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 goal 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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Part 7 – SE Saskatchewan into SW Manitoba…

Unexpected Surprises (the Good Kind!)

NOTE: If the cursor changes to a hand over any photo, click to enlarge the image in a new tab.

On our very enjoyable visit to my cousin’s farm near (tent-caterpillar-free) Maryfield SK, which I mentioned in Part 3, we also enjoyed a special moment with these little guys:

Red Fox pup
Fox kits under the granary. The one out front was definitely most confident. I dubbed him “Francis.”
Red Fox pup
Although his siblings were curious, only Francis dared to come out….
Red Fox pups
For Francis, it seemed to be a game. If I moved in, he retreated…
Red Fox pup
but not so far that he couldn’t see me….
Red Fox pup
Here he seems bored with the game; either that or he needed a quick nap!

Eventually, I got too close, I guess, and Francis disappeared with the the others. I thought I should have a look around the back side of the granary, and, as I moved carefully in that direction, who should come round the bin, but Francis, as happy to see me as I was him — maybe not, but the backlit shot here is a memory I’ll keep alive as long as can!

Red Fox pup
Surprise!!

It’s hard to say why this felt like such a blessing. Of course, they’re cute, but they can be a pest on a farm or even an urban environment. I often used to see them in Sapporo, where I lived from ’89 to ’02. In the spring of 1990, I’d had a delightful encounter with a family of Hokkaido fox kits near the top of an urban ski hill not far from where I lived.

Since returning to Canada from Japan in 2002, I hadn’t seen any foxes in BC or elsewhere. It was just a coincidence that this summer, my cousin was not keeping chickens as she often does, so she and her husband were enjoying the foxes, too, and told me where to look for them. This is a memory I’ll cherish as long as I’m able to!

The next day, we pushed on — across the border into Manitoba where we hoped to do some birding around the village of Melita and to camp in the Turtle Mountain Park before visiting Whitewater Lake the next day. Then we’d be on our way to Winnipeg.

Prairies trip Google day 9 to William Lake Prov. Park.png
A short day in terms of distance, but with lots of exploring.
We actually travelled a lot farther than this map shows….

Well, the birding was okay, no caterpillars to contend with. Not fantastic, but okay. Turtle Mountain, however, turned out to be so much less than I’d imagined all through my youth when I looked south from the Trans -Canada Hwy on our regular visits from our home near Winnipeg to Moosomin where my grandmother lived, and the farm which Alec and Iris took over in the 1950s. My research with Google Maps indicated that there was a decent road from west to east through the Park. That did not pan out. So, enough said; what’s a little wasted time?

We headed north to Boissevain, a town I’d long known of but never visited, in hopes that we could camp there. When the campground proved quite unsatisfactory (I’ll spare readers the details), we thought we were stymied. Once again, ended up at Subway for dinner where we enquired of one of the employees as to where we might find a decent camping spot. He immediately and strongly recommended a place that hadn’t even come up on our searches, a spot called William Lake Provincial Park. We decided to have a look. It turned out to be one of our favourite camping spots of the summer. Not that we have many photos to show for it! Fortunately, Nana took some with her iPhone.

Camping w:K at William Lake
William Lake: Car camping among the scrub oaks. Breakfast. No caterpillars!
William Lake.JPG
William Lake, through the trees. Wish we had taken more shots here!

Some of its features couldn’t really be illustrated with photos: June 2 — no caterpillars! Clean heated washrooms with showers and hot and cold water! Wonderful morning birdsong —particularly a lovely House Wren that really didn’t want to pose for pics as it foraged among the oaks. Free firewood! And we had the place almost entirely to ourselves…. Until the next morning (Friday, June 2) when, as we were leaving, we found the gate that had been dark and unstaffed the night before, now processing a line of cars coming in. As the exit was closed, I went in to pay for our night’s stay, only to be informed that we would also be charged the $5 day pass fee for Friday, as well.  I explained that I didn’t that was reasonable, and I was “let off this time”…. Good ol’ Manitoba. (BC did away with day passes several years ago….) If they had simply rolled the five bucks into the camping fee, we’d never have minded. Funny how that works: don’t nickel and dime me; in fact, I’ll give you a dollar if you don’t!

So, off we went, backtracking to Whitewater Lake, which also turned out to be a mild disappointment. Although it’s quite large, there’s a long spit that stretches out from the marshy shores and has an observatory gazebo of sorts at the end. Unfortunately the road/walkway out to it had been washed away recently and we couldn’t get to the end. While we saw birds including Western Grebes, a Cattle Egret, and other waders, gulls, and more, they were generally too far away to get decent shots.

Western Grebe.jpg
Long shots at Whitewater Lake: Western Grebe (This is already cropped heavily!)
Cattle Egret with Canada Geese.jpg
Whitewater Lake: Cattle Egret with Canada Geese. It was windier than it looks here….

There was also a small domesticated herd of bison on the shore in the distance. And,  as usual, the gusty wind that helps account for the lake’s name was less than wonderful!

So, back to the plan: drive across southern Manitoba through places I’d know of nearly forever but had never to my recollection ever visited: Killarney, Cartwright, Crystal City, La Riviera, Pilot Mound, Manitou, Morden, Winkler, Carman, each with it’s own claim to fame that I’m not going to go into here….

Prairies trip Google day 10 to Portage la Prairie.png
Day 10: June 2, 2017

If the surprises of the day, to this point, had been less than memorable, what happened in Killarney, a town of 2200 with its strong pretence of an Irish heritage, was not only remarkable, but wonderful. I’ll get to why in a moment.

