Feb. 3/2016 - Where did January go? Another month with very little accomplished ... incomplete chores littering my mind like roadside debris on the highway ... bathroom reno ... garden cleanup ... firewood to chop - fruit trees to prune ... apples to dry ... winter yard debris to clean up ... birdhouses to clean ... the list is endless. No use worrying about it - just keep plugging along ... one task at a time ... oh ... more distractions ... start prepping for a photography workshop at the ACTIVE PASS FESTIVAL in April ... a RARE BIRD DISPLAY for the BCNATURE AGM in May ... the new NIKON D500? ... photo display at LONDON DRUGS ... bestseller interview ... herring spawn season in 3 weeks ... ugh - collect receipts and forms for tax time ... eye exam soon ... dental cleaning too ... STOP! time to work on this journal ... ok ... focus ... last photos from 2015 ... Jan. eagles ...
Yesterday I delivered a few copies of Vancouver Island Birds Volume 1 to Save On Foods in Campbell River, and it finally dawned on me that I had sold over 5,000 copies. Yes, that makes it a CANADIAN BESTSELLER! It took me eleven years, but there's no time limit so I qualify. I don't know exactly when I sold the 5,000th copy, but let's do the math to make sure I passed 5,000. In 2005 I took delivery of 3,106 books from Friesens Corporation in Manitoba. They sold in 16 months. In 2008 I did a reprint of 2,216 copies. That's a total of 5,326 copies, and I'm now down to my last few copies. I know I donated 100 copies to BC NATURE TRUST and probably at least another 100 to schools, clubs, charities, etc. That means I sold over 5,000 copies. (If you're wondering why there's a odd number of books for each order, that's because of over-runs. In the first case there was an over-run of 106 books, and in the second it was 216 books. The over-runs only cost half as much so I didn't mind.) I know there isn't any prize for achieving bestseller status, but it is a milestone achievement and I'm getting a few warm fuzzies thinking about it. From the practical point of view it's probably a prize to be getting part of my basement back. And, since no one else is about to give me a prize, maybe I'll give myself one - hmmmm - it's fortuitous that Nikon just came out with the new D500 as the upgrade for my ancient D300s which came out in 2009 ...
While I'm patting myself on the back I should also acknowledge fellow photographer, WAYNE DUKE. Wayne has the knack of capturing interesting bird activities like a Bald Eagle trying to haul in a large Pacific octopus or a Bald Eagle smacking a Great Horned Owl. His latest nature masterpiece of a Kingfisher feeding a fish to its young garnered the BEST IN SHOW award at the prestigious Lion's Gate CELEBRATION OF NATURE 2015 competition. I know Wayne will be insufferable for the next while, but we're all proud of him. I'll add his photo to this site if I can interrupt his Roadrunner photography in Palm Springs to get his permission.
On December 23 my son, Nik, suggested we go to Tofino for a quick pre-Christmas birding trip. He wanted to go because he hadn't been there for over 30 years, and he knew he wouldn't have to twist my arm. We were packed and on our way by 10 am. I was a bit concerned about the snow on Sutton Pass and the iffy sun and showers forecast, but Sutton pass was plowed and the road was clear all the way. Other than a few showers the trip was uneventful. We arrived at the visitor centre at about 1:00 pm. It was overcast, cool, and windy, but thankfully it was dry. We parked at Long Beach and hiked south towards Combers Beach. The wind and pounding surf was exhilarating, but I was focussed on finding birds on the beach, offshore, or at the edge of the forest. Unfortunately, the birds were AWOL. I was disappointed to count only 1 Killdeer, 1 Song Sparrow, 1 Steller's Jay, and several Mew Gulls.
