There are a number of reasons why I decided to take on this project. My first reason has to do with my interest in birds. This began shortly after moving to Victoria ten and a half years ago. With our house backing onto a wooded area, the chirping of birds is a familiar sound all year long. I often glance out the window to see birds of all forms in the yard throughout the day. Frequently I will pull out the Birds of Victoria or Birds of North America reference guides we have on hand. Unfortunately, the drawings in the first aren’t overly helpful for identification and the number of entries in the second is overwhelming. My second reason has to do with a photography course I took a number of years ago. Since that time I have been trying to think of a practical reason to buy a new camera. Taking pictures of birds requires a powerful zoom lens which my previous point-and-shoot camera could not accommodate. Perfect! My final reason was my desire to take on a new project to welcome in 2011. Hence, bird of the day was born.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Year in Review

From now on when someone says something is 'for the birds', I will no longer think of it as trivial or meaningless. Birds are fascinating; they are attractive, distinctive and frequently amusing.

After 365 days of birding and thousands of photographs, I have identified 145 different kinds of birds. It has been a tremendously enjoyable year, exploring new places in and around Victoria while in pursuit of new birds. In addition to learning bird identification, I have learned to appreciate their beauty. I've started to pay more attention to my surroundings and to take pleasure in nature. I've ventured out in the snow, rain, wind, freezing cold and sweltering heat. I've met many new people as a result of my new passion and joined the birding community on a number of outings. Last but not least, my blog has received 9400 views to date, a statistic with which I am both proud and amazed. 

This is one New Year's resolution that I not only kept but enjoyed doing so. Birding is worthwhile in so many ways. In addition to being educational and thought-provoking, it is a great way to relax and get exercise at the same time. I will definitely continue birding and hopefully I will have the occasional new bird to add to my blog in 2012.

P.S.  I would like to thank my husband for accompanying me on many of my outings and proofreading my blog regularly. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Northern Harrier

Circus cyaneus

Medium-sized hawk
Long, slender wings
Long, banded tail
White rump
Owl-like face
Male: (above)
    Gray above and on upper chest
    White below
    Black wingtips
Female: (below)
    Brown above
    Streaked below
    White facial disc

Listen to its call.

In addition to the owls, a number of these birds were present along the path around Boundary Bay last weekend. When I first spotted the male flying quite low and holding its wings in a V position, I immediately raised my camera to take a picture. However, despite my first impression, I let myself be swayed by my companion's claim that it was just a gull. Of course, we realized his mistake when it was abreast of us, by which time I could only get a quick, rather blurry, shot. I guess this is one time that I should have shot first and asked questions later. 

 Learn more about the Northern Harrier.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Short-eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Medium-sized owl
Large, round head
Prominent facial disc
Yellow eyes
Black around eyes
Streaked upperparts
Light below with streaked upper breast
Short ear tufts, seldom visible
Long wings with dark patch near wrist
Barred tail

Listen to its call.

A number of these owls were hanging around Boundary Bay on the weekend, on the opposite side of the path from the Snowy Owls. Unlike yesterday's bird, this one was quite active, frequently leaving its perch to swoop down on unsuspecting prey.
I always thought the expression 'to have eyes in the back of your head' was figurative but owls literally are able to see what is going on behind them. How cool is that?

 Learn more about the Short-eared Owl.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus

Large, bulky owl
Round head
Yellow eyes
Mostly white
Varying amounts of dark mottling
Adult male may be pure white

Listen to its call.

On a visit to Vancouver this weekend, we stopped at Boundary Bay in Delta to see the Snowy Owls that have been reported in the area. It seems that a lot of other people had the same idea. It was quite a busy place. Thankfully, almost everyone respected the owls' space and kept their distance. 

This bird was perched on a log not too far from the pathway, swiveling its head around in classic owl fashion.

