Photojournal - 19 March 2006

Straight through the windshield


I hadn't been out with my camera for a week, so on Sunday the 19th I was just itchin' to go. I decided to visit several of my usual haunts to the southwest, including two places where Gyrfalcons had been hanging out. I was hoping to get photos of at least one of them.

The first Gyr location was 112th Street, by Boundary Bay. I slowly drove down the street, but didn't spot the bird. Right at the end of the street, by the dyke, some farmer had a bunch of very scraggly-lookin' cows in a small field. I stopped, powered down the passenger window, and took a few photos, maneuvering the car to get the best angles.

 
   
I then turned around and drove slowly back to Hornby Drive, looking for the Gyrfalcon. Hornby is the road that interconnects the streets that lead to the dyke around this area. As I headed down Hornby, I noticed a few eagles circling above. I pulled out a little past a big industrial greenhouse to get some photos of them. This one appears to be a two-year-old.  
I made it the rest of the way down Hornby to Ladner Trunk without incident, and decided to head down Deltaport Way towards Roberts Bank to see if the other Gyrfalcon was about. When I arrived on location, the Gyr wasn't there, but there was an American Kestrel with prey on a nearby power line. This little falcon's lunch was some little rodent...probably a vole or a lemming; it seemed too plump for a mouse.  
As I was taking photos of the Kestrel, I noticed some motion to my right. Thinking it might be the Gyrfalcon, I started taking photos. Sadly, though, it wasn't the Gyr—it was a Northern Harrier. Harriers are much more common, but they always seem good for a photo or two.  
Almost as soon as I got my attention back on the kestrel, he flew away, holding his meal.  
But it turned out that he didn't go far, and he settled back down on the power line.  

(Just to warn you, the next two photos are slightly graphic shots of predator consuming prey.)

When I walked a little closer, he again took a short flight down the wire. I approached a little more slowly after that, and was treated to some good views of the colorful little hunter digging in to lunch. When you've got no hands, and no fork and knife, then it's a good strategy rip bite-size pieces off your meal with your bill.

 
My guess would be that this guy's bill is pretty sharp.  
I backed off, leaving the kestrel to have his lunch in peace. Soon another raptor appeared overhead—a Red-tailed Hawk. He didn't stop and circle, but rather kept a straight course vaguely westward towards Brunswick Point.  

Since I was near, I went over to the Tsawassen Ferry Jetty to see what was around. I was hoping to see Brandt's Cormorants, which supposedly had been seen hanging around the breakwater there.

There wasn't much on the water at the ferry terminal; I found a few gulls, like this Glaucous-winged Gull.

 
And then I spotted a cormorant fairly close in, and went off in pursuit of him. He ended up on the seaward side of Berth 1, and I followed, going down a relatively-new-looking concrete walkway. About halfway down, I started taking photos. This was a good thing, because the cormorant was headed away from the terminal and soon was too far for a good shot. However, before he left, I did get some shots, such as this one.  

Despite the dark head and neck, there's enough detail there for me to conclude that this was a Pelagic Cormorant, not a Brandt's.

Looking back the other way, I spied a male Surf Scoter lounging around in the shadows underneath Berth 1. I was enthralled by the blue and green colors that the water under the berth had taken.

 

That was it for the ferry jetty, though, and my next stop was the Subway in Ladner for lunch. About an hour later I found myself headed for Reifel. I checked the log book there, and finding nothing too interesting, I opted for a quick circuit through the park.

All I found on my walk were fairly common birds, but I took a number of photos anyhow. When birds stop and pose like this House Finch below, how could I resist?

 
A little later, I found this Song Sparrow enjoying a lavish spread of seed or grain on the ground.  
And I snuck in a few photos of this female Red-winged Blackbird through some branches.  
On the return leg of my walk, I saw a Bald Eagle fly in and land in the top of a tree near the new wooden observation platform. He settled in and stayed for quite a while.  
Once I was at that platform, I checked the water beneath and found a few ducks there. The most interesting ones were scaup. Greater and Lesser Scaup are hard to tell apart, but I'm fairly sure that this pair is Lesser.  
And that this nearby female was Greater.  

Either way, they were all pretty ducks.

But that ended my birds for the day, and I headed back to my car. I did have one more interesting encounter, though. As I was driving out of the refuge, a mink appeared on the side of the road.

I had to think quick, as minks are fairly quick themselves. I knew that I probably didn't have time to stop the car, unbuckle, get out, acquire the mink in the camera, and shoot. If the critter wasn't already gone by then, he would certainly scurry away when I got out of the car. There was no room to pull my block-the-road maneuver. So I did the only thing I could: I stopped the car, grabbed my camera, put my photographic qualms aside, and aimed the camera straight through the windshield at the mink. The windshield would distort and blur the photo a fair bit (I try to never take photos through extra glass if I can avoid it—and my windshield was dirty, curved glass), but it was the only way to get any photos. I managed to squeeze off five before my friend disappeared into the brush; this was the clearest of the bunch.

 

I'm not sure what the white patterning is on the back of his neck or his back half. Minks don't have summer and winter color changes, like some of the smaller weasels.

Anyhow, despite the fuzzy photos, the mink was a nice way to end a sunny day of bird-chasing.

Still Gyr-less this year,
Tom

 

 

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