Thanks to the diligent efforts of Wayne Duke and Pete Calioux I can tell you that the Denman eagles fledged on Tuesday, July 10, at least two weeks ahead of the usual date. As far as I know the first egg hatched on April 12 making the fledging date almost right on for 13 weeks, just as scheduled. Wayne and Pete were both there to record their first flights while I was somewhere without a camera in Whistler.
Since my last journal I wasn't able to visit the nest again but made two stops at Bucaneer Beach to monitor the eagle-midshipman activity.
The tide was receding and at an ideal level for midshipman fishing when I arrived at Bucaneer on June 11. The tide pools looked good, but I knew it was getting late in the midshipman and eagle migration season. As expected it was a quiet scene at the beach. I had to look far to the west before I spotted a couple of eagles perched on rocks near the tide pools. Most of the eagles were gone. In fact, of the dozen eagles that were present, none were juveniles. They were all probably locally nesting adults. I walked west to the corner tide pool which was one of my favorite shooting spots. There was a pair of eagles on the rocks, but they decided to fly down to the waterfront as I approached. I was tempted to turn around and leave, but decided to wait for no more than 15 minutes. After ten minutes there was still no eagle activity. I glanced up at a couple of eagles perched on the tree tops beside me and quietly implored one of them to spot a midshipman. One of the eagles read my mind and swooped down right in front of me, hit the water, and flew up with a tangle of seaweed and midshipman in its claws. I thought it was going to fly off to the west and circle back up to the treetop, but it was my lucky day. The eagle surprised me by circling west towards me then landing on a large boulder just to my right. With the sun at my back I was able to get a series of shots as it approached the rock and landed. Then it proceeded to have its dinner on the rock-top diner. In my several visits to Bucaneer this was the best photo opportunity I had for the for the eagle catch and dine series.
My last stop at Bucaneer was on June 15 on the way home from Mt. Washington. We timed the stop for about 1:00 pm when there was a 0.2 m tide. I knew the sandbar would be exposed, and I wanted to see if there were any sandlance around. As expected the sandbar was high and dry, but there wasn't any sign of life let alone jumping sandlance. Somehow I expected it so I wasn't disappointed, but it left me wondering if the sandlance were only around in May during the prime time for the midshipman. I'll have to check it out next year if I remember.
With a number of activities and chores on tap I knew it would be difficult to fit in another trip to Denman. It would have been fun watching the eaglets grow into their flight feathers and doing their flapping practices on the edge of the nest. Seeing them fledge would have been awesome, but it was not to be. However, it was good to hear that both eaglets survived and fledged successfully especially since only one survived two years ago.
In every case this year the eagle flew directly away from me after catching a midshipman. This was the first to fly back towards me.
With the sun at my back the eagle with its catch was perfectly exposed.
Normally the eagles land on a distant rock or fly back to the trees. This was the closest view I've had in the past three years.
As the eagle prepared to dine I was hoping it would stay facing me.
Unfortunately, the eagle faced the west as it consumed its lunch. It didn't look back until it was finished.
Spring time is definitely the best time for backyard bird photography. As usual the hummingbirds are the main attraction, but there is also a steady stream of songbirds returning from their winter habitats to go along with the usual year-round residents. All you need is some suet, seed, and and a bird bath and you're in business. If possible, place the feeders and bath close to a window in your house, and that becomes a convenient and comfortable blind where you can relax with a cup of coffee and listen to your favorite music while waiting for the birds.
The Chestnut-backed Chickadee is a year-round favorite. Early spring is the best time to photograph it before it becomes bedraggled from the breeding season.
The House Wren was a surprise newcomer to my yard this spring. A couple of years ago I had a short-term visitor that spent a week filling up one of my nest boxes with sticks. it disappeared in a week probably because its mate found another address for her nest. This year the House Wren stayed, nested, and raised two broods before heading south.
