Birds can become intoxicated on fermented berries. I remember a translation in a high school French class (or was it German?) about chickens getting drunk on overripe cherries — overdoing it on home brew kirsch. Not really a scientific source but then I’m no scientist so I’m prepared to accept it.
Certainly, the Cedar Waxwings and Robins up here on Observatory Hill are acting like they’re well into their cups. The Robins shoot me belligerent looks and pretend they run the place. A couple even faux buzz-bomb me. They obviously didn’t see the Peregrine that just overflew the mountain!
There must dozens of birds here and they’re goofing around big time, flitting from Arbutus to Arbutus, eating berries, chirping – loud. Their landings seem unsteady too. The Waxwings seem more sedate. Maybe they’re just at a different stage in the party. Most of them. There’s always the odd goofball, of course, who doesn’t know when to quit.
I’m out between squalls, following up reports of owl sightings–a Pygmy Owl on Observatory hill and a possible Snowy Owl at Panama Flats. Lately, my owl luck has been pitiful, even when I concentrate really, really hard. You’d expect some cooperation, but no. Still, it’s always worth a shot.
Time to Change Lodgings!
Panama Flats, a series of diked cattail-rimmed pools, resemble the real Panama not at all. Lots of waterfowl here though. I exit the car and most of them take to the air — Teal, Mallards, Widgeon, Pintails. It’s not me – I’m too far away. I suspect a hunting Peregrine but it’s a Bald Eagle that’s causing all the fuss, cruising the ponds like a diner at a buffet. A flock of Glaucous-winged Gulls is first up. Being an important food item for the Eagles, they can’t afford to linger. I’ve seen an eagle pick a gull out of the air.
Hmmm – tasty!
By the time I get to Observatory Hill, the rain is almost on me. It’s windy – and cold. A half dozen Ravens seem to welcome the prospect of the coming storm, cavorting and croaking, doing aerials, zooming past the dome covering the Observatory’s large telescope faster than I can focus on them. Using the wind.
Below me, the valley is in mist. To the south, someone burns slash–the blue smoke contrasting with the rising, steaming vapours. A maintenance guy comes to do leaf blowing. Jeepers! I can’t figure out the logic here — it’s a mountain top after all. The noise grates and the rain begins in earnest. Time to go. Not a darn owl anywhere anyway!
Smoke and Mist
The bird in question is a Field Sparrow, the first ever recorded here, perhaps the first ever in the province. Just about every birder I know saw the sparrow and many took great pictures. Word is that it’s almost stupidly tame, often hopping around peoples’ feet like a little, brown mouse. The problem is that, when I get to the Lagoon , it’s vanished. What a difference a day makes (darn – now I’ve got the song in my head – Dinah Washington. I think). It was clear last night and the winds, I guess, were favourable. The ‘once in a blue moon’ bird has gone, flown. Too bad for me and the thirty forlorn birders who wander the shores, occasional stopping to peer (hopefully) under the driftwood. Luckily, there are compensations. The light is wonderful and common birds are stunningly beautiful.
It’s mid-November in British Columbia but I’m out looking for a Tropical Kingbird. Yes – tropical! I think I’ve mentioned these wayward birds before. A few of them seem to show up somewhere on the coast each winter. It’s their brain wiring apparently – a misread of the magnetosphere by mostly young birds.
The Kingbird belongs to the Tyrant flycatcher clan, a family that includes some spectacular and engaging species. And they are tyrants in terms of attitude. Fierce little birds when they need to be, and very protective, driving away even the largest raptors.
Vermilion Flycatchers are favourites of mine. I think they look more tropical than the Kingbirds. Easy to imagine these small, bright red birds flitting through a jungle canopy somewhere far to the south, maybe near a squad of Toucans. Like many flycatchers, they don’t try to hide, so photographing them is relatively easy. The same is true of Scissortail Flycatchers like the ones I saw recently in Texas. Extravagantly long tails and peach-coloured sides – beautiful!
The woods around the visitor center at Laguna Atascosas in Texas. Like almost every other birder here, I’m looking for a Tropical Parula, a rare and pretty warbler that nobody’s seen today. I pass little knots of people scanning the trees with their binoculars. Soon we’re all on nodding terms.
It’s hot and too late in the day for birds to move around much, which means that the Parula (if it’s still here) will be hunkered down deep in the foliage. I still haven’t had breakfast and it seems silly to stick around. Then the amazing happens. A raucous group of Green Jays push out an Eastern Screech Owl. The bird stops for pictures about ten feet away! The chances of this are remote but when it happens it’s wonderful, like finding treasure. It’s one of the things I love about birding.
Eastern Screech Owl
So you’re here!
I’m at a birding festival in Texas. It’s unseasonably hot and very humid. My destination is the Laguna Atascosas Wildlife Refuge where I’m hoping to see rare Aplomado Falcons. The day doesn’t start well. I’m up early and keen but my GPS takes me to a bridge that is out and poorly marked detours have me driving around in circles for three hours. Twenty miles of so in three hours! I finally luck out and spot the road in, which turns to be one of the worst thoroughfares I’ve ever been on. I do see a gorgeous White-tailed Hawk but then nothing.
I’m getting discouraged but then, wonder of wonders, I spot two Aplomados and brake. They’re on adjacent fence posts about thirty feet away – beautiful- but when I get out to take pictures, my lens fogs up – something about air conditioners, humidity, and glass. Physics again, my nemesis!
I finally clear things up but as I try to line up a shot, the falcons, disgusted, hightail it. It’s not my day. Or is it? Birding is funny. After I resign myself to failure, my luck changes. The day becomes a raptor day – and one of the my best. I see a dozen birds of prey – the Aplomados, Peregrine Falcons, White-tailed Kites, Kestrels, Harriers, Crested Caracaras, White-tailed Hawks and the highlight, an Eastern Screech Owl. I’ll talk about that marvellous bird in the next post.
For those who don’t know the Aplomado, I offer a picture of a bird rehabilitated by the Raptor Project, an organization that looks after injured birds who are too damaged to be released. You can see what I missed when my lens fogged up back at Atascosas! The wild birds looked angular and deadly, not the least bit cute like this chap.
Raptor Project Aplomado, with Harris’s Hawk
Is there a prettier duck than the ‘Hoodie’? A group has just arrived in our little bay, the males posturing and flashing their crests as they compete for females. Buffleheads are here too, right on time – the 3rd week in October for us. And our Widgeon have returned, tumbling in on the winds of the last October storm. Coming home for the winter, I guess, and soon to be grazing on the local park lawns. No sign (yet) of the crimson-headed Eurasian Widgeon that spent last winter here. A squadron of young Surf Scoters has joined the Buffleheads, a bit of a surprise in such shallow water.
Hooded Merganser Drake
Surf Scoter Teens