Learn more about the Snowy Owl.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Northern Shrike

Lanius excubitor

Medium-sized songbird
Large bill with hook at tip
White cheeks, chin and supercilium
Black wings with white wingbar
Long, black tail with white outer tail feathers
Black legs
Adult: (not photographed)
   Gray upperparts
   Faint gray barring on underparts
   Black mask
   Brownish-gray upperparts
   Distinct barring on the breast
   Less distinctive mask

Listen to its call.

This hasn't been a good birding month for me. Between the rain and the wind, I haven't been inclined to venture out much. However, this morning I woke up bright and early, determined to find a new bird for the day. When I arrived at my chosen destination, Panama Flats, I was disappointed to see that it was too flooded to approach without rubber boots, which unfortunately I wasn't wearing. However, as luck would have it, I saw a number of birds along the short path leading from the road.

It was this rather plump fellow's call, which was quite different from anything I'd heard previously, that first drew my attention. However, it was its size and hooked bill that kept it. Eureka! In spite of the conditions, I'd found a new bird after all.

Learn more about the Northern Shrike.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blue-winged Teal

Anas discors
Small dabbling duck
Medium-sized, dark bill
Pale blue shoulder patch, visible in flight
Green speculum with white leading edge
Male (winter plumage):
    Blue-gray head with darker cap
    White crescent on face in front of eye
    Scaled buff and dark brown upperparts
    Buff breast and flanks with darker spotting
    White band at rear portion of flanks
    Black undertail coverts
Female / Male (summer plumage):
    Pale head
    Dark crown and eye line
    Pale eye ring and loral spot
    Mottled gray-brown body with darker back

Listen to its call.

I saw this duck at Summit Reservoir earlier this week surrounded by a large number of Wigeons, Mallards and Buffleheads. From what I've read, it is unusual to see one of these ducks at this time of year. Most of them are gone from the province by mid-October, having migrated to warmer climates.

Learn more about the Blue-winged Teal.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cinnamon Teal

Anas cyanoptera

Small dabbling duck
Long, dark bill
Light blue wing-patch with white border
   Red-brown head and body
   Dark rump, tail and undertail
   Iridescent green on back of wing
   Red eye
Female: (not photographed)                          Listen to its call.
   Gray-brown overall
   Brown wing
   White at base of bill

While looking through photographs I'd taken earlier in the year, I realized that I hadn't posted the pictures I took of this bird back in May. Not surprisingly, I don't remember much about that day. I do know that I was at Panama Flats and, therefore, this duck must have been swimming in the flood plains. I discovered that these ducks, which are commonly found in shallow water, use their wide bills to filter food from the mud. Yummy!

Learn more about the Cinnamon Teal.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ruddy Duck

Oxyura jamaicensis
Small duck
Long tail, often held up
Dark wings
Large, flat bill

  Dark head
  White cheeks
   Breeding:                                        Non-breeding: (photographed)
      Blue bill                                         Gray-brown body
      Rusty brown body                         Dark bill                                         

  Gray-brown body
  Dark top of head
  Grayish white face
  Dark cheek stripe
  Dark bill

Listen to its call.

According to the rare bird alert transcript, there have been a number of sightings of these ducks around Victoria recently. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any around here. However, I did manage to  photograph this one in Walla Walla, Washington, a few days ago. I think it may have been the dark bill that was throwing me off. I was looking for a bright blue one.

Learn more about the Ruddy Duck.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Barred Owl

Strix varia

Medium-sized owl
Round head with no ear tufts
Dark-bordered facial disc
Large, brown eyes
Yellow, hooked bill
Brown upperparts with white markings
White underparts with brown markings
Horizontal bars on chest
Vertical stripes on belly

Listen to its call.

Today was a monumental day; I finally got an owl for my blog. This bird was snoozing in the forested area next to the Swan Lake parking lot this morning. Although it did open its eyes briefly once or twice, the number of people in the area didn't seem to disturb its day-time sleep. I guess that is something that all noctural animals in the city must learn to adapt to. (According to Grammar Girl, it’s okay to end a sentence with a preposition).

