March 6, 1 - 4 pm at Qualicum Beach Civic Centre - photo display as part of the NORTH ISLAND WILDLIFE RECOVERY CENTRE's season opening celebration. Steve Williamson (Kermodes and Grizzlies) and I will be the two featured wildlife photographers. An award-winning video of the NIWRC will also be screened.
April 22 - 24 - ACTIVE PASS FESTIVAL (Galiano Island) - I will be a vendor at the craft fair and conducting a BIRD PHOTOGRAPHY 101 workshop on Apr. 24 10:30 am - 12:00. (WARNING - Bird photography is addictive and can be damaging to your marital status and personal finances, however, counselling and support is available.)
May 12 Courtenay - Vancouver Island Butterflies display at BC NATURE AGM
May 26 - Twin Island - guest presenter for MISTY ISLES charter group
HOW TO MAKE A SELF-PUBLISHED BEST SELLER
Want to be a best selling author? The best way is to get on Oprah's show. If you can't, do something courageous or outrageous to attract national media or social media coverage. You can do it the old-fashioned way like me. I started a website, pounded the pavement, knocked on every door, exploited the rubber chicken circuit, and grovelled to the media. Fortunately, the pavement lead to many opportunities, most doors opened, the rubber chickens led to more rubber chickens, and the media was largely receptive and cooperative. In other words, I got famous. Okay, famous is a relative term. I know a lot of people have no clue who I am, but I've had my share of media coverage, and more than a few strangers have recognized me on the street. I've even sold a few books to strangers who recognized me while I was on a beach photographing birds.
Getting media coverage is one sign of being famous. Over the years the local newspapers from Nanaimo to Campbell River have provided me with excellent coverage: SHAW cable did a couple of interviews, CTV had me on the Morning Show, and I've had exposure from other papers like the Times Colonist and Vancouver Sun. At the national level I was interviewed by CAROL OFF on CBC's AS IT HAPPENS, and I got full page coverage in THE GLOBE AND MAIL. Getting invited to be guest speaker by various clubs and events is another sign of being famous. I've been so honored by many nature, horticultural, photo, paddling, and Probus clubs. In fact, I used to joke that I attended more Probus meetings than the members. I've also guested at many venues like the BALD EAGLE FESTIVAL, ACTIVE PASS FESTIVAL, NIC ELDERCOLLEGE, CONSERVANCY HORNBY ISLAND, DENMAN ISLAND CONSERVANCY, and the NIC PRO-PHOTOGRAPHY CLASS.
However, being famous often isn't enough. You have to have a product that appeals to a broad segment of the population, and you have to be relentless in marketing. Two factors made my book appealing. First, the book had to be visually attractive. Yes, books are often judged by their cover, and what could be more attractive than a baby hummingbird on the cover and about 200 high quality photos inside? Second the subject had to be relevant. A bird book was a no-brainer. Birds are among the most interesting and fascinating creatures in our environment and admired by many. As well, by design I titled the book "Vancouver Island Birds" so it would relate to Vancouver Islanders by title alone especially when there were no other localized books in existence. That narrowed my target audience and distribution area to a manageable level that I could personally serve. The second factor was constant exposure, and thanks to a sympathetic and understanding editor, Neil Cameron, of the Courier Islander in Campbell River I had ten years of great exposure. For ten years I wrote a biweekly bird column for the North Islander which was a magazine carried by the paper. For ten years every second week my mugshot and byline appeared, and I got free advertising for my books from Fanny Bay to Port Hardy. I was branded and that translated to many sales. I felt like I had lost an arm when Black Press bought and closed the paper in March 2015 not just for the loss of exposure, but also for the loss of opportunity to share my bird photography and knowledge. (I've heard from a lot of people who really miss my column.)
By now you're thinking that Mike is an arrogant and conceited S.O.B. You might be right, but that's how you've got to be if you want to sell. There's no room for humility if you want to succeed, and you have to like yourself if you want others to like you. The good news is that it worked. I've sold over 5,000 copies of VANCOUVER ISLAND BIRDS (Volume 1). It's a best seller, and I'm a best selling author and publisher.
I actually thought my story might provide some inspiration to other aspiring writers so I had to grovel one last time. I sent BESTSELLER emails to all the papers from Cowichan to Campbell River. I exploited all the angles - born in Duncan, shop in Nanaimo, in Parksville region, taught in Comox, and wrote for the Campbell River Island Courier. I was fortunate to find one sympathetic editor. Terry Farrell of the Comox Valley Record assigned reporter, Erin Haluschak, to write the article which appeared in their February 18th edition. Thanks to Terry and Erin my bestseller is now immortalized in print. You can read it at Click Here for BESTSELLER
I mentioned arrogance, conceit, and no humility. That was just to get a point across. Better words are DETERMINATION and PERSISTENCE because I've always been humble and thankful for what I've achieved. It took eleven years to make a best seller, and I couldn't have done it without the help, support, and encouragement of many. That includes the thousands who purchased the book. You know who you are, and I sincerely THANK YOU.
Feb. 9/16 - February is usually migration time for the Red-tailed Hawk. I'm not sure exactly when it starts, but for the past 6 or 7 years I've been a presenter at the Bald Eagle Festival in Campbell River on the last Saturday of February, and I always saw at least a half dozen between Qualicum and Campbell River. This year I wasn't invited, but I had a book order from Save-On Foods in Campbell River so I decided to make the delivery on February 9. I didn't expect to see more than the usual 2 or 3 wintering individuals, but I was surprised to count 7! Of course, my immediate assumption was an early migration. We've had a mild winter and I sure that many species will be migrating early.
