December 4, 2013 by Rokman61
November marks the transition from ‘deep fall’ to ‘early winter’.
Our first real frost was early in the month.
As much of the landscape gradually turns to shades of brown and grey, local splotches of colour are ever more eye-catching.
This maple cultivar outside our window provides a reliable treat every autumn.
Bright red fruits of several kinds tucked into the hedge rows demand attention. They are generally called ‘berries’, but most are actually ‘pomes’, like this crabapple.
A close relative of this cultivar, our native Pacific Crabapple Malus fusca, provides the most important of all the autumn crops of red fruits. A host of songbirds feast on these little apple-etts until they are all consumed, American Robins being one of the most prevalent.
Another very abundant and prolific red-fruiting tree is the English hawthorn. Clearly these are not favoured by many birds, as they persist long after the native Pacific crabapple fruits have been harvested.
Here is another example of red fruits, this one unidentified, but certainly colourful.
On one of my favourite birding patches there is a lot of sandy substrate which harbours scattered clumps of asparagus. In spring I get a treat of several tasty succulent spears on each walk. I always leave some behind to continue the crop, but feared that the patch would be picked out, as I often see evidence where every single shoot has been removed. Not to worry; in fall the fronds turn a bright yellow and become very conspicuous, so now one can see that they are actually on the increase.
In stark contrast, the foliage of this vetch still remained bright green.
The flocks of Snow Geese that arrived in September take advantage of the bits of missed goodies in fields of harvested root crops such as potatoes and carrots. They show no hesitation for digging right in.
In winter we see more raptors (birds of prey) patrolling the fields of the Fraser Delta, the most abundant being the Northern Harrier. This one is a young male, the females being rusty-brown in colour.
No birder with a camera can pass up a shot of a Merlin. The cuteness of this little falcon belies it’s ferocity – it can take down prey much larger than itself. It’s like comparing an F-18 fighter jet to a Cessna.
Another fun game for the winter birding season is ‘gulling’. There are tens of thousands of ‘seagulls’ that winter on the Delta, mostly taking advantage of the city landfill (dump) and a nearby composting facility. Between meals they congregate to roost in huge flocks in large fields. The ‘game’ is to spot the rarity among the mostly Glaucous-winged Gulls. Let me know if you can find the one here with the bright yellow eye, or the one with pure white wingtips – I’m still searching.
The classy Northern Flicker is a type of woodpecker, fairly common right across the continent. On the west side of the mountains they show bright orangy-red feathers under the wings and tail – the ‘Red-shafted’ form. An equivalent ‘Yellow-shafted’ Flicker occurs to the east and north. The bird below is an interesting individual. The undertail feathers are distinctly yellow (not red), the face is brownish, and there is a red crescent on the nape. The Red-shafted form has a grey face and lacks the red nape. So this bird is a Yellow-shafted, a visitor from away. But note the dark red ‘moustache’: should be bright red for a Red-shafted, pure black for a Yellow. So this bird shows some genetic mixing. Such ‘intergrades’ are atypical but not particularly rare. A good bird for ‘Movember’.
Rarity-of-the-month was this handsome, northern-breeding Harris Sparrow. They show up nearly every winter, and sometimes stay in a specific locale for extended periods. But they usually tend to be secretive, shy, and difficult to approach. Of the half-dozen or so I have seen over the years, this was the first that was co-operative enough to be easily photographed.
The content of its bill provides a hint as to why it sticks around.
Another rarity for the month was a real* Blue Jay coming to a feeder in Burnaby. This bird is a vagrant from the east (like myself). Its normal range is on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, but every few years one will turn up here, always causing some excitement. (*The usual blue-colured jay seen here is the Steller’s Jay).
Encounters with owls are often a case of pure serendipity. Here are two examples.
On a casual walk around one of my favourite venues, I was astounded to see this plump little critter perched in plain sight, right next to a heavily-travelled path. This is what it looked like through the eye of my iPhone.
As Murphy would have predicted, I was not carrying my real camera, so went to fetch it. On returning, I saw that the bird had moved a very short distance, still beside the trail but in better light. A lovely little Saw-whet Owl, a species that scores very high on the cuteness index.
