A morning with trumpeter swans.

On Sunday, I drove east to the Cheam Lake Wetlands, in the Fraser Valley. I had heard that there would be a lot of trumpeter swans there, but it was important to arrive early, as they all leave within an hour or so of daybreak. I was richly rewarded for the effort. There were probably a thousand swans on the lake.

Trumpeter swans at the edge of the ice on Cheam Lake

The water was pitch black and the swans were a brilliant white. They were trumpeting at irregular intervals. Every so often there would be a vigorous flapping of wings, and splashing as groups of trumpeters would take off, literally running on the water and flapping their wings hard against the water until they achieved lift-off. This generally required close to 100 metres.

Running on the water!
Lifting off!

The swans would then circle around the lake, slowly gaining altitude before disappearing into the Fraser Valley.

Flying past Bridal Veil Falls.
Flying past snow on Cheam Mountain.

This was repeated over and over for about 90 minutes, with groups of anywhere from 2 to 12 lifting off at a time.

It was an outing, I am sure I will never forget!

A great day on the Harrison River!

With all the rain we have been having lately, I took advantage of a break in the weather to return to the Harrison River. It was a good move as water levels have dropped and the number of eagles present was astounding!

From the moment I arrived, until the time I left, there were eagles everywhere, with the occasional eagle gliding right over me.

The river was full of spawning salmon, swimming and jumping, with many more dead salmon on the banks.

At one point in the woods, I looked up to see a dead salmon stuck in branches above me. Clearly, it had been dropped by an eagle!

On other trips, the eagles were aggressive to each other. Yesterday, when one eagle approached another, generally the standing eagle would yield its position to the new arrival. I suspect they were all very well fed, and had little desire to fight, other than to offer token resistance.

The river also had lots of ducks including goldeneye, hooded and common mergansers, mallards and American wigeon.

Just as I was preparing to go, four trumpeter swans landed in the water beside me. (There were hundreds further out in the water and the entire time I was there, I was “serenaded” by the whistling of eagles and the trumpeting of swans. What a day!

The eagles (and swans and ducks) return………………..

The Fraser Valley, with its mild winters, open fresh water and proximity to the coast is a good wintering location for many of the birds from the north. Added to that, there are many spawning salmon in the lower Fraser in October and November. When the salmon die, they become feed for bald eagles, which flock to the rivers of the lower Fraser Valley. The following photos were taken this past week at the Nicomen Slough and the nearby Harrison River which features an exceptionally high concentration of eagles in November and December.

Mature bald eagle, Nicomen Slough
Juvenile bald eagle, Harrison River
Approximately 200 bald eagles on the eastern shore of the Harrison River
Eagle, landing on spawned out salmon, Nicomen Slough
One of 10 eagles in a tree above me, watching me! Harrison River.
Mature bald eagle in flight, Nicomen Slough
Eagle with chum salmon, Harrison River
Eagle feeding on salmon, Nicomen Slough
Eagle and reflection, Nicomen Slough
Mallard drake, feeding on salmon. I never realized mallards would feed on fish, but I watched a pair feeding on this salmon for twenty minutes. Harrison River.
Trumpeter swans
Fighting eagles, Nicomen Slough

At Brunswick Point

Yesterday, I went to Brunswick Point in Ladner. It is a point of land , south of Vancouver, bordered by the Fraser River and the Salish Sea. I had read reports of an ash-throated flycatcher spotted there. This is normally a bird of drylands and desert and at this time of year is found in Mexico, not on the coast of British Columbia! I was lucky enough to see and photograph this misplaced bird, and managed to see another 30 species as well. It is clear that the eagles are returning to the Fraser and to the Coast now (I saw more than 20) and their numbers will peak in the winter months. I also managed to see some 2000 snow geese, which arrived in the area in the last two weeks, from their summer grounds in Siberia. It was a great outing!

Ash-throated flycatcher
Northern harrier
American goldfinch (winter plumage)
Bald eagle
Mute swan
Juvenile cedar waxwing
Snow geese

Great Blue Herons

I enjoy watching and photographing great blue herons. They are easy to find, easy to photograph and interesting to watch, particularly when they are fishing. The following photos were taken at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta, BC. While there were not as many there as we normally see, they were close to the trails, and that provided great opportunities to watch and photograph.

Striking for fish
Success! This juvenile heron actually caught four fish with this strike, three of which can be seen in this photo.
A better view of the four fish caught at once.
The act of swallowing!

The West Kootenays

We have long waned to visit the West Kootenays. We finally made it this month. We had exceptional weather until the smoke from the fires of the Western United States arrived. Here are a few of the photos from the region.

Pilot Bay on Kootenay Lake
Black bears out for a stroll, Creston Valley
Spawning Kokanee salmon (land-locked sockeye) in Kokanee Creek, Kootenay Lake
Kokanee Creek Provincial Park
Trout Lake. A beautiful location but a terrible road to get there!
Lardeau River (renowned for rainbow trout)
Between New Denver and Kaslo
Black bear in tree near Duck Lake (we were looking for birds!)
Red-naped sapsucker
Kootenay Lake
Brock, at Kooteny Lake. He becomes a puppy again as soon as he finds water!
Small lake near New Denver
After the smoke arrived from the south! Bald eagle and common merganser, Kootenay Lake

Shorebirds

With the closure of the Reifel Bird Sanctuary and the American border this year, due to Covid, we missed seeing the Spring migration of shorebirds this year. Now that late summer has arrived, the Autumn migration has started. With a recent trip to Victoria and the re-opening of the Reifel Sanctuary, we are now starting to see some of these amazing birds. There are a number of shorebirds that spend the winter on the Coast near Vancouver, but many of the others that we are now seeing spend the summers in the Far North and winter much further south. I look forward to seeing many more as we move into Autumn.

