Late Winter Ducks

Canvasback Duck.jpg
Fish Pond, Hall Rd., Kelowna, BC.

Kelowna is a wonderful location for people who love waterfowl, especially ducks. You can read all about ’em in Parts 3, 4, and 5 of my 2016 highlights —just click the Ducks tab in the menu to the right (and down a bit) of this post…. Most of the quackers (actually, most of them don’t quack, but that’s too fine a point right now!) in those posts are spring and summer residents. A few stay all year ’round, or most of it anyway. This post is dedicated to the ones who are most prominent in late winter / early spring, including a species that seems to be popping up in many new spots around BC in 2017, the Canvasback. Until this year, I’d seen them only at a distance. It was a great joy to find them close to home in a pond where photographing them is reasonably easy.

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Canvasback pair, Hall Road Fish Pond.

Canvasback range Cornell
Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology describes the species: “A large diving duck, the Canvasback breeds in prairie potholes and winters on ocean bays. Its sloping profile distinguishes it from other ducks.” In coloration, it’s similar to the Redhead (a close cousin of the Eurasian Pochard), which has a round head. Both species, especially in winter, can be found in sizeable flocks or rafts on fairly large bodies of water.

While Canvasbacks are found in all regions west of Atlantic Canada, they can be a challenge to find and get close to.

Cornell offers a couple of interesting facts about CANVs. The second one I find really amazing!

  • The species name of the Canvasback, Aythya valisineria, comes from Vallisneria americana, or wild celery, whose winter buds and rhizomes are its preferred food during the nonbreeding period.
  • The oldest recorded Canvasback was a male and at least 22 years, 7 months old when he was shot in California in 1991. He had been banded in the same state in 1969.

So glad to have these guys around for more than three weeks 2017.

For comparison purposes, here’s some images of Redheads from 2015 and 2016. You can see that the similarities and differences are about equally balanced. Click images to enlarge.

I discovered the Canvasbacks at a kids’ fishing pond beside Hall Road when I went there to observe Buffleheads. I’d seen them there the previous two late winters where they are confined sufficiently to let a photographer get close…. While the CANVs were a great bonus, I wasn’t disappointed by the BUFFs, either.

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On a cloudy day, he looks black and white with a hint of colour…. Hall Rd. Fish Pond.
Bufflehead drake
On a brighter day, we get a very different impression!

Click on any of the images below to enlarge it.

From Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, some interesting (I think!) facts about these delightful little ducks:

  • The Bufflehead nests almost exclusively in holes excavated by Northern Flickers and, on occasion, by Pileated Woodpeckers.
  • Unlike most ducks, the Bufflehead is mostly monogamous, often remaining with the same mate for several years. 
  • Bufflehead fossils from the late Pleistocene (about 500,000 years ago) have been found in Alaska, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, and Washington. One California fossil that resembles a modern Bufflehead dates to the late Pliocene, two million years ago. 
  • Bufflehead normally live only in North America, but in winter they occasionally show up elsewhere, including Kamchatka, Japan, Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles, Belgium, France, Finland, and Czechoslovakia. In some of these cases, the birds may have escaped from captivity.
  • The oldest Bufflehead on record was at least 18 years and 8 months old. It was caught and re-released by a bird bander in New York in 1975.

One more group that we see mainly in the winter and that leaves us around the same time the Canvasbacks return are the Goldeneyes, both Common and Barrows. You’ll find images and further information on Common Goldeneys, near the bottom of this post: Waterfowl Part 3. Here are some photos from  2017: Click on any photo to enlarge them all.

Thanks to Cornell, again, for these fascinating facts about COGOs….

  • Hunters dubbed the Common Goldeneye the “whistler” for the distinctive whistling sound of its wings in flight. Cold weather accentuates the sound.
  • A female Common Goldeneye often lays eggs in the nest of another female, especially in nest boxes. She may lay in the nests of other species of ducks as well. Common and Barrow’s goldeneyes lay in each other’s nests, and Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers often lay in the goldeneye’s nest too.
  • Like Wood Ducks, Common Goldeneyes readily use nest boxes as a stand-in for naturally occurring tree cavities. Some return to the same box year after year.
  • Goldeneye chicks leave the nest just one day after they hatch. The first step can be a doozy, with nests placed in tree cavities up to 40 feet high. As the female stands at the base of the tree and calls, the downy chicks jump from the nest hole one after the other and tumble to the ground. 
  • After the ducklings leave the nest they can feed themselves and require only protection. Some females abandon their broods soon after hatching, and the young will join another female’s brood. Such mixed broods, known as “creches,” may also occur when a female loses some ducklings after a territorial fight with another female. Young scatter and mix when females fight, and not all of them get back to their mother when the fight ends. Some or all of the ducklings may be transferred to one brood, usually that of the territory owner.
  • The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.
  • In winter and early spring, male Common Goldeneyes perform a complex series of courtship displays* that includes up to 14 moves with names like “masthead,” “bowsprit,” and “head throw kick,” in which the male bends his head back to touch his rump, then thrusts forward and kicks up water with his feet. *I hope to cover this in future posts….
  • The oldest known Common Goldeneye was a male, and at least 20 years, 5 months based. He was banded and found in Minnesota.

Look for Spring mergansers and Barrows Goldeneyes in a post coming soon….

Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks

male Cooper's Hawk? - 2
Cooper’s Hawk at Fascieux Creek, Kelowna, BC.

One of the great natural mysteries for me is how two species (sometimes more) evolve to look so similar and yet not simply be an offshoot of the other. Take Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, for example. If I see one or the other in the wild, I really can’t be sure which it is, even though I’m familiar with many of the indicators that professionals use to differentiate them. And I know I’m not alone!

For those interested in what the Cornell Lab or Ornithology tells us look for, go to their website. Click on each of the items in the list for extra illustrations / details: Cooper’s vs Sharpies – Cornell

Here are comparative images from another site:

Cooper’s juvenile (left) and Sharp-shinned juvenile (right) from Notes from the Wildside.

In the above composite image we can compare a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk (on the left) to a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk (on the right). When they are shown side by side, even though they are in slightly different postures, one can see differences, making it easier to work out which is which, rather than when viewing an individual bird.

  • The eye looks larger and more foreward in the head on the smaller headed Sharpie. NOTE: CORNELL’S SITE SAYS THE OPPOSITE! “Eyes appear to be close to half way between front and back of head [of the Sharpie].”  ..Just to keep things interesting….
  • There is a noticeable dark stripe on the throat of the Cooper’s.
  • The colour of the breast pattern – dark brown on the Cooper’s, and, warm brown on the Sharpie.
  • The narrower and cleaner markings, tear drops thinning out on the belly, on a Cooper’s, versus, heavier or coarser and blurrier markings on the Sharpie.
  • Broad barring on the flanks on the Sharpie.
  • Thick sturdy legs (tarsi) on a Cooper’s while they are delicate and pencil-thin on a Sharpie.
  • Though we can’t see the tail on the Cooper’s, it is usually rounded compared to the squared-off tail of a Sharpie. While that can be easier seen in flight, when posing upright one can see that on a Cooper’s, each tail feathers get shorter towards the outer feather. This gives it a rounded look when it is spread in flight.” (Notes from the Wildside)

So what’s this one, then?

