Author Archives: KevinHHood

Gulls Eating Sea Stars

Back in August of this year, the 14th to be exact, I was walking along the waterfront in Sidney, BC when I caught a gull red-handed (or red-billed) trying to swallow a sea star. Here’s the sequence of 4 pictures that I took over a half-minute or so:

Gull Eating Sea Star 1 of 4 - P1170385 Gull Eating Sea Star 2 of 4 - P1170386

Gull Eating Sea Star 3 of 4 - P1170387 Gull Eating Sea Star 4 of 4 - P1170388

The gull does not seem to be having a lot of success.

Then, I was looking through some older images yesterday and found another sequence of 4 images taken in March 2016 at Neck Point Park in Nanaimo:

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 1 of 4

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 2 of 4 Gull Swallowing Sea Star 3 of 4

Gull Swallowing Sea Star 4 of 4

The first image shows the gull with the sea star in its mouth. The following three images show the gull swallowing the sea star. It had to extend its neck which, as you can see by the white spot on the rocks appearing in the third image, triggered a ‘movement’.

Unexpected Finds at Buttertubs Marsh

I was birding Buttertub Marsh with a friend last Thursday (November 17, 2016). We were scanning the almost empty pond for waterfowl when Leonel noticed 4 Great Fronted Geese hanging out with some Canada Geese at the far side of the pond. It was the first time that I had seen them there.

Here’s a picture captured with my Panasonic FZ-200 at maximum zoom. It’s cropped as well. You can also see a bird in front just to the right of centre with a neck-band as well. I’ll say more on this guy later.

GWFG at Buttertub Marsh

Four Greater White-fronted geese mixed with some Canada Geese at Buttertub Marsh on November 17, 2016.

About and hour and a half later we were just about done and noticed the Canada Geese swimming more in the middle of the pond without the GWFG. It was Leonel’s good eyes and my FZ-200 to the rescue a second time. The 4 geese were across the pond on the edge of the pond resting, their coloration blending in well with the background reeds.

p1170968

VIU Canada Goose Project

I said that I’d come back to that Canada Goose with a neck band in the first picture.

A group from VIU, headed by student Stew Pearce, banded 200 Canada Geese earlier this year and has been following the locations where they have been seen since using information sent in by birders or anyone else interested in helping out. The goal is to learn how the birds move about during the year. You can find out more by going to the VIU Canada Goose Project web-site.

Stew told me recently that geese from the project have been seen and reported from as far away as Portland, Oregon. So, if you happen to see a Canada Goose with a neck band let Stew know using the instructions at the above link.

So, did I figure out what the ID of our find was? Yup! We saw the bird swimming behind some reeds an hour or so after our first encounter and I took a some pictures as the goose swam in and out of view. One of the four was clear enough to ID the goose:

p1170964

 

Our goose’s ID was “096P”. I checked the web-site and discovered that the most recent sighting was November 6 at Buttertubs Marsh. I’m guessing that this guy is not going South this winter.

 

Watching Coot-Looting Wigeons at Buttertubs Marsh

I sometimes wonder why I don’t get bored going to the same birding locations month after month, year after year.  A big part of it is that, on any given day, there is a chance that they will see something different or rare or perhaps even totally new.

This past Sunday, while on an organized outing with a bunch of local birders to Buttertubs Marsh Bird Sanctuary in Nanaimo, I got my “something-new” fix.  In this case is wasn’t a new species of bird — instead it was an inter-species interaction that I had never noticed before – that of an American Wigeon stealing food from an American Coot.

Scene 1: Following the Coot

Coot (Fulica americana) & American Wigeon (Anas americana)

The first of the two species, the American Wigeon (Anas americana), is a duck that is part of the genus Anas sometimes referred to as dabbling ducks.  These duck may feed on land or on the water where they can tip themselves upside down and gather underwater plants up to several inches below the surface.

The second of the two species, the American Coot (Fulica americana), is in the family Rallidae of rails and looks a little like a small black chicken.  These birds may feed on land, by dabbling in shallow water or by diving for plants.

I captured a short video of the food stealing behaviour (kleptoparasitism) with my Panasonic DMC FZ-200 camera.  I may have had too much fun and gotten a little carried away with the presentation.  You be the judge:

At one point there were at least 3 or 4 Wigeon-Coot pairs doing similar food-stealing dances.

On another occasion I watched as a Wigeon tried to manage two Coots at the same time and seemed to spend a lot of time in the middle trying to decide which way to go.  Not a good strategy for a low-intelligence bird it would seem.

Some further comments and other notes resulting from forays into online ‘research’:

  • A 1979 article suggested that the Wigeon is the only duck known to be a regular kleptoparasite (ref [3]).
  • A 1984 article documents Gadwalls stealing food from American Coots (ref [4]).
  • Other ‘dabbling ducks’ in the genus Anas include the Mallard, Wigeons, Teals, Shovelers, Pintails, the Black Duck, the Gadwall and a few others.
  • Wigeons apparently will try to steal food from other diving water birds, not just from coots.
  • Coots, in turn, have been known to steal food from other water birds.
  • Coots will also dive to escape predators (the Coot is one of the easiest birds for the Bald Eagle to catch).

References

A good source of information that I like to use is the Birds of North America online service from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  The service is not free but for anyone curious about bird behaviour it’s worth the price in my opinion.  They have a one month subscription that costs $5 if you want to give it a try.

[1] BNA online article on the American Wigeon.

[2] BNA online article on the American Coot.

[3] H. Jane Brockmann & C. J. Barnard,  Kleptoparasitism in birds, Animal Behaviour Research Group, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, UK
Animal Behaviour (Impact Factor: 3.14). 05/1979; 27:487-514. DOI: 10.1016/0003-3472(79)90185-4

[4] Juan A. Amat & Ramón C. Soriguer, Kleptoparasitism of Coots by Gadwalls, Ornis Scandinavica 15: 188-194.  Copenhagen 1984.

