Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sunday at Reifel (and other weekend fun)

There was a bit of everything last weekend. Rain on Friday evening could have been dismal, but unwinding with Bill over another of his spectacular salads, followed by Push Festival's slow-moving but memorable production, City of Dreams, took the drab right out of the weather.

In case you don't have time to check out the review at the above link, I think this quote from it sums up one aspect of our experience quite well:

The work opens with six performers standing on the perimeter of a bare stage, flanked by assorted bricks, blocks, banker’s boxes, piles of sand, and other materials. Slowly, they pick up twigs and sticks and begin to lay out lines on the floor; equally slowly, these begin to resemble the lines of a map.

About five minutes in, most viewers will go, “Oh!”

It’s a map of Vancouver.

Ten minutes in, though, that reaction will shift to “Oh, no!” as it becomes clear that the performers are going to build, with painful deliberation, a scale model of our city, taking it through its transformation from scattered First Nations settlements to the steel-and-glass urban centre it is today. And that, to a soundtrack that includes Native chants, scattered historical reminiscences, and Diana Krall singing “The Look of Love”, is what they do.

This takes just over an hour. It feels like forever.

I confess that at one point, I fell asleep, and was relieved when Bill reassured me that he also had seized the opportunity for at least one small nap. On the other hand, I learned of several of Vancouver's important historical events. I had little knowledge of the fire of 1886, and hearing the voice of an elderly woman describing her parents' stories of their experience brought it home in a real, and strangely beautiful way. I came away from the production with a new sense of Vancouver's history, geography and people. And, the candle-lit model of the city was lovely. I regretted not taking my camera, and am happy to have found the photo on-line that is shown above. Vancouver's 125th birthday is being celebrated in a variety of ways over the coming months, and "City of Dreams" was a great way to start the ball rolling.

Saturday was also rainy - perfect for getting some much-needed schoolwork done. That evening, we saw the movie, Barney's Version. I loved it and felt this review by Colin Covert described my experience quite well. His last words, however, surprised me. Hm.. I'm not so sure about that, but, then again, perhaps that is why I couldn't write off the main character. Food for thought.
But the biggest shock of recognition comes from looking at Giamatti's deeply flawed Barney and spotting a bit of ourselves gazing back.
Sunday was a cool but spectacularly sunny day, and our trip to Reifel Bird Sanctuary brought some first ever sightings for me. I am still savouring the day.

This juvenile Bald Eagle was sitting in a tree along the Westham Island Road, a short distance away from the sanctuary. It peeked through the branches at my camera.

The Westham Island Bridge was surrounded in golden light.

This was my first robin sighting of the season.

Near the bridge, I heard birdsong that was new for me. It was a challenge to catch this little fellow, and the photos are not great, but I've identified it as a wren, a first ever, but the question is,

which type of wren? Bewick's perhaps? (id help always appreciated.)

Another juvenile Bald Eagle, this one sitting on a pole structure, looking magnificent in the sunlight.

I snapped quite a few mountain shots, but still struggle to identify peaks. This one almost looks like it could be The Lions.

Before we left, we checked out a Rare Bird Alert site, and read that there was a Northern Hawk Owl that had been staying near the 90 degree bend on Westham Island Road. We discovered that there are a lot of 90 degree bends on that road and had fun stopping at each one of them. We never did see that particular owl, and as you can see, the early morning air was quite cool.

Some Golden-Crowned Sparrows were busy finding their breakfast in a large manure pile on a farm property at the side of the road. The close-up shots of manure were not the most interesting, but this sparrow hopped onto a bit of greenery for a moment and I caught a quick shot before it returned to its obviously delicious feast.

I think this is a female Red-winged Blackbird. She was very busy as well, but stopped for a moment to soak up a little sun.

We finally arrived at the sanctuary. My only complaint about Reifel is that Black Jack cannot come in with us. I understand the reasons for this rule, but can't help but wish they would make an exception for her. She has no interest in birds, and is therefor very well behaved around them. She waited in the truck, curled up in her soft bed, while we explored.

This Dark-eyed Junco was my first photo.

A Song Sparrow (I think) announced our arrival.

