March – April 2015

May 27, 2015 by Rokman61

February-March spans the transition from late winter to early spring.  I’ll start this instalment with my last birding highlight of winter.

Owls often cause a frenzy within the bird photography community.  Word got out that two or more Northern Pygmy Owls were being seen and photographed in a small clear-cut near Chilliwack in the Fraser Valley.  The ‘Big Lens Boys’ (and Girls) arrived in droves, and some chased the little owls mercilessly around the clear-cut.  Others took great exception to this behaviour, and things got rather heated.  There was even threat of slashing tires, and eventually a Wildlife Officer was called to the scene to keep order.  I chose to avoid the circus, and waited about a month for things to cool down before Norma and I went to have a look.  On our visit there was only one other birder/photog present, who fortunately managed to spot an owl for us.  Pygmy Owls are actually quite tame and will allow close approach – the images here are minimally cropped.

Pygmy Owl 2015.03.04 1704 Pygmy Owl 2015.03.04 1736 Pygmy Owl 2015.03.04 1745 As owls go, this bird showed an impressive array of expressions.  Regretably, I apparently accidentally nudged the settings on my camera, and what could have been my best photos were hopelessly fuzzy.  Yet another lesson to remember.

Whilst searching for the owl, Norma spotted several clumps of some remarkable flowers . . .

Coltsfoot blossom head 2015.03.04 1816

Palmate Coltsfoot Petasites palmatus

The showy flower-heads of this species appear before the leaves — an exuberant sign of spring renewal in a plantscape still largely locked in the grip of winter doldrums.

April brought a new bird for my BC Lifelist (a rather infrequent event after more than forty years of looking).  A Loggerhead Shrike, a bird from more southerly places, which only occasionally wanders into BC, and then doesn’t usually hang around for long.  This one showed up at the Hope Airport and stayed long enough for a number of twitchers to catch it.  It kept its distance from the viewers, so my photos were only good enough to provide documentation.

Shrike Loggerhead 2027.04.04 2123

Most of the time there are no rare birds to photograph, so more common fare get extra attention.  At this time of year the ducks are showing their best and are easy to photograph at parks where they have become used to human incursions.  Here are a few such examples.

Golden-eye Com fem 2015.03.09 1976

Common Goldeneye, female

Wigeon f head 2015.04.14 2241

American Wigeon, female

Wood Duck 2015.03.13 1991

Wood Duck, male

Spring of course is when many birds migrate north from their normal range in the tropics to nest and raise young in northern forests.  The first such migrant that I encountered this year was this Myrtle Warbler, a subspecies of Yellow-rump Warbler that nests far to the north and east of us and was just passing through. Warbler Myrtle 2015.03.09 1944

But of course spring is not just about migrating birds.  More obvious is the ‘greening up’ of the plant world.  Here is bit of a twist – emergent black cottonwood leaves that start off in shades of gold and burgundy, before ultimately turning green.

Cottonwood leaves 2015.04 14 2226 Cottonwood leaves maroon 2015.04.14 2238

Here is a mystery plant – maybe you can recognize it?  It is a common species in the Lower Mainland, but this particular individual appears very odd.  My explanation at end.

Blackberry poison growth? 2015.04.02 n0349

A few spring flowers.  Here is a trio of trillium (or should that be trillia?).  I’m told that they all start off white then gradually turn colour, but only after they have been pollinated.  How cool is that!

Trilium x3 2015.04.19 i3585

Lilies of the genus Erythronium are among the most cherished of wildflowers.  They are mostly absent from our area, except for one rather nice patch in a park very close to where we live.

Erythronium oregonum patch 2015.03.30 2047

These are White Fawn LiliesErythronium oregonum (other species come in pink and yellow).

Erythronium oregonum 2015.03.30 2059 Erythronium oregonum 2015.03.30 2040

At this time of year the forest floors are locally carpeted with flowers such as False Lily-of-the-Valley and the pink Bleeding Heart.

False lily-of valley 2015.04.26 0263

“Take me to your leader!” Fiddlehead 2015.04.26 0233

Another bird that only passes through in migration – the Townsend’s Solitaire.

