June 2, 2011

This Post is for the Birds

From my behaviour every spring over the past few years, I think it is safe to say that I really, truly, love birds. I love their warm, plump little quivering bodies covered in feathers of all colours and patterns.  I love the way they make our feeder swing and spin while they perch and eat with quick, jabbing movements, wary all the time of what is going on around them and prepared for fight or flight. And I love their wings and the very fact they can soar up in the air whenever they wish, alight on a power line in a group and appear to gossip and plan their next move. I think I first noticed the wonder of birds the first spring we lived at Strathcona Park Lodge on Vancouver Island.  Early in the mornings I would hear a long, almost piercing whistle and wonder what creature it belonged to.  Someone at the lodge told me to ask Chris.  He knew pretty much everything there was to know about local birds. 

"That's a varied thrush" Chris said, and pointed one out to me, the size and shape of a robin, only stripey orange on the wings.  Soon I was combing our Peterson Field Guides: Western Birds for examples of birds I was seeing around the property.  The juncos, chickadees, finches, hummingbirds, tanagers, and woodpeckers all became delightfully interesting and entertaining to me (and not least for the fact of their signifying warmer weather), and I learned to mimic the raven's hollow-tapping 'took, took, took', the distinctive sound of the coast I could hear every day outside my window.

I would not go so far as to say I became a 'birder'.  I have never kept a log book of birds I have seen or planned my vacations according to where I may find this or that species.  I just get excited when a new kind of bird visits our feeder, or when the juncos return, which is a sign that winter is nearly over.  Our feeder is a squirrel-proof variety which hangs from the maple tree in our front yard.  We hang it there for two reasons:  we have two birdhouses in the back yard and the sparrows pretty much own them, so we wanted them to have to share the birdseed, and first thing in the morning and often in the evening our girls will sit on the sofa by the living room window and watch for new birds, calling me over if they see something new.  This year, we have been graced with the presence of some new varieties we have never seen:

lazuli bunting, a rare sight I was told

black headed grosbeak

We have tried to take our own photos, but that has proved extremely difficult as the birds inevitably fly away whenever we come anywhere near.  The above photos are from Google images and the Washington State Sierra Club website.  Our best photos look like this:

American Goldfinch taken by my daughter
(We'll leave the avian photography to those with the mega telephoto lenses)

About the same time we had the lazuli bunting arrive, we were puzzled by the all-day hooting of what we believed to be an owl hidden in the leaves of the copper beech tree across the street.  We couldn't see the 'owl', so could not be sure.  Who-who-oo-hoo was a call not located on any owl website I could find and I began to think perhaps our owl was not an owl at all.  I called my birder friend, Rosa to ask her opinion.  I wondered if our owl was in fact, a dove, but was unsure as I had never seen any doves around here - pigeons, yes, but never a dove.  She said, indeed it was a dove; Eurasian collared doves had been brought as pets to the Okanagan region of our province and released several years ago.  They had bred and been attracted to the warm, moist climate of the Fraser Valley, two or three years ago.  Rosa's information was further proven by the appearance that day of our noisy bird-friend on the power line near the copper beech.

Eurasian collared dove from Google images

As spring spans into summer we will keep on filling the feeder and watching for new and returning birds.  We will also keep our eyes open by the lake which is a few kilometers from here, for kingfishers, eagles, and shore birds.  I also hope to visit the heron reserve further west in the valley at some point.  Spring is unfolding slowly and gently this year.  I have yet to wear shorts for anything but running, and the Fraser river is gaining in volume as the snowpack begins to melt.  I hope for a continuation of the gradual warming trend because sudden and extended heat will cause flooding in some areas. That would be terrible for the farmers who were finally able to plant the early corn only a few weeks ago. The birds rejoiced when the fields were plowed and all those insect treats were unearthed. And one day, when my son and I were driving home on the freeway a mother duck and her troop of ducklings waddled bravely along on the shoulder.

I wish I had a picture of that.


  1. we skipped the gradual warming and went straight to the pressure cooker...a little cooler today...only 90...not a bird, but we got several baby deer, about the size of my cat, in the yard yesterday...so small and cute...

  2. I am a bird lover...they are so free and graceful. The lazuli bunting is absolutely beautiful!

  3. Btw I far prefer the one of the Finch in the feeder.
    It's not the telephoto-lens, though it helps. With the new digital cameras you can do quite a bit of manipulation with light shadow and crop. And that's to do with the number of pixels. She can also do quite a bit by changing the focus area. She should try to get the shot within the optical zoom area for natural light wildlife. But if she's into that 50's uber-coloured style then the digital zoom is the way to go.
    What we've got now is better or equivalent to photojournalist quality or wedding photo shots of 20 years ago, outside. In the house it's a different matter entirely, there we are exactly in the same place.

  4. You'll know how I feel about birds from all your visits to the blog so I'll simply say it's the same as you.

    I'm a bit sorry to hear that the collared doves have come your way - while nice to look at, they're very prevalent here and over the last twenty years seem to have taken the place of the more natural wood pigeon which I thought was a lovely bird. It's a shame when an introduced species has this effect on truly local species in their home environment. I wish this human race could be more responsible. We have seen our local freshwater crustaceans almost obliterated from our local waterways by the 'accidentally introduced' highly agressive north American crayfish. I hope your local birds don't suffer as a result of this invading species.

  5. Wow...this was really interesting...I learned a lot!
    The lazuli bunting is an interesting bird!

  6. Thanks for you comments friends, I'm coming out of a very busy week. I will return soon to catch up on your blogs and post something here, too.

  7. I'll be watching your feeders with interest. We have many feeders dotted about the garden and they are emptying very quickly now that all the chicks have fledged. We watch the parents teaching them how to use our feeders, with great amusement. The trouble is, that it is a full time job keeping them filled and I feel very guilty when I see them hopping about in vain. It's a great responsibility. We have the collared doves and now ring necked parakeets as well as the squirrels hogging them. Your lazuli bunting is beautiful.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!