Archive for the ‘birds’ Category

Snow birds

February 19, 2012

Snowy owls, who spend most of their lives in the arctic, have descended on southern Canada and parts of the northern United States in record numbers this winter. Well, not so much record numbers, but large numbers that we only see approximately every seven years (and I’ve lived near one of their stopping spots for over twenty years and never seen them before this!).

Snowy owls usually remain in the arctic all year, and I’ve read two somewhat contradictory-sounding theories about why large numbers of them head south when they do (both theories involving lemmings). In the arctic, the owls’ main food source is lemmings (those small rodents that are said to follow one another over a cliff –which is a myth to account for their sometimes sudden population drops). Lemming populations naturally rise and fall (no cliffs involved). I’ve read that when lemming populations are down, the Snowy owls venture south to look for food, but I’ve also read the opposite. When the lemming population drops, so do Snowy owl births, and when the lemming population rises, the number of owls rises as well. So, a second theory suggests that it’s after a big lemming year that there are so many owls, many need to head south to look for winter food. Maybe it’s a combination of both: more lemmings, more owls, then the lemming population drops and there are still a lot of owls but not so much food. Whatever the reason, I benefited this year by getting to see a lot of these wonderful birds up close!

We counted 21 owls sitting on logs and stumps near the walking path on the dike along the edge of Boundary Bay in Richmond (near Vancouver). They appeared to be mostly just resting, undisturbed by the human onlookers, though occasionally one would take flight and glide a short way to another rest spot. It was especially impressive each time an owl slowly rotated its large stocky head and pierced me with those uncanny yellow eyes.

While most owls tend to hunt at night, Snowy owls are active in the day, feeding mostly at dawn and dusk. During their southern stopover they eat mice, voles, ducks, hares and even fish. They also need to conserve energy for their flight back to the arctic, so it’s important not to disturb them.

Click here for a New York Times article on the Snowy owls: article

You can also see more (and better quality) photos of Boundary Bay Snowy owls on A Powell River Photo Blog

December Interlude

December 9, 2011

I took yesterday and today off to escape to Vancouver Island for a pre-Christmas visit with my sister and parents. The -4 degrees c. cold woke me up early this morning, and I wasn’t sure if I was up for voluntarily stepping out into it, but a visit to the town where I grew up isn’t complete without a walk along the Cowichan River with my dad. So I borrowed a toque and scarf, and we set out.

As we walked, a V of geese passed overhead (heading toward Cowichan Bay).

We stopped by the sewer lagoon to check if there were any eagles sitting in the big nest in the cottonwoods (none this time), then walked on top the dike beside one of the creeks that flows into the Cowichan.

Mist rose up from the water, and rays from the low sun slanted through the trees.

Two kinglets and a wren poked along the shore, a pair of mallards floated by, and two pale salmon moved like ghosts beneath the surface of the water, appearing and disappearing as the rippling reflections moved and changed.

Further along, the red fin of a male salmon sharked up above the water as he splashed upstream.

Beyond the creek, closer to the river, I caught sight of an eagle sitting on a branch, and then another. Counted seven sitting in the one tree. A few more in other trees.

We walked along a dry stream bed to get closer, stepping over the decaying bodies of salmon that had swum upstream to spawn (in vain) weeks ago when the creek was full from the fall rain.

Back on the dike again, we glimpsed a great blue heron through the trees.

Passed two eager dogs, checking out a frozen section of creek.

On the ground, frost fringed leaves and grass.

Above, blue, blue sky.

A good day to walk and look (or sit on a roof and contemplate the day, as this cat we spied on the way home seemed to be doing).

Later, sitting on the ferry on my way back to the mainland, something made me put down the book I was reading and look out the window –just in time to see a pod of dolphins arcing above the waves along side the boat.

The perfect punctuation to end a beautiful, pause-filled day (!)

Spring arrives in Vancouver’s Chinatown

April 11, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time on the computer lately, preparing for the launch of my new book (more info in a future post). But I was lured away by the spring sunshine Friday afternoon and decided to visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Vancouver’s Chinatown.

As I neared Chinatown (walking from Stadium Skytrain station) I was met by these two Canada Geese who also seemed out for a spring walk (it’s the time of year when paired geese and their nests turn up in some strange locations around town).

Vancouver’s Chinatown is the second largest in North America (after San Francisco’s). It’s been in existence since the late 1800s, surging in growth after the Canadian railroad was completed in 1885 and many out-of-work Chinese railway workers found employment in Vancouver.

I love the colors and historic buildings in this part of the city and couldn’t resist posting some photos.

(Gate to Chinatown, looking east on Pender St. near Carrall St.)

(Shops along Pender St. –near entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden)

(Tiny pink building is “Kitty’s Beauty Studio”)

(I’m not sure what purpose the niches in this old brick wall served originally, but they seem to have no current one other than to act as cozy pigoen perches)

(Like the two geese, and perhaps the pigeon pair, these crows seem to be a couple with nesting on their mind)

(Chinatown banners)

Ooops, I hadn’t mean to post so many photos of Chinatown, but actually meant to focus on Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden. So, if you’re still with me, garden photos are next.

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden is modeled after private classical gardens of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is the first full-scale classical Chinese garden constructed outside of China, and was built through the cooperation of Canada, China, and the Chinese and non-Chinese communities in Vancouver. It is named in memory of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the “Father” of modern China, who played a role in leading the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 and was the first president of the Republic of China.

(You can glimpse the moon-shaped gate to the public park section of the garden beyond the stone lion)

When I stepped into the garden, I left behind the hussle and bustle of the surrounding city (and the shouts from a nearby soccer game), and entered a tranquil oasis.

