October Pelagic

Trialis)c152017

Race Rocks Light

It’s an easy cruise today – a flat sea and mild temperatures. I’m not expecting to see anything remarkable as it’s late in the year for migrants and we’re not going very far from shore. The October day is gorgeous. Our dry summer and fall have resulted in more leaf colour than usual this year, a beautiful backdrop for the old Fisgard Light.

Fisgardoc152017

Fisgard Light

We smell Race Rocks almost before we see it. The island is a wildlife sanctuary, home to many California and Steller’s Sealions, as well as a few Elephant Seals. Dozens of very large marine mammals cohabiting a small island really do perfume the air! The Californias are noisy too, barking at each other constantly, even when they’re in the water catching salmon. We motor on, trailed by Glaucous-winged, Bonaparte’s and pretty Heermann’s Gulls picking off the dog chow we’re using as chum.

Sealsalm1Oc152017

The Salmon I wish I’d caught

HeermsgllOc152017

HeermanGul)c152017

Heermann’s Gulls

Circling the rocks, we spot Marbled and Ancient Murrelets, Common Murres, a single Sooty Shearwater, and a few dozen Rhinoceros Auklets. Above Beachy Head, Turkey Vultures and Redtail Hawks ‘kettle’ ready to make the short flight across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Washington State. On the way home, a couple of Humpback Whales appear. One sounds, flukes up and the other moves off. As I put down my camera and pour a coffee another whale breaches not far from the boat. It would have made for a spectacular shot. It was ever thus!

AncmultOc152017

Ancient Murrelet

SShearOc152017

Sooty Shearwater and Common Murre

SealionsOc152017

SealnsOc152017

More Sealions

HMpbkOc152017

HbwhlOc152017

HBwhale2Oc152017

Humpback Whale

Point Pelee Raptors

CoopsHSept212017v

Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (or Sharpie)

Point Pelee in autumn – it’s a first for me. I’ve been here twice in spring; once at the peak of the northward bird migration; the second time a week or two too early, which meant that sighting a warbler of any kind was a thrill. I’m not sure what to expect this time. We’re nearing the end of September and a little late for many species. And the weather has been very warm. We need a cold front to get the stragglers moving and that won’t happen for a few days yet. With trees and shrubs still in full leaf and birds more secretive, finding the little guys will be a challenge — very challenging as it turns out. Certain other birds are heading south. Raptors are everywhere today and the woods are silent.

Sharpies Overhead

Point Pelee is famous for ‘funnelling’ Sharp-shinned Hawks and other raptors as they head across Lake Erie. There may be some Cooper’s Hawk in the mix too but they are hard to distinguish from Sharp-shinned Hawks at the best of times. Dozens and dozens of birds of prey pass overhead, singly and in scattered groups. In the space of an hour, we see over fifty Sharpies. Other raptors are on the move too. A Kestrel perches on a distant snag; a Peregrine rockets by; a Harrier floats past. There’s even a Bald Eagle sitting at the very tip of Canada! A songbird would have to be feeling suicidal, or just plain dumb to show itself. No late warblers for us today!

KestrlOc32017

Kestrel

pergr2no42016

Peregrine Falcon

Eagl)c32017

Bald Eagle at Point Pelee tip

 

 

Time to dress for fall…

ThistlesSept112017

Waist High Veg

The title, from the song in the old movie The Summer of 42, seems apt. It’s gotten cooler here on the coast and migrating birds are passing through. Local birds are flocking too, many fattening up for their own long journey south. I’m at Panama Flats this cool, changeable morning, flushing Savannah and Lincoln’s Sparrows right and left as I push through chest high weeds. Nearby, Goldfinches attack weed heads with precision, scattering chaff. And every berry bush has its diners, including the Savannahs, drawn to insects and the seeds of ‘past it’ berries no doubt.

GoldfnchSe192017

Goldfinch

SavpairSe192017

Savannah Sparrows

The week’s rarities are three Bobolinks here from the interior. I tried to locate them the other morning and failed. Today’s another day. I’m hopeful until a Merlin flashes by, and then a Northern Harrier hunting voles. The zillion sparrows, which were everywhere moments ago, vanish like summer snow. After perching on a snag and surveying the fields, the Merlin plunges towards the brambles, and then is gone — blindingly fast. It took a sparrow likely, the concussion of the stoop killing the prey in the air. It’s the way of things.

