Readers’ wildlife photos

May 24, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos come from reader Kevin Krebs from Vancouver. His notes and IDs are indented, and you can click the photos to enlarge them.

Here’s a batch of mostly bird photos I’ve taken in the last few months capturing the beginning of spring here in Vancouver.

Spring on the Pacific Northwest coast

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

The Common Loon breeds in remote lakes of northern North America. Unmistakable with its sleek black and white plumage, dagger-like bill, and fiery crimson eyes, the Common Loon is perhaps better known for its mournful, haunting call. These long-lived birds serve as indicators of the health of aquatic environments, with the record for the oldest female being at least 35 years old. In Vancouver, we typically only catch glimpses of them in non-breeding plumage, so spotting one in full breeding plumage was a wonderful find:

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Spring marks the beginning of the breeding season for Anna’s Hummingbirds. These tiny but fierce birds can be found perched high in trees, loudly declaring their territories. Despite their delicate appearance, hummingbirds are surprisingly aggressive and will defend their feeding and nesting sites from other birds, even ones much larger than themselves like hawks and falcons. Since the 1930s, their non-breeding range has expanded significantly from California to Arizona and even southern British Columbia. This expansion can be attributed to their adaptability in urban and suburban environments and the increased popularity of hummingbird feeders:

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

When you catch sight of iridescent blue Tree Swallows darting and swooping over fields and ponds, you know spring has arrived. Their common name derives from their dependence on tree cavities for nesting. Unable to excavate cavities themselves, they rely on abandoned woodpecker nests. Research has shown they readily accept artificial nest boxes, and many organizations are committed to installing them in suitable habitats. Tree Swallows feed on insects they catch on the wing and play a significant role in controlling insect populations. Regrettably, like most aerial insectivores, their numbers are declining due to the global decrease in insect populations:

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Sparrows are not particularly popular birds often dismissed as “LBJs” (little brown jobs).  However, the New World Sparrow family (Passerellidae) is incredibly diverse and boasts 132 species across the Americas. Despite being a common songbird, Savannah Sparrows remain relatively unnoticed due to their secretive nature and preference for hiding in fields, marshes, and coastal grasslands. You can recognize them by their distinct call, which sounds a little like an insect’s buzz.  I was lucky to spot this bird foraging on a seaweed-covered breakwater at low tide:

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

Walking the trails through Vancouver’s Stanley Park, I chanced upon a pair of Barred Owls. As you observe these birds up close, you’ll notice something peculiar about their feet. Their toes are covered in feathers, but that’s not so remarkable.  Look closer and you’ll see they have two toes facing forward and two pointing backward. Their zygodactyl foot morphology allows them to grip their perches firmly while also effectively capturing prey. Most songbirds, on the other hand, have anisodactyl feet: three toes in front and one at the back. Although it’s something most people don’t consider, a bird’s toe structure can tell us a lot about their evolutionary history and ecological niche.  Read more about bird toe morphology!

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)

This boldly marked sparrow is another common songbird that breeds throughout most of North America. With their striking rusty red caps and rapid trill, they’re hard to miss and often show up on suburban lawns. While these birds may be plentiful in other areas, they’re locally uncommon here in Vancouver. That’s why I was pleased to spot a pair foraging in a nearby park, taking advantage of a recently disturbed field:

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

The Barn Swallow is a globally ubiquitous swallow that breeds across the northern hemisphere and is known for building nests on human-made structures. Not only are they extensively studied, but they also hold significant cultural and historical importance in mythology and religion. While their coloration may resemble Cliff and Cave swallows in North America, their unmistakable forked tails set them apart. You’ll often catch them gathering mud from the edges of ponds and lakes to construct their nests with, like this one I photographed at Jericho Beach Park in Vancouver:

Bonaparte’s Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

Named in honour of the French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte (Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew), Bonaparte’s Gull is one of North America’s smallest gulls. These delicate and charismatic gulls are a brief migratory visitor here in Vancouver, and I always go out of my way to try and see them. Unlike almost all other gulls, they nest in trees, breeding in the forests of Alaska and northern Canada. Their remoteness, elusive nests, and sparse densities make them one of the least studied gulls in North America.

The first photo shows an adult in breeding plumage, the second is an immature gull which looks very similar to an adult’s non-breeding plumage.

Hairy Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum var. pubescens)

Thanks to the wildly captivating and informative Joey Santore at Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t, I’ve expanded my curiosity beyond birds and delved into the world of plants and fungi.  Recently, I stumbled upon a cluster of bracken ferns and took this rather abstract photograph of one unfurling.  These weedy, adaptable plants quickly colonize disturbed areas and have spread over most of the world due to their tiny, easily dispersed spores. Despite containing ptaquiloside, a known carcinogen, they have a rich culinary history in many countries:

Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)

By far the most widespread fern native to western North America, Western Sword Fern is an evergreen perennial that thrives in the understory of moist coniferous woodlands.  It outcompetes many plants in the shady and acidic environment in coniferous forests and forms large colonies. This photo shows the unfurling stem and leaves complete with the circular sori which will eventually produce spores. While ferns might be easy to pass by without paying much attention to, there is something fascinating to me in knowing they’ve been around in one way or another since the late Devonian peroid 360 million years ago:

Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)

Drosera rotundifolia, commonly known as the Round-leaved or Common Sundew, is a flowering carnivorous plant that can be found in bogs, marshes, and fens worldwide (what’s the difference, you ask?). This plant’s survival strategy involves producing sticky hairs on its leaves that ensnare unsuspecting insects. Once trapped, the sundew releases digestive enzymes that break down the insect and absorb its nutrients. With its extraordinary adaptation to gain nutrients from insects, Round-leaved Sundew can thrive even in nutrient-poor soils where other plants struggle to survive:

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