Solitaire Townsend 2015.04.26 0223

A different kind of ‘bird’ – the US Airforce F18 fighter jet.

F18 2015.04.08 2164

Such an amazing machine – essentially a metal tube with two seats, a humongous torch, and millions of $$ worth of electronics to drive it.  Several of these were practicing ‘touch-and-go’ manoeuvres on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  I was subjected to their ear-shattering roar for more than an hour-and-a-half whilst I waited to catch a ferry.  When one of the workers was asked how long these sessions could go on, the response was “For hours on end!”.  When asked what they thought of it, they answered “It’s the sound of freedom!”.

One evening whilst dining, I looked out to the yard and saw this:

Rats x2 2015.04.22 n0159 These cute but unwelcome guests are Black Rats, uncharacteristically out in the open in broad daylight.  Wikipedia tells me that they vary in colour, but of the 40+ I trapped at our last house, they were all charcoal grey like the one here.


Some time ago I wrote up a little article for the BCFO (British Columbia Field Ornithologists) newsletter.  Since very few of my readers would have seen it, I thought it might be of interest to re-present it here.

From the BCFO newsletter ‘Birding in BC’, Sept 2014

Bird Names – a case of Capital Confusion!

Anyone with a serious interest in plants will be well aware of the confusion over the common names in use.  A given species often has several, and sometimes many, common names applied to it, so use of the binomial Latin names are almost essential to avoid confusion.  Fortunately, the birding world has found a way to avoid the problem, but unfortunately not everyone buys into the solution.
The AOU (American Ornithology Union) and similar world-wide organizations have formalized the common names for each species, so each has only one officially recognized name.  Because the names are formal, they should be capitalized like all proper names.  The unfortunate part is that the convention is not universally accepted.  Often this is because not everyone is aware of the protocol, and others simply choose to ignore the convention.  For some inexplicable reason most editors of books, magazines, and newspapers (NOT including our editor!) obstinately refuse to follow along.
I present two illustrations to demonstrate why we all should always use capitals for bird names.
Example #1 
The corvid family includes a number of jays that are basically blue in colour, seven species of which occur in North America, and three that can be seen in BC (plus is a single record of a fourth – Pinyon Jay).
This most-common one is a Steller’s Jay.

Jay Steller's 2100-03-23 3125 Western Scrub Jay, a rare and fairly recent intruder to the southwest corner of the Province.  Scrub-Jay W  2014.01.31 7316 And a Blue Jay, common only along the eastern part of the Province. Blue Jay 2013.11.26 6317

Note that all three birds in the photos are ‘blue jays’ (or blue-coloured jays), but only the last one is properly a Blue Jay.  Use of capitals for the bird’s name removes any ambiguity about its identity!
Example #2
The bird in the photo below could correctly be labelled as White Rock pigeon’, or as a ‘white Rock Pigeon’.  The first label indicates where the photo was taken (in this case on the pier in White Rock, BC), and the general kind of bird, but not the actual species.  The second label identifies the exact species and the colour of the individual, but does not provide location.

Pigeon Rock white 2011.02.11 2253 This one could also be correctly labelled as a White Rock pigeon’, because it is a pigeon and it was located in White Rock.  However, you can see it is not white, and it is in fact a Band-tailed Pigeon, not a Rock Pigeon. Pigeon Band-tailed 2014.08.05 9513 Got it?  Perhaps you are more confused than ever.  But please note – Bird Names should always be Capitalized!


Meanwhile, our mystery plant again: Blackberry poison growth? 2015.04.02 n0349

It’s the ubiquitous and highly invasive Himalayan Blackberry or ‘bramble’, but this one looks oddly stunted, curled up, and colourful.  Here is what I suspect has happened:  it is growing right next to some Giant Knotweed, which is even more invasive than the bramble.  The knotweed has been treated with glyphosate (‘Roundup’), which has also affected the blackberry, not enough to kill it, but apparently enough to compromise its normal growth.  Here is what it looked like about 7 weeks later.  Note the larger ‘normal’ leaves at bottom.

Blackberry poison growth? 2015.05.25 x0349



curled up in Cloverdale.




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