Tuesday 7 October 2014

Mountain Birding

Oct 6 2014 Cypress Mountain Vancouver BC
The alarm went off at 5 a.m and again fifteen minute later. I'm a breakfast person so after a bowl of Weetabix, marmalade on toast and a piping hot cup of tea (the morning papers would have to wait) I was ready to battle the early morning Vancouver rush hour. The drive from Cloverdale to Vancouver can be brutal even at 6 a.m in the morning!
On our arrival, Cypress Mountain was cloud hidden. The climb was gentle if not a little heart pounding. A Merlin was the first highlight. On the very first switchback we spotted the bird we had hoped to see, the Northern Pygmy Owl #1. What a beautiful bird, so small, it weighs just 2.5 ounces and stands 6.75 inches high. The owl looked at us, its head bobbing around and moving from side to side and then, in a split second, it was gone. A diurnal owl or a daytime hunter, its prey, chickadees or juncos scattering into the thickets as it flew past us.

Northern Pygmy Owl #1. Some of us think this owl is a different bird than the we photographed later.

After catching our breath from the exertion and the excitement of seeing such a rare bird it was onward and upward to see if the forest would reveal more wonders for our party. The owl was a 'Lifer for me as well for quite a few of our group. We continued our climb up Cypress Mountain in anticipation.

Northern Pygmy Owl #2 (Glaucidium gnome)
Sharp-shinned Hawk  (Accipiter striatus)

At the first lookout we rested. It wasn't long before a Steller's and several Gray Jays put in an appearance.  Their antics kept us amused for quite a while, that is until what we believe to be another owl (slightly different markings) landed on a tree several hundred metres away. A Sharp-shinned Hawk also put in an appearance.
Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelli)

 Slowly the owl flew from branch to branch approaching closer all the time until finally it was within 30 metres. We all got our 'trophy shots' when suddenly the tiny owl flew between us, unsuccessfully we think chasing one of several Yellow-pine Chipmunks which had been fed seeds by hikers.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk (Tamias amoenus)
This is the same bird as the second picture.

More intent on hunting, the owl landed on a grey branch with grey clouds behind, not a pleasing composition. By moving a few feet I was able to juxtapose the bird with a weathered tree trunk giving the background a little more character. It was a treat to see the bird flying around, I just wish the photographers would have backed off and let it hunt, it has to eat too! I hope photographers will realize that wildlife viewing should never be taken for granted and that the animals ALWAYS come first.

Gray Jay(Perisoreus canadensis) with peanut.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon


  1. You got some great shots of the owl, particularly the second one! They are such cool birds, it was my lifer too the day before you got these shots.

  2. Wasn't it an amazing sight plus the scenery, so different and so many opportunities to see other birds we don't normally encounter. I didn't realize it was so small.