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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.