Welcome to Birds & Musings!

thumbs-up-friendlyThanks 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~

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Goldeneyes in the Creek 2019

December 2019

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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!

Redheads —special appearance.jpg
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.

Spike, Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) -05.jpg
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 the presence of me and 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!

Violence and abuse are never the answer!

Thoughts on The US OPEN TENNIS FINAL, September 8, 2018


To many spectators both at the Billy Jean King National Tennis Center and watching on television, the US Open Women’s Final Match of 2018 was a great disappointment. 

The match should have been historic — the first Japanese-Haitian, 20 year old challenger in her first Grand Slam final, and more importantly, her brilliant play against an opponent widely described as the best-ever women’s tennis champion (who had won her first Grand Slam tournament before her younger opponent’s second birthday) attempting, in the year after her daughter’s birth, to equal the record for most US Open victories by a female. 

Young Naomi Osaka handily won the first set (6-2) against Serena Williams, amazingly back in this final 18 days short of her 37th birthday,. What happened in the second set, however, became historic for unexpected and regrettable reasons. 

The hitherto “distinguished chair umpire,” George Ramos, made questionable choices that interfered with scoring in the match, and threw shade over Osaka’s victory in the minds of Williams’ fanatics. Why the United States Tennis Association chose a male umpire to officiate in this match is a mystery to me. The more significant mystery, however, is why he chose, in a final match, to rule against “coaching from the stands,” which, by the rules of the USTA, is “illegal” but apparently indulged by nearly every player and his/her team and almost never called. This issue has long been debated in the professional tennis community as you can see for yourself with a simple Google check. This online article is very informative: Wimbledon 2015 – Novak Djokovic: yes, I communicate with Boris Becker, but you can’t call it cheating | The Independent

[“In the last five years [2011-2015] 24 fines have been issued to male players at Grand Slam events for on-court coaching. Djokovic has been fined twice – at the 2011 Australian Open and 2013 US Open…

Rafael Nadal has also been fined twice for coaching over the same period. The Spaniard received the biggest coaching fine to be issued since 2010 when he was penalized $4,000 at last year’s Australian Open. Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet are among those who have also fallen foul of the rules.”]

When it was over, Patrick Mouratoglou, Williams’ coach, admitted coaching with a hand gesture. During the match, commentator and former great women’s champion Chris Evert had noted that his action coincided with an adjustment in court position by Serena that helped her game. Evert also mentioned, after the chair umpire ruled that the signal was a “code violation,” that this penalty is rarely called. 

Williams chose to perceive the call as an attack on her honour, protesting that she’s “not a cheater” and that she’d “rather lose than cheat.” It appeared to viewers that while the umpire understood her feeling, he was not about to reverse his decision. He did not, as he could/should have, warn her that a continuing outburst would cost her a game. Perhaps she might have calmed down if he had. Regardless, rather than put the incident behind her, it seemed to me that Williams, fuming, preferred to play the victim. Osaka, meanwhile, undaunted by trailing 3-1 in the second set, battled back brilliantly, and aided by double faults from Williams, broke serve and strove to catch up. She won the fifth game.

At this point, I’ll pick up the narrative from ESPN:

Then, during the changeover at 3-2, the fireworks began. After Osaka broke her in the fifth, Williams smashed her racket and was penalized a point for a second code violation. Before the start of the next game, Williams walked to the chair to plead with Ramos again to tell the crowd she [had not been cheating at the time she was charged with the first code violation].

“I didn’t get coaching. You need to make an announcement that I didn’t get coaching,” Williams said. “I didn’t cheat. How can you say that? I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter, and I stand for what’s right for her. You owe me an apology.”

At that moment, the boos — which had started after the initial warning — became so deafening they delayed play. On every serve. After a few points, Ramos stopped his attempts to settle the crowd. Through it all, Osaka impressively held her focus and won the next two games. At 4-3, she was two games from the title.

But Williams couldn’t let that earlier warning go. Again, she walked to the chair and exchanged words with Ramos. “You stole a point from me,” she said. “You’re a thief.” Before fans knew what was happening, Ramos called both players to the chair and docked Williams a game penalty for verbal abuse: 5-3 Osaka.

