The last time I was in Tofino was May 2011 when I had the privilege of presenting my pelagic photos at the annual Shorebird Festival. I was kindly hosted by Orca Lodge, and one of the highlights was the Great Egret on the mudflats.

I didn't really need an excuse for a shorebird excursion to Tofino, but it my Lake Cowichan high school buddy, Jack Millar, was making one of his infrequent visits from Ontario to the wet coast. We were both free on May 1 so I offered to pick him up at his sister's home in Port Alberni to see some shorebirds on the Pacific Rim. Being a biologist he would be interested in the shorebirds as well as any other critters we might find on the beach. A few years ago it was Humbolt squid. What would it be this year?

Despite the variable conditions as we left Port Alberni, we were blessed with blue skies as we entered the National Park. After purchasing our park pass we headed for Wickaninnish Beach and were greeted by the spectacular panorama of the Pacific - turquoise blue water and the pounding surf. I have never been to Hawaii, but this was how imagined it would look like. Immediately, my gaze was focussed on several small flocks of Western Sandpipers scurrying towards the water on the outgoing wave then skittering back to avoid the incoming wave. On the way out and in they were foraging and gobbling aquatic insects.

It's always a joy to witness the shorebird migration. Although most shorebirds are in serious decline, Western sandpipers are one of the most abundant to migrate along the west coast. They winter in the southern US and South America and nest along the Alaskan Coast. The flock we saw was relatively small with only about 50 birds. No doubt there were some larger flocks on the mudflats, but we didn't have time to check it today.

Other shorebirds seen were Dunlin and Semipalmated Plovers, but they weren't cooperating with photos - neither were the tourists who wouldn't give a photographer a break.

Beach curiosity - Remember in my opening remarks I wondered what we may find on the beaches? Would you believe Velella velella or "by the wind sailors? The blue items in the photo are a type of jellyfish that are normally found offshore. On top of the blue bodies there are transparent sailors that the jellies can adjust for navigation. However, they are no match for storm weather and tend to wash onshore along the Pacific coast every 3 to 6 years. Warning - do not touch. While you won't feel any sting on your hands, you'll know it if you touch your eyes.

From the Kitchen Window

Band-tailed Pigeons are regular yard visitors. They are extremely wary and even the slightest movement in the house will flush them. They usually sit high in the surrounding trees and when the coast is clear, they fly down and clean up the seeds below the feeder. Occasionally one will try to cling unsuccessfully to the feeder. It may look foolish trying to cling the a feeder that is smaller than the bird, but there is a method to its madness judging from the amount of seed spilled.

Mr. In-between - Hybrid Northern Flickers are quite common but while the red-shafted subspecies is common, the yellow-shafted is rare. I've only seen two yellow-shafted - one at swan Lake and a roadkill in Parksville. Hybrids usually have a red chevron on the back of their heads. This hybrid above had the largest red patch I've ever seen and an almost black moustache suggesting that is closer to a yellow-shafted than a red-shafted.

The annual migration of Golden-crowned Sparrows aka Pea Birds was right on schedule in early April. You might recall that last fall I learned that the sparrows time their migration to the planting of peas on Quadra Island. They love eating the freshly sprouted peas. When I mentioned that to my wife she promptly went out and covered the peas that were just sprouting. Most of the sparrows disappeared by mid-May, and the pea crop is doing well.

White-crowned Sparrows have always been spring visitors, but for the past three years I think they have nested on our property.

Violet-green Swallows have nested on my property for years. While I was building my house in the early 80's they used an opening in the shake roof for a nest. After the roof opening was sealed, they took advantage to one of the nest boxes I installed on the carport. There has always been one nesting pair, but now there seems to be two. This year I installed three nest boxes. At first I thought a territorial problem limited the population to one nesting pair, but I guess I'm wrong. I was in the garden looking for butterflies when I snapped this picture with my 180mm macro.

Butterfly Time

The mild and dry spring has been excellent for butterflies and butterfly photography. The butterfly year began with Mourning Cloaks in Victoria in early February followed by Milbert's Tortoiseshells, Satyr Commas, Spring Azures, and California Tortoiseshells. My butterfly year started with a bang on May 2 when I was checking my gravenstein apple tree to see if pollination was happening. I was disappointed to note that pollinating insects were scarce despite the warm sunny day when a dark butterfly landed on an apple blossom right in front of me. It was my photo nemesis - a Red Admiral. I backed off then hustled back to my house for my camera. When I returned it was gone. A half hour search was unsuccessful, but just as I was returning to the house I flushed the butterfly from the corner of the garden. It flew towards my cabin and landed on the window. I quickly followed and managed one shot before it disappeared towards the garden. Even though I didn't get the open wing shot, I did get a shot to prove that I wasn't dreaming. It was a great way to start my year - a new yard butterfly and a photo nemesis-no-more.

