Welcome to Birds & Musings!


Thanks for visiting this blog, a work in progress since 2015, especially if you’ve come here from my keithricflick Flickr site. Hope you find something interesting. I want your experience to be as user friendly as possible!
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Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)
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My purpose is to share photos and stories of wildlife, particularly birds, in the Okanagan Region. You’ll also find “bonus information” from other places I’ve travelled to.  Secondly, when the muses dictate, I’ll offer some rambling about politics and other topics of general interest. Look under Politics~

Recommended posts: (changes occasionally). Click a blue or boldfaced underlined link.

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Sean Richardson ~ July 20, 1968 – April 18, 2021

The first portion of this piece (in blue) was published on Flickr and Facebook where I also invited folks to read the posts on the website of The Harvest Golf Course where he had been Director of Instruction since 2013 (link below):

We like to say that children are supposed to outlive their parents. In the case of my son Sean, aged 52 years and 272 days, the ‘normal’ course of life events didn’t happen. The cancer he had been battling since 2016 took him from us on April 18, 2021, what would have been my dad’s 115th birthday.

Our hearts are broken. Sean is no longer with us. We will never again see his impish smile, chuckle at his witty quips, sardonic comments about politics and politicians, or listen to his goofy laugh, which only a handful of his closest friends and family probably got to relish. We will no longer imbibe his delightful instruction and good-natured ribbing, or ponder his philosophizing. 

Most folks knew only his gentle, thoughtful, deeply caring and helpful side. By nature, a peacemaker rather than a fighter , when provoked (a very rare occurrence), however, he’d let his opponent know in no uncertain terms. And that foe would have to think about why and whether ever to do THAT again! He did all he could to beat the disease, but in the end, it took him from us.

Hundreds of people who counted him a friend, and he greatly valued those acquaintances. He was attached profoundly to a handful of confidants, most dating back to his schooldays in 100 Mile House, who, along with his family, knew him in both  joyful and stressful times. His life was never as simple as some may have thought, especially if you met him only in his maturity after he married Tracy Hansford. The mature Sean was a treasure to the whole community, to those who knew him intimately as well as those who called him a teammate, colleague, coach, fellow fisherman or hunter or conservationist, or public speaker (Here he is at the BC Legislature speaking on behalf of hunting and wildlife conservation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YFLPJ4dk6Ps 11 minutes 35 seconds). 

He was a natural leader and diplomat.
Here is a post was delivered to him in booklet form only days before he died.
It details the response of participants in a leadership conference January 28, 2020, where he acted as a leadership consultant to a group of 14 leaders from the international PCL Construction company. It’s worth a read, I think.

For his closest friends and family, his death is devastating. We depended upon him so much for seeing the best in us, bringing us together, leading by example in celebrating life, pushing past obstacles, over hurdles, around paradoxes, and onto a better future. For us who knew what an authentic gem of a human being he truly was, his death is nearly unbearable. 

And yet the mature Sean showed us that the ‘unbearable’ is probably ‘manageable’ — that giving up is simply unacceptable. “If something needs to be put aside in order to carry on, then do it,” he’d have said. “Don’t bang your head against a wall, or wail, complain, lash out, or indulge in self-destruction. Find a way to carry on, one step at a time, to find the positive even when the world is roiling with apparent insanity. Calm down, breathe, weigh your options, make the best choice you can in the moment you occupy.” 

That’s how he lived, and how he hoped those he loved would live as well. “You don’t have to agree with me,” he’d have said, “but you have to keep your wits about you. Be the best you can be as much as you’re capable of being.”

Bill and Koo in konversation

And NOW, as they say on HBO, a special presentation, a silly presentation, originally intended to be humorous.

Turns out, however, that this is just a way to dispose of some fun shots that did NOT, thanks to the dismal daylight, turn out technically well.

I’ve published this mostly for my granddaughter Rina, who is a Raven-whisperer. I know she’ll say she likes the story….

I wonder if anyone else will actually view them…. Oh well, never fear, more interesting and serious stuff is sure to follow soon….

This is Bill over here…. By the way, in this series, ALWAYS read Koo’s lines first. She’s on the right, over here.

Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
Mischievous Common Ravens (Corvus corax) Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
The End!

Not a hybrid after all!

An old dog learns something new…. Does the term “intersex duck” intrigue?

Please note: some of the photos are high resolution and take extra time to load on a slow computer.
ALSO: IF YOU’RE VIEWING THIS ON AN iPad running iOS 14 or newer (highly recommended), be sure to turn your iPad to landscape view and tap the AA at the top of the toolbar and choose Show Reader View: I think you’ll enjoy the enhanced reading experience!
If you’re using a Mac running OS 11 (Big Sur) and Safari 14, I also recommend that you click on the reader view icon on the left side of Safari’s address bar. I have no idea whether you can get enhanced reading from other systems on non-Apple devices….