First, though, this bit from Wikipedia:

“The Town of Killarney was officially incorporated in 1906 [KAR —about the time my grandfather began homesteading near Moosomin, SK]. An Irish land surveyor named John Sidney O’Brien named Killarney Lake (before that, it was called Oak Lake by the aboriginal people) after the Lakes of Killarney, in Ireland. Legend has it that as he sat on the shore of the lake, homesick for his native home, he took a bottle of “Good Irish” from his pack and, pouring it into the water, christened the lake Killarney. The “Irish”-ness of the community is often used as a tourist attraction with things such as green fire engines, Erin and Kerry Parks, Little Irish Downs, and many other good Irish-themed attractions used to play up this theme. Killarney, Manitoba does not have any actual connection with the town of Killarney, Ireland. Most of the people who originally settled the region were from the Scottish Highlands, the English or were Mennonites or Hutterites of Central European extraction.

What will stick in my mind most, however, are the images of this clean, charming, progressive town. Although Highway 3 allows one to bypass it, that would be a great mistake. My advice? Turn off the highway, and drive towards Killarney Lake, not “man-made,” but certainly human-enhanced. Stop at Erin Park and look for Blue Jays, Grackles, and lots of other birds.

Splashpark_fun.gif
The Splash Park

Enjoy the families playing in the park and its fabulous Water Bucket Splash! I’d never seen one of these; instead of simply shooting a video, I took bursts of the bucket filling, then dumping its contents over the delighted children. The process takes much longer than this animated gif indicates — we miss the wonderful suspense…. When I got home, I rued my “mistake” until I found software online that allowed me to make this image. Turns out my blog doesn’t allow me to upload videos anyway!

What blew us away, however, were the White Pelicans, a bird I’d long wanted to photograph! We have ’em in BC, of course, but they’re only rarely seen at either The Coast or in the Okanagan Valley. I had no forewarning that I’d see them here, so the surprise was truly thrilling. Our first look came at Erin Park where we saw them at a distance both in the lake and in flight. It never occurred to me that I could get better shots than the ones below, so I happily accepted what the lake was serving.

First views: click any  photo to enlarge them all….

An even better surprise lay in store, however. We got back into the Murano to go uptown and find some lunch. First, we had to cross the bridge. And there they were: the main flock — so close in some cases, I could barely fit them into my viewfinder. Took a jillion photos and still managed to leave some great shots wanting to be taken, like a conflict in which a Red-winged Blackbird objected defiantly to a Pelican cruising too close to shore. Nana urged me to capture the moment — it went on for several minutes — but after getting the shots below (and a whole lot more), I figured I could come back after lunch and likely find this behaviour again. I was wrong. I know, I know! I should always take my wife’s advice!

The closeups: Click any photo to open it, enlarged, it in a new tab.

White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Good things happen when we work together….
White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Of course, there’s always one who’s lookin’ the wrong way!
White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (8).jpg
Feeding frenzy!
White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (9).jpg
Success!
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (13).jpg
Okay! I’ve caught one; now what?
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (11).jpg
Yeoww!! Catfish got my tongue!!
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (10).jpg
Down the hatch!
White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
After lunch cleanup….
White Pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) (7).jpg
Serenity at last….

And, of course, there have to be more flight shots! Click any  photo to enlarge them all….

Many of these shots were less than perfect. If I lived in Killarney, I’d be down here every day honing my skills and working the light! I think, now that I’m home and looking more closely at the map, that there are probably several other parks and ponds I’d be checking out on regular basis. Will I ever get the chance? Time will tell….

(The last part of Day 10 is included in the follow-up post….)

2017 Prairies Trip, Part 6 – dealing with the unexpected….

From the thrills of Grasslands National Park, it was a half-day’s drive to our next planned stop, Moose Mountain Park, near Kenosee Lake, Saskatchewan, not far from where my grandfather and later my uncles had farmed from 1905 until the 1970s. As it turned out, we wouldn’t stay on Moose Mountain, but continue on to Moosomin where my Uncle Alec and Aunt Iris live now, and where I had lived from 1946 to 1950.

Prairies trip Google day 7 to Moosomin.png
The trip took more than the six hours Google suggests.
 Seems its designers didn’t reckon on a flat tire! 
(Click map to enlarge image in a new tab.)

We chose to continue along Hwy. 18 and to enjoy the sparsely populated flat lands. Stubble from last year’s crops lay unplowed, and, as I was to learn from Uncle Alex, not about to be; back in my youth it would have been yearning for burning. In our times it will most likely be seeded over directly by equipment like that shown below in an earlier post.

Seeding equipment -03
A combined seeding/fertilizing system at Dwayne and Michaelene’s farm near Maryfield, SK.

Unfortunately, as we took few photos on this stage of the trip, I’ve had to link to/borrow some Internet images to illustrate highlights of this day.

At Mankato, we decided to change our route and head north to Hwy 13, which would take us across to Weyburn and through southeastern Saskatchewan’s oilfields.

At Lafleche, a small village that celebrated its centenary in 2013, where we bought some pastries at a small cafe-general store, we discovered that our left front tire was leaking air. We’d had a similar problem before much earlier in the Spring — a slow leak that could be “fixed” for several days by simply adding air. When we couldn’t find a place in the village with an air pump, we headed back to the highway. And there we found a huge implement repair/machine shop, Jason’s Agri-motive Parts Supply, staffed by a single employee, a gentleman who insisted on putting the air  in himself and refused any payment for the service.

Lafleche, SK - Jason's Agri-motive Parts Supply.png
Lafleche, SK – Jason’s Agri-motive Parts Supply – a friend to those in need!  (Click image to enlarge in a new tab.)

As we continued east, it wasn’t long before the tire warning light lit up again and we realized we had a bigger problem than we’d assumed. We managed to reach Assiniboia, 45 km from Lafleche, a welcome change from the tiny hamlets we’d been driving past.

Google maps - Assiniboia, SK main drag.png
Google maps – Assiniboia, SK main drag. (Click image to enlarge in a new tab.)

