POST HERRING SPAWN TIME

The herring spawn has come and gone. Unlike past years I never encountered any mounds of decaying herring eggs on any beach. Some years the stench of the rancid eggs is so unbearable that you have to wear a mask to try to photograph Bonaparte's or Glaucous Gulls that didn't seem to mind the smell. This year there is nary a trace on most beaches and no reason for gulls or birders to hang around. The lack of herring eggs on the beaches was ptobable the result of a smaller spawn or the lack of turbulent weather or both.

Apr. 12 - Another sunny April day - I couldn't resist taking a last look for any lingering flocks of ducks fueling up on herring larvae before the migration to their breeding grounds. I searched the coastline from Nanoose Bay, but the usual spots around Parksville and Qualicum Beach were desserted. Finally at the east end of Bowser I spotted a raft of 5or 6 hundred Surf Scoters. The only access to the beach was on private propert so I took a chance and walked down the driveway to see if I could get permission. Luckily the homeowner was in and kindly gave me permission to enter.

Just as I was setting up and the ducks were in perfect position pandemonium ensued. A Bald Eagle flew in and and the rustle of wings was almost deafening as the ducks flew out.

We waited for awhile and had a pleasant visit with Kathy and Len, but the ducks showed no sign of returning. That was our cue to move on and head for Tidal Taco for our consolation prize - a delicious fish taco.

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As a bonus while having lunch a Great Blue Heron decided to fly by and land close by.

The heron saw all the people dining on the picnic tables and decided to chow down as well.

Just one last stop at French Creek before heading home. My target was the Common Loon in breeding plumage. There was no sign of it at the front of the marina so we drove around to the back by the Coast Guard station. The loon was there diving regularly. That gave me a chance to set up and sneak to a goo vantage spot while it was underwater. I was disappointed that it emerged with no prey, but the angle was good, the light was good, and the loon was dressed in its Sunday best.

Back home the conditions were ideal to do some hummingbird photography - bright filtered light from the afternoon sun. That usually gave me about an hour and a half to enjoy the hummers.

I had planted 3 bulrushes in a bucket of sand next to the feeder and waited. I didn't have to wait long. The females were in a nest-building mood and action around the bulrushes was steady. My goal was to capture an image with the colourful neck feathers highlighted on the females. Without the bright sun casting a harsh shadow of the bill I had a number of decent results.

The same was true for the males. There was no shortage of opportunities as a number of males came regularly to the feeder. Judging by the difference in the number of green feathers on their backs, I had at least 6 males in attendance. Using the ratio of 1 cup for 50 hummers I had close to 200 hummers in the yard.

Flight shots were available when the hummers were feeding. Most of the hummers perched on the feeder while drinking the nectar, but there were always a hyperactive few that preferred to hover.

96% of my hummers are Rufous and only a few are Anna's. However, they all seemed to get along and coexisted well around the yard.

Unlike the Rufous the Anna's did not hover while they were feeding. The only chance of a flight shot was that brief second of hesitation just before it landed on the feeder. This was my best shot in about a 100 tries.

The joy of spring is synonymous with the joy of the birds. The air is filled with song as the birds sing out to declare their nesting territories. One of my favorites is the Yellow-rumped Warbler that usually returns in early March for the breeding season.

Purple Finches are regulars in the yard from late winter on.

The gorgeous males are the perfect antidote to brighten up a dull winter. It was a successful nesting season judging by the many juveniles that have been visiting the feeder.

A new winter resident this year was the Pine Siskin. This year was the first time in many that a small flock declared my yard as their winter residence.

The Lincoln's Sparrow is an occasional visitor but always a joy to see. They tend to be more frequent during the winter, and spring sightings in my yard are quite rare.

No stranger is the White-crowned Sparrow. It has been a regular nesting species in my yard for many years.

TIME TO VISIT THE DENMAN EAGLES

Apr. 25 - Just like last year the Denman Eagles laid their eggs 2 weeks early, and they had just hatched. Not everyone agrees on the actual dates, but I am going with April 21 and 23 as the hatching dates.

Of course, you have to take the cable ferry to Denman so there's a good chance you'll see a few birds on the way. The Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage is always one of my favorites. A Pacific Loon also flew close by but I didn't have the camera ready for the shot.

When we arrived at Boyle Point we were greeted by the tranquil scene of Mrs. Eagle resting peacefully with one of the juveniles in front of her. As for the item on our right, the lobed toes suggest perhaps a Red-necked or Western Grebe.

Sometimes you have to wait awhile before there is any action. It helps to have a few other distractions to help pass the time. A male Rufous did its part by nectaring on the maple right in front of us.

Finally, some action. Mrs. Eagle hopped onto the grebe and started to prepare lunch while the babies waited quietly.

She carefully carved off bite-sized morsels that the babies could handle.

Eventually Mr. Eagle returned from his parental break.

He was greeted warmly by his mate who was anxious for a break.

It was Mr. Eagle's turn to care for the eaglets.

Mrs. Eagle wasted no time leaving the nest and headed for her favorite sentry tree where she could watch for intruders and look for potential food on the water.

Eagle hygiene is important. Mr. Eagle loves to clean his bill on the snag right in front of us.

Mr. Eagle was hunting for midshipman fish over at Bucaneer Beach and returned with his catch.

Mrs. Eagle looked up with approval and baby eagle was also happy. Fresh fish is their favorite food.