Cooper's juvenile (male?) - 2 - Version 2.jpg
I’m going to go with Cooper’s….

This one has my Flickr friends giving me opposing labels. I think it’s an adult Cooper’s, but I’m still not sure….

Cooper's or Sharp-shinned?.jpg
Not a great perch, but with enough details to give ammo to both Sharpie& Coops fans….

From these lists, items that are easiest to examine are tail feathers, eye position, and head shape and cap, and in juveniles, breast markings. Size, it turns out, isn’t very reliable, as male Cooper’s are relatively small and female Sharpies are relatively large, so even though we know that Sharpies are generally noticeably smaller than Coops when comparing the same gender, it’s a problem when we can’t be sure which gender we’re looking at, and there’s no reliable way in the field to differentiate the males from their mates. So, even with knowing a few identifiers, I often have to wait until I get home and look at the images to make my guess — and then wait until after I’ve posted and an real expert weighs in….

Sharpies range through more of Canada than Cooper’s do. Click either image below to enlarge it.

I’m always excited, though, to come across either species. While not rare, they’re not a bird that I can expect to see on a regular basis, or at least, they weren’t until I moved to Kelowna. Here, their territories are a little easier to pin down that they were, for me at least, at The Coast. J L Cummins, a birder-photog colleague in Washington State, this winter, has enjoyed having a Sharpie in his backyard, and it has become as familiar to him as Kessie, the female American Kestrel has become for me. Perhaps the Cooper’s / Sharp-shinned that I see several times each winter and spring in our neighbourhood will become as identifiable as Jim’s….

So, I’ll wrap up this discussion of uncertainty with some photos taken in the neighbourhood:

Sharp-shinned Hawk juvenile.jpeg
I now think it’s a Sharp-shinned juvenile after first calling it a Cooper’s — but I’m still not sure….
Cooper's Hawk juvenile.jpg
While I think this is the same bird as the one above, I’m less than certain. The breast marks seem to suggest a Cooper’s…. …..It’s entirely possible that both species visit this park! Click photo above to enlarge in new tab.
Cooper's Hawk, Ottawa.jpg
This one, taken in Ottawa on our trip there in October 2016 is certainly an adult Cooper’s!

In January 2017 I had a great but unexpected opportunity to photograph this hawk. Sadly, my camera settings were right for a previous photo I’d taken of a Red-Tail, but woefully wrong for this guy/gal. Surprisingly, when I posted it on Flickr anyway, it got far more hits and positive comments than it deserves. It’s here simply because, at the time, I promised myself that if I got another chance, I’d do much better…. See the one after this….

Cooper's Hawk (1).jpg
Cooper’s or Sharpie? Belmont Park, Kelowna, BC.

And finally, on March 8, 2017, I did get my “another chance.” Guided by instinct, at about 10 AM I entered Belmont Park from the east so I’d have the light behind me. The Park was extremely quiet, as it often is when there’s a hawk about. Just after I passed a small fir on my left, I heard a flapping of wings and figured I’d flushed one of the Mourning Doves that frequents the area. Then I saw the hawk as it veered into perch on a pine about 20 meters in front of me. I got the shot, and, right or not, am calling it a Sharp-shinned. Click on any of the photos to enlarge it.

Hope you got this far and that you enjoyed looking at these powerful and handsome hawks!

Owls in Kelowna (and elsewhere)

I have seen more owls since we moved up here in 2014 than I had seen in my lifetime before that. On the other hand, I have yet to see several species that I’m told are not unusual to come across — in other words, I have lots to look forward to. In this section, I’m including some photos from my days at The Coast, where it’s much easier, I think to find the diversity of this special, highly sought after genus.

The two species I have had a chance to observe in Kelowna are the Great Horned and the Long-eared. Let’s start with the latter, which I saw only recently and briefly.

While on my beat around Thomson Marsh, I was alerted by a young gentleman walker that there was an easy-to-see owl only 100 yards away. Here’s what (s)he showed me: my first ever Long-eared Owl. Usually, this species is found in thick cover; I was exceptionally lucky. Gone next day, (s)he left no forwarding address!

Click on any photo to enlarge it….

Great Horned Owls, on the contrary, are frequently found in the Okanagan, and close to where we live. This winter, we had the pleasure of listening to them hoot from an unseen perch very close by at 12:30 AM! Here are a few shots I’ve managed so far. I’ve learned a lot  about capturing them in the process — looking forward to better  capitalizing on future opportunities.

The first group of photos are the best to date, and the earliest! These owls were easy to find in the woods near Munson Pond (once I was shown their location!). They are no longer resident there; some homeless people set up a camp that summer in the very spot  I took these shots.

Folks frequently report owls much closer to home both near the Lower Mission Greenway where we have observed them for the past three winters, and even in various parts of Thomson Marsh. Unfortunately, the perches these closer GHOWs choose are not ideal for photography!

In March of 2016, birders, photographers, and the general public were treated to watching a family of three owlets fledge in uptown Kelowna — in a tall, old pine tree on the grounds of the Courthouse. Here’s my best shot of one of the wee ones (or not so wee by this time!). They all fledged successfully, but we’re not sure what happened to them later on:

Courthouse Owlet - 160317 - 1
It may appear that we were on the same level; we were not! Cropped photos can lie!!

As for the owls we have yet to see such as the Northern Pygmy, Northern Saw-whet, Western Screech, Barred, Barn, and Snowy, Short-eared, and if we’re really lucky, a Northern Hawk-owl, we keep our fingers crossed. Of these I’ve seen all but the first three elsewhere…. The owls below were all found in different location in BC’s Lower Mainland.


Raptors on my Beat—Winter 2016-7

WARNING to all who would venture here: this is a VERRRRY looong,  very image heavy post…! 

RTHA harassed by gull, Oct. 2015 (Click to enlarge in new tab)

I feel very fortunate to live in an area served by dozens of raptors, especially Red-Tailed Hawks. In what I call “my beat,” shown on the map below, I’m fortunate to be able to identify four different RTHAs and one very friendly female American Kestrel. (I’m still optimistic that she find a mate again this year as she has the previous two springs that I’ve been observing here.) I’m pretty sure I’d be UNable to differentiate this well at The Coast, given that I had to drive to find hawks and kestrels. Here, they’re only five minutes walk away, or, in many cases, a glance outside the window in front of my computer. We also see Bald Eagles frequently, and I’ll include them at the end….

