My World in Focus

My World in Focus

Exploring Nature and Creativity

Two Rare Birds, Four Lifers in Less than a Week

An American Tree Sparrow, a gorgeous little bird -- not uncommon in other parts of B.C., but rare  here on Vancouver Island. I saw it on one of our favorite walks, around the sewage lagoons.
It was hanging out with the Gold Crowned Sparrows. Seeing them side by side, you can see how tiny the Tree Sparrow is in comparison. 


We were in Fanny Bay when I saw this next one, I just thought it was some sort of loon. It was about that size. It wasn't until I reviewed the images that I realized this was a Red Necked Grebe, the first one I've ever seen. And there were two!

The water was full of tiny fish, which is what had drawn the grebes so close to shore.


After we headed home from Fanny Bay, we stopped in at the viewing station in Qualicum. I was taking photos of the Harlequin Duck when this gull just dropped into the frame. Because of the light colored eyes, I thought it was a Ring-billed. But the bill looked strange, and it seemed unusually pale -- paler even than the Glaucous Winged Gulls that are so common, and the bill seemed strangely stubby. After consulting with the folks at iBird, I had a tentative ID -- an Iceland Gull -- another rare bird in these parts. That ID has not been officially confirmed yet, but I made a rare bird report and have had it tentatively confirmed as a Kumlien Iceland Gull. Now it has to go before a review board. The alternative ID would likely be Thayer's Gull, which would also be a first for me, though it is quite common. I've just never seen a Thayer's before because I tend to ignore gulls.


Because a look at the upper wings would confirm the ID, I went back a few days later, not really expecting to see this same individual again, but hoping it might be still in the area. Instead, I found a flock of Thayer's Gulls, some with light eyes, and this one that was paler on the back and wings, but none that had the strange, stubby bill of my possible Iceland.


To convince my self, I did a Google search for images of the three most likely species suggested by the folks at iBird, the Iceland Gull, the Thayer's Gull, or the Olympic Gull. Individual bill shape can vary between individuals, just like noses with humans, but the difference seems just too great to me for it to be either a Thayer's or an Olympic. The Iceland is the closest, not only in bill shape, but in head shape as well.


Highlights of August to October

It's been a really busy couple of months, and I tend to forget  to blog when I got too busy. I have managed to get out exploring with the camera a few times though, and the following are the highlights of the photos I've taken.


Western Sandpiper at the city lagoon


A Common Murre in the Clutesi Haven Marina. These are not unusual in this area in January/February, but to see one in August is unheard of.


The super moon eclipse was fun -- it was in full eclipse by the time it climbed above the mountains and my camera would not focus on it until it started to come out of eclipse. This was the best shot I could get.


The salmon running like a river within a river below Stamp Falls.


Steller's Jays harvesting acorns along Kitsuksis Dike.


A lovely black bear eating berries in a tree just a short distance from the pipeline. 


This gorgeous little Gold Crowned Kinglet posed for several minutes -- very unusual for this breed that rarely stays still long enough to get even one decent shot.


And the same day, not one, but two Ruby Crowned Kinglets!

River Otters on the log booms at Cable Bay.


The Cable Bay Trail leads to Dodd's Narrows, a strip of water that lies between Vancouver Island and Mudge Island. When the tide changes, the surge is amazing and dangerous to boats. But the Sea Lions love to play in and hunt the fish that get swept up in the current.



Muskrat Encounter

Another interesting encounter I had while on holidays in Saskatchewan took place in Lashburn. As I walked the path along the far side of the ponds, I saw a dark, fuzzy lump in the grassy path ahead of me. When it moved I thought, "It's a rat! A really big rat!" Then I saw the furry ears and I realized it was a Muskrat. It showed absolutely no fear as I approached, continuing to munch on the grass and clover. 


More Kestrels in Hays, Alberta

On our way home, we crossed southern Alberta in order to visit relatives in Hays, Alberta. When we went for an evening walk, we saw more American Kestrels, which kindly posed for us.


Male American Kestrel



Female American Kestrel


Juvenile Female American Kestrel


Then the following morning when I went out to get something from the car, I noticed this Solitary Sandpiper across the street. They had been watering the grass the day before and had flooded the entire area, creating a large puddle along the edges of the road..

The puddle created beautiful reflections.


Butterflies in Meadow Lake Area

I was disappointed in the birding around my husband's family's farm near Meadow Lake. We heard lots of interesting calls in the trees, but spotted nothing except Cedar Waxwings and Black-capped Chickadees, and one raptor that did a quick fly-by that looked like a Merlin. However, despite the lack of avian subjects for my camera, I had a ball photographing the gorgeous butterflies that were everywhere along the farm road.


Comma Butterfly


Milbert's Tortoiseshell


Pink Edged Sulphur



Northern Frittillary




Gorgeous unidentified Skipper Butterfly



And while I thought I was going to get skunked on birds for the four days we stayed in the Meadow Lake area, on our last night there, as we drove along the country roads at twilight, my husband spotted a convention of these gorgeous raptors -- ten of them clustered together in three trees within sight of each other. I've never seen raptors congregate in such a large group -- too large a group for it to be just one set of parents and their chicks -- eight chicks seems a bit too many for one pair of raptors. 


The lower individual is an adult male American Kestrel. The other two appear to be juvenile males of the same species. There were five Kestrels in this tree at first, but two flew away when we stopped to take pictures through the rolled down window.

