Monday, January 30, 2012

A Visit to Reifel Bird Sanctuary

It's funny, but I never went to the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary when I lived in Vancouver. The sanctuary is in Delta, which is about an hour's drive from the city. I got into nature photography in a big way when I moved to the Sunshine Coast in 2001 and it wasn't until I'd moved away that I started taking the ferry over to the mainland to visit Reifel. It's an amazing place and well worth a visit. Each season has something different to offer.

As I was parking my car I saw a man holding his young son in his arms with what can only be called a mob of mallard ducks at his feet. The boy was throwing bird seed to the ducks and they were in a complete feeding frenzy.

I asked at the gate if there had been any owls reported (since winter is usually a good time to spot them) and was told that yes, a barred owl was sleeping in a birch tree nearby. I bought a bag of bird seed and went in search of the owl.

The owl was easy to find...a small group of people was gathered on the path, watching it. The owl did a little grooming but mostly it slept. I only got a few pictures of it with its eyes even halfway open.

Barred Owl

Here's a picture of a barred owl that I took during another visit to Reifel bird sanctuary.

 This owl was a lot more lively but not lively enough to bother with a squirrel that approached it very closely...I'd watched, fascinated, as the squirrel got within a few feet of the owl and made what I can only describe as meowing sounds. The owl had simply looked at it. I'm assuming the owl wasn't hungry at that time.

Squirrel Tempting Fate with Owl

At the juncture of two paths closeby was a pair of Lesser Sandhill Cranes that were quite entertaining. One of the cranes would throw his head back and give a trumpeting call whenever an intruder approached.

Sandhill Crane Calling

One crane usually set the other crane off and they'd both start calling.

Sandhill Cranes Calling

Apparently there are nine resident cranes at the Reifel sanctuary these days. Sandhill cranes migrate south from Siberia in the winter. I ran into another photographer who was telling me about the huge flocks of birds (about 10,000 cranes!) that could be seen gathered at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, which is 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. When the flocks take flight each morning to seek food, apparently it's quite an impressive sight.

Last spring when I visited Reifel sanctuary I was delighted to discover that a sandhill crane had been born the day before, on May 8th. It was just about the cutest thing I've ever seen. I got a shot of mom feeding her baby an insect or grub.

By the way, I have a portfolio of pictures that can be licensed for use through Getty Images and the sandhill crane baby and mother picture above is one of them.

During nesting season the area where the cranes gathered was blocked off for two reasons: because they didn't want the birds to be disturbed but also because cranes can be somewhat aggressive when protecting their young. A photographer told me a story of another photographer who had gotten too close...the mother crane jumped on his back and covered his eyes with her beating wings. Lucky for him she didn't use her beak!

I was curious to see the young sandhill crane and found him with his parents. He was just slightly smaller than his mother and a little darker in color. The last time I'd seen him he was barely able to walk but he seemed to be growing up nicely.

Young Sandhill Crane with Mother

Here are some more pictures of the other pair of cranes that I visited with. The first picture is of a crane giving me what I can only call a coy look. The second picture is of the crane standing on one leg, which is something they often do while resting. And the third picture is of the crane plucking long blades of grass and placing them in a pile. Perhaps this means there will be a nest in the near future?

Sandhill Crane Coy Look

Crane Standing on One Leg

Crane Building a Nest?

A flock of Canada Geese flew by while I was walking along on the path. You can usually hear them honking before you see them.

I happened to have a pocket full of peanuts that I usually feed to the chickadees in my yard. I came upon a woman and her daughter who were holding out some birdseed to the chickadees. The birds weren't taking too much interest so I gave them some peanuts to try instead. The chickadees landed right away.

Chickadee in Woman's Hand

I know from personal experience that chickadees can't resist peanuts!

A couple of other interesting birds that I saw along the way that day were an American Coot and the always handsome and colorful Wood Duck.

American Coot

Wood Duck

Before leaving the sanctuary I happened upon some cedar waxwings feasting on berries. Waxwings are one of my favorite birds and I've always wanted to get some pictures of them eating berries (which is mostly what they eat). I came upon the birds just at the right time because they stripped the trees of berries within about 10 minutes.

Young Cedar Waxwing Eating Berries

I was a happy camper as I headed for my car. I'd spent a few hours on a beautiful sunny day at the bird sanctuary, and I had hundreds of photographs to remember my visit by. A trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary is definitely one of the top ways I like to spend the day!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Birds in Snow in My Backyard

We don't usually get too much snow here on the west coast of British Columbia...mostly we get rain, rain, and more rain. But every once in awhile we get a few centimeters (or a few inches, for those of you who aren't on the metric system). I miss the snow from where I grew up back east so it's always a welcome treat when it happens.

