As spring progresses, with summer around the corner, whether in a home garden or a temperate rainforest, floral diversity is abundant. Many plants are beginning to bloom with some early flowering plants producing their fruits, such as Salmonberry and Blueberries. Many smaller plants may be overlooked, including Foamflower, (Tiarella trifoliata). Found on the edges of conifer forests, these plants in the Saxifrage family display small and precious white flowers that form an upright stalk. This plant exemplifies the many wonders of nature that can easily be overlooked. With increased floral resources available, female worker bees are now out in full force collecting nectar and pollen for their hive, or for many solitary bees, pollen for their larvae. British Columbia is home to roughly 600 species of bees, many solitary species. Solitary bees do not live in a social group, instead nesting in natural cavities or underground burrows where they lay their eggs. The life cycle of these bees differs from the familiar honey and bumblebee. As summer approaches, keep your eye out for all the big and little creatures that surround you. You never know what you'll discover!
Spring bird migration is peaking and luckily some parks in the region have remained accessible, allowing me to witness a variety of wonderful birds passing through. Most of these birds are stopping here to refuel on their northern bound migration to breed and raise young. One of the areas I've been spending lots of time at is Iona Beach Regional Park. This park hosts a variety of ecosystems including tidal flats, marsh, river estuary, and deciduous woodland. Numerous warbler species, with beautifully coloured plumage, that is often partly or fully yellow, can be found at this time of the year. Yellow-rumped Warblers arrive early in April and are the more common species. There are two subspecies of Yellow-rumped Warblers, the Myrtles of the East and Audubon's of the West. Although the Myrtles are more common in the East, it isn't uncommon to find them in the West. The Audubon's subspecies is distinct as it has a bright yellow throat that the Myrtles lack. Along with warblers, many other songbirds are singing their hearts out in hope of attracting a mate. Some of the more vocal birds at the moment include Marsh Wrens, Red-winged Blackbirds, Spotted Towhees, Song Sparrows, American Robins as well as the locally uncommon Yellow-headed Blackbird. Purple Martins, a large member of the swallow family, are arriving back to claim their nest boxes on the Fraser River. Breeding populations of these long distant migrants had once dropped to very low numbers in southern British Columbia. Thanks to conservation efforts, including the creation of nesting boxes, there has been a steady recovery of the local breeding population. Also benefiting from nesting boxes are Tree swallows. These brightly coloured birds continue to collect materials for their nest boxes while displaying their acrobatic flight as they pursue flying insects. Shorebirds, including Dunlin, are stopping to refuel on the food rich tidal flats of the Fraser River Delta, in flocks of thousands. Many of these birds will migrate to Alaska and northern Canada to breed with some species breeding above the Arctic circle. In high latitudes, they can take advantage of the abundant food and longer days in which to forage.
In the city, Cherry blossoms are now losing their petals, carpeting streets and sidewalks with pink snow!
I hope you and yours are doing well in these crazy times. I have been trying to get out in nature, whether it be in the garden or the beach, connecting with the seasonal wildlife and flora. I was delighted to spot an Anna's hummingbird nest in our neighbours cherry tree. You might remember that last year, our other next door neighbour had an Anna's Hummingbird nest in their plum tree. It was such a pleasure to see 'Plum', a committed mother, raise two successful chick. I look forward to 'Cerise' (Cherry in French) do the same this year! Hummingbird eggs are the size of a tic tac and the young can fledge (leave the nest) within a month. These birds, as well as many insects, are enjoying the bounty of flowers on the Red-flowering currant in our yard!
Soon many migrating songbirds, including a diversity of warblers, will pass through the region on their spring migration. Queen Elizabeth Park, which I live close to, is a migratory songbird magnet, so here's hoping to getting some spring migration birding in!
Firstly, I hope everyone is staying safe and doing well out there during these unprecedented times. Like I mentioned in my last post, I've taken advantage of social distancing to get some birding and photography in. I recently added a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch to my life list, bringing it to 256 species, and 89 on the year! Many birds are building their nests and males are attempting to attract females with their melodious songs. I'd like to highlight some fascinating courtship and nest building behaviour used by some birds that I have photographed.
Marsh Wrens, as photographed below, are interesting because males will start by building many dome shaped nest in marshy vegetation in their territory and follow by singing their sharp and punctuating songs to attract females to their prepared territory. In the marsh, having a large and resource rich territory is important for many birds when it comes to attracting mates. Another such bird is the Red-winged blackbird, a polyganous species. Studies have proven that males with a larger territory attract more females, who will move in and build their nests at the base of vegetation. These males will in turn sire more offspring.
It's also a delight to see birds arriving back north to breed such as Tree and Violet-green Swallows, as well as Rufous Hummingbirds. The Rufous Hummingbird makes the longest migration of any bird with relation to its size. Some of these 3.4 gram/3.75 inch long birds will breed as far north as Alaska with populations wintering in the southern United States and Mexico. In the next month, an array of birds will arrive or pass through the region including warblers, many songbirds, shorebirds, swifts and swallows, and raptors.
