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.



Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spotted Sandpiper

Actitis macularia

Appearance:
Medium-small shorebird
Pale eyebrow and dark eyeline
White wedge up onto shoulder
Breeding plumage:
  • Orange bill with black tip
  • Brown head, back and upperwings with small black bars
  • White underparts with round, dark spots
Non-breeding plumage: (pictured below)
  • Dark bill with pale base
  • Pale brown head, back and upperwings with dark and buff bars
  • White underparts, without dark spots
Listen to its call.

I may be dating myself but for some reason this bird made me think of the classic line from the old children's reader Fun with Dick and Jane -- "See Spot. See Spot run".  It had a distinct and constant teetering motion when it walked. "Funny, funny Spot".


Learn more about the Spotted Sandpiper.

Additional pictures:
non-breeding
 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

California Quail

Callipepla californica

Appearance:
Plump, ground-dwelling bird
Short tail
Round wings
Small head
Curved, forward-tilting topknot

Male:
  • Black face with white border
  • Dark brown cap
  • Pale buff forehead
  • Blackish nape stippled with white spotting
  • Dark blue-gray chest
  • Brown back and upperwings
  • Buff belly with darker scaly markings and chestnut center
  • Brown flanks with white streaks
Female: (not photographed)
  • Grayish-brown head, chest, back and upperwings 
  • Chestnut flanks with white streaks
  • Pale belly with darker scaly markings

Listen to its call.
 

As we were driving down Charlton Road today on our way to Hastings Flats, two of these birds crossed in front of our car before ducking under a decorative hedge.


I love the head plumes on these birds - they looks so regal - but did you know that what actually looks like a single feather is really a group of six feathers? Just another little bit of trivia for you.



Learn more about the California Quail.

Monday, May 23, 2011

American Pipit

Anthus rubescens

Appearance:
  • Medium-sized songbird
  • Slender bill
  • White eye ring and eye brow
  • Gray-brown upperparts with fine black streaks on back 
  • Blackish wings with buff edges
  • Buff underparts with dark streaks on breast and flanks
  • White throat with dark streak on cheek
  • Black tail with white outer tail feathers
  • Black legs and feet

Listen to its call.


I initially thought these were small shorebirds when I saw them walking along the bank at Panama Flats. Their size and behaviour were similiar to the Western and Least Sandpipers I had seen in the same area the previous week. However, as I got closer, I noticed that they looked more sparrow-like but without the conical bill.  They also had a habit of bobbing their tails up and down as they pecked at the ground, while at the same time running along in a haphazard manner.  Sort of like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time!

Learn more about the American Pipit.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cliff Swallow

Petrocheidon pyrrhonota

Appearance:
Chestnut face and throat
Whitish forehead
Dark cap, back and tail
Buff-coloured rump and nape
White belly and chest
Short, square-tipped tail
Tiny bill

Listen to its call.

I saw this bird hanging out with a flock of barn swallows at Panama Flats yesterday. There don't seem to be any cliffs in the area but there's definitely a lot of mud around for these birds to use for building nests. Apparently, they gather mud from the flood plains and carry it back to their nests in their bills.

Learn more about the Cliff Swallow.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Long-billed Dowitcher

Limnodromus scolopaceus

 
Appearance:
  • Medium-sized shorebird
  • Long, straight bill
  • Long, greenish legs
  • Short neck
  • Dark crown and eyeline
  • Black bars on tail feathers wider than white
  • Breeding plumage:
  •      Mottled brown upperparts
  •      Rich chestnut underparts
  •      Barred sides
  • All gray in winter

Listen to its call.

 
What better way to spend a cloudy Saturday morning than probing in the mud with half a dozen friends? Okay, so that might not appeal to everyone but these birds seemed to be having a great time bobbing their heads up and down in the shallow waters of Panama Flats.

Learn more about the Long-billed Dowitcher.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Turkey Vulture

Cathartes aura


Appearance:
Very large bird
Small, unfeathered, red head
Hooked, ivory-colored bill
Brownish-black plumage
Long wings with gray flight feathers underneath
Long, rounded tail
Pink legs and feet

Listen to its call.

Leaving Island View beach this afternoon, I noticed two of these birds roosting in a dead tree by the side of the road. I was surprised at their rather comical appearance; the head is extremely small in relation to the body. After watching them for several minutes they took off over the fields. A little while later I caught sight of them soaring overhead without seeming to flap their wings at all.  They just seemed to float on the air currents. It was quite beautiful to watch. I have trouble relating these birds to the dirty, unscrupulous scavengers that their reputation affords them.




