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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

This is a Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), the national bird and symbol for the United States of America. This one is perched near a nest that has been used by Bald Eagles for some years. This nest is in Saxe Point Park in Esquimalt. I apologize for the poor quality photo but I wanted to introduce this bird here since I have seen him several times now but have failed previously to capture any usable pictures. I'll be checking on him and his mate (she's not visible in the nest to the left) over the next few months and will be trying to get some images more worthy of this splendid bird. (This is all done with a 300 millimeter telephoto lens. The nest is at the top of a very tall tree and I will try to be as inconspicuous as possible on the ground so as not to disturb the brooding/hatching/rearing processes.)

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Streets with Trees II

Victoria's Chinatown streets are graced with a species of pine that lends itself to a kind of topiary akin to bonsai. They also seem designed to provide convenient seats for children during special events such as the recent Chinese New Year's celebration on Fisgard Street when I photographed this tree.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)

While out at Saxe Point Park I started to tune in to some of the common local plants that are blossoming and leafing out for spring. Here's one I especially like because of the casual grace of its flower clusters and its brilliant fresh green leaves. Its common name is Indian Plum or Osoberry.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


I went out to Saxe Point Park yesterday because I was told there was a Great Horned Owl living there. I didn't see the owl but as so often happens I saw plenty of other interesting things. It was one of those days when the air was so clean and rain-washed that everything looked deliciously fresh and new. Above and below are plants familiar to us all I'm sure, commonly known as Horsetails. They belong to the genus Equisetum and there are a number of sub-genera and sub-species so I'm not going to try to identify these more precisely. Equisetum have been around for about 100 million years. Above is the vegetative stem and below is a cone-bearing stem which produces spores.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Streets with Trees

One of Victoria's charms is that many of the city streets are lined with trees. This is particularly pleasant in spring when so many of them bloom. The street above is fairly typical of dozens of streets here at this time of year and is one I pass down several times each week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Firm Grip on Reality

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Black Squirrel

I mentioned in an earlier post about the slightly confusing nomenclature of local squirrels and that some of the "gray" squirrels are black. Here's one and if I understand correctly, because he's black and living in the west we can safely assume he's an Eastern Gray Squirrel.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Whiffen Spit

About 40 kilometers (25 miles) along the coast west of Victoria lies the small oceanside community of Sooke. And providing shelter to a fleet of fishing boats in Sooke Harbour is a long (about 1 mile), narrow spit across the entrance to the harbor called Whiffen Spit. Whiffen Spit is also a park and a great place to take a walk. While the beach tends to be pretty rocky, there is a path that runs down the middle of the spit. On the left you see the fishing boat Laura Michelle leaving the harbor. Below is the view south through the entrance of the harbour looking across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the mountains of the Olympic Peninsula in the USA.

Friday, February 19, 2010


No selection of spring flowers would be complete if I left out one of my favorites, the crocus. As usual in the spring, large areas of Beacon Hill Park are dotted with these splendid little flowers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

When I was very young on the Canadian Prairies, I remember having an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) pointed out to me as a sure sign of spring. I always remember that when I see one, even though those that live here on the West Coast remain all year round. It was certainly the first bird I learned to identify and is familiar even to non-birdwatchers. I photographed this one on a visit to Highrock Cairn Park in Victoria West. The woods of the park are also home to Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Red Breasted Nuthatches and Oregon Juncos, all of which I saw today. But only the robin was bold enough to perch peacefully in an appropriate location, an example from which other less cooperative wildfowl might well learn. No wonder this courageous and well-mannered creature has been immortalized in verse and popular song.

Little Robin Red Breast

Little Robin Red breast sat upon a tree,
Up went pussy cat and down went he;
Down came pussy, and away Robin ran;
Says little Robin Red breast, "Catch me if you can".
Little Robin Red breast jumped upon a wall,
Pussy cat jumped after him and almost got a fall;
Little Robin chirped and sang, and what did pussy say?
Pussy cat said, "Meeow!" and Robin jumped away.

