Days in Pictures Thoughts about Things

Year 5: The Year Of More Birbs

Discovery and joy

Let’s look back a bit. I’ve been doing this daily photography thing for exactly five years. And on each of those 1,826 days, I’ve taken and posted at least one photo to my Instagram (over 8,200), never missing a day. The best of those photos (a bit over 1,800) ended up on this here blog after I revamped it at the beginning of the year.

Some more numbers: About 2,500 of my IG photos were taken this year, of which 937 (i.e.: a little over half of my entire total) were posted on the blog! What that tells me is (1) I’ve been taking way more photos per day on average in 2021 than previous years, and either (2a) more of those 2021 photos were good enough that I wanted to showcase them on the blog or (2b) I’m becoming less critical of my own mad skillz. Whatever’s really going on, I approve!

This year I leaned hard into bird photography. Not 100% by choice, it just sort of happened because birding feels good. Discovering new species, rediscovering old familiar ones, or just checking out the local sparrows and hummingbirds over and over and over. I learn, I connect to the life around me and deepen my understanding of how it does its thing. It’s honestly the main thing that’s kept me sane throughout the pandemic, and (sigh) will continue to do so as we head into its third year.

January 13: Granville Bridge sunrise
Morning from the bridge

Is this a callback to last Leap Day, which I showcased in my 2020 recap? I don’t remember, but do know I love this view. Maybe I should use it more often? It’s a longer trek than for my classic Burrard Bridge shots, though, so it would need a bit more planning. But it could be worth it for more sunrise photos like this one. The best times are about a month before or after the winter solstice, you know: otherwise the sun rises too far north and will be blocked by the towers.

February 15: a perfect chickadee

Chickadees are fed pretty regularly in Stanley Park (even though you’re not supposed to do it), so they’re super friendly. Still, I was amazed at how close this birb landed to me, and how long it just sat there, graciously letting me take my best chickadee shot ever.

February 25: Robin and berries
Robin and berry

Turns out robins don’t just eat worms! That honestly hadn’t occurred to me before.

March 26: Spotted Towhee
spotted towhee

This unusually friendly towhee hung out right by my feet for a couple minutes! That’s never happened before or since, they’re usually very shy. It was Stanley Park, though, so maybe it was hoping to be fed?

March 29: Song Sparrow in dramatic light
song sparrow

Song Sparrows are pretty much the Platonic ideal of “little brown job”—beautiful songs (hence the name) and cute enough, but they don’t really stand out. That is, unless they’re surrounded by green spring shoots and the morning light hits them just right.

April 18: Yellow-rumped Warbler
Yellow-rumped warbler, myrtle

I only started seeing them that same month! Yellow-rumps show up in the Lower Mainland for just a few weeks during migration season, and they’re keen to avoid populated areas, so I haven’t been able to get many shots so far.

May 27: a very bold Northern Flicker
Northern flicker with muddy beak

Came home from a disappointingly birb-free walk, and found this handsome fella hanging around my building. He was back the following day digging for ants in the sidewalk, paying no mind to the humans walking past just a few feet away. I’ve never seen flickers act like that but hey, more photos for me!

June 5: Barn Swallow
Barn swallow

I’d only ever shot barn swallows a couple times the previous summer, and from way too far away… but here was this exquisite aerodynamic beauty right under my nose, posing as if to make up for lost time!

June 5: Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous hummingbird

Same day as the above swallow, and likewise not my first Rufous sighting ever. But it was my first good one, and lucky! Because this dapper female only sat long enough for me to get a single shot of her delicate peach-and-tea-green ensemble, before vanishing as quickly as she came.

August 16: a happy snail

I can’t actually tell if it was happy, but I sure was: after weeks and weeks of searing high temperatures (including that heat dome), then on-and-off smoky skies, the heat wave finally broke and a gentle cooling rain fell.

PS: the white stuff is probably poop, or possibly the remains of an epiphragm (a structure made out of mucus, that temporarily seals the shell to prevent dehydration in dry weather).

August 21: Cedar Waxwing
Cedar waxwing

Here’s another bird I haven’t seen much of. Once in 2020, then a handful of times last spring and summer. This is my latest and best photo, but let’s face it, it’d be hard to take a bad one. Cedar Waxwings always look so smooth and elegant! I can’t get enough of that swept-back mullet crest, that dramatic mask dealie, that soft yellow gradient on their stomachs, and the gorgeous waxy wingtips that give them their names.

October 2: Greater Yellowlegs
Greater Yellowlegs

This is another bird I’ve seen many times but could never photograph right. Finally my patience paid off!