Learn more about the Turkey Vulture.

Additional photos:




Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blacked-headed Grosbeak

Pheucticus melanocephalus

Appearance:
Medium-sized, stocky songbird
Large, cone-shaped bill.

Male:
  • Deep orange breast, collar and underparts
  • Black head and upperparts
  • Black and white wings 
  • White undertail coverts
  • White spots in black tail
Female: (not photographed)
  • Black and white crown stripes
  • Buffy underparts with streaking at the sides
  • Dark gray upperparts
Listen to its call.

I heard this bird long before I saw it perched at the top of a tree near Blenkinsop Lake last evening. The weather was ideal for a stroll after dinner and the vocal performance given by this bird was enjoyed by many along the boardwalk.

Learn more about the Black-headed Grosbeak.

Additional pictures:
Juvenile

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sanderling

Calidris alba

Appearance:
Small sandpiper
Medium-length, straight, dark bill
Dark legs
White wingstripe bordered in black
Breeding plumage: (no photo)
Rufous head and neck
Rufous wash extending onto back
Non-breeding plumage:
Pale gray head and upperparts
White underparts
Faint, partial gray breast band

Listen to its call. 

I saw this bird running along the tide line at Esquimalt Lagoon beach with a couple of Dunlins last week. The three of them would run up the beach to avoid the waves, then turn and run back down as the waves receded. They were probably just looking for food but they reminded me of playful children enjoying a day at the shore.

Sanderling (left) / Dunlin (right)
Being a student of linguistics, the origin of words always interests me. So, what about Sanderling?  Although I really have no idea of its origin, I have a theory. Sandpiper has been truncated in the middle and the suffix -ling, which is a diminutive modifier, has been added to the noun. So, in essence, its name means that it's a small sandpiper. Isn't linguistics fun?!

Learn more about the Sanderling.

Additional photos:

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Caspian Tern

Hydroprogne caspia (formerly Sterna caspia)

Appearance:
  • Large, gull-like tern
  • Large, thick, red-orange bill with dark tip
  • White head with black cap
  • White neck and belly
  • Pale gray upper wings and back
  • White, shallowly forked tail
  • Pale underwings with dark primary feathers
  • Black legs

Listen to its call.

Before today, my knowledge of terns consisted of crossword puzzle definitions like 'sea eagle' or 'gull-like seabird'.  However, I now know there are ten genera of terns, which were once considered a subfamily of the gull family. This bird, the only one in its genus, is the world's largest tern. I saw a number of them at Esquimalt Lagoon earlier this week. They are almost the size of a large gull, which is probably why I've never noticed them before, but they have a distinct way of flying that sets them apart from the gulls. 

This one was flying over the water with its bill pointing down, when it suddenly plunged in to catch a fish.

Learn more about the Caspian Tern.

Additional pictures:


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Whimbrel

Numenius phaeopus

Appearance:

  • Large shorebird
  • Long, decurved bill
  • Long, dark legs
  • Grayish-white and brown head stripes
  • Brown upperparts with small light and dark spots 
  • Brown streaked neck and breast
  • White belly and undertail coverts 

 Listen to its call.

On a visit to Esquimalt Lagoon this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of interesting birds on the beach to the south. This group of six were using their long, curved bills to probe in the sand, probably in search of invertebrates for dinner.


Learn more about the Whimbrel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Western Sandpiper

Calidris mauri


Appearance:
  • Small sandpiper
  • Moderately long bill, thinner at tip than at base, with slight droop
  • Black legs
  • White underparts
  • Thin, white wing stripe
  • Black line on rump extends onto tail


Adult:
  • Indistinct white supercilium
  • Rufous scapulars, crown and cheek (breeding plumage)
  • Black back feathers and wing coverts with white edges
  • Much black streaking and spotting on breast
  • Black chevrons on flanks
Juvenile:
  • Indistinct gray crown and pale supercilium
  • Rufous scapulars
  • Black-based back feathers and wing coverts with white and gray edges
  • Faint, partial gray breast band
Listen to its call.

Western Sandpipers (back) / Least Sandpiper (front)
This bird is very similar in appearance to yesterday's bird of the day. However, when seen together, the Western Sandpiper is slightly larger than the Least Sandpiper. The longer bill and dark legs also set these birds apart.
 
