With spring migrations on the way and the promise of Saw Whet owls residing at the bird sanctuary, a trip to south was in order for yesterday’s amazingly sunny weather. Delta and Ladner are smaller towns built around vibrant farming communities and proximity to the river. In the summer, you can pick or purchase the best berries I’ve ever eaten. In the late winter, you can track Arctic waterfowl and pick up some seeds for a garden soon to grow on your big city balcony.
At Riefel, a bird sanctuary you arrive at only after crossing a charming, one-hundred-year-old bridge to Westham Island, we looked for regular residents and some stunning visitors that make their flight over this area. I was happy to get a glimpse of the Saw Whet, the smallest of North American owls, that have been living at the sanctuary recently. Unfortunately, the moment was tainted by my disappointment in fellow bird watchers who thought it acceptable to hoot and whistle at sleeping owls. I hate to sound critical, but I think those of us who think ourselves “Nature Photographers” should to take a moment to realize sticking camera lenses in the faces of nocturnal birds might not be worth your capturing of an image that, frankly, is already all over the internet.
I stood behind ten or so people who were testing the limits of the sawhorse fence newly built to keep bird watchers away from the tree where the Saw Whets have been roosting. On this particular afternoon, one of the owls picked a pretty low branch to sleep. Since it was so close, I figured people would look at the bird, maybe take a snapshot and then be on their way. Instead, they all squished together, talked to each other rather loudly, and reached closer and closer to the bird. As if that weren’t enough, several “photographers” then started making noises directly at the bird I assume in the hope it would opened its eyes. That’s the way you do nature photography, right? Following the huddle of people with fancy lenses who appear at popular city nature parks with free parking lots on busy Saturday afternoons? Get a tip from the lady in the office or an email rather than happening on an animal naturally or by your own tracking instincts?
Needless to say, I didn’t feel right photographing the Saw Whets this particular afternoon. They are the cutest little things and I would have loved a photo, but last time I checked, nocturnal animals need to rest during the day so they can hunt all night. We took a good look at him with binoculars from about twenty feet away and found that to be enough for us. I will say that the Saw Whet is worth a trip to see, even if you have to rely on a tip from someone else. You, however, just do an image search for them and get the idea and perhaps that’s preferable to some of what I saw going on today. I’m going to trust that at least some of these photos weren’t taken by people harassing wild birds while they slept.
Thankfully there was plenty else to see including a visit to West Coast Seeds and lunch at Sharkeys back in Ladner. We also happened upon a flock of snow geese making the most tremendous racket. As we watched, a single Tundra Swan flew over us thinking he’d found his friends. Circling over the noisy group for a hesitant moment, he discovered his mistake and quickly turned away to the south. A few Douglas Squirrels took advantage of little piles of seeds left along the path. A guy in plastic boots and long white hair took advantage of a Vancouver riot to add some depth to his truck bed.