Friday, January 28, 2011

Some Spring indicators

I noticed just a few days ago that there is still enough light at five in the afternoon to take pictures, and that for me, heralds the beginning of Spring. There will still be some dark rides to and from school, but at least on Thursdays (my early day), Black Jack and I can have our walk without her light-up collar.

On the way home yesterday, the light mist and pastel sky gave the Lions Gate crossing a tranquil feel.

A short time later, Black Jack and I walked along the False Creek seawall. The mist had lifted, and birds sang loudly from their hiding spot behind these bushes.

There was soft yellow drifting behind the trees and through the girders of the Granville Bridge.

We met Joe, one of Black Jack's favourite neighbours, on the way back home. Joe recently lost his beloved Katie, a Dalmatian, but in spite of his heartbreak, has found room in his heart to help out many of the residents of my building with dog walking. Joe is adored by every dog in the neighbourhood.

I turned, just before we arrived home, to take this picture. Again, pastels seemed tranquil, and I didn't pick up on the fact that they were a prelude to..

this sight, taken from my balcony, only a few minutes later.

Another of those dramatic sky changes that catch me by surprise every time.

Last Sunday, Black Jack and I walked along the seawall. I watched a couple of lone ducks, and saw a few that seemed to have already chosen mates. It was a fairly dull day, and I hadn't planned to take my camera out of its bag, until I saw this small rock, with barnacles and blue shell bits, artfully arranged by Mother Nature.

More samples of her artwork.

We walked across Beach Avenue, heading towards Lost Lagoon, when this sleeping heron on the top of a street lamp caught my eye.

Suddenly the heron looked up, offended by a seagull that flew a little bit too close.

It gave a warning, and then settled back to sleep.

There were lots of ducks on the lagoon, but this Common Merganser seemed especially beautiful.

He appeared to be searching for a mate. I have learned that throwing the head back like this is one strategy used to impress the girls.

It seems illogical to me that any bird this beautiful could be referred to as..


A Fox Sparrow (I think) was busy foraging for food.

A Blue Heron paced back and forth, showing off his splendour.

Seagulls arranged themselves in constantly shifting patterns on this tree.

The one on the left seemed to fly backwards, forced to give up its place to a new arrival

A Lesser Scaup, perhaps?

My first cherry blossom sighting of the season!

I am always amazed at the thoroughness and vigour of bath time.

The seagull on the left seems about to turn over on his back.

The camera worked in mysterious ways here. I have no idea why the background was so dark, but love the way it highlighted the seagull.

These Primulas seemed to be thriving.

I cannot name these lovely yellow ones, but their message is clear.
Spring is definitely around the corner. And, it's Friday! Have a wonderful weekend everyone.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Iona Island on Saturday

We left early on Saturday morning for Iona Island, and while we didn't catch the earliest moments of the sunrise, there was golden light over the water as we arrived.

I have read that it takes about four years for Bald Eagles to show a completely white head, so perhaps this one might have been about two or three? It appeared quite golden in the morning light, and the thought occurred to me that it could possibly be a Golden Eagle. I found some information at this sight to help distinguish between juvenile Bald Eagles and adult Golden Eagles. It seems that the two easiest ways of telling the difference are the white tail feathers of the Golden Eagle and the feathers that cover its entire leg all the way to the talon. Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get a clear shot of the talons, and it didn't turn around so that I could check out the tail feathers. Since Golden Eagles are much less common, my guess would still be that I was seeing a juvenile Bald Eagle.

I've read about Shrikes and seen amazing pictures by Ship Rock and Michelle, both outstanding bird photographers. Each time I've seen one of their photos, I've renewed my efforts to at least catch a glimpse of one, but Saturday marked my first ever sighting after almost two years of searching. There are two species, Northern and Loggerhead, and from what I have read, both could be found at Iona. I think this one is the Northern (or Great Grey) variety. They are, it seems to me, quite cruel in the way they capture their prey. This site gives a very good description, and shows a picture of an impaled insect. I was thrilled to finally have a sighting, and now will strive for the next goal to achieve a better quality photograph.

The forecast called for grey skies and rain beginning around noon, but it was great to see that the weatherman had been mistaken. The beautiful light seemed so perfect, but presented some unexpected photography challenges. I loved the action in the next two Redwing Blackbird shots, but couldn't seem to get clear images.

I love to watch the way they swing on the bullrushes. I'm still not sure if they are using the material for nesting, food source, or both.

I took lots of shots of planes flying in and out of the nearby airport, but after a while, most of them seemed to look pretty much alike (at least, to me). However, this Blackcomb helicopter was interesting. It had an external container on the side, and Bill and I were curious about its function. Is it just to carry skis and other equipment, or could it also be used to transport an injured person?

A Canada Goose soaked up the sun, as it watched the activity on the Fraser River.