Apparently, the Barred Owl's ability to adapt has resulting in it being the most common owl on Southern Vancouver Island.

Learn more about the Barred Owl.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Thayer's Gull

Larus thayeri

  • Middle to large gull
  • White head and underparts
  • Gray back
  • Black wing tips
  • Yellow bill with red spot on lower mandible
  • Bright pink legs
  • Brown eye with purple-red eye ring (photo below)
Listen to its call.  

Although the rocky shores of Clover Point are a hotspot for gulls all year round, on a less than perfect day (like today) the wind off the ocean tends to cut right through you. Thankfully, I ventured down there last Friday when it was sunny and warm: a perfect day for visting the area.  

I saw a number of these gulls interspersed with Heerman's Gulls, which were of relatively the same size. After studying the pictures and characteristics of all the adult gulls in Victoria, I concluded that this was a Thayer's Gull. And then I started to second guess myself. Its coloring seems to be correct and I think the bill is shorter than that of a Herring Gull. However, although the wing tips have larger white windows than the Herring Gull's, I'm not sure about the color of the underside of the wings.  Any thoughts?

Learn more about the Thayer's Gull.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pectoral Sandpiper

Calidris melanotos

  • Medium-sized shorebird
  • Medium-sized, slightly drooping, dark bill
  • Yellowish legs
  • Black patch on rump extending onto tail
  • Thin, white wing stripe  
  • Brown head with dark streaks
  • Pale supercilium
  • Black back feathers and wing coverts with brown edges
  • Brown breast with fine streaks ending abruptly and contrasting with white underparts
  • Similar to adult
  • Back feathers and wing coverts with pale brown, rust, or golden edges
  • White 'V's on back
  • Dark rusty crown

Listen to its call.
And now for a couple of definitions. The supercilium is the eyebrow region.  Wing coverts are the feathers that cover the base of quill feathers.

I saw these two shorebirds at McIntyre Reservoir, in the Martindale area, a few days ago. Although this is private property, the land owner kindly allows birders access to view the reservoir from the dike surrounding it. I wasn't able to get too close to these birds but you can still get a clear picture of the sharp border between the dark breast and the white belly. The legs in these photos look quite dark but I think it is just the lighting, or quite possibly mud.  It's curious how their bellies remain so white. 

Learn more about the Pectoral Sandpiper.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Regulus satrapa

Tiny songbird
Short, notched tail
Thin, black bill
Olive-grey above
Greyish-white below
Two white wing-bars
Dark flight feathers with golden edging
Broad, white eyebrow
Black-striped crown
Yellow crown center (female)
Orange crown center (male)
Black legs
Yellow feet

Listen to its call.

This "little king" was foraging in the evergreen trees across from the nursery in the Martindale area this afternoon. Although it was hard to follow its rapid movements in the dense growth, at least it remained low in the trees which made photographing it easier than has been my experience with past sightings of these birds.

This bird had the oddest feet; at least they struck me that way. The black legs ended abruptly in bright, yellowish-orange feet. It reminded me of a repair my husband made to the arm of his sunglasses a number of years ago. Maybe they've been using the same plastic-coated paint.

Learn more about the Golden-crowned Kinglet

Additional photos:
juvenile female

juvenile male

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bonaparte's Gull

Larus philadelphia

Small gull
Thin, short, black bill
Pinkish-orange legs
Light slate-gray back
Black wing-tips
Non-breeding adult:
     White head
     Dark ear-spot
Breeding adult: (not photographed)
     Black head
     Incomplete white eye-ring

Listen to its call.

It was rather blustery at Cattle Point this afternoon but that didn't stop these little gulls from enjoying themselves. A large number of them were flying just off the shore, floating gracefully in the wind.  They were  smaller and more delicate than any of the other gulls I've seen so far.  