This Bald Eagle couple sat at the top of a very tall tree near the entrance to the sanctuary.

Seeing this Northern Saw-whet owl was one of the biggest thrills of the day. They are very tiny owls, and generally hide in out-of-the-way spots at the back of evergreen branches or under bushes. I would never have seen this one if a kind gentleman hadn't pointed it out.

There were a few squirrels along the path, and I had to admit that Black Jack would probably have disgraced herself, had she been with us when we saw them.

They were very busy as well, supremely confident in their safety, it seemed, and not at all concerned about our presence.

Another Saw-whet owl! This one was in a dark spot under a bush, and again, was only seen due to the kindness of the same gentleman. He warned the few people around not to use flashes, and everyone was very respectful. I so appreciate that we were lucky enough to come across that gentleman, who led us to first-ever sightings of what I am convinced is one of the cutest owls on the planet. It appears here that the owl has opened one eye, but I think that may just be the nictitating eyelid. This Flickr shot is a wonderful close-up of an owl's eye, although using the flash may have been a tad inconsiderate.

There were a great many Bald Eagles around, and with the brilliant blue skies, it was fun to take pictures of them.

This pair seemed to be part of a dance. If you click on the photos to enlarge them, you will see that the eagles don't look very happy, but perhaps that is just the built-in expression that comes with the species. I like to think that I was seeing a mating dance.

I hope this eagle wasn't making a rude gesture at my camera.

The truth is that the birds at Reifel have seen so many cameras, I think they believe most humans have black boxes growing out of their faces. This eagle was not very interested in me. It was busy calling to other eagles, and checking out food sources. Whatever its intent, it gave me an up close and personal view of its tail feathers and powerful talons.

Imagine being able to sore through the air, hover at will, look up or down, survey the world from every angle. I envy birds' ability to fly.

Bill, bless his heart, decided to go back to check on Black Jack. We had planned to stay no more than an hour, as we don't really like leaving her in the truck for longer than that. We agreed that I would stay just a bit longer, and then start back as well. I walked on alone, and was happy to see some Trumpeter Swans.

They generally honk to announce their arrival, giving me a moment to raise and focus the camera.

There were lots of hawks too, but I am really, really poor at identifying them. They stayed quite a distance away, so photos were difficult. I think I heard someone say this could be a Cooper's Hawk, but don't quote me. Following is a sequence of its dive into the vegetation by the water, and almost immediate return to the sky. I don't think it successfully captured anything.

I continued on, and was fascinated by a drama in the sky that probably takes place thousands of times each day. This particular one was between a seagull and a Bald Eagle.

The eagle sees that the seagull has a tasty morsel in its mouth and gives chase.

The seagull seems to be gaining distance.

The eagle catches up.

The seagull puts on another burst of speed.

Again, the eagle approaches.

They appear to dance, and once more,

the seagull seems to be escaping.

Again, the eagle catches up, and this time,

the stress of it all must be too much for the seagull. It drops the food and the eagle attempts to catch it mid-air.

Here, the seagull leaves, and I think the eagle may have missed the morsel it worked so hard to get.

I'm not sure if it is diving here in a final attempt to catch that tasty bit, or whether its attention has been diverted to the thousands of seabirds below.

I am watching from a great distance with my 500 mm lens, but the steel-grey cloud of birds that suddenly rises takes my breath away.

In a split second, the cloud shifts to silver-white as the seabirds turn, en-masse. I am left with a renewed understanding of how hard birds of prey must work to find enough food for survival, and also with renewed awe for nature's beauty.

For a couple of years now, I have looked at spectacular photos of Sandhill Cranes taken by BC bloggers and photographers, and wondered how they ever managed to get such close-ups. Once, almost a year and a half ago, I managed to spot a couple at Reifel, but could barely be sure from that very long distance if they were indeed Sandhills. Can you imagine the thrill on Sunday to come across three wandering along the path right in front of me?

They, along with a few Mallards, were eating food spread on the ground for them by a lady and her husband.

The Mallards were unconcerned about the danger of those long, sharp, very pointy bills.

This one, against the subdued green background, was expressive, even with its back turned.

A quizzical expression here, against a background that became two-toned.

