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.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Brandt's Cormorant

Phalacrocorax penicillatus 

Large cormorant
Long black body
Long, slender neck
Short black legs
Dark bill with blunt or hooked tip
Pale patch at base of bill
     Blue throat patch
     White plumes on sides of head, neck and back
     Turquoise eyes
Immature: (photographed)
     Brownish-black upperparts
     Tan on underparts
     Pale "V" at the border of breast and neck

Listen to its call.

There are three species of cormorant commonly seen along the coast in Victoria: Double-crested, Brandt's and Pelagic. I frequently have difficulty identifying the two larger species at a distance. At this year's Christmas Bird Count, one of the more experienced birders gave me a pointer which I'm happy to pass along. Although the Brandt's Cormorant is approximately the same length as the Double-crested Cormorant, the latter holds its neck slightly crooked whereas the Brandt's Cormorant's neck is almost always fully extended in flight. 

Learn more about the Brandt's Cormorant.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Tropical Kingbird

Tyrannus melancholicus 

Large flycatcher
Heavy gray bill
Gray head
Darker eye mask
Grayish-green back
Brown wings and  tail
Pale throat
Bright yellow underparts

Listen to its call.

This photogenic bird was hanging out in Ten Mile Point last weekend. Although a rarity to the area, records of Tropical Kingbird sightings occur annually in southwestern BC.

Learn more about the Tropical Kingbird.

Red-throated Loon

Gavia stellata

Small, slender loon
Thin bill, tilted upward slightly
Red eyes
White underparts
Breeding plumage: 
     Black bill
     Triangular red throat-patch    
     Dark grey-brown back, head and neck
     Narrow black and white stripes on the back of the neck
Non-breeding plumage: (photographed)
     Pale grey bill
     Pale grey-brown back, speckled with white
     White throat and face, extending above the eyes
     Dark grey head cap and neck
     Pale grey bill 
     Brownish-grey plumage, with no pattern on back
     Pale neck

Listen to its call.

The lone call of a loon is haunting: similar to a wolf howling but more delicate somehow. This sorrowful sound is not, however, a sign of unhappiness at being alone. It is actually used to contact or attract the attention of a mate. 

Learn more about the Red-throated Loon.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Red Phalarope

Phalaropus fulicarius

Smaller wader
Straight bill
Short legs
Lobed toes
     Distinct white stripe down the wing
     Dark stripe down the tail
     Contrasting color on sides of rump
     Breeding plumage:    
         Rufous neck and underparts
         Dark brown and black above
         White cheek patches
         Yellow bill
         Black cap (female) / Brown cap (male)
     Non-breeding plumage: (photographed)
         Light grey above, unstreaked
         White below
         White head
         Black ear patch behind the eye
         Black bill with lighter base
     Black backs edged in buff
     Buff underparts and head
     Dark patch through the eye  

Listen to its call
Although phalaropes are sandpipers, which are typically shorebirds, these birds spend most of the year out at sea. They are also one of the few birds where the female of the species is more colourful and larger than the male. This is because the females are polyandrous. They have to look good to attracted the attention of multiple males. In contrast, the males need to be duller to avoid detection of predators while providing most of the parental care.

Learn more about the Red Phalarope.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

Medium-sized blackbird
Long, pointed, conical, black bill 
   Black body
   Bright yellow head and breast
   Black face mask
   Distinct white wing patches
  Grayish-brown body
  Dull yellow head and breast
Immature male:
  Similar to female
  Dark smudging on yellow head
  Some white at bend of wing

Listen to its call

I took a short walk on the Galey Farms trail by Blenkinsop Lake today and spotted this bird in a field among a large flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Starlings.  Another was perched on a wire with hundreds of other birds of similar size and shape.  Luckily for me, they stood out in the crowd.

Learn more about the Yellow-headed Blackbird

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Western Gull

Larus occidentalis 

Large gull
Dark gray back
White head and underparts
Dark grey wings with black tips
Large, yellow bill with red spot near the end
Pink legs

Listen to its call.

When feeding young gulls at the WildArc where I volunteer, we are told to put the food in red dishes. Why, you ask?  I can only assume it is to mimic the small red spot near the end of the adult's bill that chicks peck in order to stimulate feeding.

Learn more about the Western Gull

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Swainson's Hawk

Buteo swainsoni
Large, slim hawk
Long, pointed wings
Dark flight feathers
Light-phase: (photographed)
    Dark brown upperparts
    Reddish-brown bib
    White belly and underwings
    Dark head with white surrounding bill, extending down to throat and up to eyes
Tail has about six narrow dark bands and one wider sub-terminal band
     Dark brown overall
     Reddish-brown belly and underwings    

Listen to its call.