Birding in Saskatchewan

While travelling across Alberta and Saskatchewan, we have passed numerous sloughs and roadside ponds full of ducks and shorebirds, but of course, there are few places to pull over, and we had a schedule to keep. I did however get to do some birding whenever we stopped for the night.

In Hussar, Alberta, just an hour east of Calgary, I saw a few of the usual suspects -- magpies, cowbirds, house sparrows, chipping sparrows, etc. But the only good shot I got was of this lovely Alder Flycatcher, a first for me.


In Saskatoon the next evening, my cousins took us to the Weir, which appears to be some sort of man made waterfall where the White Pelicans gather to catch the fish that come over the spillway. 



The next day we arrived in Lashburn, Saskatchewan, a little east of Loydminister, and I got a chance to wander around a bit more. I added a couple more first timers to my life list, a Tennessee Warbler and a Solitary Sandpiper.



The next day, I got to go out with a local bird enthusiast, and she took me to a nearby wetland area where I got my target species, the one I most wanted to see, an American Avocet, a gorgeous bird.


I also managed to capture images of three more first time species in Lashburn, a House Wren juvenile, a Blue Jay and a Clay Colored Sparrow.




Lashburn and the Loydminster area is an excellent place for birding.

Passing Through Revelstoke

We spent the night in Revelstoke, on our way through to visit relatives on the prairies. Since we arrived in mid afternoon, we had a nap, then supper and then we went for a stroll along the river, hoping to see some birds. We saw plenty of mosquitoes, but very few birds, until we came upon this lovely Osprey with his fresh catch of the day.


We drove a little further and got treated to this lovely mountain sunset reflected in the marsh along the river:

I'll be posting some more pics from our holiday later, once I've had time to sort them.

A New Commission Finished

I just finished painting four large (22 x 35") hardboard panels for a customer. I'm quite pleased with the way they turned out, so I thought I would post them here on my blog.

This first one of the crabs took the longest of the four -- a whole day just to paint all the barnacles, let alone the rest of it!




Fledgling Gold-crowned Kinglets

We visited the Burde Hill lakes this afternoon. It's one of our favorite places to walk on hot days, because once you reach the Log Train Trail, it's nice and shady and cooler. We don't usually see many birds along the trail, though we often hear them. But this time, as we rested by the lower lake, enjoying the view, we began hearing little birds in the trees above us. I tried and tried to get a shot of one to identify it, but they were tiny, hard to find on the camera monitor, and when I did find them the camera either focused on the background or the foreground. Still, I persisted, since the birds didn't to be concerned by my presence, and I managed, out of about fifty shots, to get a couple of reasonably sharp ones.

At first I had no idea what they were, but then I managed to get a glimpse of one of the adults and I realized it was a Gold-crowned Kinglet.

I just love seeing the baby birds, and this was a special thrill, since I had never seen GCKinglet chicks before.


Adult Great Horned Owl

We went back to the sanctuary again today, hoping to see the owl fledglings again, but they were nowhere in sight. However, we did see one of the adults. The cryptic patterning of the feathers is amazing!



It kept taking short flights down the road ahead of us, as if leading us away. But then the robins noticed it and started making a fuss, and soon after the crows began harrassing the owl. 



Finally it sat in plain sight and watched us walk on down the road, with the crows still kicking up a fuss. An hour later, when we came back after our walk around the sanctuary, we saw no sign of any owls. There have been Great Horned Owls and Redtail Hawks nesting in these woods for over fifteen years, and now the logging company is talking about logging the entire ridge. There oughta be a law against it!



This Year's Owl Fledglings

We decided to go to the bird sanctuary this evening, since the sun was hazed over, creating nice light for photographs. We've been so busy lately, we haven't had much chance to enjoy 'baby bird month'. The few times we had managed to get to the sanctuary, we saw no sign of the owls, nor any other fledglings except for Canada Geese, Mallards and Robins, of which there were many. So tonight it was a real treat to spot the young owls. They are obviously freshly out of the nest, with flight feathers developed enough for short flights, but bodies and heads still covered with baby down. 


This is the first chick we saw, calling either for food or because it saw us.


It flew ahead to another log and sat beside its sibling, another clue to how young they are. As they get older they seem to want a little more distance from one another, seldom perching on the same branch.


It was pretty dark under the trees, and many of the shots I took turned out blurry in the low light. One of the adults showed up and all three of them sat within a few feet of one another.



Mom flew away, but the chicks kept looking up. I think they could see her, and wherever she was, she was keeping an eye on us. 



Now that they're fledged, we will likely see them each time we go out there for the next few weeks. Once their wings are stronger, they usually move to higher elevations to avoid the summer heat.

Hiking on Mount Arrowsmith

We went up Mount Arrowsmith with my brother and his wife today, in my brother's truck. We were actually heading for Labor Day Lake, but discovered the road is closed for active logging, at least for the next two weeks or more. So instead, we headed up the mountain, looking for alpine meadows, wildflowers and butterflies. The views from up there are fabulous, but couldn't get very good pics because the air was so hazy. Saw lots of butterflies flying around as we drove up the road, but didn't see many once we got up there. It's been so long since any of us had gone up the mountain. It was very dry up there, with only a few hardy species of wildflowers along the sides of the road -- Columbine and Lupins. As we got to higher elevations, those disappeared too, but we saw Pink Mountain Heather and White Mountain Heather.


