Fall is truly one of the most exciting times of the year for birding. Southern and tropical birds that have gone north for their breeding season often stop to rest especially if they experience inclement weather, our winter resident species return with their new offsprings, and it is the best time to find a vagrant or two. Of course, each year is different and the variety and abundance of species seen is unpredictable. For example, the number of White-throated and Harris's Sparrows and Palm Warblers was down significantly from past years. However, it is the return of our winter residents that is most comforting and reassuring in terms assessing the impact on our biodiversity and environment. A decline in the number of species and/or the abundance of any species would be a major cause for concern.


I used to stop at the Courtenay Airpark every chance I got, but visits in the past few years have been few and far between. No excuses - it was mainly the lack of interest and effort for birding in general - a malaise that seems to be self-correcting itself. Anyways, I did stop a couple of times in the past two months and was reminded of its potential for birding and photography. I was also pleased to encounter a few photo opportunies as well as two former birders and rogues from the past, Art ? and Rick Hilton.

Oct. 1 - Our local breeding Orange-crowned Warblers were long gone as well as those that had nested farther north so it was treat to see an Orange-crowned foraging in an alder. It's not unusual to see a late Orange-crowned since its western population winters just down the coast in California.

Another sure sign of fall is the sudden influx of Savannah Sparrows. Although there is a small local breeding population the huge flocks seen along the shorelines are breeders and juveniles from farther north.

Large flocks of Cackling Geese are also common in the fall. Most only stop to feed on their way to south of the border, but there seems to be an increasing number that stay for the winter.

We are at the northern end of the Lincoln's Sparrows winter range so I consider myself lucky just to see a couple every fall.

A male Downy Woodpecker was very obliging as it meticulously forage on every branch and twig on a nearby alder.


I would be sadly disappointed if our expected ducks and seabirds didn't return because they form the core of my winter photography. Thankfully, most of our winter species have been seen.

Oct. 16 - One of my favorite duck and warbler sites is at the Morningstar ponds.because they host a variety ducks and songbirds. Although it is often difficult to get the right lighting, the ponds are small enough to provide reasonable record shots and some occasional close and/or interesting shots. The Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal standing together on an almost submerged was an interesting shot. The Shoveler is usually a winter resident while the Blue-winged Teal is normally a migration stop-over.

Canvasback Ducks are another migration stop-over although some may stay around during mild winters. There is some indication that this will be a mild winter.

The Green-winged Teal is one of my winter favorites. Juveniles, females, and non-breeding males are very similar so I can't tell you what this bird is. I'll have to consult an expert like Derrick Mathews if I want to know.

There is no doubt about these Green-winged Teals. The closer one with the dark rufous head is the beautiful male.

Oct. 30 - Deep Bay has always been one of my favorite locations for sea ducks and sea birds. It is the best location for Long-tailed Duck photography on the island, but there often many other opportunities including Harlequin Ducks. Like many othe species the Harlies often fly past the spit on their way in and out of the sheltered harbour. The male Harlie is one of our most attractive species.

Without the females there wouldn't be any ducks so we must also include females like the Surf Scoters above.

October is also migration time for salmon, and the sealions are ready for some easy feasting. Gulls are always on the lookout for sealion activity so they can clean up the fish scraps left behind while the fish is being shredded into bite-sized chunks.

A rare sight- In all my years of birding I had never seen a Common Loon in flight. It was all a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Since Oct. 30 I've seen two.

As mentioned previously, I'm strictly a novice regarding bird plumages. My uneducated guess is that this is a juvenile moulting into adult male plumage, but it could also be an adult in eclipse plumage. Help!

This is more like it. These three males have already molted into their breeding plumage in preparation for next spring.

Last year I was surprised to see two Pacific Loons working their way into French Creek at high tide. From the mouth of the creek they dove and foraged almost to the two forks of the creek. I was more surprised to see the situation repeated this year by a lone Pacific Loon.

On my first effort I was happy to get fairly decent shots of the bird, but I wasn't satisfied. I wanted a closer, full frame shot.

I kept an eye on the loon for the next hour and finally I waited near the washroom as it headed my way. It dove and suddenly popped up right in front of me. I got one good shot before it turned around and headed the other way.


The white raven has long been a subject of fascination and intrigue and each year the narrative continues to grow. In some years I've been privileged to be invited to observe and photgraph them on private property, but in other years like 2020 it was strictly up to chance. The first report I received was from a local news reporter about a sighting and photo in Bowser. This followed up by an email from another Bowser resident who spotted the raven at Buccaneer Beach. It was a single which suggested only one white raven was born this year. A couple of weeks later the same person informed me that the bird was photographed at the Big Qualucum hatchery. Previous to that I had intended to check out the hatchery because I knew the fish were spawning and that meant carrcasses were being dumped at the mort pit. News of the photo prompted me to finally visit the hatchery on Oct. 27.