This one walked towards the camera, thinking only of

a handout.

Their bills became quite messy as they ate, and I was fascinated to see that opening in the centre. Their shimmery red patch, and yellow, red-rimmed eyes were also fascinating.

I looked around me, remembering that I had promised to return to the truck in a few minutes. Time had been stopped, but suddenly, I was sad to think that Bill had missed these moments.

I looked down the path, and there he was! Yes!

The gift of seeing the cranes became all the more precious, when shared with Bill. He tried feeding them some dried white fish dog-treats that I had in my pocket, but they weren't really impressed.

A man from the Okanagan came by, and said, "What kind of mood are they in today?" I answered that I thought they were in quite a good mood, and he explained that at times, especially if they have young with them, they can be quite aggressive. He added that he often sees huge flocks of them near his home, and that they are extraordinarily beautiful in flight.

We continued along the path, taking the circular route back to the truck, and encounter three more Sandhill Cranes. These ones seemed a bit less tame. Another family, perhaps?

We also saw a couple of Northern Pintails - another first-ever for me.

The colours in their heads are subtle and constantly shifting in the light.

This heron was nearby, and just for a moment or two, I wondered if I was seeing the Black-Crowned Night Heron that I have heard resides at Reifel. No, it was a Great Blue, looking a bit grouchy to be disturbed.

Another heron flew by and I caught a quick, lucky shot.

Another quick shot, this time of a hawk. Maybe a Red-tailed hawk?

Just one bottoms-up shot, caught in the sunlight.

There were a few American Coots around, and Bill commented on their unique feet.

One full-view shot of the American Coot, showing its green legs and red eyes.

Just as we were about to leave the sanctuary, another first - a Black-Crowned Night Heron! This one opened an eye, but mostly,

they sleep during the day.

Mallards are so abundant, I rarely take pictures of them any more, but they have the most beautiful assortment of colours in their feathers. This one was magnificent in the sunlight.

We headed to Sharkey's Seafood Bar and Grill for a very good lunch (Bill said the salmon-burger was excellent) and saw this hawk in a field along the way.

I took only one seagull shot all day! This one was sitting on a sailboat by the wharf across from the restaurant.

We saw a road on the other side of the water, and decided to check it out before going home. Black Jack was happy to have a little run in a park, but we watched her carefully. This nest was in a tree at the edge of the park. Bill commented that it will never fall down.

One last Blue Heron shot concluded our day.

I can't end this post without a heartfelt thank you to Bill for arranging yet another beautiful weekend, and to you, for taking time to read about our adventures.


  1. Ah … wouldn’t you know that the sitting seagull sighting of the day would be near a restaurant.:) I, too, loved the adorable camouflaging owl that almost seemed to wink. I hope it is all right. The birds in motion are fantastic to see. The trumpeter swans with their stretched out long necks are incredibly beautiful mid-flight. The seagull with a morsel in its beak might have been better off quickly swallowing it. And the eagle might have learned that trying to take what isn’t his doesn't pay off. The Sanctuary looks wonderful and I so appreciate being able to visit it from the comforts of my chair … thanks as always to your wonderful photos, Carol!

  2. So many beautiful pictures from just one day!

    There is something about the Northern Pintails that stands out. Except for the head, their coloring is somewhat subtle. Close up the body feathers seem more like a pattern in beach sand.

    Saw-whet owls look so darn cute you want to stroke their little heads. Wikipedia says their name is derived from the tooting whistle sound they make that is like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

  3. Thanks for the virtual trip to Reifel bird sanctuary, Carol - it has been a long time since I was last there, and it was great to see the birds through the lens of your camera.

  4. just wonderful, Carol!
    see you soon

  5. I've gotten to the point that I can't "sneak a peak" at your blog at work, 'cause I never have enough time to do it justice! This post is no exception: Gorgeous!! Love the swans, the eagles, the ducks, the flying dog!
    btw,I have an award for you over on my blog. You may take it or leave it as you please. Just wanted to send some new readers your way, and thank you for a great site.

  6. Thanks for sharing your pictures from Reifel! It sure was a great Sunday to be out there! Out daughters had a great time, and they enjoyed meeting your little furry friend, too!