We’ll start with the maps: first, the area, then the birds’ territorial map:


Click image to enlarge in a new tab

And now for the raptors:

Kessie, the female AMKE covers the territory of all the hawks west of the creek that is the basis of Thomson Marsh. I’ve been interacting with her since January 2015; she’s very friendly, of her own accord (i.e. no one’s baiting her or doing anything to entice her). She’s simply comfortable around people and cameras, and will often fly with me on my walks. She’s quite willing to look right at me when I whistle, and on lots of occasions has flown from distant locations to much closer perches almost as if she wants to be photographed. I’ve featured her before on this forum, but I want to add a couple of new photos from this year:

I thought this was a pretty good look, but then I realized that I wasn’t happy with the branches and told her so, telepathically. So she backed up to a better perch, gave me time to crunch up through the crusty snow and take more than 50 shots.

The first shot:

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Kessie against a cerulean sky….

and the improved perch on a different tree:

Kessie making my day!.jpg

Kessie makes my day….

Recently, I watched and worked with her for twenty minutes while she scanned the area searching for lunch. Eventually, she caught a vole, flew up to one of her lamp post perches, and took her time dining, before retiring to a Cedar shrub….

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Kessie looking for lunch….

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Kessie enjoys a lite lunch….

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Resting after lunch….

Interaction like this would be enough to make any day special!

But I promised you RTHAs, so let’s begin with a newcomer and my favourite, and a familiar greeter of so many of the folks who walk their dogs and their kids and spouses ’round the perimeter of the Rec Fields. I credit Mel Hafting (Birdergirl) with identifying Whitey as a Buteo jamaicensis harlani—a Harlan’s subspecies or possibly separate species depending on whose authority you adopt. Whitey arrived sometime in December. I didn’t realize that he was here for the winter until December 22, when I got a series of shots as he perched on a large dirt pile behind the Capital News Centre Rec Facility about 300 meters from home. He allowed me to walk up to within 30 meters, and we’ve been good friends ever since.

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Whitey on the dirt bank behind the Capital News Centre (CNC)….

I have many precious images of him, whether at a distance in the Raptor Tree across the Marsh or in various parts of his southern and eastern range as shown on the map we started with. Here are some of my favourites:

Whitey grooming in the Thomson Marsh Raptor Tree.jpg
Whitey grooming in the Thomson Marsh Raptor Tree….
Whitey in the Raptor Tree on a different day.jpg
Whitey on the other side of the Thomson Marsh Raptor Tree on another day….

and some close ups near the entrance to Mission Rec Fields, just south of the CNC arena:

Whitey leaves the edge of the Capital News Centre Rec Facility to harvest a quail.jpg
Whitey leaves the edge of the CNC roof in an attempt to harvest a quail….

On this day, he hunted the same area from his lamppost:

Whitey on his lamppost.jpg
Whitey on his favourite lamppost. Oddly, he uses only the path lights, never the giant field lights favourite by Ready Eddy (Re’ddy)….

and was successful:

Whitey catches a vole - 1.jpg
Whitey catches a vole – 1
Whitey catches a vole - 2.jpg
Whitey catches a vole – 2. Can you see it?

Whitey can spot competition a couple of hundred meters away. It seems that the only threat he really cares about is at the eastern fringe of his territory. When Harri or Sunny dare to cross the invisible boundary, Whitey is likely to fly over and let them know who’s boss. I’ve not seen actual combat, but its always the other birds that retreat to their own territories. On the other hand, Re’ddy, who encroaches from the north, usually by roosting on one of the giant field lights that illuminate the Rec Fields, is never challenged by W, nor does R challenge W. (Actually, Re’ddy is a bit of a chicken hawk, it seems to me). R and W simply ignore each other.

Whitey on a lamppost watching Harri the invader.jpg
A long shot of Whitey on a lamppost watching his rival Harri who has crossed the line. Eventually, Harri retreated.

Recently, as it appears that Harri has left the area (more on him in a moment), I see Whitey exploring more of the the eastern side of the territory, even perching occasionally on the fence posts that Harri had called his own….

Whitey in a delicate perch at the east end of his territory.jpg
Whitey on a delicate perch at the eastern edge of his territory. I’ve seen none of the other hawks I study attempt this; Whitey often does….

Whitey in the Osier Dogwood (again)  -.jpg

A better indication of Whitey’s perching skills on his eastern perimeter….

Whitey in the Osier Dogwood (again) - (3).jpg
And one more  low branches closeup….
Whitey takes control, now sitting where Harri used to reign….

Now, I expect most of you can see that Whitey’s colouration and territorial range make him easy to identify, and I suspect that many are wondering how I can be so sure about the other three…. Turns out there are both physical features and, more importantly, behavioural idiosyncrasies for each one that make the job fairly easy. Keep in mind, too, that I can often see all four hawks at the same time!

I’ll start with Harri, because I really don’t have decent photos of him. He rarely crosses the marsh into the Rec Fields. Instead, he cruises, Harrier-like (hence the nickname) along the fence line and through the great field on the east side of the Marsh, usually five to ten feet off the ground. When he does perch on a post, he takes flight as soon as he senses a camera being raised in his direction. He has a beautiful red tail (though it’s white underneath), and a light front that makes him a very desirable subject. On a scale of 1—10 for accessibility, where ‘1’ is “wrapped in the cloak of invisibility,” he’s a 3! Here’s the best I’ve been able to do with him so far:

Harri on a fence post of the east side of Thomson Brook.jpg
Harri on a fence post of the east side of Thomson Brook (Marsh). He may have already departed for his spring and summer hunting grounds….

Reddy Eddy is a different character! He has been around for the past two winters. Like Harri, he hates to see a piece of glass, especially if it’s a camera lens, but he’s even nervous about binoculars. He has three preferred perches, two in the Raptor Trees on opposite sides of Michaelbrook Marsh, and several of the giant field lights). I can see Re’ddy almost every day, but it’s usually a lot of work to chase him around and get a photo. He’s slowly adjusting to birder-paparazzi. He used to simply fly away; now, he’s more willing to fly up and find a thermal or even fly over me to a distant perch. Like Harri, and unlike Sunny, he has, besides a quite light breast, a white throat, and this spring, a red tail. These features, together with his intense need for privacy, makes him a character easy to ID.

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Re’ddy in the south Michaelbrook Raptor Tree.
Re'ddy 2016 — "as close as yer gonna get....".jpg
Re’ddy in the Big Willow southeast of the Dog Park.
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Re’ddy in the northwest Michaelbrook Raptor Tree.

This is Re’ddy being attacked by a Red-winged Blackbird on March 25, 2016 — before he acquired his red tail. Click on the photos for captions and to enlarge. To close the expanded window, click on the small x in the top right corner.

All I wanted was a shot of Re’ddy in flight (after he’d eluded me all winter), and what I got was so surprising and much better! You can’t wish for opportunities like this! I must say, in conclusion, that, while still camera shy, Re’ddy has changed his ways somewhat. He now frequently flies over me to escape, or heads up into thermals to get out of camera range. Either way, I get better chances than I did prior to the RWBL vs RTHA extravaganza!