Trying to photograph roadside hawks is always a challenge. Half the time they aren't seen until it is too late. After you've passed the bird, backing up is rarely successful. The best bet is to drive well below the speed limit and slow before you reach the bird. Take a few shots when you stop then move a little closer for a few more. Occasionally, you can get close enough for the almost full-frame shot, but most of the time you'll have to be satisfied with a reasonable crop. Both the shots I've uploaded were from the wrong side of the road when I was returning so they're large crops with excessive noise. The first bird has the red-tailed red showing on its tail feathers indicating that it was an adult or near-adult. I'm guessing the second bird was a light juvenile.
A STRANGE PIGEON
On Feb. 12 I made one of my regular quick stops at French Creek. It was late in the day, cold, and overcast - not a day for photography but still reasonable to check on the birds. There was nothing unusual except for a pigeon on the wires. From the size I knew it wasn't one of the usual rock pigeons. I angled for a side view and clicked a few shots just before a second bird flew in and they both headed off towards Lasquiti. Looking at the photo the size and plumage confirmed that it was definitely not one of the locals. Unfortunately, the wires obscured the legs so I couldn't see any bands. My best guess that it was a domestic pigeon heading for home.
Birds have a sense of humor, and it's not unusual to see them engaged in some fun and games. Looked like a game of tag to me. Both birds are males so I'm assuming it wasn't a mating ritual, but I could be wrong.
French is one of my favorite spots to visit even if many of the birds are the same. It's not just about photography. It's also about enjoying the birds and observing their behaviors. There's also a lot of human activity which will reach a peak any time now when the herring fishery opens. Meanwhile there has still been a lot of fishing going on for the past 2 or 3 months. Boats have been observed regularly unloading herring and hake. Obviously the herring was quite immature which seems to be very wasteful. In fact, it would be totally wasteful if it were used for cat food according to one rumor. However, I don't have the facts so I can't make any assumptions. It's interesting that none of the facts seem to be available online.
Notice the long bill and shallow sloping forehead. These are two distinguishing features of the Common Goldeneye. The lack of a white cheek patch indicates this is a female. Photos of the Barrow's are available later for comparison.
Common Mergansers are quite abundant in French Creek> Most seem to hang out close to the western shore, but they often venture over to the east like this female.
Stay in your car. If you happen to drive close to any bird, don't get out. Stick your camera out the window and shoot. I was about six meters from this female. She looked at me but didn't fly. This was my first full frame photo of a Kingfisher. Of course, it would have been better without the wires, but it was still a fun shot.
The cormorants usually hang out on the log boom with big, rusty pilings in the background that are extremely distracting. It was fun to catch one sunning itself on top of a boat mast.
You'll normally see Surf Scoters just offshore diving for clams in the shallow waters, but I learned something new today. Clams aren't their only food source. They also like fish scraps that are available from the fish unloading dock.
So far I've only seen a pair of bold males regularly swim in to feed among the sea lions. I'd like to know how they discovered the French Creek diner.
From the photography point of view, the Lasquiti ferry dock across from the fish plant provides excellent low angle shots for birds and mammals.
While the Surf Scoters were well-habituated to human presence, the male Common Merganser wasn't I didn't move a hair when I saw him swim in. He was in the shadows so it wasn't worth a shot. He was also in the shadows on his way out so it was now or never for the shot. Of course, he panicked at the first click. I got one quick shot while he was starting his engine, but he was too fast for the next three shots, and all I got was the tail-end and a bunch of spray.
Barrow's bonus - I was by the creek just before the sun was disappearing when the family of Barrow's Goldeneyes swam by. They're one of my favorite ducks, and I've never gotten any reasonably close shots of them. This was my lucky day. The sun was at my back, the creek was calm in the intertidal zone, and the ducks were close. They were diving for food and didn't seem to be intimidated by my presence.
Female adult on the left and male on the right. Notice the smaller bill and steep forhead in contrast to the Common Goldeneye. The crescent white patch on the male's cheek is distinguishes the male Barrow's from the male Common.
The faint patch of white near the bill indicates that this is a juvenile male Barrow's.
Red-breasted bonus. Another bird that is difficult to approach is the Red-breasted Merganser. It usually flushes at the first hint of a photographer. In this case it swam in while I was watching the Surf Scoters. Again I didn't move a hair. It perked up when I clicked this shot, but it was soon too close to fit its long body into my frame.
Next it turned and headed straight towards me. I clicked several times until it was too close to focus. It continued until it looked me right in the eye. I never blinked or breathed as it gently turned to avoid hitting the dock. It was so close that I could have probably reached out and touched it. I watched as it continue to forage and than disappear under the ramp to the next section of the marina. it was another "close encounter of the third kind."
Another close encounter with the Queenfisher. This time she was about 10 meters away but more natural on the rocks than on the hydro lines. Unfortunately, I had the camera set at 1000 ISO hoping for a flight shot. I had a couple of chances, but they all failed because I couldn't anticipate the trajectory of her flight, and I was too close. You won't often hear me complaining about being too close to the Kingfisher, but it happens. Anyway, this shot shows the tiny feet which are pretty useless for walking.
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.)