Sunday, May 31, 2009

On osprey time

This is not an osprey. It is a dragonfly. Despite being smaller and faster than an osprey, it is easier to photograph. I took this photo last time I was at the pond looking for the osprey. The big bird made an appearance, did a fly-by, sat in a tree (out of sight) then flew off toward Alberni Inlet.

I'm seeing osprey everywhere, but not finding the time to sit in one place and watch them.

I've seen one at Sproat Lake, but that lake is so big I wouldn't attempt to find a nest there. I've seen my friend up at the ponds intermittently. Watched her fly from the east (nest?) and soar down to the west, in the direction of the Inlet (fishing?).

She's probably the best bet to spend time watching. A friend has loaned me a portable blind, so now it's a matter of dedicating a day to osprey. That shouldn't be too hard.

Yesterday I was photographing motocross, yep that's the kind of thing I do, and a mark in the sky caught my attention.

Sure enough, crooked wings and all, a good sized osprey glided over the dusty, noisy track. My lens swung skyward practically involuntarily.

And I thought 'Hmmm, is that the one I see at the ponds?' The distance, as the osprey flies (in this case), isn't great. Or is the osprey population really taking off in this part of the world as I have suspected for several years?

Hard to say. It would be nice if there were some money out there for me to quit my day job and find out. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Chance encounter

Today on my favourite trail network I met a bear.

Not the  bear in the picture. That bear was in a tree in the middle of town when I took its picture last summer.

No, today's bear was right on the path near the ponds, moving slowly, turning logs and scraping the earth.

After rounding a corner I saw it not too far off and stopped short. The bear turned and looked at me then went back to what it was doing.

I was out for a run and had a goal in mind. I wasn't going to let a medium sized American black bear change my plans.

I said hello, put my arms over my head and asked it to let me by. It moved a bit, so I followed, thinking it would go off into the bushes.

Nope. I made some more noise. It moved some more. I kept moving forward as it did. I made a last call and it turned and gave me a warning charge.

I turned and ran, heart pounding. Laughing at myself. What a fool I can be sometimes.

Fact is, the bear outweighed me by a fair bit and it didn't take long to assess the situation and decide to stand its ground.

Still unwilling to give up my plan, I backtracked to make the loop in the other direction, well aware that if we had the same kind of meeting I'd be taking the long way home.

I ran cautiously, making lots of noise, and didn't see the bear again. I really love to see them, but if the bear hangs out there it will definitely reduce the appeal of running those trails with all the blind corners.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stop thief

   The culprit

   The lookout

The little house finch with the pretty song is ripping up my hanging basket.

No, that's not accurate. The female is going after my favourite plant in the basket. Her lookout, the male, does the singing.

She's destroyed a little purple daisy-like flower with leaves like carrot tops. I don't know what it's called. I got the basket from my mother, on Mother's Day. (Yeah, I know that's backwards.)

First, I came home and discovered clippings of the plant on the floor of my balcony and couldn't figure how they got there. I decided it was in too much sun and moved it in under the eaves.

Then, as I sat outside in the evening the brazen little hussy, with her mate standing guard, dove right into the greenery and started ripping away.

They're lucky I'm a tolerant person. So, I took pics, started researching. Turns out they are the only songbird that feeds their young exlusively on plants – seeds, nuts or greens.

Just about every other bird supplements their chick's food with additional protein even if they do not eat things like insects or worms as adults.

So, I guess I have to share. I wonder what it is about that plant specifically, though. Maybe she liked those leafy greens for nest material rather than food.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Sailing the San Juans

On my May long weekend travels I covered ground that felt at once familiar and like charting new territory.

I met my friends, who have a great boat in Point Roberts, Wash. From there we set sail for the north eastern part of the San Juan Islands, specifically Matia Island.

On the way out we saw Dall's porpoises, the weather was ideal and we lucked into being the only boat to anchor in Matia Cove for two days.

Once we got on land and hiked around, I started recognizing the landscape and realized I'd been in the area on whale watching trips. We used to sail out of Victoria and approach the San Juans from the other side.

That kept me on the look out for resident orcas, but we didn't spot any. Saw some other familiar forms, though.

Like the pigeon guillemot.

This seabird belongs to the family that includes puffins and auks. They would be around the cove in the morning, sitting on the water or flying up to the sandstone cliffs where they must be nesting. Probably eggs at this stage.

They eat fish which they pursue by flying under the water, diving to depths up to 45 m but typically between 10 and 20 m.

They can also hover underwater and use their bills to pry mollusks and crustaceans off rocks.

I haven't read much about those fantastic red feet but such decorations usually signal how incredibly fit they are to potential mates.

As in, I'm so great I can survive even with these beacons to guide predators to me. Or, I'm such a super forager, I can get enough nutrients to keep my feet ultra red. It works, populations of this Pacific Northwest species are going strong.

They are known for doing a courting dance on the water which may be what they are doing in the photo below.

They are faithful to their mates and nest sites, so if I returned year after year I'd meet the same birds. They are known to live more than 20 years in the wild.

Osprey news

Took a quick run up to the pond and saw the osprey before I went away.

She seems a little cagey, like I'm disturbing her, so I'm doing my best to give her space.

