It has been over two years since I last posted a blog. I’m not sure why I lost interest in blogging, and I’m not sure why I’m back again, but perhaps that doesn’t matter anyway. I am here because I have an urge to write and post some photos. It is going to be light this time, nothing deep or philosophical, and I figure what better way to start than to blog about hummingbirds.
We have two regular species of hummingbirds here on Vancouver Island, the Rufous and the Anna’s, and it is warm enough in the winter that the Anna’s overwinters as long as there are hummingbird feeders to help them out. Even though I live in a townhouse with a very small backyard, I regularly get Anna’s Hummingbirds through the winter, and the Rufous visit the yard during both spring and fall migration. This year for the first time since I moved here seven years ago I have had Anna’s coming to the feeder all summer long. So here are some photos of these birds from both last year and this, with some comments about them.
This male has dominated my feeder all summer long, terrorizing any other hummer that tries to get a drink when he is around. I have to wonder if it is the same male from last winter. I just love the variety of colours in his gorget.
I absolutely love hummingbirds. They are amazing jewels with an attitude and ferociousness that belies their diminutive size. But they are descendants of the dinosaurs so maybe that’s where it comes from.
If you want to see more of my photos, including many species of hummingbirds from Costa Rica, please visit my website at :terrythormin.smugmug.com/
Oh, what a grey, rainy start to November we have had indeed! For us in Victoria, though not as cold as other parts perhaps, the cool and damp just sink into the bones it seems and makes one wish to crawl under the bed and hibernate for several months! The house is cold, and I go outside to rake leaves just to warm up, exhausting myself in the process. But the fresh air and hearing the birds in the trees restores my spirits to a degree, while picking up chestnuts from four separate Horse chestnut trees most certainly does not! What a relief to put the rake and bucket away and come inside again to carry on, and glancing out the window, to see my little feathered friends.
I recently heard of a sighting of a Western White butterfly in Medicine Hat, Alberta and it nearly made me cry to see the picture of the lovely creature. Ironically, I have not seen a butterfly of any kind here in so long now I can’t recall and ….well …this is Victoria!! We’re supposed to be the “Oasis of Canada”… but it would seem, not for butterflies. And so I turn to my beloved birds to bring me solace now.
I call this blog “Ode to the Nuthatch” because these little birds are such remarkable and resilient little characters and they cheer me up from the foulest of moods when they come to see me at the suet feeder daily outside my kitchen window. Unfortunately, the lighting has been so very poor these rainy days and my time so limited, it is rare that I get what I would call a “good” shot of them so I settle for what is passable and am just grateful I can get any shots at all as these little ones move so very fast, like the bushtits and chickadees.
Having said this, a day later the sun came out and I managed two much better shots with the improved lighting and was able to add them to the blog.
But as it gets cooler, the Nuthatches have been coming more often. I say “they” because there are a pair, a male and female, often coming at the same time, and sometimes I even manage a shot of them both on the feeder. They dart in and out at what appears to be the speed of light. I once was at Swan Lake Nature Sanctuary and heard a loud knocking on the side of the Nature House only to discover a tiny nuthatch banging away at the wood on the side of the building like a tiny woodpecker, no doubt looking for insects.
The camera I use is not a DSLR, but my same old point-and-shoot 18x optical zoom Lumix from years gone by. At the time it came out, it was the best (in my opinion) camera of its kind on the market and any so-called “improvements” by Panasonic since then have just not been as good. My friend in Saskatchewan and another friend in Alberta ironically both have the identical model of camera and they are both seasoned photographers with far more experience with cameras than I have ever had. How funny to have met them through the Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild and to discover we had this in common.
Below is a poem I was inspired to write in the wee hours on November 2nd after managing to get some decent shots of these little birds. Enjoy and may November show us some more sunshine along with the rainy days.
Ode to the Nuthatch
Oh little character so small,
you entertain me now in Fall,
a comic piece of Nature’s art,
your body streamlined as a dart.
Upright, sideways, upside down,
you acrobatic, tiny clown –
sharp upturned beak and bandit eyes,
each day you come to tantalize
and lift my spirits from the grey
of sadness on a rainy day.
And even strolling through the park,
I catch you clinging to the bark
just out of range on tallest trees,
your “Yank! Yank!” call upon the breeze!
You make me laugh, you make me smile
and savor freedom for a while.
Then back, outside my window’s pane
you join the Juncos once again,
oh little character so small –
Come! Entertain me now in Fall…
© Annie Pang November 3, 2014.
We’ve had a long, hot and very dry spell of it here in Victoria, as I may have mentioned before. As this marks the end of September, I’ve written and enclosed a bit of a poem and some poetographs to go with it. The pics were taken on a few different days in late September, all in Gorge Park.
