Earlier this month I spent a bit of time birding in British Columbia in advance of a short work conference in Vancouver. In my tradition of not straying too far from the city for my diversions, I chose Squamish as the out of town overnight.
Last year my epic lifer fail was on the Barn Owls, so I was determined to get them this year and got some help from a guide (Mike Klotz) to up my odds and added American Dipper to the wish list.
As much as I love to see rarities, my preference is to see native species in their natural habitat. Both the Barn Owl and America Dipper are endemic species for the West Coast and would not be seen in Nova Scotia.
After arriving in Vancouver, I took a bus up to Squamish to spend the night. Beautiful setting to spend a bit of time and unwind, and great Dipper country. I noted a little park across from the Squamish bus stop so did a bit of birding, luggage in tow, and got some great looks at a group of Varied Thrush. They have evaded me on previous trips to BC, so I was happy with this serendipitous sighting.
The next morning I arranged for Mike meet me in Squamish at sun up, and we checked a few fast-moving streams where Dippers are known to be present. We dipped on the first one (I know) and I spotted one right away at the second location.
Dippers are a little hard to photograph as they are small, dark, and favor mountain streams. Even if it’s sunny out, the mountains cast a shadow and creates a dimly lit environment. However, I’m relatively happy with my photos, but more importantly I was thrilled with the experience. The first bird we found sang beautifully for a while, which was an unexpected treat so early in February.
The second bird we saw in another location put on a great little show flying up and down the stream, stopping to forage for food. When we zoomed in on some of our photos, we realized he was actually that some of what he was finding, and eating were Salmon fry.
The weather was perfect, so we enjoyed some casual birding on the trails in the lovely mountain setting.
Many of the birds are also native to Nova Scotia, although some have colour variants such at the Red-bellied Sapsucker (our is yellow) and the Northern Flicker (ours is yellow-shafted, BC has red-shafted). Most of the Eagles had moved on but we saw a few. December I believe would be the time to see the 1000+ strong convocations of Eagles following the Salmon run. Someday if can find the time that would certainly be something to see in such a lovely setting.
We have large groups of Eagles in Nova Scotia, but sadly it’s because someone feeds them chicken carcasses to attract tourists. Not my idea of watching birds in natural habitat. Although we do get large groups in the fall at the Cape Breton causeway following the Billfish (Atlantic Saury) run which is fun because lots of other critters such as White-sided Dolphins enjoy that as well. Still I don’t think we would ever see 1000+ Eagles all at once in Nova Scotia without a man-made circumstance of some sort.
Anyway, I only had two target birds for the day, so we were off to find my Barn Owl next. Mike had a lead on a location in Point Roberts, Washington where we thought there would be enough light in the barn to get good photos, but the owls were not there.
However, it was supercool to do some sea birding on a little beach in Washington. “Point Bob” is basically the most southerly tip of BC that is cut off by the 49th parallel. Birding never fails to bring me to interesting places, to provide different viewpoints of our world.
Knowing how important it was to me to see my first Barn Owl, Mike had a backup location. And a backup to his backup, which fortunately we didn’t have to use.
The barn was very dark, and the second story rafters were very high. Even with binoculars it took a bit of work to locate two Barn Owls that were seated high in a corner. After seeing then in my binoculars, I made a few feeble attempts to photograph them at ISO 1600 that I had set from the first location with more light, and immediately realized I’d have push the sensor to the max and settled on the full ISO 256000. My grainy shot is still a great accomplishment by my budget priced Nikon SLR given the conditions, but even better it shows how amazing the Barn Owl camouflage is.
These wondrous creatures look they are part of the barn boards. You can see other camouflage in this photo too that prove once again Mother Nature always has a few great tricks up her sleeve. And so is the story of the grainiest bird photo I was ever so happy to take.
The afternoon owl theme continued as we stopped at to visit some Great Horned Owls, and then went in search of a Northern Saw Whet Owl.
The Saw Whet search was not so successful, but we had great fun trying at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary.
As if that wasn’t good enough, we spotted a Short-eared Owl at dusk as we ended our day.
I had a great adventure and I’ve now seen most of the birds I’ve wanted to see in BC. My next British Columbia visit goal is to photograph a beautiful Coastal Wolf, but realistically I’ll probably just do wide angle shots in Gastown 😉