Tag: wildlife watching

Wild days on Pender

Dotted throughout the Salish Sea are the beautiful southern Gulf Islands, despite being close together these islands each offer something slightly unique. One of these islands is Pender Island, and last week I took a couple of days to go and see what wildlife it has to offer.

Driving around the island you cannot help but notice the large number of trails that head down towards secret bays and beaches. Because of the small size of the island, it is very easy to explore. The days we were there were hot and sunny, perfect weather to see turkey vultures soaring above the fields and roads. They are expert gliders, and you can see them making subtle movements to steer, without needing to flap their wings, however their time in the area is coming to an end as soon they will begin migrating in large numbers south, into the USA.

We hiked up Mount Norman, a fairly steep hill located within the national park, at the top, an incredible viewpoint gives you a birds-eye view of the area. The hike is through a mixed patch of woodland, and on the walk the loud call of pileated woodpeckers was echoing around the forest, ravens flew overhead and a lovely downy woodpecker was pecking away directly in front of me, these tiny woodpeckers are black and white, with a bright red patch on the back of their head.

Walking down the trails towards the bays and the beaches, you are never really sure exactly what you’ll find, each beach is different, with a different view, rock formation etc, but one thing that is a constant is the kingfishers. Belted kingfishers are all over the island, the long chatter, described as a mechanical rattle can be heard in pretty much every bay and on every beach. An interesting species to watch, they confidently patrol their territory ready to chase any unsuspecting gull, heron or kayaker that is passing through. They are a large kingfisher that stands at about 30 cm, their size means it is easy to watch them fish, they hover over the water before loudly plopping in and grabbing their prey.

As the nights start to draw in I am trying to see as many summer sunsets as possible, and so I followed a trail down to the water to watch. The bay I found was surrounded by arbutus trees, a large native species, with twisted branches and unmistakable orange/red peeling bark. The bay was quiet, a large fried egg jellyfish (named perfectly, seriously, look it up!) was bobbing in the shallows. From around the coastline one of my favourite birds appeared, a lovely osprey, the white, fish eating raptor. I could not believe my luck as the bird starting to gracefully circle, the sky was glowing pink, the sea was calm and it was going to fish right in front of me, a perfect wildlife moment I thought! But, guess who showed up to spoil my peaceful scene, the confident kingfisher, rattling away. The belted kingfisher came out of the trees and flew directly at the osprey, escorting it out of the bay, before proudly perching back in the trees.

The last bit of wildlife came that night, as owls hooted in the forest behind where I was staying. I decided to go and listen, half asleep and clutching my phone for light, I had a new wildlife experience, bats, now I have seen bats plenty of times, but never in the forest. I watched the bats flying through the trees, weaving around them expertly. Their clicks were audible, I have no idea what species they were, but seeing them in this setting highlighted how incredible they are. To navigate a thick forest, in the dark is beyond impressive, a brilliant end to a wild couple of days on Pender Island.

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!).

Battling the weather for birds.

Harlequin Ducks

I love winter on my patch, although this year is testing my patience somewhat. For Canada, Vancouver Island is mild in winter, with temperatures and weather similar to that in the UK. But this year has been a different story, snowstorms and Arctic gales have consistently hit the island. This has meant that the usual enjoyable birdwatching trips around my patch have looked more like something out of March of the Penguins.

The reason I love winter here so much is because of all the birds. Yes, summer brings a number of smaller, brighter species, but on a good winter day at my local beach I can easily see 30-40 species without even trying, and this is about 5 minutes away from the city centre, perfect for any urban birder. Today the wind was the issue, gale-force Arctic winds coming straight off the sea; the birding can generally be quite good on windy days, as many birds move into the harbours for a bit of a shelter.