Western sandpiper. Perhaps the most plentiful shorebird presently, as it passes through from the north.
Greater yellowlegs with long-billed dowitcher
Least sandpiper
Black oystercatcher

International Owl Awareness Week

August 4th, 2020 has been declared International Owl Awareness Day. Throughout this past week, around the world, there have been events set-up to increase awareness of owls in general, and to highlight the environmental needs and concerns regarding these amazing birds. With Covid-19, many of the activities have had to be “virtual” and moved on-line. Earlier this year, I had been looking forward to attending activities at the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program, her in the Fraser Valley, but these activities have had to be cancelled. This program supports a critically endangered species of owl found on the West Coast, which has suffered from loss of habitat. Hopefully next year will see a return to “live” activities. I am attaching a number of photos of other owls I have taken over the last few years.

Short-eared owl at Boundary Bay, BC
Sleeping saw-whet owl, Ladner, BC (Reifel Sanctuary)
Northern hawk owl, Ladner, BC
Barn owl, Fraser Valley, BC
Great horned owl, Ladner, BC (Reifel Sanctuary)
Long-eared owl, Eastern Ontario
Eastern screech owl (red morph), Northern Ohio
Barred owl, with owlets in the nest, Henderson County, KY
Snowy owl, Wellington County, ON
Northern pygmy owl, Fraser Valley, BC
Great grey owl, Rocky Mountain County, AB

Barn Owls

Until this week, I had never seen a barn owl in the wild. While they are found on every continent except North America, they are rare in Canada. It is estimated that there are fewer than 1000 in Canada in total, most of which are found in southern British Columbia. While walking Brock in a local park one evening, we met an individual who said he had seen a barn owl in that very park, at dusk. The next day, we returned to the park at dusk, and were fortunate to encounter the owl. It flew right over us. I did not have my camera with me, so I again returned to the park at dusk with my camera the following evening and was fortunate to encounter the owl. (It is likely that there is a nest in a barn owl nesting box located in an inaccessible part of the park.) In four visits at dusk, we were able to see the owl on each occasion.

Photo taken almost 30 minutes after sunset.
Last night, we saw the owl sitting on a swallow nesting box, patiently watching for motion in the grassy fields nearby. As I approached, it was clearly aware of me, but sensing no danger , it remained on the post while I crept closer. It soon became apparent that it had detected a rodent moving in the grass and it closely observed and listened for movement, as it became darker.
After about 20 minutes, the owl pounced into the long grass. It was apparent that the owl had managed to catch a small rodent, as the owl did not reappear. After about five minutes, I cautiously approached and took the following photo, as the owl spread out its wings to hide its catch from me. It was quite dark at this point (photo shot at ISO 5000.)
At this time it was about 40 minutes after sunset.

The Canadian Rockies (Part Two)

This most recent trip to the Rockies was exceptional for seeing both black bears and grizzly bears. However, we were unable to spot any mountain goats or moose. As always, there are many birds to be seen, although this is a relatively quiet time of year for birds.

The raven. Our morning alarm clock in Banff.
Three very young bear cubs in Banff. Mother was close by.
Mother black bear with one of the cubs.
Mule deer stag
Cedar waxwing
Columbian ground squirrels
Mother grizzly bear
Spotted sandpiper
Golden mantled ground squirrel
Black bear turning over a large rock to find food. An awesome indicator of a bear’s strength!
Bighorn sheep (ram)
Bighorn females and young
White-crowned sparrow
Green-winged teal ducklings
Grizzly bear yearling

The Canadian Rockies (Part One)

In mid-July, we took a trip to the Canadian Rockies. After living in Eastern Canada and the USA for so many years, it was a surprise to realize that we now live less than eight hours by road from either Banff or Jasper. With travel restrictions in place, the parks were not as busy as usual, and we were readily able to camp in the parks, and maintain social isolation. As we have had a cool spring and cool early summer this year, there is still a lot of snow and ice in the mountains. The scenery is spectacular.

Kinney Lake, Mount Robson Provincial Park, BC
The wildflowers are also exceptional at this time of year.
Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta
Waterfall at Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park, AB
Bow Lake, Banff National Park, AB
In Banff NP
Glacier, Mount Edith Cavell, Jasper National Park
Top of Mount Robson, BC
Mount Robson, viewed from the Visitor Centre, Mount Robson Provincial Park. This south side of Mount Robson features about 9000 feet of vertical drop.It is the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies.
Johnson Lake, Banff NP
Bow Lake, Banff NP
Columbia Icefield, Jasper NP
Upper Waterfowl Lake, Banff NP
Mountain peaks, viewed from the Icefields Highway, between Banff and Jasper