Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) Migration at Fraser River Delta

A flock of Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) take flight from a farmers field in Tsawwassen, British Columbia, Canada.

snow geese flock flying in delta bc

Snow Geese Taking Flight (Purchase)

Snow Geese (Anser caerulescens) were one species I was interested in photographing with my new Canon 100-400mm lens, and so I made 3 day trips to photograph them. The first one was to Ladner and Tsawwassen in Delta, BC. I didn’t really have a good idea as to where to find them, so I drove around Westham Island first, and saw zero Snow Geese. I then drove around Ladner looking at the various fields and saw zero Snow Geese. I decided to head to Tsawwassen, and when I was on my way down there I didn’t see Snow Geese – I heard them. I got out of the car and a large flock flew out of a field, likely stirred up by a passing bird of prey. They circled their field for a minute and then flew off. This was not a photo opportunity but at least I’d seen some at last! When I reached Tsawwassen I found another field with geese in it, and this time they stayed put for a moment. I made the second photo here at that time. The geese were feeding on the various roots and seeds of the cover crop in the field, and there were many comings and goings. Eventually a Hawk passed by and the entire flock took to the sky – and I made the first photograph above. It seems fairly clear that most of the opportunity to photograph these birds will be either a bunch of fairly relaxed birds in a field, or a bedlam of cacophony as they all vocalize their displeasure at having to leave the same field. They are not quiet when doing so!

snow geese landing in a farmers field

Snow Geese Landing in Farm Field (Purchase)

Snow Geese breed on the Arctic tundra – and many of these migrating down west coast of North America will have come from breeding grounds such as Wrangel Island in Russia. Over 100,000 pairs breed on that island alone – one indicator the Snow Goose population is doing very well. The Fraser River Delta and the farm fields in Delta and Richmond, as well as local wetlands, are a good source of food for the geese as they migrate south. They will also make a stop here on the way back north to breed in the spring.

snow geese flock resting at iona beach

A Flock Rests at Iona Beach (Purchase)

On my second trip to photograph Snow Geese I had little success and saw zero Snow Geese. I drove all around the south Delta area and what was really odd was I didn’t even spot a Great Blue Heron – a fairly common species to see in the farm fields and along the roadside ditches. Just not a good day for birding I guess! The next trip I made I headed to Richmond to visit Iona Beach Regional Park – a place I had never been. There were several hundred Snow Geese along the shoreline of Iona Beach, and they were not disturbed by a human nearby. The photograph above shows a flock of geese resting along the shore. Most of the geese were in a flock, a few looked to be broken off into small family groups of 3-6 geese (like the pair in the photo below), and there were a few that seemed to be relatively independent.

a pair of snow geese at iona beach

Pair of Snow Geese at Iona Beach (Purchase)

From Iona Beach Regional Park I drove south and visited Terra Nova Rural Park and walked along the West Dyke Trail – both places I had not been before. I’d heard there were a lot of geese here, and there were, but not really close enough to photograph. There was a lot of wildlife around though, so I think this will be another good spot to revisit in the future. When I last visited Steveston in Richmond I noticed these odd, wooden contraptions placed periodically along the shoreline. There were more near the north end of the dyke trail, and so I decided to look them up later. Turns out they are old radar reflectors – though I’m not sure if they have any use at this time, or were used by ships or aircraft. Richmond doesn’t really have much in the way of topography to bounce a radar signal off of, so I guess this was a method of getting around that. This one did add a bit of interest to the photograph below as a large flock of geese flew in from the fields nearby (I could hear them coming for many minutes) and landed in the water.

snow geese flying at the fraser river delta in richmond

The Fraser River Delta in Richmond (Purchase)

For more of my photographs of animals visit my Animals and Wildlife Gallery.

Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - keeps an eye out for a dive bombing harrier at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl
(Bubo scandiacus)
-click to enlarge-

   Back in mid February I went to the Boundary Bay Wildlife Management Area to photograph the Snowy Owls (Bubo scandiacus). The Snowy Owls are not normally in this location during Winter. This is an “irruption” year, where the Snowy Owls venture further south than they normally would. There are various opinions as to why this occurs, though most often I see it being related to food supply in the Arctic. As this happens only about once every 5-6 years I made sure I went down to take a look. I figured even if I could not photograph the Snowy Owls as they were too far out in the marsh I would be able to at least see them from afar. I was not disappointed.