Large Belmont Pond, March 23, 2020.

Unusual Mallard, Large Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. Check the female bill on this otherwise male-looking duck….

I noticed a strange looking duck, resembling a Mallard drake, sitting calmly on the south-end raft where various species, but mostly Mallards, preen and sun themselves from Spring through Autumn. As there were other Mallards in the pond, it was easy to compare/contrast. What I noticed first was its “white eye,” or more accurately, its closed white lower eyelid. 

The plumage wasn’t quite right, either, but that’s not unusual as we move from Spring through Summer. Of course, on this day, we were still a long way from even the middle of Spring. 

What I thought was (foreground) a Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) and (upper left) a hybrid Mallard-Gadwall (aka Brewer’s Duck by Audubon in 1822) in the Large Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC.

Then I noticed the newcomer’s bill: orange with black streaks or spots, like a Mallard hen’s. The head was streaked only on the top side with the green that completely covered other Mallard drakes’ noggins. And the new duck’s sides resembled both a female’s and a male’s. 

At the time, I was very puzzled by the combination of male and female physical characteristics. I had nothing in my lexicon to describe it. On my way home, I recalled having seen a reference somewhere to a “Brewer’s Duck” that Audubon had named sometime back in the 1800s that had eventually been shown to be a hybrid of a Mallard and a Gadwall. At home, I looked up BD on the Internet, and found this:

Audubon’s Brewer’s Duck, which he first identified in 1822 as a “Bemaculated Duck,” a misspelling of ‘bimaculated’ and named in honour of the same ornithologist for which the Brewer’s Blackbird and Brewer’s Sparrow are named, Thomas Mayo Brewer.

Then I did what no effective birder, student of Nature, or anybody, really, should do: I jumped to a conclusion without asking enough questions / doing sufficient research. The bird with the fake blind eye (I had already named it Homer, in honour of the blind Greek poet/historian) was, I surmised far too easily, a Brewer’s Duck — a Mallard-Gadwall hybrid! After all, I had seen Mallard hybrids before, particularly a Mallard-Northern Pintail cross that I’d observed in 2013 in White Rock (South Surrey), BC. And I’d learned at that time that Mallard hybrids are not rare, in fact not all that remarkable, really, except for their “enhanced appearance.”

Mallard-Northern Pintail hybrid, January 31, 2014, South Surrey, BC.

Still, Brewer’s Ducks, my research showed, were certainly uncommon. I noticed that Homer didn’t fit perfectly the description of BD’s I was reading, but blithely chalked that up to the idiosyncrasies of hybridism. And then, as I am wont to do (!), I began “sharing the news” of my discovery — on Flickr, with friends and acquaintances who live in the area and were likely to see Homer themselves.

For that impulsive transgression, months later, I humbly apologize. In a moment, you’ll be picking up on the fact that from here on pretty much every use of the male pronoun appears in quotation marks. If you haven’t guessed already, soon you’ll understand why….

‘Homer’ hung around Belmont Pond for a week or so and, even with the sudden onset of Covid-19, friendly neighbours on the east side of the pond allowed me access to their back yard to photograph ‘him’ at closer range than in my first encounter.

The original comment, below, turned out be NOT TRUE!!
“Mallard-Gadwall hybrid, aka Brewer’s Duck, named by Audubon in 1822.
A rare find and a welcome addition to the large Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. “
(‘Homer’ was the original spelling; the name has since been adjusted to reflect more recent ‘information.’ Read on!)

Then suddenly, as April arrived, ‘he’ was gone from Belmont Pond. Forever, I suspected; off with the other Mallards to Northern destinations for the breeding season. 

I was very pleasantly surprised, therefore, when I “rediscovered Homer” in a channel of Thomson Marsh on April 4 and again on the grass near Teal Pond during the week of April 13. 

The main core of my daily beat….

The April photos included extreme closeups that have become very important parts of an historical record. By mid-April, “Homer” had “disappeared” once more. Forever, I thought, again(!).

‘Homer’ in the Channel just north of Teal Pond, Thomson Marsh, April 9, 2020.

Naturally, I celebrated the find, and persisted in trumpeting the re-arrival of the “Brewer’s Duck.”

Not who I thought ‘he’ was…. But certainly very friendly in this ‘new’ location….

By May, however, Homer was no longer to be seen, at least by me. Not until Autumn, October 29, 2020, when ‘he’ magically reappeared in Belmont Pond, then, as in the spring, in the Southeast Sector of Thomson Marsh, between Teal and Raptor Ponds.. Imagine my surprise!