Pink Mountain Heather


This is the trail we climbed up. It was very coarse, loose rock, difficult to walk on because it kept slipping and rolling beneath our feet, especially where it was steepest. Not being used to the thin air at that high elevation, I had to stop and catch my breath three times on the way to the top of that ridge up there. 


Along the sides of the trail we saw these tiny Pussy Toes. I had seen large ones before but they were four times the size of these fuzzy little beauties. I love their name -- Pussy Toes.


Alpine Pussy Toes


We saw one bush I couldn't identify that the insects were just swarming, insects of all kinds. And it was on this bush I saw my one close up butterfly.


Western Elfin Butterfly


The bush itself look similar to a rose, only it had sets of seven serated leaves instead of five and the flowers came in thick clusters. 


Yellow Velvet Longhorn Beetle

This insect looked amazing -- metalic and irridescent, gleaming in the sun!

The Western Elfin Butterfly kept coming back again and again to the same cluster of flowers, even sharing them with this Hornet.


And this strange looking insect looked sort of like a wasp or some sort of fly, but it's abdomen was flattened.


Further up the mountain, we found a seep, a small spring that created a swampy area not much bigger than the size of my kitchen. Around it we found bog orchids, pale violets, saxifrage, little purple flowers I think were butterwort, as well as Salamander nymphs and a lovely little Wood Frog.


On the way down we stopped at a viewpoint and took a photo of the vista, with Port Alberni and the Inlet below and Sproat Lake in the distance. It was a fabulous day, enjoyed by all!





June Walks

June is baby bird month, so I like to get out walking often to try and catch the fledglings when they're young and more curious than cautious. So far though, I've only seen Robin fledglings, already adult size but still with their baby spots and speckles. There seem to be fewer and fewer birds every year, and the ones remaining seem very cautious and flighty. 

   In the past week, we've walked in two places -- the bird sanctuary and the beaver ponds, partly looking for birds, but also for wildflowers. At the sanctuary, we first met this Purple Finch, singing his little heart out.



A little further along we saw Rough Winged Swallows on the overhead wire. 

As we continued along the pipeline, we saw many Red-wing Blackbirds, but this one just posed to prettily, I had to take a few shots.


When we reached the end of the pipeline, we saw this Turkey Vulture perched on the pylons. We often see them soaring overhead, but rarely get this good a look at one.



Then as we walked around the mill ponds, this eagle was perched right over our heads, watching two other adult eagles chasing one another.



Yesterday we walked up to the beaver ponds, just a short distance from our home. The Twin Flowers  were blooming in big patches, one of my favorite small wildflowers. These tiny flowers are only about half an inch long, but so beautiful, like fairy bells!

The fish we saw at the edge of the lower pond was still there, and he now has a friend. I never did get an ID on these, but they sure look like they might be related to cod, with those spines along the back (notice the spines are raised on the smaller one).


Kathy's Irises

We visited friends tonight for a barbeque and I had fun photographing all the lovely Irises in her garden. She has so many varieties in a rainbow of colors! These three are my favorite shots.



Spider's Lunch

We came home today and I immediately noticed this odd looking bug on the garage door. I took a closer look with the zoom lens and realized it was a spider carrying a fly. Set the camera on macro and got up real close so I could see her beady little eyes!


A Walk to Remember

   Our walk to day was wonderful! We left the house on foot around mid morning and climbed the hill to the entrance of the Log Train Trail. In the ditch near the entrance I found these tiny but gorgeous blue flowers.
Blue Eyed Grass


The reason we took this route today was because we'd heard the Yellow Flags were blooming around the beaver enhanced lower lake. From the viewpoint at the lower lake, looking west, we spotted this distant male Wood Duck against a wall of Flags.


The flags were gorgeous, in their prime, and I took numerous photos. This one is my favorite:

At the other end of the lake, I spotted a Mallard mom with a sizable flock of 'lings'. These are just a few of them. They look half grown already! I didn't count, but  it looked like around 8 to 10 chicks.


Near the shore in the shallow water, we noticed this colorful fish swimming back and forth. It was about four or five inches long and seemed quite territorial, chasing away a few smaller, darker fish and continuously coming back to this same rock. The pale edging on the tail and dorsal fin had a silvery iridescence and that dark spot behind the gills had a blue iridescence at a certain angle. I have sent an email to the biology department of UBC for help identifying this fish. Googling freshwater fish provided zero help. 


The dorsal spines really show in this shot and make me think maybe it's a freshwater Cod. Couldn't find any images of freshwater Cod on Google except for eastern species and Australian species. Once I get an ID I will edit this post to add the name.


We continued our walk, taking the trail to the upper lake.

No Yellow Flags at this lake, but large rafts of our wild, native Water Lilies.


A gorgeous Red Breasted Sapsucker flew into a nearby tree and began foraging.


It was such lovely morning that we decided to walk the loop down to the Roger Creek Trail and back up to the Log Train Trail again. I've seldom gotten photos of birds in this area. Though we often hear them all around us, the canopy is high and thick and there are so many places for them to hide, it's difficult to spot them. However, this time, as we neared Roger Creek we heard some sort of bird making a frantic racket, sounding very angry and alarmed. I thought, there must be an owl! First I spotted the noisemaker, a Hairy Woodpecker.