A typical day in Victoria sees grey skies with rain coming down in buckets in the morning, only to end with a glorious blue sky and radiant if somewhat watered-down sunshine. Or sometimes it happens in reverse. More often than not, I get poured on if I go for a walk, only to have the sun come out shortly afterwards once I’m home hanging up my wet clothes. Only just today, I was scrambling up the step ladder in the morning to fill the empty suet feeder for the birds as the rain started pelting down. Later in the day, the sky was a lovely clear blue and my clothing was still drying out from my earlier walk! Am I repeating myself?
Yep, it’s Fall all right! With all the hibernation instincts kicking in, while the crispy air beckons me to come outside and enjoy a bit of Nature before it gets too unpleasant. Today there were no camera opportunities during my walk so I was able to go at a more brisk pace…until I conked out, returned home soaked and resumed my chores. Am I repeating myself?
Ironically, with the rain, my dying zucchini plants are yielding some “fruit” now, one of which will be ready for the cooking pot very soon! A few others are about pickle-size but I am hoping they will get enough sun to grow larger. The temps, rain and wind have really changed markedly in the last week though, so it’s outside with the rake and buckets for me to pick up horse chestnuts. I hear a lot of birdsong while I’m outside so, aside from a sore back, I kind of enjoy doing the chore on a limited basis. Of course, I don’t stand a chance of managing all of them as there are four very large trees and it’s just too much for one “light-weight” like me!
The pic of Tillicum Bridge is from Rocky Point in Gorge Park.
The blackberries in the park are being picked over by the birds and the wasps are winding down and becoming very temperamental.
With all this sudden moisture after such a long, dry spell, mushrooms are starting to pop up. I was fascinated with the ones I spotted at the park and have learned that they are Coprinopsis atramentaria, more commonly known as “Inky Caps” or “Common Ink Caps”.
Read on and happy Fall!
Where did the summer go?
Where did the summer go?
I honestly don’t know.
New birdsong comes, I listen
as sunny raindrops glisten.
Against the sparkling ocean
a stalk of grass in motion
sways in the nipping breeze,
not willing yet to freeze.
Each day the sun dips lower
and I move somewhat slower.
Where did the summer go?
I honestly don’t know.
The berries left for birds
call out with silent words,
but mushrooms do not talk,
as into Fall… I walk…
© Annie Pang September 30, 2014.
How disheartened I was when my custom-made feeder came apart this summer! I had no idea whom I could even call on to fix it (I had not made it) and had neither the tools nor strength to do it myself. Everyone around here is always busy, busy, busy with their own daily tasks and affairs and so I decided it would just have to be left to fall apart for now. Last winter it worked reasonably well, although the suet feeder had to be hung too low so I could refill it from ground level and, as a result, many of the shots I was able to get from the kitchen window were rather distorted. Still I was able to get many good shots and I could reach the feeder to refill it.
As the seasons have been changing, I became more and more concerned about how Andrea and I would keep swapping pictures. Andrea is my best friend, but unfortunately, for me she lives in Saskatchewan. However, she is a determined soul and was not about to let distance stand between her wish to see my pictures of birds they don’t get there, over what she saw as a mere technicality. She made the necessary arrangements and, much to my surprise, I came home from an appointment one day and found the perch repaired with the suet feeder hanging higher up for good measure. This is a much better angle for picture taking!
I was so very touched and pleased, and apparently so were the birds as they seem to have wasted no time in returning. A small foot ladder from Home Hardware solved the problem of accessing the higher placement of the suet feeder and I now look forward to seeing my feathered friends on a daily basis again. I have not been disappointed!
On Tuesday September 16th I was able to get these bird shots. This time the tiny bushtit (that many of you like so much) is a female. The male bushtit has brown eyes while the female has yellow-gold eyes with tiny black pupils. At least this is what I’ve been told by birders. These little critters move very fast, so it is always a neat challenge to get pictures. I hope I don’t bore you with any number of them this coming fall and winter, but they are such cute little characters!
A pair of Downy Woodpeckers have also been coming along which I included in the poem that follows along with some pictures. The male has a brilliant red tuft of feathers on the back of his head. He fed after the female and then, much to my surprise, parked himself on the trunk of the feeder stand and ….had a nap!
There is also a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches but as yet no good shots. And as always, there are the House Sparrows, House Finches and Starlings that are starting to show up now that they’ve found an easy food source. I am not as enthused about these birds since they were introduced and do their best to pester and crowd out other indigenous species.
The last of the moths are also still making the odd appearance at night, so I did manage to keep two overnight and get some shots of them during the day before they took to the air.
The first one in the poem (and poetograph) is a Brown-lined Looper. I’ve had quite a few of them these last few weeks.
The second one is from Europe, known as the Lesser Yellow Underwing, so-called because when it spreads its wings there is a brilliant yellow underneath. Unfortunately for me, this time it took off after sitting on my hand without spreading its wings, however I did see it flashing yellow in flight and was lucky enough to get a close up shot of its sweet little face. It is a remarkable sensation to feel their tiny feet on my hand when they do decide to stay there long enough for me to take pictures. Then…all too soon they are off to live out their short lives and carry on until their days are over.
