This post doesn't have a particular theme, but is instead meant more as an update as I haven't posted photos in a while. Below are a mix of street and nature photos taken in December and January! Happy New Year!!
As fall has set in, with winter right around the corner, birds have arrived in the Lower Mainland to spend the winter after breeding in areas as far north as the Alaskan, Canadian, and Russian tundra and Boreal forest. Some of these birds include Long-billed Dowitchers, that breed in the high Russian, Alaskan, and Canadian Arctic and spend the winters in the Lower Mainland, where winters are mild and food is more abundant.
Other birds, such as Green-winged teals, have returned from their freshwater breeding grounds further inland. Green-winged Teals gather in wetlands, estuaries, and on the coast where they feed on seeds, as well as invertebrates such as shrimp and worms living on muddy substrates.
Bald Eagles nest in March, and spend the summer and fall at salmon bearing rivers. In fall and early winter, Eagles, as well as gulls and other wildlife, feed on the dead carcasses of salmon that have died after returning from the ocean to coastal rivers to spawn where they were born. Bald Eagles rely on a dependable return of salmon, but habitat degradation, fish farms that harbour sea lice, and over fishing are impacting wild salmon populations and the animals dependant on them. As winter sets in, they will migrate locally to feed at nearby coastal mudflats and wetlands where an abundance of wintering waterfowl (ducks, geese) have gathered.
In addition, many species of owls arrive at this time to feed on smaller rodents found in coastal salt marshes and farm fields. Although many of these owls are seasonal visitors to the region, the Barred Owl can be spotted in the city's wooded areas year round.
While on the subject of owls, here are a few fun facts about these stealthy hunters.
- An owl’s eyes are shaped more like a tube than an eyeball, forcing owls to rotate their heads to look around.
- Owls have more rods than cones in their eyes enhancing their vision in the dark, but reducing their colour vision.
- The brown colouring in a bird’s plumage, including owls, is a result of melanin in both the skin and feathers.
- The ears of an owl are not symmetrical in their placement. One ear is lower and one higher, allowing the owls to pick up on sounds from above and below to help hunt in the dark.
- Owls have tiny comb like feathers on the leading edge of the wings to reduce noise caused by air turbulence, allowing for these birds to hunt silently.
- Not all owls are nocturnal. Some species will hunt during the day as well as at night.
🚨 - Please do not use rodenticides to deal with mice and rats. Owls will prey on these sick rodents, and the accumulation of these toxins has adverse affects on these marvelous birds.
- If you see an owl, please do not report its whereabouts right away as to not draw huge crowds that may overwhelm them.
- If you're photographing an owl, it is important that you do not use flash, as this will disturb their highly sensitive eyes.
Have a wonderful winter holiday with friends and family, and maybe some birds too!
Birds mentioned in this article:
Bald Eagle - https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bald_Eagle
Green-winged Teal - https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Green-winged_Teal
Long-billed Dowitcher - https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Long-billed_Dowitcher
American Coot - https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_Coot
Barred Owl - https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl
The Snow Geese have once again returned to the Lower Mainland after flying from their breeding grounds in the Bering Sea. The geese photographed below were gathered in the hundreds, or thousands and were resting and feeding on the tidal salt marsh at Iona Beach Regional Park. Snow Geese will eat most parts of a plant including; stems, leaves, tubers, and even roots, so marshlands like these are a crucial feeding area for a bird that has just completed a long migration or a bird refuelling to continue its migration south.
The geese we see, those that breed in the Bering Sea and winter on the Pacific coast are a subspecies of Snow Geese known as Lesser Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens). Lesser simply means that they are smaller than the other subspecies, the Greater Snow Geese, which breeds in Northeastern Canada (Anser caerulescens subsp. atlanticus) and winter west of Rockies.
Some of the Lesser Snow Geese will stay in the Lower Mainland for the winter while other will continue on to Mexico, California, and Washington State for the winter.
These birds are very distinctive by ear and by eye as they're all white except for their black wing tips. Immature geese have light gray plumage. Keep your eyes peeled for a less common Blue morph, a snow goose that has blue colouring resulting from a single dominant gene. And you'll see the brown colouring around the beak in the photos, a result of feeding on underground parts of plants and getting stained with soil.
Iona Beach Regional Park is a very reliable spot to see these birds if you're interested!
