Readers’ wildlife photographs

January 30, 2015 • 8:00 am

Reader Ed Kroc sent a passel of swell bird photos and some notes:

I haven’t sent along a batch of photos in awhile, so I thought it was high time to collect some of the better ones of the past couple months and pass them on. These are all from around the BC [British Columbia] Lower Mainland.

First up is a male Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus), peering expectantly through the brush. These guys are closely related to the Eastern Towhee (P. erythrophthalmus), but the ranges of the two species are almost disjoint, split down the Great Plains. I’ve read that the glaciation events in the Pleistocene were likely responsible for the divergence of the two groups. Spotted Towhees usually ignore people around here, but this one in Stanley Park seemed to be rather interested in my camera.

Spotted Towhee

A Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) hanging out on the lagoon in Stanley Park. This is one of a pair that has taken up winter residence on the lagoon. These small diving birds don’t fly much, and I’ve rarely seen them even leave the water.

Pied-billed Grebe
An honorary cat?


Next, a portrait of a Northwestern Crow (Corvus caurinus) from Blackie Spit in Surrey, BC. I’ve been reading more about speciation events in local birds, and it seems that there is debate about whether or not C. caurinus is really a separate species from the nearly ubiquitous American Crow (C. brachyrhynchos), or just a subspecies. Northwestern Crows are smaller and have a different language, but look identical and readily interbreed with American Crows where their ranges overlap in Washington. I’m not sure if any genetic work has been done to help resolve the controversy.

Northwestern Crow portrait
From Barnet Marine Park in Burnaby, BC, a happy Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) paddling furiously through the water with a Purple Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus) catch. These large sea stars are a common staple of the GW Gull’s diet. Their bodies are so impenetrable, though, that the gulls have to swallow them whole, a process that looks quite uncomfortable and can take between 10 and 30 minutes to complete. I’m still collecting some good pictures of this behaviour and will send them along when I amass a decent set.

GW Gull with Sea Star at sea
A very common sparrow of North America, but also one of the less noted species: the Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca). These guys are known for spending most of their time on the ground. As you can tell from the size of the claws in this picture, they specialize in digging through ground debris for seeds and small insects, literally scraping and kicking through the undergrowth. This guy was photographed at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver.

Fox Sparrow
From Stanley Park again, a female Green-winged Teal (Anas carolinensis), showing off her eponymous wing patch. Since I seem to have speciation on the brain right now, there is dispute over whether or not A. carolinensis should be considered a separate species from the Eurasian or Common Teal (A. crecca). The females of the two groups look identical, but the males have a few morphological differences. The groups also exhibit substantial behavioural and genetic differences (a cool paper by K. Johnson and M. Sorenson discusses this), so for my money they’re probably distinct species.

[In case you’re curious, the paper by Johnson and Sorenson is Phylogeny and biogeography of dabbling ducks (Genus: Anas): a comparison of molecular and morphological evidence, from The Auk, 116(3), 792-805, 1999.]

Green-winged Teal female
Finally, a sunset stop at Boundary Bay in Delta, BC. As the name suggests, this place is right near the Canada-US border. It’s also a great place to view local and migratory bird and marine life. The picture here is of a Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) looking at peace on the tranquil shallows of the bay.

Greater Yellowlegs at sunset


21 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photographs

  1. I enjoy particularly Ed’s photos because his perceptive and patient eye allows a simpatico interaction between his camera and the subject and its environment. And if that is not art, I don’t know what is.

  2. Wonderful photos! The towhee is beautiful. I cannot believe the gull swallows that starfish whole. No way!

          1. Mm mm popcorn. I have no appestat when it comes to popcorn – I want some now just for seeing your comment! And needless to say, I have on more than one occasion consumed a pisasterous amount of popcorn (including kettle corn at an art fair, which wasn’t even very good – the corn or the art).

  3. Thanks for the lovely bird photos.

    I thought the Grebe was a chick. I was surprised to read that it is an adult; to me it had qualities of a baby bird like a smallish beak, diminutive wings and wispy feathers. How many honorary cats are birds other than owls? Would the Grebe be #2? I’d put in my vote.

    The Gull photo is revealing. I didn’t think anything ate those living rocks- especially whole! There’s always a niche it seems.

    I love the crow portrait, and the composition of the Greater Yellowlegs photo.

  4. Wonderful pictures. The one of the gull carrying the sea star made me ‘gack!’ in empathy. I did not know they did that.

  5. Lovely Pied-billed Grebe photo. I can’t remember that I ever saw one take off, but I saw a couple land. If you can call it land when the substrate was water and the process was more of a crash.

    One came in toward a roadside ditch at a shallow angle, flying with the desperate energy of a bumblebee on meth. It hit the water at full speed. Because water is softer than walls, it survived.

    The other was coming in high over a refuge lake. The grebe and I apparently realized about the same time that if it continued it’s trajectory it would hit the dike. It side-slipped! And again! And a third — not, it lost lift and tumbled the rest of the way to the water. It surfaced amid the splash and gave a loud fear-dive.

    If it weren’t for these instances, I might believe Pied-bills migrate under water.

  6. Thanks for these, Ed! I can never get enough of beautiful pics of beautiful birds.

    Someone on my usual bird forum posted a shot of a gull standing on coastal rocks with a starfish in its mouth, or possibly vice versa–the echinoderm, whose central disk was being grasped by the bird’s bill, was firmly embracing the larid’s face & neck with all the strength its little tube feet could muster (which equals considerable strength, as anyone who’s tried to pull a P. ochraceus off a rock well knows). A number of respondents wanted to organize a bird rescue party ASAP. They found it hard to believe that the gull was actually eating the star, and would win the battle in the end.

    Pied-billed (& Least) grebes are some of the cutest birds ever, and your picture does them full justice. IME they’re also quite curious–one more factor in their favor for honorary cat status.

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