On top of a fair amount of yard work, indoor work and grocery shopping, I took time out of a busy day to take these pictures of the moths….always a tricky business at best. On a lucky day, like today, they hang around long enough, but sometimes they are off as soon as I remove the lid from their overnight “guest chambers”.
The frustrating part for me in the kitchen, where I see the birds, is that it is usually when I’m up to my elbows in rubber gloves and dishes or juicing veggies or other messy activities (it is a kitchen after all!) that the best photo ops occur! But isn’t that the way of all things?
I hope you enjoy this little tale, poem, and poetographs, and on a hope and a prayer, my suet feeder stand will stay up for some time to come. As it is made from an old tree trunk and branches, I know its days are numbered, but hopefully it will see me through for a while.
My very best to you and yours as the days get shorter and the tell tale nip of fall becomes evident in the air. We’ve been fortunate to have all this sunshine and it comes as a shock when the skies turn grey. I am grateful to Andrea for insuring my birds come to keep me company, as well as the generous help from the kind fellow who repaired the feeder.
Read on, have a look at the poetographs and pics after the poem and keep in touch. It is always good to keep in contact. For someone as “low-tech” as I am, it is nice to hear from people….and to see my birds and have Nature in my life.
In the early days of fall
In the morning come to call
in the early days of fall
there’s a lady at my perch
on a greedy eating search.
Eyes of yellow-gold has she
but she pays no heed to me.
With her flock she’ll feast on food
in her rather thankless mood.
Messy Downys in a pair
never waiting for their share.
She eats first, off in a flap;
he eats next – then has a nap!
Looking like a carpet cloth
you may say “it’s just a moth!”
but then it dances through the air
more brilliantly than Fred Astaire!
Here is one more in my palm
tiny feet a soothing balm.
Sweet of face and large of eye
off it flies to live and die…
Soon the moths will all be gone
and birds I will depend upon
to keep away the darkest thought
is all I’ve got…
© Annie Pang September 16, 2014.
Well, this spring has been one to end all springs! I have no pictures that go with this particular story or poem, but let’s just say that I’ve taken quite the beating of late. It never occurred to me to take pictures of any of the mice I’ve had to trap over the last months (since March!!) as they ended up dead, except for the ones in my suet feeder.
It looks like I won’t be feeding the birds this winter as a result since I do not have my cats to keep the mice away from the inside of the house.
One of the ladies who comes to help me with housework happened to point out a wasps’ nest a few weeks ago and yet I decided to just live and let live……until…..
Well, I walked into the large back room that used to have the cats hanging out in it and was cleaning up when I heard a very odd sound coming from the walls. Oh Lordie. I could hear the chewing from a meter away! It was carpenter ants!!!
I went weak at the knees and was glad I didn’t own a GUN!!! “Enough already!” I screamed inside! Then I had to call a pest control company.
Well, today all but the mice were taken care of. A very kind friend had been clearing away all the rotted wood from beneath and beside my old, dilapidated sundeck along with old plastic pots, junk, vinyl siding…..oh, the list was endless as was the junk left behind! It was good timing that he finished the day before I had scheduled the pest control treatment because although I was only planning on having the back wall drilled into and treated for the ant invasion, the pest control guy ended up spraying underneath the cleared out ant haven under the deck, and even suited up to get rid of that wasps’ nest.
Of course this meant that the three entrances to my house that I use were all off limits because of chemicals or angry wasps, so I ended up doing a very odd thing indeed. I had to use the front door which I never do!
So I wrote a poem that I hope makes you laugh. It was a tough day, but I did get a pic of a Western Tiger Swallowtail outside my home on some phlox once I made my exit to go over to someone else’s house for a few hours (the friend who had kindly done all the clearing and hauling away of junk). Sometimes you just have to get the heck away! We ended up having a really great talk about my favourite subject too. Butterflies!
Then I went for a walk in the park where I managed a shot of a Robin with what I thought was a freshly plucked worm in its beak, and a bumblebee which I have yet to identify. I have since had an email from Cris Guppy who states “I believe the “worm” in the robin’s beak is a pupa of a cranefly – the cranefly larvae eat the roots of your lawn. So yet another pest, although you can ignore it unless your grass starts to die.”
During my walk, I met up with an older gentleman, and he was very interested in learning about insects, from carpenter ants to butterflies! Yes, it was definitely GOOD to get away from the house and out into Nature…just for a nice and healing break and to feel useful again.
A special thanks to Gabe for all his help today, for the lovely cup of tea and conversations about the future of the Gorge Park Community Garden and what part I may end up playing in all this, and to my good friends Andrea and Charley who kind of coerced me into doing this blog in their gentle and kind way.
If I manage to wade through my challenges, I think I may find that life has its rewards. It always seems to come back to how we relate to ourselves and Nature. Having said that, I will add that I do wish some aspects of Nature would stay out of my house!!!
Enjoy the poem and hey, as you can see I have even included some pictures after all, taken after my pesky ordeal for you to enjoy. Please excuse any typos as it is late (again) and I’m not quite as sharp as I’d like.