Then I saw what he was so upset about -- not an owl, a bear!


It was dark in there and difficult to get the camera to focus, but I managed to get a couple of reasonably sharp images. We were quite close, and once the bear realized we were there, he started to make huffing  and grinding of teeth noises, so we left him alone and moved along. About a quarter mile further, this wee Pacific Wren chick flew across the trail right in front of us.


Pacific Wren Chick


Then finally, we turned off onto a side trail that brought us out behind the hospital, and as we circled around to reach the road home, we saw this lovely Pale Swallowtail in the hospital garden, sipping nectar from Lilac flowers.

All in all, it was fabulous and very enjoyable walk, with lots of critter encounters.


Winged Things

Lately we've started seeing some butterflies I had never seen in our area before, and we have missed seeing some of our old favorites, like the Sara Orangetip. I think we missed the Sara because we were too busy to get out there at the right time. They never seem to stay around longer than a week or two. However, in the past two weeks, we have seen two Hairstreaks that I'd never seen before, both out at the Estuary.


Cedar Hairstreak, seen along the access road.


Grey Hairstreak, seen (two of them) on the beach amongst the Shooting Star flowers.


We also saw a duck species I've only ever seen once before, in almost exactly the same place . . . a pair of Blue Winged Teals.


Some more common sightings, but favorites of mine are the Anise Swallowtail -- the most common of the Swallowtails in our area.


And the Bewick's Wren, photographed at Buttertubs Mash a couple of weeks ago.


Lilies, Shooting Stars and Orchids

Wow! I didn't realize it had been so long since I had posted! It's been a really busy year so far, but I managed to find time to visit my favorite flower friends. Many came early this year, after a relatively dry, warm winter and an early spring. The lilies start to show up in April around Easter time. These are some of my favorites:

White Fawn Lilies

Pink Fawn Lilies
Pink Fawn Lilies with Toothwort


Calypso Orchids



Kamchatka Lilies

Shooting Stars




Raptors and Sparrows

The day started out with sun filtered through fog -- ideal light for photography, but I had a photo club meeting to attend. I just hoped that by the time the meeting ended the fog would not thicken up or burn away. Fortunately, while it did mostly burn away before I could get out there with the camera, it at least remained sunny, a rare event for this part of the world at this time of year. John and I visited the bird sanctuary, and it seemed to be a great day for raptors. First we saw this juvenile Bald Eagle, which seemed completely unconcerned about having two camera's aimed at it.

We also saw a Merlin spreading its wings and tail to dry its feathers, but it was at quite a distance, and I couldn't get a good photo. Just a few yards further along though, a female Harrier came flying  in a slow glide, low over the path, and landed in the reeds at the edge of the pond. 

As we came around the third pond, we saw this juvenile Red-tail Hawk land in this tree -- again, quite distant, so this is not a great shot and it's seriously cropped, but the bird is so beautiful!

We also saw a couple of Song Sparrows who posed quite nicely for me. This one is quite fluffy, though the day was surprisingly warm for January.

This Song Sparrow was feeding on the Alder cones:



New Year's Day Sunrise

I got up early New Year's Day and went out with the camera to explore what is left of the bluff on Triangle Mountain. This area used to be gorgeous, with masses of wildflowers in the spring -- Camas Lilies, Shooting Stars, Sea Blush and Blue Eyed Maries to name a few of my favorites. It also was habitat for many species of birds, including Olive Sided Flycatchers, four species of Sparrows, California Quail, Flickers and numerous others. But developers have been chipping away at the bluff for over a decade now, blasting the stones and leveling them, then covering all that beauty with cement and houses. It's been two years since I had visited this area, and there was literally nothing left but piles of rubble. Just one tiny corner smaller than my living room still offers shelter to the Quails and Sparrows. I could hear the Quails, but they have gotten very skittish and wouldn't show themselves. There is still some bush and trees at the end of the road -- probably because it is quite steep -- but a sign was posted saying development would start soon. It makes me feel ill just to think of it.

Sunrise from Triangle Mountain:


New Year's Eve at the Esquimault Lagoon

Happy New Year, everyone! We spent New Year's Eve visiting our friends in Victoria. The weather was a bit chilly but gorgeously sunny, so we went for an afternoon walk along the shores of the Esquimault Lagoon. Lots of birds! The winter sun was low and rather harsh for photography, but the birds were quite used to people and most were quite cooperative. A couple of girls were feeding the ducks and swans, so a big crowd of them were right up on the shore. When we got out of the car we were greeted by a large flock of Brewer's Blackbirds. We rarely see these at home, but they are everywhere in Victoria, even in the parking lots downtown. 

We saw a few Red Breasted Mergansers, something else we don't often find on the west coast.

People must often feed the birds in this area, because the Pintail Ducks that keep their distance at home, and fly away as soon as they see you looking at them, here were quite tame and close to shore and unconcerned about a camera pointing at them.

We saw several small groups of Common Goldeneye and Hooded Mergansers. This female Hoody posed very nicely for me.

On the way back along the shore we had the sun behind us, much better for picture taking. A flock of White Crowned Sparrows and a couple of Gold Crowned Sparrows sat in this bush and foraged on the ground below.

The last bird we spotted, just before we reached our car, was this lovely Pied Billed Grebe juggling a fish. It seemed to be having a hard time swallowing its dinner.