Learn more about the Western Sandpiper.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Least Sandpiper

Calidris minutilla

Appearance:
Small sandpiper
Short, dark bill, drooping at tip
Yellowish legs
Brown head
White underparts

Adult:
  • Whitish supercilium with darker crown and eyeline
  • Gray-brown to black back feathers and wing coverts with brown edges
  • Thin, white wing stripe
  • Brown breast with black spotting
  • Gray-brown breast band usually present
  • Black line on rump extending onto tail
Juvenile:
  • Pale supercilium with rusty crown
  • Black back feathers and wing coverts with bright rusty edges
  • White "V" on back
  • Breast with golden cast and fine streaking
Listen to its call.

Dozen of these birds were foraging at the upper edge of the mudflats when I visited Panama Flats last week. These birds may be the smallest shorebirds in the world, but what they lack in size they certainly make up for in number.   

Learn more about the Least Sandpiper.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Brown-headed Cowbird

Molothrus ater
 
Appearance:
Small blackbird
Short, conical bill
Dark eyes
Male: (above)
   Iridescent black body, wings and tail
   Brown head and neck
Female:
   Greyish-brown plumage, lightest on the head and underparts
   Fine streaking on belly

Listen to its call.

If you believe all of the greeting cards, Mother's Day should be spend taking it easy, perhaps sleeping late and enjoying a relaxing breakfast in bed. So, why then was I already out at Michell's Farm Market by 7:30 this morning? Generally, the best time for bird watching is early in the morning when most birds are wide awake and active. Since early morning isn't the best time to find teenagers awake and active (at least not in my house), I decided to join the birds. I saw a group of these birds on Dooley Road foraging for seeds under a bird feeder.

Learn more about the Brown-headed Cowbird.

More photos:
 
female
male

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Stelgidopteryx serripennis

Appearance:
Small, stocky swallow
Dull brown head and upperparts
Pale brown throat and breast
White belly
Long, pointed wings
White undertail coverts
Small bill

Listen to its call.

At the end of Gladiola Avenue, there is a short path that takes you to the south end of Panama Flats. Three of these birds were perched in a tree along that path when I visited the area earlier this week. I originally thought they were young Tree Swallows but later discovered that it is too early in the year to be seeing juvenile swallows. Although there were a lot of swallows flying over the flooded land, I didn't see any more of this type.

Named for the tiny hooks found on the outer feathers of the wings, the Greek/Latin name of this bird literally means 'scraper wing saw feather'. It reminds me of something out of one of Dave Pilkey's books (for those of you who have children of the Captain Underpants' era).


Learn more about the Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Solitary Sandpiper

Tringa solitaria

Description:
  • Medium-sized, slender shorebird
  • Moderately long legs
  • Thin, straight bill
  • White eye-ring
  • Brown back with white spotting
  • Brown and white streaking on head, neck and sides
  • White belly
  • Black tail with barred edges

Listen to its call.

According to the Webster's New World College Dictionary, the word 'solitary' is from the Latin sōlitārius meaning alone or by itself.  Hmmm.... just as I thought! Why then did I see three of these birds together at Panama Flats yesterday afternoon?  Apparently they are not truly solitary. However, unlike other shore birds, they do not migrate in large flocks.

Learn more about the Solitary Sandpiper.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Barn Swallow

Hirundo rustica

Appearance:
Steel blue upper parts
Long, forked tail with white spots
Dark orange forehead and throat
Pale orange underparts
Tiny bill

Listen to its call.
Having had difficulty photographing swallows in the past, I was delighted to find a group of these birds sitting on the ground at Panana Flats this afternoon. 


Unfortunately, it wasn't until I had walked all around the area trying to get photos of them in the air that I noticed these ones.  Luckily, they don't flit around as much as some of the other types of swallows I've seen, so it wasn't a complete loss.
Learn more about the Barn Swallow.

Additional photos:
Juvenile

nestlings



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Osprey

Pandion haliaetus
male




Description:
Large bird of prey
White chest and belly
Dark back and wings
Dark tail with white bands
White head with black face stripe
Short, hooked beak
Dark streaking on throat (female)

Listen to its call.




If you happen to be driving past the University of Victoria in the near future, take a look at the lights over the playing fields off Sinclair Road. This bird has built a nest on the top of one of them. Pretty strange place to build a nest, if you ask me, right out in the open like that.  Apparently, this is quite common though; Osprey readily build their nests on man-made structures. Since their diet consists almost entirely of fish, I guess the lack of rabbits on campus this spring didn't discourage these birds from moving into the neighbourhood.

female
Learn more about the Osprey.

Additional photos: