Tag Archive | Birds

Cheapskate Tuesday precluded due to owls!


Sorry, no Cheapskate Tuesday today, as I just got back from another Barn Owl trapping adventure. I need to get to sleep!


Perching on the truck to investigate before capture, this big girl left a souvenir for us.


Owl banded, “transmittered”, and ready for release.


An hour and half after release, we tracked her to a property about 1.5 km away.


Barn Owling with Sofi


Sofi and an adult male Barn Owl from several years ago.

Last night, my dad and I went out with my friend Sofi Hindmarch to do some work with Barn Owls (Tyto alba) out in Ladner. I have known Sofi since she was in her masters program, and have been helping her catch and track owls for some years now.

The first task for the evening was to band some chicks in nest boxes Sofi has been monitoring. We checked four nest boxes and saw several owls at the sites, but only one of them had any young inside. This old box in a barn had three chicks.


Sofi carefully removes the chicks from the box.



This owl thinks this is the worst thing ever.


This little guy was pretty calm, but the older chick was snapping and hissing.


My dad watches the proceedings.

After we checked all the boxes, we headed out to try to catch an adult owl. Sofi is continuing her studies on the potential for rodenticide poisoning of Barn Owls in areas where toxic baits are used. Because birds are susceptible to these poisons, and because the threatened owls are such voracious rodent predators, they may be at risk of poisoning. To assess the potential for this type of poisoning, Sofi needs to tag owls with radio tags and do many hours of telemetry to determine where the owls are foraging. In order to do this, we need to catch the owls and fit them with the radio transmitters.

The traps we use are called Bal-chatri traps, and are basically just a wire cage covered in monofilament nooses. Each of the traps has 1 or 2 mice inside, and they are secured by an elastic cord (to lessen shock) to a weight. 

At our first site, near Tsawwassen, a Great Horned owl arrived within seconds of our setup, which forced us to pack up and move to another location. These large owls are able to kill the smaller Barn Owl, so it is not advisable to have them near the trapping operation.

Our second site was free of larger species, and after 20 minutes our so a Barn Owl came in to investigate. The owl perched on the ladder secured to the truck for a while, and made several passes over one of the traps. The owl finally pounced on one trap, and from experience, we knew to let it hang out a while. Often they are not caught, but just feel around for a few moments to try to get mouse. If you rush out too early, the owl will get away.

Sure enough, the owl was not caught, and went over and perched on a sign to think things over. After a short time, it was flying again, and dropped decisively on the trap. We waited again, and the owl flew up and then turned immediately and was back on the trap. Sofi did not think it was caught, but the way it pivoted during its little hop told me it had been snagged, so I rushed out to grab it. It was caught, and the owl turned just as I was on it and tried to swipe my face with its talons. After I had it in hand, it calmed right down, and more so when we hooded it with a cotton bag.


This was an large older female owl, and had the molt to show it.

After measuring and weighing the bird, we put the transmitter on and examined it for fit.


Here is the transmitter in place on the back.


Sofi shows the specialized serrations on the second talon, which is thought to be an adaptation to remove ectoparasites.


Wow! My very own owl shot! Photo by Sofi Hindmarch.


A gorgeous bird.

The most important part of the evening is shown below, the successful release of the owl, unharmed. I may not be much of a all night partier, but if it is an owl party, count me in!


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Duck Update


I just got an update on the unfortunate duck we found Tuesday: The duck has been captured, and is being treated at Wildlife Rescue for wing droop. The wing was not broken, but was strained, and it should be releasable within a few days.

Still no word back from the Parks Board regarding the fishing issue, but I will keep vigilant for further problems arising from this activity.

Weekend Expedition 23: Swallows around Vancouver


This weekend Expedition was a bit of a walk in the park, specifically two parks: Stanley Park on Saturday and Maplewood Park on Sunday. Nothing much was going on, and to be honest I was a bit worn out from Barn Owl work on Friday night; Sofi and I banded three chicks in rural Richmond and checked some nest boxes.


I am cute, but I cause fatigue!

The original intention was to go out and get some last-minute Pollinator Week shots to wow you all with, but I got to Stanley Park late, and the best thing on offer were these lovely Barn Swallow chicks being fed by their parents. Over the course of the next three hours, I practiced shooting their incredibly high-speed prey deliveries, and saw the world of insects from the “FEED ME!!!” perspective of the chicks.  Most of the prey seemed to be pupal Chironomidae, which were presumably taken by the adults skimming on the wing.




Adult and chick together


The reverse-the-head maneuver. I often use this when eating nachos, just to show off.



The bright colour of the youngster’s gape is evident here. An easy target for the adult to aim for.



I imagine this  would be somewhat disconcerting the first few times.



Sears Portrait of the chicks.


Contented and sleepy. This phase lasts approximately two minutes.









Other species of swallow were also around, such as this juvenile Violet-green Swallow.



An adult Tree Swallow beside a juvenile Barn Swallow.


And an adult Violet-green Swallow.


At Maplewood Park, we saw some Purple Martins perched above the beach.


Female Purple Martin.