Because of the overcast sky and the short days, it was starting to get dark by 4:00 pm. We were happy to sign in at TIN WIS to freshen up before searching for sustenance in Tofino. My first thought was SOBO'S which has an excellent reputation, but it was closed. That didn't faze Nik. Before I could turn around he texted my daughter, Jasmin, who was quite familiar with Tofino, and she recommended SHELTER. The streets of Tofino were basically deserted, but the parking lot at SHELTER was almost full, and the restaurant was abuzz with music, laughter, and chatter. The main floor was packed so we were comfortably seated upstairs, and promptly served by our courteous waitress who was from Courtenay. Nik ordered the TOFINO SURF BOWL (CHOICE OF LOCAL WILD SALMON OR MARINATED FREE RUN CHICKEN W/ STEAMED VEGETABLES, TERIYAKI SAUCE, BASMATI & WILD RICE, SPICY YOGURT, CILANTRO), and I settled for the SHELTER PIZZA (ROASTED MUSHROOMS, CARAMELIZED ONION, DOUBLE SMOKED BACON, MOZZARELLA, TRUFFLE, GRANA PADANO). We enjoyed our leisurely and delicious meals in the warm and festive surroundings before retiring to the comfort of the Tin Wis. All right, I didn't just retire. After a therapeutic shower I succumbed to our brisk beach hike. I crashed at 7:00 pm and didn't wake until 9:00 am. (I'm still getting flak from my kids for my 14 hour snooze.) Nik didn't believe me when I told him I crashed so I wouldn't disturb him while he did his daily 2 hour study session for his CFA.
Dec. 24th was greeted by crisp, clear, calm blue skies. A quick peek out the French doors our beachfront room revealed a placid Pacific with puppy dog waves gently lapping the sandy beach. In fact, it was so calm that one intrepid soul was paddling around the ocean on his paddle board. After a hearty breakfast in the quiet dining room we checked out, scraped the heavy layer of frost off the car, and motored off for a quick tour of the quiet Tofino waterfront. We also checked out ROY VICKER'S gallery to see if he ever got around to using any of WHITE RAVEN images I sent him. (Being the day before Christmas most operations were on vacation.) Our next stop was Wickaninnish Beach where we were not too disappointed to find the information centre closed. That gave us more time to enjoy the sunshine and a hike down the trail to South Beach.
The power and fury of the wind and waves was on full display as we trekked along Long beach.
Ahh, to be young again. I actually stopped half way down the beach while Nik continued on to Combers where he enjoyed the views of several Bald Eagles and a offshore rock covered with shorebirds.
Not quite a shorebird, but the several Steller's jays were busy foraging in the seaweed at the high tide line.
At a small bay fringed by small firs several songbirds were foraging for insects. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet flew to the rocky beach several times to retrieve tasty snacks.
A flash of red under a fir tree caught my eye and gave me visions of a wayward Siberian Ruby-throat. I waited for another 20 minutes to no avail while a Song Sparrow kept me entertained.
An offshore rock provided safe refuge for a swirling flock of Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Sanderlings.
As usual, our Tofino visit was much too brief. It is a great area to bird and experience, but it takes time. Some day I'll spend more than an overnighter there.
Canvasback Ducks are extremely scarce north of Victoria so it was quite special to have one spending some time at Craig Bay. I heard of the duck via the BCVIBIRDS site, and it was confirmed by Jim Murray, a fellow photographer who just happened to live beside the pond in question. Jim also informed me that a small group of Hooded Mergansers were enjoying the secluded retreat. On December 30 I finally had a chance to stop to check out the ducks. Just as advertised the ducks were present with a few American Wigeons to boot. Not surprisingly, the ducks were in the middle of the pond too distant for reasonable shots, but I had time and the the weather was fine. Eventually the ducks ventured closer and the photographs were taken.
The female Canvasback was extremely obliging. She chose a spot right in front of me and dove many times to forage for underwater plants, leaves, and seeds.
If this were a male Canvasback it would have a dark red head and red eyes.
The challenge in photographing male Hooded mergansers is catching them with their crests in a rounded format. Most of the time their crests are flattened like a Ben Hogan cap or stretched up like a top hat.
I was lucky to catch one in a relaxed mood when his crest was round like a bowler hat.
What's mine is mine and what's yours is mine. A catch by any duck is fair game.
The action was fast and furious to relieve the female of her catch. The chase ended up at the far end of the pond so I didn't see the result.
