Raptor’s Repast

Mature bald eagle eating a small bird

Click once on the images to enlarge – twice if you want to see all the details.

We weren’t the only ones using Denman Island’s new community wharf when we pulled in to the dock one morning earlier this summer. Purple martins and their fledglings were active at the nest boxes, and shorebirds paddled serenely nearby.

A peaceful scene indeed – until a mature bald eagle landed on the railing of the pier just above. While I rushed to grab my camera, the raptor swooped briefly over the water, quickly returning to its perch with a tiny catch gripped in its powerful talons.

Eagle eating a small bird

The eagle made short work of its prey, plucking and dismembering it, and soon sported a mouthful of feathers, as you can see above.

Eagle cleaning its beak

When the meal was over the eagle undertook an elaborate ritual, just like the songbirds do at our backyard suet feeder: repeatedly wiping first one side of its beak, then the other, against the wooden railing. (This is called “feaking”, shown above, and it serves to keep the beak clean and sharp.)

Though not exactly “pretty”, the unfolding scene made for an interesting photographic shoot – while at the same time raising some unsettling questions. Were fish so scarce this summer that mighty bald eagles have to rely on tiny birds like this? And could this hapless victim have been one of the purple martin fledglings I’d been admiring just moments before?

The images in this post, along with many of my others, are available for purchase as stock photography from Alamy.

The Life of Riley

Red-legged frog floating outstretched in a pond with fir needles on its head and back

“Riley”, laid back and soaking up the sun (click to enlarge)

On those all too-rare occasions when she was able to kick back and do nothing other than enjoy the day, my mother always had one thing to say: “Well, ain’t this the life of Riley!”

I’m reminded of this on sunny days in June, when I run across Red-legged frogs lounging in our pond – as if they have no worries or cares in the world (not even any concern that they’re a species at risk).

Perhaps they’re a little more carefree than normal this year, thanks to our copious spring rains and recent showers. Life is good right now in the pond. There’s more water than usual for June, so the new generation of tadpoles have pretty favourable odds of making it through to adulthood.

Ahh – the life of Riley, indeed.

Red-legged frog sprawled out in pond, looking at camera

“What’cha looking at, lady?” (click to enlarge)

Quality Time with Uncle

Buck with tiny fawn

Q.T., attentive uncle to the new fawn (click on photos to enlarge)

It’s always a special day when our resident Momma deer brings her new fawn(s) to our backyard to meet us for the first time. Today, May 31, was that day – the earliest one in our records, which go back about 10 years.

The tiny little guy (gal?) appears healthy and is, of course, super cute. “Mr. Man” and I oohed and awed like proud grandparents, delighting in its every move. Mother Scarlet wandered away, paying no attention to either our compliments or her fawn. She was more interested in the daisies in the lawn.

It’s her third fawn, and I guess she has reason to be unconcerned, especially since her twin brother Q.T. was looking after it. Q.T. has always seemed like a gentle soul, and his nurturing side is now shining with this new arrival.

Fawn looking up at buck who's giving it very gentle kick

“Respect your elders!” says Q.T. – gently.

That said, he’s not above giving the fawn a small, very soft kick when some discipline is needed. A teachable moment, I guess.

About Q.T.’s name: we originally called him “Cutie” but when he grew up that was obviously inappropriate, and so he became the much cooler sounding “Q.T.” The initials had no real meaning – until now, when we can see they must mean “Quality Time” for the little one.

Update June 3: Double cuteness! This morning Scarlet and Q.T. came for another visit – this time with two adorable fawns. Seems Scarlet, now four years old, has had her first set of twins. Good thing her brother Q.T. is a devoted sibling – she’ll need his help to keep on top of this lively pair. 

Look But Don’t Linger

Ocean swell landing on a group of small islands, with gulls.

Ocean Surge at the Storm Islands (click to enlarge)

We’ve passed close by the Storm Islands a couple of times on our way to and from BC’s Central Coast.

They lie mid-channel about 20 km northeast of Vancouver Island – right about where the massive and open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound meet the only marginally less open waters of Queen Charlotte Strait.

The islands are well named, since they’re exposed to heavy swell coming in from the Pacific Ocean, even on relatively “calm” days like the one shown here.

It’s definitely not a place to stop over, unless you’re a gull. Or a storm-petrel. Apparently the Storm Islands are one of three rocky island areas that, altogether, support the majority of nesting storm-petrels on Canada’s entire west coast. We didn’t spot any when we passed by – but then, we didn’t exactly linger.

If you’re on Gabriola Island this weekend:

Be sure to catch the Gabriola Photography Club’s annual Spring Show on Sunday afternoon, May 7 (details here). See you there!

What a Difference…

coastal islands and channels

The view at 1800 hrs (click on images to enlarge)

To borrow from the old song, what a difference a day makes – or even just 12 hours!

The photo above was taken from our boat on an August evening at about 1800 hours (6 pm in land-talk). We were on our way home from a summer-long journey up the BC coast, and we’d just dropped anchor in a cozy cove at the mouth of Fish Egg Inlet. Before starting dinner preparations, I took a moment to savour and photograph the view: looking through one of the anchorage’s “windows” into adjacent Illahie Inlet, with hints of the Coast Mountain range in the background.