All in all, it was a fun afternoon and a good way to end the old year.


Bear, Birds and Racoons

We walked the sanctuary today for the first time in weeks, hoping to see some migrating shorebirds. Didn't find any of those, but from the pipeline we watched this bear feeding on berries. It was hard to get pictures because he was more than half hidden in the branches most of the time.


Along the pipeline we also came across this juvenile Red Breasted Sapsucker getting its adult colors.


As we continued around the ponds we found this lovely juvenile White Crowned Sparrow:


 Then later, when we walked around the dike after supper, John's sharp eyes spotted this trio of cute racoons:


Trip to Sandy Island

Five of us made the boat trip to Sandy Island (also known as Tree Island) this morning on a birding trip. We had a wonderful day, saw many species of birds. Three of the group were expert birders equiped with birding scopes, and they counted something like 54 species. I'm not sure of their final total, as they were still counting on the boat trip back. I, on the other hand, am mostly interested in those birds that are close enough to photograph, or at least see with the naked eye. The tide was low when we arrived, and I spent the morning wandering the mud flats and exploring the tide pools.

It's a small island, connected to Denman Island at low tide by a sandy spit, and we walked all the way around the island and explored a few of the trails that criss-cross it as well. Here are a few of the photographic highlights for me.

Sanderlings and Least Sandpiper   I had seen Sanderlings once before and have wanted ever since to see them again. Notice the bird farthest to the right. It had only one leg, and while its fellows ran across the sand, it hopped, going a bit slower but appearing to keep up  with the flock and manage quite well. 

We also saw a Golden Plover, a first for me, but it was too far away for a decent photo.

Semi-Palmated Plover -- another first for me. I really had to work to get a reasonably good shot because they kept quite a wide safety margin between us. I actually got the best shots after I sat down on the sand and let them come to me.


Western Sandpiper  I had seen these once before, but was happy to get a chance for a better image than I'd gotten before


Baird's Sandpiper  This was my favorite sighting of the day. This little bird seemed almost oblivious to our presence, wandering back and forth in front of us for several minutes, quite close at times.

Ring-Billed Gull  This is a species I've seen just once before, and it was a juvenile at that, so I was very pleased to get this shot of an adult. It's very fierce and grumpy looking.


Great Horned Owls

I've been back to visit the owls again twice and they never disappoint. The chicks are getting very adult looking already, and I expect they will soon disappear. We have never seen them through August. I think maybe they go to higher elevations once the really hot weather hits and the chicks are ready for extended flight.

This is one of the chicks, taken three days ago. You can tell it's a young one by the fuzzy greyish head feathers and the short 'ear' tufts. By this time, it is adult size and has fully developed flight and tail feathers. Only the head still has baby fuzz on it.
The image below is one of the adult owls. Note how long and full the 'ear' tufts are. I suspect this mating pair is not the same ones we've seen for the  past fifteen years, up until last year. The original pair mated early, had fledgling chicks by mid March and had disappeared for the summer by July. We never saw them in the afternoon, only in early morning. This new pair has different habits. It may be one of the original's chicks, having taken over the territory when the parents passed on. This new pair, for the past two years, has nested much later, with the chicks fledging in June. We haven't seen them early in the morning, but almost any afternoon you can spot one or two members of the family just by walking the length of the access road to the sanctuary.
Here is one of the chicks again, taken just today. 



Swainson's Thrush


Ravens, Wren, Swallowtail and Owls

Last Thursday I went to Chesterman Beach with my sister-in-law. As we walked along the beach, we came across this family of Ravens with three fledglings. They were quite vocal, and the two adults were kept busy guarding their youngsters as they explored the edges of the beach. Here is an image of the adult male. He's looking up because he's being harrassed by a pesky crow.


And here is a shot of one of the juveniles playing with something he's found between the rocks and driftwood. It looks like some sort of container, perhaps for candy or collector cards. With the Canadian flag on it, it looks like he's celebrating Canada Day. These birds are so smart its almost scary. He seemed to be trying to figure out what this object was and how to open it. He packed it around for several minutes, until he got bored with it.


Later that day, we walked part of the Wild Pacific Trail and we came across another family with fledglings, Pacific Wrens this time. They were all over the place, so active, bopping from branch to log to bush so quickly it was impossible to count them. I know there were at least three chicks and two adults, but I suspect there might have been as many as six chicks. Only one was curious enough to sit still long enough for me to focus on it. It was a cloudy day with a fine mist falling ... pretty dark in the woods, and this was the only image that turned out not too bad.


I've been so busy lately, I haven't gotten out much with the camera. I'm painting every day, getting ready for two painting exhibitions in August and Sept/Oct. But for today, Canada Day, I decided to take a day off to watch the parade. After lunch, John and I decided to visit the bird sanctuary. Hot, hot day! Didn't see many birds ... they were smart enough to be in the shade. However, we did see two Western Swallowtail butterflies, the first I've seen this year. We get mostly the Anise Swallowtails here. 


Then, as we were leaving, walking down the access road, I saw a Great Horned Owl take off and fly around the curve of the road. When we got around the curve, it was sitting right there on a branch above us. 


I was thrilled, as I always am to see an owl in the wild. But we were double lucky today! Just a short way further down the road, we heard a Swainson's Thrush making a fuss in the trees along the side of the road, and there was another owl! And this one had a mouse (or rat) in its claws! Too cool for words! It was worth slogging through the heat to see this! Happy Canada Day!