The Chipping Sparrow is one of my favorite yard birds. It's one of the last to arrive and the last to leave. I finally got to see it feeding its young on July 17 and then it was gone.
The Pacific Slope Flycatcher is an early arrival and mainly heard but not seen as it forages in the shadows of my yard trees. It just wouldn't be right if I couldn't hear its regular peep every day during its stay.
The Northern Flicker is another favorite yard bird as long as it refrains from drilling holes on my house. There was a time when there was a lot of pecking on my wall, but not lately.
I never realized the male Purple Finch was such a showboat until this year. I'm not sure who he was trying to impress, but I certainly was.
Apparently, his hi-jinks can also erupt into a vigorus aerial display, but I haven't seen it yet.
I can't recall seeing a Common Yellowthroat in my yard, and I still haven't. This one was taken at the Nanoose Creek estuary in late May.
Water is the essence of life. We can't live without it and neither can the birds, and just like us, the birds need their regular showers or baths.
Clean feathers is not just about good looks. It's also important for flight.
Surprisingly, the Chipping Sparrow was one of the most frequent bathers.
One of the more secretive bathers was the female Black-headed Grosbeak. I only saw her twice during the summer and that was late in the day.
My most secretive yardbird is the Western Tanager. I've only seen it three times all summer so I'm not even sure if I can claim it as a regular yardbird. However, it is often heard so I know it's around.
The White-crowned Sparrows practically live at the bath.
Another infrequent bather is the female Yellow-rumped. I saw her in the bath twice this summer and never saw the male at all. Maybe they use the bath while I'm still asleep.
The Orange-crowned Warbler is definitely a frequent bather. At first it seemed quite wary about the bath but once it discovered the joy of cleanliness it was in there several times a day.
Nothing superficial about this bath. It was definitely into the deep cleansing mode.
Humminbirds love the shower. Because they can hover they can just hang in the spray.
Once they discovered the fine spray by the hose nozzle they just couldn't stay away.
Most of them preferred the shower, but there were a few that didn't mind ducking their heads right under the bath.
I didn't even know I had Pine Siskin yardbirds this year until I saw one in the bath. it returned several times so I assumed it was one of the summer residents.
It's incredible that 80% of the Black Swifts in North America are believed to nest in BC, but very few people even know of their existence and only a handful of nesting sites have been discovered. Part of the reason is the mysterious behavior of the birds and their choice of nesting habitats. They aren't often noticed because they are usually soaring high in the heavens. Like other swifts they can fly forever and are never seen perching in the open. As well, their nesting sites are often far from human accessibility, and they only return to the nests when it is almost dark. In Colorado many nesting sites have been discovered in narrow, steep-walled canyons barely accessible to humans. In California the first nest was discovered in a secluded cave on a seaside cliff. Another reason is our lack of resources both in financial support and in skilled, rock-climbing birders or scientists who would dare to explore the dangerous, precipitous terrain where the swifts choose to nest. Ironically, there are many people with the financial resources, skill, and courage for the task, but they would sooner challenge Mt. Everest or risk their lives on El Capitan in Yosemite National Park than explore for Black Swifts. In Colorado resources were also skimpy, but thanks to the intrepid, persistent, and death-defying pioneering efforts of Al Knorr and a few others since 1949 many nest sites have been discovered, and an ongoing program continues to monitor and search for new nest sites.
On June 9 I went to the Englishman River estuary hoping to find a Common Merganser with a parade of ducklings but not a duck of any species could be found. I wasn't too disappointed as I knew the chances of finding them were slim. First of all there might not have been any on the Englishman this year and secondly, I was only looking at a small stretch of the river. While I stood enjoying the morning sun a swallow-like bird swooped by across the river. I looked up and saw about two dozen Black Swifts soaring and swooping just above my head. The black colour; long, slim, scimatar wings; and forked tails were unmistakeable for Black Swifts. (Although they resemble swallows they are actually more related to hummingbirds.)
