The measure of my desperation is the number of photos I take from my kitchen window and in my general neighbourhood.. Between the inclement weather and domestic obligations photo opportunities have been few and far between, and the combination of cabin-fever and withdrawal was unbearable. The cure, of course, was to grab the camera and aim at anything around the yard or neighbourhood with feathers even under dismal lighting conditions.
However, I can't say there weren't been any sunny days or at least partial sunny days in the past two months. There were a handful reasonable days, and on two of those occasions I visited the location at Holden Creek in Nanaimo where Dave Baird and his friend discovered a rare Dusky Thrush. Apparently it was only the third to be discovered in the province and the first on Vancouver Island. It was a wonderful discovery and a fitting reward for the time and effort Dave has been devoting to birding in the past two or three years. Unfortunately, I wasn't rewarded for my two meagre efforts, but as the Yogi berra would say, "You can't win them all."
There were also a couple of sunny days that produced photographic opportunities. One provided a half hour "Thrush Rush" from my kitchen window and another featured the "Wild Goose Chase" to Campbell River.
I think it was August when I first noticed a American Coot at Fairwind's Five Pond. It usually foraged in obscurity close to the edges of the pond amongst the bulrushes and aquatic weeds. Normally, coots only stay for a week or two, but this was one that seemed to be here for the winter which was a first for Fairwinds. Just for posterity I wanted to record its presence, and that's exactly what I did on January 15, 2019. Since then we've had almost two feet of snow and many freezing nights. I haven't been to the course since the day I took the photo so I don't know if has relocated or is still present. I'll let you know in my next juornal.
Five Pond is relativelysmall, but it often hosts its share of aquatic visitors. On this day there were about twenty American Wigeons that spilled over to the seventh fairway while I was present, but there were still a few Ring-neckeds and Buffleheads along with the Coot in the pond. It has been a few years since I've photographed a Ring-necked, and it was time to get a few updated photos for my archive. I was hoping to see the ring on the neck, but none of the three males were cooperative so I settled on a group shot.
There was also a trio of Buffleheads - two males and a female. I wanted a photo of a male and female together for a project I'm working on. I waited for about twenty minutes with no luck. One of the males knew I wasn't happy, and to him it was funny. I didn't appreciate his duck laugh, but endured it all in good fun.
Springford's Farm is just 4 km from my home, and that's where we buy our delicious farm fresh eggs. It's also close to Wall beach which was a pretty reliable spot for seeing Barrow's Goldeneyes. I hadn't been there for a few years so one day just after I picked up two dozen eggs I slipped down to the beach. Just as advertised a group of about ten Barrow's were foraging close to the beach. With no cover to sneak up on them I simply used the slow and steady direct approach. They were certainly aware of my presence and kept their eyes on me. When I got as close as I could without flushing them I quietly planted my tripod and set up for a few shots. The bright afternoon sun at my back compensated for the lack of proximity and allowed for some decent shots. The Barrow's are one of my favorite ducks and it's always a joy to see them and even better to get a few shots.
Most birders on the Island know that MARS is the acronym for Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society founded by the late Maj Birch. They have been active in avian rescue and education since 1993, and it was a privilege to participate in several of their past events both as presenter and vendor. It had been a few years since I last visited them. The last was when they had captured a stranded Sandhill Crane and asked me if I knew of any other cranes on the island that it could be paired with. I hadn't heard of any but offered to deliver it to Reifel if they couldn't find any other alternative. To make a long story short, I picked up Ichabod early the next morning and was at Reifel by noon to see Ichabod released. I was hoping to get a few shots of Ichabod , but he shot out of the cage so fast that i didn't have time to focus. Other than an occasional photo donation to MARS' educational programs I haven't been touch. However, when they recently contacted me for use of a Northern Goshawk photo I had a chance to ask if they had a Western Screech Owl in for rehab or permanent care. I had never seen one in the wild so decided it was time to see one even if it were in captivity. I was in luck when they informed me they actually had two in permanent care because of various injuries, and I was welcome to visit them.