Nature is amazing and there is so much to see if you pay careful attention to your surroundings.
I look forward to seeing more birds pass through the globally designated Fraser River Delta Important Bird Area (IBA) to rest and refuel on their incredible migrations.
Spring is just days away! The late winter weather has been nice and allowed me to go out and take lots of photos recently. Being able to go out birding and take photos during this period of self isolation has been a blessing. I hope everyone is well and taking care of themselves and others by following appropriate precautions. There is no denying it, these are hard times, but I encourage you to take time to do the things you love. For me it's been biking, connecting with nature, and drawing. I can't wait to share more photos with you all this spring!
Thanks for reading and take care,
With spring, in Vancouver, just around the corner it seemed like a good time to start some seeds inside. For that I needed potting mix. These mixes contain soil as nutrients, perlite, that allows for more oxygen around the roots, sand, for drainage, and peat moss to retain water. I was hoping I could find a mix without the latter as peat moss is unsustainably harvested from bogs in Canada’s north. Unfortunately, Canadian Tire didn’t have any, and I’ve never really had luck at any other gardening stores. The more sustainable alternative to retain moisture is coconut coir, the by-product of coconut husk. It is no secret that harvesting peat from bogs is bad practice, yet no major brands have changed to replacing peat with coir in their mixes. This has left the consumer who wants to make sustainable choices asking, do I really want to buy soil, perlite, sand, and coir separately and make my own mix? If you don’t, I do not blame you as it is more expensive and time consuming. This is the type of situation where I feel conflicted about gardening. I am left thinking that it is ironic that florally diverse bogs must be harvested in order for well-intentioned gardeners to create habitat in their yards. Can we not have the best of both worlds? I think we can. This video shows you how you can make your own mix and avoid the unsustainable choice of the average potting mix. I believe that this issue must be given greater attention, but there is no better way to address it right away than by making sustainable gardening choices this growing season.
You might be asking yourself, what makes bogs so special and worth protecting? Bogs are created over hundreds or even thousands of years as partially decaying vegetation fills in a body of water, such as a lake. Large amounts of carbon are stored in the partially decaying plants below the surface, making bogs very important carbon sinks. The soil that is formed by this partially decayed material is what we refer to as peat. Growing on the surface of these soils are a variety of mosses, including sphagnum moss (as labelled on potting mixes). Due to the highly acidic and nutrient poor soil, plants in bogs have adapted remarkable ways to survive. Look no further than the round-leaved Sundew, a carnivorous plant that cannot survive on the soil’s nutrients alone. For additional nutrients, the plants attract insects by excreting a nectary substance on their leaves, that in the sun, looks like dew, giving them their names. They then break down their prey using special enzymes. Bog species have adapted to very specific ecological conditions, which puts them at risk if bogs are harvested unsustainably.
Is coir a sustainable alternative? With regards to sustainability, I want to make it clear that coconut coir is not a perfect solution as it requires being shipped over long distances from tropical nations where it is processed. Although there is more use of fossil fuels in the shipping of coir than peat, preserving bogs means preserving natural carbon sinks. I think it is also worth mentioning that we cannot simply re-build a bog. Bogs are formed over hundreds to thousands of years. With regards to reclamation of habitat after harvest, here is a quote from “Canadian Peat Harvesting and the Environment” published by the North American Wetlands Conservation Council Committee “there are several options for peat land reclamation. They include the transformation of the site into a new, (but ecologically changed), functioning wetland providing values such as waterfowl habitat; development of an agricultural cropland; or a forestry plantation on-site”(2001). To summarize, new habitat can be created, but not in the form of a bog.
Below is a photo gallery of a variety of bog plants as well as a video on how to make a mix that includes coir. It should be noted that these photos are taken at Camosun bog in Vancouver, with the exception of the first photo in the gallery (taken near Québec City). Although they do not completely portray the flora of bogs in the north where harvesting occurs, many related species are found in both areas.
Burnaby Lake Regional Park is home to a great diversity of birds. In the winter, the lake is frequented by many species of waterfowl. At Piper Spit, I spotted 22 species of birds, nine of which were ducks. One of these ducks was the Mandarin duck, a bird closely related to the Wood duck. This bird, native to China, is widely considered the world's most beautiful duck.
There doesn't seem to be a consensus as to how this bird arrived at the lake, but many think it may have escaped from a duck breeder in the area. Whatever the reason, it was a pleasure to see this stunning bird. Other birds present in large numbers were Long-billed dowitchers, a medium sized shorebird, American coots, Lesser scaups, and Red-winged blackbirds. If you're looking to get an up close look to many beautiful birds, I recommend visiting Piper Spit!
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!
I'm using my power as a photographer to highlight nature's beauty and the reasons worth protecting our incredible planet