Photos from a wonderful day trip in British Columbia's E.C. Manning Provincial Park! The reason for the visit was the sub alpine meadows that are usually in full bloom in mid-July, and I can gladly report, they were.
In sub alpine plant communities, the plants are known as 'survivors'. They often grow low like a mat to maximize photosynthetic activity in the short summer and to stay low in windy areas. These plants do not grow large like those on the coast as resources and water are in shorter supply. Essentially, they are surviving, growing slowly but surely in hostile terrain. Because of this, all the plants here are on the same playing field and there is not one plant that dominates, allowing for incredible floral diversity. In a square meter, up to four plants can be found growing. The most common plants on a short sub alpine hike we took were; tufted saxifrage, western pasque flowers with their Dr. Seuss looking seed heads, alpine pussytoe, alpine aster, alpine arnica, arctic lupine, slender cinquefoil, partridge foot, common red paintbrush, and spreading phlox. That's a lot of plants for a few kilometres! There were also stunning views of surrounding peaks. On the drive up to the sub alpine, many specially adapted plants grew on the rocky slopes of the mountain at the Cascade Lookout. These included coast penstemon and sulphur buckwheat. Along side the road, Columbia lilies, yarrow, scarlet gilia, and lupine also grew prolifically out of the rock.
I also spotted a Clark's Nutcracker, the 253rd bird on my life list! These birds, related to jays and crows, live in high elevations where they feed on the seeds of whitebark pine. It is with the whitebark pine that the nutcracker has developed a symbiotic relationship. Nutcrackers will cache (store for later) tens of thousands of white bark pine seeds each year. The seeds that aren't eaten are dispersed, growing new pines. Nutcrackers can remember the location of thousands of different cache sites, making it a a remarkable bird!
One day in nature provided lots of beautiful sights!
What a wonderful morning I had at Stanley Park on Canada Day!
Near Lost Lagoon, I heard a bird calling with great insistence. After seeing and hearing two adult Red-breasted Sapsuckers earlier in this same area, I suspected a young Sapsucker. My hunch was right. I looked behind me and found a big leaf maple with six holes. Sure enough, there was a young sapsucker begging for food! It was a pleasure watching the parents feeding their young! Woodpeckers, including sapsuckers and flickers, are important in their ecosystems as they are the only animals capable of making a cavity nest. Once the birds are done raising their young, they will abandon the cavity, making it available for a secondary cavity nesting bird such as chickadee or a wood duck in the future. A great number of birds that range in size from a chickadee to an owl, depend on nests made by woodpeckers. These cavities are typically found in dead trees known as snags. That is why it is important to leave trees standing even if they're dead. What may seem like useless dead wood in your yard is actually of huge importance to biodiversity.
Following this exciting encounter, it was time to visit Lost Lagoon. A walk around Lost Lagoon resulted in the spotting of 17 species of birds. Highlights were a young clutch of Mallard ducklings, a young Wood Duck, an Anna's hummingbird flying right near me, and a Western Meadowlark! Other wildlife highlights were an abundance of dragonflies, a Swallowtail butterfly, and a cute Douglas squirrel.
Next on the list of places to visit was the Great Blue Heron Rookery. While looking at young Great Blue Herons in their rookery nests, I noticed a common city dwelling mammal. Three raccoons, one parent and two young, were occupying the same big-leaf maples as the herons. One of the raccoon didn't seem to want to leave its nice home in a broken branch. The adult displayed its amazing climbing abilities, walking down the tree with ease.
What links these encounters? Well it seems fitting that lots of the action took place in maple trees on Canada Day. How fitting!
"Birds Know No Borders"
My vision with this illustration was to incorporate many spectacular migratory birds into one, reasonably accurate looking bird, to represent the reality that birds know no borders.
First I will talk about the birds represented in this illustration.
The head is that of the Canada warbler. This wood warbler is smaller than a sparrow and migrates from Canada’s northern forests to Columbia and northern South America.
The bill is that of the tiny Rufous Hummingbird that can be found breeding as far north as Alaska and migrate to winter in Mexico. Compared to the distance undertaken by other birds on this list, this migration is relatively “short”, but it is important to remember that this bird has a wingspan of 4.5 inches, is 3.7
inches long, and weighs .12 ounces!
The breast is that of a Northern Wheatear. These birds breed in both the Siberian and Canadian tundra. Both populations migrate to sub-Saharan Africa for the winter. The Canadian population migrates across the northern Atlantic ocean to Africa, waiting for exact right weather before making a very dangerous flight over the North Atlantic.