Walking down the street the ground was covered in American robins, I imagine that the cold weather further north from us has brought many into the city. American robins are a common species, different to the robins we see in the UK, they are a member of the thrush family, and act as so, they are often seen scuttling along the ground or up in the trees eating berries. An Anna’s hummingbird was buzzing away, perched on a phone line, it is amazing to see such a tiny bird braving the elements in winter. This individual had a bright pink front and was showing it off as I passed.

After reaching the harbour I ducked next to some rocks to get a bit of a break from the wind, the harbour was filled with the usual suspects. A male hooded merganser was showing off his impressive white hood to a group of seemingly interested females. A pied-billed grebe was foraging away further out, and a flock of common mergansers passed me by, keeping an eye on me in between dipping their faces in the water. I was also very lucky to see one of my favourite birds, is it ok to have favourites? Three harlequin ducks were resting on the far shore, two males, one female. The males are so beautiful, I know it is wrong to like a bird based on appearance, but with their sleek neat pattern, blue/grey feathers on the head and body, red/orange sides topped off with distinct white bars on their face, neck, around their breast and horizontally along their body, it is hard not to admire them.

Cormorants (I think double-crested cormorants, but I struggle to guess the species) were braving the wind, flying out of harbour. After a glimpse of some surf scoters in the distance, and a belted kingfisher bashing sticklebacks on the side of a boat, I decided to call it a day, my hands were basically frozen onto my binoculars at this point.

Walking back round the coast I noticed another birder watching something out at sea (top birdwatching tip, don’t always watch the birds, watch the people). I scanned where he was looking and spotted a marbled murrelet bobbing among the waves. This is a special species, a small seabird, the marbled murrelet is a member of the auk family, and is listed as endangered in BC. They spend winter on the ocean, but in spring they have a secret that eluded ornithologists for years. Unlike other seabirds you will not find marbled murrelets nesting on cliff faces or the rocky shoreline, they nest in the ancient old growth temperate rainforest along the coast, their nest can be as far as 45 miles inland. They make their nest within the giant mossy trees, travelling back and forth at dawn and dusk, like tiny ghosts of the forest. They are a remarkable link between land and sea and a great example of the connection between the cold seas and tall trees on Canada’s Pacific coast.

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New Video! Wildlife Watching- duck pond drama!

Wildlife in the city: 5 places to see wildlife in Victoria








As much as heading out for an adventure into the wilderness in search of wildlife is fun and exciting, sometimes it is nice to watch wildlife from the comforts of our towns and cities.  Luckily for us our urban areas attract a host of species, and urban wildlife watching offers an easy and hassle free way to connect with nature!

Victoria, on the south coast of Vancouver Island, is home to a huge variety of wildlife, and many species can be seen without having to leave the city.

Have a look at these 5 brilliant places to see wildlife in Victoria, British Columbia:

1. Dallas Road


Overlooking the Salish Sea, there is a chance of seeing orca, humpback whale, sea lions, seals, birds of prey (including the fastest animal on the planet, the peregrine falcon) and in the winter a huge number of migratory birds; plus many more species, Dallas Road offers some spectacular wildlife watching just a half an hour walk from downtown. Perfect!

2. Mount Douglas


Whether you hike or drive to the top, or have a leisurely walk around the base.  Mount Douglas Park is crammed with wildlife, the tall lush forest attracts birds such as woodpeckers and owls; whilst at the top vultures and red tailed hawks soar. Salmon can be seen in the creek, and black tailed deer feed along the forest trails.  The thick forest can feel like the wilderness, and it is easy to forget you are still in the city.

3. Mount Tolmie


As well as great views, a drive to the top of Mount Tolmie has some great wildlife, the area is one of the best spots to see raptors in Victoria . In one afternoon it is not uncommon to see turkey vulture, merlin, Cooper’s hawk, red tailed hawk, bald eagle, osprey and the occasional sharp shinned hawk and peregrine falcon. As well as raptors the area is home to a large number of songbirds and is a good spot in the autumn to see migratory species overhead.

