Crows

 

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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)

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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.

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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

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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?

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Black Oystercatcher

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Juvenile Crow

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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.

 

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Harbour Seal

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Mew Gull

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Greater Yellowlegs

 

 

Killdeer Bath Time

 

 

 

Metaphorically

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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.

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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.

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Black-bellied Plovers

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Short-billed Dowitcher

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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.

 

 

Worn.

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Uplands Park View

Today, the Park seems like the Hundred Acre Wood, intimate, private. It’s breezy closer to the sea but I’m out of the wind here in the meadow. I have the trails to myself too. With no runners or dogs to disturb them, young Chickadees and Towhees are active, chasing each other through the foliage like kids. They seemed not to mark the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that cruised silently past a moment earlier, a serious lapse. Carelessness can get a bird killed here, unless it’s lucky, or the wide-eyed hawk is equally inexperienced and inept, which is not impossible.

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Cooper’s Hawk

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Meadow Flowers

Mostly I see signs of the turning of the year – flowers past their peak, older birds, worn now and replacing feathers. Gone the flamboyant colours and behaviours of mating season. Not completely, perhaps. A Yellow-rumped Warbler is still handsome, a ( pardon me ) ratty Spotted Towhee trills and fidgets a display of sorts nearby, a Bewick’s Wren sings half-hardheartedly in the shade. A Chipping Sparrow, on the other hand, seems content to feed up for the fall migration, keeping its own counsel. An Anna’s Hummingbird takes in the sun, as relaxed as a hummingbird ever gets

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Spotted Towhee

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Bewick’s Wren

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Chipping Sparrow

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Anna’s Hummingbird

A strikingly-patterned butterfly appears. It’s a Lorquin’s Admiral, looking great from a distance but close up, not so good. Its wings are in tatters, a sign that it’s at the end of its short life. Nice name though – Lorquin’s Admiral.

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Lorquin’s Admiral

Speaking of names, those of butterflies seem more poetic than those of birds – Skippers, Fritillaries, Azures, Parnassians, Hairstreaks. Admirals are Brushfoots. Brushfoots – makes me think of Hobbits. So – I started my walk with Winnie the Pooh and now I’m in Middle Earth. It’s that kind of a morning.

Once assigned, of course, names frequently stick. The competition to put the labels on things must be fierce. Bicycles were originally called velocipedes, which seems so much better. The same people who named birds must have insisted upon ‘bikes’; butterfly aficionados probably would have gone with ‘velos’. Boy, my mind really is wandering now. Talk about worn.

 

 

 

 

Pigeons! Good grief!

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It’s a measure, perhaps, of how slow mid-summer birding has been for me that I offer up this post on pigeons. I don’t mean the sleek, pearl-grey Band-tailed Pigeons, those lovely forest birds, but ordinary Rock Doves. Not well liked generally, these ‘rats of the air’, but I’ve always had a fondness for them.

I won’t bore you with stories of boyhood attempts to become a ‘pigeon fancier’, or of nabbing sleeping birds from under the eaves of the abandoned, towering old Coop with its rotten floors, or of the strange assortment of culled birds begged from real pigeon people, or of the beautiful red Homer, with its mighty chest and prominent cere, the one my friend Lloyd and I grabbed from off a downtown sidewalk. Gosh, that bird was something – a prince among pigeons. He stayed with us for a few days, ate our gleaned scratch grain, gathered his strength and then continued his journey home-at ninety miles an hour if he wanted to kick in the afterburners. Where home was, Lloyd and I never knew. We ought to have recorded his band number but twelve-year-olds often don’t think of these things until it’s too late.

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To make this more like a birding post, I mount a photographic expedition in support of it. I soon discover that there are really good-looking birds in most flocks. When I park out on Turkey Head, the locals descend, ready for a handout. They obviously don’t understand I’m here to do a photo essay, because I have to keep chasing them off the hood of my newly-washed car. It’s very disrespectful (Hey- I’m working here!).