Assiniboia is a thriving town of 2400 whose commercial district along the highway stretches over a kilometre and includes all kinds of farm and travel-related businesses. We found a Subway for lunch and a Kal Tire* to repair the tire (which they did right after their lunch break, with great efficiency and good humour. While we did not take the tire guy’s invitation to visit their “world famous art museum,” he made it sound very impressive. We left this town with in high spirits and a great appreciation of the progressive side of small town Sask., even though we didn’t expect to be able to fulfill his farewell “See you again!” We’ll remember this bustling place. (Curiously, Wikipedia’s write up of Lafleche is more than 12 times as long as Assiniboia’s, even though both are about the same age and Assiniboia has had an exciting history. The decaying, old villages seem to be all about remembering. The newer, burgeoning centres are much more about growth….

* I knew Kal Tire as a BC company only. Finding one out here was a great surprise, so I looked the company up on Wikipedia, where I discovered: “Kal Tire was started in 1953 by Thomas J. Foord and Jim Lochhead with the goal of servicing the commercial logging operations that operated in the Okanagan Valley around Vernon, British Columbia and Nakusp, British Columbia by building customers’ trust. Kal Tire was named after Kalamalka Lake, the prominent “Lake of Many Colours” landmark in Vernon. The company is still based in its birthplace of Vernon. Since 1953, Kal Tire has expanded steadily.  Kal Tire comprises 165 company-owned branches, 49 independent associate dealers, 11 mining/industrial/commercial locations, 10 retread facilities, one OTR plant and four distribution warehouses. The business covers a market that includes British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, parts of Southern Ontario and Quebec, as well as mining operations in Mexico, Argentina, Chile, South America, the United Kingdom, Ghana and Australia.” Who knew? 

Pardon the digression. From Assiniboia we continued onto Weyburn, a much larger city of nearly 11,000, a regional centre in the heart of Saskatchewan’s oil country.

from Weyburn's City Website.png
from Weyburn’s City Website. (Click image to enlarge in a new tab.)

Weyburn can promote itself. It was of interest to Nana and me for it’s “famous people,” including, according to Wikipedia:

• Pat Binns - former premier of Prince Edward Island
• Graham DeLaet - professional golfer
• Shirley Douglas - actress; ex-wife of Donald Sutherland and mother of Keifer
• Tommy Douglas - Baptist preacher, politician, recipient of The Greatest Canadian award in 2004, strongly associated .....with Canadian socialism and the introduction of medicare in Canada
• Eric Grimson - former Chancellor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
• Brett Jones - professional football player
• Guy Gavriel Kay - writer
• Trenna Keating - actress
• Brendon LaBatte - professional football player
• Jackie Lind - Emmy Award-winning casting director.
• W. O. Mitchell - writer
• Mark Steven Morton - writer
• Humphry Osmond - medical researcher
• Derrick Pouliot - professional hockey player
• Dave "Tiger" Williams - former professional hockey player

Many of these names are familiar to Canadians of a certain age, like yours truly. We stayed long enough for the driver to take a short nap in a pleasant park. I’ll remember it as a quiet, almost sleepy town, but that’s on me, not the local government and Chamber of Commerce….

OIl pumpjacks near Weyburn
Oil pumps east of Weyburn, SK.

We continued east through the still active oil fields surrounded by farmland, somewhat behind schedule, but still with plenty of sunshine, towards our first camping experience since the near washout at Waterton Lakes. Past tiny villages — Forget (probably For-zhay, originally, not For-get, but now more the latter than the former), Kisbey, and Arcola to Carlyle, a town of 1500 at the foot of Moose Mountain Provincial Park. After “dinner” at a DQ, headed north on Hwy. 9 for the short drive up into the pond-pocked park.

from Google Maps - Carlyle and Moose Mountain.png
Moose Mountain Park, where we hope to camp at Kenosee Lake.
(Click map to enlarge image in a new tab.)

On the screen door of the campsite office, I noticed a rather large number of caterpillars. Inside,  as I enquired about the campground, another man came in and engaged in a rather heated discussion with the office attendant about the threat of the tent caterpillars, which, I learned for the first time, were not only ravaging this park, but had spread across the prairie provinces. According to the man, who had just driven down from Yorkton, 165 km north,and which we would visit on our way home from Winnipeg, Moose Mountain park was about to be destroyed by these “worms” if the park didn’t do something! —spray — immediately! The attendant explained that she didn’t make policy, that she was sure the park authorities were dealing with the issue, and that she would pass his comments on to them. In the meantime, I had reluctantly decided we didn’t want to be dealing a carload of tent caterpillars for the rest of our trip.

Tent Caterpillar invasion Kenosee Lk .jpg
Apparently, this is a cyclical problem, in which the infestation lasts approximately three years. This image from the women’s washroom by Monica Lebersback was taken a year earlier, June 2016.
What we saw here, May 30, 2017, wasn’t this extreme, but it was still enough to leave us unwilling to take ’em on!

This report was published five days later on the Discover Estevan website:

Moose Mountain Taking Steps Against Tent Caterpillars

Moose Mountain Provincial Park and the Village of Kenosee Lake are taking precautions against the invasion of the forest tent caterpillar. 

Joan Adams, Parks Manager at the Moose Mountain Provincial Park, explains that the park and village had an aerial application of Bacillus thuringiensis (BTK) in order to keep the bugs at bay.

“They did the whole park and the village on Friday.”

She adds that BTK is a bacteria, not a chemical.

“It’s absolutely not a chemical. We don’t allow chemicals to be sprayed in the park. And it has no effect on anything but the caterpillars, so even if a bird comes and eats the caterpillar, it wouldn’t affect the birds. It doesn’t affect humans or pets or wildlife.”

And the spray has seemed to work so far. 

“We were told to expect a moderate to severe infestation but the spray from all accounts, has really helped to knock the numbers down. It’s not going to get them all and we’ve been told that it’s a one to three year cycle and last year was the first year that we’ve ever had tent caterpillars in the park. We still have some but I was just in the campground and it’s actually looking pretty good in there.”