Finally, allow me to present Sunny, a newcomer last autumn who occupies the northeast quadrant of the map. On that 1-10 scale mentioned above, I rate him a 7.5. He’s camera tolerant but doesn’t really care to be stalked. When hunting, however, he maintains his focus pretty well and tolerates the yelps of dogs and people from the Dog Park while he hunts in the fields and mounds to the east. Recently, he seems to have expanded his territory, especially towards the Casorso Bridge and the Traplandia Farm. Sunny has a darker head than Re’ddy, a dark throat, and dark eyes.

Why Sunny? Because my first photo of him was this one in early November 2016; click to enlarge these photos:

He’s handsome and he knows it; clap your hands!

And then we get the occasional interloper that just doesn’t quite fit. I used to think this was Sunny, but the flight photos clearly show a white throat and a dark tail just beginning to turn red.

An interloper?.jpg
Who is this handsome dude? (January 4, 2017)

He can’t be Re’ddy (he didn’t behave like R. at all!) and the white throat doesn’t fit Sunny either (although I realize that there are plumage changes as juveniles age). As well, he’s way out of Harri’s range, and doesn’t fly like him. So, for all my certainty, there are still mysteries to be explored….

A lot of photos and explanation. For the few who took the time to read to the end, I hope you enjoyed the tour of my Red-tailed Beat….

Cheers!  😃

Oops! Almost forgot I’d promised eagles. Here’s a couple of shots I waited all winter to get:

Baldy - 1.jpg
Bald Eagle, likely male, on an exposed branch on the north side of Mission Creek.

This one and its mate were hanging out near the old nests just north of Mission Creek. Sadly, no sign that they’ll use them this spring.

Baldy - 2.jpg
I love every bird who takes the time to scope me back!

To all who stayed in for the whole show, thanks for your patience!

Well done!

Index of Recent Birding Posts

For non water-birds of 2016, click here:

Water Bird Highlights of 2016 in photos and text:

Part 1: Waders and shorebirds: American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, Killdeers, Sandpipers (Least, Solitary, Pectoral), Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Phalaropes.

For Spotted Sandpipers from 2015, click here.

Part 2: More waders and shorebirds: herons—Great Blue and Green

Part 3: Some ducks and coots : American Green-winged Teals, American Coots, American Wigeon, Buffleheads,  Goldeneyes: Barrow’s and Common

Part 4: More ducks: Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, Common Mergansers, Common Loon, Mallards

Part 5: More ducks: Northern Shovelers, Pied-billed Grebes, Horned and Red-necked Grebes (briefly), Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Teals—Blue winged and Cinnamon, and finally, Wood Ducks.

Part 6: Geese and swans: Canada Geese, Snow Geese, White-fronted Geese, Tundra Swans.

Highlights of 2016, part 6–geese & swans

Canada Geese with Cackling Goose
The Cackling Goose is much smaller than its cousins. There are so many subspecies, even among Cacklers that I can’t tell apart. Click to enlarge in a new tab.

To begin with, let me say that “geese in the Okanagan Valley” is a very controversial subject, with opinions varying from “How nice to have so many of these great Canadian symbols in our back yard” to “Kill off all of these pests fouling [which is different from fowling] our beaches and playing fields!” For a pretty fair assessment of the issue and its debaters, have a look at this article from The Capital News, July 2015. It explains that, in the first place, Canada Geese are not native to the Okanagan Valley. They were introduced by well-meaning folks in the 1960s (according to the article) and have flourished [or dominated] here ever since. Goose management is now a major concern of almost everyone in the Valley.

That said, for birders, there are several varieties of geese, including several subspecies of Canadas, and accidental Snow Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese noted here every year. A few photos will suffice to illustrate what we see….

Last spring, I was privileged, I felt, to find a Canada Goose nesting just across the brook in Thomson Marsh. Although I kept checking on her, I missed the hatching, and the parents and their offspring either moved to a safer location or suffered predation. One never knows. It was interesting to see the gander a few meters away seemingly keeping watch. He wasn’t there all the time, however, unlike goose pairs I’ve observed in other places. And oddly, one day, there was a Mallard drake stationed only a few meters away from the goose on her nest. Not quite sure what he was looking for…. Click images to enlarge.

Swans visit the valley in winter, a mix of Trumpeters and Tundras. I didn’t photograph any of the former last year (and not for political reason, I must add, though that might have been a subconscious factor), but got some pleasing images of a young Tundra family in Okanagan Lake near Maude Roxby Sanctuary.  Click images to enlarge.

In the spring, the Snow Goose that stayed for several weeks at the Thomson Farm (just south of the Marsh named for this farm family that donated the land that made the marsh sustainable) was accompanied by this lonely Tundra Swan. It was quite independent yet capable of getting along with the small flock of geese and its white cousin. It will be interesting to see if we have a similar situation this spring….  Click images to enlarge.


Highlights of 2016, part 5–more ducks– N to end

Almost done with ducks and their cousins, but this is a very long post!

You may have noticed that I’ve skipped over geese and swans, which I’ll cover separately….


First up is a duck that I had enormous difficulty getting close to at The Coast, with one notable exception at Piper Spit, Burnaby. Up here, however, especially at Robert Lake, despite its tiny viewing area, I’ve been able to do much better with Northern Shovelers. I was also able to observe them in a more natural setting in Michaelbrook Marsh.

While predominantly a western duck during breeding season, the NSHO can be seen in other parts of Canada and North America in other seasons.

“Perhaps the most outwardly distinctive of the dabbling ducks, the Northern Shoveler inhabits wetlands across much of North America. Its elongated, spoon-shaped bill has comblike projections along its edges, which filter out food from the water.” Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Northern Shoveler pair at Robert Lake, May 2016. Click to enlarge.


Northern Shoveller
Magnificent in spring! Click to enlarge.

The bill of the Northern Shoveler is about 6.5 cm (2.5 inches) long. The bill has has about 110 fine projections (called lamellae) along the edges, for straining food from water.

Northern Shoveler pairs are monogamous, and remain together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species.

When flushed off the nest, a female Northern Shoveler often defecates on her eggs, apparently to deter predators.

The oldest recorded Northern Shoveler was a male, and at least 16 years, 7 months old when he was found in Nevada. He had been banded in California.” (Cornell)

NSHOs in mid May. To enlarge the images above, just click on them….

A month after the photos posted above were taken, the NSHO has evolved into this guy below:

Northern Shoveler – mid June
Our drake in mid June. Click to enlarge in a new tab.

Turning away from ducks for a moment, I must give some space to one of the smaller members of our local menagerie, the Pied-billed Grebe.

pied-billed-grebe-range-cornellPart bird, part submarine, the Pied-billed Grebe is common across much of North America. These small brown birds have unusually thick bills that turn silver and black in summer. These expert divers inhabit sluggish rivers, freshwater marshes, lakes, and estuaries. They use their chunky bills to kill and eat large crustaceans along with a great variety of fish, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. Rarely seen in flight and often hidden amid vegetation, Pied-billed Grebes announce their presence with loud, far-reaching calls.

In our neighbourhood, as with so many of the water birds, we see PBGRs in Belmont Pond and Thomson Marsh  just before breeding becomes intense. I wish they’d nest where we can observe the chicks, but they don’t. Part of the fun of this avocation, however, is the ongoing effort to learn more about the birds when the heat is turned up….

