When you got nothing to say, a funny bird picture might suffice…

It’s summer proper now, fall migrations are weeks away and I’m not seeing as many birds as I’d like. Summer’s the problem. Most aren’t singing, so harder to spot in heavy foliage. They’re rearing young – busy. Ah well. I make another trip to Martindale to search for the Bullock’s Orioles I missed when the tree service people showed up on site a week or so ago. They’re supposed to have fledglings now. The Orioles, not the tree service people. I do hear a Bullock-type chortle in the cottonwoods, see Robins and Waxwings briefly but spot no pretty Orioles. Not my day, I guess.

With no birding adventures to report and no new birds recorded, I got nothing. Going through my photos, I find shots of a Red-crested Cardinal from Maui that I found funny at the time. The bird even looked slightly embarrassed, as if I’d happened on him in the middle of some private and exclusive exercises. He shot me a look of reluctant approbation and carried on. I make a quick search for birds that surprised me, made me smile. Mostly, the experience was too fleeting and I too slow with my camera. Still…

 

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Red-crested Cardinal – Yoga

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Slaty-backed Gull – Washington – No Pictures, Please!

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Anna’s Hummingbird – Victoria – Pilates

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Raven – Observatory Hill, Victoria – So relaxed!

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I’Iwi – Maui, Hosmer Grove – Coming Right At you!

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Wrentit – California – Yes, I’m only two inches tall. Want to make something out if it!

 

I forget what the second thing was…

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Broom and Roses

It’s one of those days when the birding gods decide to take a picnic – with some other birder. I set out this morning to locate birds at three different locations, and ended up being foiled, as Oilcan Harry says, at all three. The first two don’t matter much – traffic disruptions cancelled these out. The third should have been a piece of cake – Bullock’s Orioles at Martindale, from one to umpteen depending on whose report you read. Singing loudly too, so hard to miss. It’s a nice day-peaceful. I gear up. I’m ready for Orioles when, from out of the blue, two tree service trucks roar up. Out go the cones, out come the chain saws, and that’s all she wrote.

An hour later, for want of a better plan, I’m at the Munn Road power line. Not a bad fallback it turns out. The sun is out, the trail verges are thick with cad-yellow broom and Nootka Rose. In fact, the roses perfumes the air. And birds seem to be everywhere. I even discover the remains of an ancient civilization in the form of a mysterious trilith – like Stonehenge. You just have to unfocus your eyes!

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White-crowned Sparrow

 

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Downy Woodpecker

 

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Cedar Waxwing

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Nootka Rose

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Olive-sided Flycatcher

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Rufous Hummingbird

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Eastern Cottontail

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Mysterious Stonehenge-like Trilith

 

Road Trip

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Lazuli Bunting – W.L. Finley Refuge

Once a year I take my 86 Alfa Romeo on a birding trip, usually to Oregon. My route this year, down I-5, though the Willamette Valley, up the Oregon coast and then looping back to BC, takes me past some of the best birding spots in the northwest – Nisqually, Baskett Slough, W.L. Finley, Fern Ridge, George Reifel. The car is sparkling and bright at the start, dust covered and bug plastered when I ease her into the her parking bay at home. What lingers is the remembrance of the joy of motoring through incredibly beautiful countryside, top down, listening to snatches of bird song, alive to the smell of blossoms, new hay, and the medicinal aromas of conifers — and of the wonderful birds I saw and heard along the way.

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Bittern – Fern Ridge Refuge

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Sandhill Crane – George Reifel Refuge

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Black-headed Grosbeak –¬† W.L.Finley Refuge

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Spotted Towhee with Caterpillars

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Red-Breasted Sapsucker – W.L. Finley

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Live Moss – Fern Ridge

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Marsh Wren – Nisqually

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Alfa Bird – Oregon

 

 

 

 

Panama Flats

I like the name of this birding hotspot -Panama Flats. I’m surprised a blues artist hasn’t picked it up. And now, singing ‘How come my dog don’t bark when my best friend comes around?’ is the legendary Panama Flats! But I digress. This is a birding blog after all and the ‘Flats’ are, instead, a series of flooded fields that attract waterfowl and shorebirds in the spring and late fall. A very pleasant, quiet place to be on a warm May morning like this one.

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In a few months, the land will be dry, plowed possibly. Water birds that nest here, like Mallards and Canada Geese, have to getting cracking (sorry) early in the year. Today, dozens of ducklings and goslings are following their mums around, learning the ropes.

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Spotted Sandpiper

I’m here for a Pectoral Sandpiper, which I see briefly soon after arriving-on its way out, heading north I guess. Not so, the Spotted Sandpipers, actively displaying and chasing each other around the edges of the ponds, carried here and there by the staccato beats of their short wings. A Long-billed Dowitcher, stalking the perimeter surprises itself when it spots me, angling off into a swarm of young Mallards. I’m not fooled, not with that beak.

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Long-billed Dowitcher

I follow the dykes between the ponds, balancing on the planks and bits of scrap wood people have used to span the cross ditches. A Marsh Wren scolds me from the cattails, a complex series of chuckles and buzzes. Quite charming – if they did but know it.

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Marsh Wren

As the day warms, Barn Swallows appear, darting around after insects. A glossy Purple Martin crisscrosses the larger pond, the distinctive half flapping, half-gliding flight style an added giveaway. A Common Yellowthroat sings his ‘witchity, witchity, witchity’ nearby, looking handsome with his white forehead, black mask and lemon-yellow throat. Forget the blues. It’d be hard to write a good, downer song here, today.