Tugboats, colourful logs, forested background,

and unidentified plants blended with ideal weather to form a perfect adventure day.

Bill was the first to spot this owl. It was hunting low over some bushes, but then soared high in the sky. I was able to catch some distant shots, now cropped to give a slightly closer look. I think it may be a Short-eared Owl. You can click to enlarge these pictures.

Eventually, we realized that we were seeing two owls and a crow that, for some reason, were in conflict. Here, the crow is being chased by the owl.

Here, they have regrouped and are preparing for head-to-head combat.

I think, but am not absolutely certain, that the crow survived. With the huge lens in front of my face, I capture parts of the action, but sometimes lose the full story.

With the owls out of sight, our attention turned to these two people attaching a Seaspan container to a tugboat. To me, the life of tugboat pilots seems exciting. I found this site with lots of videos and slideshows about tugboats on the Fraser River. One of them shows a tugboat sinking in June 2010, and the two workers being helped by ambulance workers. I rarely hear of tugboat accidents, but imagine the pilots must need a lot of training to do their work safely.

The tugboat turns and heads down the river, the container following obediently.

We have been to Iona a few times, but Saturday was the first time walking to the end of what I think is called the West Jetty. We met a photographer who said the distance was approximately three and a half kilometres. I can tell you that we were fairly tired by the time we had made the return trip. It wasn't a difficult walk, but much of it was along sandy beaches and uneven terrain. The middle section had a disturbing amount of garbage. I hated to think of birds landing on these logs with long nails sticking out of them.

Why would these tires be dumped here? Can they not be recycled?

Some of the garbage was very colourful, and in this case, we thought the birds might be using strands of the rope to build their nests.

Parts of the walk were through grassy pathways surrounded by low bushes. Black Jack knew the hawks and owls were onto something good here. She was fascinated by the scent of rodents. We were quite watchful for her safety. I think she would be a heavy load for most birds of prey, but it is still not outside the realm of possibility that they might attempt to pick her up. Here, Bill has spotted a hawk.

Another distant shot, and although I've spent some time trying to identify this one, I finally have to concede defeat. I haven't found any in-flight photos that show that distinctive white band at the top of the tail feathers.

Beautiful driftwood was all around us.

Several times, we stopped and let Black Jack off leash, to run between us.

Even on leash, she was seriously happy. Bill had his work cut out for him,

but kept smiling.

This was our turn-around point.

Black Jack obeys Bill's suggestion to look at the camera.

A fellow walking his dogs told us about this peace sign. It has apparently been there for decades, but part of it disappeared recently because of soil erosion after some very high water and storm situations. I captured only part of it with my big lens.

There were many beautiful splashes of colour, some natural,

and others man made.

I missed an incredible shot when a Snow Goose flew straight toward me, almost at eye level. However, we were lucky enough to spot a few of these lovely birds a short time later.

Almost a mirror image.

Chest out, I could almost imagine this one thumping on its chest with an "I'm the king of the castle" sort of attitude.

I laughed when I checked the photo later and noticed its tiptoe stance in an almost lift-off.

Bill declared this to be an ancient Egyptian artifact.

We did most of the return walk along the beach. I loved the ripples and patterns.

We played some more recall games with Black Jack on the beach.

Going through the pictures later, many of them brought full-out laughter from both of us.

She had air!

The one-toe touch down.

I love this shot because she looks strong in a muscular sort of way, although her tongue sort of destroys that seriously sporty image. We were rewarding her for coming to us with treats at either end. We tried to make sure the treat was chewed and swallowed, but she was so eager to take off, I think she was often trying to eat and run.

This was my scariest moment of the day. Heading towards me, she suddenly spotted something in the water. She flew right by me, ignoring my desperate calls. I searched the sky and was relieved that no birds of prey appeared to be nearby. Nevertheless, my heart was pounding.

It seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes until she realized whatever she had spotted was not as attractive as the treats in my hand. Greatly relieved, I rewarder her with the treat, but also attached her leash.

We had a fairly lengthy conversation with these people. They are recently retired, and have become serious about geocaching. The gentleman had achieved his goal of finding 1000 geocaches in less than a year.

We wondered about this piece of wood on the beach. Is there a creature that bores holes like this?
We did one more recall session with Black Jack and the look on her face here says, "See? You can trust me.. until the next time I see something more interesting than the treat in your hand."

One last driftwood shot before we found ourselves back at the truck.

Bill was getting Black Jack settled in the truck, when I spied six eagles circling very high in the sky, and managed to catch a photo of one that came a bit closer. I enjoyed the sight, and said a silent "thank you" to them for turning up after Black Jack's little adventure.

Saturday, with its lack of wind, beautiful light, balmy temperatures, and interesting sights, was our best trip ever to Iona. A huge thank you to Bill for taking me and to you for sharing in our adventure. One post to go, to catch up with Sunday's walk at English Beach and Lost Lagoon.