All the very best to you and yours,
The Pesky Pest Promenade
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me
the pests have left me very weak at knee.
The humble ant, a common summer feature,
was chewing up my wall, the nasty creature!
All trembling as I’m no procrastinator
I called the local pest exterminator.
He came out to investigate things here
but couldn’t with his rather deafened ear
pick up the noise of all those ants a’munching
within my walls, while I could hear them crunching
a meter from the wall; but he agreed
to stop the critters’ too-destructive feed.
A few days later, just around the bend,
the man returned, my misery to end.
But then refused to please remove his shoes
so now I’ve got the dirty carpet blues!
The ants, I hope are in a better place,
than chewing up my walls right to my face.
And as my sanity was not the best,
it didn’t help to find a waspy nest
outside next to my favourite exit door;
I didn’t think I could take any more!
My hopes in being free of pesky raid
had really long ago begun to fade,
but the exterminator took his spray
and got ’em too, their nest he took away.
Of course, all good things always come in thrice
and so I still have darling, pesky mice!!!!
Now too smart to go after baited traps,
they like my underwear drawers for their naps.
Oh woe, oh woe, oh woe is poor old me!
Sometimes I wish that I’d been born a tree
or else a butterfly now flying free,
though they all have their troubles as do I
they live their lives until the day they die…
© Annie Pang May 31st 2014
Perhaps this is a strange title for a blog, but it centers around my garden, a friend’s garden, as well as the few shots I got along the Gorge which I have been walking regularly up until my garden called.
But I must include a picture I managed to get of a lovely Golden-crowned Sparrow right from my kitchen window. It posed so beautifully on the suet feeder and considering these birds are ground feeders, I felt I must include this shot first.
While on some of the walks along the Gorge I took very few pictures. On one walk, even though I had my camera, I was unable to get photos of two of the three butterflies I did see there. It was quite hot and so they were not landing. The first one I saw was a Mourning Cloak and what a surprise that was! I hadn’t seen one along there before. Then suddenly it was chased off by a Satyr Comma, which landed so briefly I could not get a shot of it either, but could see it clearly.
On another walk, I was able to get a rather poor picture of a Cabbage White butterfly which I will include below. It was such a long shot and I was lucky it landed at all, frankly. It had become so hot in Victoria so quickly that it made anything I saw impossible to photograph at the time.
But it was interesting to see an Arbutus tree growing out of the rock wall!! How resilient are our native species. If man vanished from this planet suddenly, is this not proof of how Nature would just take over and soon cover any evidence of our prior existence? It is a humbling thought indeed, and also a comforting one from an ecological point of view.
Arbutus growing out of the rock wall
The day the garden called was the day that three generous people from the Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers group volunteered to come over and help me start getting my garden ready for planting. The task was far too overwhelming for me to undertake in my present state of health, and so my friends put out a call for help. Although everyone else in the group was busy, my friends, Kendell, Laurie and Brad showed up on a Saturday and I ventured out to try to do what I could which wasn’t too much.
That was when a little miracle happened. In all the years I’ve had my gardens, I’ve seen only three butterfly species; Cabbage Whites, Western Tiger Swallowtails (not out yet) and Lorquin’s Admirals. But this year was very different and it transformed me completely at the time. Brad and I were digging compost and later, Laurie and I found a shady spot to sit and weed….and when I saw a Cabbage White appear I went to grab my camera. When I returned, I was very surprised at what happened next. Every time the Cabbage White tried to land, something very dark swooped in and chased it off. And then it landed – a Mourning Cloak. I couldn’t believe this. I’d always gone searching for them when I’d had more aid for field trips, and often never found one, yet here was one in my backyard?? Well of course I took pictures.
It took off and returned many times. It even landed on Laurie’s jeans.
Mourning Cloak on Laurie’s jeans
Then it landed on my head! I knew it was attracted to my hat so I removed it and stuck it on a pole in the garden, and sure enough, the Cloak landed there many times.
Mourning Cloak on my hat
Several times it landed on some Yarrow seed heads. Yarrow, when in bloom is a very good butterfly nectaring source and if I keep the faded blossoms dead-headed it will flower throughout the summer.
Mourning Cloak on Yarrow
Here is a sideview of the Mourning Cloak.
Sideview of Mourning Cloak
The gardens were being prepared for both human and wildlife consumption, especially hummingbirds, bees and butterflies. The Red-flowering Currant is quite a favourite of the hummingbird although mine hasn’t gotten big enough to be of interest as yet. Once we have the plants in the ground I imagine they will grow rapidly.
We were all very happy to have such a visitor to watch us at our labours, as if to bless the garden. Kendell was good enough to bring along organic snacks for all to sample and so, with a Mourning Cloak in my garden, I had my very first tea party of sorts after our hard work.
Brad, Kendell and Laurie
GTUF, short for Gorge Tillicum Urban Farmers, is a group dedicated to producing our own food on the land we have. Being on my own now, that task is overwhelming as I mentioned, but I do hope, with enough helping hands, that many will benefit from my gardens this year. I just want to see the land used and my gardens there to welcome the butterflies and other insects.