Had Williams let it go — or had Ramos let the match play out — maybe Williams could have forced a third set. The way Osaka was playing, it’s unlikely, but Williams is a 23-time Grand Slam champ for a reason. She knows how to find that next gear. “It’s hard to say, because I always fight ’til the end, and I always try to come back, no matter what,” Williams said after the match. “But [Osaka] was also playing really, really well. She played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win. At the end of the day, that’s what it was.”

So what’s my takeaway from this? I agree that the umpire badly miscalculated in his decision to penalize what he perceived as coaching. Although Williams’ coach acknowledged, at the end of the match, that he had been trying to coach his player with a hand gesture, he used the old “everybody does it” excuse. 

I’m even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on this point. In fact, I think tennis must get rid of the “no coaching” rule that is so difficult to enforce and so blatantly ignored by the top teams in the sport. Tennis purists, who argue that the players should, like gladiators, play their own game with no outside input, are sleep walking. Coaching is allowed, for goodness’ sake, in the qualifying rounds at the US Open. 

I can see that tennis fans don’t really want the kind of spectator “cheering” that’s common at baseball and football and soccer and hockey and rugby games (think Boston or New York!). Tennis is better enjoyed by watchers being able to hear the smack of the racket against the ball, or the ringing of the bell on serves that touch the net. Whether we need to hear the grunts of players is a topic for debate in another time and place. I don’t think we want to hear coaches calling out instructions to the players. I’m sure the players don’t either. But players do look to their coaches between serves either to plead excuses for mistakes or to read silent signals that will help them improve. Allow coaching! 

Second, I applaud Serena for trying at the end of the match not to deprive Naomi of enjoying her historic moment. Although I doubt she’d ever admit it, I think Serena knew deep down that she was being defeated on this day by the better player. Could she have come back? Maybe. After the third violation, Serena won the next game easily (did Osaka let up for that game?) to bring the score to 5–4 with Osaka serving. Osaka’s game winning point, however, was a near ace that Williams just couldn’t handle. At the presentation, Serena did what she couldn’t do during the match — rise above her emotions and put sportspersonship ahead of “winning.” Remember what she said, post-match: “…[Naomi] played an amazing match. She deserved credit, she deserved to win.”

I think, however, it’s time that in all sports, athletes recognize that it’s a privilege to “play” for the outrageous amount of money the “game” provides them, and that displays of “unsportsmanlike conduct” should receive wider sanctions for all — male or female, intensely emotional situations or not. Williams wants to argue that because men “act out” and get away with it, she and all women should, too. Logically, that makes sense. What I want to argue, however, is that violently smashing rackets and angrily calling out referees and umpires should be sanctioned consistently and forcefully in all sports regardless of the players’ genders. Athletes should accept the mantle of leadership that comes with their privilege and try to teach crowds and youngsters watching that abusive behaviour is never justified just because emotions have boiled over — especially in the public arena where a “game” is being played. The ideal of “winning at any cost” should be replaced with “winning with dignity”; we’re talking about a game here, not a war!

So, you ask, what should be done if a player smashes a racket? Should there be a penalty at all, and if so, what should it be? I think that any tennis player, regardless of gender, who “abuses a racket” should have to continue playing with it for the remainder of the game or through the next game, after which they could change to a new one. Rackets could continue to be changed during games only if they were not the result of player induced rage. Of course, most often a player could not hope to play with a racket as mangled as the one Williams picked up after hurling it into the hard court; the effect of the rule would be the forfeit of the game. (“Game,” here, in the tennis sense of game, set, match. Just forfeit the game). In golf, if a player destroys his putter (or any club) during a round, s/he doesn’t get to replace it. Would I like to see similar penalties to other athletes who destroy equipment in fits of pique? Yes! But this is not the time to digress into that morass. This piece is about tennis only.

“Verbal abuse” is a much more difficult matter to determine. Where is the line between an appropriate and sporting objection to a call and verbal abuse of another player or an umpire or line judge? Remember Serena’s outrageous threats against the line judge when she was assessed a “foot fault” at the 2009 US Open semi-final? My solution for this problem would be to make much better use of technology. Reduce the dependency on humans to call “faults” and let the same tech that is currently used to resolve disputes, such as the “Chase review” for line rulings, make every call. We’ll likely still need a chair umpire, but do we still need line judges? How silly would a player look arguing his/her case with a machine?