We visited Little Qualicum Falls today, and I found one of my favorite wildflowers in bloom there. Pipsissewa is a medicinal plant used by the First Nations people. The leaves were put in a bath as a linament for sore muscles. They were also brewed into a tea for colds and influenza by some tribes. The plant has shown hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) properites in experiments. The name Pipsissewa is adapted from the Cree name pipisiskweu, meaning 'it breaks into small pieces', because the leaves contain a substance that was supposed to dissolve kidney stones.



Beaver, Ducks, Mergansers

For our evening walk tonight, we went to Yellow Flag Lake. At this time of year, the yellow flags are almost finished, and the floating aquatic plants have covered most of the surface of the water. In the early evening one can almost always spot a beaver or two feeding in the lake. 


Last night, we walked at the dike again, and we saw:

a mallard with two ducklings

a Hooded Merganser, a species I've only ever seen  in the creek before during winter

and a Common Merganser with chicks. We had seen one of these upstream near the base of the waterfall about a month ago, and I suspect she has a nest in that area. They nest in tree hollows the same way Wood Ducks do. These babies are pretty young, and she moved quickly, straight down the creek with them toward the relative safety of the big river. This is the first batch of young mergansers we've seen this year.



Kitsuksis Dike Today

Getting pictures of Kingfisher is always problematic. They fly away as soon as they realize you are in the area. So when one poses for you, chances are good that it's a juvenile that doesn't know any better. You'd better take advantage while you can, because in a week or so, they won't be so cooperative any more.


When we walked back through Spencer Park to the waterfall, we came across this juvenile Pileated Woodpecker, calling to the parent right beside the trail. As soon as Momma realized we were there, she hustled her chick away. 


Back on the main trail, We noticed this gorgeous, cinnamon coloured Garter Snake. by the side of the walkway. Garter Snakes seem to come in quite a variety of colors. I"m going to have to do some research to see if they are different sub species.


In the trees along the edge of the berm, we heard another Pileated Woodpecker calling quite insistently. When I got to where I could spot it, I discovered it was another juvenile. Quite a different call from the first one, which was making soft, almost mewing sounds, with the parent right there. This chick was at about half a kilometer from that first one, and I had to wonder if it was part of the same family and had just wandered a little too far and got lost. It's calls sounded much louder, more like an adult's calls. 


Shooting Stars

Spring at last! The Shooting Stars are blooming along the shore again!

These are Many Flowered Shooting Stars. The first time I saw them here, below the high tide line!, I thought I was seeing things. I'd never seen Shooting Stars on the beach before, just on rocky bluffs inland. 


East Coast Shorebirds

Foggy here today. We went for a drive to the east coast of the Island, looking for some sun. Didn't see much sun, but the beaches were full of lovely shorebirds, Dunlins, Black Bellied Plovers, Oyster Catchers and Black Turnstones.
Black Bellied Plovers:




Cute Mink

Saw this cute mink peeking at us from under the pipeline yesterday.


Black Scoters

I had to take a trip up the east side of the Island today. I chose to take the old Coast Highway, and along the way, I noticed a raft of ducks quite close to shore, and luckily, right in front of a parking area. It was a foggy day and the light was dismal, but I expect they would not have been so close to shore if the light had been brighter. Anyway, they turned out to be Black Scoters, a species I had only seen once before in almost the same area and much farther away. It made my day!



Pied-billed Grebes

Last Tuesday we visited Buttertubs Marsh. We saw mostly the same species we see everywhere at this time of year -- Juncos, Robins, Mallards, Song Sparrows, a few Pintails and Widgeons. But best of all, we saw the cutest little Pied-billed Grebes. These little birds are usually too far away to get more than an ID, so it was a real treat to have a couple of them come quite close. I've seen them this close before, but usually in late winter when the light was dull and gloomy, so the image quality was poor. But last Tuesday was a lovely, sunny day and I got quite a few good pictures. These are three of my favorites:





Pileated Woodpecker

This gorgeous female Pileated Woodpecker was digging holes in a stump just a few yards away from the trail during our mushroom walk. She watched me for a bit, but when I didn't move, she just continued about her business and I got a couple dozen good photos. This was my favorite. The light changed while we watched her, and at this point the sun hit the far side of the stump and cast a nice light reflection up onto her chin and breast.


Mushroom Time

We took a walk on a sunny afternoon recently, along the Log Train Trail and up past a pair of small lakes, then through the woods. Numerous forms of fungus grew everywhere. These are some of my favorites.


I love the white lacy edge on this one, and the soft looking 'skirt' around the stalk.

And here's a baby one just coming up amongst the leaf litter. It looks like something out of Disney's Fantasia.
These ones look like fairy parasols.


I call this one a Fungus Garden. I can't identify mushroooms, but I can see at least six different fungus species in this tiny area. 

These cool little clusters of mushrooms look like little families.
I love this one for it's brilliant color.
The interesting thing about mushrooms is that what we see is just the fruiting body, the part that produces spores to propagate the species. Beneath the surface, the entire body of the fungus can be spread out for miles, so a single species of mushrooms you see growing in one spot can be, not only related to similar ones in a nearby area, but actually fruiting bodies from the same individual fungus.