” ‘Homer’ returns. I had observed this duck in the Spring of 2020 and was surprised and delighted to see ‘him’ again in Belmont Pond in late October 2020. No doubt about ‘his’ being the same bird!”
“Gettin’ back to my roots….”

Soon, others were noticing and photographing ‘him’, too. Still no one I knew ever had a “better” identification of ‘him’ than mine. Then one day, on an umpteenth Flickr post, Paul, a colleague, wonderful photographer and birder who goes by the handle “ebirdman,” whom I’ve known since 2013, wrote a simple question/comment in a response:
“Lovely shot, Keith! Have you ever done any reading on intersex birds? This bird looks very much like an intersex Mallard. Take a look and see what you think. https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/intersex-ducks
And that kind prodding, as we say, changed everything! 

Here’s what turned up, in part, on the site Paul referenced:
Note on iNaturalist website by Reuven Martin (project createdon January 26, 2018):
“Intersex” birds are those that show plumage and bare-parts colour seemingly intermediate between male and female. This is commonly seen in Mallards and is also known to occur in other ducks and perhaps other birds. Such birds are often confused with hybrids. As far as I know, the phenomenon is not well-understood or studied.
I use “intersex” in quotes because the term has quite a different meaning to how it’s used in humans.
Here’s an excellent collection of images: 

Reuven continued: This project is for any ducks thought to be or to possibly be “intersex”. I’d like to get a better handle on how their plumage can vary. Other interesting questions:
* Can these birds reproduce, and if so which sex are they?
(Generally thought to be female, but I’m not sure how well-supported that is).
* Is behaviour and voice typically more male-like or female-like?
* Does the plumage remain consistent over the birds life?
(The answer is at least sometimes yes.) 

The screen shot below shows some of the locations of interest to Reuven on the iNaturalist blog….

I had written “Homer, the Brewer’s Duck (Audubon, 1822), a Mallard-Gadwall hybrid near Teal Pond, Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC, shows how to clip the grass with precision…. “Not so fast,” my friend Paul replied. “Have you ever done any reading on intersex birds?”

As I probed for information on the Internet, I was overwhelmed by what I found. The earliest data I encountered came from a cooperative website, Bird Hybrids http://birdhybrids.blogspot.com (apparently coordinated by Dave Appleton from North Elmham, Norfolk, United Kingdom). It enabled me to find the site of another Flickr member in Sweden, Carl Gunnar Gustavsson, that is also devoted to hybrids and birds that might be mistaken for hybrids, such as the duck below that so resembles “Homer.” Mr. Gustavsson’s post is dated December 27, 2008! And these are his images:

Under his photos, he had written: _63I8334 Mallard Intersex 1
Malmoe, Sweden 27 December 2008. This is the most masculine out of 2 or possibly 3 individuals at the same pond today. At two other ponds there were only normal birds. I saw this one also about 2 weeks ago when it was accompanied by a normal male and a normal female. Today it seemed to be accompanied by a female only when it at times separated from the flock. I presume that this is a pure mallard with poor sex definition alternatively a masculinised [sic] female. Arguments in favour of other origin?? I uploaded this picture because I think it might add something to the discussion if a bird is a hybrid or an abnormal individual of a pure species.

While clearly NOT “Homer,” Carl Gunnar’s duck in Sweden 12 years ago was certainly the same natural phenomenon that I had been viewing in Kelowna, BC, Canada!

Besides his own photos I found a useful opinion Mr. Gustavsson had offered on on someone else’s work, as well, that sets out his criteria of judgment in the hybrid vs intersex argument (quote edited to remove Internet links that no longer work):

“I [d]on’t think it is a hybrid at all but what we call an intersex, i.e. a pure Mallard with both male and female features. Odd but not too uncommon. This one is the most extreme that I have heard of [dead link removed]. It was ringed [banded?] as a typical female but 10 years later looked like a rather typical male except for the bill which is still of a female type (it is the bird in the front I am talking about!!!!!!!!!!!). Some other examples, mainly my own [dead links removed]…. As you can see there are different degrees of masculinity and I think yours is rather typical. Black on the bill like in a female, green on the head green from the eye and backwards/downwards reminding on an american wigeon [sic], a mixture of male and female feathers along the side of the body and more or less obvious male type “hooks” on the tail. Moulting male birds is the big pitfall but should not be a problem at this time of the year, [as they] do usually not have black on the bill or only a black mid rib on the culmen [upper ridge of a bird’s bill] and usually have a more mixed pattern of colour on the head not the typical limited one that your bird has.” [bold face and square brackets – [ ] – are mine – KAR]