Later that day, Laurie emailed me a picture of two butterflies for identification. They were two more Mourning Cloaks and it appeared that they were mating on the side of her Mason Bee box.
Mourning Cloaks, photo by Laurie
The next day I was invited over there to see what I could find in their garden. There was a fair bit of activity but my camera was only able to get this honey bee and a Paper wasp, or Thread waisted wasp, Mischocyttarus flavitarsis, as well as a Bumble Bee.
Laurie also had a different Bleeding Heart than my cultivar, and she felt it was probably the indigenous one.
Bleeding Heart flowers
Meanwhile, here at home, there was activity at night as well for awhile. I turned on my porch light and this attracted two different moth species. The first was a good sized one and although it decided to plaster itself on a window far above the ground, I was still able to get a serviceable shot. This moth is known as the Crucialis Woodling Moth (Egira crucialis) and it was a welcome sight indeed.
Crucialis Woodling Moth
The other moth I have found a few times is a “micro moth”, Alucita montana, or Montana Six-plume Moth and I have even found it in my office tonight as well as outside. Here is my best picture taken as I write this now in my office. The little guy let me get really close! Originally I was going to show this moth taken outside, but this picture turned out better.
Montana Six-plume Moth
Although I was certain I saw a Green Lacewing outside, I couldn’t get it to land so there were no shots to be had until a later date, but I did manage to find this male Cranefly at the time (family: Tipulidae).
Here is the Green Lacewing I got at a later date, again, at night. It was another long shot, but better than none.
So while I am still here in my home I am trying to enjoy as much of the wildlife as I can find. The Mourning Cloak returned briefly the next day, but then was off. They are mating now and I suspect, worn as they are looking, they will live longer still before they depart this world.
In closing, I will leave you with my best wishes, as well as a poem and one last picture of my Bleeding Heart cultivar. It is the food source for my favourite butterfly, the Clodius Parnassian, that I doubt I will see again since I cannot go back to the hills where they are found. But one never knows….one never knows.
I did once find one in a very unusual place that was not too far away….but then that is another story I may tell sometime….
The Garden of my dreams
What soothing balm does Nature bring
what wonders in the garden
with butterflies and birds that sing
with trees that fence my yard in.
I wander in my solitude
along the Gorge at times;
a Cloak of Mourning greets me there
and speaks to me in rhymes.
But there are times that come along,
and suddenly there’s life
for Nature sings her special song
and sings away my strife.
And in the Garden of my dreams
outside my very door
an ocean full of sunlit beams
now calls me to its shore.
The honey bee is buzzing and
the moths might come at night
for life is always all about
and flying to the Light.
May people join their hands to help,
to save my bit of land.
May kindness shown stay with me now
and help me understand
that Bleeding Hearts have beauty too
and Nature always heals.
May faded blossoms bloom again,
through cracks in concrete seals.
Though hardship faces all of us
in Nature must I trust,
to have this Phoenix rise again
from ashes and from dust.
Bleeding Heart cultivar
© Annie Pang May 9, 2013.
Hello again. It has been quite a while since I have posted anything so thanks again to my blog partner, Terry, for his entertaining and informative blogs…and the great poetry he writes!
Well, back here in Victoria, it has been an unseasonably mild, but moody and grey winter. On the occasional sunny days I have tried to get out to the Gorge with my camera, but most times I’ve been there it has not been sunny. So this blog covers early to mid-March including what has been going on here at my home bird feeder and just a few things along the Gorge Waterway as well.
The snowdrops had been out for some time so here is a picture I took in GorgePark. As they are white, I find it difficult with this camera to get well-defined shots, but here is one.
At the beginning of March, I was so pleased and surprised when, after no sightings of my beloved Goldfinches since last spring, I saw a pair flutter in to feed briefly. The male was only just beginning to show a bit of his spring plumage with a few black and yellow markings on top of his head. This is the picture I got of him.
The female was evident as she had no such changes occurring. These were the only two that I saw.
As the day was sunny, I headed out to the Gorge Waterway where I was pleased to find my old friend, the Great Blue Heron, had returned to his favourite feeding spot. The light was bright enough and the tide was low, so I was able to get this shot.
Although I saw a small raft of American Wigeons up feeding on grass, no diving ducks were evident and I found this troubling since the numbers I’d seen were fairly diminished this last season.
There was one exception however, a raft of Goldeneyes and there was a surprising number of Goldeneye males…seven actually, and only two females. How many fellows does a gal need…or even want? I wonder what happened to the rest of the females. A good birder friend in Saskatchewan has told me how brutal the mating rituals of the male ducks can be, practically or literally drowning the female during the act of mating with several males pursuing one female at one time. This may account for the diminished numbers. Apparently when the male ducks run out of females to mate with due to fatality or flight, they will engage in mating with each other and also remain companions for the entire season. As we don’t really witness diving ducks mating here in Victoria I guess I’ll have to take her word on this one as there seems to be no other explanation for the diminishing numbers of female Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, etc. in the last number of years when they overwinter here. In any case, I was lucky to get this shot of the most Goldeneyes I have ever seen here and hope you enjoy it.
