Title photo - With the dry winter, warm spring, and scorching summer it is not surprising that the blackberries are at least 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Traditionally, they are ready for harvesting in the first or second week of August. Blueberries usually follow the same schedule, but my wife and I took advantage of the unusually early opening at Trudelle's Blueberry farm in Cedar on July10 and picked 40 lbs. for our annual supply. We have been going there for 30 years and hope to continue for many more. For those who are not familiar, Trudelle's farm is the best U-pick farm in the whole province if not country. It's situated on a peat bog so it is clean (no dirt) and the plants are usually loaded with plump, sweet berries.
As mentioned in the past, French Creek was the domain of the King - the male Kingfisher. The female Kingfisher, aka the Queenfisher would only show up during the mating season, and she was very elusive. However, I may be wrong but it seems that there has been a changing of the guard as I have seen her several times in the past year. Was the King succeeded by the Queen? In any case, it has still been difficult to get good photos of her. Most of the time she is sitting on one of the piles on the far edge of the creek about 40 m. from the marina parking lot.
My favorite time at French Creek has been during the fledging of the young ones. I've been there when the air was filled with staccato chatter and the fledglings were flying everywhere. I was hoping to experience that again this year, but it's always up to luck if I happen to be in the area at the right time. Sometimes you need a little help and that came from my buddy Wayne, who seems to live at the creek. On July 12 he sent me an awesome photo of the Queen feeding a fish to one her youngsters. (Wayne has the knack of being in the right place at the right time.) That prompted me to make a date with the Queen for the morning of July 14 hoping for a similar photo. I couldn't wait. I woke up at 5:30 am and was at the creek by 6:15. The sun was perfectly situated at my back when I pulled in just east of the roosting location. I set up my camera and waited.
By 6:45 the only wildlife I had seen were a deer browsing across the creek, Eurasian Collared-doves flying to and from the trees, House Finches foraging on seed heads, and a pair of fledgling Common Yellowthroats playing hide 'n seek in a blackberry bush.
By 7:00 am the only action at the roost was several juvenile Red-winged Blackbirds using it as a grooming station.
By 8:00 am there was still no sign of the Queen. I knew it was fashionable to be late, but almost 2 hours seemed extreme. In the meantime. I did have some entertainment as a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow decided to enjoy a healthy blackberry breakfast.
Finally, at 8:15 am the Queen made her grand appearance. She struck a regal pose before settling down to the business of finding food and protecting her domain. Unfortunately, there was no sign of any of her fledglings - if she had any. It was possible that Wayne had photographed a different family.
At 8:30 the Queen was stirred into action - an intruder was approaching.
The Queen didn't hesitate. She took offensive action and promptly escorted the intruder out of her territory. This happened 3 times in the next hour.
After the intruder was gone the Queen returned to her roost to survey the creek for any potential meal. It was low tide and the creek was shallow and at a slow trickle. This was perfect for stranding small fish and other aquatic critters.
Finally, at 8:45 the Queen spotted some prey. She flew down and promptly grabbed a crayfish from the shallow water and flew up to the railing in front of me. It would have been great if she landed on her wooden perch where I had a clean view. But, Murphy's law prevailed. Not only was she on the metal railing, she was right behind the only plant that extended over the rails. That's why you only see a cropped head shot.
Swallowing any live and active prey is not a good idea so the the kingfisher had to disable the crayfish. She did that by smacking it against the railing several times and manipulating and squeezing it in her bill until it was lifeless. Then it was down the hatch and ready for the next one.
Yes, that's a look of contentment, but one crayfish was just an appetizer. She flew down several times while I watched, but didn't return with any prey. Instead she landed on a lower log closer to the water and processed her prey there. Unfortunately, that location was obscured by the weeds and directly in line with the sun. There wasn't any other photo opportunities so it was time to leave. Even though I didn't see any fledglings or get any clear feeding shots, it was a good morning. I got my audience with the Queen and a few portrait shots that I'm pleased with.
I asked Wayne if he thought the fledglings had flown the coop, but he didn't think so. You can bet that I'll be visiting French Creek again as soon as I have the chance.
The best reward for feeding and housing wild birds is seeing them successfully raise their new families. So far I've enjoyed the young of Rufous Hummingbirds, Dark-eyed Juncos, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Spotted Towhees, Purple Finches, Violet-green Swallows, Anna's Hummingbirds, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Flicker, and Black-headed Grosbeak. A heart-warming scene two mornings ago was a Northern Flicker feeding two offspring on the feeder pole when a juvenile Black-headed Grosbeak flew in looking for a snack.
Townsend's Visit - One morning when I was picking raspberries in the garden a juvenile Townsend's Warbler flitted down to the vegie patch about 5 km from me. I watched quietly as it gradually worked its way towards me. I was oblivious of my presence until it was a step away. Suddenly it became aware of an alien being and zipped up to a nearby arbutus.
In the safety of the arbutus it relaxed and proceeded to groom and stretch.
On another morning I spotted a bird sunning on the garden fence. It did seem too concerned as I edged closer for a better look. It was a juvenile Pine Siskin. I decided to grab my camera for a few quick pictures, but just as I was getting in position, it flew off to the other side of the house. I wandered around with my camera and saw it zip by with another siskin. They landed in a nearby cascara tree, and got a quick shot of the adult feeding the fledgling.