Over at Bucaneer Bay the usual midshipman feast was on. Scores of eagles perched on every boulder next to the shallow tidepools while just as many lined the treetops along the shoreline.

There were a variety of dining habits. Some preferred the seclusion of a treetop diner.

Others were content to dine on the closest rock.

Life is good! With food aplenty there was reason to celebrate.

of course, not every eagle was celebrating. Some were watching the tidepools from a distance. Treetop viewing had the advantage of covering a wider area.

In between feeding sessions there was always time for socializing.

Can't forget the family - this one is for the kids!

This one was just right size for a quick snack.

RANDOM SHOTS

Juvenile Pine Siskin waiting for its turn at the seed feeder

A Redhead Duck stopped at Morningstar Ponds for a brief visit during the spring migration.

After several years a Chestnutback Chickadee finally took possesion of a nest box to raise a family. Carrying food to the nest is a good sign that there were offspring to feed.

Providence Farm proved to be a lively place for birds. Birdhouses were attached to every post along the driveway housing a variety of tenants. Swallows of several species filled the air. It was difficult to find one that was perched, but a Barn Swallow finally obliged.

My main target was the Cliff Swallow. I watched them building nests on the main building then decided to look for their source of mud. Just down the field one of the irrigation pipes had a leak creating all the building material the swallows needed.

The swallows had to jockey for space at the mudhole. There were a few squabbles but nothing serious, and every bird got its share.

May 11 - It was shorebird migration time. I didn't spend much time looking and was lucky to see a pair of Greater Yellowlegs at French Creek.

One of the joys of migration is the variety of migrants that pass through my yard. The handsome and stoic Townsend's Solitaire is always a treat. The have been regular migration stopovers for many years.

The Cassin's Vireo is another favorite. This year they sang from the trees for about a month before they were silent. I always interpreted that as their family time when they were raising their young, or had they just moved on?

I know the Violet Greens didn't move on. I put out extra nest boxes this year and was able to entice three pairs to stay. The best time for photos is when they are collecting nest material from the garden.

I always make sure there are a lot of grass and weed cuttings available for their nests. I also planned to collect feathers for them but that plan was never executed. I think of it every time I see the swan molting on the golf course.

For some reason the Chipping Sparrow is one of the last migrants I see in the yard. I know it's around but it only seems to appear when it's really hot and it needs a drink.

It was a banner spring for American Goldfinch. At least four bright males hung around for several weeks, but I think all but one pair has moved on.

The Blackheaded Grosbeak is another favorite nesting yardbird. The female always seems the most shy so I was happy to get her picture on the first day it returned.

The male Blackheaded Grosbeak seems to be a regular feeder visitor - at least when I'm watching.

The surprise of the year was when I spotted a Hutton's Vireo at the water bath. It was the first I'd seen in 118 years.

The Band-tailed Pigeons are no strangers to the yard. They clean up anything that hit s the ground which is a form of rodent control.

May 13 - I finally yielded to my affinity to shorebirds and made not one but two trips to Tofino. Neither day turned out to be sunny, but it wasn'raining and the shorebirds were around.

On the first day my wife got a shock when she entered the parks office to see a blonde draped around my neck. I was just in the process of giving fellow birder Cathy Carlson a big hug when my wife walked in. Fortunately, it was a public place with other people around so I didn't have do too much tap dancing.

Despite the dull weather it was a joy to see an abundance of shorebirds. On the first visit most were Western Sandpipers, but there were also many Sanderlings in their breeding decor.

A few Dunlin were also on hand and unmistakeable with their black bellies.

Semipalmated Plovers were also scattered around doing their choreographed routine running a few feet then stopping to snag a worm.

It was difficult to avoid the Westerns. They ran around in bunches just a little more unpredictable than the Semi-plovers.

A surprise shorebird was the Pectoral Sandpiper. Just as I was ready to leave to of them showed up.

May 27 - It was late for shorebirds but we found a small bunch of Sanderlings with a few others mixed in. The best bird was a pacific Golden Plover that my wife found.

The plover kept its distance but provided good record shots.

May 19 - It was a bit late in the year but Krista Kaptein was still reporting Vaux's swift at the museum chimney in Courtenay. They never came close on a previous visit so I thought I deserved one last try. Only 5 or 6 swifts showed up, but the lighting with the sun at my back was perfect and reasonable record shots were achieved.

In past year up to 500 swifts would appear, but only a few appeared this year. They may have come on days when no one was watching, or it may have been a bad year for survival.

May 26 - The Pacific Loon in breeding plumage was a photo I desperately needed to upgrade. I thought it was too late in the year but the week before at the swift watch Russ Peterson said he had seen over 50 in a feeding frenzy offshore. That was all I needed for an excuse to check out the fisherman's wharf in campbell River. I had seen them there during the winter so why not now? My hunch paid off when my wife spotted three just east of the wharf. Unfortunately, they were just too far away for photos unlike the Bonaparte's Gull that dropped in an caught its lunch.

We spent two hours waiting for the loons to come closer but they didn't finally I decided to try my luch from the shre at the end of the parking lot and that paid off. One loon had separated from the group and was foraging close to shore.

NEXT JOURNAL - MORE RARE THAN KERMODE BEAR.

YES, THERE WERE TWO WHITE RAVENS BORN THIS YEAR

ALSO A BUTTERFLY STORY

EXTINCT FOR 101 YEARS BUT RE-DISCOVERED ON CORTES ISLAND.

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Bird Poster

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.)


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