March 4, 2014 by Rokman61
February is still in deep winter, so it is always a special treat to see a few of our summer residents toughing it out through the cold months. Warblers of several species, the ‘avian flowers’ of the northern forests, are common nesters in summer, but nearly all head south as far as South America. A very few warblers usually hang back, and one day I encountered a small band of them hawking insects in the midday sun. This is an Audubon’s Yellow-rump Warbler in winter plumage; soon it will take on some much more colourful breeding finery.
My next feature subject is another very sparse over-wintering resident. I attempted to follow up on three different reports but came up blank before I finally had some succes right near the entrance to a Spaghetti Factory Restaurant. The Townsend’s Solitaire depends on berries in the winter, and the individual I was seeking had been working two small berry-laden cotoneaster bushes. Upon arriving at the scene, my target was nowhere in site, and instead I discovered that the fruit supply was being guarded by this rather imposing American Robin.
It appeared that the Robin considered the berries to be proprietary, and was running off anyone who tried to poach its supply. Eventually the Solitaire snuck in and was allowed to clean up some of the ‘B’ grade fallen fruit.
Later, the Solitaire was permitted to perch on the bush, perhaps because it made no attempt to pilfer a morsel?
Another casual resident in our area is the Marbled Godwit, a prairie nester that usually prefers to winter along the coast well south of us. This pair has been reliably present at a park near my home for several months. Seen here with Green-winged Teals (a species of small duck) which provide a sense of scale.
Godwits are essentially giant sandpipers, but what a bill to be proud of!
The Red-breasted Sapsucker is a type of woodpecker which is a year-round resident along the West Coast. Most of ours nest in the North Shore Mountains and move to lower elevations in winter, a few turning up almost anywhere in the Fraser Valley, like this one in a busy Vancouver city park.
Something I find very intriguing about this species is that some individuals appear to have the smallest home range of any bird I am aware of. Once one has established itself on a suitable tree (or several) it will spend weeks or months confined to a single trunk or two. Here it will drill lines of holes in the bark – hundreds of them – from which it feeds on the sap and insects that are also attracted to it. This one has set up shop right next to a parking space where it has remained since first reported last fall – ranging over less than 10 metres of the trunk!
One day a real rarity was reported, right down the street from me. I went to investigate but the bird (White-breasted Nuthatch) had moved on. In its stead, finding this Barred Owl provided a bit of consolation.
Another reported rarity proved to be more co-operative. Great Grey Owls are residents of the northern forests, and will show in our area about once in every 4-5 years or so. When one was observed in a local park I flew out to join a small flock of photographers and fortunately the bird was found.
Great Greys are often likened to big fluffy ghosts. They are exceptionally tame and tolerant – this one mostly ignored the hordes of eager photographers, looky-loos, and even yapping dogs. I waited patiently for it to open wide, but it was more interested in snoozing and grooming.
Something that did get its immediate attention was the presence of crows. Every time one flew over, the owl’s head would snap into position to get the best view – in this case straight up! Try that move.
Some days there just are not any rare or exciting subjects to work on, so one aims the camera at common, easy-to-image species, aka ‘dirt birds’. But being commonplace does not preclude them from being attractive and interesting. In fact, for me the very act of trying to capture quality photos of them has resulted in a much greater appreciation of their beauty and elegance. I have heard similar admissions from other photog friends.
We don’t normally see a lot of snow out our way, usually getting a good dump less than once per year on average. One morning we woke up to this scene, as photographed through the window with my iPhone.
What was most unusual is that it continued to snow non-stop for three days! In the end it was about 40 cm (16″) deep. Our yard was (is) a mess, with all sorts of downed branches and damage to cherished plants. Here are views of the laneway along the side of our property, which we use to access the back yard – now blocked by a toppled hazelnut I planted nearly 20 years ago.
On the positive side, the snow made for a winter wonderland of exceptional charm. This next photo was also taken from our yard (click for nice big view).
A few more wintry pics:
Perhaps the most outstanding wildlife show of the season takes place near Boundary Bay at a large composting facility and turf-growing farm. The compost piles and adjacent fields attract thousands of wintering gulls, which in turn attract large numbers of Bald Eagles.
(For those familiar with the area: the bands of concrete across the middle of the photo above are the margins of the new ‘South Fraser Perimeter Highway’).
The day I took these photos there were well over a hundred eagles present. They constantly overfly the flocks of gulls, stirring them up and watching for weakened or inattentive individuals. (One eagle near right edge of photo, another just left of centre).
The abundance of eagles here and the constant activity must surely be a world-class event. Having visited the famous eagle-viewing locales at Squamish and Harrison River, I can say that I saw more birds and more concentrated action right here.
On one of my regular walks I came upon this material which is exactly what it appears to be – droppings from an animal, in this case a coyote. What caught my eye was the inclusion therein of a piece of sturdy nylon webbing – one can only speculate on the origin of such a component. Whatever, it must have caused poor Wiley some serious discomfort.