The coast of BC brings me back to my birding roots

By February 12, 2018Wildlife Blog

I thought my jacket was water proof, but the moisture leaching through the layers of nylon and cotton proved me wrong.  My neck hurt from craning my head into unnatural positions, examining the full expanse of every tree, hoping the network of lichen-tinged branches would reveal an interesting feathered figure. My back was aching and my right hip was screaming, the joints protesting the unfamiliar pressure of hours of continuous vertical movement. I was wet, stiff and in pain, but an overwhelming sense of peace radiated through my entire being  – I was birding on the BC coast and I felt amazing!

Pileated Woodpecker, Weaselhead, June 2011

I had forgotten how much I love birding. In fact, my passion for  wildlife photography was sparked by the impressive Pileated Woodpecker, six and a half years ago. I was exploring Weasehead Park (Calgary) in the spring of 2011 when I noticed a vibrant flash of red, seemingly shuttering back and forth on its own accord. When I got closer, I realized the red crest was attached to a large, black, Woody Woodpecker-type body, fastened to the base of a large stump  – a massive beak hammered the surface, spraying slivers of wood from the rough surface. Slow reflexes combined with my old ‘point and shoot’ camera made the odds of capturing an image very low, but I managed to raise my camera and frantically fire a few frames.  I held my breath as reviewed the photos, hoping I had succeeded in capturing the red-headed beauty. One sharp image materialized on my camera’s screen –  I was hooked…

For the next few years, it was all about the birds. I was a woman obsessed. I spent hours walking through Calgary parks, training my eyes to scan the environment, watching for movements, patterns and subtle shapes. Every journey into the forest was a new adventure, my body and soul fused with the environment and I often entered an almost meditative state – it was just me, my camera and Mother Nature.

Then I shifted to longer road trips, photographing from a vehicle, driving around looking for mammals, owls or birds of prey. My peaceful walks through local parks diminished as my desire to photograph Alberta’s big game increased.  While equally amazing and with a soothing quality of its own, driving did not evoke the same Zen-like feeling of birding in the forest.

A recent trip to the coast of BC, Delta area, re-ignited my birding desires. Being a ‘tropical’ environment, BC treated me to settings and species that I do not commonly find in Alberta. I love the profusion of green that infuses a humid environment – vibrant moss and lichen cling to the tree branches like barnacles to the bottom of a ship, highlighting the delicate ecosystem that supports so much life. My three days in BC were a gift to both my lens and my senses, providing me with an abundance of new opportunities in a beautiful setting.

Four Lifers at  the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

For non-birders, seeing a ‘lifer’ means seeing a bird you have never seen before.  The Reifel Sanctuary is a piece of land that ‘peninsulas’ off the west coast of Delta, offering a perfect environment for a variety of birds. Despite the rain on my first visit, I managed to grab photos of four new-for-me species:

Spotted Towhee

Fox Sparrow

Golden-crowned Sparrow

American Bittern

While all the above are in Alberta as well, I had never seen them before, so was absolutely delighted to find these critters all on my first visit to the beautiful sanctuary.

Familiar birds in an un-familiar setting

While the following are common in Alberta, it was such a treat to see them in the lush, coastal environment.

Brown Creeper

Wood Duck

Cooper’s Hawk

Owls of the Coast

I have had lots of opportunities with Short-eared Owls around Calgary, but there was something special about seeing them hunting on the coast. I managed to capture my best-ever flight shots of these little beauties, plus got a glimpse of two Long-eared Owls.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owls

Long-eared Owl – one of two seen tucked in a tree.

So Many Eagles

Bald eagles seem to be as common on the west coast as Magpies are here. I love photographing these majestic creatures.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle, Dunlins in the background

Bald Eagle

Dunlin Murmurations

I had heard of Starling murmurations – a phenomenon where thousands of birds fly in unison, creating undulating motion and shapes in the sky – but I had no idea Dunlins (a smallish shorebird) perform this magical dance on the coast this time of year. This was fascinating to see – impossible to capture the magic with still photos, but I did my best.

Dunlin Murmurations – this was two groups of Dunlins combining. Note the mix of light and dark  – I found it fascinating to see the light group remained belly side forward and the brown group remained belly side back, even after briefly combining into one group. Mind-boggling to say the least!

Dunlin murmurations

I am so grateful for the sights and sounds of the coast reminding me to get back to my birding roots – basking in the vividness of all of Mother Nature’s creatures in a new environment soothed my soul and reminded me to take in the fullness of our beautiful world.

Until next time, continue love life and everything wild 🙂

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