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!

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