As I delved deeper into Dave Appleton’s Internet page on hybrids vs intersex ducks, I came across other opinions. One of the most interesting is authored by Laura Erickson, a birding expert and writer from Duluth, Minnesota. One of her first references to “intersex ducks” appeared on her Flickr site on February 3, 2009. [https://www.flickr.com/photos/lauraerickson/3251558114] where it attracted a comment from Joern Lehmhus. (He is still actively chasing this issue as shown by his comment on one of my Flickr posts in December 2020 pointing out that I had found an intersex duck, not a Mallard-Gadwall hybrid!)
In 2009, Mr. Lehmhus was questioning whether the duck Laura had labelled “intersex” was perhaps a Mallard-Black Duck hybrid. It was not as we learned from yet another post by Cathy Sheeter, another Flicker member who discussed the Mallard-Mexican Duck hybrid vs iDuck issue on Appleton’s Bird Hybrid’s site on April 1, 2013 (and no, I don’t think there’s an April Fools prank involved here!). https://birdhybrids.blogspot.com/2014/04/mallard-x-mexican-duck.html

The duck Cathy’s describing (below the sidebar), she concludes, is a hybrid, not an intersex.
(Note: as I cannot copy the original photos, I’ve had to use a screen shot from her site.) 

SIDEBAR! This “hybrid/intersex/eclipse drake distinction” became important to me when I came across another duck at Thomson Marsh on December 1, 2020, that is also difficult to identify, one I eventually named Socratease. More on him/her (shown just below) later….

In her piece, Cathy Sheeter emphasizes the importance of the appearance of the bill. When I suggested that Socratease (above) is an intersex Mallard, my Flickr friend Jody Wells, on Vancouver Island, challenged me, claiming that it was just an eclipse drake, using the bill and other features to explain why he thought so. At first, I was inclined to agree. Over time, and having managed a couple of times to find S again (though unable to photograph him/her satisfactorily), I remain unsure. As Jody was apparently unfamiliar with intersex ducks at that time, he is learning about this phenomenon along with me….
Now back to Cathy’s case for why the duck in her photos is NOT an intersex Mallard:

This discussion shows how easy it is for some of us to mix up hybrids and intersex ducks….

I also want to return to Laura Erickson’s blog from Minnesota for a moment. While she first discussed intersex Mallards on her February 2009 podcast, she returned to that story in her blog post of February 13, 2016 where the audio has been transcribed. I encourage anyone interested in this story to read it here: https://blog.lauraerickson.com/2016/02/intersex-mallard.html.
Part of what makes it interesting to me is her attempt to link aging to sexual characteristics, not just in Mallards, but in other birds, and even peopleFor the original 2009 podcast click here; you’ll have to scroll down to the February 4th entry — “Intersex Mallard” and click there to hear her short and fascinating podcast

 PLEASE NOTE: I will continue to update this post as time/opportunity permit and more information and thoughts develop!

These are the main areas I go to; there are many others as well.
This map is included to show the distance between
Belmont Ponds / Thomson Marsh and Munson Pond and Park.
UPDATE: In January 2021, at Munson Park, as the ducks fly, about 3.6 km north of where Homher resides, I found a second iDuck. To keep things simple, I named her Muncie. She was hanging out with a pair of mooching Mallards near a well-known bird feeding station catering to passerines. The ducks help clean up the spillage. The drake of the pair was somewhat mean towards Muncie, but she handled his harassment cleverly and found efficient, somewhat sneaky routes back to the treats. I've observed her several times over this month (Feb. 2021); While I did not see her on February 3, she was back and active again on Feb. 5 and 7. On the fifth, she had met up with a single Mallard drake whom she was dominating! 
Here is a little gallery tribute (Click on a photo to enlarge it and enter the gallery; to close it, click the x in its top right corner.) I'll post more shots of her in the future as I track her progress along with Homher's:

For the full record of Homher, the gorgeous iDuck star of Thomson Marsh (below), take a quack at my Flickr album of all 51 (and counting) shots of Homher here:
Here’s one of the most recent shots of “the venerable lady.” (February 3, 2021)

Intersex Mallard, Homher, SE sector, Thomson Marsh, Kelowa, BC, February 2, 2020.

Additional links:

British writer Charlie Moores visiting Vancouver, BC in 2009:

Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas link from 2014:

Goldeneyes in the Creek 2019

December 2019

Yoo view larger sized images in a new tab, click on the photo. Use your browser’s back button to return to this post.

This is what a casual observer sees from late November to early March in this stretch of Mission Creek. Can you spot the two species? Hint: One species is a single pair in this image....
Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) /(Bucephala islandica) Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC.