HarrSept192017

Harrier2Sep192017

Northern Harrier

MerlinSept192017

Merlin

The danger past, sparrows and Goldfinches soon return, with feeding the priority now. No sign of the Bobolink yet. Luckily, I have a fallback strategy. When you can’t find a rare bird, look for excited birders, as I do now. I spot two expert members of the clan along the dike trail glassing a clump of Blackberry. They’ve located one of the Bobolinks,and point it out to me. Great people, birders.

Bobo3

Bobolink

BobdistanceSept192017

Bobolink and Savannah Sparrow

The target is a long way away, a mere yellowish smudge from where I stand. Even using a monopod, I can’t keep my Lumix FZ300 steady enough for a well-focussed shot. With the converter I think I’m out to about 1200 mm, way beyond good picture range. Still, I figure, record photos are better than none at all.

BoboSept192017

Too far…

The Bobolink is a short-tailed member of the (new world) blackbird tribe; in breeding plumage the males are mostly black and white, with Naples Yellow skull caps. This one seems to be a juvenile, its feathers washed with lemon, perching like a Meadowlark. Later on, I find a second bird all on my own, a female this time, much paler.

CansSep192017

I’m about done here. A flight of Canada Geese cruise over the treetops and land, honking, out of sight in the lush vegetation. Within a few weeks, the autumn rains will come in earnest. Then the waist high weeds will wither, the ponds will fill with water and the Teal, Pintails, Gadwalls, and many other ‘winter birds’ will return. It is, indeed, time to dress for fall…

 

Crows

 

Crow2no212016x

Yeeess!

They’re loud – right outside my office window and my blinds are closed but I know what’s up. I recognize the vocals – the begging caw of a young crow, followed by a strangled gawww as the parent stuffs some morsel down its gullet. Very familiar. When I was a teenage keeper in a small zoo years ago, I looked after many young animals, including two baby crows. I won’t go on about all other the infant creatures I bottle fed – fox kits, raccoons, fawns, bear cubs by the dozen, even a moose – the zoo was the local wildlife rescue center. There was also an adolescent Indian Elephant (naturally not a rescue). Anyway, I figure I’ve been bitten or clawed by half the natural world in my time. I’ve certainly shovelled the poop of a lot of it. Back then, I could tell, sight unseen, the leavings of an African Lion from a Mangabey once I got a whiff, rather like a wine connoisseur can identify fine wines. On second thought, forget that comparison. We called the crows Hecate and Poe, incidentally.

Corvids: Black-billed Magpie (BC Interior), Jackdaws (Portugal), Clark’s Nutcracker (Oregon), Mexican Jay (Arizona), Steller’s Jay (BC Coast)

RavnsplyingNo152016

Ravens  – Display Flight

Crows are smart, very smart. Like other corvids – the ravens, jays, magpies and nutcrackers. – they solve puzzles amazingly well. They also remember through the generations apparently, with the great grandchildren of a long-deceased crow reacting negatively to a mask worn by a researcher way back when the original crow was captured. That’s what they say anyway. The Caledonia Crow is a reputed to be an especially adept tool-user.

Crw2Aug232017cd

Tide out, table set

Anyway, I’m careful around these guys. I won’t want to offend. To this day, I always greet any crow I pass – a respectful ‘doff of the hat’ kind of thing – and sometimes I get a reply. Better to be safe than sorry, I say.  Besides, I like crows. It was fun to watch them last weekend as they quietly and unobtrusively worked the ‘scraps’ at Greek Fest while crowds of humans concentrated on souvlaki, bouzouki music and the omnipresent yellow jackets. I think they did very well, as they usually do.

Tideline

SlbtAu232017a

Morning

Nice to be up early. The tide is out and the local diners are taking advantage of the fact, like the Mew Gulls working the water’s edge. A young Oyster Catcher probes for sea worms and other delicacies among the rocks. Several young crows, jet-black adult plumage replacing their juvenile brown, follow this other black bird hoping, I suppose, for a free meal. Incidentally, Oystercatcher. It’s a cool name but is catching oysters really a skill? Seriously?

