February 2013 – more winter visitors

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February 14, 2013 by Rokman61

A hundred years ago, Trumpeter Swans were nearly hunted to extinction for their feathers, which provided (among other things) the very best writing pens.  Once they were afforded protection they gradually began to recover.  When I first started birding, catching sight of a few of them was a special treat, but now they are quite common in our area.  Each winter there is usually at least one big concentration that spends several weeks picking over the remains of a particular carrot or potato field.  The group featured here, as many as about 400 strong, were conveniently located right between two major highway routes.  They allowed on-lookers to watch them play in the mud, whilst serenading the gallery with their constant mellow vocalizing.  A treat for eyes and ears.  (Click to enlarge images).

Swans Trump flock 20132.02.06 pan

Swans Trump crowd 2013.02.06 7346

These are BIG birds – North America’s heaviest.  Note how they tower over the dainty little Mallards.

Swans Trump x2 2013.02.06 7363

This is a youngster, born last summer.  Digging in the mud, as might be expected for any normal kid.

Swan Trump imm 2013.02.06 7352


Teals are small ducks, one species of which winters along our coast by the thousands.  As it happens, they are also abundant across northern Asia and Europe, where they looked slightly different.  In most years we see one or two individuals of the Eurasian variety, like this one.

Teal, Common 2013.02.08 7486

Here is a comparison of the Eurasian ‘Common Teal’ and our North American ‘Green-winged Teal’.  Most authorities consider them to be two separate species, but in America they are deemed to be one and the same.  So, when we find a rare Eurasian individual, we can’t even count it as another tick on our List!  And some think birding is a trivial game, without much of a challenge.

Teals Com and GWT 2013.02.08 7479


Although millions of shorebirds (sandpipers and the like) of over 30 species migrate through our area, only a few varieties spend the winter with us, like these Long-billed Dowitchers on patrol.

Dowitcher L-B x4 2013.02.07 7447

The remarkable bill on these birds is stiff, as might be expected, except for the tip, which is soft and rather prehensile, which allows the bird to probe around for juicy morsels in the deep mud.  Dowitcher L-B 2013.02.07 7444


One day we noticed this critter lying on the edge of our lawn/forest, calmly chewing its cud.  This young Columbian Black-tailed (Mule Deer) stag first appeared in our yard nearly a year ago – the first deer we had seen in nearly 19 years on the property.  It paid several visits along with a sibling(?) sister, then disappeared for about 6 months.  Nice to see him again, if only for this cameo appearance.

Deer Black-tail yard 2013.02.07 7401

This is what he looked like on previous visits, in April and then in July, 2012.

Deer Black-tail young buck 2012.04.21 2581

Deer yard buck velvet 2012.07.30 4634

Oh what tale this fellow might tell about how he lost a piece off his antler!


Eagles are so common in winter that I usually pay little attention to them.  But when one presents itself for a photo op through the car window, it’s hard to resist.  This one is an immature, so lacks the white head and tail of the adult birds.

Eagle Bald imm 2013.02.13 montage

Interesting contrast in the patterns of light and dark between the sharply defined breast feathers and the subtle mottling in flight feathers.

Eagle Bald imm 2013.02.13 7617


By the end of February the numerous Short-eared Owls had largely moved away from the foreshore meadows around Boundary Bay.  With so much constant foraging they must have seriously reduced the population of their prey item, the fat little meadow voles.  Meanwhile I tracked this one down a few kilometres away, right beside the railway line to the super-port.

Short-eared 2013.02.27 7708


When I was a young lad, one of the favourite comic heroes was ‘The Phantom’, who wore a a tight hooded suit and a tiny mask with elongate eyes.  

Phantom screen shot

I’m reminded of him by this Northern Harrier.

Harrier fem 2013.02.27 7709


Sandhill Crane, a very close view.

Crane feathers 2013.02.27 7687


Hermit Thrushes nest in the mountains north of us, and are commonly seen when migrating through the lowlands.  Some overwinter, but they are so few and reclusive that I often don’t see any at this time of year.  Here is one that presented itself in plain view and obligingly hung around for a photograph.

Thrush Hermit 2013.02.13 7590


More waterfowl.  A large population of Snow Geese nest on Wrangell Island in the Arctic Ocean off Russia, and winter in BC, Washington, and California.  Some tens of thousands spend the late fall in and around Reifel Refuge, fly south to Washington for about two months in mid-winter, then return to spend more time at Reifel before heading back to Russia.  Interestingly, a smaller and separate population spends the entire winter around Richmond and the Vancouver Airport.  The adults are mostly white, with rusty staining around the face from foraging along the tideline.

Goose Snow ad 2013.02.15 7635

The youngsters have more dusky feathering.

Goose Snow imm fly 2013.02.15 7633


If you were asked to name this duck, would you say ‘Ring-billed Duck’?  Or maybe ‘Ring-faced Duck’?  Or ‘Eye-ringed Duck?  Keep going . . . it’s a ‘Ring-necked Duck’.  Go figure.  It turns out that the bird is actually named for a rather thin, subtle, maroon-coloured collar on the drakes, not present on this female.

Duck Ring-neck fem 2013.02.27 7684

I caught this duet of Pintail drakes practicing their synchronized swimming routine, presumably prepping for the upcoming Spring Waterfowl Competition.

Pintails tipping 2012.03.27 7692


Change of pace:  foam on water.

Foam on water 2013.02.27 7720


I’ll finish with a few that are not winter visitors but full-time residents.  First the almost-requisite Great Blue Heron.  These birds seem to tempt fate and occupy the most conspicuous of perches, as if they have nothing to fear.  With that big dagger-like bill up front, they probably don’t!  I suspect that not even an eagle would take on a healthy heron, although apparently they do pick off unguarded nestlings on occasion.

Heron GB on stump 2013.02.27 7731

The Song Sparrow is one of our most common and under-appreciated songbirds, due to it’s sheer abundance and lack of garish colours.  Yet they are handsome, sprightly, and very vocal.  One has been singing in our yard nearly non-stop for the entire month – a pleasant treat for the dreary winter season.

Sparrow Song 2013.02.07 7438


Northwestern Crows don’t migrate, but when they are not nesting they congregate in specific locations to roost for the night.  As dusk approaches, crows can be seen by the hundreds streaming towards their roost site.  One well-known and documented roost in Burnaby is estimated to contain as many as 10,000 to 30,00 birds!


So late one afternoon Norma was driving along in south Surrey and realized that she was literally surrounded by crows.  In the air, in the trees, and lined up on wires and buildings.  The next day she took me by to observe and photograph the event.  It was indeed a happening.  Here is a trickling of them, with Mount Baker visible in the distance.

Crows gather 2013.02.19 7641

More . . .

Crows perch 2013.02.19 7644

And more . . .  Crows fly 2013.02.19 7663

I made a rough guestimate of 2,000 to 3,000 birds.

Crows gather 2013.02.19  7653

Occasionally a large sub-group would rise and swirl around as a compact cloud or ‘murmuration’, then re-alight, often in a slightly different location.

Crows murmur 2013.02.19 7674

As darkness approached, they gradually moved into an area of low trees and scrubby brush, and eventually disappeared from sight.  G’night guys.

Crows gather dusk 2013.02.19 2017675


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