The belly, slightly darker brown than the Wheatear, and feet are those of the Barn Swallow. There are three 3 subspecies of this bird. This is the representation of the North American population that breed in North America, migrating to South America for the winter. The birds in the European population breed in Europe and migrate to sub-Saharan Africa. The birds in the Asian population breed across the continent north of India, migrating to India, Indonesia, and the other islands in Oceania. I say the Asian, European, and North American populations, simply because that is where they breed. In fact, these birds spend more time in their wintering grounds than in their breeding grounds, so they could also be called the African population, but that’s a discussion for another day.
The wings are that of the Red Knot. These small shorebirds, the size of a robin, migrate from the Arctic tundra to the southern tip of Argentina and back every year. An individual that has been banded, B95, with its age taken into account, is thought to have flown the equivalent of a trip to the moon and halfway back in its lifetime, earning its name “Moonbird”. There is an excellent book about this bird that I strongly recommend called “Moonbird; A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95”.
And finally, the tail is that of the Arctic Tern, that like the Red Knot, breeds on the arctic tundra. However, the Arctic Tern doesn’t stay put in one area for the winter, instead it will travel great distances to feed over the southern ocean. The sheer distance of the migration and the dispersal within its wintering grounds put it near the top of the list for the largest animal migrations.
Each of these birds have amazing stories and undertake amazing migrations annually. Unlike humans, birds know no borders. A bird that may be protected in Canada where it breeds may be at threat of habitat loss in its wintering grounds. It is not the fault of the coffee farmers in Columbia, who are payed low wages and lack proper working conditions, that patches of forest that provide food and shelter for wintering songbirds are cleared. This represents a bigger problem, a global problem we must address. We must all be part of the solution. We have to ensure that every single human being across the planet is able to live peacefully, have a safe workspace and sustainable income, and have the fundamental human rights we all have and often take for granted. If we, as consumers, at home make responsible choices we can promote the well-being of those producing goods, that are too often treated poorly. If we all work together to fight inequality, we can in turn help protect the birds we love. We are all connected.
The biodiversity at Jericho Park this morning was impressive. There was a great diversity of life from butterflies to lupine and everything in between. There was amazing floral diversity on the sandy beach. The blue dune grass and seashore lupine are able to survive with their roots in nothing more than sand. The grass was covered with Triphysaria pusilla (Dwarf Orthocarpus) a native annual plant that has a hemi parasitic relationship with the surrounding grass. To top it off, there were several of my favourite birds, the Northwestern Crow, feeding on the beach, one of their natural feeding grounds.
All new photos from a weekend well spent photographing birds, and a few dogs, at Trout Lake and Iona Beach Regional Park. At Iona Beach, the Snow Geese were feeding on the exposed mudflats about thirty yards away from me as I lay in the sand behind a log to minimize the disturbance of my presence.
I decided to go to Trout Lake and test my luck with the wildlife and see what I could capture. I ended up having very good luck. The fall colours were reflecting beautifully on the lake and birds were plentiful on the lake and in the surrounding deciduous woodland. Special sightings included two downy woodpeckers and a Pied-billed Grebe. I wasn't able to get a photo of the woodpeckers, but the grebe was less than 50ft from the shore and let me get some photos that I'm very pleased with. In the forest, licorice ferns were coming to life. These epiphytic ferns, growing out of trees, go dormant in the summer due to a lack of water and too much shade from its host tree. In the fall and winter in Vancouver, there is no shortage of water in the form of rain and the trees on which they grow loose their leaves and the ferns come out of dormancy, giving a splash of bright green to the landscape. In the city you will see these ferns growing in non-native maples and willow, but its most important natural host is the big-leaf maple. It's worth keeping an eye out for these awesome plants. I'm very grateful to have access to such wonderful green spaces within the city. Have a good weekend!
Today, my photographic inspiration was the water strider. After learning more about these fascinating insects and how they walk on water, I knew I had to film them, and I knew right where to go at Queen Elizabeth Park to find them. While at the pond, I was enticed by beautiful dragonflies (Aesgna palmata), fall colours, and songbirds. Here are a few photos from the afternoon and a short video of the water striders.
I'm using my power as a photographer to highlight nature's beauty and the reasons worth protecting our incredible planet