October 15: Northern Cardinal in my parents’ backyard
Female northern cardinal

I hadn’t been back East since catching the birding bug early in the pandemic, so when I was able to go back for Thanksgiving, I really wanted to capture a cardinal, since we don’t get them out West and few birds are more distinctive than Northern Cardinals and their striking red plumage. This is a female—somewhat less striking, true, but no less lovely.

October 23: a fabulous Anna’s Hummingbird
Male Anna's hummingbird

Here’s an adult male hanging out at a Reifel Sanctuary feeder. You can see hints of his face’s gorgeous pink iridescence—which I’ve never been able to capture fully, but I haven’t given up. Also if you look closely, you’ll notice his leg is banded. Man, that must have been a delicate operation!

November 4: Sunset Beach in red, green and gold
Sunset Beach

This was the appeal of my Burrard Bridge experiment back in 2019: that this view, this perfect view, was always changing with the hours and the seasons. I still like to revisit it from time to time!

November 10: Hermit Thrush
Hermit thrush

This new little birb showed up out of the blue, in the bushes by the Aquatic Centre ferry dock, and then a couple more times over the next week, but this photo was the last I saw of it. Could have still been migrating, and moved on further south? Or just settled in a different neighbourhood? I’m thrilled and grateful it graced my camera for a little while, and I’m sure I’ll see it again.

November 22: an immature male Anna’s
Anna's hummingbird

Sure, I’ve already got a gorgeous adult male Anna’s on this recap, but this scruffy teenager gives us a super interesting look at how they grow up. My first good Anna’s photo was of a very young one, probably recently fledged. Here’s what a male looks like a bit further down the line, with the dark gorget mostly in place but not looking very iridescent yet.

He was singing his raspy song, too, which is how I became aware of him. I don’t know if it’s a territorial thing, a mating thing, or just practising for next spring.

November 26: a hungry Bushtit

I guess bushtits are always hungry, but this one seemed to be holding a bit of suet! That should keep it going for a while.

The bushtit photos I took that day were my best since way back in February, thanks to an unusually bold flock more focused on foraging right at eye level than avoiding humans. Thinking about it, February was a really productive month for me: I rediscovered a bunch of birbs I’d only seen a few times before, and even discovered a whole new one—see below.

December 2: surprise Pacific Wren on the seawall
Pacific wren

Only my second time shooting a Pacific Wren! The first was way back in February, by Lost Lagoon. The lesson here is: no bird is a one-off. If I’m patient and keep my eyes open, I’ll see it again in the most unexpected places.

December 4: Fox Sparrow on a stump
Fox sparrow

These guys still have a bit of mystique to me, because I don’t see them that often—you’ll find them in, e.g., Stanley Park and Burnaby Lake, well away from human habitations, not to mention they only show up in the fall and winter. They’re plain and inconspicuous, but odd little traits like that two-toned beak give them a lot of charm. Plus there’s their huge regional variations when it comes to colour, and hey I’m not even sure what they sound like. Still lots to learn!

December 30: White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted nuthatch

And on New Year’s Eve Eve, I stumbled upon this darling White-Breasted Nuthatch lifer! I’ve seen their red-breasted cousins a couple of times in Vancouver, and was likewise charmed by their habit of climbing things upside down. Apparently they join big mixed foraging flocks, and this minimises competition. Most other species climb up to forage, and nuthatches pick up food they miss. The more you know!

December 31: Cardinals and Juncos together
Cardinal and Dark-eyed Juncos

Right under the buzzer, here’s my best photo of a male Northern Cardinal. Everything seems peaceful now, but I had witnessed drama just 10 minutes earlier. A White-breasted Nuthatch (I think) was being all intimidating and got the cardinal to leave for a bit. I don’t know why the nuthatch had to get all territorial, but then it left, and harmony was restored. The cardinal returned (I don’t think he or his mate actually got far) and everybody had a good time with the eating of the seeds.

But it’s fun to speculate! Nuthatches might be less used to cardinals in their normal tree foraging lifestyle since cardinals’ big thick beaks are no good for digging into bark, while juncos and sparrows can kind of do it in a pinch. And… I dunno, maybe this one didn’t like the colour red? Or the cardinal made some kind of social faux pas? They do get super territorial, apparently.

I’m not 100% happy with this photo—the light isn’t super great, and one junco is out of focus—but I love what it shows, along with the other photos of that spot: a little slice of life, tiny moments in the day of these half dozen birbs around this one tree; conflict and cooperation; glimpses into a surprisingly complex world that’s all around me and I’m still only starting to know.

And I think there’s no better way to cap off 2021!

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