Post Election Birding in Nanaimo

I made my first post-election birding trip yesterday.  A friend, who I’ll refer to by his initials LR, and I set our Nanaimo itinerary to take us on a loop including Neck Point, Pipers Lagoon, the Nanaimo River Estuary and Buttertub Marsh.

We should have known better as we only made it to Neck Point and Pipers Lagoon spending more than two hours at those two sites.  We did add the Linley Valley Drive Wetlands which is walking distance from our house.

As usual, I had both camera and binoculars at hand.  Birding was enjoyable and I did get a couple of nice pictures that I’ll share.

Neck Point

We arrived at Neck Point and had barely got out of the car when the buzzing (for an example play this recording of a Bewick’s Wren on Xeno-Canto) of a Bewick’s Wren was heard.  There was actually a pair flitting around near the parking lot and they were surprisingly unafraid bopping around in plain site.  Here is one checking me out:

Bewick's Wren at Neck Point, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Bewick’s Wren at Neck Point, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Note that I rely heavily on the auto-focus feature of my camera (Panasonic FZ-200).  When taking of pictures of fast moving birds, especially when they are in bushes the auto-focus does not always behave.  Here is an example:

Camera misfocus on Bewick's Wren.

Camera misfocus on Bewick’s Wren.

Apparently the camera liked the road-side pebbles better.

We saw a total of 14 species at Neck Point (eBird checklist)

Pipers Lagoon

Pipers lagoon was more productive producing a total of 23 species (eBird checklist).  The picture bird, a male Hairy Woodpecker,  was again located first by sound (here’s a recording of a Hairy Woodpecker on Xeno-Canto).  Here’s a picture that shows the long bill (compare with the shorter bill of its smaller look-alike cousin the Downy Woodpecker):

Hairy Woodpecker, Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Hairy Woodpecker, Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

The final picture, while not of the highest quality because it was taken at full zoom, proved to be useful for the identification of a pair of gulls sitting on a small rock offshore.  The yellowish legs and plumage suggested a California or a Mew gull.  Studying the picture later suggested that it was a Mew Gull.  Check it out for yourself:

Mew Gulls at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Mew Gulls at Pipers Lagoon, Nanaimo, 2015-11-05

Linley Valley Dr Wetlands

A two minute walk from my house is a small wetlands  surrounded by housing developments in various stages of completion.  We spent about a half hour walking the path that runs along one side of the pond and saw some interesting birds (5 new species for the day) including a Hooded Merganser pair, Ring-necked Ducks, a Fox Sparrow, Chestnut-sided Chickadees (surprisingly not seen at the other two locations) and a Pied-billed Grebe.  The site total was 12 species (eBird checklist)

 

I’m Back

I haven’t posted here in quite a while – about a year in fact.  Here are my excuses:

  1. I have a habit of writing long, researched works that can take weeks to finish.
  2. I have a secret longtime desire to try my hand at writing fiction that I finally decided to act upon.
  3. I got caught up in the Canadian federal election campaign as a Green Party volunteer.
  4. I have been spending too much time on FaceBook where it is all to easy to just share-and-comment rather than create original content.

I’m going to (try to) write some fiction…

As part of my interest in writing fiction attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference (SIWC) this past weekend.  On the subject of becoming a published writer, one recommendation that I received more than once was that I need to have an active online presence in the social media (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc).  Obviously the social media and the fiction should share the same field/genre.

The content that I publish in social media would, I was told, help define my brand.

I can do that.

But, what is my field/genre.  The best description that I can come up with is:  Speculative (science) fiction influenced by global social and environmental issues.

PonderTerra, my other main WordPress blog, should nicely fit this target field/genre.

Another recommendation that received more than once was that it is better to write lots of small, regular posts rather than an occasional long ones.  Oops!  Guilty!  I clearly need to improve in this department on all my blogs.

So prepare to see more regular posts here and on PonderTerra.  And if the fiction writing goes well, look for updates in both blogs as well.

KHH

Hawaiian Sea Turtles Up Close and Personal

On our last day in Hawaii we negotiated a late checkout (noon) but still had many hours to kill until our red-eye left just before midnight.  One of the things that we had not yet done was see some Sea Turtles so, after a little research, we visited the Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park which is about 2 miles (3 kilometres) south of the Kona International Airport.  We went into the main area just off of the Queen Kaahumanu Highway but when we said that we were looking for turtles they sent us out to the main highway to enter at the South edge of the park along a road called the Kealakehe Parkway.  Eventually you turn right off of this road in the direction of the Honokohau Beach.

When we got there it only took a few seconds to find some Green Sea Turtles as they were within feet of the shoreline foraging.  It didn’t hurt that there was another person wading only inches from one of the turtles taking pictures.  The turtles did not seem to mind our presence which made taking their picture quite easy.  The hardest part was being ready when they raised their head out of the water for a few seconds every few minutes.

The following three pictures show some different views of the turtles.  The first shows an entire turtle (they are about 3 feet long) at the water’s surface looking for food on the bottom.  The second shows a turtle with head up.  The camera was zoomed in so that only the front half is visible.  Finally, the third turtle was photographed with its head up as well but this time the camera was zoomed in such that the head almost fills the image.

P1130236 - Green Sea Turtle Foraging

P1130259 - Green Sea Turtle Taking a Breath

P1130279 - Green Sea Turtle Up Close

Note that the bottom 2 images were cropped to have an aspect ratio of 1.6 which is common to many computer displays. As a result, both of them make for a pretty cool desktop background or wallpaper!

Enjoy!