Early Spring in the Okanagan

From April 8-10, I participated in the Okanagan Spring Birding Tour organized by Avocet Tours. It was an exceptional tour, led by Chris Charlesworth, an extremely knowledgable and gracious leader. Over the three days, we managed to spot and identify 104 species of birds. Being early Spring in the Okanagan, the weather was unpredictable and changeable…………seemingly changing every 20 minutes or so. In fact, we were turned back by heavy snow one night, while looking for owls!

There were many highlights on this outing, which are highlighted ins some of the photos that follow. One of the most important highlights of the tour was meeting and talking with experienced and interesting people with common interests in experiencing nature. I look forward to further outings!

Western screech owl
Western meadowlark
Ruddy duck
Cassin’s finch
Looking for the rare Williamson’s sapsucker
Williamson’s sapsucker
Western bluebird
Mountain bluebird
Great grey owl taking flight at dusk
Great-grey owl – heading in the wrong direction!
A distant northern pygmy owl. We were all amazed at how Chris located him!
Pygmy nuthatch
Forced back from our night bowling trip by snow!
A very early Brewer’s sparrow
Canyon wren- a rarity in Canada
A very distant peregrine falcon
Eurasian wigeon
Red crossbill
Yellow-headed blackbird
Wilson’s snipe

Anna’s Hummingbirds

Since moving to Abbotsford, we have enjoyed having Anna’s hummingbirds in our yard, year round. It amazes us how these tiny creatures have adapted to survive the cold, finding enough nutrition to live on, when temperatures drop below freezing. Clearly, the number of heated hummingbird feeders in our neighbourhood helps, but it is only one factor. The other source of amazement is how early the first brood of chicks fledges. We saw our first fledgeling in early March, meaning the eggs must have hatched in February! One of the most interesting behaviours of the Anna’s hummingbird is the courtship ritual of the male, who will fly straight up into the air, then dive down at great speed in front of the female, and change direction abruptly before he reaches the ground. This causes a fairly loud “chirp” (from the feathers) that can be disturbing to dogs due to the frequencies of the sound. The following photos are a few of my favourites.

Female Anna’s hummingbird at our feeder this winter.
Male Anna’s hummingbird. Its head colour varies according to the angle of light and the resulting refraction from the dark head feathers.
Male Anna’s hummingbird with “apparently” different head colour, due to different angle of light.
Juvenile Anna’s hummingbird.
Female Anna’s hummingbird
Mother feeding the babies. Taken from a location the did not disturb the birds. Cropped image taken with a telephoto lens.
Waiting for mother. Same nest.
The same nest, hours earlier. It was motionless. We soon saw the reason why. A Cooper’s hawk was perched on a nearby tree!
The Cooper’s hawk the caused the hummingbirds to be motionless!

January in the Lower Mainland

This has been a strange winter so far, and a strange January. Severe November flooding, has been followed by abnormally cold weather and snowfall. Fortunately, the last two weeks have been closer to “normal” in terms of temperature and precipitation, and it has been possible to get out and enjoy nature and the exceptional beauty of the region. The following photos were all taken in this past month.

Bald eagle, landing on a branch. There are literally thousands of eagles in the Fraser Valley presently.
The snowy owl is a rare visitor to the region, and indeed this lady is the first snowy owl I have seen in BC.
On a recent bicycle outing, I was lucky enough to see a couple of sea lions. This photo was taken near the Steveston Docks. I wish I had recorded their sound as well!
Short-eared owl. I never get tired of photographing owls. This is one of many short-eared owls I was lucky enough to see this month.
A visit to Chilliwack Lake. As the lake is at a higher elevation, the park has snow throughout the month. This certainly made Brock (my golden companion) very happy!
The spectacular Mount Slesse
The sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular this month. Some attribute this to particulate in the air from the volcanic eruption near Tonga. This view of Mount Baker (10900 feet elevation) and The Sisters, was taken at sunrise at Boundary Bay. I did nothing with this image to enhance saturation or vibrance, it was that spectacular a sunrise, with the colour changing by the minute!
Lake Chilliwack, as seen from the Provincial Park.
An odd looking duck. A surf scoter drake, seen from the pier at Iona Beach Regional Park.
A ring-necked pheasant, strutting across the trail at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary.
The spotted towhee is one of the most common January birds in the Lower Mainland.
One of four kinds of loon, seen on the coast in January. In their non-breeding plumage they can be difficult to tell apart. I believe this is the red-throated loon.
Ice crystals, growing on the snow at Chilliwack Lake. I had never seen this extent of ice crystals growing on snow. I think it was due to fog coming off the lake in sub-zero temperatures.
Kayakers on the Chilliwack River. (There was snow on the road!)
Great-blue heron taking flight at dusk. This is another very common bird in the Lower Mainland in January!
River otter. It was a thrill to watch this family of otter fishing!
Coyote, looking for rodents. They are fairly common in the grasses at the edge of the salt water.

