April 4, 2014 by Rokman61
My first subject for this month is a repeat from February. This Townsend’s Solitaire has been feeding on a cotoneaster shrub beside an Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant for more than a month. Since I was passing by the area one rainy day, I stopped by to see if it was still around. I pulled into a parking slot right beside the fruit-laden shrub, and within a minute the bird appeared as if on cue. I stuck my camera through the window and fired away as he sang non-stop in the rain. The Solitaire is one of our very finest vocalists – have a listen here:
The Glaucous Gull is a species that nests on the Arctic Coast, and each winter a few show up in our region. Typically they associate with huge swarms of the more abundant species, and one has to sort through thousands of other gulls just to get a distant view of a Glaucous. They are large gulls, and the young birds are nearly all white, so they do stand out in a crowd. This winter one has been frequenting a city park, often hanging out on the beach of a lake, next to the parking area and playground. The bird can easily be approached closer than needed to get full-frame shots with a telephoto, thus presenting a photo op that is actually more rare than the bird itself. The identifying feature for this species is the two-tone bill, pink with a solid black tip.
One evening Norma noticed that a little brown bird had taken to roosting for the night on some cedar branches she had put up for Christmas cheer, right above our front door.
The bird is a Pacific Wren, a species that is resident here all year, and common in wooded habitats.
The wren was tolerant of the light over our entry, not more than 2 metres away, and also our coming and going if done quickly and quietly. It did however not approve of my camera noise as it adjusted the focus – understandable, so I refrained from trying to get more and better images. The Christmas decorations had to remain in place a little longer, until our guest returned to its normal habits.
I featured shots of Long-eared Owls in several previous blogs, as they have been easily photographed over the last two winters. The last time I checked I could find only one, roosting deep inside a wild crab-apple tree. In this peak-a-view you can see that it appears to be somewhat annoyed by my presence, perhaps because it has had to endure hundreds of photographers taking thousands of photos of it. This statement may be implying more than is valid about the expression of the bird, but the numbers I mention are no exaggeration.
The Snow Geese that winter on the Fraser Delta often forage on aquatic plants along the tidal shorelines. While digging for the plant roots, they pick up an orange stain from the traces of iron in the mud. By March some of them have gotten rather colourful.
Here you see a patch of rocky beach, and if you didn’t look closely on passing you could miss the group of about 30 snoozing Sanderlings. These are small arctic-nesting sandpipers, or maybe they should be called pebble pipers? A single Black Turnstone is present by the water’s edge.
Our resident eagles have by now taken up their nesting routines and are likely sitting on eggs. Meanwhile, the over-wintering birds are waiting for their interior nesting areas to thaw out, so are still present on the Delta in impressive numbers. To get this portrait of a young Bald Eagle, I just had to pull my car off onto the shoulder, stick the camera out the window, and fire away at point-blank range (click to enlarge).
Here is a little flotilla of Horned Grebes.
These birds winter along our coastline, and at this time of year they wear rather subdued plumage – essentially white below with shades of grey above. As the breeding season approaches they begin an amazing transmogrification, ending up with golden ‘horns’ on a black head atop a dark reddish neck. This montage shows four progressive stages, clockwise from top left.
Spring greening: in early March the buds of Indian-plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) begin to open and suddenly the woods are filled with bits of bright green, contrasting with the drab winter greys and browns of wooded areas.
By mid-March the pale whitish flowers begin to open. This is a common native shrub, and it provides some of the first available nectar for the hummingbirds returning from Mexico.
I like the way the whorls of leaves point up whilst the blossoms hang down.
By summer the fruits have ripened, and you can see how it gets its common name.
One more look at this attractive harbinger of spring.
Another burst of March colour is provided by Swamp Lantern, aka Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanum). The striking yellow flowers seem to appear unexpectedly as if by magic, wherever there is wet swampy ground.
For the last few years we have been fortunate to have at least one Anna’s Hummingbird in residence around our yard, coming by for daily feeding, at all seasons. The males engage us with their scratchy song even in mid-winter. However, this is usually done from a high perch, where I cannot get satisfactory photos. One day Norma noticed our resident bully male parked under the eaves at eye level, where he could watch for and intercept interlopers trying to access HIS feeder. Finally I was able to get a few decent images.
The head and throat often look black on these birds, but when the light is at just the right angle, the stunning red iridescence suddenly appears.
Another species of hummingbird occurs locally but is only here to nest and raise young. Rufous Hummingbirds arrive in March and are mostly gone back to Mexico by late summer. Adult males are almost entirely rusty-orange in colour, quite striking. Usually we have at least one adult male claiming territory around the yard, but to date we have only youngsters like this one vying for dominance.
Another occasional visitor to our yard is the Pileated Woodpecker. This big ‘woody’ has decided that my bird-box on a tall pole provides just the right tone and volume for drumming out his message to potential mates and rivals. He has almost trashed one side of the box over the last several seasons.
One more yard visitor of note – this one far less frequent, a Cooper’s Hawk. This species is not particularly uncommon, but I rarely get to see a fully mature bird with blue-gray back and cross-barred underparts (immatures are mostly brown).
Unlike falcons which catch prey by striking them in the air, the Coop is an accipiter (true ‘hawk’) which relies more on stealth and will chase after birds on the ground. This one was trying to pick out small songbirds hiding in the tangled brambles below. It did not hesitate to plunge in after them, but was not successful in catching a meal whilst we were watching.
Of the nearly 30 different species of ducks that regularly occur in our region, one stands apart from all the others. In addition to the spectacular patterns and colours on the drakes, the Wood Duck likes to stand on tree branches (click for super-sized view).
I entitled this one “Undecided heron”.
Real photographers spend a lot of time patiently waiting for their subjects to come in close. I am more of a birder-with-a-camera, and don’t have that kind of patience, so many of my best shots are by pure chance. This spiffy little Pied-billed Grebe is a typical example: I was chatting with a friend when it surfaced not more than a few meters away. Some photographers might opine that this is not a good photo because the background is too distracting. But many birders would consider it a good photo in that it nicely shows the bird’s habitat and how it blends into it. It all depends on one’s point of view.
I have several friends who also publish blogs like this one, featuring their nature photography. Len Jellicoe and his wife Dian are currently down on the Texas Coast, where they are seeing and photographing all sorts of amazing birds. Len has given me permission to include one of his shots here. It is not one of his very best images, but his title is a knockout. View his collection of excellent photographs here:
Meanwhile, I am often asked two deeply searching questions. #1, “WHY do you bird-watch?” and #2, “Is it FUN?”. I must confess to having no rational answer to the first question. As for the second, here is a typical action shot taken in the field, and you can decide for yourself.
Carlo, trying to keep dry in Surrey.