For years I have been enjoying a pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks coming and going to the feeders during the breeding season, but I had never seen a juvenile. One morning I spotted three grosbeaks at the feeder. One was the adult female. The other two were juveniles. A few minutes later they were gone. I decided to set up my camera and wait for one or all of them to return. A lot of birds came and left, but not the grosbeaks. Finally, after an hour I spotted a large bird landing on the far side of the feeder tree. It had to be a grosbeak. Eventually it landed on a branch close to the feeder, and i got a clear shot framed nicely by a group of branches.
Waiting for the grosbeak also gave me the chance to see the Purple Finches in action. They didn't provide the clear view, but sometimes all you get is the record shot.
The Rufous Hummingbirds were mostly gone by mid-June which is about two weeks ahead of schedule. Only a few stragglers made it to the end of the month. I can't remember posting a photo of a juvenile this year so enjoy this one.
Yesterday (July 15) a hummingbird landed on the garden fence. I could tell from its size it was an Anna's. I was actually photographing a dragonfly when I noticed it so I wandered over and clicked a shot with my 180 mm lens. The lack of rufous flanks confirmed it was an Anna's.
One afternoon I spotted a bird sitting on the seed feeder. It seemed too big and too red to be one of my regular yard birds. I snuck out with my camera. When I focussed I was surprised to see a Red Crossbill. I hadn't seen or heard one since winter.
I never got a chance to look for the Lazuli Buntings on Dawson Road when they were first reported, but I stopped there when it was too late. For my efforts my consolation was a perky little Willow Flycatcher.
I was two or three weeks late for the Common Mergansers as well. They usually show up at French Creek at the end of may or the first week of June. I did check once on June 1st, but never got back until June 22. The ducklings were still cute, but not as cute as they would have been two weeks earlier.
Heron Yoga - Even Great Blue Herons know the benefits of yoga. Whenever they get the chance they practice one of the positions.
Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Now don't you think the Turkey Vulture is a handsome bird?
I never imagined ever attending a butterfly conference. First of all, I don't think such conferences exist in BC let alone Canada. But, just south of the border the Washington Butterfly Association is alive and well, and they had scheduled their annual conference at Omak from June 26 - 28. When I discovered the information on their website the wheels started turning. The timing was good - no conflicting commitments. The location was reasonable - Omak, just south of Osoyoos. If I drove to Osoyoos and crossed the border at Oroville, that would save the normal 2 hour plus wait at the Peace Arch or Pacific truck Crossing. A further incentive was a half-price newcomers fee. I didn't hesitate. I booked the conference and accommodations, off we went.
We caught the 6:30 am ferry, stopped for lunch and chased butterflies at Manning Park, and perfectly timed our arrival at Omak at 5 pm. That gave us time to freshen up before attending the conference opening at 6:30 pm at Okaogan Grange a few miles down the road.
At Okanogan Grange everybody was friendly. We met some of the organizers like Al Wagar and sat with fellow attendees, Paul and Carolee from Nelson, BC. The president started the meeting with a tribute to two members who had unfortunately passed away during the past year. The meeting concluded with Dave N.'s powerpoint presentation on butterflies that we might encounter on the three planned field trips. He also gave instructions on where and when to meet the next morning.
The first 2 trips were greeted by extremely high temperatures (over 100 degrees). That warranted an early start at 7:30 am but everyone was game and the trips were extremely productive. The first was to Moses Meadows where Northern Checkerspots were numerous. Several species of fritillaries were also common and over 40 species were tallied by the group. Day two shifted to the Sinhalekin Wildlife area and many new butterflies were discovered including Roadside, Sonoran Skipper, and Thicket Hairstreak by yours truly. Day 3 was optional but we were prepared to go despite the forecast for thunder and lightning. Our fearless leader, Dave N. was also set to go as well as about 15 others. The 120 mile loop through forest service land took use to some marvelous habitats like Long Swamp, 30 Mile, and Salmon Meadows. Again, many butterflies were seen and my contribution of new species was Vidler's Alpine, Small Woodnymph, Common Alpine, and Milbert's Tortoiseshell. (In all, the tally for three days was 77 species.) As much as I wanted the day to continue, it ended at about 5 pm, and by 6 pm we were on our way back home.
The most abundant butterfly was the Northern Checkerspot, especially at Moses Meadow.
The ventral side of the checkerspot is very attractive with its checkerboard pattern.
One of my favorite shots at Moses Meadow was the side view of the Western White. Western Whites were uncommon which made it even more rewarding.
On the way to Sinhalekin, a roadside patch of milkweed caught our attention. It was well worth the stop as it was being nectared by a Two-tailed and Old-world Swallowtailed. Like all swallowtails, they were quite spectacular. Later in the day someone also found a Canadian Swallowtail which I would have liked to see, but I wasn't around when it was discovered.
One of the most elusive butterflies on Vancouver Island has been the Roadside Skipper. I was quite delighted to discover one on the dogbane at Sinhalekin.
I was also happy to discover a Sonoran Skipper on the dogbane. Both the Sonoran and Roadside were new species for the conference.
Sulphurs were common in all locations, especially on the third trip. I wouldn't bet on it, but I think this is a Pink-edged.
With the exception of the sweltering temperatures for the first two days, the conference was most enjoyable. It was very well-organized. The general meeting was efficient, business was concluded right on schedule, and there was time for some casual socializing. The field trips were exceptional thanks to the expertise and dedication of Dave N. who pre-scouted all the locations and provided detailed maps and directions.
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.)