November 14, 2013 by Rokman61
October is another month of transitions from summer to winter.
I find the autumn vistas particularly appealing. (Click on photos for larger view).
This cute little Douglas Squirrel, aka Chickaree, was taking advantage of the autumn bonanza of maple seeds. The Chickaree is our native tree squirrel, found only along the Pacific mainland. Interestingly, it is not present on Vancouver Island, where the wide-ranging Red Squirrel occurs instead.
Here is a holdover from the warm summer months. Surprisingly, a lot of these big dragonflies were on patrol on a sunny day Oct 3rd. I believe the blue one is a male, and the brown one a female. I thought the late date for flying might enable me to identify the species, but that didn’t help at all.
The Wooly Bear caterpillar is a common critter characteristic of late fall. Curious about why I only see them at this time of year, I consulted Wiki. It turns out that they hatch from eggs in the fall and over-winter as larvae. Since they have quite a northern distribution, they often freeze solid – how tough is that! The adult form, the Tiger Moth, emerges in spring.
On the birding scene, migrants were still passing through.
The Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is a Siberian species that migrates south to Asia and New Zealand. A few first-year birds show up on our side of the Pacific every fall, but The Fraser Delta area is the only place that they can be reliably seen every year. For this one I could only get close enough for a ‘documentation’ type photo.
When shorebirds are passing through there are always a few Peregrine Falcons to chase them around.
Sparrows of several species are another abundant fall migrant.
This is one of my favourite sparrow-like birds, the Lapland Longspur. The little guys nest on the Arctic plains right across the northern hemisphere. I have a fond memory of a visit to Tuktoyuktuk and hearing them singing energetically from perches along the village streets.
A fairly rare visitor to our area is this Great Egret. We seem to get one every few years, and sometimes they hang around for an extended period – this one for more than a month to date. The best I could get were a few ‘documentary’ photos.
Whilst searching for the Egret, I came across an assemblage of perhaps a hundred American Coots, busily gleaning goodies from the gloppy marsh water. I was wondering what term would best describe such a group: is it a covey? a congress? a crowd? a conglomeration? a collection? a concentration? a council? a convention? a commune? Whatever, lots more than a couple.
One of the most spectacular nature shows is the annual arrival of perhaps 70,000 Snow Geese from their nesting grounds on Wrangel Island off the coast of Siberia. They literally fill the skies and herald their presence with a cacophony of cackling in their Russian accent. (Click for sky-full view).
Such magnificent creatures they are, so elegant on the wing.
Regally statuesque on the ground.
This month I had another encounter with Cackling Geese (see Sept blog for more about this species). This time about a hundred of them dropped into the marsh right next to a busy highway. Note the single Wigeon duck – which provides a nice size comparison.
Here comes another one now.
As you can see, they come in a remarkable range of colours.
A(nother) nice comparison of Cackling and Canada Geese.
The Willet is a large plump sandpiper that is very rarely found in our area, except when one takes up winter residence. One such bird appeared 16 consecutive years at the base of the Tsawwassen ferry jetty, until it failed to show up at its usual haunts in fall of 2012. Meanwhile, a second Willet appeared very sporadically near the White Rock Pier over the last several years. I discovered what is likely this individual back in August near the base of the Pier where it has remained at exactly the same spot ever since. Here it poses like a monarch overseeing its domain.
This month not one but three special birds made appearances on the White Rock waterfront. The second one was this Franklin’s Gull I found on October 5th. This little gull is a prairie nester, and each fall a few young birds wander into our environs. This was the first one I have seen in White Rock.
But the star of the beach trio was this Black-necked Stilt, discovered not by me but by a visitor who poached this beauty right in my backyard. This handsome wader is a real rarity, showing up in our area perhaps every 5 to 10 years.
This bird stayed in the same convenient place for several days, allowing many photographers to get fine shots. It was so tame that at one point it came so close to me that I couldn’t fit its feet in the frame.
At times however it seemed to show some displeasure at all the attention. Here I’m getting the stare down.
This dainty little Bonaparte’s Gull was busy foraging on the eelgrass along with the Stilt and the Willet. The colour on the wings indicates that this is a first year bird.
Late in the month I had occasion to make a brief trip to Victoria on Vancouver Island.
A family of seven River Otters were frolicking near the shore, but wouldn’t let me get close enough for good photos.
Even at this late date (Oct 27) a few big dragonflies were still zipping about, probably unaware that their days were numbered.
Harlequin Ducks are so sleek and impeccably groomed they remind me of painted decoys.
A little group of Surfbirds at roost was a nice treat. These wintering shorebirds prefer rocky tidelines, so are much less common on the marshy shores on our side of the Straight. The lower bird in the first photo is a Black Turnstone.
Back on the mainland: one can never pass up a chance to photograph an owl, even when the lighting is terrible.
We didn’t use to expect to see hummingbirds in the winter, but in the last decade one species has moved in and become a common local resident. The Anna’s Hummingbird is a remarkable story: it does not migrate, but from it’s centre of abundance in California it has been spreading northward and has reached all the way to Alaska. In the 70’s it was fairly rare in our area, gradually became more widespread and common, and first showed up in our yard several years ago. Now we have at least one resident coming to our feeder every day.
The males perform territorial displays at all times of the year. The bird begins its dance by hovering about 2 or 3 metres above the ground for a few seconds. It then slowly rises straight up until just a speck in the sky. From there it suddenly dives straight down with lightning speed. At the bottom of the dive it puts on the brakes with wings and tail feathers, making a very loud chirping sound. I hear this often, but only occasionally get to see it. Trying to photograph the bird in the air is a challenge: it’s rather small for the camera’s autofocus to pick up, and it doesn’t stay put for very long. Here is the best I have gotten to date.
You probably didn’t notice that I did not include the usual image of a Great Blue Heron in my last blog, nor in this one – so far. Here are two for a catch-up.
More October coming next.