Just a few photos and happenings to clean up, and I'll be in the right season. Topics include the Bald Eagle nesting season, Wrens in the house, the mysterious Pacific Slope Flycatcher, a flurry of fledglings, and fall migration.
Regarding the above photo, notice the black lump below the eye of the House Wren. It is probably a tick so I hope the wren is immune to lymes disease and survives the loss of blood from the tick. Actually, a quick google on the internet reveals that birds can suffer tick paralysis leading to the gradual destruction of the respiratory system and death for the bird. If you are able to captured a ticked bird, removal of the tick often leads to rapid improvement and survival. Unfortunately, I never intervened so I hope the wren survives on its own.
Because of COVID I decided not to venture over to Denman Island for my annual visits to the one of the best viewing sites of a Bald Eagle nest. For the past few years the eggs were laid around early March, and hatched around mid-April. But, this year the female didn't lay her eggs until late March - two weeks later than the last few years. The variation in the timing of the reproductive process is a question that remains unanswered. My best theory is that maybe it's a new pair of eagles with a different mating schedule. Meanwhile, I did get a Bald Eagle nesting fix right at French Creek. I didn't spend much time there but did stop whenever I had a few minutes to spare and was able to document a few milestones in reproductive schedule.
The Bald Eagle nest at French Creek was instrumental in assisting the local FRENCH CREEK CONSERVATION SOCIETY in securing the agreement from the private landowners to dedicate 17 acres of sensitive creekside Douglas-fir as a nature and Bald Eagle Park. The Bald Eagles and their nest served as the mascot and poster child for the successful campaign by the French Creek Conservation Society. The small forest at French Creek is known as one of the most productive Bald Eagle habitats on the coast. Besides housing several viable Bald Eagle nests, the forest is also a popular winter sanctuary for many transient Bald Eagles.
Kudos to the FRENCH CREEK CONSERVATION SOCIETY for their persistent efforts that resulted in the preservation of property and the formation of the park.
The nest tree near the entrance to French Creek marina has been productive for several years and this year was no exception. Because the nest was near the top a fir tree I had no idea when the eggs were laid, but I guessed it would be around mid-March based on the past two years. When I stopped to look on April 30 I wasn't surprised to see two fuzzy heads peering above the rim of the nest. They looked to be about ten days old which meant that the eggs were laid in early March. In the meantime, the egg on Denman Island still hadn't hatched.
May 9 - Most of the fuzz on the eaglets have now disappeared.
By June 4 the two eaglets were almost the size of the adults. The success of both eaglets was a sign that they had sufficient food. When food is scarce the older and larger eaglet hogs most of the food and the younger eaglet can be deprived of the required nutrition to survive and sometimes subjected to siblicide.
With the eaglets almost at full size, the parents didn't mind leaving them alone for short periods of time. However, one of the adults was always close by just in case an intruder got to close. As well, under the supervision of eagle guru, David Hancock, the eagle nest in the above photos was relocated to a suitable tree in the forest because its current tree was in serious decay and required removal.
Around mid-July I stopped to see if the eaglets had fledged. I only saw one of them sitting on a branch above the nest. Before I could pull out my camera it flew towards the creek. I waited for about 10 minutes but it did not return. Shortly after I spotted one of the fledglings sitting beside the creek probably waiting for a parent to feed it. A week later I saw a juvenile sitting on a stump at the creek mouth. A week later most of the eagles in the area were gone. They had migrated north to their favorite salmon spawning streams where food was more plentiful.
Two weeks later it wasn't just the eagles that were gone. The nest tree had been diagnosed with serious decay and had to be removed. Fortunately, the property owners were agreeable to paying the cost of installing a new nest location under the supervision of eagle specialist, David Hancock. So far I haven't seen the new nest, but the important factor is whether the Bald Eagles will accept their nest relocation.
LATE FLASH - Apparently the Bald Eagles have chosen another tree for their nest, but who knows? They may change their minds.
In 2005 I was visiting my daughter who was playing for UBC in a volleyball tournament. In between games she had a two hour break so I suggested that we go visit the Great Gray Owl. In preparation for my visit I had checked the yahoo bird site an noted that a Great Gray had been spotted on campus behind the research buildings. My daughter thought I was kidding but decide to humor me and off we went - the blind leading the blind. I knew there were some research buildings on the south side of the campus so that's where we headed. We parked and proceeded to the back of the building and walked towards the forest right to the Great Gray Owl! My daughter was amazed and so was I. The bird was awesome and unperturbed by our presence. We took some photos then looked at each other still in a state of shock. The owl was fantastic, but just as fantastic was the fact that we even found it. In fact, Mark Wynja, a serious birder told me he looked for the bird several times unsuccessfully. Birding and serendipity - one and the same!
Ever since the Great Gray event my daughter has greeted me with with, "Let's find an owl." It was no different when she came for a visit on Sept. 11. I told her to be patient and maybe the owl will come. It was warm that evening so she decided to sleep in her tent in the back yard. The next morning she was awakened by the barking and hissing sound outside her tent. She peaked out and was delighted to see not one but two Barred Owls! She stayed for three days and so did the owls. Birds and serendipity.