The MARS facility is located in Merville just north of Comox and trip there would provide a few birding opportunites. My plan was to stop at Deep Bay on the way up and then proceed to Campbell River to check out the cormorants on the rocks and anything else I could find. Deep Bay has often been my go-to location for Long-tailed Ducks, grebes, cormorants, and various other ducks. Unfortunately, this was not the day and a few distant shots of a red-necked Grebe was all that was available.
The shoreline south of Campbell River is often a good location for photographing Cormorants basking on the rocks. There were a few cormorants present but lighting wasn't great so I wasn't tempted to stop. My plan B was to check out Discovery Pier hoping for an alcid or duck. I was in luck for a duck as a pair of Surf Scoters were paddling next to pier. Although the angle looking down at the ducks wasn't ideal the lighting was excellent and so was the proximity for almost full frame shots.
With a couple of duck shots recorded on the memory card I looked for more bird activity. About twenty meters along the pier a Common Loon was busy processing a fish. I hustled to get close enough but was disappointed when I saw it tip its head up and swallow the fish head first. I watched it smacking its lips and was surprised to see it dive again. A few seconds later it emerged with another fish. This time I was ready and had no trouble getting a few decent shots.
Next I proceeded to the end of the dock where I spotted a distant male Bufflehead and a pair of Pacific Loons. I was particularly interested in the Pacific Loons since I haven't had any close looks for many years. Over a decade ago I used to see them occasionally close to shore at Blunden Point in Lantzville and french Creek. I waited patiently for the pair to drift closer to the pier, but they still too far away when one of them flew towards Quadra Island. The other continued towards me for about 30 seconds then decided to join its partner. I only managed a few distant shots of it taking off, but I was still happy just to see the pair. With the upcoming herring season the loons will be following the herring, but they generally stay too far offshore for any photos.
Oh, you were wondering about MARS. Yes, we did have an excellent visit with Otis, one of the two Western Screech Owls. Its handler was able to bring it outside and provide us with a lot of information about Otis and Western Screeh Owls in general.
The male Hooded Merganser has a marvellous crest that it can distort into many shapes. My favorite is the perfect round ball which is difficult to capture. Whenever I get a chance to photograph the mergansers I always try to wait for the round crest. My latest opportunity was at Craig Bay where the bridge crosses over the pond. Not only were the mergansers present but they were on the west side of the pond so the sun was at my back. The ducks were also heading my way but stalled every time a pedestrian walked by. Fortunately, there was a lull in the traffic and the ducks continued towards me. I'm not sure when the male produces its round crest, but I think it's when it is relaxed. With no distractions around it did some preening then taxied casually towards the female with its round crest.
With a few round crest shots achieved my next request was for a round crest next to the female. Despite my best effort to communicate my wishes to the male, it did not cooperate. The crest stayed flat when it was near the female.
A warm January generally means a cold February, and the weatherman didn't disappoint. Our first serious snowfall in a few years blanketed our yard with almost 24 inches of the fluffy white stuff. Fortunately it was the dry and light instead of the usual west coast wet stuff that can snap branches off trees and is a beast to shovel. As usual my first concern was to clear the snow from under a tree to provide a place for the Varied Thrush to forage. It didn't take long for the thrush to discover the bare earth, and within an hour there were a couple of thrush busy foraging. Another thrush-friendly support was a horizontal branch installed under my suet feeder. At one time I observered seven thrush waiting patiently for their turn at the suet. Some were in the holly tree and enjoyed holly berries while they waited.
With the location of the suet feeder beside the house it was only exposed to the sun for about 30 minutes a day when and if the sun was shining. For the first two days of thrush activity at the feeder it was overcast. The forecast for sun came on the third day when I awoke to blue sky. I crossed my fingers and kept busy until 2 pm when I expected the sun to be in the right position. I had my tripod set up next to the kitchen table about 10 meters from the feeder. I had to shoot through the glass window and hoped there wouldn't be any distracting reflections. With perfect sun and a constant run of obliging birds, I had a very satisfying half hour. Despite shooting through a closed window I was quite pleased with the results.
