Male Surf Scoter about to swallow an impressively large clam



Male and female Surf Scoters

These superb photos were taken by Terry Venables and are used with his permission.

Can you imagine starting your day by swallowing a large, clenched, cold clam together with attached grit and weed? Hard to distinguish in dim light from a similarly sized rock. And then, and this is not for the squeamish, imagine yourself as a Surf Scoter, having crushed the clam in your gizzard, excreting the variously sized shelly bits. In “Birds of Coastal British Columbia” by Nancy Baron and John Acorn, the authors wonder how much of the sand on local beaches sand passed through the innards of scoters.

Surf Scoters (Melanitta perspicillata), are by far the most numerous of the three species of scoters are  observed in winter along the foreshores of the Saanich Peninsula especially where clams and mussels are abundant (Roberts Bay, Patricia Bay).  In the spring, Surf Scoters will migrate to breeding grounds to the north where they will nest alongside rivers, ponds, lakes, the ocean, even in forests. Tough customers!


from KJ Finley

The Bufflehead – Heerman’s Gull phenogram


Phenology is the root of natural history and our base instincts, if we are so attuned. How to predict when and where a biological event will occur, is essential to survival.

Phenology was the rage in Darwin’s time, but it has been all but expunged from our lexicon, as natural history became fragmented by disciplines. Recently it is enjoying a comeback, under the banner of citizen-science, in the new age of the Anthropocene.

Buffleheads (Bucephala albeloa) have been around for half a million years, since the late Pleistocene, and their predecessor B. fossilis, for two million years or so, since the late Pliocene. Along the way they took up an inextricable relationship with a desert, ground-feeding, ant-eating woodpecker. Like the Gilded Flicker or Gila Woodpeckers nesting in Saguarros and in soft Cottonwood Poplars along desert streams. These evolved into a Northern Flicker, strongly associated with the northern softwoods, especially aspen. These became our western red-shafted and eastern yellow shafted forms, split by Wisconsian ice sheets, and re-joined along the opening corridor following the “Yellowhead route” of the jetstreams.

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