Some will argue that using technology this way will slow down the game. I disagree. The rulings will be just as quick as the display of service speed on the IBM monitor. The rulings will be called out instantly by a computerized voice without any trace of human emotion. No more half-second-delayed calls while the line judge tries to recall what s/he just saw….

Let’s apply my ideas to the 2018 US Open Women’s final. If coaching were permitted, Williams’ first code violation would have been moot. Serena would not have had a reason to go ballistic towards the umpire. If, after she lost the fifth game, she had smashed her racket in disgust at her own play failures, she would have been penalized one game (or allowed to continue for one game with the damaged one) which would have tied the match at 3-3. We don’t know how Serena would have dealt with her emotions, but if she had acted “unsportspersonlike,” at least she would have had only herself to blame…. Had Naomi continued to play with the cool she displayed throughout the entire match on Saturday — and won, she could have enjoyed her victory with all the honour she was due.

Postscript: As I was writing this piece, I kept expecting someone else to publish a similar response. Just as I thought I was finished (including the further research section below), it arrived — from none other than Martina Navratilova, writing in the Washington Post, September 10, 2018): Her piece echoes my thoughts, although she doesn’t cover all of the remedies I’ve outlined (we do agree on allowing coaching): Here’s the most important excerpt in my opinion:

It’s difficult to know, and debatable, whether Ms. Williams could have gotten away with calling the umpire a thief if she were a male player. But to focus on that, I think, is missing the point. If, in fact, the guys are treated with a different measuring stick for the same transgressions, this needs to be thoroughly examined and must be fixed. But we cannot measure ourselves by what we think we should also be able to get away with. In fact, this is the sort of behaviour that no one should be engaging in on the court ). There have been many times when I was playing that I wanted to break my racket into a thousand pieces. Then I thought about the kids watching. And I grudgingly held on to that racket (my emphasis).

If you’re in a mood for further research, I strongly recommend that you read the article listed below (and others) about The IceBorg, Bjorn Borg, the Swedish tennis superstar who won Wimbledon five times in a row (1976–1980) along with six French Open titles (1974-1981). He never won the US or Australian Opens. 

Except from The silence of Borg that was misunderstood | Sport | The Guardian (2007):

“Borg was called a machine. His detractors, and some of his admirers, said he had no pulse (it was actually recorded at 35 bpm), no fear, no heart. How wrong they were.

His game was built on emotional restraint — an asceticism never since seen on court — and yet he was the most emotional player of them all. While his contemporaries raged and hollered, he internalized. Through his five Wimbledon triumphs and six French Open wins he barely uttered a word, let alone questioned a decision.

If he had not existed, Ingmar Bergman, his fellow countryman, would have had to invent him. There was so much going on in those silences. Out on court he seemed to be groping for the very meaning of life.

You just knew his silences were rooted in some deeper struggle. After he quit he admitted that at the heart of it had been his determination to master a suspect temperament. At 14 he had been punished for racket abuse and shouting. His parents told him he was finished with tennis unless he could control his temper “(emphasis mine).

While much of Borg’s post-tennis life was ‘a mess,’ he is today, at 62, a fine representative of the sport he loved. In December 2014 he was elected Sweden’s top sportsperson of all time by the newspaper Dagens Nyheter…. Arthur Ashe told Sports Illustrated (May 6, 1991) “I think Bjorn could have won the U.S. Open. I think he could have won the Grand Slam, but by the time he left, the historical challenge didn’t mean anything. He was bigger than the game. He was like Elvis or Liz Taylor or somebody. (From Borg’s Wikipedia entry.)

Finally, full disclosure, I have struggled all my life to control my temper — and often failed. That said, I make no excuses for that failing, and as I continue to try to reign in my own emotions, I urge everyone to find appropriate ways to deal with theirs…. 

Violence and abuse are never the answer!