For the next 20 minutes I frantically tried to focus on the speeding swifts as they jetted around above the river and adjacent art gallery fogaging for insects. It was most frustrating to lock onto an approaching swift and have it veer out of view just as it was getting close enough for a decent shot. Eventually the swifts moved further down the estuary, and I watched in admiration as they finally drifted out of sight.
Later as I viewed the photos on the computer I was quite pleased to see several decent images. However, to put the credit where it belongs I'm tipping my hat to the folks at Nikon. It was amazing how well the auto-focus locked on at the tiny mosquito specks in the sky and continued focus track until the birds were close enough. As well, I was shooting at ISO 1000 and f 7.1 and the well-cropped photos were still quite presentable.
In a previous journal I described my pilgrimage to Ouray, Colorado in 2017 to view the Black Swift nest in Box Canyon Park. It was in in third week of June and still a bit early for the swifts, but I was in luck. There was one nesting swift at point blank range near the waterfall. I had to return to my car for a smaller lens before I could take some pictures then I simply stood and admired the bird for a few minutes. My journal attracted the attention of Thor Manson who is a excellent birder from the Okanagan but now living in Arizona. Thor contacted me for information and defied the summer heat to make the trip in late June, and the same swift was in the same nest which is a testament to site fidelity for the swifts. Thanks for the update, Thor.
Birders love all birds, but they can be fanatical about vagrants and/or rare birds. A case in point during the Citrine Wagtail in Courtenay - I met a birder from Pensilvania. He didn't find it on his first trip so he had to come again. Lori Smith's Hermit Warbler on Mt. Washington wasn't that rare but it was a lifer for more than a few from VI and the mainland.
Who's Lori Smith? She just happened to be a novice birder who drove into a side road on Mt. Washington and found herself face-to-face with an amazing little yellow bird. Just as I've done she shot first (with her camera) then contacted some birders about her find. It was confirmed to be a Hermit Warbler then posted to some bird sites. The rush began immediately and for the next week Lori was the first up to proudly help locate her bird.
Thank you Lori. Thanks for finding it then helping others find it.
We arrived at Mt. Washington at about 9:30 am when the bird was nowhere to be seen, but Lori ressured us that it would appear. based on her optimism we stayed and sure enough, the bird appeared at 10:30 am.
While waiting for the Hermit Warbler a Yellow-rumped momentarily distracted us.
On the way home from Mt. Washington we stopped at Bucaneer Beach to check for sandlance and eagles at low tide. We found neither. Our consolation bird was the Great Blue heron.
I think it flew into the shallow water by the exposed sand to look for sandlance.
It soon discovered that there was nothing around and flew off to look for a better location.
It had been a few years since I've encountered a squadron of nighthawks swarming over the treetops in a feeding frenzy. It is a sight that always mesmerized me, and I was again entranced as the birds swirled gracefully through the sky. I spotted the birds just south of the Redgap when I was driving to buy some groceries. Coincidentally, it was just down the hill from the area I last saw them on the north side of the highway by Arbutus Meadows. It was all part of the southern slope of the hill that rose from the highway, and it seemed to be a popular area for nighthawks to forage.
When I checked my emails on June 26 I was incredulous. I had not one but two separate emails about a white raven in Coombs. Many years ago I had dubbed the Qualicum region the White Raven capital of the world thanks to the annual production of white ravens for about 20 years. But, there hadn't been any documented sightings since 2014, and my assumption was that the producing pair of Common Ravens had outlived their reproductive years. However, I did see one fly by in Nanoose Bay last year, and I met another person who said he also saw one. There was no way of knowing if those were new white ravens or survivors from past years.
I was anxious to find out if the current reports were about a newly fledged bird or an older one. I quickly called Patricia Kroot who just happened to be the sister of a good friend. She confirmed that the bird had been seen several times on her Winchester Road farm, and we would be welcome to visit. I placed a second call to Shiray Raines who operates Butterfly World which is also on Winchester Road. Shiray had also seen the bird several times in her yard and invited us out to visit.
