February 2014

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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.

Warb Audubon 2014.02.20 7648

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.

Robin Am 2014.02.10 7417

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.

Solitaire Townsend 2014.02.10 7423

Later, the Solitaire was permitted to perch on the bush, perhaps because it made no attempt to pilfer a morsel?

Solitaire 2014.02.10 7442 Solitaire 2014.02.10 7444

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.

Godwit Marbled x2 2014.02.26 7793

Godwits are essentially giant sandpipers, but what a bill to be proud of!

Godwit Marbled 2014.02.26 7799

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.

Sapsucker Red-breast 2014.02.05 7363

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!

Sapsucker Red-breast 2014.02.05 7361

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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.

Barred 2014.02.16 7624

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 Grey 2014.02.12 7477

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.

Great Gray 2014.02.12 7588 Great Grey 2014.02.15 7573

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.

Great Grey 2014.02.12 7478

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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.

Towhee Spotted 2014.02.20 7719

Spotted Towhee.

Song Sparrow 2014.02.29 7635

Song Sparrow.

Crow on snow 2014.02.26 7815

Northwestern Crow, on snow

Finch House 2014.02.26 7837

House Finch. Year-round resident and fine songster.

Hummer Anna's 2014.02.26 7827

Anna’s Hummingbird.

Cormorant Double-crest 2014.02.28 7874

Double-crested Cormorant. Gotta love that emerald eye.

Sparrow House 2014.02.20 7700

House Sparrow.

Gull Ring-bill kead 2014.02.28 7892

Ring-billed Gull.

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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.

Snow through the window 2014.02.23 i2465

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.

Snow-flattened hazel 2014.02.23 i2469

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).

Snow on alders 2014.02.25 7762

A few more wintry pics:

Snow and twigs 2014.02.26 7804

Snow on birdbox 2014.02.25 7759

Snow and grass 2014.02.26 7807

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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.

Eagle Bald x8 2014.02.27 7866

(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).

Gulls at compaot 2014.02.277868

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.

Eagle Bald x16 2014.02.27 7859.

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.

Coyote stool dog collar 2014.02.20 7679

Carlo

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