Pied-billed Grebe
(Podilymbus podiceps) large Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. Curiously, this one, an autumn juvenile, does not have the usual “pied” stripe on the bill….
Pied-billed Grebe
(Podilymbus podiceps) small Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. Smaller space, different light!

Part bird, part submarine, the Pied-billed Grebe is common across much of North America. These small brown birds have unusually thick bills that turn silver and black in summer. These expert divers inhabit sluggish rivers, freshwater marshes, lakes, and estuaries. They use their chunky bills to kill and eat large crustaceans along with a great variety of fish, amphibians, insects, and other invertebrates. Rarely seen in flight and often hidden amid vegetation, Pied-billed Grebes announce their presence with loud, far-reaching calls.” (Cornell)

Pied-billed Grebe under duress - 2

We see other grebes as well, but so far I haven’t built up a very strong library of the Eared, Horned, Red-necked, and Western varieties. Another project for 2017!

Click to enlarge these record shot images:

And one shot of a Horned Grebe in winter plumage:

Where lake meets sky....
Horned Grebe, (Podiceps auritus) Okanagan Lake near Rotary Marshes, Kellowna. BC.

Two of my favourite spring ducks fall into the “R” category: Redheads and Ruddies.

Ruddy Ducks have a much greater presence in the West; Redheads are seen in more areas of North America. Each is a striking addition to any spring pond!

While 2016 did not provide opportunities as great as the previous two springs, it did not totally disappoint. We travel to Birdie Lake at Predator Ridge Resort south of Vernon each spring where we have been quite lucky with these species. No Ruddy in Belmont Pond this year, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a drop-in  this year. Surprise us, 2017, just as 2016 did when, for one day, we had Redheads in Thomson Marsh!

The image below was taken through some tall cattails on a cloudy afternoon. While it does not rank as a great image, it marks a noteworthy moment with its diversity of pond mates all crowded onto one heavy log! A most unusual find, unlikely to be replicated….

Redheads —special appearance
In Canada, we love diversity!

Click to enlarge images.

Ruddy Ducks, at least the drakes in breeding season are also known as Bluebills:

Another project to work on this spring!

From Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology come these two tidbits:

The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.” That’s an account from a different era, and one that I would question today. One can only imagine how the writer might describe human behaviour ninety years after he wrote that piece!

Ruddy Ducks are very aggressive toward each other and toward other species, especially during the breeding season. They are even known to chase rabbits feeding on the shore.”

Skipping Snow Geese and Swans, we move to another genus of ducks, Anas —teals comprising three species commonly found in BC. In Part 1 of this series, we met the American Green-winged Teal (and its Eurasian cousin the Green-winged or Common) Teal. In this concluding Part, we’ll look at two of the relatives: the Blue-winged and the Cinnamon. The latter is truly a western waterfowl with an amazing north-south range; the Blue-winged, however, is common across Canada. Here in the Okanagan Valley, I see more CITEs than BWTEs, at least in our two and a half years.

Teal males of all three species are striking. For me, the Cinnamon is most arresting,

Solo Cinnamon drake….

and especially beautiful to capture in flight with its combination of reddish brown, teal blue, and green. Not the best flight shot you’ll see, but my best so far. Another one to work on in 2017.

Cinnamon Teal in flight
Cinnamon Teal moving to a preferred spot at Robert Lake near Kelowna. Click to enlarge.

In 2015, I got my best CITE shots close to home. Last year, however, these ducks presented very well near the tiny viewing area at Robert Lake. This is my favourite shot by far.

Click to enlarge in a new tab.

“You’re so vain; you prob’ly think this shot is about you….”

I was very pleased the day that I found CITEs and a BWTE together in Teal Corner in Thomson Marsh. I had never seen a BWTE in this marsh before, and to have the two species together for comparison was a great bonus.

Teals - Cinnamon, Blue-winged
Cinnamon Teal pair in the background; Blue-Winged in front. Click to enlarge.
Blue-winged Teal
Blue-winged Teal surprise! Photographed through the cattails….

Wondering how I know which drake above the female on the right is mated to?

Good question. For starters, I watched the CITEs work together; the BWTE was clearly the visitor, and I’d seen him alone in the location before (left). Click to enlarge.

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online also provides this guideline: “Female and immature Cinnamon Teal are notoriously difficult to distinguish from Blue-winged Teal. Cinnamon Teal are always larger-billed than Blue-winged. They also have a warmer-toned face, whereas Blue-winged Teal has colder, gray tones and a bolder facial pattern. Green-winged Teal has a slimmer bill and more boxy head. Their overall body color on females is darker brown, with a darker stripe through the eye and darker cap. Green-winged Teal in any plumage lack the pale blue upperwing coverts of Blue-winged Teal, Cinnamon Teal and Northern Shoveler.” (Cornell)

Here’s a shot of a BWTE and a NSHO sharing space at Robert Lake (Click to enlarge in new tab):

Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveller
Blue-winged Teal and Northern Shoveler in a “twofer shot.”

And finally, we reach the end of our ducks for 2016 with my all-time favourite, one we are blessed to enjoy both at The Coast and here in Okanagan Valley, the duck whose photo graced the beginning of this five-part series (hey, these guys deserve a fanfare, too!)~

The Wood Duck!

Wood Ducks Belmont small - 1
Wood Duck pair in Belmont Pond where we enjoyed their presence for several weeks in the Spring of 2016. Sadly, they didn’t breed here, but that may change in 2017 if the newly installed WODU nest boxes impress them sufficiently….

Click to enlarge images.

Wood Duck drake on grass - 2.jpg
Wood Duck drake high in grass. (I said ‘in’, not ‘on’….)

And we’ll say goodbye for this post with this triptych from Piper Spit in Burnaby, BC.

For geese and swans, see Part 6.

Highlights of 2016, part 4– more ducks— G to M

If you were looking in Part 3 for ducks or water fowl with “C” in their first names, perhaps Cinnamon Teal or Common Mergansers, you didn’t find them except as a note. You’ll find the latter in this part, along with Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, the Common Loon, and, of course, Mallards (on which I did a piece earlier). For  Horned (and other) Grebes, check part 5.

Gadwall male - 09a
Gadwall drake, Thomson Marsh, early spring. Click to enlarge in a new tab.

Gadwall. Unusual name. Just like the word ‘unusual with its three ‘u’s. I’ve heard them called Gladwells, Gadwells, Godwills, and plain ducks. But to me, they’re a treat, and we have lots of ’em, although I always wonder how that happens. Really. I find Gadwalls are among the most devoted of mates and yet I’ve never seen, to my knowledge, a hatch of Gadwall ducklings! I’ve watched them copulate, so that can’t be the problem. But where do those wee ones go?

Click to enlarge in new tab.

