselves from their perches or can hover like an Osprey before diving in to grasp their prey with their bills. If you ever see one perched beside the water, stop and watch. You might be lucky enough to see an amazing bird in action.
Some of you might be glad to hear that I'm still working on VANCOUVER ISLAND BUTTERFLIES. As mentioned in a past journal, I managed to find 50 out of the 69 species last year, and with some photo contributions from James Miskelly and Bob Hardwick, I've now got 63 species reasonably covered. There is definitely room for improvement with some of the species, but my focus right now is with the missing species. Two big misses were the California Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral. Both are regular migrants to VI, but neither found the lens of my camera. The others are Compton's Tortoiseshell, Dreamy Duskywing, American Lady, and Oreas Comma. Two days ago I actually booked a printing date with Gerhard (Friesens Corporation) for Oct. 22/14 so that gives me seven months to find the missing leps or acquire photos from other photographers. If you know of anyone with any of these photos, please let me know.
During the past two months I've been trying to plan out the 128 pages of the book. I've completed the draft of pages 14 and 15 which I've included in the next photo. The checklist is based on 68 species shown on the distribution maps in Butterflies of BC. The 69th butterfly is the Western Branded Skipper which was originally included with the Common Branded Skipper. The field marks that differentiate the two skippers are defined in a paper written by James Miskelly for the Journal of Entomology in Dec. 2009.
I haven't changed my plans for a print run of 1,000 books which I plan to sell directly by personal contact and at presentations and craft fairs. I still haven't decided if I'll bother with book stores and retail outlets unless they are willing to pre-order. By the way, I think I've recorded the names of all those who have already pre-ordered, but it wouldn't hurt to send me a reminder.
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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.)