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Begging for handouts, incidentally, doesn’t interrupt the mating process with Rock Doves. I’m not sure anything less than a Peregrine Falcon attack would accomplish that. The cooing and billing goes on through the year, which is why there are so many of these feathered ‘rats’ around the world. It’s not their fault. I watch a movie star among Rock Doves as he pouts his way from one female to another until he finally gets his way. He’s got it all going on!

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When a more promising car drives by, the flock lifts off, whirls around, performs some aerial acrobatics and, disappointed, re-descends near me. Pigeons are beautiful flyers, agile and swift, with those wing-tip clapping takeoffs. It’s worth watching pigeons fly; there aren’t many birds who do it better. See how they soar and turn, tumble and dive, flight feathers whistling. Wonderful! It’s those big chest muscles and the area and shape of the wing that does it.

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They’re relatively good parents too, think ‘pigeon milk’. In the bird world, only Penguins and Flamingos and members of the dove family make ‘milk’ for their offspring. I’ve never lost my love for these birds. Most of the snarky things people say about them could also be said about our own species, which doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as too many pigeons.

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So that’s it for the Rock Dove, my old pals. Nostalgia still drives me to visit to poultry barns at fall fairs, to check out Pouters, Fantails, Rollers and Tumblers at local shows, to listen to the music of  squawks, coos and peeps and the rustle of feathers, to breathe in the once familiar smells of scratch grain and straw. Other bird smells I try to ignore. I’m selective with with nostalgia. One has to be.

The Owl

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View from Observatory Hill

On a whim, we drive to the top of Observatory Hill to take in the views. It’s almost noon and the temperature is perfect, on the decal edge of hot. Nice weather for a walk. After a few minutes of searching, we relocate trail head, now obscured by creamy cascades of Ocean Spray. It’s not those slightly stinky blossoms that perfumes the air. The sweet, resinous scent results, likely, from the sun heating up volatile oils on the firs and glossy-leafed Arbutus. It’s lovely.

Aside from a curious juvenile Dark-eyed Junco with his speckled belly, we hear lots of birds but see nada. Anyway, I left my camera with its dead battery in the car. That’s okay. We came for the views and the walk. What are the chances of spotting a good bird at this time of year? Good, as it turns out.

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Plaskett Telescope Dome

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The Forest – Observatory Hill

It’s when we pause to admire a view of Prospect Lake, that the birds we haven’t seen suddenly appear. They’re excited, agitated, giving alarm calls and intermittently dive-bombing a stand of firs. A phantom takes wing, a raptor. It glides out of the grove and down the hill. We ease down the slope and spot the bird. A Great Horned Owl!

Of course, the Robins, Downy Woodpeckers, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Juncos want it gone. After a moment, the Owl cranks its head around, exasperation showing in big, yellow eyes, and departs. Its tormentors follow. A noisy gaggle tumbles down through the trees and, suddenly, the show is over. The lesson for me is clear. Always carry a spare camera battery! In lieu of the owl that got away, I have pics of this bird, seen in April, to remind me of what might have been.

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Great Horned Owl – Stand In

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Owleyes

Those Big yellow Eyes!

 

 

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

 

In praise of Tyrants (flycatchers, that is)…

 

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Western Kingbird -Victoria, Canada

After a month or so of searching the shrubbery for warblers and adding to my extensive collection of photos of blurred foliage and bare branches, the visit of a rare Western Kingbird to our area is a welcome relief. I had to search for it but when I found the bird, it wasn’t hiding. I really do appreciate flycatchers for not hiding. It’s a selling point. I’d tell them so if I could. Mind you, after the warblers, I’d say that about any bird that favoured an unobstructed perch and sat still for a picture. Getting a half decent shot of the Western sent me back into my files looking for other shots of flycatchers-phoebes, peewees, and kingbirds, tyrants all. A varied family too, with around 400 members around the world, of which these are just a few…

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Eastern Kingbird – Ontario, Canada

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Vermilion Flycatcher – Texas

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Great Kiskadee – Mexico

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Say’s Phoebe – Arizona

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Scissor-tailed Flycatcher – Texas

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