When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Blue and Pink

I believe the above is a Grape Hyacinth but I have no idea what the luscious pink flowers below are called and will have to depend once again on my knowledgeable visitors, several of whom helpfully identified yesterday's mystery plant as a variety of Hellebore.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mystery Plant

Determined to capture a little more of the precocious spring we are having I ventured into Beacon Hill Park again yesterday and came across these lovely blooms. Once again I hope visitors here can help me with some information about this plant since I haven't a clue what it is. In the park there are lots of crocuses now, more rhododendrons, snowdrops, grape hyacinths and I even saw a few daffodils, I'll post over the next few days.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Generally I don't have much interaction with birds but this goose made it clear that I was getting a little too much into his personal space. Up close these Canada Geese are quite large, muscular creatures. Look at that bow wave he's making. I backed off.A little later I was attracted by a lot of honking, hissing and squabbling out on the lake and caught the sequence below. I don't know whether this is territorial fighting - the leftmost goose had just landed with some friends before undergoing this meeting - or whether it is a mating ritual, or both.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Spring in February

The flowering trees that line Victoria's streets think it's spring and who am I to argue? The blooms on this particular tree are generally some of the first I photograph each year since they flower in the warmth of the old south-facing wall of the derelict Janion Hotel. This year they are blooming about a month earlier than in the past.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Year of the Tiger

Canada's oldest Chinatown has decked itself out with new red lanterns to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The lanterns in this photo are hung on the Gate of Harmonious Interest on Fisgard Street in Victoria's Chinatown. This is the Year of the Tiger.

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gadwall (Anas strepera)

That part of me that loves a Chev Corvette loves those fast, sharp divers like the Mergansers and the Cormorants. But there is another part of me that loves the less racy dabbling ducks as well and here is another unassuming member of the family, a male Gadwall (Anas strepera). It's easy to miss this one (as I have done most of my life) because it is a pretty unspectacular duck that could easily be mistaken for a female mallard since it lacks the bright colors or striking contrasts common to most male ducks.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Here's another water bird we often see around Victoria, the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). Above at the edge of Swan Lake is a group of six with a couple of Canada Geese in the background. Below a Double-crested Cormorant swims near a female Mallard Duck (foreground).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Common Merganser (Mergus merganser americanus)

I'm thinking of opening a sub-blog for photos that I like though they are not quite right. The above is an example. I intended to capture a photo of a female Common Merganser (Mergus merganser americanus). At first I was disappointed but each time I went through the days' photos I became more and more enamoured of the image above. The bird herself came out from behind the reeds a half a minute later and displayed herself as below. Below is a pair of Common Mergansers with the male in the foreground. All these photos were taken at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fisgard Lighthouse

Not having much birding luck on Victoria's eastern shores a few days ago I decided yesterday to venture westwards to Esquimalt Lagoon. I guess they're doing some work on the bridge that goes over the lagoon entrance because the road was closed. Fort Rodd Hill and Fisgard Lighthouse, however, were close to hand and the lighthouse was looking particularly beautiful in the late afternoon light.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I mentioned that I've been putting some bird seed out lately. I usually scatter it on top of a stone wall that bounds the backyard. However, I've not been seeing many birds lately and I suspect the orange cat pictured above is the reason. He sits and watches the wall while the Juncos and other birds flutter around in the trees above and watch the cat.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Mount Baker

It was a beautiful day yesterday so I thought I would sample the bird life on Victoria's eastern shores and went over to Cattle Point. While I wasn't lucky enough to see any birds I'd not seen before, I was rewarded with this spectacular view of Mount Baker in Washington State, USA. The mountain is always there but the atmospheric conditions seldom render it so large and clear. Wikipedia has a good article on this lovely local volcano.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

American Coot (Fulica americana)

I mentioned yesterday that I saw some larger, more distinctive birds while out at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary a few days ago. Here is one, an American Coot (Fulica americana). I can see why people become quite enthusiastic about bird-watching because I experienced a distinct thrill when I spied this bird poking about amongst the reeds that line the shore of Swan Lake, since I had never seen one before. (Or never noticed one before - which is pretty much the same thing.) These birds have been around for several hundred thousand years and remind me once again that I should look more closely at what I see instead of wandering around half-asleep.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