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Spring Wood Ducks of Belmont Ponds, 2018

If you’ve visited this blog before, you probably know I’m a huge fan of Wood Ducks,  by far the most colourful waterfowl we see here. As this shot from last fall shows, each adult in a pair has quite distinctive and different colouring as shown below
(Click any image to enlarge it in a new tab):

Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa) -07.jpeg
This pair, surprisingly, were photographed on November 26 in Teal Pond, Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.

Relatively rarely, however, have I seen or photographed them in the Marsh. More often I see them in one or both of the Belmont Ponds that are only a couple of hundred metres from home. And every Spring and Fall they are a highlight of the season for me and many others who may not really be “birders” in the usual sense.

Here are some highlights of the small band that visited us from March into May 2018. Most of the shots that follow are from the end of March and early April. At the end of this post, however, there’s something special — a first for my observations in this location….

My first glimpse of the WODUs’ return happened in Thomson Marsh, on the Ides of March, before all the ice was gone there or on Belmont Ponds: unexpected — and exciting:

Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa) -03.jpg
So great to see them here again at the beginning of Spring. They would stick around long enough (at least she would) to raise a brood into the summer of 2018.

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa)  FOY Belmont Pond.jpg
On March 15, I photographed this fella and wrote on my Flickr page, “Large Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. Record shot only.  
This fella was following his mate, more hunched up than usual for a drake…. Looks a little dazed, or is that dazzled…?
Here we are in mid-March. The snow is 85% gone, and Thomson Marsh again is ice free. Michaelbrook is only 50% thawed, but will come along quickly now.
The larger Belmont Pond is 80% ice free (it thawed suddenly over two days, and will be all gone the day after tomorrow). Today, we had two pairs of WODUs, one pair of COGOs, a couple of pairs of Mallards, and, of course, Ralph, the GBHE….
It really feels as if Spring has arrived at last — the first Violet Green Swallows over the marshes, and even a couple checking out the foundation wall of our condo despite the new townhouses crowded onto the old vacant lot over which they used to cruise after filling up on insects over Belmont Ponds. Should know in a few days if they’re prepared to adapt to the changed environment or not.
Also saw a flock of waxwings, possibly CEWAs flying in and around the TM Raptor tree. The BOWAs are still hanging around Mission Creek, and should be checking out soon….

Better images followed:

Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa)  -0.jpg
For several days, this pair seemed content to spend an inordinate amount of time doing just this!

The lady of this species is often overshadowed by her more colourful mate.
Here’s a set from March 20 to address that oversight…
Click any of the images below to view it fully & enlarged in a separate window….

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) -01.jpg
March 25: Of course, the drake also demands his due….

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) -06.jpg
There were a couple of pairs around, but only one stayed. The drakes’ duck-tail ‘dos were slightly different…. Not sure that’s an important detail, however….

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) -04.jpg
March 28: “Cross this line & enter a whole new dimension of time and space!”

Click either image below to view it fully & enlarged in a separate window….
(from March 28 also)



But there was a little trouble brewing in Pond City. A single female was attempting to turn one pair into a threesome. Ironically(?), it was the drake that put an end to it. In the process, our “unloved duck” lost a few head feathers….

Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa) -03.jpg
The duck on the left in the photo attempted to ingratiate herself into the family…

Wood Duck pair (Aix sponsa) -04.jpg
But the drake was having none of it….

Unloved Wood Duck hen (Aix sponsa) -02.jpg
Hester has a haircut….

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) - special.jpg
While I probably don’t need any more Wood Duck shots, couldn’t resist trying to create something more artistic. 
Will leave viewers to decide if I succeeded….

Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) -08.jpg
I was still trying as with this natural vignetted shot through the Cattails on the south end of the larger Belmont pond….

And, now we’ll end this saga from Spring 2018 with this set all from April 20 dealing with a recurring theme in my Belmont photos — Wood Ducks minding turtles — starring William Wodu and a trio of Western Painted turtles,
Melbert on the left end, Malcomb in the middle and Mini-Mickey…..
Click images to enlarge in a new tab.


Wood Duck drake (Aix sponsa) -03.jpg
“Well, thank goodness that’s over! Now for a nice sitz bath.
You might say this is like having your lake and logging in, too!”