According to Ducks Unlimited ,” Gadwall[s] breed near seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands, mainly in the grasslands and mixed Prairie regions of the United States and Canada. Substantial numbers also breed in wetland habitats of the Great Basin. Gadwall tend to begin breeding later than most ducks. Female gadwalls nest in fields and meadows, and on islands and dikes in wetlands, and lay an average of 7-12 eggs.”


In addition, “The North American gadwall population remained stable through the 1970s and early 1980s, while populations of other waterfowl species generally declined. Since the late 1980s, the gadwall population has increased to record levels, with the most recent estimates nearing 3 million, due to improved wetland habitat conditions.

Gadwalls - 3
“Okay, maybe this is the angle he’s lookin’ for. Smile, dammit!”….. “I’m smilin’; I’m smilin’!”

Many of you in the northeastern US and Atlantic Canada, western Ontario and the high Arctic, and most parts of BC may be unfamiliar with this subtly plumaged (until you really look closely) and almost silent species. We used to have a single pair in our urban pond in New Westminster that I admired for their devotion. But it wasn’t until we moved to the Interior that I really came to appreciate them, especially in early spring and late autumn, when light angles illuminate them best. And, now that I think about it, I don’t see them much in summer, likely because that’s when they’re rearing their young in more remote locations…. Live and learn (OK, and speculate!).

Click on any of the photos in the set below to enlarge them.
To return to this screen, click the small x in the top right corner of the enlarged window.

From Ducks Unlimited:

The North American gadwall population remained stable through the 1970s and early 1980s, while populations of other waterfowl species generally declined. Since the late 1980s, the gadwall population has increased to record levels, with the most recent estimates nearing 3 million, due to improved wetland habitat conditions.

In spring and autumn, we occasionally see drakes displaying their hidden colours, above left, when they stretch. In Thomson Marsh, in spring, pairs can be rather shy. In the shot above, top right, the drake and his mate had been swimming north along the brook, keeping an eye out for any snooping paparazzi who might be tracking their whereabouts. The drake, in the lead, decided to move ahead as quickly as possible, but the duck held back, unbeknownst to him. When he finally realized that he and she were now on opposite sides of me, he showed a little consternation as he tried to decide if it was safe to swim back to her. (He could have flown, but chose not to.) Slowly, deliberately, he swam back in her direction, giving me a number of great looks, including the one at the beginning of this  Gadwall section….

A much more colourful bird that I’m very pleased makes itself widely available in Okanagan Valley ponds and streams is the Hooded Merganser. Like its Common Merganser cousin, it shows up in Belmont Pond, only steps from home, and in Mission Creek in spring and autumn. Several breed in the area like the family that gave me some of my best images in 2015 at Michaelbrook Marsh.

All of the photos of HOME drakes were taken in Belmont Pond, very close, appropriately, to home. They can be found in many other locations in the Valley, however.

Click on any of the photos in the set below to enlarge them. 
To return to this screen, click the small x in the top right corner of the enlarged window.

Mergansers of all species can be problematic to photograph. Some of my Flickr friends envy how approachable Hoodies and COMEs are here. I appreciate their cooperation but still find capturing them to my satisfaction an ongoing challenge. But that’s the fun of it all, isn’t it— the ongoing drive for improvement.

These are two of my favourite Hoodie shots of 2016, both of drakes, but with different lighting….

Hooded Merganser (Belmont) - 12a
Hoodie drake in special light, Belmont Pond. Click to enlarge in new tab.
Hooded Merganser (Belmont) - 09a
Less dramatic, perhaps, but special in its own way…. Click to enlarge in new tab.

Click on any of the photos in the set below to enlarge them. To return to this screen, click the small x in the top right corner of the enlarged window. Before you do that, however, what do you mean you already did? I wanted you to note that three of these photos show a female Hooded Merganser, and one does not. It shows a juvenile male. Now which one is the juvie? And I don’t mean all those little ones, especially the one who’s mounting his guard, the Western Painted Turtle because he thinks it’s a pony….

If she has an all black bill, she’s not a she, he’s a he….

The Common Merganser is a much larger bird. While there are some similarities among the female cousins, we’d never mistake a COME for a HOME. That’s even more true for males. I had few chances to observe COME drakes at the Coast, but only because I didn’t like driving to look for them. Here, they show up in the spring as a pair—in Thomson Marsh or Mission Creek. At this stage, the drake looks a responsible mate. But after breeding, and even more, after the eggs hatch, he abandons his mate and his family.

And, in our neighbourhood, at least ini 2016, he became a regular visitor who spent his summer vacation in Belmont Pond, visiting with other ducks and mergansers, and providing wonderful photo opps for local photogs:

I love the colour and finery of these magnificent males, even if they are lousy dads! Click to enlarge.
Common Merganser female
Female Common Merganser in Thomson Marsh in Spring, waiting for her mate to arrive.

Some interactions were hilarious, at least to me…. Click photos to enlarge.

Poor guy! He’s gets it from everybody who thinks they’re the boss!

BC, including the Okanagan, is also home to the much rarer Red-breasted Merganser. Sadly, I didn’t see any this past year. One was reported on Okanagan Lake, but I couldn’t verify the find. Maybe this year….

Got so carried away with Mergansers that I nearly forgot the Common Loon, which I decided to put into this category. 2016 did not provide me with opportunities like those at 108 Resort in 2014 and 2015, and we did not get back up there this year. Of course we have Loons in the Okanagan-Southern Interior Plateau region, but I didn’t make them a target in 2016. Another species to pay more attention to in 2017. I’ve got some ideas; we’ll see if they materialize.

Click images to enlarge.

Besides its dazzling appearance, the COLO is renowned for its vocalizations. On a big lake like Okanagan L., we don’t get to enjoy that as much as we do in smaller Cariboo Lakes or those in the Kane Valley. I took their calls and chatter too much for granted in the 15 years when I heard them calling in the evenings and sometimes in the dark when it was time for humans to sleep. Now I long for those sounds again….

Well, the “M category” would not be complete without a mention of the Mallard, on which I’ve already posted a set of flight shots. I’m hoping to do a special feature on this species later in the spring. For this post, besides the Mallard above, here’s a couple of shots without comment: click on the photos to enlarge them.

For all the remaining ducks, see Part 5….

Highlights of 2016, part 3—ducks, coots, and goldeneyes: A to C*

Juvenile Wood Duck ed outside Photos
“The Darkling Wood Duck” (juvenile drake), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake, BC. Click to enlarge in a new tab.

*For teals other than American Green-winged, look under “T.” Similarly, Common Mergansers are found with their Hooded cousins under “M.”

Part 3 looks at some of my favourite water birds shots from 2016 that are not covered in part 2.

We are especially fortunate to have a great selection of species, ducks: both dabbler and diving , as well as two (and on rare occasions three) species of mergansers, and an assortment of others mentioned in the heading….

Late winter, spring and autumn are the prime seasons for ducks here. While there are plenty around in summer, during hat time we  focus more on songbirds and Ospreys.

Most of the photos are taken in the Kelowna area, many close to home. Some, however, like the juvie Wood Duck above, were taken in the summer at Piper Spit on Burnaby Lake in the Vancouver area on our trips to pick up and deliver grandkids….