Haven’t posted since last March (2019)! But now that the gloomy days of winter are upon us again, I’ve got some writing to do! Lots to cover, but one topic at at time, and not necessarily in order of importance.

I’m slowing down. Turned 75 in June. Have been letting myself go, sadly. Until this week when I decided, once again, to get a head start on New Years Resolutions starting with a weight loss diet. Working great after three days! Lots of other activities as well. Those stories another time, perhaps….

I need to “straighten up,” as my dad would have said, if I want to keep doing what remaining beloved activities I can still do. Watching and photographing the ducks in Mission Creek in winter is one of those, and I need to be in better shape to get there!

For the past five winters, Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) have been my main target. They share the water with Mallards and Canada Geese, as well as late in the season, mergansers, both Hooded and Common. But for a couple of months, the COGOs are the main performers. This year, for the past couple of weeks at least, they’ve been joined by their Barrow’s cousins.

Don't worry, the shots get better with time.
Common Goldeneye pair (Bucephala clangula) in Mission Creek, cloudy day, Nov. 26, 2019

Saw the first COGO this season on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day in Canada, while walking with Nana, my good luck charm. Didn’t take the camera so that helped, too, one tends to think….

On the 26th, with only limited light, went back again and there they were — the usual raft of COGOs plus, I noticed almost accidentally as they’re quite unexpected here this time of year, a single pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes, just waiting to be recorded. The COGOS seemed more hungry than were wary on this occasion and gave me pretty good access. The BAGOs were much less secured, but allowed a few shots. The light, however, was not what it can be, and the results while okay were not great.

Barrow’s Goldeneyes (Bucephala islandica) Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. Nov. 26, 2019
The light gives the drake a purple cast in his head plumage…. Nov. 26, 2019

Three days later, I returned on a gorgeous sunny day and had some great fun with the COGOs. Sadly I saw the Barrow’s only in rapid flight heading downstream. I thought they might be heading south…. Hope you enjoy the COGO images. As you’ll see, I was beginning to get a sense of a dramatic relationship….

There's a certain look in her eye....
Titania (COGO) asks, “What iceberg?” Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. Nov. 29, 2019
Toughest map ever!
Common Goldeneye drake: “Toughest map ever!” 191129
Juvenile Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula) Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. 191129
The Lady of Cawdor and her Thane. Remember your Shakespeare?
Lady Macbeth sips her bathwater….

So the scene was set for another visit. The good light, however, didn’t return for several days and it was the end of the first weekend of December before I got back to the raft. On this occasion, I was, I must confess, looking mainly for the BAGOs. I wasn’t disappointed. First I found a pair with a tagalong female. And a little while later, I found her bashful mate a little farther upstream. I spent over an hour during two sessions (went off looking in vain for a Dipper I’d seen in November) with both species.

“Cool place ya brung me to.” 191208
“Worried? Me? Never?” 191208
“I wish I knew where Bashful got to….” 191208
“Well this is illuminating!” 191208
“I keep em both on a string!” 191208
“What? What! I don’t see anything!!” Someone’s confused….

Well, if you thought there was some connivery going on with Lady Bago, these shots of Lady MacCogo should give you pause….

Lady MacCogo. 191208
Dark thoughts….
Common Goldeneye hen (Bucephala clangula) Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. 191208

I was quite fortunate to get this shot of a BAGO and COGO drake almost side by side. Better shots of the COGO can be found below this one. One of my favourite features of this creek is the way the light plays on the water. In some cases, I’ve played with colour, too, to get the images the way I like ’em. If you’re a Purist, that’s your problem….

“We brrrr-o’s but not brrotherrs….”
“They call us Common, but don’t you believe it!”
Just reflecting….
“I enjoy reflecting on all kind of things….”

I’m finishing this post with a whole bunch of BAGO drake shots that I like. First, I was able to see more differences between the two in individual shots than in the pair takes. Camera angle may explain some of variance.

Pretty boy…. (aka Bashful the Wanderer, Bagowun)
“Ask me if I care….”
“Dang! Got a feather outa place!”
Random thoughts….
Bagotwo again….
“What iceberg?”
“It’s a challenge to be this cool!”
“What is that thing, and what does it want?”
“Don’t wanna think about it anymore!”

Hope you enjoyed the ducks. There will be more over the course of the winter, I’m sure….

Reflecting on an Unusual Winter — 2018-19


Sparrow Haven, in The Brush Pile behind CNC, adjacent to Kelowna Rec Field, Kelowna, BC.

After five full years here in Kelowna, I’ve come to realize that every year is different from a birding/photography standpoint. Just when I think I’ve figured out a pattern, something happens to disrupt my generalization. This past winter was a doozy.

Start with the weather: December and January were wonderful, above average temperatures, no snow to speak of, the Marsh unfrozen: who didn’t appreciate climate warming?!
Click on the graphs below to open them, enlarged, in new tabs.

Then February arrived: this graph shows how our Feb. temperatures have changed over the last three years. We had only a little snow in 2019-, but, as you can imagine, it did not melt until mid-March. Click to enlarge.

February has gotten much colder!

More important, from a birding/photography standpoint, was the accidental creation of an environment that was very much appreciated by our local Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows, and four (some claim five) accidental tourists who normally spend their winters east of the Rockies — Harris’s Sparrows:

Blackbeard, the adult in his/her winter plumage.
White Bib, the second most easily identified.
Whiskers, more difficult to ID until you know what to look for….

Tawny, perhaps the most difficult to spot and identify because she is similar to White Bib and Whiskers — again, until you know what to look for….

So how do we tell them apart? Well, as I indicated, Blackbeard and White Bib are pretty easy to differentiate. I came to know them first:

Blackbeard looks just as you’d expect!
White Bib has a a lovely white bib with a well defined Fu Manchu moustache. The black slash on his upper breast runs down and right from our perspective.

Whiskers was so named because in the bib area s/he from the beginning he had some darker streaks unlike White Bib who had none. In time, however, I also noticed two more distinguishing features: a small black dot below each eye and near the back of the bill, and a faint black spot on the breast just below the dark slash, which on Whiskers runs from right to left as we are facing him.

Also note that Whiskers’ black slash on the upper breast runs down and to our left.

Here we can see Blackbeard and Whiskers together:

Blackbeard on the left, Whiskers on the right.
The faint spot on Whiskers’ breast (under the dark streak) has become darker as have his/her whiskers!

And finally, Tawny, the most difficult to distinguish from White Bib but easily distinguished from Blackbeard and Whiskers:

Tawny has a bib that’s less white than White Bib’s, but is not nearly as dark as Whiskers’. The crown is not as black as the other Harris’s either….

Reflections on Quality

Several years ago, I used to frequent a popular birding forum in BC. I was new to wildlife photography and at first had less than ideal equipment. I needed all the help I could get! The forum was valuable for a great variety of information, not least of which was access to some excellent images of BC birds. I learned a lot about birds and even more about quality photography — just by observation. No one was anything but supportive of those who posted (a fact that seems to apply to most photographic sites I visit). Sometimes, however, it was pretty obvious that some posts were of substantially higher quality / value than others.

The basics came quickly — the rule of thirds, issues of exposure and colour balance, clarity, capturing motion in a still, and of course, processing (both over and under)…. Besides these considerations, it was obvious that different folks have different tastes and different tolerances for defects. While I’m inclined to be a perfectionist, I’m a failed one who is often far too tolerant of my own “near misses”….

Why I seldom visit Rotary Marsh

This piece is a reflection on shots taken recently at Kelowna’s Waterfront Park, a place I visit only a few times each year. Also know as Rotary Marsh, this spot is a 15-minute-drive from home, all of 6–8 km away, depending upon one’s route choice. Sure, I’ll go in early Spring just to see what’s there, or on Canada Day just to be patriotic. But in late October / early November, on a sunny Second Summer late morning, it’s for the light, and the Gadwalls….

Probably one or two photos would have sufficed to show why I like the place. I’ve chosen, however, to post the near misses as well as the ones that come closest to the quality I had in mind when I pressed the shutter button.

Let’s begin with the best of the bunch, then take a look at others and examine why they don’t work as well:

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -01.jpeg

I like the way the bird is centred so that it’s half in light and half in shadow.  Even the shaded side, however, offers some detail and trace of light. The reflection on the left tip of the bill is a nice touch. With its saturated tones, we realize that the photographer is aiming for art not merely a record or snapshot. There is effective clarity throughout. The water bokeh is informative but not distracting. Although the duck is not looking directly at the camera, we get a sense that he’s aware of what’s going on.

Contrast the shot above with the next two near (or, perhaps, not so near) misses:

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -02.jpeg
Can you see the missing quality?

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -03.jpeg
If you’re going to show the reflection, make sure you show it!

In the shot just above, the distribution of light and shadow, compared with the image we like, is off target, not 50-50. The plumage detail on the sunlit side is beautiful, but, sadly, we’ve got only halfaduck here!

In the set below, viewer preferences will determine” the better shot.” I’ve been quite surprised, sometimes when my peers’ selection of the “quality one” differ from mine.

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -04Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -05

In this set, while both are near misses, in my opinion, each still has some appeal. I like the greater simplicity in the photo on the bottom. I wish the drake didn’t look so sleepy, but that’s a minor consideration for me. The upper photo has an orange tint, the lower one more blue. The water is less distracting in the lower shot. Finally I prefer to see the whole foot rather than its fragmented image.

Yet I have friends who see what I consider defects as positive attributes. Sometimes, it’s simply a case of my being more sensitive to some flaws than others rather than finding certain attributes more resonating than others. Critical vs affirming mental approaches….

One more point about quality and perceptions of it. Since we’re viewing our photographs on monitors, it behooves us to make sure the latter are set for optimal viewing. Back in my consulting days, I saw way too many monitors that needed to be recalibrated — corrected for brightness and colour…. I’m sure that some over-saturated photos I see online were produced on monitors that were too bright, and some diluted-toned images developed on monitors that were too dark….

Finally, two shots below remind us that the photographer is to some degree as much responsible for the way a pond looks as nature is. Change your angle and you’ll change the photo. We all know this, I think, and sometimes, there’s no opportunity to find the optimal shot location — we have to shoot what we’re served. But when we have a choice, make it!

The shots below were taken in the same pond only minutes and metres apart. The outcomes, however, are remarkably different….

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -06.jpg
On golden pond? Click photo to enlarge in a new tab.

Gadwall pair (Anas strepera).jpg
Or in another dimension? Click photo to enlarge in a new tab.

So that’s it for the moment. If you’re a young photographer or a neophyte to this genre, I hope you’ve found something worth thinking about. I wish you well.  I hope that you will continue to study, explore, and pursue the best results you can come up with!

Mall-ice aforefoot!

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Diversity rules! Thomson Marsh, April 28, 2016

I’ve often remarked on the wonderful cooperation among diverse waterfowl species on a pond. I’ve also noted moments of remarkable conflict, frequently involving Mallard ducks. Usually, we see this in breeding season, often between male and females. Sometimes there are horrible conflicts between hens over whose brood is going to be raised on a particular pond. And, certainly, there plenty of anecdotes about rivalries among drakes.

But it’s nearly the end of October, 2018, for goodness sake! What I witnessed the other day at Teal Pond, TMarsh, took me by surprise. A little quarrel rapidly escalated into a probable duckicide. To be sure, in the end, one drake was driven away and a Victor declared, but I have to admit I was holding my breath as I pressed the shutter….

As I hadn’t wanted to disturb the ducks on the log, I wasn’t as close as I could have been. That ghost of a cattail in the lower left of the frame is annoying and should have been avoided. But being too close might have kept the conflict from erupting. I’ll leave it to viewers to decide whether or not I did the best thing….

Duck fight!-03
The aggressor is the drake on the left…. We’ll name him at the end of the series….

Duck fight!-08
Notice the leverage with both bill and foot…

Duck fight!-11
Over they go….

Duck fight!-12
It’s all a blur! Who’s got the upper bill, so to speak?

Duck fight!-13
The bill-neck clamp hold!

Duck fight!-14
It’s becoming very serious!

Duck fight!-15
Is a drowning about to happen?

Duck fight!-16
No question who’s in control!

Duck fight!-17
The victim makes a break….

Duck fight!-18
The Victor regains control and submerges the victim….

Duck fight!-20
Wild thrashing!

Victor -01
Only a few moments later, Victor poses — revealing no signs of the near carnage just attempted!

Solomon Song Sparrow

I’m often quite dissatisfied with the photos I take. This set, however, turned out quite well, in my opinion. I’ll add more about the species and this particular bird as I have time:

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) -04.jpeg
Solomon searching….

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) -02.jpeg
Solomon thinking….

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) -03.jpeg
Solomon listening….

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) -05.jpeg
Solomon profile….

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) -07.jpeg
Solomon wondering….

This little guy and most of the SOSPs I know tend to inhabit relatively small territories throughout the year, often in small groups that may or may not be family-based. Solomon is often accompanied by a less bold “mate” (take this in whatever way you like), but he is the one who comes out looking for action….

Here’s a note on Song Sparrow subspecies (and coloration) from Cornell’s All About Birds site:

Scientists recognize 24 subspecies of Song Sparrows and have described some 52 forms: they are one of the most regionally variable birds in North America. In general, coastal and northern birds are darker and streakier, with southern and desert birds wearing paler plumages.

Patience update #1

As promised, as long as Patience is in the neighbourhood, I plan to keep updating B&M with recent shots. Probably, most will be quite similar; still, I’m interested in compiling a record of her over time…. The group of shots below were taken on October 24, 2018.

Click on any photo to enlarge it. To enlarge it further in a new tab, scroll down to the bottom of the enlargement and click “View full size.”

Patience, please! (or Patience pleases….)