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - yawning at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Yaaaaaawwwwn!
A Group of Snowy Owls
(Bubo scandiacus)
-click to enlarge-

   The first photo here shows an Owl that was like many of the others sitting on the driftwood – it had to occasionally keep a wary eye on a passing hawk or Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus). The Harriers especially seemed to like to dive bomb some of the Snowy Owls – though I don’t know if they ever make contact. One flew over the head of this owl and it kept an eye on it as it passed. The second photo shows one of the first signs of the Snowy Owls “waking up” from their earlier positions of just sitting on the logs with their eyes closed. There was lots of yawning, though I didn’t see it go through the group in any sort of contagious manner like it does in humans.

a group of snowy owls - bubo scandiacus - warm up for flight on a piece of driftwood at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Warming up for flight
-click to enlarge-

   The last two images here show the Snowy Owls stretching and fluffing up their feathers in preparation for flight. I had seen a few other groups of Snowy Owls further down the trail do this, before they ultimately took off towards the marsh. I presume this was to go look for food, as they were not being harassed by photographers at the time. The group I was following did not take off during the day, so I will have to wait until the next irruption to get some flight photos. Of all the photos I made of this group of Snowy Owls, I do not think I ever had one where they were preening and fluffing up their feathers where all three were facing the same direction. This is part of the fun and challenge though. Two out of three ain’t bad!

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - stretching before flight at boundary bay - british columbia - canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
stretching
-click to enlarge-

   I wrote in my last Snowy Owl post that I was easily able to photograph these Snowy Owls from the trail at Boundary Bay. The individual Owls pictured here were all within about 40-50 feet of the trail. I was going to make this post a bit more about the ethics of wildlife and landscape photography as I see it – but I think that is a topic that I need to mull over just a bit more and probably deserves its own post anyway. As I’ve said before though, I do not see trampling the marsh habitat or approaching the Snowy Owls and spooking them to be something anyone should be doing just to “get the shot”. On this day there were maybe a dozen plus “Big Lenses” wandering around in the marsh no doubt causing much damage – especially as a cumulative effect.

Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) at Boundary Bay

a northern flicker - colaptes auratus - on a piece of driftwood at boundary bay - british columbia - canada
Northern Flicker
(Colaptes auratus)
-click to enlarge-

   Here is a photo I made a few weeks ago while looking for Snowy Owls at Boundary Bay in Delta, British Columbia. The Owls were the exciting part of my trip there, but I also viewed a lot of other bird species that will have me going back soon to photograph them specifically. There are other owls, various hawks, Northern Harriers, Great Blue Herons etc. I didn’t expect to see a Northern Flicker here, but this one jumped up onto this stump just as I walked past on the trail. I was lucky enough that he sat there for a few minutes while I managed to make a decent photo before he spied something on the ground and jumped down again. I suspect he was popping up for a better vantage point because he heard me coming and wanted to make sure I wasn’t looking for a snack.

   I used to ID bird species in my backyard when I was growing up – and at that time there was the Yellow Shafted Flicker, and the Red Shafted Flicker. Science has since determined these to be the same species, just different colour morphs, so they both fall under the category of Northern Flicker now. Confirming this gave me an excuse to read a paper in the Canadian Journal of Zoology related to this, something I don’t do as often as I used to. I kind of miss them. Much more fun reading them casually than having to write a paper on it all after!

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) hops onto a piece of driftwood at Boundary Bay in Delta, British Columbia, Canada.

a snowy owl - bubo scandiacus - hops to a different piece of driftwood at boundary bay british columbia canada

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) (Purchase)

-click to enlarge-

   I will do a more thorough writeup of my trip yesterday to Boundary Bay, but for now I wanted to quickly share this image of a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus). Of the over 600 photographs I made yesterday, this one stood out as one that showed the best action of the day. The Owls hunt sporadically, so there is a lot of sleep and relaxing in between. Sometimes they just sit there and barely open their eyes. This one started to warm up for the hunt and hopped around a little before taking off towards the water.

   I should point out that I made this photograph from the path at Boundary Bay. Many photographers have behaved badly in this location in the last few months, a fact I will document and speak to in a later post. I was able to hang out for hours within 30-40 feet of a dozen Snowy Owls right next to the path, I have no idea why trampling the marsh and chasing the Owls is necessary for a good photograph. More about that later (and more Snowy Owl photos too!).