Amid the corona crisis it is sometimes difficult to see a glimmer of optimism and/or joy, but there is always the beauty of nature to lift our spirits whether it be the blooming of spring wild flowers, a sublime sunset, or a sparkling rainbow on a dreary wet day.
Double rainbow over Nanoose Bay and the Notch
The NOTCH is the iconic landmark for the community of Nanoose Bay. It is the mini-mountain located on the north side of the bay and the backdrop for the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental and Test Range (CFMETR) which conducts torpedo testing and other equipment experiments. CFMETR is off limits to the public except during its annual open house, but the Notch is a regional park and a very popular hiking area. Most of the Notch is an endangered Garry Oak and Arbutus-Douglas-fir ecosystem and home to two endangered butterflies - Propertius Duskywing and Common Woodnymph and grammia complicata, an endangered tiger moth.
Feb. 19/20 - Female Common Merganser swimming downstream at French Creek. The creek is the regular year-round home for many Common Mergansers.
Feb. 19/20 - Just another eagle flying by. To visitors to the west coast the Bald Eagle is always an exciting sight, but to locals they are as common as a cup of coffee. There are many local breeding eagles, but from November to May the population is augmented by hundreds of migrants from the frozen north.
Feb. 19/20 - On my last journal I posted a photo of this male Long-tailed Duck in French Creek Marina. The rare marina visitor stayed in the marina for at least a week. I don't know when it left, but I'm sure it would have joined the massive rafts of ducks congregating for the herring spawn in March.
Feb. 20/20 - Deep Bay is the go-to location to photgraph Long-tailed Ducks. It is fairly common to see them diving about 30 to 50 m off the tip of the spit. Closer views are rare but patient photographers are sometimes rewarded when the occasional duck cruises close to shore. On this particular day I witnessed an event never seen before. A lone female was diving in shallow water about 5 meters from shore and only about 6 meters where I was stationed. Not only was it foraging closer than ever, it persisted for well over a half hour and was still there when I left. Meanwhile, the rest of the flock was keeping its distance about 30 meters out.
The dark ear patch on the duck is part of the moulting which sees the ligher winter plumage transist to the darker breeding plumage.
The Long-tailed is a diving duck capable of extended dives as deep as 60 meters. The duck arches its back up and dives in head first.
Another common species off Deep Bay is the Surf Scoter. I've never seen a White-winged or Black Scoter in this location. The adage "birds of feather stick together" seems to hold true most of the time for the three scoter species.
The clown-coloured bill of the Surf Scoter seems to reflect its easy-going, humorous disposition.
The Oceanside region is known as a major feeding area for the migrating Black Brant on its journey from Baja to Alaska. Many bulk up on herring roe before continuing north.
The Brant start arriving by early February and can be seen at beaches like Rathtrevor where they feed on eel grass and sea lettuce.
While the Brant like to get out of the water to dry off, preen, and relax, it is unusual to see them grazing on land. However, I have seen them grazing in the past when a pair over-wintered a Parksville Park.
As mentioned earlier, Bald Eagles are numerous during the winter. One of the prime locations for them to hang out is near the recycling and composting facility off Church Road. At times there aren't enough treetops for all the eagles so to have to play musical treetops and even share with the ravens.
What's the attraction? Would you believe butt-warming. Yes, besides absorbing radiant heat from the sun the composting pile emits its own share of thermal energy that is enjoyed by the eagles and ravens.
You don't have to look very hard to find an eagle resting on a treetop waiting for a photo shoot.
Quite often the eagles are content to rest for 20 or 30 minutes, but if you're lucky enough to find one that has just finished its siesta, keep your camera focussed.
This two year old teenager was just ready to head off to find a snack.
It's not often you can photograph the whole launching sequence. Most of the time the eagle flies away from you so you just end up with a lens full of tail feathers. In this case not only did I get the profile shot but it was also at eye level which was another bonus even if it wasn't a white-headed adult.
I just missed the shot of the eagle landing, but it was fun to see it trying to maintain its balance on a windy day.
The perch was a bit small for the over-sized bird and after a futile effort to maintain its balance it had to abandon the tree and try a larger one.
The composting and recycling area is also very popular for ravens. They occasionally try to harass the eagles, but they are mainly interested in trying to get their share of the food. Just like the eagles, the one with the food gets chased by others hoping for the free lunch. In this case the raven with the food found refuge right in a small tree right in front of me. I'm not sure what its prize was, but it did look tasty.
Duck season, eagle season, Brant season, and swan season - that's why late winter and early spring is so much fun for photography. After the eagle shoot my wife and I headed down a half kilometer down the road to the Silver Meadow farm. I drove by there last week and saw the field full of Trumpeters with Mt. Arrowsmith in the background but didn't have my small lens. This time I did and thankfully the swans and mountain were still there.
There were probably about 50 swans in the field. It is difficult to believe that they were once considered endangered species.
How do you take an interesting shot of a Cooper's Hawk sitting on a wire. You don't. Just take a close-up of the head and move on. Sometimes the hawk will sit there for an hour without moving anything except its head. If you do have the patience to wait for the launching or flight shot you chances of getting it are extremely small.