Teal - American Green-winged drake
(Anas crecca carolinensis) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC. Folks at The Coast shooting at places like Piper Spit in Burnaby may have no idea what a challenge it is up here to get this close. This fella had attached himself to a small flock of Mallards slightly less fearful of people than he…. ………Click photo for enlarged view in new tab.

As with other parts of this review of 2016, the presentation will be roughly in alphabetical order. And that means starting with the American Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca carolinensis) . Few of us bother with the “American” designation, but as we occasionally see the Green-winged Teal (aka Common Teal, Anas crecca) more commonly found in Europe and Asia, I’m using the AGTE designation here. At Burnaby Spit, in fall, winter, and spring, AGTEs forage very close to the boardwalk are easily photographed up close. Up here, however, these tiny ducks have to fight for their place in the ecosystem and are generally very difficult to get close to—at least in the places where I see them. During our colder, snowier than usual winter 2016-17, I was able to find them in Thomson Brook and with great stealth to get a few shots, but not unobstructed. Getting shots at a distance is not so difficult, but I’m not able or interested in spending thousands of dollars on high powered lenses to overcome this issue…. More teals near the end of Part 3….

“The waterborne American Coot is one good reminder that not everything that floats is a duck. A close look at a coot—that small head, those scrawny legs—reveals a different kind of bird entirely. Their dark bodies and white faces are common sights in nearly any open water across the continent, and they often mix with ducks. But they’re closer relatives of the gangly Sandhill Crane and the nearly invisible rails than of Mallards or teal….

American Coot Rotary - 3
American Coot in Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. Always difficult to balance tones! Click to enlarge.

You’ll find coots eating aquatic plants on almost any body of water. When swimming they look like small ducks (and often dive), but on land they look more chickenlike, walking rather than waddling. An awkward and often clumsy flier, the American Coot requires long running takeoffs to get airborne.” (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

We see rafts of coots in the winter in Okanagan Lake. In spring, however, they move into the brooks and ponds where they raise their young. I have seen them breeding in Belmont Pond, so close to our home, but sadly, the birds moved to a different location to hatch and rear the “cootlings.” (Incidentally there doesn’t seem to be an approved designation for coot chicks; one suggestion  I saw—’cootie‘ just isn’t acceptable!! In England, related birds are sometimes called “moorchicks.”) I have photos of the chicks at such a distance they’re not good enough to post. Definitely a challenge for 2017!

Another fascinating “American bird” for me is the American Wigeon. (I used to see their Eurasian cousins in Japan, and EUWI are showing up in increasing numbers in BC these days. Have yet to capture one in the Interior, so will look hard this year.) AMWIs, up here, I thought at first, were very difficult to approach. 2016, however, changed that opinion. Spring in Thomson Marsh seems to be the best time to observe and shoot them (with a camera, of course!) They do stop over in the fall and a few stick around near Okanagan Lake through the winter. In spring, however, they return to marshes and are great fun to watch…. Only the male sports the bald pate and green racing stripe through the eye.

A duck that stands out despite its size is the very active and, in the right light, colourful Bufflehead. I didn’t get a lot of shots of this species in 2016. (Check more recent posts for evidence of my good fortune in 2017.) In the set below, click any photo to enlarge ’em all.

“We may be small, but we’re show stoppers!!”

There are two species of goldeneyes to watch for: the Common Goldeneye and the one below, Barrow’s Goldeneye. While the females of both species are quite similar though fairly easily distinguished if one can get a clear image of their bills, the males are striking different. Of the two, the Barrow’s, a northwestern-corner-of-the-continent duck to begin with, is rarer even out here, and, in my humble opinion, the more attractive duck with his splatter of white stripes and his purplish head with his quarter moon or teardrop white crescent stripe, take your pick.

Incidentally, the Barrow’s in the name honours Sir John Barrow (1764–1848) who, according to Wikipedia was a long time secretary in the British Admiralty, where he”… was a great promoter of Arctic voyages of discovery, including those of John Ross, William Edward Parry, James Clark Ross and John Franklin. The Barrow Strait in the Canadian Arctic as well as Point Barrow and the city of Barrow in Alaska are named after him.” I used to think the duck was named for one of these far north locations, but apparently, we can reach such a conclusion only indirectly (written my best civilservantese).

I spotted this pair at Robert Lake quite far away, but was able to sneak up and get this medium range image using the technique described below. Click to enlarge.

In my experience, BAGOs prefer wider stretches of water—ponds and lakes—that enable them to stay farther from my camera. Being divers, however, they need to come into the shallows to forage, so they can be stalked sometimes. Take your time, move when they’re really hungry and submerged, but know that once they spot you, there’s a good chance they’ll give up food for privacy. A fellow photographer in Penticton, however, has managed some wonderful closeups of Barrow’s in that town’s wonderful canal. Find the right pond, I guess! I think a Barrow’s side trip (to Penticton, not Barrow’s Strait!) is in the works when I start my south Okanagan region spring birding….

Common Goldeneyes by comparison are truly common. Still, they’re a pretty duck in winter when they visit Mission Creek to forage on the bottom of the stream.

Cornell agrees: “The male Common Goldeneye adds a bright note to winter days with its radiant amber eye, glistening green-black head, and crisp black-and-white body and wings. The female has a chocolate brown head with the same bright eye that gives this species its name. These distinctively shaped, large-headed ducks dive for their food, eating mostly aquatic invertebrates and fish. They nest in tree cavities in the boreal forest of Canada and Alaska; look for them on large rivers, lakes, and Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts in winter…. 

Females are best distinguished by head and bill shape (above); also, female Barrow’s usually have more yellow on the bill than female Common.

Comparison of female bills of Common Goldeneye and Barrow’s Goldeneye.

In our very cold December 2016, Mission Creek froze over in the lower reaches, but fortunately some stretches of mid-stream, ironically, stayed open.COGOs were able to forage, but their numbers were much reduced from the past two winters.

Common Goldeneye drake
COGO in the very cold Mission Creek, December 2016. Click to enlarge.

in the very mild 2015-16 winter, I was very much surprised  to discover a solitary female COGO in the mix of ducks that wintered in Thomson Marsh sometime in mid February. Later that month, this same duck, I believe, moved over to Belmont Pond where she waited patiently, it seemed, for two weeks. Because she was a bit of an explorer, an individualist, I named her Dora. Eventually, she was joined by a single COGO drake that I christened Melvin. They stayed in Belmont Pond for about three days with an assortment of other species I had not seen here the year before, then by mid-March, they were gone, and I never saw them again.

Dora and Melvin
Melvin and Dora in Belmont Pond
Melvin, Dora’s prince whom she waited for for weeks! You can tell he’s royalty by that purplish tinge added to the green in his crown….

For Gadwalls, Hooded and Common Merganser, Common Loons, and Mallards, check Part 4….

Trump’s Inauguration and the Collapse of America

I stole this cartoon and hope M. Shan and the durango telegraph don’t mind….

