As if the challenges of covid-19 weren't enough, the second half of 2021 was rocked by a trio of devastating weather disasters. First it was the heat dome with unprecedented high temperatures that claimed almost 600 lives in BC, fried agricultural crops and accelerated the forest fire hazards. As for nature, the heat was also unbearable for some nesting birds causing them to abandon their nests, and the massive destruction of ecosystems and wildlife from wildfires was catastrophic. According to forestry records 1,610 fires razed 868,203 hectares (2,145,376.3351 acres). Before recovering from the wildfires the November series of pineapple expresses and atmospheric rivers saturated the earth causing, landslides, washouts, and flooding. Roads and railway lines were destroyed crippling transportation and supply chains to the coast. Whole towns had to be evacuated and the Sumas prairie was underwater causing massive crop and livestock losses. As I write the losses are still being tallied, but early estimates of 7.5 billion dollars of damage makes it the 5th most expensive natural disaster in the world for 2021. To top it all off there wasn't much good cheer in December as the Christmas deep freeze brought several days of record lows causing pipes to burst and roofs to leak. Plumbers were in demand 24-7 and roofers were booked into April. Wildlife damages haven't been quantified, but recovery centres had their hands full just tending to suffering Anna's Hummingbirds.
So what do the all the natural disasters have to do with my lack of attention to this website? Nothing, but I was just as concerned and empathetic as anyone else. We were fortunate not to be impacted seriously by any of the three events (except for the higher taxes we'll all have to pay). However, we did suffer a few minor inconveniences from the heat dome like having half our raspberry crop cooked on the vine and our total pea crop baked in the shell - signs of the future problems for agriculture? During the atmospheric river our main road was under water but only by about 10 to 15 centimeters and still safe to navigate in the car. I was more concerned about the salmon, eagles and other birds that relied on the carcasses of spawned salmon for their annual early winter sustenance. Meanwhile, a whole generation of salmon was probably lost in rivers and streams that were scoured by the raging waters wiping out the spawning beds and eggs. The flood waters had barely receded when we were warned of the impending deep freeze. Like everyone else I prepared for the by adding extra insulation to my external taps, placing two incandescent light bulb near my water pump, and placing another bulb under my hummingbird feeder. Sadly I did find a dead female Anna's but the rest of the flock seems to have survivied.
During the heat dome there were reports of birds abandoning their nests because of the heat. I never checked my nest boxes to see if there were any casualties from the severe heat. Birds that fledged prior to the late June heat wave were unaffected, and I was happy to see a number of fledglings at the suet feeder begging for food. Like indentured slaves the frazzled parents tirelessly did their best to accommodate their voracious offspring.
Cute but demanding. The baby Chestnut-backed Chickadees fledged in late May and early June.
No rest for the weary. The parent was a mess trying to look after the fledglings while neglecting her own wel-being.
No matter how many times it was fed, the fledgling still wanted more.
The chickadees were followed a week later by the Bushtits.
The Red-breasted Nuthatches arrived at the same time as the Bushtits.
A week later on June 10th I spotted the White-crowned Sparrow feeding its fledgling.
Keeping cool at heron school. It was June 24 just as the heat dome was ramping up. A congregation of herons caught my attention. There was over a dozen and some left as I tried to get closer for a photo. My best guess is that the adults were teaching the fledglings how to fish.
During the heat wave hydration was a major concern for the birds including the Northern Flicker.
Another regular at the bird bath was the male Purple Finch.
It was early June when I visited a former school mate in Duncan. She had swallow boxes on her lawn. The Tree Swallows were busy flying in and out of the nest boxes feeding their young.
Aug. 4 - A great way to escape the heat was to head for higher elevations. It was still hot but not as sweltering as sea level. Of course, the other reason for heading up to Mt. Washington was to check on the butterflies. The butterfly season at sea level was very short thanks to the heat wave, but it seemed to be fine in the mountains. The combined efforts of four friends produced 19 species for August. Anna's Blues were abundant.
The Western Branded Skippers were on my wish list, and I was happy to find them in three locations. The species still hasn't been thoroughly studied, and I wanted to document them for as long as I could.
Aug. 10 - The striking Pine White is unmistakable with its black markings on a palette of white.
The beautiful Hydaspe Fritillary was also quite abundant and very accommodating for photos.
Sept. 23 - The end of the butterfly season was near. There were fewer butterflies and many were well-worn and on their last wings like this Hydaspe.
The only fairly fresh butterflies were the Zephyr Commas. I checked again on Thanksgiving weekend and never saw a single butterfly. Normally there would still be butterflies flying, but like everywhere else spring and summer were early.