Herring is the foundation species for our marine ecosystem. Unfortunately, despite the diminishing abundance the annual DFO sanctioned slaughter continues. With every marine and associated species in decline because of the lack of herring there appears to be little concern by the DFO and fishing industry. Obviously the lessons of the east coast cod have been forgotten, and like the cod disaster the fishermen and DFO are in denial that they have anything to do with the decline of the herring.
The decline of the herring is reflected in the decline of many bird populations that depend on the herring to bulk up fat reserves for their lenghty journeys to their breeding grounds.
Dabbling ducks magically appear along the shorelines of the beaches to feast on the herring roe that has been dislodged and pushed to shore by the tides and waves. The declining abundance of spawning herring was reflected in the lack of mountains of roe fermenting on the beaches, but the ducks were there to gobble the roe floating near the shoreline. During the winter I only saw one Eurasian Wigeon, but during the spawn I saw 9. This looks like a pair, but the female has a black mark on the gape which suggests that it is a hybrid with the American Wigeon. A few dark feathers on the cheek are also signs of a hybrid.
Kissing cousins? Birds at close quarters often reuslt in a squabble of two.
I think the Eurasian thought he saw the American eyeing his girlfriend.
The American denied any interest in the Eurasian's claim and told him to practice social distancing.
It took a few manoeuvers to escape the other gulls, but this gull got away with its prize. Normally, if the gull doesn't drop its catch in the first 30 seconds, the other gulls give up.
The Barrow's Goldeneyes were among the many duck species enjoying the herring spawn.
The most numerous dabbling duck was the American Wigeon. They were flying everywhere. For every wigeon that departed, another would fly in and take its place.
The dark head of the female is typical of the American Wigeon and so is the black-marked gape.
A free-for-all herring roe feast.
Notice the lack of black gape on the Eurasian male. That's the way it should be with the female.
I was going dizzy trying to keep track of all the ducks flying every which way - there goes another flock of Northern Pintails.
The local population of Mallards exploded exponentially with the influx of others for the herring feast.
The Brant are the guests of honor during herring spawn. However, with the diminishing supply of herring roe the huge flocks were less evident possibly because they had to travel more extensively to find feeding areas.
We can't forget the iconic Bald Eagles. The herring are an important part of their diet prior to their northward migration.
For the most part the eagles are too busy with the herring to bother with the gulls which lulls the gulls into a false sense of security. That makes the gulls easy-pickins for any eagle that has trouble finding herring.
As a testament to the acute vision of the eagle it can spot a herring from a kilometer away and fly out to get it. The second eagle wasn't a security escort. It was hoping to share or pirate the catch.
The x-factor. How much herring is being consumed by the burgeoning population of sea lions? With their voracious appetites they must consume tons of herring. The possiblility of a cull isn't unreasonable.
I was at Columbia Beach when a herd of sea lions went into a feeding frenzy over a school of herring.
They were too far offshore for any decent photos - this was the best of about a 100 shots.
There goes another flock of American Wigeons looking for anothe spot to dabble for herring eggs.
I haven't mentioned the Dunlin, but they were quite conspicuous flying by several beach locations like the sandbar in Parksville Bay and gravel roosting spot at Columbia Beach.
I had always wondered if they enjoyed the herring feast, and today my suspicions were confirmed.
Gradually one of the flocks settled on the rock beach in front of me.
They proceeded to forage for the herring roe while I did my best to record event.
How's this for visual evidence that the Dunlin also take advantage of the herring spawn.
I kept my eye on a couple of Black Turnstones, but they weren't in the foraging mood.
Likewise with the Black-bellied Plovers. They just seemed content to relax along the shoreline.
Life goes on regardless of the herring spawn, and I was in for a surprise while I was at home. I was enjoying watching an female Anna's at the feeder when ...
Yes! My first Rufous of the year, and it was a female on March 16. That's four days earlier than any other year. This photo was taken the next day. I was surprised to see it collecting nest material one day after she arrived.
The herring spawn event that I was waiting for finally happened on March 18 when I discovered a large raft of ducks offshore north Qualicum. I conservatively reported a few thousand, but the total was probably closer to 15,000. However, first things first. My first task was to photograph the flocks of Harlequins along the shoreline.
As usual the flock scattered as I slowly walked past it to get the sun at my back. But, from past experience I knew they would return if I stood there quietly. It took about a half hour, but most of the Harlies did return.
It's easy to overlook the females in favor of the audacious males, but I followed protocol and made sure I got my female shot early.
Trying to get two birds in focus in the same shot is always a challenge. Fortunately, I had many opportunites and finally got one right.
Trying to get three in focus is another matter. I had to settle on two.
With the Harlies taken care of it was time to focus on the Surf Scoters.
Besides feasting on the herring larvae, it was also a time for mate selection.
The males outnumbered the females at least 10 to one which meant the females could be choosy.
It also meant that the males had to be at their best to impress the potential bride.
The Surf Scoters dominated the show, but when I returned the next morning I was fortunate to find a group of Black Scoters involved in mate selection. Just like the Surf scoters, the male Black Scoters had to impress the lone female.
The antics of the males were vigorous and hilarious, and the female seemed to enjoy every minute of it.
I would have loved to find more Black Scoters in action, but the group I saw was the only one I could find in two days. As for the White-winged Scoters, I didn't see any, but there were a number reported by viewers using scopes.
From the orient with love - our own Mandarin Duck!
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.)