2016 Faves—Passerines, part 8: skip to R….

Quails were covered in part 2, as our species is the California Quail, introduced into our fair province many years ago…. So we skip to R, which offered three species last year, including one that I had never photographed before, the Red Crossbill.

red-crossbill-range-cornellAlthough it’s spread across the continent, many folks have never seen one, and this Cornell note suggests why. “A stocky finch of mature coniferous forests, the Red Crossbill is dependent on the seed cones that are its main food. Its peculiar bill allows it access to the seeds, and it will breed whenever it finds areas with an abundance of cones. It may wander widely between years to find a good cone crop.” When a couple of my colleagues found out I was twitching RECRs, they did their best to help me, as they were having good success at their homes. Eventually, Matyas, a teenage birder who lives not far away, after several attempts to alert me when the flock dropped into the big pines and firs of his neighbourhood, called me and I was able to get these photos. Later, I found them on my own at Bertram Creek Park. Will they return next year? Not necessarily….

I have seen much better images of this species in a more conventional pose, but was quite happy to come away with these portraits of RECRs fastidously foraging on fir cones!

Having lived here now through eight consecutive seasons, I have photo records that guide my expectations for when to expect species. Although most of our passerines migrate, a few try to hang on through our winter if it’s not too severe (as 2015 and 2016 were not). Red-winged Blackbirds fit this pattern. In the winter, many  head for the Landfill at the north end of Kelowna while a few stay close to feeders. Sometime in February, however, we start to see large flocks of male RWBLs and European Starlings descend on the Marsh and the Rec Fields before saying goodbye to those for whom this is there destination for the next six months.

The male RWBLs spend up to six weeks establishing themselves before the females arrive to take charge. It’s great fun to watch the males competing for territory and then to become less dominant as the ladies take over. No doubt whose boss by mid June and July! As for the non-dominant males, the “skulkers” I call them, they hide in shrubbery and make plaintive noises as they serve their time in their subordinate roles.

Many people enjoy hand feeding birds, usually Chickadees of various species or the occasional nuthatch. In Ottawa this fall, I had two Downy Woodpeckers eat seed from my hand. But the most fun I’ve had hand feeding has been with RWBLs that are so inclined. I’ve enjoyed this at Jericho and Stanley Park in Vancouver, Iona Beach in Richmond, and in 2016 with grandkids at Piper Spit on Burnaby Lake.

NOTE: ALTHOUGH HUMMINGBIRDS ARE NOT CONSIDERED PASSERINES, I have included one here because it doesn’t fit into the other broad categories that I’m using. This is NOT intended to be a scientific blog; it’s a highly personal one. Please don’t get too bent out of shape by this issue.

The final “R” species that honoured me with photo opps this year was the Rufous Hummingbird, which I encounter both in urban settings and, happily, in more wild locations. Certainly, it’s easier to get flight shots at feeders or in urban gardens, as the photo below on the left illustrates. But I’m more proud of the two males that I was able to stalk and capture in non-urban environments earlier in the spring.

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