On Feb. 20 I received an email from my Campbell River friend, Brian Chard. There was a flock of Snow Geese at Tyee Spit and one of them was a dark morph or Blue Goose. The dark morph is a genetic aberration common along the prairie flyway but extremely rare along the west coast. I had never seen one so this was my chance. Fortunately, the weatherman was cooperative and the snow was no longer a factor. In fact, Campbell River had avoided most of the snow and only had a few inches to contend with compared to our 24 inches or Ladysmith's 40 inches. Under crisp blue skies the trip to Campbell River was enjoyable while we looked for Red-tailed Hawks along the way. With snow covering the ground we didn't expect an influx of migrating hawks, but we did see three of the expected regulars. After a pit stop and rolling up the rim at Timmy's we proceeded to Tyee Spit. It was Saturday and sunny so it was no surprise to see a ton of families in the park. With all the people it seemed unlikely that the flock would be around, but I put on an optimistic face and decided to take a walk to the end of the park. Half way there the flock flew in and landed on the small field encircled by the busy paved pedestrian path. Sure enough, one of them was black except for its head and neck. I hurried back to the car to get my camera worried that a dog would flush the flock before I got any shots. It didn't take long to set up an fire a dozen shots of the dark morph before I was able to relax. Fortunately, all the dog walkers had their pets on leash and the geese seemed relatively relaxed while foraging through the snow about three meters from the path. I took a few more shots at the dark morph then paid more attention to the rest of the group. There was one other adult, and it was a regular white Snow Goose. The other six were juveniles and three of them had lots of dark feathers on the back and sides and looked like they had the potential to be dark morph. However, according to the literature dark morph juveniles would be mostly dark all over and not just at the back.
This was my first experience with a dark morph goose, and it was a privilege to see and photograph the iconic genetic aberration. A dark morph Snow Goose wintering on Vancouver Island is extremely rare, and it's even rarer to see it on snow. I wouldn't have been able to see the goose without the alert so thanks, Brian.
This week it was Salt Spring and next week it will be Hornby - both for book deliveries and possible photography opportunities. The last time I was on Salt Spring was to photograph butterflies in 2015 when all the flowers were in bloom. What a change to see it blanketed in snow. The purpose of my trip was to deliver butterfly books to the Salt Spring Conservency. They have been very active in monitoring monitoring butterflies and have a new group of volunteers lined up for the coming season. They are the only Gulf Island that I am aware of that has an active butterfly monitoring program, and I applaud them on their efforts not just on butterflies but for all of nature on Salt Spring.
I had never been to the Salt Spring Conservancy facilities before but was more than impressed to see their sparkling and spacious new energy-efficient office and meeting building at Blackburn Lake. I know it's the volunteers that make an organization, but to have its own office spaces and meeting rooms is a tremendous advantage to simplify and facilitate operations.
Without any knowledge of bird locations on Salt Spring I settled on enjoying the quiet ambience of the island in the off-season. Of course, even looking around can stimulate an appetite, and that took us to a funky looking building with an oak tree growing out its roof. Appropriately the sign said "Tree House Restaurant," and we didn't need an invitation to enter. Despite its flexible canvas roof the rustic interior was warm and welcoming with tantalizing odors emanating from the kitchen. Local Salt Spring farm eggs with bright orange yolks, chunky local potatoes, maple flavoured sausages, and apple butter on thick-cut homemade bread hit the spot before we returned to Vesuvius Bay to catch the ferry to Crofton.
Our next destination was Duncan to deliver some books to Volume I Bookstore. Taking the long route to Maple Bay would give us a chance to check for Ruddy Ducks in Quamichan Lake. The last time I checked was 12 years ago when I counted over a 100 at the east end. I wasn't so lucky this time. The only ducks I saw were Common Mergansers, and the only photo opportunity was a pair of eagles on a snag.
Our final stop was Art Mann Park where the usual entourage of Mallards and gulls were waiting for their next meal. A single male Bufflehead kept its distance about 15 meters from shore and several Lesser Scaup were diving to the north of the rowing club float. Eventually one of the male scaups flew over to the boat ramp and swam close by to provide a full-frame photo.
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.)