This hawk was flying fairly low over a field at Rocky Point Bird Observatory yesterday.  Birders more experienced than I (me?) identified it as a light-phase, second year bird as its bib is incomplete with a patchy mix of brown and white feathers.

Learn more about the Swainson's Hawk.

Friday, September 30, 2016

White-throated Sparrow

Zonotrichia albicollis

Medium-sized sparrow
Rusty-brown striped upperparts
Two white wing-bars 
Grayish underparts
White throat 
Black and white striped crown
Black eye line
Yellow lores (spot between eye and bill)

Listen to its call.

The White-throated Sparrow comes in two forms: white-crowned and tan-crowned. On tan-striped birds, the white and black crown is replaced with tan and brown. In addition, the white throat is split in three sections by dark streaks descending from the bill.

Here's an interesting fact that I came across in my reading -- males of both morphs prefer females with white stripes and both morphs of females prefer tan-striped males.

Learn more about the White-throated Sparrow

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

Large, powerful owl
Bold, yellow eyes
Long, ear-like tufts
Prominent facial disk
Mottled brown plumage with white and black barring
White throat
Horizontal bars on belly

Listen to its call.

Although I often hear a pair of these outside my bedroom window at night, this is the first time I've seen one in the daylight.  He/she was napping in a tree by the Swan Lake parking lot this morning. Despite its size, the owl managed to blend in with his surroundings remarkably well.

Learn more about the Great Horned Owl.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Swainson's Thrush

Catharus ustulatus

Medium-sized thrush
Brown upperparts
Brown spots on buff throat and breast
White belly
Dark mustache stripe
Pale buff eye-ring

Listen to its call.

Although similar in appearance, the Swainson's Thrush and Hermit Thrush can be differentiated by their eye-ring, as well as their plumage. The Swainson’s Thrush has uniformly brown upperparts, whereas the rufous tail of the Hermit Thrush contrasts with its brown back.

Learn more about the Swainson's Thrush.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Townsend's Warbler

Setophaga townsendi

Small songbird
Olive upperparts
Grey wings with two white wing bars
Yellow breast with streaks on flanks
Yellow face with dark cheek patch and stripe across eye
Yellow crescent below eye
Thin, pointed bill
White outer tail feathers
Male: (photographed)
     Black cap, cheek patch, eye stripe and throat
Female & Immature:
     Olive cap, cheek patch and eye stripe
     Yellow throat
Listen to its call.

This handsome bird stopped into the Pedder Bay banding station on the weekend, along with a variety of other warblers. Migration is in full swing as these birds head south to winter in Mexico and Central America.

Learn more about the Townsend's Warbler

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Lincoln's Sparrow

Melospiza lincolnii

Small sparrow
Brown crown with gray central stripe
Gray face and eyebrow
Brown line extending behind eye
Pale eye-ring
Grayish-brown upperparts with darker streaking
Buff breast and flanks with fine streaking
White throat and belly

Although very similar in appearance, the buff upper breast with its fine streaking distinguish the Lincoln's Sparrow from the Song Sparrow. Other differences include its smaller size and the lack of a spot in the center of its breast.

Listen to its call.

Learn more about the Lincoln's Sparrow

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Willow Flycatcher

Empidonax traillii

Small flycatcher
Broad bill
Grey upper mandible / pale lower mandible
Minimal (or absent) eye-ring
Olive-brown upperparts
White throat
Whitish underparts
Dark wings with two white wing bars
Immature: (photographed)
     Yellower underparts
     Buff coloured wing bars

Listen to its call.

My first year birding, I took a picture of a Empidonax flycatcher that I wasn't able to identify. Although I felt discouraged by this at the time, I have now learned that their identification is among the most difficult for birders. It is so difficult, in fact, that the bander of this bird had to use a mathematical formula to confirm its identity. This involved comparison of the ratios of and differences between measurements of the bird’s body parts (bill length and width, wing length, tail length, etc). 

Learn more about the Willow Flycatcher

Monday, August 8, 2016

Red Crossbill

Loxia curvirostra 

Stocky finch
Thick, curved bill with crossed tip
Long, pointed blackish brown wings
Short, notched, blackish brown tail
     Brick red to reddish-yellow head and body
     No wingbars
Female: (photographed)
     Uniformly olive or grayish plumage
     Greenish or greenish-yellow chest and rump
     No wingbars
     Gray-brown back tinged with pale green
     Heavy dark streaks on whitish chest
     Yellowish rump with dark streaks
     Thin, buffy wingbars

Listen to its call.

