Tag: birdwatching (page 1 of 4)

Grebe in the fog

Horned grebe on a foggy day

We are definitely in the dark days of winter, at this time of year Vancouver Island can be a bit of a gloomy place, and in comparison to summer, a bit devoid of wildlife. However, whilst the forests and the meadows are quieter than the Spring and Summer, the coast is filled with overwintering waterbirds, including the horned grebe. What I find so fascinating about the horned grebe, is how a bird with such a striking summer plumage, they have a fiery  red/orange and black colouration, with yellow ‘horns’ behind their eyes, can look frankly, quite bland in the winter. The horned grebes can be spotted across Vancouver Island, despite being a little dull looking, they are delightful to watch. You can usually spot them bobbing along close to shore, diving up and down feeding on small fish.

The Victoria coastline is a designated migratory bird sanctuary, because of the importance of the area to birds like the horned grebe. Most of the waterbirds wintering here will soon leave the area and head inland and north, to nest in the lakes and wetlands of central and northern BC and beyond. Migration really is a natural wonder, and I feel very lucky to be able to see it so close to home, these birds do brighten up the grey, foggy days on the west coast.

Sanderlings in (and out) the sea

When first stepping onto the beaches of the Pacific Rim National Park one is taken aback by the enormity and beauty of the area, the beach continues for over a mile ahead of you, on one side thick rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see. In the distance large cone shaped mountains peek over the horizon, and on the other side the giant waves of the roaring Pacific Ocean sweep in and out across the sand.

The area is home to some of the largest and most impressive species in the World, but on this day I spent my time admiring one of the smaller species, the sanderling. A small wader that is common up and down the west coast (as well as in Europe). It is so wonderful to watch the small flocks of these tiny birds expertly comb the wild beaches for food. The flock I watched was playing a risky game, running in and out of the waves, narrowly avoiding being swallowed by the sea. They might not be the rarest or flashiest bird on the coast, but they are certainly one of the most charismatic, brightening up a gloomy winter day on Vancouver Island.

Bittern numbers booming across the UK

Bittern

One of the UK’s rarest birds is booming again across the country. The beautiful bittern, was once considered extinct in the UK, but now conservationists believe their population is at a record high. Found in wetlands, the bittern is a master of camouflage, conservationists have been able to count the birds by recording their incredibly loud, foghorn like, boom call.

The bittern was at serious risk of extinction in the 1990s, the rise in their population has been because of intensive conservation efforts from a number of groups that have focused on protecting their preferred habitat. Eastern England is still the best place to see and hear bitterns, however other areas such as Somerset and the East Midlands are also good spots to find this elusive bird. Having heard bitterns myself, at Rutland Water, I will definitely attest that is a wildlife experience unlike any other in the UK, and they are a bird that is well worth making the effort to see/hear. They are a fantastic example of how conservation can work successfully and save a species that at one time seemed doomed to extinction.

Looking for a VERY STRANGE seabird

Last week I went to the coast of Vancouver Island, looking for a secretive and strange seabird, the Marbled Murrelet! They held a secret for many years, but what is it?

Marbled Murrelets are moving from their summer grounds out to sea for the winters. These plucky birds are able to survive a harsh winter out in the Pacific Ocean.

Searching for the largest woodpecker in North America

This week I went out with my camera looking for the largest woodpecker in North America, the pileated woodpecker. This beautiful woodpecker can be seen right across Canada, and is common on Vancouver Island, they are however, a little tricky to see when in thick forest. If you want to know what I found in the forest, then have a look at the video, and learn a little more about these amazing birds!

Beautiful bee-eaters found in East Midlands quarry

European Bee-eater merops apiaster near Tiskanias River estuary Lesvos 11/05/10

European Bee-eater (picture not taken in Nottinghamshire).

This past week I have had some major bird envy, as just 10 minutes from my hometown in the UK, a small flock of European bee-eaters have been spotted. European bee-eaters are possibly one of the most beautiful birds you could hope to see. Found across mainland Europe and parts of Africa, they are not birds you often think of spotting in a quarry in Nottinghamshire, most excitingly the bee-eaters are showing signs that they could breed on the site. Bee-eaters live up to their name by feeding on bees and other invertebrates such as butterflies, moths and dragonflies.

There have been lots of people visiting the site to see the bee-eaters and I am so happy to see the coverage of them and of wildlife in the area. I may be a little biased, but I think the East Midlands has some of the best wildlife in the UK and can often be a little overlooked, I hope our newest arrivals stick around for the foreseeable future (at least until I am home next so I can see them!).

Swallows by the sea

By JJ Cadiz, Cajay – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4256704

In my opinion there are few birds more magical than swallows. For myself (and many others), swallows are the sign of a changing season, a light at the end of the tunnel from the grey and dark winters. They stay in BC throughout the Spring and Summer and do not just blend into the background, they are a noisy, sometimes chaotic species and truly are a joy to watch.

The four main swallow species I see are barn, tree, northern rough-winged and violet-green swallow. The latter are less common, and I hardly see them in the city. Northern rough-winged are brown with a light front, and I have seen them nesting in small holes in a quarry. The violet-green, as the name suggests, are the most striking and can mostly be seen around wetlands and marshes.

In the city tree swallows are a lovely species, with deep-blue iridescent backs, it is not uncommon to suddenly find yourself surrounded by a large flock, picking off insects around trees.

