Notes of a distant spring & early summer

Well its hard to believe we are halfway through 2020 already. I find myself wondering where the time has gone…its been a bit of a whirlwind year. From January to March, I was busy with work and classes. Then the end of March hit and Oregon went into social distancing and everything slowed down for a little while.

While social distancing and closed parks have limited some of my bird-watching opportunities, you’ve got to make the best of what you’ve got! I’ve managed to see quite a few more spring and summer birds than I anticipated back in March.

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Pacific Wren

On a short walk around a small-ish forest park, I was lucky enough to photograph this lovely little Pacific Wren singing his little heart out! I am always amazed at how loud and how long the Pacific Wren can sing for as it echoes throughout forests with lots of old wood and fallen tree debris.

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Brown Creeper

The Brown Creeper is ever an elusive bird to me. I find they difficult to spot and I still remember how excited I was when I saw my first. This one soon disappeared from the moss, blending in with the tree bark as he crept up the tree.

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Orange-crowned Warbler

One of my favorite spring arrivals is the Orange-crowned Warbler! I think I spotted this one with a bit of luck (which is sometimes what you need watching birds) and by his somewhat indistinct song! At the beginning of every spring, I struggle to remember how to distinguish their song vs. the Dark-eyed Junco. Its a challenge I welcome.

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Golden-crowned Sparrow

Meanwhile, I saw the last of the Golden-crowned Sparrows until they return again in autumn and winter! I saw a whole flock of them filling up on seeds to prepare for their journey north to breed.

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White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows were singing their songs across open woodland meadows, urban parks and parking lots and along the edges of forests. I am sure they must be busy now with chicks or fledglings to look after, possibly even onto their second brood already!

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invasive American Bullfrog

Of course, there is more to see than just birds. This American Bullfrog scared me as I nearly ran over it on my bike. They are incredibly loud and very invasive around these parts and he certainly seemed to think he owned this part of the path.

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Pacific Tree frog

The Pacific Tree frog is quite a bit smaller and definitely native. They can be found around the Pacific Northwest and occupy a variety of habitats including woodlands, backyard ponds, pastures, grasslands and can even be found in alpine zones!

Despite some limitations, which required some creative thinking to get out and about, I’ve been able to have some nice moments in nature which are always healing, restorative and energizing. They remind of of the small beauties in life when many things in the world are turning quite ugly.

A lack of fall colour, coots, creepers & a cute raptor

For Thanksgiving here in Canada, I went out for a walk looking to see some fall colour. Unfortunately, the trees fell short of my expectations and were still quite green for the most part. However, I can’t complain because I enjoy the moderate climate Victoria has to offer throughout the winter months and I’m willing to compromise on a lack of fall foliage.

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Elk Lake still looking very green in October

However, instead of colors, my walk delivered some other very exciting and wonderful things instead. First up, my very first Brown Creeper! For some reason, I felt like this was an important sighting for me in a way, like I wasn’t a real birder until I saw a Brown Creeper. I guess I felt this way because they are so common, but so hard to spot. Now I feel like I graduated in something; like I can call myself a real birder!

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Brown Creeper, my very first and no wonder! They are difficult to spot these small, cute birds.

 

My first glance thought he was a Bewick’s Wren, but the coloring and shape was all wrong. As he skittered quickly up the vertical tree trunk, I was reminded of a nuthatch. And then I realised, without consulting Sibley, that this was most certainly a Brown Creeper. And I was right! How proud I was. How cleverly their feathers blend in with the tree; how small and quick they are. Now I have learned that Brown Creepers commonly travel up tree trunks while nuthatches climb downward – potentially a helpful clue for the future. This is because they start at the bottom of the tree when hunting for insects and probe the bark with their long, curved beak as they make their way up (Cornell).

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American Coots out on the lake

Out on the lake was a codgery of American Coots. When we first arrived, we only spied them in the distance, but as we circled the lake, we saw them closer up to the shore and I was able to identify them as coots. I’ve never seen so many in one place before! It was a delight to watch them bob their heads back and forth as they swam along the surface of the water.

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The most color I could find along the Elk Lake trail. I think these leaves will turn gold in a few weeks’ time, though.

Further along the trail, through the barely golden-twinged leaves, a hummingbird and a sparrow were noisily hovering and hopping around a branch of a tree; and there, camouflaged in the tree was a sleeping Northern Saw-Whet Owl who did not seem to notice the buzz of the hummingbird at all. What a contrast between birds: noisy, fast and zipping around or silent, suave and swooping.

I have been hoping to see one of these tiny owls one day and was surprised to spot on in the middle of the day quite unexpectedly! The Northern Saw-whet Owl can be found in the Pacific Northwest year-round. Over winter, their range expands across all of North America except the high Arctic. These tiny owls prefer to live in old-growth coniferous forests where they predominantly prey on mice although mine was in a stand of younger deciduous trees (Cornell).

I wish I’d gotten to see his face when he was awake, but I’d never want to disturb the creature in its slumber, so I made great efforts not to make noise. Despite all the noise the hummingbird had been making as well as passing joggers, the tiny owl snoozed on peacefully, resting for the night’s hunt.


References
Brown Creeper, Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Northern Saw-whet Owl, Cornell Lab of Ornithology