4.  Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary


Take a gentle stroll across the boardwalks and along the paths around Swan Lake and you will encounter a host of wildlife.  Anna’s hummingbird, bushtits, spotted towhee, barred owls, great blue heronsred-tailed hawk, Cooper’s hawk, lesser scaup, marsh wrens and red-winged blackbirds are just some of the bird species that can be spotted across the sanctuary.  As well as birds, river otter and black tailed deer are frequently seen as well as a number of dragonflies and butterflies.  It is amazing to have such a large number of species on a site located right next to a highway!

5. Beacon Hill Park


Beacon Hill Park is located between downtown Victoria and the ocean, with a number of different areas and walkways; there are a lot of habitats to explore, in a relatively small space.  The park is home to reptiles such as lizardssnakes, turtles.  A number of migratory waterfowl use the ponds during the winter, and for the summer the area is dominated by great blue herons, who nest in large numbers.  The park has resident bald eagles, and is a great spot to see hummingbirds, during the evening barred owls can be heard calling in the forest, and racoons are often seen throughout the park.  There are a number of wildflower species, that cover the park during the spring and summer, which in turn attracts a large number of butterflies.

These are just a handful of species and places to see wildlife in Victoria.  We are very lucky here to have such a great amount of wildlife right on the doorstep! Do you have any favourite wildlife spots for me to feature?  Or any tips for watching wildlife in an urban area?

Scorching Saturday birding at Cattle Point.

As Vancouver Island continues to swelter in a heatwave I headed out to a small park named Cattle Point in Victoria, BC for a spot of urban birding. Cattle Point and the adjoining Uplands Park are located in the popular suburb of Oak Bay, the ecosystem consists of Garry Oak meadow surrounded by the water of the Salish Sea. As you pull into Cattle Point you are first drawn to the great view across to Mount Baker, located in Washington State, USA.








I began walking through the shrubbery and away from the more crowded beach in order to get a better chance of spotting wildlife. Crickets skipped through the grass, butterflies flapped from flower to flower and bumble bees buzzed around my head. The first bird encounter was with an old favourite, the white crowned sparrow. As I continued along the path a flock of bushtit flitted through the Garry Oak above, I always enjoy seeing these charismatic birds, they are often easy to spot as they travel in small flocks and make lots of noise as they go. Their behaviour is very similar to the British long-tailed tit, although the colouring is different as bushtits are grey.

On a post across the meadow I could see a lot of activity. It was from a bird species that I do not often encounter in my day-to-day birding. The brown headed cowbird (see picture below). It seemed apt to see cowbirds at a site called Cattle Point, these birds are slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than American robins. They are characterised by the males’ dark almost blue body and brown head. This pair were interacting the entire time I was watching them, it seemed as though the male was attempting to impress the female, throwing out his wings and shaking them vigorously. Unfortunately for him she was not overly impressed and was moving away as quickly as she could!


Brown headed cowbird (female on left; male on right).








Whilst walking through the park I could hear the distinctive high pitched calls of a bald eagle. Occasionally one would circle around overhead and disappear into the tall conifer trees. As I approached the patch of trees the vocal calls were getting louder and louder, I managed to find a gap in the trees and get a view of the tops. Once you can see the tops of the trees the bald eagle is pretty easy to spot. Their bright white heads act as a kind of beacon. I was in luck as both the male and the female were sat on the top of the highest tree. Female bald eagles are much larger than the males, so when a pair are seen together it can be quite easy to figure out the sexes.








I was lucky enough to encounter one of my favourite birds; the harlequin duck. These little ducks are pretty common all year in Victoria, but are often quite shy.  I got a great sighting of these 2 females and I believe a non- breeding male as they were feeding along the rocky shoreline. The harlequins are pretty easy to identify, the females have the white spot and white under the bill. The males have a more prominent white marking around the bill, and when in breeding plumage are incredibly striking with a deep blue and red colour.






























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