Donald J Trump’s presidential inauguration speech today made no attempt to heal the divisions that are tearing apart the United States of America. What so many people in the US and around the world had hoped for—a well considered, compassionate, unifying outreach to citizens and politicians alike was denied. What we and they got was a campaign speech, a jingoistic America-First-all-we-care-about-is-me-and-my-supporters speech, one that implied if-you-don’t-like-it, keep-your-mouth-shut-or-you’ll-wish-you-had.  Trump claimed that, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished – but the people did not share in its wealth.” Presumably, he’s thinking of politicians, civil servants, presumably anyone in the pre-November 8, 2016 Congress who opposed measures to redistribute wealth by fiscal or other means—largely Republicans who have made anathema any attempt to address inequalities of wealth during the Obama years. As a member of the nation’s 1% of richest citizens, how much does Trump really care about having “the people” share any of his wealth. His tax proposals so far indicate that he intends to protect even more of the income of the 1% than before he assumed the throne!

Trump made no acknowledgement of enormous economic improvements in America during the Obama presidency as the nation was pulled back from the abyss of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Hyperbole, conflation, misrepresentation and outright lies are tools he wields crazily in his quest to create an image of the US that fits his “only I can fix the mess” pipe dream. America, like virtually all developed countries has problems, but his image of America is as tilted and stretched as a New Yorker caricature. He and his proposed cabinet represent the 1% in America, industrialists, bankers and financiers and investors who, with little or no concern for anyone’s welfare but their own, have built enormous fortunes on the backs of working people. Trump himself has brought in foreign workers, built his businesses with products made outside the USA, sometimes cheated contractors and refused to pay workers, resisted paying any tax he could get away with (it appears from evidence gleaned by investigative journalists and despite — or perhaps corroborated by — his refusal to release his tax returns) regardless of the economic conditions of his country.

trump-snake-oil-salesman-toon-1After reciting his familiar and false dystopian vision of a destitute America, DJT then promised his supporters massive improvements in their lives and spoke as if those benefits would begin immediately. He promised a more militant America. He assured the “forgotten men and women” of America, that “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Like a Costco huckster selling a gallon of stove cleaner with magic ingredients, he offers an oversupply of “cure” to a problem that can be solved with cleaners we already own—and a little elbow grease. People working together. But his view of “the people” is clogged by his insistence that “those people” who support anyone else but him are the problem. There’s no compassion in his words, no recognition that many of the people he claims are struggling did not vote for him in November, no attempt to reach out to them and start healing the divide. Be sure to check again tomorrow, next week, month, or year to see just how many benefits have been realized and by whom!

The majority of Americans and thoughtful, fact-minding observers everywhere do not see the USA the way Trump portrays it and many of his supporters characterize it. (Is ‘characterize’ the right word here?) The President promised those who believe they are victims that “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. [I guess that also includes investors, bankers and financiers, and already wealthy industrialists.] We will bring back our jobs. We will bring back our borders. We will bring back our wealth. And we will bring back our dreams. We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work – rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor. We will follow two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American.”

Trump is a snake oil salesman, a demagogue with little knowledge of either the nation’s history or how its political system operates. He has no integrity. He can speak out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, shift principles in mid-sentence, as long as he detects that his audience is applauding. On the campaign trail he encouraged his supporters to see Hilary Clinton as a criminal who needed to be locked up. At his Inauguration Luncheon, he thanked President Clinton and HRC for “being there” and asked attendees to give her a standing ovation. Expect this behavioural deviance to happen repeatedly. He’s oblivious to the incongruities.

Thanks to Shan from the durango telegraph in Durango Colorado. Used without permission.

Despite touting himself as a great “dealer maker,” American’s new president acts as though he can govern alone without having to make compromises with the very legislators whom he blames for creating the chaos he claims American is in. He is in for a rude surprise, I think. While he talks about governing for “all Americans,” he clearly disregards the vast number of American citizens who do not trust him and whom he intends to force into submission on health care, climate change, and tax fairness.

He will learn, however, that voters cannot be cheated as easily as the contractors and labourers and customers and investors he has taken advantage of in business. Politics is not the same as the business of real estate (where he has had colossal failures as well as triumphs) where he is dealing with business people quietly willing to cut their losses and wait for retribution, or to be bought off if that’s the better option. Disillusioned voters, however, can be a powerful force, as the Democrats have discovered, and the Republicans already knew from 2008 and 2012. Voters don’t need to sue, at great expense of money and time. They just have to vote, and they will….

Trump’s message tries to end on a high note: “The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action. Do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done. No challenge can match the heart and fight and spirit of America. We will not fail. Our country will thrive and prosper again.”

The President (so hard to describe him thus!) would have us believe that to say a thing is so makes it so, and that claiming that change will happen is the same as witnessing it. So in love with himself, so totally lacking humility, he is as certain to fail as every other arrogant demagogue who has tried to rule an enormous empire without having the majority behind him. He listens only to those who feed his egomania, his narcissism, his ignorance in matters that require great knowledge and profound thought. Think of Ozymandias, king of kings….

Thanks again to Shan from Durango, Colorado!

How long will it take principled Republican conservatives to turn on Trump, to throw up their hands in the face of his irresponsibility and intractability? How long until the simple minded among Trump’s beloved “uneducated” supporters wake up and start whining that he’s just another pol who talks like a pro wrestler and is just as phoney. His most devious opponents among the Democrats, along with millions of independent Americans, and global citizens the world over, are already plotting to do all they can to frustrate and provoke him into rash and self-destructive actions in the hope that his downfall will create an opportunity to “make America as great again as it was before he got elected” — before his hubris and the influence and pressure from his evil cronies drove the nation to the brink of disaster.

Some who oppose him will try to “play nice,” even as they cry out for justice and humanity and Christian tolerance. They will try to survive in a toxic political environment—as they have been doing for some time. They will argue, with David Brooks, that “…if people redouble their commitment to constitutional norms and practices, to substance and dignity, this thing is survivable.” In other words, we’ll all get through this, somehow, because ‘American democracy’ will prevail.’ They will be wrong.

In the end, America will be broken, torn apart by brutal incivility and discord, selfish leadership, and harsh and painful payback in all sectors of the American body politic. We are witnessing nothing less than the fall of an Empire and the almost certain re-ascendancy of an even older one — China — in Asia, in Africa, in South America. Citizens of the USA, the Humpty Dumpty of the planet, will discover that it takes far longer to put Humpty back together again than it did to smash their fragile “unity.”

For more on the fact checking of Trump’s address, see:
Fact-checking President Trump’s inaugural address – The Washington Post

Also, please read David Brooks column in the New York Times.
While he’s a much better writer than I, we are in great agreement — except for our conclusions….

The Internal Invasion – The New York Times

And read Paul Krugman in the NYT:
Donald the Unready – The New York Times

And of course this classic from The New Yorker’s David Remnick, written the day after Trump’s election victory—victory in the Electoral College at least….
Presidential Election 2016- An American Tragedy – The New Yorker