Welcome to Birds & Musings!

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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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Rebel the RWBL*

*The official American Birding Association four letter abbreviation for Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoneceus). For more examples and exceptions to the basic rule, click here.

Thomson Marsh, where I do most of my weekly birding, is replete with RWBLs this time of year. It’s a great location for trying to get that perfect RWBL shot — something I’ll never accomplish with my current equipment. I’m not complaining. Just the opposite, in fact! I’m enjoying the existential challenge of knowing that any small incremental improvement represents major progress.

This post features Rebel, a bird who loves to perform, who’s easy to locate among the dozens who populate the Marsh, and whose “camera tolerance” is about as good as it gets!

Rebel the RWBL-04
Sitting calmly on a cattail, surveying the world, with blank eye.
Rebel the RWBL-03
Preparing to perform….
Rebel the RWBL-01
Opening salvo….
Rebel the RWBL-02
Full blast!
Rebel the RWBL-07
Repeat and repeat again!
Rebel the RWBL-08
Tail in for maximum power!
Rebel the RWBL-10
Smug satisfaction….
Rebel the RWBL-11
King o’ the World!

The last image has some nice sharpness in spots, but the cattail’s colour is blown out!

Back to the drawing board!

More otters!

Otters 2 - 05
Otters of January 2015

For the 2015 adventure, click here.

Also see Postscript at the end of this post….

March 16, 2018: I was just mumbling to myself the other day, that since our first winter here (2014-15), the Marsh had become somewhat less exciting, what with no harrier, fewer hawks, fewer finches, and no, repeat no otters!

Then I did a little rethinking (I recommend this custom) and acknowledged that this year I’ve enjoyed exceptional opportunities with a Northern Shrike and great luck with a number of ducks that I didn’t see that first winter.

And, today, 2018 wrangled a whole new lease on my affections with the reappearance in Thomson Marsh, West Pond, this time, of four North American Rivers Otter (Lontra canadensis). I had headed out earlier than I’d been going recently, and that turned out to be a blessing. I’d seen an otter’s wake a few days ago, but not the beast. Yet I had no premonitions, as happens occasionally, for this day.

I always check out West Pond these days as it’s not unusual to see a migrant drop in for a day or two, a Barrow’s Goldeneye, say, or some Scaups, or even a Redhead (the duck, you ninny!). As I scanned the surface today, there was no doubt about the wake again, and this time the critter revealed itself — along with three other family members.

So, without further ado, here are today’s highlights: To enlarge it in a new tab, click image.

North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -01
First look: a profile view….
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -02
It didn’t take long for the otters to spot me!
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -03
Unlike some wildlife, the otters’ curiosity is stronger than their wariness —
at least when they’re in the water and their chronicler is on land….
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -04
Powerful swimmers, they appear very much in command of the situation….
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -07
This one entered the very narrow channel and pulled up onto some snow-crushed cattails.
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -08
S/he was almost as interested in her/his own reflection as my existence….
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -10
Difficult light at this time of day, but we did the best we could….
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -11
Back in the water, this one tried his darnedest to levitate!
North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -12
There’s something almost snakelike about otters when they stretch out like this in the water….
North American River Otters(Lontra canadensis) -12
And, like the first time I photographed them in January 2015, they liked to have group photos, too.

Don’t know if they’ll be back tomorrow, but I know I will….

Postscript (as we used to say….) And I did return the next day (Saturday, March 17).
Found them again, this time in the Raptor Tree Pond. Still just four. This time they were enjoying a feed of carp — at least one was — no leftovers for juniors!

North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -01.jpg
I’m indebted to my Flickr friend Heather for this caption: Carp diem!

Although I took more photos, they weren’t as interesting as the ones I got the next day, (Sunday). I went a little earlier each day, and this time caught them returning from West Pond en route to Raptor Tree Pond, which means that I had a couple of chances to view them at close range in the narrow channel that leads into the big pond. They were too smart for me, however, and chose to cover that section either under water or very close to the far shore!

Still, once back where I believe they have a temporary den (used periodically over the years), they did give me a few more shots that I’d like to share:

Sunday North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -02
Sneaking past, close to the cattails….

Click either image below to enlarge both in a new tab:

Sunday North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -07
“Are you the Candid Camera guy? I’m smilin!'”
Sunday North American River Otter (Lontra canadensis) -09
Denoising the image makes him look like Slick Willie!

Not sure about more photos, but the past three mornings have been a dream come true!

For the 2015 adventure, click here.

 

What a Glorious Day for PIWOs!

 

Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -04
Mission Creek, Kelowna, BC. near Gordon Bridge. 
Fearless Foz:
Click photo to enlarge in new tab.

