Photojournal - 19 February 2006

Morningsong, Tom style

The day after my little walk down the quay, I woke at the crack of noon (well, okay, that's an was later than that), to the sound of little birdies chirping outside my bedroom window.

Now, I have a lot of high-frequency hearing loss, so it's a notable thing when I hear birds chirping when I wake up. So I got my camera out to take some's one of the cute little chirpers now.

Another loud little birdie landed on the next dolphin over, cutting a dashing figure as he took a gander at me.  

The sun was out more than it had been the day before, and I decided to go over and check out the swans in Delta, just to see if they were in good photographic range. On the way, I saw a large flock of gulls gathered on the bank of the Fraser. I'm working on my gull i.d. skills, so I decided to take the opportunity to check them out. I pulled over, got my gear out, and clambered down the enbankment to a closer vantage point. Then I took loads of gull photos.

This fellow was the easiest for me to identify; he's a Glaucous-winged Gull. His grey primaries give him away. Primaries are the wing feathers at the tips of the wings, and when a bird has its wings folded, they stick out above the tail. So at the hind end of this fellow, the grey bits that stick the farthest back are the primaries, and the white bit underneath that is his tail.


Now, this next gull has black primaries. There are a number of gull species around here that have black primaries, so that fact alone won't identify this fellow, although we do know that he's not a Glaucous-winged. You may also notice, if you compare him to the one above, that this one has a smaller bill, which is more curved, and it has a red spot on it rather than the black stripe above. This gull also has a slightly rounder and smaller head, with grey mottling on the nape of his neck rather than the smudgy brown color of the above fellow.

Based on that, I would guess this is a Thayer's Gull. Unfortunately, though, this gull is not a perfect fit for a Thayer's, and my friend Ilya suggests that this may be some kind of hybrid. Hybrid gulls are quite common.

This next fellow also has black primaries , but his head seems more square and his bill seems bigger (and has both red and black spots on it). His neck is slightly mottled grey. My guess at this guy is Herring Gull, but again my more experienced friend Ilya isn't sure about that. It's a little unfair for me to ask him to identify gulls from photos, in the first place...that's always a tough job. Adding to that problem is the fact that I caught this guy at a funny moment, right after he was preening his neck: his posture is not at all a normal one.  
And lastly, here's another Glaucous-winged Gull, who I wasn't able to fully identify until I got home to my guide book. Again, the lighter-colored primaries are a big clue, but this guy has brownish rather than greyish primaries. That and the big black ring on his bill mean that this one is not quite an adult: he's a bird in his third winter. Ilya agrees.  

So, not only do different species of gulls look almost the same, but the same species can look quite different depending on their stage of growth. It's pretty confusing, at times.

Well, after enjoying the gull show for a while, I headed on down the road to the field that the swans had been occupying. They were well away from the road, and so I wouldn't be able to get good photos. I scanned through them briefly with my binoculars and then was on my way.

I'm hoping that if I drop by that field often enough, one day I'll find them close to the road and I'll be able to get good shots.

I decided to head on to the ferry jetty in Tsawassen, which at this point wasn't so far away. Ilya had seen a Rock Sandpiper and some Brandt's Cormorants there the day before, and I was hoping to see either or both of them.

Before I got there, though, I stopped for a couple of hawks alongside the road to the jetty. This first one was perched in the top of one of those small trees behind him in the photo. I was pretty far away, but he still took off after only a few moments perched. As I was shooting, there wasn't enough light for me to really determine his color; the photo (and photoshop) brings it out more, and I now see what I expected: this was a Red-tailed Hawk.


Just before the turnoff for the coal port jetty, I saw another hawk on a light standard. This one was clearly a Red-tailed. I pulled beyond him to take photos of his sunny side. He posed for a while and then decided to take off. Here are two shots of him as he prepared to fly.


With no more distractions, I made it to the ferry jetty and parked in the little lot before the compensation lagoon. Nothing much was happening at the lagoon—there were a few Double-crested Cormorants and loons on the far side, too far for good photos. So I crossed the road to the south side and went down on the rocky beach there.

The first thing that caught my attention was a male Common Goldeneye, who was paddling out a little bit from the shore. I liked the way his reflection turned out in this photo.

Looking more along the shore than straight out, I saw a female Red-Breasted Merganser. I always enjoy seeing this species, as they can present so many different looks. Here's an elegant look, with long, slender bill and wispy brown hairdo. (Or should that be featherdo? hmmm...)  

