Spring is a busy time for birds with hunting, singing and nest-building to do!

Besides more sunshine and flowers, spring has brought other exciting things, too! I’ve had some lovely times out birding given the chance. Its been nice fitting in some adventures out and about on sunny or rainy days.

I saw my first Orange-crowned Warbler of the season, an absolute joy to see! Something about them brings a smile to my face watching them: with their yellow feathers and their lovely, cheery song! I listened to a pair of warblers sing to (or with?) each other in the trees. I wonder if it was a mating call or something else. Regardless, they’ve got to be one of my favourite birds to watch and I felt so lucky to see them!

Orange-crowned Warbler
Orange-crowned Warbler (the orange crown is just barely visible in this photo)

Just out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something that caught my eye in the trees – a bushtit’s nest! The Bushtit was flitting to and from the nest, from a small opening at the top. Bushtits build hanging nests from tree branches out of plant material and spiderwebs to make it stretch down. The breeding pair sleeps in the nest each night along with other male adults who help build the nest! Seems like this nest would be quite cozy. See photos below…to avoid disturbing the nest (as I never want to displace or reveal a breeding pair), I only took photos from afar behind the cover of a cypress tree nearby.

Its not just Bushtits working on raising young… I spied a Dark-eyed Junco between branches gathering nesting materials, her beak full of grass and moss. While Bushtits work together on nests, momma Juncos do it all on their own! Again, I watched carefully so as not to disturb her hard work.

Everyone else is busy, too. Song Sparrows have been particularly noisy lately belting out their variety of songs. While they tend to spend more of their time foraging in the brush on the ground, Spotted Towhees are out singing on their perches, too. Speaking of noisy birds, not many are noisier than the Bewick’s Wren.

I tend to bird a lot by ear, and I think I am finally able to identify this wren’s song reliably and they are much more common than I had thought! Walking a trail the other day, I heard a rustling on the ground and paused to watch and listen. After a few patient moments, out hopped a Bewick’s Wren with his lunch caught in his beak! At first I thought it was a seed but it turned out to be a fly. I watched him working hard, like a smaller, woodland version of gull dropping a crab on rocks, as he dropped the fly and repeatedly picked it up again. I imagine their down-curved beak helps them peck away at their prey.

Song Sparrow
Spotted Towhee
Bewick’s Wren with a fly in his beak
Bewick’s Wren, fly on the ground
Bewick’s Wren with the fly once more

I had my first-ever sighting of Green-winged Teals at a flood plain! They are just gorgeous and make the most interesting sounds! They were off on the side of the water doing their own thing while Buffleheads, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks and Northern Shovelers paddled about on the more open waters. Just after spotting the teals, I saw a Killdeer in the grass. Along the edges of the water and among the cattails were quite a few Red-winged Blackbirds.

Green-winged Teals (female left, male right)
Ring-necked Ducks (female left, male right)
Killdeer

One of my most-anticipated spring arrivals just returned last week! Osprey have made their way back north to breed for the northern summer and our local pair have returned to last year’s nest. I went to watch them one afternoon but only saw one of the pair at the nest. She (I believe as she has mottled brown across the chest) was working on re-building and repairing the nest from last year and flew in and out, returning with new branches each time, then carefully placing them just so in the nest. She called out every now and again, I am guessing to stay in communication with her mate and became especially loud when a bald eagle flew far overhead. As predators of young Osprey, I have no doubt she was aware of the eagle’s presence.

It was inspiring to see them back again, like long lost friends, and I hope they raise successful fledglings again this year! I will be watching their progress again over the season and you can be sure there will be updates here like last year! The pair was successful at raising three fledglings last year and I watched them all the way from nest-building through to being awkward chicks to becoming proud juvenile sea-hawks! It is my hope I will get to see it all over again this summer!

First time feasters at my new backyard bird feeder

On Friday afternoon, I walked into the backyard and saw something surprising and exciting – birds at my bird feeder for the first time! After nearly two months of patiently waiting, they had finally found my feeder! I was so excited I sat down and watched them for the next hour. Let’s go back to the start…

A Dark-eyed Junco sings from a snowy perch.