Every year we let the volunteer sunflowers take over part of the garden not just for their beauty but also for the annual SUNFLOWER FESTIVAL which is celebrated by the birds feasting on the sunflower seeds. The usual cast of characters was in attendance - chickadees, jucos, towhees, nuthatches, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Song, Sparrows, goldfinches, and even a single Steller's Jay.
The tiny Red-breasted Nuthatches were the most fun to watch as they have no problem harvesting the seeds whether the flower is sideways or upside down.
The nuthatches prepared for the winter by storing food. As soon as they secured a seed they dashed off to their caching location then returned for more.
The goldfinch was another regular customer. It usually arrived with its flock and kept its distance from me, but with patience and persistence I got a few shots.
Unlike the nuthatch, the goldfinch dined in the garden.
Another regular and garden diner was the chickadee. It often grabged a seed and flew to a nearby perch where it grasped the seed in its claws and proceded to hammer it open with its bill.
The east coast of Vancouver Island is not known as a location for shorebirds to stop and feed on migration, but there are always a few regulars and occasionally a rarity or two. This year there were two rarities at San Malo mudflatrs. I was lucky to be there for one, but I missed the elusive Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.
Aug. 29 - The Black Turnstones are one of our regular winter shorebirds and they generally return from their Arctic nesting grounds in late August.
Another early shorebird is the Greater Yellowlegs, and they also show up in late August and occasionally stay the winter. French Creek and San Malo are two common locations for these birds.
It has been over a decade since I have seen a Ruff. It is a Eurasian shorebird that occasionally strays onto North America and is known for its bizarre and amazing breeding plumage and mating rituals.
Most of the Ruffs we see are juveniles with no resemblance to the breeding adults.
This one was sighted on August 29 at San Malo, and I was lucky to see and photograph it on August 30.
The Pacific Golden Plover is not considered rare, but it is definitely very uncommon.
The past few years have seen an increase of Whimbrels along our local shorelines. Last year one stayed well into the winter. at Deep Bay.
This year several were present from late April until late October at Columbia Beach.
The Sanderling looks quite white compared to the other small shorebirds. It is uncommon on the east coast of the island but common on the west coast where flocks are present all winter.
Rub-a-dub-dub - a Least Sandpiper in the tub at San Malo. As usual San malo was the best location to see sandpipers on the mid island.
The Western Sandpiper is among the most common sandpiper that we see in migration.
The Killdeer is a year round species locally, but during the fall the population is augmented by the presence of many migrants.
It was two years since I have seen the White-throated Sparrow in my yard. On Oct. 14 I was doing some garden cleanup when I stopped to watch a bunch of sparrows and other birds foraging under the sunflower plants. Two of the birds looked a little brighter and prompted me to fetch my camera. When I focused on the birds I was pleased to see they were White-throated Sparrows.
In the normal scheme of things the salmon migrate up the rivers to their spawning beds and lay their eggs to produce the next generation. The spawned salmon then expire and provide a bounty of nutrient for other wildlife such as bears, eagles, and gulls. It even helps to fertilize the forest as scraps are dropped by the bears dragging the carcasses into the forest. The carcasses are usuall available for several weeks to help other wildlife fatten up for the winter. Unfortunately, that didn't happen this year.
On November 5 I arrived at the beach access for the Little Englishman River around 10 am. My timing was perfect. The tide had just receded far enough to permit access, and I was the first to head out to the estuary. Along the way several salmon carcasses were landlocked in the sand, and in the distance I spotted several eagles dining on the treetops. Being the first out was important because the eagles would flush as soon as you got tooo close, and if anyone were in front of me the eagles would be gone before I had a chance to take any pictures. I approached the eagles as carefully as possible and took pictures after every 10 steps. As predicted, the two eagles on the first tree split when I was about 40 m away, but I did get the shot of the lift off.
The eagle on the second tree was still busy chowing down as I approached. This time I got within 30 m and got a few clear shots before lift off. I was happy to be able to capture the details of the fish like the gills, but being too close was problematic in another way.
The eagle did a vertical lift off, and I was too close to keep all of it in the frame. Furthermore, it flew towards me which made it even worse for getting a flight shot. So there was no flight shot, but I was happy with the tree shot so the cup was half full. I stayed around for another half hour but there were no other eagles close by and the weather was starting to change.
On my way back there was one more photo opportunity - Black Turnstones dining on a salmo carcass. I had never associated the turnstones with salmon, but why not especially when it was a free meal full of anti-oxidents, minerals, and other nutrients?
The weather changed quickly. Next day the first of the atmospheric rivers dealt spilled its load. The rivers swelled and became raging torrents. Two days later I returned to the Little Qualicum. The beach and river banks had been scoured clean. There was no sign of a single salmon carcass, and if there was, the next series of atmospheric rivers took care of it. The scene I had witnessed three days ago was the LAST SALMON DINNER for many eagles, gulls, and other birds. And traghically, the next generation of salmon had been destroyed.