When the snow falls I make sure that my backyard birds get extra food. We already have a bird seed feeder and two suet cages; one cage is squirrel-proof and jay-proof or there'd never be any suet at all. But when the weather turns nasty I also spread extra bird seed along the wooden railing of our back deck. Then the varied thrushes come a-calling.

Thrushes are about the same size as American robins (which are from the thrush family) and their chirp is very similar. Just like robins, they usually eat from the ground or in trees and not from hanging feeders. The thrushes hang out in the surrounding trees (mostly evergreens) and seem to be waiting every morning for me to put out the seed. Then they descend and I can hear them singing happily as they peck away. They have a beautifully melodic song that never fails to make me smile. They're a fairly shy bird so can be hard to get pictures of but when it snows they get a little more bold.

Varied Thrush

The other ground-feeding bird that enjoys having extra seeds spread out on my deck is the Spotted Towhee. They can be found in our backyard year-round, often half-hidden in the surrounding oceanspray bushes.

Spotted Towhee in Snowy Oceanspray Bush

I have quite a number of chestnut-backed chickadees that have enjoyed feasting at our place this year. This winter I started feeding them peanuts from my hand. Now I just have to step out onto the back deck, or anywhere in the yard for that matter, and the chickadees materialize. I've had a chickadee in my hand, one on my arm, and one on my head all at the same time. They're also very fond of landing on the end of my telephoto lens. They get a little crazy when it's peanut time. They're one of my favorite birds to photograph and if I ever need something to cheer me up, feeding chickadees by hand always does the trick.

I got a lot of chickadee pictures during our recent snowfall...

Chickadee on Snowy Pine Tree Branch

Chickadee on Oceanspray in Winter

I pour hot water over the birds' frozen-over water dish every morning but I still often see them eating snow.

Chickadee with Snow on Beak

Besides the chickadees, I also have one red-breasted nuthatch that will eat peanuts out of my hand. I usually hear him calling before I see him so I know he's closeby, ready for his peanut. He's unafraid of the chickadees but very cautious if there are steller's jays around. After he's grabbed a peanut he usually calls to me as he flies off with his prize. He's a little more challenging to get pictures of than chickadees, but I managed a couple of shots the other day. He follows me around the yard now too.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch in the Snow

The steller's jays get a little crazed when I'm feeding peanuts to the chickadees and the nuthatch. They follow us around hopefully if I'm in the yard, waiting for a dropped nut here and there. I try to feed them separately so that they don't scare the smaller birds. They're always quite comical to watch but can they ever be greedy!

Steller's Jay Closeup

I hope you enjoyed my pictorial about birds in snow. I'm hoping for another snowfall soon, or at least at end to the constant rain!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Snowy Owls in Boundary Bay, British Columbia

I've never seen a snowy owl before so I was itching to get over to Boundary Bay in Delta, B.C. after  hearing that there was a bumper crop of  owls this winter. Snowy owls feed on lemmings on the tundra in the north however some years their food supply is scarce which forces them to fly south to Boundary Bay. They mostly hunt rodents at night however there are exceptions to their diet...for example, a snowy owl was recently spotted on somebody's roof here on the Sunshine Coast eating an American Coot in the daytime.

I finally got a chance to get over to Boundary Bay last week. It meant a ferry ride and about two hours of driving but wow, was it ever worth it! There were about 30 snowy owls sitting around on the beach, mostly perched on pieces of driftwood.

Most of the owls were about 50-60 feet from the gravel walkway along the dyke so they were easily photographed. I was in seventh heaven! They were often in groups of at least two owls.

I found a single owl sitting on a piece of driftwood and he seemed quite unconcerned at my approach, although I kept a respectable distance away from him. He was a real snow white beauty who gazed at me steadily...

I met several photographers that day and all of them had travelled from far and wide to see the owls that they'd heard so much about. 

The owls seemed unconcerned that they were the focus of so much attention, or perhaps they were just tired from their long migration. By the time we were leaving, a large crowd of spectators (mostly photographers) had gathered on the gravel walkway that leads along the dyke in Boundary Bay Provincial Park. The owls just sat there on their pieces of driftwood, their heads occasionally turning this way and that, ignoring the curious crowd of onlookers.

Photographers at Boundary Bay

They're forecasting snow this coming week and I'm hoping to get back over to Boundary Bay to spend more time with the snowy owls. What could be better than pictures of snowy owls in the snow? 

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year!

Hope you didn't get too carried away on New Year's Eve!

I hope the coming year brings you all good things. All the best from me and my furry friends!