Incidentally, this gull was not named after Napoleon but after his nephew, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, who was a leading ornithologist in the 1800s. I guess its diminutive stature is just a coincidence.

Learn more about the Bonaparte's Gull.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Cackling Goose

Branta hutchinsii

Small goose
Black head
Short, stubby bill
Long, black neck
White chinstrap
Light gray to brown breast 
Brownish back
White undertail
Black legs and feet

Listen to its call.

On a number of occasions recently, I've seen what I thought were small Canada Geese. It wasn't until today, when I saw a group of them next to the larger birds, that I realized the extent of the size discrepancy. These birds were about the size of a Mallard Duck. However, it was their call that convinced me that I was actually looking at a different species. Instead of the deep honking of the Canada Goose, this call was a high-pitched, squealing honk.

Canada Geese with Cackling Goose (front right)

In addition to their smaller size and distinctive cackle, these birds can be distinguished from the Canada Goose by their shorter bill length and shorter neck.

Learn more about the Cackling Goose.

Friday, October 7, 2011

American Bittern

Botaurus lentiginosus

  • Medium, heron-like wading bird
  • Stout body and neck
  • Relatively short legs
  • Dark brown upperparts
  • Underparts streaked brown and white
  • Black slashes on sides of neck
  • Yellow bill with dark upper ridge 

Listen to its call.

I'm very excited about today's bird. For those of you who have been following my blog from the beginning, you may remember my disappointment last January at not being able to locate this bird in the reed beds at Swan Lake.  On a number of occasions, I heard its distinctive call but it always managed to keep itself well hidden. Today, thankfully, it wasn't able to blend in quite as well with its surroundings, not that it didn't try.  As soon as it caught sight of me, it ducked its head into the reeds.

Learn more about the American Bittern.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ring-billed Gull

Larus delawarensis

Small gull
Yellow bill with black ring at tip
Pale eye
White head and underparts
Light gray back
White spots on black wingtips
Yellow legs

Listen to its call.

Size difference  between California Gull (on left) and Ring-billed Gull (on right)
 It was just by accident that I captured this bird on film.  In fact, I didn't even realized I had until today when I was looking through some photos I took on Sidney Spit in late August.  There were lots of shorebirds that day, as well as herons and what seemed like hundreds of gulls.  This one stood out because of its small size. It was only on closer inspection that I noticed the pale eye and black ring near the tip of its short, yellow bill.  It wonder how many other little gems I might have hidden in my computer files.

Learn more about the Ring-billed Gull.

Additional photos:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Black-throated Gray Warbler

Dendroica nigrescens  

Small songbird
Black-marked, gray upperparts
White face and underparts
Black streaks on flanks
Black mask and crown
Male has black throat
Dark wings with two white wingbars
Small yellow spot in front of eye
Black bill and legs

Listen to its call.

I have to admit, the bird to the left really had me stumped. I couldn't find anything like it in the bird books. So, as usual, I contacted a birding authority for advice. She identified it as a young Black-throated Gray Warbler; apparently only the adults have black throats. In spite her expertise, I'm still a bit hesitant about this identification because of its yellow-tinged underparts. So, please feel free to correct (or confirm) this classification.

Learn more about the Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Horned Grebe

Podiceps auritus

Small grebe
Red eyes
Small black bill, often with pale tip
Summer: (not photographed)
Black head
Buffy-gold tufts along sides of  face
Reddish neck and flanks
Dark back
White belly
Black cap, hindneck, and back
White cheeks, foreneck, flanks, and belly

Listen to its call.

To anyone who read the above description and thought, "but what the heck is a grebe?", you are not alone.  When I initially read this definition on a number of websites, I was perplexed. I didn't know what a grebe was in the first place so ...  Yet, it is surprising how often people will define a word using the same term.  Very annoying!  Anyway, for those of you, like me, who don't already know, a grebe is a diving waterbird with a long neck, lobed toes and almost no tail. It is a small, compact-bodied, almost completely aquatic bird that builds floating nests.  Who knew?