There was also a lovely pink rhododendron in bloom along the Gorge Waterway and I was cheered by the promise of spring. This plant has sometimes started flowering as early as January so I was surprised that it was coming out this late.
As Saskatchewan is seeing probably one of the longest and most brutal winters in about 20 years, I felt compelled to send my friend a cheerful picture of some ornamental Japanese plum blossoms that were just coming out in early March. These were taken at my home.
She was very pleased to see flowers, something she tells me she won’t be seeing for another couple of months as things stand.
Time passed…in actuality only two weeks or so, when I got a very pleasant surprise; a few actually. The first one was when a male Northern Flicker showed up at my kitchen window feeder. What was remarkable and exciting was that this was a male Hybrid between the Red and the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker. The underfeathers were yellow and there was the tell-tale red-crescent on the back of the neck, however his “mustache”, normally black on a Yellow-shafted was red, which was from the Red-shafted “parent”or ”grandparent”of this bird. What a pretty sight I thought to myself.
A few days later, I heard what sounded like a jack-hammer on my roof, and it took a while to realize that, as I’d seen both Red-shafted and Hybrid Flickers, one of these was looking for food on my roof!! At least that’s what I thought it was doing but again, I found out that this “drumming” ritual was more of a territorial behaviour at this beginning of mating season. I’m not so sure I’m crazy about that, but it didn’t last too long and only for a couple of days. Maybe my roof didn’t taste that great. One can only hope I suppose.
The last and most lovely surprise, after a two week absence, was another appearance of the male and female Goldfinch. The male was dramatically altered and had a complete black cap now and mostly bright yellow feathers. I was fortunate to have someone there to point him out to me so I grabbed my camera and took as many shots as I could. At the end of this narrative, you will see my altered Goldfinch friend as well as another parting poetograph at the end.
So…now other than those pesky Starlings and House Sparrows as well as the House Finches, who are looking a bit worse for wear, this narrative has been my excitement here in Victoria. My outings have diminished for now, but I remain hopeful to be able to find the time and strength to venture out into nature again with my camera and some warm sunshine.
I may even find a butterfly but for now, I will leave you with this poem of reflection that echoes my concerns and moods about our ever changing environment and bird population which, as always, I find parallels my own inner being. I still hold onto hope that things will improve, because one must believe or hope dies.
In the Spring Sunlight
So many weeks ago since the Goldfinch had been
with his promise of spring not yet to be seen.
I left my home to find the ducks
and I found a life raft of Golden-eyed luck.
The water glistened as I walked along
and carefully listened for sweet birdsong
but all was quiet except for some crows
clawing and cawing their aggressive woes.
The water glistened in the springtime sun
with the blossoms smiling with new life begun
and I walked along in my melancholy mood
looking for the love for my spiritual food.
But none did I find outside of the sun
and the blossoms and life I saw had begun.
So I dove within for inner sight
and found myself in the spring sunlight.
Then the Goldfinch returned to show me his gold
and suddenly I didn’t feel so old…
© Annie Pang March 15, 2013.
I have a small native plant garden on the north side of my townhouse, and there are a number of fawn lilies, both pink and white, growing in it. Some of these plants are well along and look like they are very close to coming into flower. So two days ago I decided to take a quick trip down to the Tsolum River floodplain, which is the best place I know of in the valley for fawn lilies, to see if any were in bloom. I walked most of the length of the trail looking for any blooms, but to no avail. It wasn’t until I was on my way back that I finally found one lonely pink fawn lily in flower.
This is just the start, and in a few days I suspect that there will be many more plants in flower, and eventually the woods will be thick with thousands of fawn lilies. They will line the trails and carpet the depth of the woods, sharing the space with the first trilliums and other early spring flowers. If I can find the time I will pay another visit and do another blog at the peak of their flowering.
The only other native flower I saw with the fawn lilies two days ago was the Yellow Stream Violet. Eventually this plant will produce clumps of flowers that will add splashes of yellow alongside the trail.
I am always looking for insects on trips like this, and on this occasion I was not disappointed. Most of the insects I saw were smaller flies that are often difficult to identify, but I did see a couple of bee flies and managed to get a photo of one of them. This is the greater bee fly, Bombylius major, and it is a very common fly in the early spring.
I find bee flies quite fascinating, partly because of their bee-like appearance and habit of hovering briefly in one spot, and partly because of their vampiric habits as larvae. Most bee flies are ectoparasites on the larvae of solitary wasps. The female fly simply drops eggs into the burrows of the wasp, and when the eggs hatch the larval flies will quite actively seek out the larval wasps and attach themselves externally to the wasp. The bee fly larva now becomes quite sedentary, sucking the juices out of the wasp larva without leaving any visible markings. Eventually the wasp larva becomes nothing more than a dried out husk and the fly a plump larva ready to pupate. Television and Hollywood have nothing on these guys.