One of the reasons I've not become an avid birder before this latest phase is laziness. There seem to be an inordinate number of small brownish birds that resemble each other too much. The implication is that sooner or later a lot of study will be necessary to differentiate them. I also suffer from the peacock syndrome where what I tend to want to look at is large, brightly colored birds with ornately patterned plumage. So all those humble little birds that are always scrabbling around for crumbs outside Starbucks have been a real stumbling block for me. Today's bird, the Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), is a good example that I am finally taking the bull by the horns since I went out yesterday to the Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and photographed some larger, more exotic and colorful birds. You'll see them over the next few days.

I originally identified this bird as a Sooty Fox Sparrow. Commenter Fiona Cohen says it's a Song Sparrow and after checking a few field guides and online sources I tend to agree though, as I mention in the above post, these various small brownish/grayish birds are a little too challenging for me. My thanks to Fiona.
This is not turning into a bird blog - the focus here is still "life in Victoria" but I've rather neglected Victoria's birds in the past. Also, while the winter has been exceptionally warm, it has also been very cloudy and if I take too many cloudy, gray landscapes I have a tendency to retire to bed with a good book about the West Indies.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gray Squirrel

The bird seed I put out yesterday attracted this fellow as well as the Dark-eyed Juncos. There appear to be a couple of different kinds of gray squirrels (the Eastern Gray Squirrel and the Western Gray Squirrel). But the "eastern" ones don't stay in the east - in fact a lot of them (or their great-great-great-grandparents) have moved out west and are considered as interlopers. And some of the "gray" squirrels are black so it would seem that it might be time to consider renaming the various types according to characteristics that meaningfully distinguish them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

I thought I would try some backyard birding so here's what I was able to attract with a bit of bird seed this morning. This is another member of the sparrow family, called the Dark-eyed Junco or the Oregon Junco. Above is a male - the females are not so brightly colored or distinctive so I can't be quite so sure about the identification of the bird on the right, though she was hanging out with a bunch of male juncos and fits the description of a female of the species.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


The glorious flowers above are Rhododendrons. There are more than a thousand species of this flowering bush found in many different parts of the world. I suspect these are a local species since they were blooming last Sunday in a native plants garden in Beacon Hill Park. There are a surprising number of other early blooms out now including another favorite of mine, the crocus.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis)

Beacon Hill Park's lake is a favored spot for ducks at any time of year so I thought I might find something interesting there. While the vast majority are Mallards or Wigeons, after watching for a while I noticed the duck above. This is one of two related species, the Lesser or the Greater Scaup. The major difference is size and the shape of the head. For those reasons I lean towards identifying this as a Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis). It's called a scaup because it makes a noise like "scaup." The Lesser Scaup is a member of the diving duck (Aythyinae) family. Below are a series of photos showing a dive sequence. Had there been a fourth photo it would only have showed the ripples on the surface since when these ducks dive, they swim around underwater. Dabbling ducks such as Mallards, on the other hand, just tip themselves perpendicularly in the water, leaving their bottoms above the surface.

There were two of these Lesser Scaup mixed in with a large group of Mallards and Wigeons and at first I didn't notice the Scaup because they stayed in the water when the Mallards and Wigeons came up onto the shore to feed for some bird seed someone had scattered, visible in the photo below. I thought that perhaps the scaup were just shy but I have since discovered that Mallards and Wigeons are members of a different family, the dabbling ducks (Anatinae), who feed on or near the surface of the water. The legs of diving ducks such as the Lesser Scaup, in order to provide superior propulsion and steering when diving more deeply beneath the surface, are located further back on their bodies than is the case with dabbling ducks. This means that they don't walk as well or easily as dabbling ducks so they tend to stay in the water, while the Mallards and Wigeons scrabble about quite happily on the shore.