This adult female Red Crossbill caused a few smiles last week as it was a first for the banding station. The age of the bird was determined by its wrinkled brood patch. This is a patch of featherless skin that is visible on the underside of birds during the nesting season.

Learn more about the Red Crossbill.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

MacGillivray's Warbler

Geothlypis tolmiei 

Stocky, sluggish warbler
Olive upperparts
Yellow underparts
White crescent above and below eye
Full gray hood, covering head, nape and throat
     Dark, charcoal gray hood
     Black area in front of eyes
     Paler gray hood
Immature: (photographed)
     Whitish-gray chin and throat

Listen to its call.

I haven't read anywhere that MacGillivray's Warblers have particularly short tails but this little one sure did. In fact, it was almost non-existent as can be seen in the picture below.  Anyone have any insight on this?

UPDATE:  Since my original post, I have discovered that this hatch year bird was probably going through its preformative molt. Typically during this molt, not all of the feathers are replaced.  However, I read that juveniles sometimes lose their entire tail prematurely and when it regrows it features adult rectrices.

Learn more about the MacGillivray's Warbler

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wilson's Warbler

Cardellina pusilla

Small songbird
Yellow underparts and face
Olive green back
Dark wings and tail
     Black cap

 Listen to its call

Day two of banding turned up a number of new birds for me, including this hatch year, male Wilson's Warbler.  What a handsome bird! It's not surprising they call a group of warblers a 'bouquet'.

Learn more about the Wilson's Warbler.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

House Wren

Troglodytes aedon 

Small, compact bird
Fairly long, curved bill
Longish tail
Gray-brown upperparts
Dull, grayish-white underparts, including sides of head
Dark barring on wings and tail
     Blackish mottling on breast

Listen to its call.

This is another hatch year bird that we banded last weekend.

Most wrens are small and brown with short wings and tails which they often hold upright. So, how do you tell them apart? Well, here are a few distinguishing features that help with wren identification.
  • House Wren -- curved bill, faint eyebrow, fairly long tail and dingy breast
  • Bewick's Wren -- straight bills, bold eyebrow and white breast
  • Pacific Wren -- almost no tail, bold eyebrow, smaller and darker than House Wren 

Learn more about the House Wren.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Empidonax difficilis

Small flycatcher 
Pale yellow to white, teardropped shaped eye-ring
Two white wingbars 
Greenish-brown back 
Yellowish underparts 
Yellow lower mandible
     Wingbars buffy in colour

Listen to its song.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of volunteering at RPBO's banding site for the first time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the experience with one exception.  The 5 am start time was for the birds!

Not only is the experience helping with my bird identification, I'm also learning a lot about aging the birds.  This little flycatcher was one of the many birds that stopped in for a visit. Its buffy wingbars identify it as a juvenile. 

Learn more about the Pacific-slope Flycatcher. 

Additional pictures:
very young juvenile; still covered in down

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pacific Golden-Plover

Pluvialis fulva
Medium-sized plover
Moderately long legs
Large head
Large, dark eyes
Golden and black speckled back
Breeding plumage:
    Black from face to belly, bordered with white
    Black speckling along the white border by the underparts and under tail
Non-breeding plumage:
    Buff wash with dark speckling on the breast
    Light barring on chest and flanks
    Yellowish head and breast

Listen to its call

When I initially spotted this shorebird, I thought it was a Black-bellied Plover as they are fairly common around Victoria. It wasn't until I was reviewing my photos later that I realized my mistake. There are a number of differences between the two species, one of which I found a bit ironic. There is more black on the belly of the Pacific Golden-Plover then on the Black-bellied variety.  

Learn more about the Pacific Golden-Plover.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Peregrine Falcon

Falco peregrinus

Large falcon
Long, pointed wings
Long, narrow tail, rounded at the end
Black, hooked bill with yellow base
Yellow feet
Black claws  
   Slate grey upperparts
   Barred underparts 
   Black crown and 'moustache' along cheeks
   White chin and throat
Juveniles: (photographed)
   Brown upperparts
   Heavily streaked underparts
   Brown crown and 'moustache' along cheeks

Listen to its call.  
I was photographing peeps on the beach last week when this bird suddenly swooped in looking for dinner, resulting in mass exodus. Fortunately, both for me and the tiny sandpipers, he went away hungry -- but not before I was able to get some nice photos.