She adds that campers can also prepare for the caterpillars as well. “If campers are going to come, there lots of homemade applications like oil or water mixed with a little soap. If they want to bring a spray bottle when they are in their campsite and they see some, go ahead and spray them just like you would at your residence or at your cottage.”

Western Tent Caterpillars.jpeg
Tent Caterpillars photographed a few years ago in Abbotsford, BC.

So much for birding in this area! Even birds don’t like to eat these larvae! Soooo, we called Uncle Alex and Aunt Iris to tell them we would be arriving in Moosomin a day early. They very graciously invited us to stay with them. Family hospitality at its finest! Nana was greatly impressed. (Staying with family, in many cases, just doesn’t —can’t —happen in the small homes of urban Japan, and she had no rural family connections for comparison. My guess, however, is that many of the farm folk I knew of in Hokkaido would have responded in a similar fashion). Fortunately, my aunt and uncle have a spacious two bedroom apartment. We had, as I wrote in Part 3, a wonderful visit with them — despite the fact that their part of Moosomin was also plagued with creepy-crawlers trying to invade their condo!

 

2017 Prairies Trip, Part 5A: Grassland Owls

While we were visiting Grasslands National Park, we stayed in Val Marie at The Convent Inn, a fabulous, unpretentious bed and breakfast/inn, which we had learned about from a fellow birder/photographer from Vancouver, Debra Herst.

Val Marie Convent Inn from Internet - 1.png

We greatly enjoyed our visit and are extremely grateful to Debra! Ironically, although we knew that she was travelling to Winnipeg a week or so ahead of us, we were greatly surprised to see her at breakfast on our third day. Turns out we had just missed each other, the afternoon before, at Two Trees, a small park-within-the-Park just southeast of Val Marie. We had seen Barn Swallows, Bobolinks and few other familiar birds there, but had completely missed some of the ones Debra had found, including a Great Horned Owl with two ready-to-ledge offspring. Debra gave us precise instructions on where to find them, and we shared where we had seen Chestnut-collared Longspurs the previous evening — on a route that she might have bypassed. She ended up getting great CCLO shots that day on her way west while we returned to Two Trees for one of best days of birding on our entire trip! You can see some of other birds we photographed on the previous post — Part 5….

It was the GHOWs, however, that were, among many great moments, the most memorable! Here are some shots that illustrate why:

Shooting the owlet.jpg
With her iPhone, Nana shoots me photographing the owlet….
(No photographers — or birds — were injured in the making of these visuals.)

What made this find so special? After all, we see Great Horned Owls frequently at home, Not long before we left, I photographed a mother and owlet at the golf course where my eldest son works. This, however, was the first time I’d seen an owlet on the ground.

When we found the pair of youngsters, they were both well up in branches of separate trees. One was more hidden. After getting some decent shots of the more open bird, and of the mother some distance away in a dead tree, I wandered off following some of the song birds that had made themselves noticeable (see previous post — part 5). Nana, however, stayed nearer the owls’ habitat at the west end of park.

Great Horned Owlet (Bubo virginianus) (1).jpg
Hester, closeup.
Great Horned Owl - adult (Bubo virginianus) (7).jpg
Mom watching over her young’uns from a nearby snag.

Several minutes passed as I pursued orioles, a thrasher, and an unidentified warbler, (later ID’d as a juvenile Blackpoll). Soon Nana and I were at opposite ends of the park. Then I noticed her beckoning, rather seriously, for me to come back to where she was. She was quite concerned about Henry who had somehow managed to find the grass. Whether he had fallen, or was testing his flying skills, we don’t know. He did not seem injured, but he had clearly become vulnerable. While we didn’t want to harass him, or interfere with Nature’s plan, I did want to use my telephoto to capture the moment. Nana used her iPhone to make a short video. And here are the photos:

Great Horned Owlet (Bubo virginianus)
Henry in the light…. Could that be a smile?
Great Horned Owlet (Bubo virginianus)
Henry in shade…. I am curious, yellow-eyes!
Great Horned Owlet (Bubo virginianus)
Henry closeup. I just wanted to have a look aground—er—around….

Nana was quite worried about the little guy, especially when he took to running, well, waddling, around, and once when he tried to slip outside the enclosing hedge and into the open grasslands, I helped turn him back into the trees and waited. Eventually, he discovered that, to some extent at least, he could make his way back up into trees. Here, he climbs a snag:

Great Horned Owlet (11).jpg
Henry gains the upper hand—er—wing, again. A bit unsteady, but he’ll survive, methinks.

When we left, we trusted that Nature would take care of everything as Nature does. Perhaps owls are raised here every year. If you’re out that way in May, you might want to have a look. We’re certainly going to remember our experience for as long as we have memory!

2017 Prairies Trip, Part 5: Grassland Birds

NOTE: Any image on which the cursor changes to a hand
can be enlarged in a new tab simply by clicking it
.

Prairies trip Google day 4-6* to Grasslands Nat Pk.pngAlthough we were excited to see the mammals of the grasslands (and there were a lot we didn’t see, like badgers, skunks, and others) it was the birds that we came here for, primarily.

Grasslands National Park map
Most of the birds we photographed were seen within the Ecotour Scenic Drive (in orange).

So here, without fanfare are some of our favourites from this special region presented in alphabetical order.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) male.jpg
Baltimore Oriole male (Icterus galbula) at Two Trees

Although I had seen this species before (not sure how long ago), this was my first opportunity to photograph it. I like the shot above, even though, he’s hiding. We eventually got more open looks when we reached Winnipeg, MB.

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) female - 2.jpg
Baltimore Oriole female (Icterus galbula) at Two Trees:
quite similar to the Bullock’s Oriole that we see in BC.