However the swallow that dominates my coastal neighbourhood is the barn swallow.  I am lucky enough to see the swallows every day on my walks along the coast and beach. For a bird that spends half the year in the tropics, they are very much at home on the Canadian coast. Like little acrobats in the sky I watch them twist and turn in the meadows, manouvering between trees and skimming the grass in search of insects. I watch in awe as they are skim from one end of the meadows to the other, before dropping over the cliffs and down onto the beach. They keep low to the ground, dodging waves, in order to feed on the small insects found on the seaweed and sand. It is really easy to feel a connection to the swallows, they follow people as they walk along, gobbling up each insect that is disturbed by their steps. At the moment it is the adults who expertly dodge your legs and feet, but soon the young will be out of the nest, and learning to fly,  this leads to a few hairy moments where a collision between swallow and shoe seems inevitable. Swallow numbers are continuing to decline in our area, the cause is poorly understood. Despite it just been June, I am really making the most of seeing them before they head off again in a few months on their amazing journey south.

Beautiful barred owls

What a glorious weekend it has been, finally the sun is shining on Vancouver Island, and more excitingly I had an unexpected encounter with some beautiful barred owls. When it comes to owls my record of seeing them compared to other birdwatchers is poor at best. Quite a few times I have been tipped off on the best places to see owls, only to find empty branches and owl shaped shadows in the forest. This weekend however, was different, I was walking through a small patch of woodland, that is well known for barred owl sightings. The barred owl is a widespread, fairly common species of owl found right across the island. They are adaptable and seem very comfortable with life in our towns and cities.

I sensed my luck was in almost from the minute I entered the woods, I could hear some commotion further up the path, it sounded as though 3 or 4 hummingbirds were very upset about something in one of the trees. A good tip for finding owls and other raptors is to see how smaller birds are behaving in an area, when a raptor is present, it is very common to see a number of small birds mobbing it. As I walked down the path I could hear the hummingbirds very clearly, and after reaching the tree I was met with the unmistakable stare of an owl. A beautiful male barred owl sat on the branch, clear as day, undeterred by the hummingbirds, who were taking it in turns to dive towards it. This owl lives in an urban park, and was not fazed as people walked and cycled past.

Another tip for watching wildlife is to not only watch the wildlife but also the people around you. I saw a woman looking up the tree behind me and it turned out that she was looking at a baby barred owl. We swapped what we were looking at (she had not yet spotted the male). High in the tree sat a little fluffy blob, with their head down, trying to get a little bit of rest. I have never seen a young owl before and I enjoyed watching it scratching, yawning and generally just sitting around. Now I know where the owls can be found, I will definitely be going back to visit this family of owls that are very much at home in the middle of town!

Waxwing winter and a good year for robins, here are the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch

Waxwing

Waxwing

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has released the results of the UK’s Big Garden Birdwatch a long running citizen science project, where those taking part record and log what birds visit their garden for an hour on a particular date, it has become increasingly popular, and this year saw nearly 500,000 people take part, logging 8 million birds.

The results of the study has shown that 2017 was a waxwing winter, they flocked to the UK from northern Europe in search of food. Waxwings can often be seen in winter in the UK, but every seven to eight years, they come in higher numbers because of a shortage of food in Scandinavia. These sleek and beautiful birds, are a dusky pink colour, with a black stripe over their eye. They really are a joy to see and I am sure many people will have been very pleased to have them visiting the garden in search of berries. A little birdwatching tip, car parks with berries are often the best places to see them!

Other species that have done well, include goldfinches, which are up 44% since 2007, I am sure this is a noticeable difference for those who have watched the birds in their garden for many years. Once a less common sight, goldfinches are seemingly all over the place, again they are beautiful birds, with a yellow (gold) wing stripe and a red face. Robins have also seen a jump, the number of robins seen visiting gardens is now at a 20 year high. Starlings are up 10% on last year, a small rise given their dramatic decline, and red listed status, but an increase is still good news.

Goldfinch

Goldfinches

This year was not so good for some of our tits (stop giggling). Blue tits, great tits and coal tits were seen less frequently than last year. This is believed to be because of the weather, prolonged rain meant that caterpillar numbers were low and this had an impact on them feeding their young. Less food means fewer surviving young and thus a reduction from last year. However hopefully they will bounce back this year.

We are still seeing long term declines of our finch species, chaffinches are down 57% from 1979 and greenfinches are down 59%. It is so important that we all continue to make an effort and ensure our gardens are great places for birds.

Greenfinch

Greenfinch

To make your garden more attractive to birds follow this link to the RSPB, they have some very handy tips on how to get birds into your garden!

https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/give-nature-a-home-in-your-garden/

Seeing the sky dancer

I was hoping to spot some of the last trumpeter swans, before they make their long journey north. I went to the quiet, flat farmland in Saanich, the perfect spot for wintering swans. After driving a back road through multiple potholes, I arrived at a marsh that reportedly had over 200 swans on it just a few days before. A few pintail and shoveler ducks sat in the waterlogged field, and red winged blackbirds sang on the tops of the reeds, but no swans. I sat and waited for a little while, scanning the far fields with my binoculars, hoping to see the unmistakable white mass of one of North America’s heaviest birds.

By this point the ducks and the red winged blackbirds had fallen silent, I looked across the reed and locked eyes with one of the most beautiful raptors, the northern harrier. The harrier has a distinctive shape, large broad wings, and a long thin tail, this harrier, a brown female, floated elegantly across the reeds looking for prey. I watched in awe at her beautiful, effortless and quiet flight as she went back and forth across the reeds to the field verges and back again, meticulously listening and looking for prey below.

In the UK they are called hen harriers, and are an increasingly rare sight, in this part of Canada however, they are doing ok, they are affected by urban development and intensive farming, but they are not considered as a species of conservation concern. They are often referred to as sky dancers, because of their acrobatic mating display, however, watching them hunt, it is easy to see why they were given that name. They are effortless and graceful in the air, a far cry from the bulky swans I was hoping to see! I was transfixed by this special bird, they really are a joy to watch.

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