Hummingbird Week

Rufous Hummingbirds have arrived back in the Comox Valley & have been very active in our yard for the past week or so. The males arrive before the females & set up territories which they defend relentlessly.

Male Rufous Hummingibrd in Maple

Male Rufous Hummingbird in Maple


A male Rufous found a choice perch in a small maple under the overhanging roof of the bamboo screen around the bonsai garden.

Male Rufous Sheltering

Male Rufous Sheltering


The perch was ideal for taking shelter during some rain showers. The location near the hummingbird feeder allowed him to keep watch & chase off any rivals for the food source.

Male Rufous Hummingbird

Male Rufous Hummingbird


He returned to his perch the following days when the weather improved, and in better light his throat gorget glowed even brighter.

Female Rufous Hummingbird

Female Rufous Hummingbird


In the front garden, a female Rufous found her own perch near another source of nectar. The female has just a bit of rufous colouring on the sides.

Female Rufous Among Red-Flowering Currant

Female Rufous Among Red-Flowering Currant


The red-flowering currant was in full bloom and the female was busy among the blossoms. I managed a quick photo through a pink blur of blooms.

Red-Flowering Currant

Red-Flowering Currant


The currant is a beautiful native shrub, one of the first flowering plants of the season that attracts hummingbirds.

Female Rufous at Currant

Female Rufous at Currant


After waiting patiently I got a photo of the female in the open at a stem of the red-flowering currant.

Male Rufous at Feeder

Male Rufous at Feeder


A male hovered around the feeder, chasing off any rivals. At this close distance I could see some green feathers on the head & back, so this one may have been a young male. The mature male should have an entirely rufous back.

Rufous Pair

Rufous Pair


Several females & males visited the feeder, usually chasing each other away, but occasionally a couple would tolerate another feeding at the same time.

Female Rufous on Nest

Female Rufous on Nest


We believe the hummingbirds are nesting in the yard, but haven’t found the location. A couple of days ago I visited Moorecroft Regional Park in Nanoose, where the resident caretaker, an expert naturalist, pointed out a hummingbird nest in a large cedar. The lighting was very dim but I managed a snapshot of the female Rufous on her tiny nest of lichen & moss.

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Port Alberni Creek Explorations

The beginning of April brought sunny days, suitable for another trip to Port Alberni to explore nature viewing sites for the BC Nature online Nature Viewing Guide. Two spots were on my list: the Burde Street Ponds, and the Rogers Creek Nature Trail – both actually part of a larger trail network, the Log Train Trail.

Lower Beaver Pond

Lower Beaver Pond


The Burde Street Ponds are a pair of ponds dammed by beaver that have resulted in excellent habitat for a variety of water birds. On this warm sunny day the lower pond was a calm oasis inviting relaxation on the shore.

Beaver Pond Reflections

Beaver Pond Reflections


The calm surface reflected lacy trees while Bufflehead, Ring-necked Ducks and Canada Geese floated on the far side.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron


In the marshy grasses a Great Blue Heron patiently waited for its next meal.

Upper Beaver Pond

Upper Beaver Pond


The trail around led to a higher pond, where the beavers had built a lodge on a small island in the middle.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck


Among the drowned logs, several Wood Ducks were a splendid sight.

Beaver-felled Trees

Beaver-felled Trees


Several trees on the shore indicated a series of beaver activity , from older to more recent.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese


On this pond a pair of Canada Geese came quite close to have a look.

Beaver Trees

Beaver Trees


Other trees that had been gnawed by beaver were not quite toppled – each again showing a different stage of activity, with the centre one almost ready to fall.

Rogers Creek Trail

Rogers Creek Trail


After a short loop around the beaver ponds, I headed for the Rogers Creek Nature Trail to the north. At the trailhead the sign revealed that the Burde Street Ponds were at the headwaters of Wolf Creek that fed into Rogers Creek.

Rogers Creek

Rogers Creek


The path followed along the creek crossing a couple of tributaries along the way.

Swimming Pool

Swimming Pool


The trail carried on, but I stopped at a deep pool at a bend in the river, a likely spot for swimming in the summer, though the sun had faded for today.