It was a cold, mid-December Saturday after a week of unusual snowfall in Victoria. I had recently been perusing the pages of various backyard birding books. One in particular (Best-Ever Backyard Birding Tips: Hundreds of Easy Ways to Attract the Birds You Love to Watch by Debborah L. Martin) had got me thinking about bird feeders. It seemed suddenly not only plausible to keep up with the maintenance I had once thought too much, but also perfect for the birds given the weather. I always worried before about the cons of bird feeding: it would feel like cheating, it would spread disease and attract mice and I’d rather just get to see them by chance.

A Chestnut-backed Chickadee silhouette in the snow.

…and then I went birding for a year, read birding books and saw other feeders out and about and how cool it was to watch. So, after careful research on bird feeder care, what type of feeder and seed to get and how to position it in a safe, attractive spot, I went out and purchased my first bird feeder.

The first day I put it out in December, I watched and waited. I sprinkled some seeds on the ground to try to attract birds’ attention. A couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and Spotted Towhees took advantage of the fallen seeds, leaving little prints in the snow, but no one else came.

I was nearly ready to give up on my backyard feeding when suddenly the chickadees found my feeder on Friday! After another good snowfall earlier last week, things were thawing out. Maybe that’s what finally attracted the birds to my feeder.

dsc02798-2
Last week’s snow at dusk.

I knew once the Chestnut-backed Chickadees showed up, everyone else would follow! At first, the chickadees monopolized the feeder, quickly flying in and out. Over time, they seemed more comfortable and spent more time on the feeder. They would often wait in line on nearby branches for the feeder to become available.

Chestnut-backed Chickadees were, not surprisingly, first at my feeder! Perhaps this one is loudly telling everyone else where the good food is at.

Soon enough, my second visitor was the Red-breasted Nuthatch. At first, he seemed shyer and more sensitive to disturbances and was very quick about visiting the feeder, but boy was I wrong! I read that they tend to rule the feeders, being small and mighty, kicking everyone else off! By day two, I was definitely seeing such behavior from him. He’d buzz in, chirping loudly, sometimes aggressively chasing away the chickadees before landing in for his mealtime.

The Red-breasted Nuthatch: tiny, agile and surprisingly, the king of the feeder as he rules over the other birds. I like his small but powerful attitude.
I cannot get enough of the nuthatch, who I believe is the same one who I’ve seen before living in a tree in the back. In fact, I saw him fly in and back from that very tree. He is difficult to photograph as he doesn’t tend to spend too much time on the feeder and seems to fly away every time I go to take a shot as if knowing he is eluding me.

Aside from the stars of my show so far, I’ve also had lots of beautiful Dark-eyed Juncos feeding off the seeds spilled onto the ground, as well as a lone Song Sparrow. Oh, and the squirrels of course…they like to come clean up the area after the birds have about finished.

Dark-eyed Junco feeding on fallen seeds.
Song Sparrow also eating fallen seeds.
This Eastern Grey Squirrel appreciate the seeds, too..

Now that I have my feeder, I don’t regret it for a moment! I still worry over spreading disease and attracting predators, but I take appropriate steps to prevent both. I am so excited to see what other birds come to visit and to continue watching my regulars, too! I’ve already noticed much I had missed about them before, like the flight pattern of the chickadee. The best surprise yet? Happening to spot two Varied Thrush in the backyard because I was watching my feeder. I probably would never have seen them had I not been looking that way already!

While watching my feeder, I spotted two Varied Thrush in the backyard! I’d heard them before and identified them by their distinct sound, but could never spot them to confirm. Guess I definitely know they are back there now and I feel so lucky to have these beautiful Pacific Northwest natives in my own yard!

Thursday morning birds are calling: will you watch and listen?