Barn Swallows have been a nemesis bird for me for several years. I see lots of ’em, but they’re always, it seems, on the wing. At Grasslands, I had two special opportunities to view them up close and posing, and I’m reasonably happy with the photos I got. (After returning to Kelowna, I finally found a place where, for a week or so each summer, I should be able to get BASWs, especially juveniles, taking a breather and availing themselves to photographers….)

Barn Swallow - 3a (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow male (Hirundo rustica) at Two Trees
Barn Swallow - female 1 (Hirundo rustica)
Barn Swallow female (Hirundo rustica) at Two Trees
I'm warnin' ya. All you'll see is Bobolinks.
Two Trees BASW warning us about the trail: “All yer gonna see is Bobolinks!”
Bobolink - 4 (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) on Riverwalk trail  at Two Trees. 
(The Barn Swallow on the sign in the photo above was right; while all we saw were Bobolinks, we were delighted, even though this one was devilishly evasive!)
Bobolink - 6 (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Another Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) on Riverwalk trail  at Two Trees —
a bird I had long wanted to see again! Last time — 1960!
Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum)
Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) at Two Trees — another lifer!
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
Brown-headed Cowbird male (Molothrus ater). We often saw these birds with Bison….
Clay-coloured Sparrow - 3 (Spizella pallida)
Clay-coloured Sparrow (Spizella pallida) at Two Trees — a lifer, too.
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)
Eastern Kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus)
Great Horned Owl owlet - first look.
Great Horned Owlet (Bubo virginianus) at Two Trees — first look; there’s a separate post on this youngster and his mom and sister (to be fair, I was just guessing on the genders)….
Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)
Horned Lark pair (Eremophila alpestris): thousands of them, in total,
a few at a time, always a few feet in front of the car!
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon
House Wren (Troglodytes aedon) at Two Trees
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys): score yet another lifer!!
Lark Sparrow
Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus)
Northern Pintail Ducks
Northern Pintail pair (Anas acuta). Far more common on the Prairies than around Kelowna!
savsp
Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis anthinus)

 

Swainson's Hawk.jpg
Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni) — a lifer raptor….
Swainson's Hawk (1).jpg
Swainson’s takes flight….
Unidentified Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler (Mniotilta varia) 
juvenile at Two Trees: another lifer! (Originally listed as Unknown Warbler.)
Upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicauda)
Upland Sandpiper ( Bartramia longicauda) at Two Trees: yet another lifer!!
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus)
Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) at Two Trees
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) on a post near Old Man On His Back bison ranch.

2017 Prairies Trip, Part 4: Grasslands Animals

NOTE: Any image on which the cursor changes to a hand
can be enlarged in a new tab simply by clicking it
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Birdwatching/photography was a major reason for travelling to the Prairies, a bucket-list journey, if you will. In Saskatchewan, our main objective was to appreciate whatever Grasslands National Park, near the small village of Val Marie, had to offer. We expected to observe lots of “lifer” species and to get special looks at many others as well as four legged critters. We were not disappointed!

Grasslands National Park map
Grasslands National Park map: click image to enlarge in a new tab.
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At the entrance to the Scenic Drive

Let’s begin with the four-leggers: Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) and American bison (Bison bison).

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We saw Pronghorns on several occasions, always alone, whether doe or buck.
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A more intimate view that suggests she is either a new mother or about to become one….

For a discussion of Pronghorns, right click on the image below to view the photo in a new tab and read the description on my Flickr post: It’s worth a look….

Pronghorn (Antilocapra americana) - 2

We would revisit Pronghorns, and a buck, in particular, on our return home through southern Alberta.

I was very surprised at how difficult it was, under grasslands or prairies light, to photograph bison. No problem getting “pictures” — just good ones!

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American bison, Grasslands National Park: first look
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American Bison and friend –  Grasslands National Park
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The bulls are usually separate from the cows at this time of year (May), and pretty shaggy, too!
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Buffalo (bison) wallowing.

From: http://www.quillcreek.ca/bisonbehavior.htm

“Wallowing is a common behavior of bison. A bison wallow is a shallow depression in the soil, either wet or dry. Bison roll in these depressions, covering themselves with mud or dust. Possible explanations suggested for wallowing behavior include grooming behavior associated with molting, male-male interaction (typically rutting behavior), social behavior for group cohesion, play behavior, relief from skin irritation due to biting insects, reduction of ectoparasite load (ticks and lice), and thermoregulation. 

In the process of wallowing, bison may become infected by the fatal disease anthrax, which may occur naturally in the soil. The bison’s temperament is often unpredictable. They usually appear peaceful, unconcerned, even lazy, yet they may attack anything, often without warning or apparent reason. They can move at speeds of up to 35 mph (56 km/h) and cover long distances at a lumbering gallop. 

Their most obvious weapons are the horns borne by both males and females, but their massive heads can be used as battering rams, effectively using the momentum produced by 2,000 pounds (900 kg) moving at 30 mph (50 km/h). The hind legs can also be used to kill or maim with devastating effect. At the time bison ran wild, they were rated second only to the Alaska brown bear as a potential killer, more dangerous than the grizzly bear. In the words of early naturalists, they were a dangerous, savage animal that feared no other animal and in prime condition could best any foe (except for wolves and brown bears). The rutting, or mating, season lasts from June through September, with peak activity in July and August. At this time, the older bulls rejoin the herd, and fights often take place between bulls. The herd exhibits much restlessness during breeding season when the animals are belligerent, unpredictable and most dangerous….”

While we were watching, along with denizens of the Black-tailed Prairie Dog (Cynomys ludovicianus) colony, we were treated to an unexpected visit from a Coyote (Canis latrans). Again, although I remember the difficulty of trying to get well defined shots, the thrill of the moment still lingers.