Old Bridge

Old Bridge


A bridge across the creek led to a gravel bar in the middle, but there was no bridge continuing to the side I was on. The Log Train Trail should have carried across the creek at this point, but the huge log jam might have been a sign that the bridge had been swept away.

Western Trillium

Western Trillium


On the way back through the woods, I noticed the first trilliums of the season.

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Spring at the Beaches

Signs of spring, from birds to flowers, are on the beaches of the Comox Valley. We followed the sunshine, first to the shore of Point Holmes.

Gold Star & Blue-Eyed Mary

Gold Star & Blue-Eyed Mary

The first spring flowers, goldstar and blue-eyed Mary, brightened the sloping sand banks.

Blue-eyed Mary

Blue-eyed Mary

The detail of the tiny flowers required a close view at ground level.

Overlooking Kye Bay

Overlooking Kye Bay

The next beach around the Comox Peninsula, Kye Bay has a great viewpoint from the road above, before heading down to the beach.

Kye Bay Beach

Kye Bay Beach

The tide was at its lowest, revealing vast ripples of sand alternating with piles of washed up herring roe from the spawn several weeks ago.

Footprints in the Roe

Footprints in the Roe

The footprints indicated where numerous birds had been feasting on the protein-rich eggs.

Brant & Gulls

Brant & Gulls

Far beyond the Mew Gulls and Bonaparte’s Gulls, hundreds of Brant Geese congregated around the long reef offshore.

1000 Brant

1000 Brant

There were easily a thousand Brant, stopping here to feed on their migration northward to Alaska.

Pacific Black Brant

Pacific Black Brant

The annual Brant Wildlife Festival, ongoing for several more weeks in Parksville , celebrates this hardy sea goose.

Gold Star & Draba

Gold Star & Draba

The next beach northward, Kin Beach, also has some of the earliest spring flowers in the Comox Valley. Here the patches of goldstar were accented with swaths of common draba.

Black-bellied Plover

Black-bellied Plover

On the rocky shore, flocks of shorebirds fluttered & foraged. Many were well-camouflaged among the stones, but several Black-bellied Plover were noticeable in their breeding plumage.

Dunlin Dark

Dunlin Dark

The incoming tide stirred a flock of Dunlin who flew along the beach in tight formation flashing their alternating dark & light plumage.

Dunlin  Light

Dunlin Light

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Hamilton Marsh

It’s always great to discover a new nature area, and I found a hidden gem near Qualicum Beach, which I immediately added to the BC Nature online Nature Viewing Guide for the Parksville/Qualicum area. The largest wetland in the mid-Vancouver Island area, Hamilton Marsh is a peaty marsh which supports a great diversity of life , including red and blue-listed species, and is an important reservoir for the surrounding French Creek watershed.

Marsh Trail

Marsh Trail

The over 400 ha. area is under private ownership, though many attempts have been made to protect the land for nature & the public. Trails can be used by the public ‘at their own risk’ and one leads straight to the marsh from an unassuming gravel parking area.

Floating Wharf

Floating Wharf

After just a short 400m walk the forest path leads to a floating wharf extending into the marsh.

West Marsh

West Marsh

The large wetland extends far to the east & west, with areas of open water alternating with marsh plants, all providing great habitat for water birds.

East Marsh

East Marsh

To the east, a Wood Duck box placed near the edge of the water allows for fledging birds to drop straight into the water.

Geese & Ducks

Geese & Ducks

In the distance, Canada Geese, Bufflehead & Mallards floated among the reeds, and Violet-green Swallows swooped over the water.

Wood Duck Nest Boxes

Wood Duck Nest Boxes

Several more Wood Duck boxes were placed in nearby trees.

Wildlife Trees

Wildlife Trees

The wildlife trees included large Douglas-fir & Sitka spruce.

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-breasted Sapsucker

A Red-breasted Sapsucker drilled parallel lines in several of the forest trees.

Culturally Modified Cedars

Culturally Modified Cedars

Another modestly-signed trailhead closer to the highway leads to Hamilton Creek, where several red cedars have been culturally modified - sections of bark stripped off in the traditional way for making baskets.

