February in SW British Columbia

I very much enjoy the winter, outdoors in South Western BC, particularly when I think of winters in other places I have lived. Most weeks, I am able to get out two to four times a week for walks, hikes, cycling or birding. Although there are many rainy days, there are still numerous opportunities within the rainy weeks for good outings. The fact that there are so many northern birds wintering in the area makes this region one of the best winter “birding” locations in Canada. So far this year (mid-month), I have managed to see more than 100 species of birds in the area. (Serious birders are able to find many more species than I am able to find!) I know this is not a large number compared to what could be found in such places as Florida and other warmer locations, but it is certainly much more than I was able to identify when living in Ontario and Quebec, and we have mountains and ocean to enjoy as well. Here are some of my favourite photos from the month (so far).

Barred owl, watching me from high in a cedar tree.
Northern pintail drake.
The pintails certainly spend a lot of time feeding, and I generally see their butts when I am trying to photograph them!
Northern pintail hen.
With the salmon flushed out of the rivers, it is now more common to find bald eagles in trees or on poles near the shoreline and near “fast food” locations such as landfills. Without fish readily available, the ducks and other birds are much more nervous when eagles are around. Often when a large number of birds lift-off, it is due to the presence of eagles.
The eagles can be seen pairing up. For those that stay year-round, many are starting nesting activities. While most of the eagles in the area will leave in the Spring, there remain a substantial number that nest in the region.
Eagle couple.
The trumpeter swans are still present in large numbers and stay on a number of ponds and lakes in the area overnight. In the morning they leave the ponds ands forage in farmers’ fields. It is fun to watch them take-off at day break. They require a long “runway” to take off, and literally need to run on the surface of the water, flapping their wings to lift-off. It is a noisy spectacle!
There are a large number of owls in the region, but they are not easy to find as many species are nocturnal. It had been more than a year since I last saw a great-horned owl (although we hear them from time to time on our street, at night). When I found the owl in this photo, I was actually looking for the much smaller saw-whet owl, in a tree where I had seen one a year earlier. No saw-whet owl this time, but much higher in the tree I saw this great-horned owl glaring down at me, from about forty feet above me. Saw-whet owls have been few in number this winter.
Short-eared owls have been relatively plentiful this winter. As they do some of their hunting in daylight hours (particularly in tidal marshes) they are also easier to photograph.
It seems that every time I have seen short-eared owls, I have also seen northern harriers, with which they compete.
Another bird that will soon be nesting in the area, is the great blue heron.
The winter months are also the best months to see ducks. I am amazed at the size of fish some ducks can swallow. (Yes, I watched this hooded merganser swallow the fish whole!) Lesser scaup in the foreground.
I can never resist taking photos of the wood ducks! (I think this photo would make a good puzzle!)
The spotted towhee is one of the most prevalent songbirds in the area in the winter. (Not much of a song though.)
House finch on a blackberry bramble.
Purple finch
Yellow-rumped warbler (hiding his yellow rump).
I went looking for the elusive pygmy owl. No luck in that regard; the scenery is a pretty good consolation. Mount Slesse.
Mount Baker (Kulshan). The view I never get tired of! It is the dominant mountain seen from the Lower Mainland of BC.

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