The killer pollinator shots will have to wait for later in the year!

Weekend Expedition 22: Strathcona Park, Vancouver


This Weekend Expedition was to the wilds of Stratchcona Park (no not that one). This is a large park in East Vancouver that features some huge cottonwoods, playing fields and a big community garden! Also, there is a bald eagle nest in one of the cottonwoods, so it is just the place for an insect/raptorophile such as myself.


These chicks will likely fledge in a week or so. I thought this was a cool shot showing them all stacked up in the morning light.

IMG_0320 IMG_0329


There are many ways to enjoy the park, like biting your best friend’s head at full gallop!


A Cranberry Girdler (Chrysoteuchia topiaria) rests on a grass stem. The gardens are a good source of pests!


A male Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum: Megachilidae), a European import, waits on Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) for a female.


A female Wool Carder gathers Lamb’s Ear fibers for her nest.


The Varied Carpet Beetle (Anthrenus verbasci) is a gorgeous flower feeder in the summertime.


Coming in!


Honeybee in a poppy.


A  pretty little ichneumonid  (Mesostenus thoracicus)grooms.


The under-log fauna. Isopods are actually quite attractive little beasts.


A large stinkbug on a dead daisy.


A Linnaeus’s Spangle-wing (Chrysoclista linneella), sits on a trunk. There were hundreds out today, flying around a grove of European Linden.


This crab spider enjoys the haul of Spangle-wings.

Video of Red-throated Caracara in Nicaragua!

Remember those photos of the Red-throated Caracaras in Nicaragua from last week? Here is the video of one of the birds, making alarm calls and holding a piece of a Polybia brood comb. This video comes from Pablo Elizondo, director of the Costa Rica Bird Observatories, who was with Mandred Bienert when they encountered the birds. I strongly suspect this bird is engaged in brood care, as the tail feathers are extremely worn, as if it is spending considerable time in a nest.

Weekend Expedition 17: The un-Expedition


This weekend I was busy with science outreach at the Science Rendezvous, where I gave a talk on caracara predation behaviour. I only got the chance for a short outing around the lab, and a quick visit to Hastings Park on Sunday before some heavy rain started. I did manage to return with some modest prizes, including some heron fishing footage.

A Stonefly in the headwaters of Stony Creek behind SFU.

A Mayfly in the headwaters of Stony Creek behind SFU.

This Mayfly lived much less than a day, before the water striders got it.

This Mayfly lived much less than a day, before the water striders got it.

Julie Wray waits to deliver fresh science at the Science Rendezvous.

Julie Wray of the Elle Lab  waits to deliver fresh science at the Science Rendezvous.

feast of the gerrids pink California Poppy

Believe it or not, this is a Neuropteran, family Coniopterygidae. They are often called Dustywings.

Believe it or not, this is a Neuropteran, family Coniopterygidae. They are often called Dustywings.

Found this under some plywood behind the Insectary Annex at SFU.

Found this under some plywood behind the Insectary Annex at SFU.

Totem Pole covered in algae, Hastings Park.

Totem Pole covered in algae, Hastings Park.


A Great Blue Heron fishes in Hastings Park

A Great Blue Heron fishes in Hastings Park

Below is the Heron Fishing video. Watch it in HD if you can, and see this impressive bird on goldfish patrol!

Weekend Expedition 16: A Grab Bag

Probably the coolest find of teh weekend, this Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) was the first I have seen on the Mainland.

Probably the coolest find of the weekend, this Rough-skinned Newt (Taricha granulosa) at Maplewood Park was the first I have seen on the Mainland.

This Weekend Expedition is actually another composite of three trips:

1) to Burnaby Lake with Mike, Catherine, Viorel and Tavi, stalking the elusive goslings

2) back to Hastings Park in the morning for some early insect shots

3) finally making it out to Maplewood Park in North Vancouver, accompanied by Adam Blake.

It was an exhausting weekend, with fine weather and good company, so I think I will let the images do most of the talking here!

Gallery 1: Burnaby Lake

Gallery 2: Hastings Park

Gallery 3: Maplewood Park

Weekend Expedition Plans: Goslings at Piper Spit

Piper Spit is the main, official entrance to Burnaby Lake Park. It is also a great waterfowl haven, with nest boxes for wood ducks and reed beds. I will go there tomorrow morning with Mike and Catherine to try my luck at shooting excessively cute Canada Goslings! I will of course have the full (heavy) kit with me so any cool insects or spiders are also fair game…

On Sunday I will go with Adam Blake to attempt to redeem last week’s debacle, and actually make it to Maplewood Park.

Results of the Stanley Park Photo Contest



Short version: I didn’t win!

Slightly longer version: Don’t bring insects to a bird contest!

Longest version: Check out all the great entries here, as well as the winning entries here.

I think I did a good job, representing the ONLY two insects out of 259 images (and there was only two other invertebrates: a slug and a crab).

All in all, it was a fun exercise, and a good way to get people out with their cameras. By the way, the nature category had by far the most entries, so it is heartening to see what people find truly inspiring at Stanley Park.