Oct. 27 - The mort pit is just spot up the road from the hatchery where carcasses are dumped after they are stripped of eggs and milt. For the first hour all I saw were black ravens. They were all cautious and didn't venture near the pit while I was present.

Finally a pair of ravens flew in from the west and one of them was white. The overcast sky wasn't conducive to good photos, but I was happy just to see the raven. The two ravens appeared to be engaged in some good-natured play-fighting.

The play-fighting continued for about five minutes before the white raven landed on a tree top to rest. A few minutes later the black raven returned and the jockeying continued. The actually landed near the mort pit, but when I moved they took off and were never seen again. I actually returned on two different occasions, but never saw the white raven again nor have I heard any reports since.

It was definitely worth the effort to catch up with the white raven. Over the years it has become one of my rituals and bird stories that I love to pursue. I would love to see the white raven survive the winter and live another year, like most years it has disappeared - its fate unknown. If we're lucky there will be a new chapter in 2021.


Like most birders I'm happy to see any bird and the more the merrier. Vagrants are a special treat, but if it is a once in a lifetime mega-rarity, it's almost like winning the lottery. Even more special is when you are the first to discover the bird. Your name will be indelibly etched into the record books. Getting to the point, here's the tale of the two Common Pochards - a bird that is normally found in Europe and Asia.

On Nov. 14 intrepid birder Jody Wells stopped by the Summit Reservoir in Victoria to view some Redhead ducks he had heard about.

One of the Redheads didn't quite look right. It had a white patch on the top of its bill. His suspicions were verified - he had discovered what might be the first ever Common Pochard seen in Canada. Previous sightings had been reported in Quebec and Saskatchewan, but none had been accepted as official records.

One of the problems with official records is that it sometimes comes down to a subjective vote, but for now we are considering Jody's male Common Pochard as the first in Canada. Once again, CONGRATULATIONS, JODY!

A week later I had to deliver some books to Victoria. I remembered from past experience with a Ruddy Duck that the reservoir was surrounded by a six foot chain link fence topped by barbed wire. I made a note to put the stepladder in the car. Summit reservoir just happened to be on my delivery route and left home early to make time for a visit. With the aid of the ladder I enjoyed unobstructed views for decent photos of the bird.

Finding a mega-rarity is a once in a lifetime event. Finding two mega-rarities would be impossible wouldn't it? But, this is the year that two planets aligned - Jupiter and Saturn - so expect the unexpected. Flashback to June 26, 2006 when I was photographing pelagic birds off the coast of Tofino. I managed to photograph what I thought was a Common Nighthawk. It turned out to be a Lesser Nighthawk - the first ever sighting for BC and the second for Canada - my first discovery of a mega-rarity.

Fast forward to Dec. 23, 2020. After not finding any Kingfishers to photograph at French Creek I decided to look for warblers and ducks at Morningstar. It must have been too cold for warblers because I didn't see any so I turned my attention to the ducks. One of the ducks looked distinctively different - possibly a Redhead or Canvasback, but there was a white slash across the bill that was intriguing. The duck kept its distance but after 30 minutes I had enough record shots to study. I headed home to download and check the photos. I googled Redhead, Canvasback, and Pochard but was still mystified. Then I tried female Common Pochard. Eureka! There it was, a bird identical to my photo. Within a month of the first Common Pochard seen in Canada, I had found another. Make that two mega-rarities on my resume!

I emailed Mark and Guy for confirmation but couldn't make contact so I tried Jody in Victoria. He replied almost immediately to confirm my suspicions. It was a female Common Pochard.

While I was still waiting for Mark or Guy, I received an email from Melissa requesting details and photos to post on birdalert.blogspot.com. Within minutes the information was available to everyone.

I returned to Morningstar at 3:30 pm and was happy to see Mark, Sam, Cathy, Guy, Derrick, Dave, and a few others enjoying the duck. Unfortunately, at about 4:45 pm a Bald Eagle flew in and flushed all the ducks just before the arrival of my neighbour, Greg. I was actually focused on the Pochard with ISO 800, f7, and -0.3, but in the fading light that was still too slow for an action shot. In a way, it was quite fitting for a blurry shot since the duck disappeared in a blur.

On that note I'm going to call it a year. I wish you all a healthy, successful, and birdy 2021. The only advice I can give you is expect the unexpected




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.)

















Port Hardy - MUSEUM


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