Cedar Springboard Stumps

Cedar Springboard Stumps

The creek trail, with many wet & soggy sections, follows upstream along the creek toward the marsh. Springboard notches in the huge ancient stumps are evidence of old hand-logging forestry.

Hamilton Creek

Hamilton Creek

The creek runs through the undergrowth of the forest providing important year-round water flow to the watershed.

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage

Golden Swamp Lanterns (Skunk Cabbage) were lighting up the woods – the first signs of spring.
The Friends of French Creek Conservation Society is the stewardship group active in this watershed – they have an Annual General Meeting shortly, as well as Earth Day activities coming up, that the public can get involved with.

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Somass Estuary

The Somass Estuary is one of the top nature areas in Port Alberni, so we spent some time exploring there for the online Nature Viewing Guide for Vancouver Island.

Walkway Along the Pipeline

Walkway Along the Pipeline

Due to road work we were unable to park at the suggested access to the estuary trails & instead started our walk along a water pipeline – not the most photogenic location, but the elevated walkway allowed good views across the landscape.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Immediately in the adjacent trees we heard, then saw, a Pileated Woodpecker.

Swans & Mergansers in Tidal Channel

Swans & Mergansers in Tidal Channel

Past the woods, tidal channels of the estuary flowed through meadows & former agricultural fields. In the water were Common Mergansers and our familiar Trumpeter Swans.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans


The swans swam off as we approached – most of the waterbirds here were rather skittish.

Estuary

Estuary Wetland


We left the pipeline & walked along an access road past a large area of natural tidal wetland – a bird sanctuary protected by Ducks Unlimited.

Estuary & Woods

Estuary & Woods


The varied habitat included patches of woods of Sitka spruce & Douglas-fir. Oregon ash & arbutus are also found here, at the northernmost part of their range.

American Coots

American Coots

The road led past an aeration pond of the city sewage lagoons- always a good setting for birds! American Coots were among other waterbirds & gulls in the pond.

Mill Pond & Spruce Grove

Mill Pond & Spruce Grove

Past the lagoon were former mill ponds constructed for the pulp mill across the river – now partly drained, the low water levels appealed to the birds.

Northern Shovelers

Northern Shovelers

The mill ponds were full of waterbirds including many Northern Shovelers . Both the coots & shovelers are not very common in the Comox Valley.

Violet-green Swallow

Violet-green Swallow

The first Violet-green Swallows of the spring season swooped low over the ponds.

Flock in Flight

Flock in Flight

A large flock of ducks came in for a landing.

Lesser Scaup Flock

Lesser Scaup Flock

The flock was mostly Lesser Scaup which settled on the calm water.

Mill Pond

Mill Pond

Beyond the mill pond the Somass River flows into the Alberni Inlet.

Looking Down the Alberni Inlet

Looking Down the Alberni Inlet

The path circled around the mill pond, following along the Somass River to the east, with a view to the south far down the Alberni Inlet.

Mill Pond View

Mill Pond View

The clouds began to lift as we completed the circle, with glimpses of the mountains around.

Singing Marsh Wren

Singing Marsh Wren

The day was warming & in the more natural wetlands of the bird sanctuary, Red-winged Blackbirds & Marsh Wrens sang continuously.

Red Crossbills

Red Crossbills

Back near the woods a flock of Red Crossbills visited the spruce trees.

Mount Arrowsmith View

Mount Arrowsmith View

A small side trail led to the salt water with a great view of Mt. Arrowsmith emerging from the clouds.

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The Spawn is On

The great spring spectacle of the area, the annual herring spawn, was in full force this week, with most of the spawning occuring at Point Holmes & Cape Lazo.

Fishing Boats, Birds & Paddleboarder

Boats, Birds & Paddleboarder


From Goose Spit I could see a stand-up paddleboarder manoevering among the rafts of scoters in the distance, with a backdrop of fishing boats.

Ducks & Gulls

Ducks & Gulls

The greatest congregation of birds was at Point Holmes where thousands of gulls, clusters of Bald Eagles , flocks of Harlequin Ducks & rafts of sea lions offshore dotted the turquoise blue water.