Glorious Autumn!

Here on the west coast we've been having glorious autumn weather, sunny and warm, but with a nip in the air. The leaves have turned golden and orange, adding wonderful splashes of color.

All the critters seem to be enjoying the reprieve from the rain just as much as us humans. During our walks over the past two days, we've seen all sorts of birds, squirrels, and a mink.

Hairy Woodpecker


Yellow Rumped Warbler


Western Red Squirrel


Turnstones and Oyster Catchers

We had to make a trip to Qualicum to replenish my painting supplies, so we decided to stop in at The Rocks to check out the birds. The Black Turnstones were foraging busily along the shorline. I've always suspected they were eating the barnacles, but this time I've got photographic proof.

Here's a cropped close-up on the details:

The Turnstones seemed to ignore my presence, and as long as I stayed fairly still, or moved parallel to them, they allowed me to approach, amazingly close, and moved even closer themselves.

The Black Oystercatchers watched me with alert wariness, but seemed reassured by the fearlessness of the Turnstones. The two species seem to co-exist quite amiably, often foraging side by side. At one point there were six Oystercatchers grouped together on one rock. These are my two favorites from the shots I got:



Raindrops and Sunlight

We had a wonderfully sunny day today when we were expecting a steady downpour. Since the current theme for my photo club is 'raindrops', I went looking for some to photograph. When you live on the rainy west coast, you seldom actually look at raindrops because you see so many of them and so often. But a closer look and a little sunlight makes them magical.


Qualicum Rocks and Kits Dike

Last week I visited the Rocks in Qualicum, a lovely, rocky stretch of beach with a wildlife viewing station. The tide was just right, with some beach exposed, but not so much that the shorebirds were too far away to see. I found a flock of Black Turnstones feeding amongst the rocks at the water's edge. They appear to feed on the barnacles.

This is probably the closest I've ever gotten to a Kildeer. They have such huge, amazing eyes!


At least two or three evenings a week we walk along Kitsuksis Dike. It's one of our favorite places to walk, partly because it's usually cooler there on the hot days, and partly because we usually see something interesting along the way. On this evening we came across a Great Blue Heron trying to eat a huge crayfish that had to be at least five or six inches long.


Part of the dike walk goes through Spencer Park, a forested area that borders the creek on both sides. Several families of these little Western Red Squirrels live along the trail, and people leave peanuts and sunflower seeds  on the logs for them. This one apparently prefers it's natural food of a fir cones.


Finally, we spotted this unusual beetle scuttling across the path. Then further along we saw another. I posted a photo on and they gave me some Latin name that I couldn't even pronounce, but I Googled it and found a common name for the beetles -- Slug Killers! So if you have a problem with slugs in your garden, get yourself some of these beetles!


Gorgeous Pileated Woodpecker!

Last night as we were walking through the woods along the creek, we came across this beautiful male Pileated Woodpecker. I held my breath as I focused and zoomed in on hiim, expecting he would fly away as soon as he realized our attention was on him. But he didn't. He posed, turning this way and that, showing me one side, then the other like a seasoned photo model. He flew up onto a branch and modelled some more. I kept expecting him to leave, but he flew down and started foraging at the base of a tree just a few feet away. When another walker came by and scared him up, he just flew down the path a few yards to the side of a big fir. I took about thirty shots, but these are the two best ones.


Dowitchers and Sandpipers and Swallows at the Sanctuary

Worked all weekend, so we took today off and walked around the bird sanctuary.

We had seen sandpipers there last time, but only from a long distance. So we went back to see if they were still in the area. We walked in along the pipeline, and when we reached the first pond I spotted this little Chipping Sparrow, the first one I've ever seen on the Island.

A lot of Barn Swallows were swooping over the ponds, twittering. We often see a lot of swallows through the summer, but mostly Violet Green Swallows with just an occasional Barn or Rough Winged Swallow, so I think these ones are migrating through. They seemed pretty tired. It's unusual to see them perching, especially long enough for pictures. I think these might be juveniles, because you seldom see adults sitting so close together.


The paper mill sold the mill pond to the city for a city effluent overflow pond. It's been mostly drained, so there is a greatly reduced pool of water surrounded by mud flats, where already green stuff is starting to grow. The shorebirds love it! It must seem like perpetual low tide to them. Every time we've gone out here for the last month or so, we have seen sandpipers here. These are Western Sandpipers, I think.


As we came around to the far side of the pond, we saw a row of birds along the shore. They sat with their beaks tucked into their feathers, so all we could see was their backs and faces. From a distance they looked like a row of Mallards, which are quite common in this area. But around the curve of shore beyond them I could see some of the Western Sandpipers, and I wanted some closer shots of them, if they would stay long enough. As I approached however, I realized the 'mallards' were actually Dowitchers!

Standing on one leg each, they look like a row of weird plants.


We counted twelve of them altogether, including a solitary one hanging out with the Sandpipers. I think that grey one is a juvenile.

The Western Sandpipers did stay while I took a few photos. The light was at a better angle, so the markings are more visible, making an ID a little easier.

This is the Dowitcher that was hanging out with the Sandpipers. It looks like another juvenile.

Finally, on our way back to the car, this little Barn Swallow perched on the rail of the pipeline and allowed me to get amazingly close, so I got great detail. It seemed totally unafraid.