Our plan was to head out early the next morning, as several long and challenging passages lay ahead and we needed to take advantage of any decent weather on offer.

But as it turned out, an early start wasn’t possible. Here’s the view looking in the same direction the next morning at 0600:

Foredeck of boat with islands nearby, barely visible through the fog.

It was as if someone had drawn a huge, almost opaque isolation curtain right around our boat. (In reality our view was more obscured than the image shows – I’ve increased the contrast a bit so that you can make out the nearby shores without too much eye strain.)

The fog lifted by 1015 and we were finally able to get underway. With the late start we didn’t get as far as we’d hoped that day, but fortunately we had built extra time into our itinerary for unforeseen delays like this.

That morning was a good reminder of why mariners commonly refer to August as “Fogust” on the BC coast – and how important it is to keep your plans and expectations flexible when travelling by boat.

Into the Mystery

Into the Mystery: entering Fish Egg Inlet (more photos below; click to enlarge)

Fish Egg Inlet reaches eastward from BC’s Inside Passage, extending into the mainland coast and forming part of the Great Bear Rainforest.

Fish Egg is more than just your “average inlet”: it’s a huge complex of bays, islands, reefs, channels and tidal lagoons – an intricate labyrinth that wasn’t even charted until the early 1990s. This, despite being just around the corner from Rivers Inlet, a 45-mile long fjord that was first charted 200 years earlier by Captain George Vancouver’s men.

Cruising guidebooks published since Fish Egg Inlet was surveyed sound an ominous warning to watch out for rocks that were missed on the chart. So it’s no wonder that even today, few boaters stop to explore the inner channels of this remote and mysterious place.

We entered Fish Egg on an overcast July morning and meandered around its islets and channels – albeit cautiously. We had numerous options, and eventually chose a beautiful, private spot deep inside the Inlet, well protected from wind and seas.

headland with islands beyondThe next morning dawned foggy but bright, and the calm water made for wonderful shoreline reflections best viewed from a dinghy or kayak.

Rocky shoreline reflectedDuring the time we spent in Fish Egg Inlet, we were gloriously alone, save for various birds and a dozen seal moms with their pups. I was glad we hadn’t let the warnings in our guidebooks scare us off.

Cirque du Matin

Our morning coffee has been served up with entertainment over the past week: a small, lively and highly agile acrobat has been performing right outside our living room window. (Click photo to enlarge; more photos below.)

Squirrelly is normally away in the forest, busy gathering Douglas fir cones (which are abundant on our property) and caching them in the many mounded middens he’s created. Douglas fir seeds are, after all, a favorite food for Red squirrels, and we often see him sitting on a tree limb, munching on a cone.

Most years he shows up at our bird feeder in late spring, presumably in search of a bit of variety. Or maybe “he” is actually “she”, and is seeking some extra nutrition for a young pup.

This year Squirrelly came a couple of months early – perhaps a signal that after our long, cold winter, the midden is low on grub. Fortunately he/she doesn’t ask for much: just a few sunflower seeds each morning, collected in a display of derring-do, and daintily eaten one at a time.

The morning show is well worth the cost of a few seeds, and after the winter we’ve had, we figure we should give the little guy/gal a break. So we’re welcoming our acrobatic visitor – at least for now.

See below for the impressive technique that Squirrely learned in about half an hour of trial and error. Even as I write this post, she’s learning yet more tricks that I haven’t yet had a chance to photograph!

The approach: checking out that roof and what lies below.

Hanging on with back feet, lifting the roof with front feet.

Squirrel in bird feeder

Stretch the neck and reach down with the mouth. Note the five little toe pads braced against inside of feeder.

Squirrel eating a sunflower seed.

The reward: big black sunflower seeds, enjoyed one at a time. Yummy!

Enough Already!

Hummingbird flapping his wing

“Shove off, Winter!” says Hummy (click on photos to enlarge)

Little Hummy, our resident male Anna’s Hummingbird, wasn’t pleased with the last few rounds of snow we’ve had. Nor was I.

Winter has been a long, drawn-out affair here on the west coast this year, with repeat snowfalls ever since early December and lower temperatures than we’re used to. The amount of white stuff we’ve received may seem trivial to readers from other parts of the continent, but it’s been a test of west coasters’ resilience. I’ve lived here all my life and can’t recall a winter that felt so protracted. I’m not alone: every week I hear others saying, “Enough already! No more snow!”

I expect Hummy concurs. Unlike most hummingbirds, Anna’s don’t migrate with the seasons. Here on BC’s south coast, where winter is usually a mild affair, they’re now year-round residents, having slowly extended their range north from California over the past few decades. Ever since they showed up at our place for the first time about five years ago we’ve kept the feeders topped up all winter. In return the hummers have delighted us with their colourful presence and cheerful chatter throughout the darkest part of the year.

But right now, Hummy must be wondering why his family ever moved up here.  Like me, he’s done with winter, but as the meterologists keep telling us, winter’s not done with us yet. To which Hummy and I have only one thing to say: “Harrumph!”

Male Anna's hummingbird