I’d like to say how thrilled I am that Terry was able to see and photograph so well the extraordinary visitation of the Citrine Wagtail and update his blog and photos as his news progressed and opportunities for closer shots presented themselves. My hat is off to you, Terry, for your perseverance on this incredible story! Such was the import of this sighting and Terry’s recounting of it that we decided my blog could easily wait a few days as it was not nearly so time sensitive. I would invite those of you who have read Terry’s blog the first time to go back to the site and revisit it as he has updated it with four fabulous pictures and more news.
And so let’s hear it “For the Birds Again” – and onwards with my own meanderings about some of our common ones back here at home in Victoria where the only rare sighting we’ve had the last few days is the sun!
The world, it seems, goes through one upheaval after another, and it can drive a person to despair listening to the news every hour when all I want is to hear the music! I wander restlessly from room to room doing the tasks of the day, and I usually have a number of radios going so I don’t miss a favourite piece of music as it keeps me good company.
But after a while, I find the opinionated human voices wearing, and the news is always bad, so I turn to my salvation which, of course, is the divine in Nature. As I must be indoors for a good part of the day, I want to thank John again for keeping the feeders filled, knowing how much joy the birds bring to my isolation while he is gone (and even when he is home!). They constantly inspire, surprise and amaze me. I keep records of all I see and never tire of watching them.
The male Downy Woodpecker, which I showed in my previous blog, has been joined by his mate and I was finally able to get a serviceable shot of her, good enough to show the difference in that she has no red markings on the back of her head. I only saw her the one day and then she disappeared, probably to one of my neighbor’s yards. A messy eater indeed, she did stop long enough for me to get her picture, but failed to wipe her mouth first. I didn’t mind one bit!
There are at least three Chestnut-backed Chickadees who have become regulars, down from the number of six I counted last year. Perhaps more will show up as the seasons change. I can only hope they have not been taken by Starlings or neighborhood cats. They are hard for me to photograph through the window with my point-and-shoot but here is one that landed on my lilac bush that didn’t turn out too badly. They have such sweet and cheery voices that are a delight to the sagging spirit to hear. Perhaps I will come up with better shots later in the season, but this will do for now.
The most abundant birds are, of course, the House Finches, but this year I have had the surprise of two orange variants. The picture in my blog “For the Birds” shows a typical House Finch with bright red plumage (only the males), but the orange variant is a paler orange and has its own charm as you can see.
Now I have to say that the tiny birds are very special to me. They symbolize something within that is fragile and playful….like a child. Perhaps it is an innocence that we seem to have lost. No bird seems to capture this for me as much as the wee Bushtit. I have tried so hard to get decent shots of them but they move so fast and are very tiny. I lucked out getting this one at the suet feeder. He was still long enough so it was not too blurred a shot. Isn’t he a darling?
Another species that comes daily to “fill up” is the “Oregon” Dark-eyed Junco. Because the male has a very black head and neck, he resembles a hangman to me! The back of this bird is a rich chestnut brown I find very attractive. The female is somewhat more faded in appearance and has a white eye-ring the male lacks so getting a good shot of the male where the eye is fairly bright in this dull, grey light has been a challenge, but this one turned out okay.
Here is a so-so shot of a female.
Getting back to the smaller birds, another of my favorites is a little clown of a bird, the Red-breasted Nuthatch and each year for several years now we have had a pair of them show up. They make a variety of calls, often sounding like chattering little monkeys, and other times making a “yank, yank, yank” call that can carry quite a distance. But my goodness, they are fast as the dickens and most attempts at photographing them are frustrating failures at best. But perseverance and patience are the best approach, although knowing when to give it up for the day is also sometimes wise. Today, however, I got lucky enough to get this shot. Their poses are often sideways or upside down and was I glad I had my camera in hand when this little character landed!
It is late now and I must close for today, but I wanted to leave you with a poem and one more poetograph afterwards. Let us all hope for more peaceful and happy times and make the most of each day as it comes. As more and more of our beloved natural habitat disappears my birds help me focus on the present moment and cherish it all the more.
All life is precious and priceless, and never to be taken for granted….ever. May you find something in these pictures and words that bring you some cheer.
The Balm that Nature Gives
As storms are brewing around the world
there’s comfort in the birds
and, as the news spins off in a whirl,
I hear their singing words.
It is the balm that Nature gives
within each shining eye;
beneath the fluttering feathers lives
my dreaming to the sky.
So by my window, patiently,
I watch them come to feed
and watch their flighty antics
as they bicker over seed.
Through them, I see humanity,
I see it at its best,
and for a moment Nature wins –
my worries take a rest.
I drink in all these feathered folk,
forgetting wars and death,
for Nature gave this gift today –
the healing of Her breath…
© Annie Pang November 21, 2012.