Pacific Slope Flycatcher Nest with Chicks

A friend spotted this nest and invited me over to take pictures. I had heard but never seen any of these Pacific Slope Flycatchers, so I was thrilled to see the little nest tucked in a hollow in the thick, corky bark of a Douglas Fir, right at eye level. At first I only saw the one chick, bright eyed, gripping the edge of the nest hollow as if about to try its tiny wings.

Then two more little heads appeared as the siblings woke up. Here they see one of their parents in the tree above and they're watching to see if it's going to bring them any food.


Yes! Here she comes! Open wide!


Here's the other parent keeping an eye on things. I didn't want to disturb them for too long, so I left after about half an hour.



Bear Watching at the River

After our walk tonight we stopped at the river to watch for bears. The tide was quite low and the sockeye are running, an ideal scenario for bear watching. We waited around for half an hour or so and saw nothing but a few gulls and a distant flock of starlings. Then our patience was rewarded when a young bear strolled out of the bush and onto the beach.

This is such a lovely spot for watching bears, with the width of the river between to make both us and the bears feel safe from one another.

Just looking around for any fish trapped by the outgoing tide, or dead ones washed up on the shore.

The bear smells something. You can tell by the angle of its head. They usually walk with their head down, nose to the ground, sniffing for edibles.

There it is, just what the bear was looking for, a dead fish!

The bear takes its supper off into the bush to eat in privacy, away from curious human eyes and other hungry bears.

Crow Fledgling

Been super busy for weeks, but I bought a new camera yesterday and just had to try it out. We took it down to the river and the dike looking for subjects to try it out on. The camera is a Canon Powershot SX50 -- a high end point and shoot with 50x zoom. Way lighter than my SLR and better in low light because it has a shorter focal length, even at full zoom. It will be great during the dull days of winter.

    When we arrived at the river, the tide was low and coming in. An eagle was sitting high in a tree across the water. The camera broght it in really close, even closer than my SLR and telephoto, but the wind was blowing hard and pushing me around and at that degree of zoom I couldn't hold the camera still enough for a good shot. But then the eagle flew across to our side and landed on the beach where it had spotted a dead salmon.


We continued along the dike and didn't really see any birds except some crows. Then we came across this fledgling crow on a low branch. It was so awkward and inexperienced that it actually fell off the branch! Luckily it was a only a foot or two above the ground. It was so young it still had blue eyes, as all crows and ravens do when very young.

Here is a crop to show the blue eyes:


Tonight we walked the dike again, and came across a small family of crows -- three fledglings with one adult. They were in the same area and the chicks were of a similar maturity, so they quite likely were the family of the individual above. They were sitting in one of the raptor trees and this one was nicely posed with no branches in the way.



Turkey Vulture

We spent Canada Day at Deep Bay Camp Ground today. Had a wonderful time visiting with friends and celebrating with a huge resort wide pot luck barbeque. Earlier in the morning, some of the residents caught salmon, and after cleaning the fish they tossed the heads and carcasses out onto the beach, where the numerous eagles, seagulls, crows and such clean up the remains. Several Turkey Vultures landed just down the beach from us, and I got some pretty good pictures of one of them chowing down on a fish head.



Owls at the local sanctuary

We visited our local bird sanctuary yesterday and had a lovely walk along the pipeline. Just as we were heading back to the car along the access road, we met another photographer taking pictures of the Great Horned Owls. We hadn't seen them for a couple of years, and I had worried that something might have happened to them, or that they might have gotten too old to reproduce any longer, as they have been known to nest in that area for fifteen years or more. It was lovely to see them again -- two fledglings and an adult. No doubt the other adult was nearby somewhere.


This chick was quite vocal, and its calls were our first clue that owls were nearby:


Seeing the owls was definitely the highlight of my day, but we also saw some other interesting birds on our walk. This fledgling Common Yellowthroat was foraging on its own, but the parents were nearby. We saw the male and heard the female.


This Yellow Warbler female spent several minutes foraging through a tall shrub while I snapped pictures. I pished a bit and she came out to pose and give me the once over.


While I was trying to track the Yellow Warbler through the leaves and branches, this Rufous Hummingbird female landed right in front of me! It didn't stay more than a couple of seconds, and unfortunately, it never turned its head to show me its eye, but it was cool to see it so close anyway.


Brown Headed Cowbird

This is a male Brown Headed Cowbird. Sort of pretty, despite being quite dark. He posed quite nicely for me, then started doing some interesting shuffling, stretching moves that looked like bird Tai Chi.

Here he's exersizing his voice, like a lot of people do with great frequency. Cowbirds have a short, simple song that sounds liquid and musical.


Here he looks like he's taking a bow after a command performance.


Cowbirds are parasitic birds who lay their eggs in the nests of other birds. In our area, their favored foster parents are Yellow Warblers. I suspect this is because the Yellow Warblers are such good providers that they manage to keep the Cowbird chick satisfied and still raise their own brood. If the Cowbird chick goes hungry, it will push its foster siblings out of the nest. But since they grow up with Yellow Warblers, they probably go with the familiar when they lay their own eggs.


Sibling Rivalry

We saw countless Canada Goose chicks on our Ladner trip, but this was the most interesting pair of goslings of all. They were constantly bickering, chasing one another and nipping. Just like human siblings!



Great Blue Heron Fishing



The Strike


The Prize


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