Category Archives: Birds
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL.
A Christmas tale with a Pacific Northwest theme…
There was a chill in the air, and the pathway around the lake had patches of ice wherever a small rivulet ran out of the field on its way down to the water to eventually join with the sea, a few miles away. If you watched closely on some patches you could see water drops moving under the ice soundlessly as if they were sneaking downhill for a secret reason.
In the bushes a small fluffy furred vole scurried across a blanket of decaying brown leaves and jumped up onto a dead branch that crossed over a pile of more deadwood. There it sat, with its tiny pointed nose that resembled nothing more than a small raisin, flanked by two tiny dark dots that were its eyes. Then the vole turned and slowly, deliberately shuffled off to do whatever business it was doing before it was observed. Like a puff of air two tiny wrens flitted out from the bush on the left and disappeared into the bush on the right, making no sound. No matter how hard one looked in the bushes, nothing could be seen, so blended into the sticks and dead leaves were the wrens.
In the sky several gulls meandered, unmistakable with their light coloured feathers and pointed wingtips. Then came a noise like a voice, but not words – a raven moved slowly overhead, circled and landed in a tall tree, then gave another cackle. Across the fields in the far distance were low hills, covered in a dusting of snow, not yet entirely white but soon to be, as foggy clouds moved over the land just waiting for seeds of what would soon be snowflakes.
On the edges of the lake and in the flooded fields on either side of the shore, or whatever fluctuation of brush, bush and swamp you might call it, swam ducks three by three, brothers and sisters, father and mother and son, or perhaps complete strangers who preferred the company of other ducks. Whatever the reason it seemed that one duck was always following another one, until such time as they switched places and the leader began to follow another.
A man with a red and white trimmed Santa hat strode along the path and muttered hello to others who passed by. Merry Christmas said one. A child with a stick poked at some thin ice, breaking it into small, sharp, clean, clear pieces. Nothing was happening in any sort of hurry, and yet it seemed that the world was waiting as if there was some sort of agreement that everything would soon be resolved in its own time, at its own pace.
Before the path ended at the pavement, where one left the woods and clomped up the hard grey road, high on the top of a tall fir tree, gazing over the scene below like a sentry sat the eagle, holding the world in its merciless glare, just as it held its prey in its razor sharp talons. But this day there would be no death from above for voles or hapless gulls that ventured too close to the white head with yellow eyes and a pirate hooked beak. No, this night the eagle was on duty.
The eagle watched for signs of danger, ever ready to take to wing and patrol its territory as it did every Christmas Eve, ensuring that the sky was safe for flying reindeer. After it had surveyed the land from its treetop perch the eagle spread its wings and leapt from the branch into the air, dipping slightly then with one flapping motion of its mighty wings it went soaring aloft and sailed away over the water into the distance.
The eagle with its unerring vision saw a tasty fish swimming just beneath the water, but even the promise of a fresh meal did not deter the eagle from its mission. One mile it soared and then turned and soared back in a wide arc over the lake. Then, when it determined that all was well, the eagle gave a powerful flap of its wings and gained speed until it was whistling through the cold air, flying due north as fast as an eagle could fly.
It wasn’t long before the eagle saw another of its kind in the distance coming to meet it. At top speed the pair of eagles closed quickly and then spun around each other for one brief turn before they parted, each to their own home territory. This eagle flight was soon repeated, again and again until the eagle from the lake had passed the signal of all-clear, eagle to eagle to eagle, all the way to the North Pole, where Santa Claus was ready to board his sleigh.
The last of Santa’s eagles came swooping down from the clouds as if Santa was a tasty fish, but at the final moment before the eagle had to pull up or land with a crash, it spread its wings out full six feet wide and with a whoosh it settled on the front rail of the big red sleigh. The eagle looked Santa Claus in the eye, and by that look Santa knew all he needed to know about the part of the world where eagles reigned in tall trees.
The eagle dallied but a few moments before it jumped into the air and climbed back to the sky. Ho, said Santa Claus, raising his long leather whip. The whip flew back and forth like a fly on the end of a fisherman’s line and gave a shot like a firecracker. The reindeer began to pull and within seconds were racing across the snowy field, throwing up a storm of snowflakes in their wake as if the wind itself was made of snow. Then with another crack of the whip, the lead reindeer took to the air and the team made one upward tilt and were off before the snow settled back onto the moonlit ground that sparkled under the clear, black, starry sky.
One by one, the eagles slowly made their way back to their homes, where they all settled down in tall trees, firmly grasped their perches with razor sharp talons, and stood guard until morning, when they knew Santa’s mission was done. Then, like eagles do, they all took to the skies, to find Christmas dinner.