Another elegant-looking bird, a Red-throated Loon, popped up from underwater near where the Goldeneye had been.

He was a little far for a good shot, so when he dove again I hurried along the rocks closer to him. I did that several times over the course of about ten minutes to get in close enough for a decent shot. In this one, I cropped wide enough to keep the whole reflection in the photo.

And for this one, I was closer, giving me a more downward angle on the bird. Here you can see the white spots on his back, a good field mark for identifying Red-throated. Our other local thin-billed loon, the Pacific Loon, has a much darker back. I'm still on the lookout for a Pacific; I've never seen one.  
After I was done chasing the loon, I looked around and saw a gull flying by. Gull flybys are not something that I normally shoot, but this gull looked to have something in his mouth. On inspecting the photos, however, it turns out that he had a deformed bill. The top mandible doesn't normally droop over the bottom one at the tip like this.  

Mainly brown gulls, like the one above, are usually juvenile or first-year birds. This guy is probably a Glaucous-winged Gull or maybe a Herring Gull.

I stood there wondering if I would be able to figure out what that gull was holding in its bill when I saw the photos. I was roused from this misguided reverie by a familiar high-pitched call: a Black Oystercatcher was around.

I scanned the shoreline for a minute or so looking for the bird, until he called again and I was able to stereo-locate him not very far from me. For such a distinctive and flashy bird, they sure blend into the rocks really well.

It must've been my day for strange bills, because this oystercatcher had a feature that I didn't remember from other oystercatchers. When he closed his bill, the ends touched, but the part inbetween the base and the end of the bill had a gap where the mandibles didn't meet.

The following photo, which is a bit out-of-focus, shows the effect. You can see the water splashing behind him through the middle of the bill. It seemed odd to me, but it didn't seem to bother the oystercatcher. He went right on, probing in the rocks with his funny bill, catchin' oysters or whatever it is that he does.

It turned out that there were two oystercatchers here. As I was watching them, I saw a small flock of Black Turnstones fly past. These smaller shorebirds are quite distinctive while in flight.  

Ilya had found the Rock Sandpiper hanging out with Black Turnstones, so I tried to check all the birds as they flew past. All of them had the obvious Black Turnstone color scheme, so the Rock wasn't with this particular group. (Rock Sandpipers are a lighter-colored bird without the white stripes down the side of the body.)

I turned back to the oystercatchers and eventually one paused and gave me the eye.


Satisfied that I had done photographic justice to the bloys, I pressed further towards the ferry berths, stopping a couple of times to scan small groups of turnstones for the Rock. I never did find him, though.

The sun was now about set, and the sky was orange. I spotted a Double-crested Cormorant on a dolphin by Berth One, and took a couple of silhouette shots of him.


Ilya had seen Brandt's Cormorants over on the breakwater, which is a fair distance away. I didn't have my spotting scope with me, so I tried scanning the breakwater with my binoculars. I saw a few cormorants over there, but when a couple of them turned into the light, I was able to see a hint of orange, which meant that they were the much more common Double-crested Cormorant, not Brandt's.

As I walked back down the shore towards my car, I found a Common Loon and took a few photos.

Then I finished up my photography on the jetty with a few shots of a Horned Grebe who had surfaced with a fishy little snack.  

As it was nearing darkness, and I was in the neighborhood, I headed over to Beach Grove Park to visit my friends the Great Horned Owls. It was also Sunday, and so there was a good chance of running into my pals Grant and Marcia there.

Alas, there was neither Grant nor Marcia there, but one of the owls did show itself, at his favorite roosting tree. It was dark, but I managed to pick the owl's silhouette out in the gloom, then pointed the camera, fiddled with focus, and shot. And fiddled, and shot. And fiddled some more, and shot. Then I fiddled some more. I should continue like that for a while, but perhaps you're getting the idea. With all that fiddling and shooting, seventy-two photos worth, one or two photos came out.

By "came out", I mean that they were decent enough that by messin' with them in Photoshop, I was able to get a little bit of detail on the owl. First, though, here's what the photo looked like, straight from the camera. Even though this is quite dark, the light levels here are way above what my eyes were seeing. (This was a 1-second exposure at ISO 800.)

And here's what I got when I cropped it a little and brought up the detail in Photoshop.  

It wasn't great, but it's about what one would expect from a dusk shot. I ended up liking the original as much as the processed version...the original has a nice moody feel to it.

This was the last time I was able to take photos this February. Unbeknowst to me, rain, clouds, and excessive work was the forecast for the next two weeks.

Being wary of the coming ides,


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