TITLE PHOTO - Dec. 12, 2016 - The ducks are all in and will be a regular feature for the duration of the winter and into spring. Successful Duck photography is very dependent on weather conditions. I prefer a sunny day with no waves, but that is a rare commodity. Of course, the other essential ingredient is proximity and that is very much a function of locality. The photo of the Common Goldeneye above featured very pleasing sun and water conditions, but lacked the close proximity resulting in a well-cropped image lacking in detail.
This is it for 2016. Despite a concerted effort to complete some seriously procrastinated domestic chores this year the results were less than impressive. I only made a slight dent into the insurmountable list of repairs, renovations, and maintenance duties. Quite often it was a case of one step forward and two steps back or nothing is as easy as it seems. I won't bore you with details, but it did mean a year of minimal birding and photographic activity. However, it also meant that the few outings I had were much more appreciated.
Highlights for the past year included several trips to Denman Island to photograph the Bald Eagles at Boyle Point. After not nesting there for the two previous years the eagles rebuilt their nest and successfully hatched two eaglets. Unfortunately, after several weeks the younger chick became a victim of fratricide. The gruesome scene of the younger chick being pushed out of the nest was witnessed by a couple and their grandchildren. While fratricide is known to occur with eagles, this may not have been possible if the nest were cup-shaped instead of a flat pancake. A cup-shaped nest with sidewalls (conforming to building code) would have provided some protection from eviction. I had intended to visit the nest within the week, but after Wayne told me about the tragedy I didn't return.
A second highlight was trying to photograph Bald Eagles fishing for midshipmen. It was an amazing spectacle to see a hundred Bald Eagles perched on various rocks beside the tidepools at Buccaneer Beach. They were watching for the slightest movement under the seaweed that would betray the presence of male midshipmen who were entrusted with protecting the female's eggs. When they detected a prey they would jump in, grab the fish, and haul out back onto the rock. Sometimes they would devour the prey right there and other times they would fly away to a tree or back to the nest. The fishing process was quite messy and most of the eagles were covered with grime, but it was a great natural history event to behold. From a photography point of view it was challenging. The eagles were extremely wary so getting close was almost impossible, and when the weather was hot, heat shimmer was another obstacle.
Other highlights included the rebound of my Rufous Hummer population to a peak of six cups a day, the obliging Rock Wren at Neck Point, and the hyperactive Tropical Kingbird in Sooke. (Thanks to those who sighted and reported each rare bird.) Although I had seen and photographed both birds in the past, it never gets old. It was very special to see them again.
So it's a wrap for 2016. The cup was half full, and I'm looking forward to a fine 2017. I hope you are all well, and I wish you a festive and birdy holiday season and an extremely successful New Year.
At the end of last year I shared my thoughts as to whether I would continue this website beyond 2016. My two concerns were lack of new and interesting material and web hosting expenses. While the former concern won't see much improvement the latter has improved. My original provider since 2004 was Yahoo, but it has now split off the web hosting to Aabaco. With the split came more options in line with the competitive market, and I was able to select a basic plan for about 40% less than what I was paying. Even though the number of hits to this site have fallen from an average of 300 a day to about 40 a day I know it still has some value as a photo archive for students, conservation groups, and artists. In fact, yesterday a young artist from Glendale Community College in California requested permission to use my White Raven images for a project; early in the year a master woodcarver, Dieter Golze, mentioned that he regularly referred to my site for his carvings; in July Holly Brown from the U of Connecticut needed the perfect Great Blue Heron head-tilting stance for her presentation on foraging behavior at the North American Ornithological Conference; recently an author requested a Mackay's Bunting photo for his book; and Don Cecile requested a painted Bunting photo for the UBC bird atlas. There are many more examples, and that is what is motivating me to maintain with this site for at least another year. It will be an investment in time, effort, and money, but it is my way of giving back for the pleasure that I get out of birding and bird photography.
Besides books I also produced cards and calendars for the Christmas craft fairs I attended. Because of the difficulty in packaging and mailing 11 x 17' calendars, my new ones are 11 x 8.5" which are a handier size for mailing. I still have a few left over from the craft fairs so please email or call if you are interested. (adminATvancouverislandbirdsDOTcom)
It's that time of the year, and my favorite location for ducks is French Creek. I'm continually amazed at number of different species that show up there. Two new ones in the past week have been a pair of Harlequins and a juvenile Lesser Scaup. Earlier in the year the Surf Scoter and Long-tailed were two other newbies for the year. Non-duck newbies included the Marbled Murrelet and Red-neck Grebe.