I’ve been feeling anxious energy lately, between a changing schedule, Amber needing vet care again and other life things. I decided its partly because there haven’t been enough birds and nature in my life lately. So, I decided to remedy this by going for a nice walk this morning.

There is nothing more relaxing and refreshing to clear the mind than taking a walk outside, getting fresh air and listening to the chorus of sounds around you.

I went to scout on the bald eagle nest nearby, but no one was home. I haven’t seen any chicks as yet, though I don’t know if I should expect any this time of summer or not. They appeared to be prepping their nest, but even without bald eagles, a lovely walk was still to be had.

I continued on down to a rocky beach through a tree-lined path with the smell of ripening blackberries and the sea in the air. When I got there, the tide was low and the sunlight glistened and twinkled on the water, the sun still low in the eastern morning sky. I heard birds singing and chirping in the trees behind me. I must be the only person who goes to the beach and then turns around to look back at the land where I came from.

My rocky shore destination this morning, though this is a photo taken in the mid to late afternoon another day. Today, I felt like just enjoying the view without snapping photos.

The tree-lined path was enveloped in shade from the gentle morning sun. On my way back up, I stood quietly listening, breathing and saw my fog of breath as if it were the middle of winter! It was definitely cooler and felt humid in the shade. I breathed out a few times like a little kid in the winter does, immensely amused by the fog in the middle of the summer.

As I walked the path, a scurrying in the leaf litter brought my attention to a Spotted Towhee. I often expect to see these spotted sparrows when I hear rustling on the ground as they rummage through the leaves for insects to eat. The sun peaked down through the trees just right, effortlessly lighting up his black, white and rufous plumage for this photo.

Spotted Towhee commonly heard rustling in leaf litter like this.

To my right, I heard another bird singing. I edged slowly closer, trying to take the quietest steps a bumbling human like me can. I waited patiently and soon, a Bewick’s Wren hopped down the branches of a tree. He was singing his lovely little song with his tail up and his white stripe distinguishing him across his eye. I paused to watch and listen and smiled, appreciating his appearance. I didn’t manage to photograph him before he moved on, but here is one I saw a while back in my backyard. Sometimes the experience and the watching is better than snapping a photo.

These are the only photos I’ve managed of a Bewick’s Wren. The lighting isn’t great, but that’s okay. Its more about seeing the bird than acting like paparazzi. Though I love getting nice photos of birds, especially new  species, its not what I’m in it for. After all, I still just use a point-and-shoot; nothing fancy.

After my walk, I feel happy. I feel lighter and calmer. There is no denying the calming and healing effects of nature. Its even backed up by scientific studies that say walking in nature is good for your brain. I believe it! Let this be my reminder to you to get out into nature regularly and enjoy the simple things and the living things and the beauty around you.

Immerse yourself in the blue sky, the green grass, the swishing trees, the singing birds. Even if just for a few minutes.

Back home in BC and observing some familiar backyard birds

Even though I love travelling and its often energizing and inspiring to me, I also love returning home. Besides those comforts of home, its good to be back near the ocean again, to be around familiar birds again and, of course, to see little Amber again.

DSC03606
Amber in a favored spot, likely watching the birds, too.

Though not technically in my backyard, before I left, I had been watching the osprey closely. They were appearing to have begun settling in and were spending more time at the nest despite some unwelcome visitors, including a third osprey and bald eagles.

Osprey, the sea-hawk (male), keeping watch over the area. He stayed here for a long time, possibly keeping watch out for that third osprey or other threats.

I saw them mate a few times and hopefully the female will lay eggs soon. I finally learned how to distinguish the male from the female osprey: a female has brown speckling across her breast where the male is fully white. I’d been puzzling over this for some time.

Osprey in flight

My backyard is full of both familiar and new birds and spring activity. Where months ago, I’d seen a Pileated Woodpecker in a tree in the backyard numerous times, I heard a pecking on the tree and looked up. Instead of a woodpecker, I spotted a little Red-breasted Nuthatch in the very same tree.

