Hungry Herons

Over the past few weeks I have had a lot of fun photographing an American bittern and a great-blue heron, fishing in nearby Willband Creek Park.

Great blue heron, twirling a fish around to enable it to be swallowed head first.
The heron patiently watches for a fish to swim by.

When it sees a fish, it strikes quickly, fully immersing its head.

Success! Although this was a pretty small fish!

Great blue heron with a stickleback

American bittern, fishing at the same location.

Like the great blue heron, the bittern positions the fish in a manner that allows it to be swallowed head first.

Summer Variety

The following pictures were taken in July in Southern BC and in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. It has been a great summer for variety, although mid-summer tends to be a “slow” period. A recent trip to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, resulted in the lowest number of species I have seen on an outing there, but with hot, dry weather, I was not surprised.

Western tanager. Taken at Okanagan Lake near Summerland.

Lewis’s woodpecker. Also taken in the Okanagan.

Male ruddy ducks. Tunkwa Lake.

Great grey owl. Taken near Logan Lake.

Female great grey owl with vole it had just caught.

Juvenile great grey owls. Taken near Logan Lake.

Common loon, mother and juvenile. Lac le Jeune.

Feeding time for the baby loons. Lac le Jeune.

Male California quail. Okanagan.

Peregrine falcon. Fraser Valley.

Sooty grouse (female). Manning Park.

Ospreys at the nest. Fraser Valley.

This osprey is about to fledge. When the young osprey opened its wings, the wind lifted the bird, but it did not leave the nest.

Female belted kingfisher. Reifel Sanctuary.

Heerman’s gull. Smith Island (Washington).

Tufted puffin. Smith Island.

A school of fish come to the surface near Smith Island, resulting in a feeding frenzy for gulls, puffins and auklets.

Glaucous-winged gulls feeding on the fish.

Common murre. San Juan Islands, Washington.

Rhinoceros auklet. Smith Island.

More Great Grey Owls

We were able to watch and photograph great grey owls on several occasions this past June, in both British Columbia and Alberta. Here are some additional photographs taken of the owls. (We saw nine altogether). All photos were taken with a 500 mm lens. Most were cropped, some significantly. The owls seemed unperturbed by our presence and kept up their normal activities, while we stood back and observed.

In the preceding photo, the male has just passed over a mole to the female, who in turn passes it on to one of the owlets.

Great Grey Owl Family

These photos were taken recently in the BC Interior. It was fascinating to watch the father hunting for voles, then passing the voles to the mother who selectively fed the owlets. From the photos you can see that the smaller male is greyer and darker than the female. The owlets which fledged a week or so ago, are quite brown. All photos were taken at a distance with a 500 mm lens. The hunting male took no notice of me and flew by quite frequently while hunting. We saw one of the owlets fly from one tree to another. We enjoyed watching two owlets climbing.

Northern Pygmy Owl

One of my favourite owls to find and photograph, is the northern pygmy owl. This is an owl of forests and mountains, most often seen in reforested areas of tree harvesting, adjacent to tall timber. Although it appears “cute”, it is a fierce predator and will take on birds and small rodents that can be well more than its own weight. Finding them can be like the search for the elusive needle in a haystack, but they remain more or less in the same area, year round. They typically are first spotted as a “baseball on a branch”, perched high on a small sapling or on a tree branch, from which they can look and listen for prey. They hunt in the day time and are not easily disturbed by people, as long as people don’t try to get too close. Indeed, once they perceive a low level of threat, they will fly and perch close to people, if the perch is “right”.

Winter at Helmcken Falls

Helmcken Falls is certainly one of the most spectacular, accessible waterfalls in British Columbia. Located in Wells Gray Provincial Park, you can access the waterfall by paved road. Of course road accessibility in winter is impacted by snow- the region receives a great deal of snow! We were fortunate in that when we traveled to the park this past week the road into the falls viewing area had just been plowed, and when we arrived we were the only people there. (Subsequently we saw two other vehicles on the road- certainly not crowded!) It is also the location of one of the most dangerous and difficult ice climbs on the continent, and the 141 metre climb was made in February by a renowned climber from Alberta. (I don’t think I would want to watch such a climb!) The waterfall is about two and a half times the height of Niagara Falls, but in winter, a significant part of the falls is concealed by a gigantic ice cone that forms around the base. The drive into the falls is beautiful, and we were fortunate to see crossbills, a black-backed woodpecker, a Cassin’s finch, a ruffed grouse, eagles and numerous other birds. In the summer, we have seen black bears and a moose on this same road.