I've often seen the Harlequins at the mouth of the creek but never up the creek. Mind you it was high tide so it's debateable as to whether the they were in salt or fresh water. During the winter I've only seen Harlequins in salt water.
Mr. and Mrs. Harlequin were both resting on the rocks when I saw them.
When the tide eventually covered their rocks both ducks slid into the creek to forage for food.
Another first for me in the creek was the Lesser Scaup. It seems to be at home in both salt and fresh water.
The scaup was busy diving for something in the same spot right in front of me. I watched it smack its bill together several time but couldn't get a clear picture of what it was catching. One of the photos showed some translucent gelatinous material on its bill - perhaps the remains of some crustacean.
Common Goldeneyes are regular in the creek but rarely seen out of the water. This was a first for me. The orange-tipped bill identifies it as female.
After an extensive grooming session on land it returned to the water to search for food.
The Eurasian Wigeon has always been one of my favorites in the creek. I still haven't seen any reports of it nesting in North America so I'm assuming that this one just got back from Siberia.
Remember Rodney Dangerfield? He was always complaining that he didn't get enough respect. That's who I thought of when this juvenile Bald Eagle flew in for a landing.
Normally when an eagle flies in every bird from gull to goose departs in a hurry.
However, as you can see in the background the geese weren't impressed. In fact, while the eagle was landing multiple groups of geese and gulls flew in right after it. When the eagle realized that it wasn't respected it flew off to the north.
One of the groups of geese was conspicuous because of the large white collars. They were part of Stew Pearce's geese tracking program for his VIU project. 059 was last seen at Quarterway School in Nanaimo on Oct. 29. With parts of his flock showing up at French Creek we can see that the geese cover a fair bit of territory. If you happen to encounter one of these collared geese please contact Stew, His website can be found online. Just google something like collared geese VIU.
Pinkies - Common Loons in winter plumage are decidedly drab, but you they have colour - pink in fact. I didn't know either until I took the next picture.
Pretty in pink! Pete thinks I coloured the foot, but I never touched it. That's exactly what the camera saw.
It's been a couple of weeks since I've seen the Red-breasted Grebe so when I spotted it across the bay off the Coast Guard station I decided to wait for it to work its way across the bay. A half hour later it was about 40 meters away when it caught a crustacean - crayfish or prawn?
It was manipulating the crustacean when it was dive-bombed by a gull. It dove immediately but surfaced shortly after with the prey still intact. However, the attack changed its direction, and it was soon out of range. Thanks a lot Mr. Gull.
Another regular at the marina is the Pied-billed grebe. I don't know if it's the same one but there's been a Pied-billed paying moorage there for the past three or four winters.
A common sight at French Creek - Canada Geese coming and going. I counted over 200 one day.
Qualicum Beach is another of my favorite duck photo locations primarily because of the local Black Scoter flock. It has become a rite of passage for me to spend several sessions every winter trying to photograph them. Of course, there are also many other duck species there, but they usually stay a little too far offshore for consistent photo ops.
Timing the dive - One of the hardest events to capture is the pinnacle of the dive. Most times you'll get the just the body or tail showing. The secret is being able to time the duck just before it dives. By the time you press the shutter it'll be in the dive just like this Bufflehead.
The male Common Goldeneye is another very attractive bird that I love photographing. Unfortunately, there isn't a local location that provides close-up views. The best spot on the island is Esquimalt Lagoon especially in the spring when they are posturing during the mating season.
Here's my favorite Qualicum bird. Trying to photograph them in ideal sun and water conditions is an annual challenge that I always enjoy. December is extremely challenging because the cliff on the town side of the road blocks out the sun for most of the day.
The scoters often come close to shore to dive for varnish clams, and that presents an opportunity to catch them in action.
Occasionally a few Surf Scoters join in on the action.
There seems to be enough clams for everyone. I'm not sure how the ducks find the clams. Do they look for visual clues or do they just probe in the sand until they feel one?
On Dec. 5 we woke up to a winter wonderland. The trees were splendid draped in their white cushions, but vehicle traffic was a chaos of cars sliding all over the place. The next day I was amazed at the number of vehicles that had been abandoned on the of the roads.
Varied Thrush are usually very wary and skulk in the shadows of the forest. But, when it snows, they often show up in the wild crabapple trees beside my yard.
The crabapples are a good food source for the thrush. If it snows after the crabapples are gone I often shovel the snow away so they can forage under the leaves on the ground.
This is a Christmas card from the Song Sparrow.
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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.)