The Red Admiral is one of the fairly regular migrants to Vancouver Island. Its host plant is the stinging nettle and it is known to breed successfully here.

Another new yard butterfly - The Propertius Duskywing is an endangered species that requires oak trees for successful reproduction. They are fairly common in the Garry oak meadows at Fairwinds and Moorcroft which are 3 to 4 km away. I had never seen one in my yard and never expected them to fly this far, but I saw one in my garden on May 3 and another 2 weeks later.

One of the regulars - The Western Spring Azure is one of the more abundant butterflies, and I expect to see it in the garden every year. It has two generations so I also expect to see it later in the summer.

Western Tiger Swallowtails are one of our most spectacular butterflies. They are our among the biggest and strikingly attractive with their bold black and yellow or white patterns.

My daughter was home on May 3 for a visit and was happy to join me for a stroll in the clearcut at the end of Cross Road. Just as we pulled out of the carport she spotted a large butterfly in the garden. I stopped and jumped out with my camera. It was a Mourning Cloak nectaring on a lilac blossom. That was the first time I had ever seen a Mourning Cloak nectaring. All my previous encounters were during basking or feeding on scat.

There were no surprises in the clearcut except for the absence of the Mourning Cloaks which were plentiful two years ago. One of the expected species was the Mylitta Crescent, and we weren't disappointed.

Blue butterflies were flitting everywhere but very few would stop to nectar or rest. We finally found one that was very obliging and cooperative for our fill of photos. The distinctive little white tails identified it as a Western Tailed Blue.

The predominantly gray colour on the dorsal surface identified it as a female.

My favorite little butterfly is the Western Pine Elfin. As expected, there was one guarding its territory by the first group of alder trees. It flew from its perch when we approached and landed on a nearby fern. It's amazing how the offspring can continue with the same habits as its parent.

Who needs an expensive camera with a fancy lens? Jasmin got some excellent photos with her iphone.

The last buterfly we photographed was a Gray hairstreak. It was quite worn and tattered but very cooperative. It's condition suggested that it had been active for some time and nearing its final days. We also sale a few swallowtails, but no cloaks or commas.

Victoria Butterflies

Thanks to a book order from Monro's I journeyed to Victoria on May 15. My plan was to stop on Malahat Mt. to look for butterflies before proceeding to our capital city. In particular, there was a clearcut near Spectacle Lake that I wanted check. My timing was good since the lupines were in bloom. Right away I spotted several blues cruising in helter-skelter patterns over the landscape. It took about a half hour before one landed. The white halos around black spots on the ventral fore and hind wings told me it was a Silvery Blue. Two days later Dave R. checked the same area and discovered a Boisduval's Blue which may have been the first seen in that area for many decades.

The Silvery Blue is fairly widespread from sea level to the alpine.

With time to spare I decided to check out Mt. Doug. It was sunny and hot, but Butterflies were scarce. I was lucky to find a Propertius Duskywing which wasn't too surprising considering the abundance of Garry oak trees on the mountain.

The only other butterflies were a couple of Painted Ladies and several Western Spring Azures. The male Spring Azure was in the mood for a little romance, but the lady wasn't interested.

The Mt. Tolmie reservoir seemed a strange place to look for butterflies, but it is traditionally the host to many migrants. Today's guests were Painted Ladies, Red Admirals, and Westcoast Ladies. A few locals like Spring Azures and Mourning Cloaks were also present. When I arrived a Red Admiral landed right at my feet which was handy for a close-up shot.

It's always exciting to find a new species. I had never seen a Westcoast Lady before. Now I've seen at least two. What's the attraction at the reservoir? it's the heat. The concrete cover stores a lot of heat and butterflies love to bask there.

That's it for now. Just a couple of random bird notes to finish. The Rufous Hummingbird breeding season seems to over, now and many juveniles have been enjoying the feeders. There's still a few hummers harvesting bulrush down. Are they latecomers or on their second round? I also saw a couple of Pine Siskins at the bulrushes today. I thought I had a pair of Cowbirds, but tonight I saw four adult males and one female at the feeder. No juveniles so far. Hopefully, it means they haven't been successful. On May 26 I checked out some tide pools in Bowser. Most of the eagles have departed so only a few local breeders were around. One did catch a fish but I was too far away to see what it was. However, I had a ringside seat to watch a Great Blue Heron display its fishing prowess. In the span of a half hour it caught and devoured six gunnel fish and one midshipman. Talk about a hollow leg! When I left it was still fishing. I'll post some pics in my next journal and share some details on the heron's techniques.



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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