My birdhouses are empty now, so today I emptied their contents. We watched several sparrow families use the 1st house this summer, but we didn’t see any birds using the 2nd one. However, there were nests in both houses. House 1 has a 1-1/2″ diameter hole, while house 2 has a 1-1/8″ hole. The nests I removed were very different from each other, the first being very deep, from the bottom up to the hole, and rudely constructed of sticks and straws. The 2nd nest was entirely different, made of small soft threadlike bits and the top surface lined with fluff, that looked like fine cotton wool.
March 24, 2017
1.30 pm – back at the nest waiting for the mother hummingbird. Got the 500mm lens on the camera now. Checked my focus and exposure ten times. Been here 5 minutes. Saw hummingbirds flying here and there but not near the nest. When I arrived I saw a squirrel heading down the trunk of the tree. Did it find the nest? I suppose not, as the nest is intact. Much chirping in the area.
Waiting… waiting… saw two Hairy Woodpeckers and a Red Tailed Hawk. People pass by on the trail, but I just sit here. No one sees the nest, and I don’t point my camera at it.
1.50 pm – the mother has to come soon. How long can she stay away feeding herself? Hold on, she’s over there on a branch. I blink and she’s gone again. Where did she go? She’s on the nest! I missed her fly 15 feet in a blink. Camera up, start clicking.
Today on the trail I met two chaps observing something through a huge 3′ telescopic lens. I stopped to chat, curious about what they were looking at. It was a hummingbird nest.
I looked but didn’t see it at first, thinking it must have been 100 feet away. But it wasn’t – it was close at hand right on top of a bare branch, exposed to the weather. The mother returned and flitted around for a minute or so before a lighting on the branch, whereupon she began feeding the babies. I could see wide open tiny yellowish beaks from where I stood, but there was no sound. The big camera began clicking away and I didn’t want to horn in while watching, so I waited until many pictures had been taken then raised my own camera and focused on the mother. She stopped feeding, looked up and flew away. I did get one picture of her, however.
Not far from there I saw a squirrel lying unusually still.
The field nearby is full of daffodils.
Going through the pictures from the last month I was struck by how much the weather has changed. In February we had plenty of snow.
Today when the sun came out it seemed like winter was long gone. Three days ago I saw a turtle, sunning.
People here are saying spring is a month later than normal.
Winter solstice is here, now the days will begin to get longer, even though the winter has just begun. That is some comfort! Here are a few scenes of winter, if you could even call it winter here, which is a joke to many who must contend with snow, ice and frozen snot-cicles. I count myself fortunate that I no longer suffer from those, and yet my hands still get cold! Such suffering! I got a pair of bum glove/mitts for that, with a mitten that flaps over the open glove fingers, thus allowing the use of a camera without exposing one’s entire hand to the frigid air.
My Annual Christmas Poem
Winter rain turns into snow
Off to the clothing shop I go
Tables piled high with ware
Jackets, scarves and warm hats there
Gloves and mittens for my hands
Flannel shirts from foreign lands
Shop clerk sporting Santa hat
Offers help with this and that
But my needs are few so I
Quickly pass all those things by
What I need hangs on the wall
Ten feet wide by six feet tall
Dangling folded up on hooks
Many sizes, colours, looks
Christmas day inside a box
Can you guess? Grey wool socks!
That arctic outflow has us in its grip, but only very loosely. Temperatures hover around the freezing mark, leaving icy patches about but also wet places where the sun shines for a while. On the lake the water level must rise at night, evidenced by the suspended ice plates I often see on days like this.
With brilliant sun and cold we seem to get more birds. This Barred Owl was sitting directly above the path, unperturbed by my attention, swiveling his head as I circled round to get a better angle. He was still there when I returned an hour later, but another photographer had taken my place and no doubt filled his memory card with owl pictures.
Across the floating bridge there were the usual crowd of Mallards and this lonely Hooded Merganser.
Across the lake I had a brief look at this Cooper’s Hawk before it split in a hurry. Maybe it was hungry. They don’t sit still for long.
The lake has flooded the surrounding lowlands and in a seasonal slough behind the ring of bush that borders the lake I saw a large flock of ducks and geese. I walked through the closely cropped grass past a gaggle of grazing Canada Geese to get a closer look. Quite suddenly the flock erupted and headed to the air.
On the return leg a Bewick’s Wren was picking at the bark of a tree.
The last bird I saw was this one, a male House Finch.