I'm not very good with binoculars. I get lost; I go branch to branch on the tree where I just saw that bird, always on the wrong branch. And when I find the target and start to zoom in on it, my hand shakes and ... I begin again.
Once I discovered the auto-focus mode of my first digital camera, the bins got left at home. Now I zoom in, watching the whole scene on my screen, then halfway depress the shutter button, and -- Aha! A cormorant! Or another crow having an argument with an eagle!
Sometimes, though, I zoom as far as the camera will go, focus, and say, "I don't know. A seagull, maybe. Or a fishing boat float?" If I'm curious enough, I'll take the photo anyway, and see if I can clear it up at home.
I delete zillions of photos of unidentifiable birds. Or maybe fishing boat floats.
And occasionally, I discover a bird I had seen, and yet not seen. A lifer, even. This past week, there were two. And one that didn't show up.
Far away, at water's edge off Semiahmoo Reserve, (White Rock area), we saw a line of black and white specks; they turned out to be (probably) Caspian terns. First time I'd seen these and knew it.
They are definitely terns, but conceivably could be another species. The Caspians are occasional visitors to this area, are about the size of a medium seagull, have a black cap and large red bill. The photo in my Audubon Field Guide shows black legs; other terns have orange legs. And the Caspian has a slight crest on the head; in my photo, the "caps" often seem peaked towards the back. The Audubon's photo shows a black tip on the bill, but the write-up does not mention it. I can't see one on any of these birds.
At the western end of the White Rock beach, near Kwomais Point, three bumps slept on a rock. They turned out to be Harlequin ducks.
At this distance, the colours (slate blue and chestnut) are almost gone, but we identified them by the white markings; the faces are hidden under the wings, but the strong "V" at the neck is plainly visible, as is the bold stripe across the shoulder area. Another first for me.
By the way, their Latin name is Histrionicus histrionicus. Meaning a double show-off?
The Harlequin Duck takes its name from Arlecchino, Harlequin in French, a colourfully dressed character in Commedia dell'arte. The species name comes from the Latin word "histrio", "actor". WikipediaThis next was not a stranger, nor a surprise; we heard him calling long before we saw him. But all we could see was a silhouette against the sky. A very odd silhouette.
And last, a sparrow. Another silhouette, lightened up and cleared of a rainbow effect from shooting directly into the sunlight. He was singing so beautifully that he deserved his 15 minutes of fame.
He can stand in for the flock of swallows we were trying to photograph. Impossible! They were in a narrow ravine, cutting down the cliff by Kwomais point, and had made burrows in a tall clay cliff. We could see the holes that they went into and out of, the swallows swooping around, up, down, across the ravine, zipping into the holes again. It was a good place for them; protected, out of reach of all but the most ambitious teenagers (who had carved their initials into the lower part of the cliff), and, with a trickling stream at the bottom, home to a cloud of gnats.
We took many photos of the cliff face. No swallows appeared in them, not even shadows of swallows. And the nest holes were indistinguishable from the dents and flakes on the wall.