By house I mean yard, and by bird I mean House Wren. The Rufous Hummingbirds are my favorite returning yard birds, but the House Wrens are a solid second. Like the hummers the wrens winter in the southern US and Mexico, and like the hummers they are the epitome of perpetual motion. Their non-stop activity and cheery vocalizations add a ton of life and energy to the yard and hours of amusement and enjoyment.
I saw my first House Wren of the year on March 10th, but it only appeared occasionally. I wasn't sure if it was passing through or a returning yard bird.
On May 4th I got my proof. A wren was seen regularly at the lavender patch collecting twigs for a nest. I watched it several times while it collected twigs on one side of the house then flew to the garden or adjacent cabin while furnishing three different nests. Apparently, the male builds several nests for its mate. The mate then chooses the most satisfactory nest and homemaking proceeds.
Around late June the nest becomes a frenzy of activity as both parents are busily foraging and collecting a variety of insects for the rapidly growing nestlings.
Spiders appeared to be the most common prey but anything that moved was fair game.
It was amazing how quick the adults were. Quite often they would return within a minute of leaving the nest, and it was not unusual for one to wait until the mate finished delivering its meal to the nestlings.
I'm not sure who is in charge of removing the fecal sacs or poop from the nests, but with 3 or 4 nestlings producing a regular supply of poop, it definitely needs to be removed. With no poop contractor available one or both of the adults is tasked with the chore. I'm not sure if they flip a coin or play jung, can, poo.
On July 8th I arrived home and noticed an unusual silence around the garden. A quick peek at the wren nest box told me the answer. The wrens had fledged. I was disappointed that I had missed the event but happy to think that the nest had been a success.
Later that afternoon I went down to my woodshed to get some lumber. Half way there I spotted some birds in my lumber pile. I returned to the house and traded my wheelbarrow for my camera. The fledglings stayed within the shelter of the lumber while their parents brought food for them.
Eventually the fledglings emerged and flew to the riparian edges of my neighbour's fence.
For the next week the parents continued to look after the fledglings, but after that the fledglings were on their own. For the next three weeks I made it my morning duty to go down and check on the fledglings. They continued to stay in the same area but their range continued to expand, and I would only see them occasionally. My last sighting was on July 29th. I imagined that they were carefully making their way south, and I quietly wished them a safe journey.
I look forward to the gentle peep of the Pacific Slope Flycatcher every spring and summer, but it is a bird I have rarely seen. Occasionally I would see it flying down from a low perch to grab an insect from the ground. If I tried to approach it would quickly disappear. Like many summer breeders it winters in Mexico and is an abundant breeder along the west coast to northern BC. I neglected to record when I first heard the Pac-slope in my yard this spring but it was probably in April.
May 13 - Not surprisingly, the first opportunity I had to photograph a Pac-slope was in the shade on a low branch beneath a giant arbutus tree. Like I said, it is a bird I have rarely seen in the sun.
In the evening on June 16 I was weeding my lavender patch when I noticed some activity at the far end of my fence. It was a Pac-slope working its way towards me. It flew down and grabbed an insect at about 10 foot intervals until it was right in front of me. ( The gray colour of the bird was the result of the low evening light.)
To my surprise it was joined by another flycatcher. It was a juvenile coming to be fed. After feeding they both disappeared in the bush. The next evening decided to see if flycatchers would show. I was pleasantly surprised to see the same scene repeated.
Two and a half weeks later I was looking for my House Wrens when I spotted a Pac-slope flying into a cedar tree. I watched carefully and pin-pointed its location. Almost hidden from view was a juvenile waiting impatiently to be fed.
The parent arrived with a mouthful of insects, and carefully fed the superfood to its offspring.
Several times the parent landed on a nearby branch and foraged for insects withing three meters of me.
The Pac-slope had no problems finding insects. It would catch a mouthful of insects before heading off to feed its offspring.
The next day I returned but the Pac-slopes had changed their location. I caught a glimpse of one on the neighboring property but did not try to pursue it. That was the last time I saw the Pac-slopes in my yard.
Quite often when you are photographing one species you also have the opportunity to photograph other species. In fact, the Pac-slope in the previous section were collateral birds while searching for the juvenile House Wrens. While focusing on the Pac-slopes there was stream of other species passing through the same forest opening.
A large flock of Bushtits had been passing through my yard regularly for the past week. They seemed to follow the same counterclockwise pattern around my yard including a regular visit to the garden. It was no surprise to see them show up while I was checking out the Pac-slopes.
There were at least two dozen little acrobatic gray birds in the flock as they mobbed the shrubbery in front of me. The ones with the dark brown eyes the males and white irises were the females. The delightful chaos usually persisted for about ten minutes before the mini-mob moved on to the next feeding frenzy..