The sign welcoming you to Wells Gray Provincial Park.
Red crossbill (male).
View from the lookout. This photo shows the very large ice cone that has formed from the frozen spray.
Helmcken Falls and canyon.
Ice formations at the edge of the falls.
The top of the falls.
A bridge on the way to the falls. We watched the snow plow exiting the bridge. It is pretty tricky for the operator as the plow is wider than the bridge, so he had to angle the plow significantly!
Pine siskin.
Cassin’s finch.
Heading south to Clearwater after visiting Helmcken Falls.
Ruffed grouse.

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.

More from January: in SW British Columbia

This has been a good month for photography in southern BC, particularly compared to much colder places I have lived. While there has been a lot of rain, it has been warm and the non-rainy times have been excellent for being outdoors. When I have been tempted to complain, I think back to being stuck in a snow-filled ditch at -25 Celsius in SW Ontario while trying to find snowy owls! So far I have taken more than 3000 photos this month – a great number by my standards. Here are a few of my favourites. I don’t think I have posted more than one or two of these on Facebook.

Sunrise over Mount Baker (Kushan) taken from our deck.
Mature bald eagle with dead salmon being pursued by juvenile eagle.
Bald eagle, landing. (Harrison Mills)
Barred owl sleeping after a large meal. There were wings of a gull on the ground below this owl.
Bald eagles competing for the prize.
Northern shoveler drake.
Beaver, just a few feet in front of me, slipping into the water.
Great blue heron observing me, while I was observing a family of beavers.
Common goldeneye drake.
North shore mountains, taken from Howe Sound.
Mount Baker, from the Salish Sea
Common loon
Common goldeneye family.
Glaucous winged gull
Pileated woodpecker (female).
Anna’s hummingbird, flaring his gorget.
Long-eared owl
Sea lions
Trumpeter swans taking off.
The same trumpeter swans in flight.
Mount Slesse, seen through a hole in the clouds.
Northern pygmy owl
Wood duck drake
Double crested cormorant.
Mount Baker and the Burnaby skyline.
Sea lion
Anna’s hummingbird
Beaver. I was on a bridge and watched as this beaver swam to the bridge. When it saw me, it flapped its tail and disappeared under the water.
Bald eagles

Short-eared Owls

Earlier this week, we were fortunate to have good views of short-hard owls at Brunswick Point, Delta. We had timed our visit to coincide with high tide, in the belief that rodents would be forced to the surface and inland by the rising water. Whether this rationale was correct or not, it worked and we were able to watch northern harriers and short-eared owls actively hunting. This is quite different from our experience with short-eared owls in Southern Indiana, where it was exceptional to see them at any time other than dawn or dusk, as they would hunt there nocturnally – except in cold or snowy weather.

More from the Nature Reserves of the Lower Fraser Valley in November

The lower Fraser is an incredibly rich area for biodiversity. The river, the valley and the delta combined with a mild climate all contribute to this richness. For birding, November is one of the best months; quite a contrast from the rest of Canada. Many birds from further north are able to winter in the region, while other birds remain year round. The following photos were all taken in the last week.

Short-eared owl. They have recently arrived in the region.
Sandhill crane. While there are some permanent residents, there is a migration ongoing that passes through the Fraser delta.
Tropical kingbird. Normally found in Mexico, a few migrants actually work their way north. There are reports every year or two in the Vancouver area. Definitely a rarity.
Trumpeter swans. Several thousand winter in the valley, generally roosting on small ponds and lakes at night.
American avocet. Not a common bird to see in the region in November.
American goldfinch. Most migrate but some remain for the winter.
Bushtit. A year round resident.
Snow bunting. Another winter visitor.
American bittern. Not too common and generally very difficult to spot. This one was unusually cooperative.
Spotted towhee. One of my favourite residents.
Least sandpiper. Literally hundreds of thousands of shorebirds pass through the Fraser delta, and many stay in the area for the winter.
Sharp-shinned hawk. With the loss of leaves, hawks are generally easier to spot in the winter months.
Great-blue heron. Just can’t resist taking photos of these birds, that are present in large numbers, year round.
Cooper’s hawk. Another hawk that is easier to spot in the winter.
Bald eagle. Their numbers increase dramatically in the winter months.
Ruddy duck. Again, winter is the best time to see ducks in this region.
Ring-necked duck.
Snow geese. These geese winter here in the thousands, migrating from Siberia.
Barred owl. Always a favourite to see!