The next day my wife and I headed for Butterfly World where we met Shiray. She took us to ber backyard and we immediately saw the white raven fly out. It was too quick to get any decent pictures to analyze, but I was thrilled just to see another white raven. Next we headed for the Kroot farm which was on the northern end of Winchester. Although we'd never met, Patricia welcomed us like long lost friends. She explained that she and her children, Katie and Jeremy, had seen the white raven several times with its two black siblings and thought that they were probably born on or near her property. Unfortunately, none of the ravens dropped in while we were there so I decided to return the next morning.
We arived at 10:30 am the next day and were delighted to hear that the ravens were around. Jeremy took us to the tall fir tree in the field and calmly reported, "It's here," as he pointed to the tree. I caught up to him, and there it was indeed sitting quietly and in plain view on a lower branch. I quickly took a bunch of shots before it eventually it flew across the field to a cherry tree. It was too quick to get any decent flight shots but we did see it close up in the cherry tree. It was behind some leaves so we gave up and returned to the house and for some chatter about the white raven. From the photos the fleshy gape of the raven was easily seen to indicate that it was indeed a newly fledged raven. So, was the original pair still producing or was there a new pair of white raven parents? Of course, no one knew.
Back to the bird at hand, Jeremy and Katie thought it should be named "Albi" for albino. I explained that the blue eyes meant it was leucistic and suggested the name "Lucy." We all had a good laugh. None of the names stuck and by default we ended up referring to it as Whitey.
It was great to get a nice portrait shot of Whitey, but I wanted more. I decided to return the next morning and was delighted to see that no other visitotrs were around. As usual Patricia greeted me with her cheerful demeaneor and mentioned the ravens were here. I quickly set up my camera and tripod and headed out past the cows to the fir tree. I could hear the ravens in the heart of the tree but couldn't see them. I picked my spot and waited. After about 10 minutes one of the black ravens emerged and flew out to the forest behind me. Shortly after the second black raven followed. I waited expectantly for the white raven to be next. I didn't have to wait long. It flew out, but instead of following the black ravens it landed in the maple tree beside me. For the next half hour I had many peek-a-boo close-up shots. Several times I was too close and had to back up while it seemed content to pick at sticks and pull up loose bark. Eventually I heard the other ravens returning and saw them land on the small barn roof. I knew the white raven would soon follow so I tried to get in position for some flight shots. I was still too close as it flew right over my head towards the barn. I had trouble locating it the lens but finally locked on just as White was landing. I was just in time to catch the raven putting down its landing gear as it was descending. After some sibling greetings the black ravens flew to the other side of the barn white Whitey stayed on the roof inspecting and pulling up pieces of moss. Eventually it joined the other two on the ground by the pasture fence. After another half hour I checked my counter and noticed that I had taken 470 shots. I decided it was time to quit and left the ravens still playing in the field.
It was interesting to note that Whitey seemed to spend more time alone than its siblings. The two black ravens definitely spent more time with each other. Did the black ravens exclude Whitey at times or did Whitey sometimes prefer to be a loner? I wasn't surprised to see Whitey alone because I've seen the same situation in the past.
Landing gear down as Whitey prepared to land on the barn roof.
The white raven didn't seem to mind being alone when its siblings flew off.
It entertained itself by pulling at branches and anything else it could grasp.
It seemed to be most satisfied when it pulled loose some bark, a stick, or a clump of moss.
The black and white ravens seemed to get along just fine, but the white raven seemed to be the odd one out most of the time.
By about July 12 the white raven had stopped returning to the Kroot farm. I heard a report that it was seen at Milner Gardens and another report that it flew over Jack's house at Fairwinds. Yes, it is spreading its wings, but was it forced to leave or did it leave on its own volition? Will it be accepted by other ravens as they flock to feeding sites or will it be an outcast? Was it the product of the original breeding pair of is there a new breeding pair? And will it survive the winter or succumb to the elements?
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.)