More birds, Oct-Nov 2012

Leave a comment

December 1, 2012 by Rokman61

As the season changes, so does the resident avifauna.  Most of the long-migrating species have passed on through, and now we see the newly-arrived birds that will overwinter in our area.  Here are a few of them, and also a few of our full-time residents.

By late September, thousands upon thousands of Snow Geese are arriving on the Fraser Delta, a truly spectacular annual spectacle.  These geese are from a population that nests   on Wrangell Island, off the coast of Siberia, their arrival announced by skies full of skeins of birds honking in their Russian accents.

Here a handful of them are about to settle on a field specifically planted for them by the Canadian Wildlife Service.

I noticed this fall that there is an unusually high ratio of immature birds, which are duskier than the pure-white adults.  Presumably they had an exceptionally successful nesting season.  The young bird in the middle has particularly attractive markings.


Starlings are non-migratory, year-round residents, but their habits change drastically each fall.  By this time many of the widely-dispersed nesting birds have moved to open agricultural areas and gather into immense flocks.  Count ’em if you can.


Great Blue Heron – always one of the most easily photographed resident birds, and often an interesting subject.  I think I left it out in my last journal.


Pine Siskin.  This bird is a real wanderer, as entire populations move to and fro, sometimes right across the continent.  In some months there are very few, but this fall there has been a huge influx of them, and large flocks are showing up in many locations.  They feed on the tiny seeds of alder and birch, and they have just the perfect bill to do it.  Ouch!

By contrast, the bill on this Evening Grosbeak is sturdy and strong enough the crack the pits on the local wild cherries.


Trumpeter Swans have the distinction of being the largest birds in North America, slightly larger than the California Condor, and half again as heavy as a wild turkey.  About 50 years ago they were almost extirpated from our area, but the population has rebounded and now there are several thousand wintering in the region.  Their arrival flights always provide a stirring sight, with their majestic forms and musical bugling.


A little change of pace.  Crabapples, providing a splash of colour.


Northern Harriers are the most common bird-of-prey on the Fraser Delta lands, providing a target for the even more common bird photographers.  Most of the harriers are females or young birds with streaky brown plumage, so the striking black-and-white males attract the most attention.  This one is a young male, still retaining a bit of brown feathering.


I include this photo only because it so nicely illustrates the magic of digital photography.  This Great Horned Owl was roosting in the darkest imaginable corner of Reifel Refuge.  By setting the camera with very high ISO and slow speed, I was able to get a usable image.  If I had been shooting with film, it would have come out black.  On the left is the version that came straight out of the camera, and at right it has been massaged a bit with post-camera digital editing.

Unfortunately, no amount of post-camera wizardry can make a great photo if the original image is lacking.  This elegant little Northern Shrike was photographed at too great a distance on a very heavily overcast day, so the result just doesn’t have much zip.

Here is a closer shot of the same bird, this time in full song, and the lighting is even worse.  

Another Shrike, this one in much better lighting, but rather bland setting.

Shrike Northern wire 2012.11.27 6016


Bald Eagles are what birders refer to as a ‘dirt bird’, because they are just about that common here in winter.  But for most casual looky-loos and many photographers, they are THE SHOW. This rather average photo is not so much about eagles as it is about funky tree branches.


This Tropical Kingbird was our hot vagrant bird of the fall.  The northern end of its normal range is in southernmost USA, and it is one of the most common birds of the tropics.  A few trickle north along the Pacific Coast each year, and only very rarely get as far as Vancouver.  This bird hung around for some weeks and was easily located.  But every time I showed up with camera it chose to stay well away – I never did get a close shot.


November is often the rainiest of months here, and this year has been no exception.  I was spending more time in my woodshop, and contemplating the construction of an ark.  Then one morning I looked out the window to see bright light – the sun had actually appeared.  I grabbed my camera and took off for Blackie Spit.  The next five photos were taken on that day.

Wigeons are one of the commonest of our ducks, and they come in two versions – American and Eurasian.  Forty years ago the Eurasian species was fairly rare here, and it took some searching to locate one.  Nowadays sightings of birds like this pair of ‘Eurasians’ are no longer an uncommon occurrence.

The plumage mostly fits the Eurasian species, but hybrids also occur, and the green whoosh behind the eye is suggestive of mixed genes.

Wigeon Euro-hybrid drake 2012.11.25 5868


It is almost impossible to resist taking photos of any hawk that happens to present itself close by and in plain sight.  Although there is nothing particularly exceptional about this photo, it nicely illustrates the critical field marks needed to identify the bird.  There are two species of accipters (woodland bird-chasing hawks) in our area, namely Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk.  They look almost identical, so separating the two can present a difficult challenge.  For some individuals it may not even be feasible, but for young birds like this one, a clean front view makes the distinction a snap.  In Coop’s, the streaks on the lower breast are dark brown, narrow, and sharply defined, whereas breast streaks on Sharpies are rustier, wider, and more diffusely bordered.  The tail tip is diagnostic when you can see it well: on a Coop’s the tail feathers are graduated, with shorter ones on the outside.  On a folded tail, the central tips protrude beyond the outers, giving the tail a rounded shape.  Tail feathers on a Sharpie are more equal in length, so the folded tail appears square or even slightly notched.  I’ll let you decide which one we have here.


I find that crows are one of the most difficult birds to get a good image of – the sleek black plumage usually provides too much contrast against the background.  I keep trying and deleting nearly every shot.  Here is one of my better attempts to date.

Crow NW'ern 2012.11.25 5887

Warblers are insect-eaters, typically birds of the forest.  This perky little Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler caught my fancy because it was  hanging out on the rocks.  Clearly a discerning individual.


Each winter, one to several Black-crowned Night-herons show up at Reifel Refuge, where they are easily observed roosting during the day.  Interestingly, they are seldom seen anywhere else in the entire Province.  On day this individual chose to spend the day right above the walkway into the Refuge.

Heron Black-crown Night head 2012.11.,27 5983Heron Black-crown Night head 2012.11.27 6006T

I’ll end with a NAB (not-a-bird), an eastern Gray Squirrel, black morph.  This species is a very invasive, unwanted, and alien introduction.  Among other things it is displacing our native Douglas Squirrels.  They are not much welcome in our yard, and they seem to sense it.  I cannot get anywhere near without them taking off as if on fire.  For me it was most unusual to see one pose for a photograph, this one at Reifel Refuge.

Squirrel black Eastern Gray 2012.11.27 5994

Cute enough, but you can have them all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 46 other followers

%d bloggers like this: