Friday, 27 July 2012

Barn Again

Barn owl by Mia McPherson
I recently had the good fortune of seeing a barn owl here on the island, one of my favourite birds of all time and my first in BC. In fact, this was the first sighting of the North American race of this globally widespread bird that I have ever clapped eyes on. 

As any Brit birder knows, barn owls are pretty common in many parts of the UK, though they’re not always all that easy to find. Thankfully, British barn owls are far more prone to hunting in daytime hours than their new world cousins and as a result many birdwatchers on the Olympic side of the pond get the chance to observe them with tolerable frequency.
Here in British Columbia, however barn owls are really rather scarce and in a wider Canadian context they’re seriously thin on the ground. Apparently there are fewer than 300 pairs in BC and just a tiny population found further east in southern Ontario. Compare that with the estimated 4000 or so pairs resident in the UK and it’s easy to see why I was so delighted to watch the ghostly form of a ‘barnie’ here on Vancouver Island.

One of the many interesting things about the North American barn owl is its scientific name. The nominate race is known as Tyto alba, while the one here is Tyto alba pratincola. Any globally minded birder will immediately see why the American subspecies’ name might be so intriguing...
In Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia one can find members of an unusual family of aerial feeding, swallow-like shorebirds called pratincoles. I’ve long since wondered about the provenance of that odd sounding name, but until now haven’t actually looked into it.
Well, dear reader, I blew the dust off my trusty copy of the Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names and read that the name is derived from the Latin words prātum, meaning meadow and incola which means resident. 
So there it is. It applies perfectly to those dashing pratincoles that habitually frequent short grassy meadows and plains while it also clearly reflects the preferred habitat of the barn owl.
The pic of barn owl here is clearly not my own work (it’s sharp and well-taken, if you need a clue…) but I stole (or ‘borrowed’) it from Mia McPherson’s superb OneWingPhotography – a site full of stunning wildlife images - check it out.

Indian Pipe
Things have been extremely hectic at work just lately, and as a result my lunchtime ambles have been severely compromised. I did manage a quick wander out to Langford Lake on Tuesday, and while the birding was fairly quiet (Swainson’s thrush, cedar waxwings, etc) I did come across a cluster of one of the most intriguing plants one can find in BC. 
The Indian pipe, also known as ghost plant and corpse plant, is an uncommon species often found in shaded, dark forest floors. The most bizarre thing about this odd plant is that it doesn’t contain chlorophyll, hence its eerie colouration. That also means that it doesn’t photosynthesize, and therefore can survive perfectly well in locations where sunlight is at a premium. The Indian pipe gets its energy via specific fungi, which thrive off the roots of trees. Quite a complex set of parasitical relationships!  

Blue Dasher
Around the lake edge, there were scores of dragonflies including the smart blue dasher pictured here (this is one of mine).

Later on Tuesday, I stopped off at Panama Flats to see if any waders were still probing around in what few pools still remain. There were still 20-plus least sandpipers, 6 western sandpipers, 2 lesser yellowlegs, 1 greater yellowlegs, 4 spotted sandpiper and a single long-billed dowitcher hanging in there, as well as multiple killdeer.
A smaller accipter was seen briefly flying around the perimeter of the site, but I couldn’t tell whether it was a sharp-shinned hawk or just a wee male Cooper’s from the crappy views I got.
It looks like the flats will drop off most local birders’ radars now that it’s almost completely dry, but it still looks pretty promising for enticing passing ‘prairie’ shorebirds – buff-breasted or upland sandpiper anyone?       

No comments:

Post a Comment