The Faces and Eyes of Owls

With the snow and cold weather, and the resulting icy roads, it has been difficult to get out for birding. Instead, I have been looking over older photos. My favourites, tend to be pictures of owls. Unfortunately, far too many owls are harassed by overly “keen” photographers, who do not respect the needs of owls to be left alone. I have been fortunate in the last number of years to have encountered many owls, often without other photographers in the area. With a high resolution camera (allowing for substantial cropping), and a long telephoto lens, it is not necessary to get too close to the owls I am photographing. In the past year I have been rewarded on numerous occasions where owls have been completely relaxed in my presence. These are some of my favourite photos of owls, taken over the last ten years in Ontario, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Alberta and British Columbia.

I have encountered short-eared owls in Kentucky and Southern Indiana (on reclaimed coal mining lands) and from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Although they are generally nocturnal, they will sometimes feed in numbers in the daytime, particularly in cold snowy weather. One time, in Southern Indiana, there were close to twenty owls, flying all around me. This is a lucky shot of one that flew directly over me, while hunting for small rodents.
Snowy owls, particularly the very white male, are always a special find. Southwestern Ontario in the winter months has been a particularly good area for finding snowies. This one was observing me from the top of a hydro pole.
This burrowing owl was a resident of Marco Island in Florida. I have also encountered burrowing owls in Paraguay, Brazil and Saskatchewan.
One of the most enjoyable “owl experiences” I had was one early morning in the winter in Alberta. While driving along a country road, we stopped our car when a great gray owl flew onto a tree by the side of the road. When we came to a full stop, we realized that there was a pair of owls, mating. A few minutes later, mister owl (shown above) flew over the road and landed in a tree beside the car and proceeded to stare at us.
The tiny northern pygmy owl is a fierce hunter and will take on rodents and birds both smaller and substantially larger than itself. It does not seem to be at all intimidated by people and I watched this particular owl for about an hour, as it hunted (successfully), fed on its catch and flew back and forth around me. They are found throughout the mountains of Western North America.
This past summer, I was able to watch a pair of barred owls raise three owlets in a secluded area about 20 miles from where I live, over a period of several months. The parents were very comfortable with me in the area, and often flew within twenty thirty feet of me. This recently fledged owlet however, wasn’t as confident, but still wanted to get a better look at me.
The long-eared owl is an owl that does not like to be bothered. It is very secretive and nocturnal in its habits. This individual was photographed on private property in Ontario.
The northern hawk owl is an owl of the north, venturing into southern Canada, occasionally in the winter months. I was lucky enough to see this individual some ten years ago while heading to a bird sanctuary in the Lower Mainland of BC.
This eastern screech owl was photographed in Ohio, in the Spring. Screech owls are very nocturnal, and most often seen in the daytime in the winter, when they come out of their hollows to sun themselves. I have seen eastern screech owls in Ontario and Ohio.
The great-horned owl is at the top of the food chain when it comes to owls, and will prey on rodents, small mammals, other birds and smaller owls. I have encountered them in South America, Alabama, Indiana, California, and British Columbia. In our neighbourhood here in BC, we hear them from time to time at night and have seen their silhouettes at night.
The barn owl is found throughout the world but is rare in Canada, and generally only found in Southern BC. It is a nocturnal hunter but occasionally can be found hunting in the early evening or early morning.

Winter Birds in Delta

Yesterday, we finally had a day of sun, after record breaking rainfalls in Abbotsford and throughout the Lower Mainland. As I have not managed to do much birding over the last few weeks, and because the Trans Canada Highway east was still closed due to flooding, I headed west to Delta. It was a good decision, as I managed to see and photograph many species. This is a sampling of what I saw.

Hooded merganser drake (with breakfast).
American wigeon drake.
Juvenile peregrine falcon, after chasing away a northern harrier. They are difficult to photograph in flight due to their speed!
The northern harrier that was chased away by the peregrine falcon.
Great-horned owl.
Northern pintail drake.
Bewick’s wren.
Ruby-crowned kinglet.
Red-tailed hawk.
Ring-necked pheasant.
Murmuration of dunlin (with their backs showing).
Murmuration of dunlin, with the sun catching the white underside of the birds.
Close-up of dunlin in flight.
Eleven great-blue herons.
Northern shoveler.
Wood duck drake.

The Grizzly Bears of the Klyte River (BC)

Last week, I had the incredible experience of traveling to the Klyte River to watch grizzly (brown) bears feeding on spawning salmon. The trip started in Campbell River on Vancouver Island with a two hour boat trip, across to the Mainland, and up Toba Inlet. The Klyte River, is in the traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation, and the Klahoose have organized guides, tours and viewing stands from which the magnificent grizzly bears can be observed. It was an exceptional experience and I think the photos that follow speak for themselves. On the way back to Campbell River, we were fortunate enough to see several humpback whales, which spend their summers in the Salish Sea. Soon, they will be heading south to warmer waters.

Campbell River Harbour. Departure was at 7:00AM. We returned at 5:00 PM. A full day!
There are literally hundreds of waterfalls between Campbell River and Toba Inlet!
Approaching Toba Inlet in the fog and rain.
Being welcomed to the traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation. (This lady also served as a spotter for the bears.)
Klyte River. The weather changed constantly…from fog and rain to sun in minutes!
Arriving / departing from Toba Inlet.
One of several humpback whales seen on the trip between Campbell River and Toba Inlet.