Learn more about the Peregrine Falcon

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Say's Phoebe

Sayornis saya

Medium-sized flycatcher
Pale brownish-gray upperparts
Pale rufous belly and undertail
Long, black tail

Listen to its call.

This bird was spotted yesterday on Mount Tolmie in a Garry Oak meadow. I love the fact that the Rare Bird Alert on eBird indicates where interesting birds have been sighted. Whenever I see a report of one that's not on my blog yet, I rush right over hoping to snap a picture. Of course, I'm not always successful in my quest but it does make things a lot easier.

Learn more about the Say's Phoebe.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Western Bluebird

Sialia mexicana

Small thrush
Thin, straight bill
    Cobalt blue on upperparts and throat
    Reddish-brown breast, flanks and center of back
    Gray belly
    Gray-brown with blue tinge on head, wings and tail
    Pale chestnut colour on breast and flanks
    Solid gray throat and belly

Listen to its call.

Three of these birds (two males and a female) were perched on a fence in a field north of Blenkinsop Lake yesterday afternoon. They were quite a distance away, the fence being on the opposite side of the field from the the trail, but were still visible to the naked eye (when you knew what you were looking for). Flashes of the brilliant blue of the males could be seen as they flew back and forth between the fence posts and the ground foraging for food.

Learn more about the Western Bluebird.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Red-breasted Sapsucker

Sphyrapicus ruber

Medium-sized woodpecker
Red head and breast
Yellowish-white belly
Black upperparts with white barring
White stripe on sides
Two rows of whitish bars on back
   Brown head
   Extensive brown mottled on underparts

Listen to its call.

I went for a walk through Royal Roads Forest today and it was glorious. The weather was perfect, the company was delightful and I added another bird to my list of sightings. I have to credit my husband with catching sight of this woodpecker near the top of a rather tall snag.

Learn more about the Red-breasted Sapsucker

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Harris's Sparrow

Zonotrichia querula

Large sparrow
Pink bill
Black bib, forehead and crown
Brown back with dark streaks
Underparts white with some streaks along side
Two white wing bars
Breeding plumage:
    Grey cheeks
Non-breeding plumage:
     Brown cheeks
    Similar in appearance to non-breeding adults but lack the black face and head

Listen to its call.

The Harris's Sparrow is rarely found east or west of the middle of North America. So, I have to wonder what this foolhardy one was doing in a garden in Oak Bay. He appears to be overwintering in Victoria, having joined a flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows. Apparently, it is not uncommon for smaller birds to form mixed-species flocks in winter. The benefits? It both improves foraging and reduces the risk of becoming prey.  hmmm .... Maybe this little one isn't featherbrained after all.

Learn more about the Harris's Sparrow.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Marbled Murrelet

Brachyramphus marmoratus

Small, chunky auk
Short, pointed, black bill
Short tail
Winter plumage:
   Black upperparts
   White underparts, throat, chin and collar
   White stripe over wings
Breeding plumage:
    Dark mottled brown all over

Listen to its call.

I saw a pair of these murrelets yesterday off the breakwater at Ogden Point.  They only stopped by for a minute before diving underwater, presumably in search of food.

Learn more about the Marbled Murrelet.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Black-legged Kittiwake

Rissa tridactyla

Medium-sized gull
Black legs
White head and underparts
Slate-gray back and wings
Black wingtips
Small, yellow bill (adult)
    Gray patches on nape and crown
    Dark spot at the ear
    Black spot above rear half of eye
    Black collar and terminal band on tail
    Black "W" bar across wings
    Black bill

Listen to its call.

The Black-legged Kittiwake is usually far out at sea. However, a number of them have been seen around the Victoria shoreline lately, probably as a result of the storm we had a few weeks back.  I photographed this bird off the Ogden Point Breakwater this morning. Apparently, there had been two immature birds and an adult around a bit earlier, but I only saw the one.

Learn more about the Black-legged Kittiwake.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Northern Flicker - yellow-shafted

 Colaptes auratus auratus

Large woodpecker
Brown back with narrow black bars
Black chest patch
Black spots on belly
White rump
Yellow under wings and tail
Grey head
Brown face and throat
Red crescent on nape of neck
Black moustache (male)

Listen to its call.

Yellow-shafted Flickers reside in eastern North American while the Red-shafted ones reside in the west. So, you can imagine my surprise to see one with a yellow tail at my backyard feeder this morning.  In the picture below, you can just see the red crescent on the nape of her neck. Note the absence of a moustache.

Learn more about the Northern Flicker.