For now.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kill the killer indeed

I'm headed off for the long weekend, but here's something to ponder.

A member of the southern resident orcas that roam the Pacific from Vancouver B.C. 
to Seattle, WA in the summer months feeding on salmon.

I don't think a single whale should die before every human activity that has lead to the plight of all these species be halted.

Humans hunted the whales that orcas eat, so now they get killed for eating what's left?

Humans have no place evening the playing field. We don't know enough to be tinkering in this way.

This is an outrageous suggestion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Osprey memories

I haven't seen the osprey in the last two visits to the marshes, so back to the hummingbirds.

Not that I totally forget about perching birds when there's a raptor around. No, actually, I do.

The moment a hawk, or owl is in the picture my interest in the cute little warbler or thrush is cut short.

My fascination with "birds who kill" goes way back. My connection to osprey dates back 23 years. I can remember every time I've encountered one.

The first was alongside a great, deep, cold lake in Northern Manitoba. A huge nest on a telephone pole. My high school biology teacher told me about it and I drove the 30 minutes out to go see it on a Saturday morning. This was at a time that I wasn't very interested in school.

Then there was a dry spell. The next memorable meeting was up north again. This time in Northern Alberta, treeplanting on a block next to a little lake and each time I planted to the shore, a female osprey in a monstrous nest across the way would lift off the nest and hover just above it giving me her warning cry. She is the biggest I've ever seen.

Next it was Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre and the last course of my biology degree – marine birds. I had to fight to convince my professor that osprey were marine birds. Hey, they were catching fish out of the Pacific Ocean.

The prof was all hung up on the little black and white jobbies that we usually think of as sea ducks. He was all hung up on numbers, too. I wanted to make osprey my independent study project and I wanted to do a straight up nest observation – pictures and words only.

He said if there were no numbers, it wasn't science, and that's when I knew that I wouldn't be travelling further down the halls of academia in biology.

I did do my project on the effects of weather on osprey foraging. It meant spending each day on the beach watching males hunting for fish in the surf and recording their efforts.

I also spent a fair bit of time at the nest of one of those males at a lake above the beach where his mate protected their two chicks. One time, when I went swimming beneath the nest, she circled above me following my movements as I paddled on my back and we watched each other like that for about five minutes.

The female up at the ponds may have just been on a stop over, or I've been missing her this week. Time will tell.

Oh, yeah, the hummingbirds.
After the big 135 bird weekend, the next session was just under 70 rufous hummingbirds caught and banded, or recaptured from previous years.
The composition of that group has shifted from mostly males to more females, some showing signs that they're ready to lay eggs.
That follows the expected pattern of migratory males passing through early in the season, followed by local nesting females until the numbers get lower and lower until we wrap it up in July.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Met an old friend

I went up to Burde Street ponds to find the Audobon's warbler and I came away with a huge gift.

I pack my camera up the trail, brought a blanket to camouflage myself. I was prepared to sit tight at the upper pond and wait for the little bird to come. This is the hardest part of nature photography.

I always think there's a better spot, or I get sore, or bored.

I got up and shot a pic of a song sparrow and some lichen. Then I heard the call.

My stomach got dizzy like it does when you run into a crush unexpectedly. I felt giddy-happy and my heart raced.

I thrashed down to the lower pond, from the east side where there aren't any trails.

I sat under a tree near the beaver dam, incorrectly IDing a female hooded merganser as a grebe of some kind. I moved around a bit trying to get a better shot of the duck. It rained on and off and nothing much was happening at the pond.

I glanced over at the group of snags on an island in the marsh. There she was. Big and white and brown. No mistake. An osprey. My bird.

That's far from scientific detachment. I can't help it. I am entranced by this species.

She called and lifted off, soaring over the still water. I moved back over to the beaver dam, closer to the snag, hoping to get a good shot. She caught a fish, then went over to another snag to rip it apart.

I took several bad photos (too far away) before I noticed a crow sitting in the same snag, not five feet away, beak to beak. It challenged her twice. Went for the swoop that's meant to make her drop the fish. She fluttered a bit, but hardly reacted. The crow left.

She ate some more, then glided back to the snags on the island to finish. I've never seen that before, transporting a partly eaten fish.

I call her she, because she had the faint necklace seen in females.

After eating, the rain picked up, she flew a bit then headed off over the path to the upper pond towards the canyon.

I may have a summer project.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Nuu-chah-nulth territory

A Hupacasath welcoming figure at the Tsu-ma-as River in Port Alberni.

I referred to Nuu-chah-nulth in my last post and should probably explain.

Nuu-chah-nulth are the aboriginal people of the west coast of Vancouver Island and northern Washington State. The name means all along the mountains and sea, referring to the lands west of the snow-peaked mountains that run up the spine of Vancouver Island.

There are 14 distinct groups and there's been enough archaeological research done on at least one of them, the Tseshaht First Nation, to demonstrate that they have inhabited these lands continuously for at least 5,000 years. The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council has an excellent website where you can learn more about the people, their language and culture.

When I roam around the Alberni Valley, or over to Tofino or Bamfield, I am always in Nuu-chah-nulth territory and I appreciate their allowing me to be here.