You notice that its eyes are closed. I waited for a while, expecting it to look back at me, but eventually I tired of that and gave up. Only once did its eyes open up for perhaps a second, then snapped shut again. This bird was not concerned about a mere human. I moved on, leaving it undisturbed, without getting an open-eye shot.
On another day I was walking along the dyke at Boundary Bay. I came upon a slightly agitated crow which was deep inside the hedgerow of Pacific crabapple trees, not where crows usually hang out. This is often an indication that a roosting owl is nearby. I peered and peered into the mess of branches, from different angles, for several minutes. No owl detected so I moved on. On returning about 20 minutes later, the crow was still there, renewing my curiosity. Holey guacamole – it was there all along, less than a metre from the crow!A second surprise was that it was not a Long-eared Owl, the species that we usually expect roosting in such habitat. This one was a Great Horned Owl. The blocky flat-topped head helps with the ID. Also, the bird was larger than the crow, whereas a Long-ear would be significantly smaller.
I pointed the bird out to several passers-by. Each one had great difficulty seeing it, but eventually each blurted out something like,“Ohmygosh!. How did you ever find that?”. I didn’t – the crow did.
In the last part of the month we were treated to an extended period of fine clear weather, with temperatures dropping enough to freeze some open water. Check the giant crystals!
Heavy crystalline frost on the grasses was very pretty.
This Lupinus sp. made a valiant effort to blossom despite the late season, and was stopped in mid-bloom. Some never give up.
This one didn’t fair quite as well. The pale bokeh (background) is due to the heavy frost on the grassy turf behind.
I am always so impressed when I see little birds that nest in the high arctic and come to stay with us in winter. Some of these barely weigh in at about 2 ounces or 50 grams, yet they have flown thousands of kilometres to reach our area. Here are two of my favourites.
Sanderlings are small sandpipers found along marine shorelines. It’s such a delight to see a band of these plump little feather balls scurrying around among the beach cobbles, playing tag with the lapping wavelets. They never seem to slow down when you are aiming a camera at them.
Unless they stop briefly for a mid-day snooze.
Snow Buntings are sparrow-like songbirds, a few of which show up most every year on the coastal jetties in our area. They typically hang together in small flocks, foraging for seeds in barren ground near the beach, keeping in contact with each other with soft musical chittering.
In summer breeding plumage they are nearly all white, but when we see them they are more elaborately patterned. Rather handsome, would you not agree?
A few decades ago, Black Oystercatchers were difficult to find around the Fraser Delta, as they prefer rocky shores for feeding. Eventually they discovered that the Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty was a suitable place to nest and forage, so now they are reliably observed there.
Some bird photographers apparently feel an urge to personify their subjects by adding clever bits of supposed dialogue. Personally I would never stoop to such a questionable practice.
The perky Belted Kingfisher is a favourite subject for bird photogs. It is one of the few bird species in which the girls are more ornate that the boys. This female has the rusty breast markings which are lacking in the drabber males. Now there’s a bill to be proud of!
Some resident birds are so common that most of us typically ignore them as we search for the rarer and/or more elusive species. But when one equips themselves with a long ‘reach’ camera, it’s a whole new world out there! I quickly discovered that with camera in hand, there is renewed interest in even the most mundane fare, now as subjects to photograph. Some examples follow – ‘dirt’ common birds, but quite attractive nonetheless.
Change of pace:
The Central City Brewing Company began as a modest ‘brew pub’, and soon expanded into a ‘craft brewery’, supplying superior suds to a limited local market. After achieving significant success they undertook to build a larger brewery with intentions of marketing across Canada and into the USA. Their main products are branded as Red Racer *, as advertised on the side of their spanking new edifice.
Their mascot Red Betty rides the Red Racer, a classic 1950’s fat-tire bike.
* In Washington they are not allowed to use the name Red Racer, so there the brand is Red Betty. (And the price there is lower than what we have to pay!).
At the ceremonial opening of the new plant, there was live music, tours, and a free can of beer. Of course we had to attend – our son and I having been long-time imbibers of their brew. We got to meet Red Betty in-the-flesh.
A fun event. As an extra bonus, our daughter won a promotional drawing, the prize being a beer fridge – full of product!
(Disclaimer: I have no vested interest whatsoever in Central City Brewing, my only connection being the occasional modest contribution to their coffers).
Perhaps a good time to have a cool one now.