Coyote (Canis latrans)
Prairie Dogs watching Mr. Coyote, who seems quite well fed….
Coyote (Canis latrans)
As he draws closer, the Prairie Dogs closest to us dive into their burrows.
Coyote (Canis latrans) and American bison (Bison bison)
Eventually, Mr. C. thinks better of his incursion and reverses direction…
Coyote (Canis latrans) and American bison (Bison bison)
…and departs, leaving the big guys to ponder his brief intrusion….

We would see Bison again in Winnipeg, but in a large field, not on an apparently* open range…. (*Actually enclosed by unseen fences. This is a very large park!) And there I got a closeup that I, at least, quite love:

FortWhyteAlive bison (2).jpg

The Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) deserve a lot more space, of course, but for now, a few photos will have to suffice. Perhaps I’ll come back and add more info later. They are fascinating rodents that are being carefully weaned back to prominence as their significance to the grasslands ecosystem becomes more clearly understood and appreciated.

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These guys looked pretty well fed, too!
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Conference on the Mound!
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My favourite image of the Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus):
He:
“I’m gonna be a dad!”  She: “He’s soooo melodramatic!”

Prairie Dogs should not be confused with Richardson’s Ground Squirrel, commonly called Flickertails or gophers which are also found int Grasslands National Park:

Finally, we very few deer on our trip. There was one particularly poignant moment, however, when a deer suddenly sprang up from a ditch. There was something else, too, much smaller that I couldn’t see at first. As the deer bounded away, I tried to stay focused on second critter which eventually turned out to be a very young fawn:

White-tailed Deer fawn.jpg
Very young Whitetail fawn instinctively hiding in the grass across the ditch from
our car where we watched spellbound….

Part 4 features Grasslands birds….

2017 Prairies Trip, Part 3: into Saskatchewan

For our own memories, am providing a quick overview of routes here, and separate posts of our birding highlights.

So, the routes. Keep in mind that we never drove one continuously. There were always some stops along the way.

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Waterton Lakes to Medicine Hat with a quick peek at Lethbridge.
NOTE: If the cursor changes to a hand, click to enlarge the image in a new tab.

After a late start, under sunny skies we drove across the Prairies on a rather conventional route rather than the more southerly one envisioned in the planning stage. A rather uneventful day. Decided to take a motel at Medicine Hat, a town that did not impress us in any way. I’d avoid it if I ever drove east again.

Prairies trip Google day 4-6 to Grasslands Nat Pk.png

Crossing the border from Alberta into Saskatchewan was as Uninspiring as our entry into Alberta  had been magNIFicent. The brown and yellow sign on Canada’s Trans-Canada Highway simply noted the fact of crossing; no words of welcome. So uninspiring we didn’t even take a photo of it. Its message: “Saskatchewan, Naturally.” ‘Nuff said.

A few km east, we came to a tourist booth with lots of empty shelves and less-than-awesome employees. Apparently BO is not a disqualification to work there. What a contrast to the outstanding reception tourists receive when entering Alberta from BC. Sorry to be so blunt, but we were mildly shocked. Definitely not the kind of introduction a province should be proud of.

We turned south onto Highway 21 and headed for Maple Creek,  which turned out, sadly, to be another dismal little village where even the Subway employees were unpleasant. Again, a palpable contrast to the friendly folks who’d served us at this chain in Waterton Lakes, (and those we’d meet later in Boissevain, Manitoba).

We continued south to Cypress Hills Provincial Park. Unfortunately, I had mixed this place up with Fort Walsh, an historic park accessible by a less travelled road and, at this point, behind us. Messed up my route. So that’s on me. CHPP, however, although it gave us a great view to the west, continued our dismal impression of this middle Prairie Province.

Click images below to enlarge:

No need to go on about this. We had chosen to get away from the main roads and the larger towns, and we were beginning to see the downside for a province so large in area and so small in population! Saskatchewan is 94% the size of Texas, yet has a population of less than 1.1 million, a pittance compared with  the Lone Star State’s nearly 28 million! (Hell, all of Canada is less than 37 mill!) Not very many people to maintain roads and services in such a vast area. And it showed.

That said, Saskatchewan is a paradox. It’s rich in natural resources, especially oil and gas and potash, as well as farmland.

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Oil pumpjacks work a field near Weyburn, Saskatchewan in this June 2008 file photo.
Photograph by: Troy Fleece, for Postmedia News online.
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High altitude image of a potash mine in Southern Saskatchewan.
(Image: Andre Nantel | Shutterstock)
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Saskatchewan farmland (Thinkstock)

While we saw lots of wealth, we also saw lots of poverty, depending on the community and region. We met some great people, too. All told, however, it’s not a place I would ever choose to live in. And I’m not even going to discuss here the tent caterpillar invasion plaguing the southeastern corner (and much more, we discovered later)!! While we saw signs of these pests in each of  the Prairie provinces, they were worst in south eastern Saskatchewan. In the southwestern and Grasslands National Park sectors, however, we were still blissfully unaware of what we were heading into. More caterpillars in Part 6….

Saskatchewan…. The Roughriders’ (SK’s CFL team) colours….
This ol’ house, near Foam Lake, SK.
This new house, near Foam Lake, SK.
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Quimper School near Rosefield, SK.
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Moving house, Saskatchewan-style….

Of course, the best part of visiting Saskatchewan was visiting my uncle Alex and Aunt Iris, both in their 80s and going strong! Their hospitality was amazing. Our gratitude to them is boundless!

Another special family highlight was our visit to the farm of my cousin Michaelene and her husband Dwayne whom we met for the first time. Hadn’t seen M. since she was a teen! The farm and the equipment to operate it is ginormous! And they’re the most down to earth folks you could ever care to meet. I’ll write more about this in a later piece….

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The “big tractor” for seeding. Nana would love to have driven it!
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The smaller tractor in the machine shop of the farm, Nana in the driver’s seat.
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My aunt Iris and Nana in the machine shop on my cousin’s farm, Maryfield, SK.
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Michaelene, Aunt Iris, Uncle Alec, the city boy, Dwayne.
Uncle Alec, Aunt Iris, Nana
Uncle Alec, Aunt Iris, Nana at Moosomin Lake, SK.
Uncle Alec, Iris, and me
Uncle Alec, Aunt Iris, and nephew, Moosomin Lake, SK.