OysrctchAu232017

Black Oystercatcher

YngcrowAu232017

Juvenile Crow

OCandCrwAug232017

You sort of look like my mom…

A few seals are here. This adult is surely one of the females who have lately been using our safe little bay as a kind of creche. We counted six tiny pups last night at high tide. A Kingfisher rattles, takes a fish and retreats before I can grab a picture. Seven or eight Greater Yellowlegs have taken up residence here and the same number of Killdeer, piping as they scurry about. I reckon I’ve seen more than a hundred birds and animals in twenty minutes or so. Everybody’s doing their own thing, not minding me. Nice morning this one, nice.

 

SealAug232017

Harbour Seal

MwGullAug232017

Mew Gull

yllwlgsAug232017

Greater Yellowlegs

 

 

Killdeer Bath Time

 

 

 

Mount Hood

MthdviewAu72017

Haze

I’m looking down on smoke produced by fires in British Columbia and driven out the valleys of the Fraser and Columbia. With no strong westerlies, or rain, to stop it, the haze now covers the west from Medford to Whistler. And it’s hot, very hot – a hundred and five in Portland. So I’m up here at eleven thousand feet where the air is clean and the temperature comfortable. There’s even snow. I’m looking for Mountain Bluebirds, Clark’s Nutcracker and other high country species but most other visitors aren’t so inclined. They trudge past carrying skis and snowboards heading for the runs a mile away. Good on them – they’re all a lot younger than me. Skiing in August is just about the last thing I feel like doing.

MtHdAu82072017

The Ski Hill

I carry on, sidestepping rivulets of melt water and blooming alpine plants, going higher. Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels seem to be everywhere, gathering and storing food for the winter. Several species of butterflies chase each other across the broken terrain, flashing orange and black. The biggest are Tortoiseshells, strong fliers and fast. I find a comfortable-looking boulder and sit to admire slopes adorned with yellow wild buckwheat, purple asters, fleabane and lupines – how clever of nature to do the complimentary colour thing. Then I empty my shoes of ash and pumice and head down the mountain towards the smoke and heat. Ah, me. At least they have good food and wine in Portland.

ClrksnutAu202014a

Clark’s Nutcracker

MluntBlueJu30mtHd

Mountain Bluebird

GMtlgrndsqau142016

Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel

 

Paintbrush, Aster Fleabane, Alpine Aster

WesterntortoiseshellAu72017

Western Tortoiseshell

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metaphorically

DowgrpJul242017

Short-billed Dowitchers

We’ve had four weeks of perfect weather here on the west coast. Sunny, twenty-one degrees, enough breeze to keep the air fresh – it’s unnerving, like the year is stuck, like two tectonic plates binding, like something’s going to pop. Too dramatic? I blame it on Philip Kerr’s great Bernie Gunther mysteries. I’m reading one now. Following Bernie, I’m tempted throw similes around like a float rider tossing beads in a Mardi Gras parade. Anyway, the year isn’t stuck; shorebirds are passing through, juveniles mostly.

YellowlgsJul242017

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs are back. A few weeks ago, I heard their rapid, three-syllable calls at night — weet-weet-weet – and now seven are working the shoreline, dashing about, heads bobbing. Black-bellied Plovers are in the area too; a large flock cruised past the Marina yesterday on their way to Discovery Island, clear, piping voices carrying far, even above the breeze and the chiming shrouds of moored sailboats.

BBPlovers5

Black-bellied Plovers

Dow44Jul242017

Short-billed Dowitcher

SBdowsJul242017

Storm Sewer Bonanza!

Four young short-billed Dowitchers surprise me by landing near a storm sewer outlet a dozen feet from a busy walkway and begin probing for treats. Seems a bit stinky to me but they seem to like it. They’ve come from nesting grounds in Alaska or northern Alberta. If they came by way of the Interior Plateau, they’ve flown above the massive forest fires threatening Williams Lake, Hundred Mile and other Cariboo communities.

So, the migration has begun, with lots of sandpipers and plovers reported in the area. It’s going to get really hot here in a day or two. Makes me long for cool fall days and soggy birding – no, not really. A rainy night though, that might be nice – like an ice-cream sundae on a…no, like a bowl of cold strawberries after a…nope…aww, forget it.