Gulls & Roe

Gulls & Roe

Flurries of gulls would descend where the herring roe was the most dense- indicated by the rich turquoise colour.

Boats & Birds

Boats & Birds

Several Great Blue Herons & Bald Eagles were trying to fish among the gull flocks.

Heron Among the Gulls

Heron Among the Gulls

The birds were constantly in flight competing for the best space on the shore.

Eagle Among the Gulls

Eagle Among the Gulls

Numerous Bald Eagles seemed to be dominant among the other birds, holding fast to their section of beach.

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Spring in Spite of Snow

Winter returned the past week but in spite of the snowfall spring is evident.

Mount Washington Sunrise

Dawn Glow on Mount Washington

When the dawn sky is free of cloud, the rising sun turns the snow-covered mountains to the west into a rich pink.

Icebergs on the River

Snow-bergs on the Shore

At the Courtenay River, snow-bergs have been left on the shore as the water flows past the melting snow. Bald Eagles are congregating in the trees, watching the river.

Bewick's Wren

Bewick’s Wren

In the riverside shrubs small birds are active. A pair of Bewick’s Wrens flitted among the alder branches, bare of leaves but with catkins emerging.

Common Merganser Female

Common Merganser Female

In the river, numerous female Common Mergansers were snorkelling , disturbing their crested head feathers.

Common Merganser Male

Common Merganser Male

Just a couple of male Common Mergansers were among the females. The light was at the right angle here to reveal the green of the head – it usually appears almost black.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye Pair

Common Goldeneye in the river were pairing up, though the females still outnumbered the males.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

Overhead, the wintering Trumpeter Swans headed for the estuary.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Strings of Canada Geese flew by honking on their way to the bay.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

In the quiet water of the lagoon, a male Hooded Merganser appeared to be floating on a mirror.

Green-winged Teal

Green-winged Teal

A male Green-winged Teal dabbled close enough to the lagoon shore grasses that I could see the exquisite detail in the feathers.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

On a river piling, a Great Blue Heron was the essence of patience.

Heron Stretch

Heron Scratch

Occasionally it twisted into interesting shapes as it preened & scratched.

Crocuses in the Snow

Crocuses in the Snow

On the way home, crocuses in gardens pushed out of the ground on the sunny edges of the snow.

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Close Up & Quirky

A couple of days ago the brilliant weather & blue skies beckoned so I headed out to find some of our familiar birds.

Closeup Eagle

Closeup Eagle

Bald Eagles are everywhere, congregating in the trees, sometimes up to a dozen at a time. This juvenile Bald Eagle was among four others in the same tree, first striking a regal pose.

Quirky Eagle

Quirky Eagle

As it groomed it contorted into some rather awkward poses! stretching its wings & twisting its head.

Closeup Song Sparrow

Closeup Song Sparrow

Lazo Marsh is a guaranteed spot for songbird close-ups, and the Song Sparrows were the most friendly.

Quirky Song Sparrow

Quirky Song Sparrow

I was surrounded with bird sounds, both singing and chirping.

Closeup Fox Sparrow

Closeup Fox Sparrow

The Fox Sparrows which usually feed on the ground were also close visitors.

Quirky Fox Sparrow

Quirky Fox Sparrow

The Fox Sparrow song added to the surround sound.

Closeup Chickadee

Closeup Chickadee

Chestnut-backed Chickadees are the most curious but also the fastest moving – this was my best photo as they paused for only a fraction of a second.

Quirky Chickadee

Quirky Chickadee

The numerous birds were all around, above & below – I even felt one bounce off my hat as it flew by.

Closeup Junco

Closeup Junco

The Dark-eyed Juncos were abundant but most were shy – just one of them faced straight at the camera.

Closeup Towhee

Closeup Towhee

The Spotted Towhees added some colour to the woods.

Closeup Nuthatch

Closeup Nuthatch

I heard Red-breasted Nuthatches & finally found one on a branch above.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

I had the wrong exposure setting but tried a few quick photos of this Downy Woodpecker anyway – and rather than lightening the photo, decided to leave it as a silhouette with the flaming red cap as the highlight.