Part 4, Grasslands Animals starts here:

What a summer! 2017 Prairies Trip Pt 2

Day 2 afternoon ~ Cranbrook to Waterton Lakes

After a thoroughly enjoyable look around Cranbrook’s Elizabeth Lake, we headed east with some concern about reports of severe weather in southwestern Alberta. We were headed for Waterton Lakes National Park where we hoped to put our new camping system to the test for the first time outside BC.

NOTE: Click any single photo to view it enlarged in a new tab. To return to this page, click your browser’s back button….

Prairies trip Google day 2 to Waterton Lake

Our route took us, for the second time, over the Kootenay River which we had first crossed at Creston. This major waterway of southeastern BC has its headwaters not far from those of the Columbia. The latter flows north before turning west and flowing south towards Castlegar and Trail, while the Kootenay flows south, into the US before turning west, then north and up to Kootenay Lake, where, just east of Nelson, the river exits the lake and flows west towards Castlegar where it joins the Columbia.

I had last seen the stretch between Cranbrook and Fernie in 1973, New Year’s Day, when I was transported in my own van back from the ski hill where I had badly broken my leg the day before. Lots of memories, but not shared ones with Nana, so we won’t go there….

East of Fernie, my last visit to this region went back to June 1969 when I moved to BC from Manitoba. I was curious to see how much I remembered from so long ago, and to see how much the area might have changed over nearly half a century. I won’t bore you with my thoughts; just want to acknowledge that I don’t do a lot of looking back, but this trip was designed to see both the past and the present, the old and the new (to me/us)….

Upon thinking, overnight, about this post, I’ve decided to reduce the blather and focus more on fotos. Sadly, I wish I had stopped more often and spent more time recording places and scenes. We were focused on getting to our main birding destinations, I guess. Some of the most memorable moments didn’t lend themselves to being recorded, either. More on that in a bit….

Click any clustered photos to enlarge them.

 

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Summit Lake above Crowsnest Pass on the BC/AB border. (Captured with iPhone 6)
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By FAR, the best welcome to a province sign we saw on the entire trip. The Tourist Info centre was equally outstanding. I wonder how many travellers notice….
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Island Lake, AB, just across the border from BC. The Rockies quickly give way when eastbound.
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Crowsnest Mountain, AB.
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Crowsnest Mountain, AB, looking northwest from the Foothills.
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Seven Sisters Mountain in the distance.

At the junction of Highways 3 and 6, we turned south and headed towards Waterton Lake. The wet weather we had been avoiding from BC appeared to be catching up, but we were cautiously optimistic that the sun and clouds on the Prairies would hold off the wet stuff and allow us to camp at Waterton Lakes.

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Approaching Pincher Creek on AB Hwy 8. Are those rain clouds to the south?
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See? It looks a little brighter, don’t you think? Or is this just careful editing…?
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We were very impressed that oil rich Alberta seemed to be getting, in this region at least, the reality that the future of energy is in renewable sources, not fossil fuels.
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As a kid, I used to look to the west to read the weather. But I lived on the Central Plains, not up against the Rockies. Looking back to where we had come from, the clouds were ominous.
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As we neared Waterton Lakes, nestled right at the foot of these mountains, I tried to convince myself that sun would win over clouds….
Waterton Lakes, AB.
Waterton Lakes National Park 1
Waterton Lakes, AB.
Waterton Lakes National Park 2
Waterton Lakes, AB.
Waterton Lakes National Park Lodge

So we had arrived. We dithered over whether to camp here or not. I figured that we could drive another hour further east and be sure of avoiding rain. But we were so looking forward to enjoying this setting at least for an evening and a sunrise. We asked the young lady at the entrance to the campground if she thought it would rain that evening, if she had a good forecast, and she assured us we’d be okay. So, we chose a campsite, then drove back up the road to get some scenic shots of the lake and lodge.

When returned to set up our car-camp (for just the second time), the wind had picked up a little, and I thought I felt a drop or two, but shrugged it off.

About 10 minutes into the setting up process when the wind shifted from breeze to gale, the sky closed, but the rain clouds opened, and the deluge commenced. Cold, wet, and did I say WET and FREEZING, we were too far into set up to think of packing up, so we toughed it out…. OKAY, truth be told, I was devastated. Nana tooth setback in stride, and persevered while I visited the washroom.

The storm lasted about three hours. Inside the back of the SUV, thawed out and dry, we had an excellent dinner from the menu that Nana had prepared before we left home, and I marvelled at how amazing she is and how lucky I am to have her as co-vivant. Somewhere before this trip ends, I hoped, I could make up for my inadequacies in this event.

In the middle of the night, I needed to “go out.” The stars were pokes through a film of high cloud, and although the temperature had fallen below freezing (May 25), oddly, the air didn’t feel cold. There was a crunch of frost on the grass, and when I shook the tarp pieces of ice fell off.

By morning, the sun was blazing, but it took a couple hours before the temperature rose above 0ºC. There was lots of ice to shake off the tarp and tent, and it took some time for them to dry out before we packed up. Nana loved the lake and campground.

Didn’t see many birds, but didn’t look very hard, either. As we departed, Nana vowed to return under “guaranteed good weather.” I wasn’t so sure. Many days later, however, having viewed impressive photos posted by a Flickr friend who went through this area a week after us, I have to feel that Waterton Lakes NP hasn’t seen the last of K&N yet….

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Chief Mountain, south east of Waterton Lakes, taken from route 5 on our way to Medicine Hat.

What a summer! Part 1

Car Camping with Nana
Car Camping with Nana test run at Okanagan Lake Park South….