Berry pretty - It was difficult to miss the juvenile Western Tanager that suddenly appeared. It was carrying a tasty looking treat which appeared to be a raspberry from the neighboring farm. The flesh gape indicated that it was recently fledged.
Recently fledged? - Some bird activity in a Nootka rose thicket caught my attention. I watched carefully and was surprised to see scraggly greenish yellow bird. It was a little Orange-crowned Sparrow that looked like it was only fledged a few minutes ago. July 24 was very late for a fresh fledgling, and that suggested it was in a second brood. However, I think I read somewhere that Orange-crowneds only have one brood. Enlighten me if you have more information.
A new yard bird! The surprises kept coming. The next visitor was McGillivray's Warbler - a first for my yard. I foraged for a few minutes in a nearby black cap bush before diving into the forest.
A Creeper treat - It's always fun to see a Brown Creeper creeping up a tree systematically probing every nook and cranny with is slender down-curved proboscis. Most of the time it goes right up the trunk, but this little one decided to check out one of the branches.
Mystery bird - The most mysterious bird in my yard is the Hutton's Vireo. For years I enjoyed its calls from the trees and forest, but it was only this year when I actually saw one. In fact, I actually saw several as they were working their way from the neighbor's property onto mine. Notice the blue feet. That distinguishes it from the Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Fall migration for shorebirds begins in July when the adults head south from their northern breeding grounds leaving their offspring to fend for themselves. The returning birds usually exhibit worn and tattered plumage with fading signs of their breeding plumage. Most only stop for a brief time on Vancouver Island before resuming their journeys to the southern US or as far as South America. The eastern shores of Vancouver Island are not mahjor staging areas for shorebirds like Boundary but there are always a few shorebirds that stop by our estuaries and mudflats.
One of the first returnees is the Greater Yellowlegs and French Creek has been a popular stopping area, The worn plumage is typical for an adult that has just survived the ordeal of parenthood.
The yellow legs betray the identity of the adult Least Sandpiper. A slight hint of orange on its shoulder is the only sign remaining of its breeding plumage.
Oyster Bay mud flats is one of the best shorebird on the eastern side of VI. It was July 17 when I photographed this non-breeding adult Pectoral Sandpiper.
Two months later in the same location I photographed this juvenile. Its plumage is still quite fresh - colourful and untattered. It did capture a fairly large aquatic worm, but the worm was too big for the Pec to handle so it was released.
Large groups of Semipalmated Plovers migrate along the west coast of the island, but we are lucky to get a few.
Sanderlings are another scarce bird on eastern VI. They are numerous on the west coast during migration where a few flocks stay for the winter.
Birds of a feather stick together. Shorebirds like to stick together even if they aren't the same species. The Semipalmated on the left and the Western on the right stayed together during the hour I was present. The plumage on the adult Western is quite worn but it still has some of its breeding colours and black markings on its chest.
It was a treat to enjoy a pair of migrating Whimbrels at Admiral's Lagoon. Like many shorebirds, they are uncommon here.
The best thing about shorebirds is that they are fairly confiding and allow for fairly close views and photography.
A spotless Spotted Sandpiper - For the beginner it is confusing to see a Spotted Sandpiper with no spots. Only the breeding adults have spots. The photo is a juvenile Spotted at Admiral's Lagoon.
Migrating Long-billed Dowitchers usually stay together in small flocks. Thery are usually so busy probing the mud for food that they don't notice you.
It's always refreshing to see the bright colourful plumage of the juvenile peeps. Of course, it shows up better on a sunny day. The two Western Sandpipers above would be much brighter if it were sunny. The next photo was in the sun.
The bright rufous scapulars easily define the juvenile Western. Unlike the breeding plumaged it does not have black markings on its chest.
The sun doesn't make much difference for the Baird's Sandpiper. It doesn't have much colour in either plumage.
The Last Least - It was unusual to see a Least Sandpiper, but it was still at Deep Bay on Nov. 20. It was also unusual to see it by itself since flocks of Dunlin were in the area if it need companionship. We don't often get to see one in winter plumage.
Our most abundant winter shorebird is the Dunlin. It is rather drab in the winter but undergoes a dramatic transformation during breeding season.
Shorebird special - The Whimbrel is uncommon for the east side of the island, but the Marbled Godwit is even more uncommon. Thanks to Cathy Carlson, two were located at Deep Bay for about a week. I was there on October 17 and had to walk half way to Denman Island to see the godwit at low tide. It was worth it!
How long will it stay? As of December 14 the lone Whimbrel was still enjoying crabs au naturel at Deep Bay. Meanwhile, the rest of its flock is enjoying the sun and warmth along the coast of California.
Actually, the Whimbrel is not by itself. It is enjoying the company of a Black Oystercatcher. I've seen them several times foraging together. Perhaps, the oystercatcher is hosting the Whimbrel for the winter.
Dec. 18 - Only 18 days late, but "hooray" done before Christmas.
Christmas and New Years best to all of you.
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.)