I’ve long been fascinated by hawks, especially Red-tails. Since coming to Kelowna in 2014, this species has been high on my list of great birding moments in our neighbourhood — Thomson Marsh. I’ve written about these experiences many times, especially here.

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Spike, adult Red-tail who visited for a couple of days.

In the past four autumns, the hawks arrived back from their summer breeding locations earlier, it seems to me. I’ve noticed a few around Kelowna, and we did have one adult drop in for a visit back in August. Another, likely a returnee from last winter, turned up near Michaelbrook marsh in September (more on him later, probably), and I got some good shots of a juvenile at Munson Pond on September 25 as well. In October, we began seeing the familiar kettles of migrants drifting by, had quick glimpses of unfamiliar kestrels, a Merlin, and Cooper’s hawks. Kessie, the resident American Kestrel, is “around,” but not as prominent as she will likely become in a month or two.

Patience RTHA tree (Buteo jamaicensis) -03.jpg
Patience, juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

But the real star of October, and, I hope, of this hawk season, is a beautiful juvenile that is affording all of us who walk the Thomson Marsh beat unparalleled views of her beauty and grace. She loves to pose, especially on lampposts, but occasionally on trees. She’s foraging successfully and appears to like it here. I have been guardedly optimistic that she’ll stay the winter, giving us the opportunity to watch her develop. I’ve named her, for her proclivity to tolerate people, Patience. I met her for the first time at our Community Garden plot on October 3. She flew in along the north edge of the gardens, across the road, and into the willows that line the north end of Thomson Brook. There she gave me the once-over you can see above.

When I took my eyes off her to check my camera, she left the tree and lit on a nearby lamppost, one frequently used by Kessie over the past four winters. I was surprised by her tolerance of the camera, and indeed, her willingness to pose.

Patience (Red-tailed Hawk [Buteo jamaicensis]) -05.jpg
A thinking hawk? October 3, 2018
October 11: eight days since Patience first appeared, and I’ve been able to locate her every day I’ve gone looking, though not always on the first try.

Here are a few of my favourite images of her:

Patience in pine -06.jpg
Patience in pine, October 6, 2018.

That tiny bit of red on her forehead needed some explanation, and that came about 30 minutes later, after she moved to a lamppost nearby and then disappeared for a few minutes.

Patience on Saturday... -04.jpg
October 6: Patience on a lamppost at the opposite end of the marsh walk from where I first encountered her.

Having lost her to her hunting, I continued my walk counterclockwise around the marsh. When I entered the far southeast sector of the marsh, I spotted her again, and quickly ascertained the reason for the red spot mentioned above:

Patience on Saturday... -13.jpg
Patience at the kill site. How long since it happened is anyone’s guess, but by the time I got there, she had returned and was just finishing her last morsel, leaving nothing but feathers….

She showed no fear of me, indeed no concern for my presence or the camera. In fact, after finishing her last bite, she hopped up onto a nearby stump and posed for posterity:

Patience on Saturday... -16.jpg
One of many cool poses she struck while on her pedestal.

It was a great day! Clearly, she’d found a winter home. Or has she? I’ve seen hawks show up for a couple of weeks, only to decide that they could do better in another location. She won’t stay forever, I know, but I’m crossing my fingers that she’ll stick around until next spring and give the folks who frequent the marsh a chance to watch her grow.

I haven’t photographed her every day that I’ve seen her. Sometimes the light was poor, or the lamppost poses were pretty much the same as before. A couple of times when I checked in the morning, I didn’t see her, but there hasn’t been a day where I didn’t encounter her at some point.

On October 10, I missed her in the morning. After our anniversary lunch, Nana and I decided to stop by the garden, the marsh, and check again. And sure enough, she showed up, this time in the big Weeping Willows that line Lexington Road and Michaelbrook Creek — the same area where I had first seen her. Nana figures that this is where she roosts at night, which seems very plausible to me, too.

It was great to get shots of her in a natural perch, especially on a sunny day. She had just caught some lunch and allowed me to photograph her devouring it:

Patience, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) -13.jpeg

Patience, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) -26.jpeg

My favourite portrait of Patience so far. Is she posing or just surveying?
Of course, it’s likely the latter, but I can’t be quite sure.
Take a look at the next shot, in a different perch, where clearly
she’s had enough of this playing for the paparazzo.

Patience, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) -36.jpg
“Look, enough’s enough, don’t you think?!”

Patience, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) -18.jpeg
Wednesday, October 10, 2018. Near the Community Garden, Kelowna Rec Field, Kelowna, BC.

Continued good hunting, Patience; I’m looking forward to keeping this connection going!

I will post, in separate entries, more photos of Patience as I acquire them.

Thanks for visiting!