July 11, 2017: ~ The spring / summer of 2017 was supposed to be super special for us. And, in many respects, so far, it has lived up to those expectations. We enjoyed sunny, albeit cool weather, car camping (above — something new for us and probably questionable at our age), and fabulous trips across western Canada (May 24 – June 11) and up to BC’s Cariboo region (June 28 – July 3) .

Click any cluster of photos to enlarge them.

But the season has brought mixed blessings. A surprisingly cold spring delayed the melting of winter snow in the hills. In late March the summits received late snowfalls. By mid-May we suddenly had the highest levels in our lakes and streams in years. We headed for the east as scheduled, wondering what we might return to in three weeks. While the flood threat did not materialize to the extent it might have, our tourism-dependent region has suffered considerable disruption and bad publicity.

Our lovely Thomson Marsh overflowed and flooded the southeastern corner of my beat. It’s only now beginning to normalize. While we waited for the water to subside, we planned a trip to visit friends in BC’s Cariboo region around our July 1 national celebrations.

Wildfire near 100 Mile House
From 100 Mile Free Press. Wildfire still in its early stage. (Right click for enlarged view in new tab.)

We had just left the 108 and 100 Mile areas after our five-day visit when wildfires broke out across central-northern BC on July 6 and 7. In only two days, the areas we had just been visiting were under evacuation orders. Our good friends at the 108 were forced to grab what they could, including their flock of 12 chickens, and find shelter elsewhere, not knowing whether their home would survive or not…. There no end in sight to this tragic story.

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While wildfire was the story elsewhere, only a few blocks from home a five story condo under construction burned to the ground due to human error!

 

I’ll update the fire stories when we have more certainty about their outcome….

 

 

So, for the benefit of family and friends, here are some highlights of our Prairies trip.

Prairie Trip Days 1 and 2: Kelowna to Waterton Lakes, AB.

Prairies trip Google day 1 to Cranbrook
Originally we planned to camp at Creston, but rain prompted us to continue on to Cranbrook and a motel. There was a silver lining next morning….

After stopping at Cranbrook (see caption above), we discovered the next morning, bright and refreshing after the evening shower, the charms of that city’s Elizabeth Lake Bird Sanctuary. A large, marshy lake, its shallow shorelines are great breeding places for ducks and geese, Eared Grebes, and various songbirds including various swallows and warblers like the Common Yellowthroat.

A few photos of what we found:

But the highlight of our short tour, which we nearly missed, was this encounter with a Killdeer defending his nest. Near the end of our walk, we almost ignored the pair, but couldn’t resist taking a closer look. And we’re glad we did. The male Killdeer was one of the bravest I’ve ever seen. We spotted him first in the grass:

Male Killdeer
Where we first spotted him, concerned about these Homo sapiens intruders….(Right click for enlarged view in new tab.)

Later he mounted a small knoll in front of us and defiantly stared me down. I advanced a  little bit, expecting him to retreat. To my surprise, he moved towards me, as if to say, “No, you don’t! Not one step closer!” In the cluster of photos below, you can trace his trajectory by using the large pebbles as references…. Had never seen this behaviour before.

Click any photos in the cluster to enlarge it.

Eventually, I retreated, and so did he, giving me a great performance of his “broken wing act” to conclude the episode. It was a great way to begin our trip!

We also encountered some very calm Canada Geese and their progeny:

We also had great opportunities to observe a couple of species we don’t usually get so close to:

The second part of Day 2 saw us drive from Cranbrook to Waterton Lakes: click here!

Wilson’s Phalaropes return to Robert Lake, 2017

In my homage to favourite shots from 2016, I touched on Wilson’s Phalaropes only briefly. On May 15, 2017, the middle of another cold Spring month (!), unable to find the Orioles I know have returned to Mill Creek, I drove a little further out to Robert Lake. Despite the exceedingly high water, the viewing area offered good looks at a variety of ducks, as well as a few wading birds. Among these, the WIPHs were most prominent and active. Here are a few of the different looks provided by a handful of birds that were not foraging, but preening and simply relaxing, while their fellows scurried hither and thither in the main pond on the other side of the road.

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Wilson’s Phalarope female in repose….

wpharalope-range

Phalaropes are actually quite small — about the same size as a Killdeer, especially after their long trip from their wintering areas up north to Kelowna. They will grow considerably larger as they replenish all the calories expended to get here. (See ‘Cool Facts‘ below)

A western bird for the most part, WIPHs can also be found near the Canadian-American border in Ontario, QC, and NB/NS.

These birds travel long distances from South America in winter to western Canada in breeding season!

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Playing it coy….

Unlike most species of birds, female WIPHs display much more vivid colours than their mates. (I’ll add more photos of males as I acquire them. The males were too busy foraging for good shots in the low light of this day….). Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology points out, moreover, that, “Females court and defend male mates—several per season—while males do most of the work of raising the young.”

“Cool Facts (Cornell)

  • Unlike most birds where the female has the predominant role in caring for young, female phalaropes desert their mates once they’ve laid eggs. While the male raises the young by himself, the female looks for other males to mate with. This unusual mating system is called polyandry, and it’s reflected in the way the two sexes look, with the females more brightly colored than the males.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes are one of only two species of shorebirds that molt at resting sites on the migration pathway, rather than on the breeding grounds before leaving or on the wintering grounds.
  • While stopping over to molt on salty lakes in the West, Wilson’s Phalaropes usually eat so much that they double their body weight. Sometimes they get so fat that they cannot even fly, allowing researchers to catch them by hand.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes almost always lay a clutch of exactly four eggs.
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) & Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor).jpg
Here a male WIPH visits with (well, it looked that way to a Homo sapiens!) a Ruddy Duck drake under the fence some distance away….

Even smaller than the Wilson’s Phalarope is the Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), which have also been hanging around the same area, looking rather bemused by the high water….

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Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla), Robert Lake roadway….