First off, I’d like to offer a special thanks to Terry for holding down the fort while I was ill these last few months. I am somewhat recovered now and feeling a lot stronger and, thanks to the lovely September and October we had, my zucchini plants and Scarlet runners gave us more than enough to eat and freeze.
But then there was a drastic change in the weather that marked the end of record-breaking sunny days here in Victoria. Of course it has been a very long time since I’ve seen a single butterfly and I have to say that this has been the worst butterfly season I have witnessed since I began keeping track of them in 2007.
And so I am very grateful for the birds that are starting to show up at our suet and bird feeders outside my kitchen window. It gives me the opportunity to see some old friends come to pig out and if I am lucky I even managed to get the odd shot that turns out. I find at this time of year, the birds are rather skittish and dart about so quickly that getting a decent shot is nearly impossible. I’ve decided to document who shows up and strive to get pictures when I can. How uplifting this lovely distraction is, as the days grow shorter, to have my feathered friends drop by to entertain and inspire me.
At first it took a bit of nagging to get the suet feeder put up, but now seeing the birds there has got us both excited and I find my partner quite willing to keep both feeders topped up. As my camera is rather slow, some of the pictures I will be showing won’t be the best but I’ll keep trying as I enjoy the challenge.
Who are my favorite birds? Well it’s easier to list my least favorites, although I was initially happy to see the first house sparrows when they arrived. I have found this year so far that there is an unusually large population of this long-ago-introduced species compared to last year when they were conspicuously missing, at least at our place. So far I am seeing more male house sparrows and find them to be very aggressive. I have concerns about them crowding out our indigenous song birds and smaller birds. Here is a picture I managed to get of a male.
The other, more pesky, invader would be the Starling also not indigenous to this area. I don’t have a picture at present and we’ll talk about them more perhaps in another blog.
Last year we had good numbers of House Finches, and it seems they are still around. This male posed nicely for me, but my camera was a bit fussy so the shot wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, but not bad. This species, though relatively new to Victoria with the first record of its appearance being in 1937, is indigenous to North America. Over time it has expanded northwards and has a firmly established population here now.
I had a pleasant surprise a short while ago when a Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker female showed up, or at least what I thought was a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker. I consulted my Peterson Field Guide and then though this bird may very well be a Gilded Flicker as it did not have the red crescent on the back of its head which would mark it as the former. But later, Terry let me know that it was a hybrid between the two Northern Flicker races for the following reasons, and I quote Terry here. “It has a brownish mustache and the brown on the head is restricted just to the forehead and eyebrow, and does not extend to the top of the head or the nape. What this makes your bird is a hybrid between Red-shafted and Yellow-shafted. These often turn up in our area.”
It gets very confusing for me at times with these Flicker hybrids as I’ve seen and photographed many different combinations of Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Northern Flickers, as well as some purely one or the other. In any case it was exciting to spot this particular individual which I don’t think I have seen before.
A short time after this we were setting out for a walk, me with my camera as always, when a neighbor across the street whispered “Annie! Come here!”. When you consider that this is a neighbor who normally keeps to herself, and never invites me over, I was a bit surprised until I saw why. She was pointing at a bird who was drilling a hole in her lawn – a rather deep hole and I must admit it was the strangest sight. Of course I knew right away what it was although she did not have a clue. So I clued her in while keeping my camera busy. It was a male Red-shafted Northern Flicker and I was able to get fairly close, close enough to get a few shots that turned out. At times this large bird just sat down by the hole it had dug and posed for me and the rest of the time it kept drilling away for insects. So my neighbor was very happy to learn what this lovely bird was and I was very happy to be able to raise her awareness — and get some pretty good shots to boot. The haunting call of the Northern Flicker has always struck right through my heart and I am glad to have them around again.
Back at my bird feeder, as I sit in the warmth of my kitchen, a flock of bushtits comes to call daily, as well as a male Downy Woodpecker, a few Chestnut-backed Chickadees, a male and female Dark-eyed Junco and a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches. They are all very busy and very hyper but I managed to get a few shots. Hopefully I’ll get better ones at a later date.
Frankly I’m seeing more birds at my feeders than when we walked around Swan Lake the other day, but again that is another story. For now I’m just glad to be back amongst the living and surrounded by the beauty of nature coming to see me daily in and around my home.
I shall leave you now with a sonnet and hope that all is well with you in your world and to encourage you no matter what hurdles life may be throwing at you to get out in nature and let it heal you as it has always healed me.
For the Birds
Come flying to me on your feathered wings,
and feed your fill for winter’s yet to come.
And let me hear your golden voices sing
to help me come alive from being numb.
The butterflies have gone, their season’s done
and food for you is harder now to find,
so come, my feathered friends, come every one
to help me heal the ghosts I’ve left behind.
It gladdens me to see you doing well,
it saddens me to know that summer’s gone
I watched the leaves turn yellow as they fell
and now it’s time – the seasons must move on.
But now you’re here, and I’m so glad to see
that you’ve returned, come back to visit me…
© Annie Pang November 8, 2012.