Thursday, July 31, 2008

Birds of BC

On the trip, one fascinating aspect has been meeting up with friends (old and new) and family, and gaining insights into their interests, expertise and hobbies. Pam, Bev’s mother, has been a keen birder for some years now, eagerly seeking out birds wherever in the world she finds herself. For this guest spot on the blog, we asked Pam to present a selection of some of the birds of British Columbia, as we’ve enjoyed discussing some of the sightings and work she’s undertaken, including helping compile data for the British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas. (For more see The BCBBA website).

Notably, and as mentioned in the captions, some shots were taken by positioning the digital camera behind the bird spotting telescope (known in the family as ‘the bun gun’) as an extemporary telephoto lens; a tricky, but sometimes remarkably successful technique, (known as digiscoping).

-Over to Pam!

Thanks, Bev and James, for the chance to share some of my bird photos on your blog! Photographing birds is a challenge, but has added a new area of interest to my birding passion. I took all these photos over the past three years, all in British Columbia and many in our own back yard. I hope you enjoy them.

This is a female Belted Kingfisher, taken through the spotting scope; she was perched on a dead branch, and diving for fish in the lake. Note the murderous fish-spearing beak! Interestingly, the female has two ‘belts’, while the male has only one, an unusual variation of gender-specific plumage.

This California Quail pair (with the male left, female right) are drinking at their favourite small dish on Jim’s wall. They come nearly every afternoon and bring the kids when they’ve hatched. Day old chicks are like ‘walnuts on toothpicks’, to use Jim’s phrase, and are able to forage for themselves and even fly a little.

One of Canada’s smallest diving ducks, this is a male Hooded Merganser, elegant and crisp in spring plumage on a brightly lit local pond.

This male Northern Flicker, also taken through the spotting scope, was taking his turn at sitting on the eggs in the nest hole. The Northern Flicker is an abundant woodpecker, large, colourful and easily observed across Canada.

This juvenile Osprey (taken through the spotting scope) was perched very conveniently at eye level on pilings near a wooden jetty where I was standing with other birders. Earlier, we had enjoyed watching the parent birds teaching both their young how to fish.

A Pygmy Nuthatch is a very endearing little bird and rare in Canada, being found only in the Okanagan Valley and south Nicola Valley. A tiny nuthatch, it nests in Ponderosa Pines and feeds on insects in the bark. Obviously, it also likes the occasional seed to vary the diet! Here one is seen at our bird bath, which they visit nearly every day. They remain throughout the winter and liven the winter scene with their communal roosting and feeding. They are acrobatic feeders, especially favouring chunks of beef fat in an old onion bag hung outside our sunroom window.

This is a rufous morph Red-Tailed Hawk, very reddish-brown (taken through the spotting scope). The species varies from very pale to very dark, but all have the characteristic belly band and unmarked ‘bib’. This is probably the most abundant raptor in Canada, magnificent when soaring and hunting on the wing.

This young Rufous Hummingbird is seeking nectar from the flower basket planter I hang from a large pine tree each summer. They love pink tubular flowers especially, but also love the lobelia. Rufous Hummingbirds migrate south along high mountain pastures, where they can find flowering nectar-bearing plants late in the season, long after those in the valleys have finished blooming. (James adds: The hummingbird's amazing wing 'design' is, I think one of the most under-rated pieces of nature's remarkable engineering - notice how the wings are moving so fast they have almost disappeared in the photo. The hummingbird can fly backwards, and hover, as well as all the 'usual' avian maneuvers, and the energy-demand 'spike' this flight creates probably also explains why it needs to run on sugars!)

And lastly, one of our largest water birds, related to the European Divers, is the Loon. Its eerie call is evocative of the Canadian north. This bird, like the kingfisher, has a murderous fish-spearing beak. It cannot walk on land, but is a superb swimmer and diver. When seen face-on, its head is completely spherical, perfectly streamlined for deep and prolonged hunting in the water. Somewhat surprisingly in view of their size, loons are very difficult to photograph well! This bird was photographed through the spotting scope.


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