Birds in Flight

I can’t resist trying to take photographs of birds in flight. It is challenging, anticipating which way the bird will move, and simultaneously trying to ensure you have the correct focus, exposure, and shutter speed. Most pictures taken are failures, but if you take enough pictures, some are bound to turn out. Here are some of my favourites from the last few years.

Bald eagle
The critically endangered whooping crane. Photo taken in Indiana.
Peregrine falcon attacking an eagle. I was focusing on the eagle and didn’t realize that the falcon had photo-bombed my picture. Sometimes you are just lucky. Photo taken in Florida.
Snow geese lifting off from a pond in Indiana.
Bald eagles competing for the same roost. (Photo taken in BC).
Snowy owl taking flight. (Ontario)
Osprey, returning to the nest. (Ontario)
Bald eagles, in a mating ritual. (BC)
American white pelicans. (Florida)
Trumpeter swans. (BC)
Merlin, with a goldfinch.
Female belted kingfisher in flight. (BC)
Peregrine falcon

Views of the Canadian Rockies

In July, we enjoyed our favourite drive – the Ice Fields Highway between Banff and Jasper. With the good weather we had, it was spectacular. This has prompted me to put together a few of my favourite Canadian Rocky Mountain photos, taken over the last two years.

One of many “rocky” mountains, viewed from Waterfowl Lake area of Banff National Park. July 2021.
Bow River and Castle Mountain. July 2021
Moraine Lake sunrise. July 2021.
Moraine Lake. October 2019
Kananaskis rain squall. July 2021.
The Bow River in Banff. October 2019. (This is a colour photo!)
Hector Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Lake Louise. July 2021.
Kenny Lake. Mount Robson Provincial Park. July 2020.
Columbia Ice Field. Athabasca Glacier. Jasper NP. July 2020.
Mount Edith Cavell. Jasper NP. July 2020.
Mount Robson. Mount Robson Provincial Park. July 2020. This year it was obscured by smoke from the forest fires.
Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Glacier above Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.

A Few Days in Wells Grey Provincial Park

At the end of our recent Rocky Mountain vacation, we spent two days in Wells Grey Provincial Park. For good reason, Wells Grey is called the park of waterfalls, with some 38 waterfalls registered. The largest is Helmcken Falls, and with the high water runoff caused by very warm temperatures, it was impressive. It is roughly four times the height of Niagara Falls. We saw a large number of spruce grouse, the relatively obscure three-toed woodpecker, and enjoyed a hike up to the Trophy Mountain Alpine Meadows (although we should have used more mosquito repellent!). It is certainly a park we plan to return to!

Helmcken Falls
Dawson Falls
Spruce grouse (male)
Spruce grouse fledgling
Western anemone, gone to seed.
Alpine lupin
Adult three-toed woodpecker feeding juvenileIt was fun to watch them climb the tree, hammering for insects. The juvenile did try, but still needed to be fed by its parent.
Spahats Creek Falls

A Return to the Growing Barred Owl Family

On my return this week, I was able to observe two busy parents feeding their growing brood of owlets. While I suspected there were three last week, I was able to confirm that indeed there are three. The owlets are growing quickly and acquiring their flying skills. They remain totally dependent on their parents for food, and are very noisy when they are hungry!

Mother, sharing with two of the owlets.
One of the owlets
Another owlet
Possibly the third owlet. While I could see them all at the same time, I could never capture more than two in a single photo. One was noticeably larger than the other two.
Father, feeding on what I think might be a small opossum. (At first I thought it was a muskrat. If anyone can tell, please let me know!)
Mother feeding one of the owlets
Father, preening after a bit meal.
Mother with two of the owlets
Mother feeding two owlets.

Visiting the Barred Owl Family

This week, I returned to the “special place for owls” a couple of times. I was not surprised that I was unable to locate the great-horned owls, as the owlets had fledged. I hoped however to find that the barred owlets had fledged and would be “findable”. Indeed they had fledged, and I was able to find two owlets, although I was only able to take photos of one of them, as the other was very high up in a tree and concealed by branches and leaves. When they first fledge, the owlets climb, and are well watched over by their parents. So finding the owlets, depended on finding the parents, and that can prove to be a bit of a challenge. By the end of the week, the parents and owlets were all very high in the canopy. It is my hope that I will be able to encounter them closer to the ground as they start to practice flight, and hunting, over the next month or so. It is possible there is a third owlet, but I have not yet discovered it.

Finding the barred owl parents now, is proving to be a bit of a challenge!
I was thrilled to find this “fuzzball” looking at me, largely unobscured by branches.
Mother was very close by, as was father.
Mother spent a lot of time preening her owlet, which I think had just fledged within a day or two of this photo being taken.
I was able to watch the parents then preening each other.
The owls are very much on guard and I saw them react quickly to the presence of jays and other birds.
With growing owlets to feed, a lot of time is spent hunting.