August 3, 2014 by Rokman61
Summer! Relatively speaking, it’s the doldrums of birding, but still lots to see, and often under pleasant conditions.
If you were asked “What bird has the longest wingspan in Canada”, what would you guess? Some might choose eagle, or swan, or heron, or turkey, but you might be surprised to learn that the correct answer is the American White Pelican. And what a wonderful bird is the pelican! This species nests mainly in colonies in prairie wetlands and winters at coastal areas in the southern USA. A single nesting colony has long been known in central BC (a second one was discovered in 2013), but they are very rarely seen in the Lower Mainland, always as singles or small groups. This summer an unprecedented occurrence of at least 50 birds, have been observed roosting as a single flock on the shoreline near our container shipping facility. They have been present there almost continuously for more than a month, occasionally flying off for long distances, possibly to feed. Most often the flock is located far from any convenient access, but they are such large birds they are easy to find. Here is how they appear while roosting, packed into a tight little bundle. This view shows 50 birds lifting off for a spin (click to enlarge if you want to verify my count). The gantry in the background is about 4 km away, and the flock of birds is about a third of that distance from the camera. When they lift off they sometimes fly close overhead. This time I saw that they were turning and might be headed straight towards me!
As they approached they were silhouetted with the sun behind, but they were headed to pass overhead and then would be superbly lit. I readied my camera to record this lucky happening.
Alas! I did not quite get the hoped-for results. These birds are so big that in flight they appear to be in slow-motion. Not so! Aided by a stiff tailwind, the flock zipped over me like a cluster of rockets. None of my photos caught the closest birds within the frame, and most were out of focus. Here is the best of what I did manage to get.
At the other end of the size scale in the bird world, are the little songsters like the warblers. Here are two of the most common species. First a newly-fledged Orange-crowned Warbler. Next a classy male Common Yellowthroat. This is probably the most-photographed little dickeybird in our area – for good reason, as it is abundant anywhere near water, very vocal hence easy to spot, and downright handsome. Here is a much rarer warbler for our area, the American Redstart. It happens to be rather common across the continent in northern forests, but its range just barely reaches to our corner of the Province. This is a young bird – mature males are striking black and orange – some day I’ll catch one with the camera. Juncos live in our yard each summer, and for the last several years we have found nests in the garden very close to our front entrance (presented in blog for June-July 2013). One day Norma discovered their most recent effort, the third for this season! Here is the setting of the nest – inside a hanging planter of fuchsia. Four little guys, tucked tightly into the neatly crafted grass nest. Very eager to be fed. One seemed reluctant to leave the nest. Those with late-fledging children may relate to this.
Newly-fledged songbirds abound at this time of year. This is a very young Barn Swallow, waiting innocently on the pavement for a parent to feed it. Hopefully it will quickly learn to stay off the road, something that some teen-age humans are slow to pick up on.
This one is the Bird-of-the-Year for me, so far, and not likely to be surpassed. The Black-billed Cuckoo is an eastern species, extremely rare in BC, and usually makes only a brief cameo appearance. When one showed up near Kelowna and hung around for more than a day, I rushed off with two equally crazed friends to have a look. Definitive views were easy enough to get, but no National Geographic-quality photos for me. I did manage to get this one, just good enough to convince myself that I actually saw the bird, #420 for my BC LIfelist.
Apparently even birds can have a ‘Bad Hair Day’. These are adult Ring-billed Gulls, one of the most common gull seen in urban waterfronts right across the country.
The stately Long-billed Curlew is essentially a large sandpiper that nests in the interior and winters in southern USA and beyond. A few pass through our area in migration each year, and we are usually lucky to see them. Interestingly, the bird in the photo has taken to wintering with us, in residence here for at least the last five years. It disappears in March and returns in July – one can only guess where it goes.
The next bird is an arctic breeder that graces us by passing through in good numbers. Semi-palmated Plovers are also a favourite of the birding crowd, mostly due to their very high cuteness index. They are difficult to photograph, as they frequent wide-open mud flats and will not allow close approach. One day I came upon a small group on a narrow cobble beach, where I was able to get close enough for a few decent shots.
I was wondering what these prodigiously abundant white flowers were. I recognized them as something I have seen all my life, and I figured they were of the parsnip/carrot family, but their actual name I did not know. Perhaps you will recognize it? I took some photos so I could look them up.
A web-search revealed that this is Queen Anne’s Lace aka Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), a very common and widespread non-native, hence familiar to many. Interestingly, this species provided the stock from which our cultivated table carrots were derived. Also, I learned that the flower heads are referred to as umbels, composed of numerous tiny individual white blossoms. Curiously, the floret in the centre is often dark red. When I looked at my photos, sure enough – a single itty-bitty dark one right in the centre!
The reddish central floret is missing on some, relatively inconspicuous on others (as in the larger umbel below), and occasionally very obvious (upper right in photo).
Midsummer is the season when grasses reach their zenith. Meadows become jungles of tall growth, farmers/ranchers harvest hay, and allergy sufferers suffer. Here is one I remember well from my youth. Timothy was originally brought from Europe to our side of the world to feed horses, now it occurs most everywhere. The tiny flowers on the seed heads make for an interesting appearance.
This one sort of looks similar, but is not closely related. It’s a common weed of the plantain family, another well-established alien. The flowering heads look rather bizarre to me.
This one is even more bizarre. The scene is a grass and sedge meadow at the eastern end of Boundary Bay, where it merges into Mud Bay. At first I thought the bright orange patches were some kind of slime or fungus. On closer inspection one can observe that the orange stuff is a thread-like plant with thin stems that intertwine with and envelope the substrate. It turns out this is Parasitic Dodder or Strangleweed (Cuscuta sp), which lacks green parts and steals its nourishment from its hosts (in this case Pickleweed, Salicornia sp.). It looks colourful but apparently can be a nuisance when infesting crops. .
One day Norma spotted this handsome young buck in the yard.
It may be the same one that has visited very occasionally before, sometimes with a friend. Here is a shot from 2+ years ago. We see it/them only rarely, with months between appearances. Like many adolescent males, he didn’t want to have his photo taken.
Warm summer days bring out the dragonflies. This one is a young Saffron-winged Meadowhawk, with a delightful name to match its charming appearance. The main identifying feature for this species is the golden band along the front edge of the wings.
Among the hazards one encounters on late summer walks is the appearance of numerous spider webs strung across pathways. This one was about nose-high on a narrow trail that I often walk. When backlit like this they are quite conspicuous, but going the other way they are nearly invisible, so getting a facefull must be taken in stride.
When exploring new places one sometimes has to pay a price.
Take care where you step.