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Common Yellowthroat

 

Powerline Birding

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The Olympics

Power lines are among the ugliest by-products of our electronic age but the ‘cut’ also provides wonderful habitat for birds, particularly flycatchers and warblers. I’m up on Goldstream Heights, picking my way over the rocks. Before long, I’m too focussed on the calls of birds to be aware of the huge metal towers looming nearby. A Song Sparrow chips a warning – I’m the topic certainly. As I stop to take in the view of the Olympics across the Strait of Georgia in Washington state, four Band-tailed Pigeons flash by overhead, streamlined, swift flyers like all pigeons. Below them, a tropically-coloured Western Tanager flashes yellow and red, landing briefly on a distant treetop. My mind is on flying birds. Suddenly a MacGillvary’s Warbler startles me with a blast of song. He pops into view, giving me some great looks. Lovely. Even with the towers and high-voltage lines, there are worse places to be than here on a mild May morning.

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MacGillvary’s Warbler

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Song Sparrow

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Powerline Trail

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Western Tanager

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Band-tailed Pigeon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Observatory Hill-Pygmy Owl Hunting

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The Fog Clears

It was bright and clear at sea level when I left home this morning but by the time I get to the top of Observatory Hill heavy cloud is moving in and drifting down into the trees. Red-barked Arbutus, pale maples and the rocky bones of the mountain become ghostly, moss-draped forms; the boles of giant firs, alleys of indistinct columns. I take the trail past one of the smaller telescope-covering domes (the reason it’s called Observatory Hill) and go down into the mist. I can hear birds – nuthatches, drumming woodpeckers, kinglets, a Varied Thrush – but aside from a half dozen Ravens, an Anna’s Hummingbird and a few Dark-eyed Juncos, I see nada. I had hoped to luck into a Northern Pygmy Owl, my real goal this morning. They live up here reportedly and hunt in the daytime, and I have yet to get a picture of one of these fierce little hunters. Now, with the fog, I’m expecting I’ll be plumb out of luck today.

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Dark-eyed Juncos

I hike through the gloomy forest, being careful to stay on trails I know. I’ve been lost in forests before and I do not like the feeling. After an hour or so, a light breeze arrives, quickens, changes direction and begins to scour the cloud from my side of the ‘mountain’. I pause on a rock outcrop for a view of Prospect Lake. It’s so quiet, so peaceful. A young Bald Eagle cruises past, gives me the ‘hairy eyeball’ and carries on. Fine. I’m leaving anyway. After a couple of hours on a cold, foggy mountaintop, I’m ready for a cup of hot coffee and, just maybe, a donut.

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Bald Eagle

On my way back up through the firs, I hear something – the clear, repeated¬† ‘toots’ of a Pygmy Owl calling. And from the other side of the trail, a hundred meters or so away, another bird, ‘tooting’ back. I think they do this, male and female counter-calling. They might stand still for a photo if I could just find them. The mist lingers here and there and the sound seems to move around, making it hard to locate the Pygmy. I never do get a picture. My reward for stalking the birds is a brief flash of underwing, and those sounds. Still, the owls are here, on Observatory Hill. Next chance I get, next clear early morning, I’ll be up here searching.

 

Bufflehead Ballet

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It’s on

The squads of Buffleheads visiting the bay are in full mating mode now. Neat, tiny ducks ‘hooking up’ or fending off rivals. Buffleheads are monogamous but young birds need to find a partner. They’ll try to steal one if there’s no other way. The activity out there is close to frantic. Everybody’s zooming around, the strikingly-patterned males and the more tastefully-garbed females. And there’s lots of splashing too. The tiny ducks don’t even notice the much larger Common Mergansers who cruise through the melee.

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Common Mergansers-where?

It’s all necessary, of course. Things have to happen now, or never. Soon, the Buffleheads will leave the coast and migrate into the interior. The females will rear their young in nesting holes originally made by Northern Flickers in trees on small streams and ponds sans Northern Pike, those notorious duckling eaters. For a time, they’ll stop being sea ducks and become freshwater ducks (that’s remarkable too if you think about it). I won’t see them again until the fall, likely on the same date as last year–October 15. Buffleheads are the most punctual of waterfowl.

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It’s how you look…

I should have more information about these charming little guys at my fingertips. I used to have a detailed monograph devoted to them, a surprise gift from my printer father years ago. Consistent with my life pattern of not needing something until after I’ve thrown it away, I got rid of it -reluctantly – a year or so ago. I’d carried ‘Buffleheads ‘ by Erskine around for decades even though it smelled rather strongly of the aquarium it fell into way back when. Plus its pages stuck together. It had to go. But now, I’m watching Buffleheads doing bobbing neck stretches, chasing each other in circles, flapping, displaying wing patterns and otherwise carrying on and, boy, I wish I still had that book. Sorry, Dad.

 

Bumper Birds

Now that I think about it, Bufflehead Bumper Boats might be a better title for this post. It’s the closest analogy I can think of. Males circle each other heads down, plowing through the water, raising the vertical crests on the back of their heads, show off the striking white patches on their wings, tearing around as fast as their little pink legs can drive them, bearing off just before the collision, like kids doing bumper boats. The myriad behavioural nuances obviously mean something. Erskine could have told me.

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Picking Up Speed

Amongst themselves there must be worlds of difference between participants but I can’t tell one of these little showboats from another. And which bird wins? A better black and white pattern might carry the day, or the intensity of the iridescent purple sheen on a male’s head, or good ‘cheeks’ and nape ruff, or maybe the whole package. I suspect nerve and aggression figures in big time.

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Any day now, they’ll be gone, off to their northern lakes and rivers and their nesting holes, not to return until October 15 when dozens will suddenly show up in the bay. I’ll miss the little guys, the smallest of the sea ducks.