American Wigeons are so common that they are often overlooked, but a bird is a bird, and when you're a bird photographer, every bird is worth a few megapixels.
Okay, I got carried away by the title. It wasn't that good at the Nanaimo River estuary, but it was sunny, warm, and calm, and a great way to spend New Year's afternoon. The Short-eared Owl and Northern Shrikes were in hiding but the usual flocks of sparrows and other songbirds were working the hedgerows, fields, and trees.
Several Fox Sparrows were foraging on the gravel path leading to the viewing tower.
They popped in and out of the blackberry thicket. I've always focussed on the frontal view and the distinguishing chevrons, but the rear shot offered the unexpected revelation of a fancy undergarment.
Western Meadowlarks are winter regulars at the estuary. Normally they are extremely wary and stay out of camera range. I was lucky to catch one lagging behind the rest of the flock.
70 meters is out of range but they looked like golden delicious apples in the tree.
The massive oak is always a majestic sight. it is also a favorite for a number of birds like Bewick's Wrens.
The wren could forage on the tree for a week and still leave most of it unexplored.
One of the most desired Kingfisher shot is the hovering action. Usually, the view is looking up at a distance too far for reasonable shots. However, I was lucky when I spotted one on the breakwater beside French Creek.
The female Kingfisher flew out and hovered at eye level for several seconds.
I wish I were a little closer and the sun was shining, but can you have it all? I've got a feeling that this was be the best opportunity I'll ever get.
I've mentioned it many times that French Creek is my favorite photo venue. Besides being reasonably close to my home, it is the host to a fair number of birds. As well, the creekside and marina settings often offer close up views ideal for good photography.
Black Turnstones often fly in at low tide to forage on the exposed rocks.
It's always a challenge to catch them in flight. This was a distant shot at 20 meters just to illustrate its striking plumage.
Common and Red-breasted Mergansers are often on the prowl for underwater creatures like crabs and small fish. This female Red-breasted decided to leave when it saw me. I didn't have time to up my ISO which cost me some close-up shots as it sped by.
Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants have favorite perching spots including the boat masts. The log boom is also popular. There was a Pelagic with these Double-crested but it swam away before this shot.
It was a joy to see the Pied-billed Grebe again. I'm assuming it was the the same one that was there last year. It's always gratifying to see a bird successfully survive the elements for another year.
Photography is all about the pursuit of the perfect photo. The Kingfisher is a major challenge. I had the camera set at high ISO ready for a flight shot, but it's unpredictable which direction it's going to fly.
My photographic challenge for January was to improve my collection of Bald Eagle shots. I've never really made a concerted effort except for my previous treks to Denman Island a few years ago. So, whenever I got the chance in January, I checked out the eagles at French Creek and Qualicum.
The Qualicum Beach Inn Eagle has a favorite tree right beside the Inn. It frequently perches there to catch the morning sun. I just missed a great opportunity when it flew out to the water. I figured it would return so I kept my focus on the tree. Just as I finally gave up it came in. The lighting was perfect, but I gave up to soon.
The Columbia Beach Baldie is often in its favorite tree on Admiral Tryon Boulevard. It always seems out of character to see the king of the food chain engrossed in a delicate domestic activity such as grooming.
My dream shot finally came on a cold and cloudy morning at French Creek. The eagles were playing musical masts, and I tracked one as it headed towards me. I was hoping that it would land on the mast about 30 meters in front of me, and it did. I managed one excellent shot with its talons deployed for a landing. Oh, I did mention it was cloudy so I photoshopped a little blue sky in the background.
I lucked out again a few days later when I spotted an eagle perched on the rocks on the front breakwater. As I approached I saw it preparing to fly. I stopped and focussed and got the sequence. This was the launch shot.
Next was the downsweep.
Then the upsweep before it flew low to the water away from me.
Although I didn't see much variety during January, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the eagles. There were many times when they just perched, but it only takes one good shot to make it all worthwhile. As I frequently mention to would-be-photogs, "Patience and perseverance is often the key to good shots."
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.)