Pileated Woodpecker in the backyard

I then regularly spotted the nuthatch in the tree. I wonder if perhaps he was using an old nesting cavity from the woodpecker? He seemed to be working hard every day, though, so maybe he was building his own. I love watching these little nuthatches scurry up and down the tree trunks as if gravity didn’t exist.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Its exciting to spot new birds and explore new territory, I also find a great joy in seeing regular visitors and observing their behavior and patterns. I like getting to know the locals.

The Bushtit was a new bird for me and was tricky to photograph as she looked very busy out gathering nesting materials before the threaten of looming rain came in the afternoon. I found her challenging to identify because of her rather non-descript, or drab, plumage.

Bushtit, a new bird for me
The Chestnut-Backed Chickadee, in usual fashion, moves quickly in search of food.
This Spotted Towhee gave itself a bath in a nearby pool of water and then perched in the low branches of a tree.

Not only birds, but other animals are preparing for and taking care of young as well. I watched this Eastern Gray Squirrel nimbly climb from the ground, up a tree trunk, then across tiny branches across to another tree only to hang upside-down in order to dine on some flowers. She’d seemed to plot out the safest path to her food-source, avoiding exposing herself on open ground for too long. She was very efficient about it, which is not at all surprising considering this invasive species has found great success here.

Eastern Grey Squirrel foraging in the trees

I am sure spring will bring other interesting wildlife and beauty, birds new and old alike, and greater opportunity to get outdoors with longer and warmer days. There is much to look forward to!

On getting gifts from a cat & river otter spied in the sea

I have been cat sitting for a neighbour recently and she is a bit of a roamer and goes outside. While I would personally never let my own cat outdoors unsupervised, I have to respect the parental choices. This week, we passed a milestone of sorts.

I know now she is getting very fond of us as she brought us home a gift the other day…a spotted towhee. So I feel a little guilty looking at this photo of one I managed to snag the other day, but I do love cats, too, so I can’t be hard on them for doing what I know is only natural instinct. While I love and understand her sentiment, I am not too keen to receive another gift anytime soon.

spottedtowhee
Spotted Towhee

Not only do I love cats and birds, but I love all animals and wildlife. Even the raccoon who are increasingly visiting my backyard and spooking me after dark. Although I admit I wasn’t very impressed when I found some of their worm-infested feces in the yard the other week. Anyway, onto nicer things…

watching a river otter eating a crab

Recently, I was lucky enough to get to watch a river otter while I was at the beach. (Yes, that’s right, I recently learned river otter live in both fresh and saltwater!) Many people around me seemed either oblivious or indifferent to this beautiful creature tucked away on the rocky shoreline. While baffling to me, that was quite all right with me as I got to enjoy the moment myself. Its quite funny how some people don’t seem to notice these things around them. I sat watching for quite some time as he (or she) nibbled away on a crab and then deftly climbed down to the waterside and swam away quickly around the coastline.

riverotter_25Dec15 (1)
river otter on the coast

A few weeks before that, I was lucky enough to see a presumed family of three river otter at the inner harbour downtown. I first saw them on the shore and later saw them as I walked back around swimming down the channel and then climbing up onto the wall in the photo below. It was quite amazing to watch them gracefully climb over land and swim in the water.

riverotter_11Nov15
river otter – check out those feet!
river otter

Only river otter are found in the Salish Sea , although there have been a few rare sightings of sea otters around Victoria in the past. Here is a great page about the difference between sea and river otter. Sadly, in the 18th century, sea otter were hunted to extinction in the region for their pelts but have made quite an incredibly comeback since becoming a protected species. I feel very fortunate to be able to see such beautiful animals so close to home.

baldeagle_31Dec15 (4)
Bald Eagle

The bald eagle is, of course, another example of a remarkable success story. They were also near the brink of extinction last century and now have soaring populations in BC. I can say that I have seen more bald eagles in one year living in BC than I have ever seen anywhere else and I have grown a real sense of appreciation for these raptors.

These animals serve as a reminder of our responsibility to be stewards to them and the earth. If we don’t, who will?