Early Spring Highlites, 2018

A few images taken around home and in the Okanagan region in April prior to our departure for Texas on the 24th. Click any image to open it, enlarged, in a new tab.

Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) -02a.jpg
Killdeer returning to Thomson Marsh marks the official beginning of Spring….

American Wigeon drake (Anas americana)-04.jpg
American Wigeons show up in Spring and add some new colours and patterns to the Marsh.

American Wigeon drake (Anas americana)-01.jpg
Every so often they move out of the Marsh and into the Rec Fields where they strut around like royalty….

American Wigeon (Anas americana) takes off!.jpg
Here for a couple of weeks, it seems, and then they’re off to breed elsewhere….

Northern Pintail drake (Anas acuta) -08.jpg
Northern Pintails rarely come close enough to the Marsh to be photographed. In 2018, I learned that I could get shots in fields north of Munson Lake….

Ring-necked Duck pair (Aythya collaris)  with Bufflehead hen (Bucephala albeola).jpg
Sexually dimorphic Ring-necked Ducks and a female Bufflehead spent a couple of days in Thomson Marsh in mid March, giving me this closeup opportunity….

Gadwall drake (Anas strepera) -01.jpg
Gadwall Drake on Golden Pond, Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC. Year-round residents, really, we see them in breeding plumage this time of year and they feel like visitors.

American Coot (Fulica americana) -06.jpg
American Coots are seen on my beat frequently in Spring, less commonly in other seasons….

Mooch, the Gadwall drake (Anas strepera), & Meek, the Coot -04.jpg
A behaviour I noticed for the first time this Spring involves an odd relationship between Coots and Gadwalls where the latter waits for the Coot to dive down and retrieve succulents that the Gadwall craves. Because the Coot usually brings up more than it can devour, the Gadwall moves in and appropriates a share. I watched a pair of GADWs do this for several days with a pair of Coots, with no serious complaints from the AMCOs….

American Green-winged Teal drake (Anas crecca carolinensis).jpg
Thomson Marsh, Kelowna, BC.
For all my Coastal friends who can walk right up to these gorgeous little ducks at, say, Piper Spit in Burnaby, let me tell you that getting this shot required 20 minutes of hard work! 
The brook here is very narrow, so the teals, especially, cling to the shadowed side with its tangle of underbrush. Occasionally, if they flush, they’ll land in a slightly more accessible part like this. 
On my camera tolerance scale where 1 is “here this second; gone the next,” and 10 is “I’ve got all day; knock yourself out!” they’re a 3…. 
Getting the shot, in the end, is very satisfying….

Hooded Merganser hen bathing (Lophodytes cucullatus) -01.jpg
Hooded Merganser female who showed up alone in Belmont Pond, just behind our condo, and spent several days grooming herself as if waiting for a mate to join her. The same situation occurred last year.

Click any image in the group below to enlarge the whole group and view one by one.

Hooded Merganser hen logged on (Lophodytes cucullatus).jpg
Now it’s time for Hilda to sit back and wait for His Nibs to show up….

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) -02.jpg
Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC.
Well, Hilda clearly knew he was coming, and now that’s he’s logged on, she’s really trying to impress!

Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) -01.jpg
Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC.
“Okay! I’m here! What now?”
They stayed for a few days and then they were gone,
not to be seen again until Autumn….

Common Merganser drake (Mergus merganser).jpg
While 2017 was a better year for Common Mergansers here and in several other ponds I monitor,  we were graced in early April by this fella’s a visit. Unfortunately, this year he didn’t bring a mate…. Did see a pair and a singleton in Thomson Marsh, but here in Belmont Pond, we have a much better chance to get close enough for a good look….


Noogye -05b.jpeg
Belmont Pond, where Noogye, a young Great Blue Heron 
now fully promoted to adulthood, exchanged pleasantries with 
Como the Common Merganser:
Como: “You fish your way…”
Noogye: “…and I’ll fish mine!”
Como: “Er, that’s just what I said…. (Sheesh! Herons!)”

In the next post, I’ll take a look at Spring Wood Ducks of Belmont Ponds…..