Learn more about the Horned Grebe.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sandhill Crane

Grus canadensis

Large wading bird with long neck
Long, black legs
Gray body
Red forehead
White cheeks
Dark bill
Yellow eyes
Tufted feathers over rump

Listen to its call.

While driving down Puckle Road today, my husband suddenly slammed on the brakes and yelled (very loudly) for me to "get out of the car". I must admit I was a little taken aback at first until I spotted these birds flying overhead. 

Later in the afternoon, I answered the telephone at home to hear an excited voice (my husband's, again) telling me that a large group of cranes were flying over our house. "I'm serious. Hurry".  What surprised me even more was that he was right. I counted twenty of them. 

So, to the farmers in the Martindale area who may have witnessed the earlier incident, I just want to assure you that my husband is really a very nice man. He's just becoming a birding enthusiast. 

mating dance (photo taken on Haida Gwaii)
Learn more about the Sandhill Crane.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sharp-shinned Hawk

Accipiter striatus

Small hawk
Relatively small head
Long, square-tipped tail
Pencil-thin yellow legs
    Blue-gray upperparts
    Barred, reddish-brown underparts
    Gray and black barred tail,
         with very narrow, white tip
    Dark red eyes
   Brown back and wings
   Brown-streaked underparts
   Thin, white eyestripe
   White underwing with dark brown barring
   Yellow eyes

Listen to its call.

I caught a glimpse of this bird as it flew over Tuesday Pond at Swan Lake last week. I quickly rushed over to the area where I thought it had landed. After walking back and forth along the path a number of times, I finally noticed it sitting silently in a tree watching me. Its ability to be inconspicuous must be useful for hunting but it felt a bit eerie when I was the one in its sights.

Learn more about the Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

American Kestrel

Falco sparverius

Very small falcon
Long tail
Long, narrow, pointed wings
White head with bluish-gray crown
Two distinct black facial stripes
Red-brown nap and back
Two black spots on each side of nape
   Red-brown patch on crown  
   Red-brown breast 
   Red-brown tail with black tip
   Blue-gray wings with black spots
   Pale belly with black spots
Female: (not photographed)
   Red-brown wings
   Back and wing barred with black
   Red-brown tail with multiple dark bands
   Pale buff breast streaked with brown

Listen to its call.

While driving down Welch Road this morning, I saw this bird perched in the top of a tree by the side of the road. Initially, I thought it was a Mourning Dove due to its size and shape. However, as soon as it took off, I realized my mistake.

It seemed to hover gracefully in the air, almost like a toy kite. Apparently, it manages to stay in place by flapping its wings and adjusting its long tail.  

Learn more about the American Kestrel.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Common Murre

Uria aalge

Medium-sized seabird
Charcoal black upperparts
White underparts
Long, straight, black bill
Dark head and neck
White lower face and nape
Dark line curving down behind eye

Listen to its call.

Leaving Sidney Spit last Saturday after my discovery of two new birds, I received an added bonus on the ferry trip home when we passed a flock of these birds.

These large auks are mainly found in open marine waters and gather in large flocks far offshore; they only stay on land to breed.  Hmm...It's a good thing I took a little trip on the water then.

Learn more about the Common Murre.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Semipalmated Sandpiper

Calidris pusilla

Small sandpiper
Black legs
Short, blunted-tipped black bill
Pale, scaled grayish-brown upperparts 
White underparts
Fine streaks on breast and sides

Listen to its call.

I saw this bird amidst the other small peeps on the mudflats at Sidney Spit on the weekend. It was very similar in size and shape to the Lesser and Western Sandpipers, with only its straight, blunt bill to differentiate it from the others..... or so I thought. 
Check out the feet.

Semipalmated refers to the half-webbed toes


 Learn more about the Semipalmated Sandpiper.