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Chasing Rarities

Before our trip away, several rare birds were seen in the Comox Valley, and on our return there were several more sightings to chase.

Qualicum Beach Scoters & Gulls

Qualicum Beach Scoters & Gulls

About 45 minutes south of the Comox Valley, the Qualicum Beach area is a great site for waterbirds & the location of several of the recent birds that are rare to our region. A King Eider had been reported among the rafts of Black Scoters offshore. On our visit, Black & Surf Scoters were abundant though the King Eider could not be found. Large flocks of gulls were congregating, indicating the possible start of the herring spawn, one of the great spectacles of spring in our area.

Wildlife Sanctuary

Wildlife Area

Not far away from the shore, the Marshall-Stevenson Wildlife Sanctuary was the setting for the next rare bird.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

The Northern Mockingbird that had been reported several times in the area was easy to spot, as it preferred perching high in the trees. We had just seen several in Mexico, though their normal range can be almost this far north.

Herring Gull

Western Gull

Our next beach stop was an opportunity to observe a classic Western Gull, not very common in our area, with its dark wing-tips & almost orange bill.

French Creek Estuary

French Creek Estuary

Further south at the French Creek Estuary the next rare bird had been reported among the abundance of waterbirds. The rarity stood out immediately to the centre left of the photo.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

The large size, pure white wing tips & head, and pale eyes of the unusual Glaucous Gull distinguished it from the other gulls. This bird was in its second plumage cycle - often referred to as their second year, though that is not always the case.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

For comparison, a nearby Glaucous-winged Gull, the most common in our area, has darker wingtips & mantle, and a darker eye.

Estuary Birds

Estuary Birds

The numerous species in the estuary included Canada Geese, Common Mergansers, Mallard, American Wigeon, and a variety of gulls. The full list of species seen is here.

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Walking to Santa Rosa

Our next hike was quite ambitious, heading on foot to the town of Santa Rosa. We understood that it might take about 5 hrs., mostly along roads, but didn’t know the exact distance or terrain.

Walking to Santa Rosa

On the Road

The Panoramica road from Guanajuato heads up the valley toward the Presa de Mata passing a small roadside shrine & after that a remote church.

On the Dam

On the Dam

At the Presa, workers at the adjacent water purification plant suggested that we scramble up to the dam for great views, as the low water levels would allow crossing over the spillway. We could see the church that we had passed far down the valley, as well as former mining infrastructure.

Above the Dam

Above the Dam

We crossed the dam & scrambled up to meet the road again, for a view of La Presa de Mata. We had had a view of the reservoir from our previous hike up Cerra Serena.

View of la Presa

View of La Presa

The winding road around the reservoir climbed higher in the open landscape.

Phainopepla

Phainopepla

An assortment of ducks had been on the water. Higher up, a black crested bird flying past was a Phainopepla.

Approaching San

Approaching San Nicholas

Cool breezes helped along the climb. After several hours & a lunch break, we passed another small dam.

Black Phoebe

Black Phoebe

The water attracted flycatchers including several Black Phoebes.

San. Nicholas

Monte de San Nicholas

Several groups of cyclists passed us before we reached the small village of Monte de San Nicholas.

Shady Road

Shady Road

After a final steep, hot & dry climb out of the village, the road became flat & shaded with oak trees.

Manzanita

Manzanita

The hills were now covered with oak forest in contrast to the lower elevation slopes almost bare of trees. We recognized manzanita among the oaks.

Arbutus

Arbutus

Another small tree looked like a species of arbutus – several plants were reminiscent of the Comox Valley.

Roadside Crimson

Roadside Crimson

Bright splashes of colour along the road looked like scarlet gilia.

Roadside Gold

Roadside Gold

Large clumps of a type of sedum or jade plant had bright golden flowers.

Black-headed Grosbeak Female

Black-headed Grosbeak Female

Reaching the town of Santa Rosa, among several Black-headed Grosbeaks I photographed a beautiful female.

Majolica Santa Rosa

Mayolica Santa Rosa

We had hiked for six hours, travelling 16 km and gaining 575m of elevation. In the colourful town, we stopped for the beautiful Majolica pottery for which Santa Rosa is famous.

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