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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Last week, we took a short trip to the South Okanagan. Despite stormy weather, it was a very good trip for seeing “new to us” birds, as well as for wildflowers, animals and beautiful scenery.
I have very much enjoyed discovering new places in our first Spring in Southern British Columbia. There is so much to see and experience. The forests are particularly beautiful and peaceful. “Birding” here is a very different experience for me, as the forest is denser, the canopy much higher, and the variations in the forest are greater than I am used to. In very short distances there are immense differences based on elevation, terrain, relative amounts of sun and shade, forestry practices (old growth, new growth, replanted or naturally reseeded). These differences in forest have a major impact on the distribution of bird species. Birds are generally more difficult to spot by sight than what I am used to, and it is necessary to listen for identifying calls and to know more of bird behaviour with respect to type of forest, than what I am used to. The challenges are putting me on a steep learning curve, which I am enjoying. The following photos have all been taken in forests of the lower Fraser Valley over the last six weeks.
No, this is not another melancholy blog post about dealing with social isolation in this time of the pandemic. It is a post about nature and some of the “blue birds” that can be seen in British Columbia! It is a good time to socially isolate in the great outdoors!
April 22, 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of Earth Day. This movement was initiated by two American politicians from the Democratic and Republican parties, who were concerned with the prevalence of air and water pollution, the decline and disappearance of species, and the presence of toxins threatening public health. Their objective was to focus public attention on these issues in a non-partisan manner. The publication of The Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1963 and the establishment of Earth Day in 1970 are credited by many as main drivers of “the environmental movement” and subsequently many improvements were made. Important legislation was established to reduce water and air pollution, to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, to eliminate acid rain which was devastating forests around the world, to eliminate toxins such as DDT (thereby resulting in the return of bird species such as the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon), to reduce lead and mercury in gasoline and air and water emissions (thereby improving public health) and to restore and preserve habitat for nature at large and threatened species in particular. In this time period, the United States was a leader in environmental protection and this leadership prompted other countries to follow suit. Over this time period, the Earth Day movement grew to an extent that it is recognized today in more than 180 countries! It is clearly a movement that inspires international cooperation, as most environmental problems are international in scope.
While many problems have been solved, environmental issues have become even more serious in the intervening years with significant loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, declining standards of environmental protection, loss of momentum for international cooperation and above all, with global warming. Like the Covid-19 Pandemic, these problems are all international in nature, and require concerted international effort and cooperation. Many scientists believe that the Covid-19 Pandemic will be relatively small in its impact on people, relative to the eventual impact of global warming, and just as there was for the pandemic, there are many warnings that we are past due the time to start to take serious actions. The templates for action were established in the 1970’s. Can we learn from the past? This is something we should all contemplate on Earth Day 2020.
With the pandemic, and stay at home directives, I have had time to revisit photographs taken over the last few years, sometimes finding captures that I had forgotten about. This review highlights the beauty of nature, and how fortunate we are in North America to have the diversity we still have. Sadly, this diversity is threatened by loss of habitat, global warming, and laxer environmental protection standards. The losses of the last fifty years are unprecedented in the history of mankind (reference “The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert). Sadly, these losses are likely to increase in the future due to the very significant rollbacks of environmental protection standards and enforcement in the United States and the disdain for rain forest protection in Brazil by its current president. It upsets me to think that my grandchildren will not have the same opportunities I have had to experience the beauty and diversity of our natural world.
One of the most interesting birds I have had the opportunity to photograph this year has been the northern pygmy owl. It is a bird of western North America, found in mountainous and foothill areas from Central America to northern British Columbia. As owl locations are protected, it proved a challenge to find one, but I finally lucked out on a forest access road in the Fraser Valley about an hour drive from our home. Due to its intense eyes and small size, many find the pygmy owl “cute”, but it is a fierce predator and will take on rodents and other birds up to three times larger than itself. (It is actually not much larger than a song sparrow in length (15-17 cm.) and when a friend described to look for, he said look for a baseball at the end of a tree branch). Sure enough, that is what I found! The pygmy owl, unlike most North American owls, is mostly a day time hunter, and sticks pretty well to one specific area and thus once located, can generally be found on subsequent visits. I believe the following pictures taken over several weeks are all of the same bird, or at most, are of two different birds. On one occasion when photographing one, I believe I her the characteristic “toot” of a second nearby, although I could not locate the second one.