As Spring, my favourite season here in the Okanagan (see my discussion of “favourites” in the previous post, ha-ha!), slowly eases Winter out of the way and ushers in the migration season, birders enter a special limited time frame for looking for the last of the Winter birds. A priority for me this year were Bohemian Waxwings, a species I had never seen before the winter of 2014-15, even though they are considered a circumpolar group. I knew before we moved here that BOWAs came down annually to our elevation near lake level, and that chances of seeing them in their large flocks was good but getting close to them was not so certain. There’s plenty of food here in the city for the entire winter, especially berries of Mountain Ash or Rowan trees that are very popular in our neighbourhood. As well, Mission Park’s Arboretum is well stocked with a diversity of trees that could attract BOWAs. Last year, the Park’s Russian Olives and Callery miniature pear fruit fed Robins well into February, and it was on the “pears” that I attained my first shots of these bright and busy gorgers.
This season, I couldn’t wait! I had done what research I could. In late November I chatted with Mike, a neighbour who told me that every February, the BOWAs came by to clear out the berries on his Virginia Creeper. On December 10, late in the afternoon, they swept down into the great Weeping Willows near his home at the west end of Belmont Park. I had parked nearby and, with such poor light, had left my camera in the car while I walked along the Pond’s path to Park where I hoped to do a spot check for activity. Suddenly the flock erupted from the Willows and attacked Mike’s Mountain Ash on the street corner 50 meters away. I hurried back for my camera, and returned to find the Rowan berries that had been abundant on that tree were gone—even the ones that had been knocked to the ground in the initial frenzy. When the birds retreated to the Willows, I was at least able to capture their numbers.
Over the next few days, I assumed that they would return for the Rowan berries in adjacent back yards, but November passed, then December and January, and while I occasionally saw the flock either flying or perching high above Mission Creek Greenway, completely out of camera range, I kept hoping that I would get lucky either in Belmont Park (BP) or Mission Rec Park (MRP). On the 26th of February, Mike and I crossed paths and spoke about the BOWAs’ absence this season. His VC fruit was gone, but the neighbours’ Rowans were still pretty much intact. The pear and olive trees in MRP had been picked clean early in the winter, whether by BOWAs or not, I’m not sure, but in February, there was very little left even for Robins. I began to fear that I’d missed my chance for this year. Bohemian numbers decline in March when their cousins, Cedar Waxwings, begin to reappear.
By a combination of the good luck of being out for a walk with my lucky charm, Nana, and of having had our plans disrupted several times that afternoon, we were returning home so late that I had packed up the camera, the light having fled behind clouds. When we reached Belmont Park, we had to choose whether to take a shortcut or to walk through the park and around the pond. It was a tossup, but the shortcut option was discarded, and we took the longer way round. Good choice, it turned out!
As we neared the west end of BP, we noticed a flurry of activity in the Sycamores but couldn’t be sure what we were seeing. Starlings, probably, we thought. The light was improving rapidly as the clouds gave way to the late sun when suddenly it became clear— the BOWAs were back for the Rowan berries, just as I’d hoped, though the beggars had left their visit to nearly the last minute! Nana was impressed with her first look at BOWAs. As we were going out for dinner that evening, she needed to hurry on home, but I remained to get what shots I could….
On March 3, I saw the BOWAs in a tree on the edge of our condo property, but couldn’t get shots, although, in my walk through BP earlier in the day I had seen a handful occupying a tree next to an even smaller flock of Cedar Waxwings. I wasn’t too concerned because I already had my BOWA images for 2016. The next morning, however, when the Bohemians showed up in the condo trees again, I suspended my exercise plans, and hustled out to see what I could get. This time, they were gorging themselves on Cotoneaster berries at ground level, and washing them down at the neighbouring condo’s fountain. I’ll let you judge how well the photos turned out….
Suffice to say, in my world, getting Bohemian Waxwing images is truly a matter of luck (with a certain degree of preparation and awareness), and this year, thank the BOWAs, the Force was with me. Sometimes, you can only watch and wait and hope for the best….