The design and materials of the garden reflect the Daoist philosophy of yin and yang. Light is balanced by dark, rugged and hard are balanced by soft and flowing, small is blanced by large. It also has the four main elements of a classical Chinese garden: buildings, rocks, plants, water.

Even the pebbled courtyard ground has symbolism. The stones are rough to balance the smooth of the water, and the pattern of one section represents “masculine,” while the pattern of the opposite section represents “feminine.”

Bamboo represents quiet resilience, bending but never breaking.

Turtles symbolize long-life, while the koi fish represent strength and perseverance (due to their ability to swim a long way against the current).

The drip tiles at the edge of the roof represent bats, which are symbols of good luck (the Chinese word for “bat”, bianfu, sounds like the Chinese word for “Good luck”). Bat images can be found throughout the garden.

The water is intentionally cloudy to intensify the reflections (Magnolia tree reflected in above photo).

The garden is open all year, with something different to see with each season. There is a fee to enter the inner courtyard and associated buildings, but the public park section (seen in the above photo) is free. More info is available on the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden website.

Woven through with crows

December 30, 2010

Late this afternoon the setting sun lit up the trees behind my house. It’s hard to see them in this photo, but as I looked up through the branches, wave after wave of crows passed over as the birds headed to their nightly roost (if you look closely, you can make out at least four blurry crows, but there must have been close to 100 flying over).


sunset painted trees
bronze threads woven together
by black crow stitches


December 19, 2009

I was looking out my bedroom window this morning at the chickadees flitting from branch to branch in the nearby ravine trees, wondering why they haven’t yet found (or are ignoring) the two new birdfeeders we put up earlier this week. Then, something caught my eye in the middle of one of the larger cedar trees, and I spied these guys:

(Four of them)

As the sun sets today…

November 13, 2009

waves of home-bound crows

crest over tops of fir trees

struggling in the wind





The sky is still orange as I type this, so these may be the most immediate images I’ve ever posted! I was concerned that my sunset view might not be as good at my new place as it was at my old. I needn’t have worried. (By the way, it was the crows that were struggling in the wind, not the trees.)

Haiku for a summer visit to Vancouver Island

September 3, 2009

hundreds flew over

when my father was a boy

twelve nighthawks tonight

Twitter and haiku

July 4, 2009

I seem to be devoting more time to tweeting than to blogging lately. Perhaps because it’s so quick and easy to tweet, and so far (still novel) I’m finding it fun and challenging to put as much as possible in as few words as possible (kind of like haiku). In fact, one of the appeals of Twitter is that tweets are the perfect size for haiku, as many haiku addicts have discovered. Hashtags like #haiku and #haikuchallenge also enable people to share haiku and challenge eachother to create haiku on specific topics (somewhat kindred to the original Japanese tradition of haiku as socially created linked verse).  Here are some Twitter haiku samples:

haiku sample

Note: reading from the bottom up, the first challenge was to write a haiku using the words 1. crow 2. hole 3. roof, while the second challenge was to use the word “wolfish.” Fun, I thought (the Internet once again distracting me from work on my novel). Btw, my Twitter moniker: Jacquieink

More noisy neighbours!

July 23, 2008

The crows have gotten a lot quieter now that the young have been out of their nest for a few weeks, but for the past few days we’ve been enjoying watching our newest noisy neighbours, a family of merlins. These small falcons are sleek, graceful flyers with loud high-pitched repeating calls (something like klee! klee! klee! klee!). Like the crows when they had new fledglings out, the merlins seem to be most active (and vocal) in the early morning and right before dark.

(catching the last rays of the setting sun in the top of our neighbour’s cedar tree– also the best neighbourhood lookout spot)

Disappearing song birds

June 16, 2007

Wilson's WarblerEvery year in mid May small yellow birds (which I’ve figured out are at least two kinds of warblers) make a brief appearance in my backyard. Their bright feathers and musical song contrast with the modest browns and plane chirps of the usual backyard crowd. I always enjoy seeing them, and somewhere in the back of my mind I knew they may have migrated a long way to get here, but the epic quality of their journey never really hit me until I heard bird researcher Bridget Strutchbury speak last month.

Strutchbury, author of Silence of the Songbirds, spoke about the double life of songbirds who winter in Central and South America and breed in the north, the huge “storms” of birds migrating north each year (flying mostly at night), and the alarming decline in the numbers of breeding birds (a drop of 30-50% since 1965).yellow-rumped warbler

That little yellow bird passing through my backyard has faced loss of its tropical forest winter home, been forced to survive in scrubby left-over habitat, dodged toxic agricultural pesticides (often pesticides restricted or banned in the north), then flown the long gruelling route north with fewer places to stop and city lights disrupting night-time navigation, then arrived in the north to find breeding forests and grasslands smaller and closer to cities and farms where predators such as crows, jays and feral cats lurk.

Put in this light, the fact that these little yellow birds have even made it to my yard at all is pretty amazing. I find it really distrubing to think that one spring they might not. If this happens it wont just mean the disappearance of birdsong from our neighbourhoods. Strutchbury points out: “If a species goes extinct or its  population drops to very low numbers, the ecological roles that it played in nature are lost. Some species are so specialized that their services can no be replaced by other animals, so their loss creates a ripple effect. . . . Their jobs as pollinators, fruit-eaters, insect-eaters, scavengers and nutrient recyclers will not get done, and this will disrupt ecosystems and affect everyone on the planet.”

Things we can do to help save the songbirds:

– drink shade-grown coffee

– buy organic produce (especially from Latin America)

– create backyard habitats

– keep lawns pesticide-free

– turn city lights out at night

– keep cats indoors

– buy recycled paper products

– buy wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council

– pressure companies manufacturing pesticides to meet international standards