Birds, amirite? They are an awesome subject to get into because they’re gorgeous and funny and weird and diverse and there’s always so much to learn and uncover in your neighbourhood. Recognising songs, plumage, behaviour, territories, and how all of that changes according to age or time of day or season or, I don’t know, the phases of the moon?
I’ve mainly relied on the excellent Merlin ID app, though I’ve used Google and some better-informed human folks to fill in the gaps. And at some point in the last few weeks I started wondering if I should call myself a “birder” now. It’s weird that I should question that, but part of me thinks it means “expert” or at least “super obsessed about feathery critters” which probably says more about my perceptions than reality.
I mean, I know a few things? Some of those things I got from Google and some were guesses that turned out to be wrong, but I’ve at least got enough correct things in my head to confidently answer a few bird-related trivia questions at work, and briefly chat about weird heron behaviour the other day. Two guys came up to me as I was shooting a heron on Lost Lagoon to ask if it was actually a heron, because it was hanging its wings in a weird way, down by its legs to look almost like a cape, and from far away it didn’t look much like a heron. I said yep, that’s what it was, and no, I’d never seen any heron do that before, so I was as confused as them.
But they thanked me about filling them in, and that felt nice. Maybe it’s not about being a quote-unquote expert, but keeping your eyes and ears open, learning as much as you can, and sharing the things you know.
So here are some of the things I’ve seen and learned in the last month, split by species:
Yeah, we’ve got hummingbirds in these parts. Here’s what has to be a very immature Anna’s hummingbird. It’s got a bit of green on the back, but that’s it, and otherwise looks really unfinished.
I wonder if it’s the same guy as this male, who looks to just be getting his adult colours. I don’t know if two weeks is enough time for a hummingbird to mature that much, but apparently these guys leave the nest after three weeks, so who knows?
I don’t actually know anything about this species, and I think I only got the name from my app. My first encounter with them was around Burnaby Lake way back in March. Then, by Lost Lagoon a few weeks ago.
And then just a week ago: an adult near Burnaby Lake, and apparently a juvenile in Sapperton. So that’s interesting, and I should have trusted Merlin ID when it labeled that juvenile as a towhee. We live and learn.
Starlings are super common, sure, but super pretty in the right light. Also, females and males look very similar. What I shot on the seawall, hanging around with an adult, was a juvenile.
Rule of thumb: if I’ve never seen them before this summer, it’s probably a juvenile.
We’ve got a few downtown, and here’s one putting his thick beak to good use. They’ve got lovely voices, too. One morning I was taking a walk and stopped by a tree that had such gorgeous music coming out of it. After some careful listening I finally found the source. It doesn’t always pay off since a lot of singing birds rudely hide in foliage, but if you stop and listen for just a minute, you may be pleasantly surprised.
I’ve seen one of these critters before, three years ago. That looks like a female (or juvenile), since it didn’t have those stripes on the sides of its throat. But here’s a beautiful male digging into the soil by the seawall. And here’s… the same one for all I know, in the same spot.
And I learned that northern flickers come in two subspecies! This is a red-shafted northern flicker, which you’ll find mainly west of the Rockies. Red or dark underwing, red throat stripes and grey head with brown cap are the main markers. Hybrids exist, and will mix and match traits of both subspecies. Neat stuff!
Actually, I’m wondering if this individual is a bit of a hybrid, because he has a very faint darker crescent on the back of his head, which I understand is typical of yellow-shafted flickers.
Apparently they eat worms. Who knew?
The bebbies, so adorbs. I also realised mallard ducklings have similar light/dark patterns on their faces, but mallards are yellow-golden, while wood ducklings are plain brown and off-white.
A male teen giving me the eye. The head colours are mostly there, though the green still needs some work, and the body is still scruffy and brown. Here’s a still younger male just starting on his white neck & head patterns. It looks like they get their red eyes pretty early too.
Just to switch things up here’s an adult female calmly swimming along. I love the white domino mask effect around her eyes, the only concession to her brothers’ loud colours.
So tiny! So cute. I’ve seen them before around the seawall but they are just so damn hard to photograph since they hardly ever sit still. I was lucky to capture this one!
They’re who those bird boxes in Lost Lagoon are for. Sometimes they sit and pose, but most of the time they’re zipping around near the surface of the water picking out little bugs. I tried getting action shots, but they’re too fast and too far away and I don’t have the gear or the skill for them yet.
Here’s a song sparrow by Lost Lagoon. Here’s maybe another one on the other side, looking all derpy and lost even though it had a parent on the other side of the trail responding to its calls.
This scraggly little thing might be a white-crowned sparrow (judging by the darker stripes on its head) but I can’t be sure. I spent a while standing around and listening, and it paid off! Feeling thankful for my telephoto lens, plus the fact that my camera screen can swivel up and down so I could line up my shot.
Speaking of, last but not least:
These birbs are so incredibly photogenic, and I swear I’ll never get over how I didn’t know they were a thing before this very spring. Still, it’s never too late, right? Here’s one serenading me near Second Beach. And here’s another posing all pretty in that little bit of David Lam Park near the ferry dock.
That spot looks to be home to a bunch of them and their families. I’ve been seeing some juveniles there lately; at first I thought they were pregnant females because they looked really round, didn’t move around much, and tore down little plants so I assumed they were building nests. Plus I’d only caught quick glimpses of females before and figured I was due. But I hear they really are juveniles, which would make more sense because it’s late in the season and every other bird out there is making babies. I’m a bit frustrated at how much I don’t know even this one species of bird, but then I’ve only been at it for a couple months so maybe I could be easier on myself? That’s what an expert does too.
In conclusion: they’re perfect and I love them.