March 2018: For the uninitiated, a PIWO is a PIleated WOodpecker, the largest of the seven species of woodpeckers we see up here most frequently. They’re colourful and industrious and often very willing to be observed and photographed — especially if they’re committed to an excavation!

On Friday, March 9, I was heading home after a walk around my beat. I’d enjoyed a lovely variety of birds, and thanks to a tip from a neighbour, had been able to check out a Bald Eagle that may be returning an old nest above Mission Creek. Although I was unable to get decent photos of it due to the thick branches in the way, I was glad to see him again.

As I approached Gordon Bridge where I would normally head south along the Road back to our condo, I ran into a fellow birder who asked if I had seen the PIWO on the other side of the bridge. It was working down low, she told me.
We parted and I took a look but made my search more difficult than it needed to be and would have missed the bird had I not run into to my colleague again after I had given up.
She just pointed to the bird at work, and I was on my way….

What follows describes the process of trying to get the shot that you see above — especially when, at first, it seems nearly impossible. Let me give you a hint: success requires effort on the fotog’s part and considerable cooperation from the bird!

One never knows for sure whether a bird will stay put or immediately flee. The second option is the more likely most of the time. Fortunately, this particular PIWO is accustomed to people poking into his private affairs; my task was actually pretty easy. But one only knows this when the encounter is over!

Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -01
First look: not terrible, but those branches are really annoying!

The name, Fearless Foz came to me from a remark my birder friend made about our bird of the day: “He likes people,” she said. “He’s fearless!” And so Fearless he became.
Fearless Fosdick came to mind — a carry over from my days reading comics as a kid. You may remember Al Capp’s syndicated cartoon strip, Li’l Abner, which had as a cartoon within the cartoon, a Dick Tracy parody cop called Fearless Fosdick. More on him at the end of this post….

Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -02
A look one seldom sees. He knows I’m here, yet soldiers on….
Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -04
Reprise: So how to get this shot from the branchy one above?

Well the trick was simply to get closer than he was comfortable with in the moment, see if he would withdraw to a more favourable location, take a shot, then back off and let him get back to work. All of this assumed, of course, that he wouldn’t simply back off and fly away! Having worked with him 14+ months ago, I bet on his staying focused….
Click any of the images below to enlarge the whole cluster.

In the sequence above, you can see, how after retreating at first to the other side of the tree, he peeks back around again, and slowly finds his way back to the excavation….

Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -08
He’s almost there. I’m happy to have a good shot of his grasp and his full body. The plumage details worked out well, too.

At this point, I decided I to allow him to get back to his cavity work as I attempted to photograph him at work. This required my moving down the slope, around one large tree, through some saplings, and then resting against another tree, which, had it not been there, would have meant my tumbling all the way down into the creek!

Of course, all my movement meant we had a little more negotiation to complete
before we were both where we wanted to be. I took advantage, continuing
to shoot even as I edged myself into place.
He backed off briefly, then, once I was settled, resumed his business, which he continued to work at until I left. Elapsed time for the entire encounter: 12 minutes.

Click any image in the cluster below to open them all in a new tab.

As you can see above, I was able to persuade him to move a bit from time to time
so we could inspect his work. He was most obliging!

And so we concluded with one parting profile shot on the trunk of the tree.

Pileated Woodpecker male (Drycopus pileatus) -21
Click the image to enlarge it in a new tab.

Then it back to work for him and homeward bound for me.

Oh yeah! Almost forgot my promise to show you Fearless Fosdick the first!

Fearless Fosdick
Click to enlarge in a new tab
Fearless Fosdick & Wildroot Cream-oil
The Good Ol’ Days!

Ospreys fishing —Part 1….

Although these older photos are not signed, I assure you that they’re all mine….
Each image can be enlarged in a new tab just by clicking on it.

Iona Osprey fishing - 24
Osprey hovering above Thomson March, preparing to drop and catch….

My first recollection of Ospreys fishing go back to my days at 108 Mile Ranch/Resort where I lived for 15 years in the 70s and 80s. The golf course, where I spent a lot of my summer vacation days, overlooks 108 Lake and a small pond that separated the second and third holes back in those days. Nothing could distract me more that picking up on a Osprey hovering and then plunging almost vertically into the lake before lifting off with a big fat Rainbow!

Osprey with catch - 2
Adult Osprey takes a large trout from Kentucky Lake, Kentucky-Alleyne Prov. Park….

But I never studied these magnificent birds. I took the fishing spectacle for granted.
Nana and I thrilled to spectacle of Ospreys hunting on the Teshio River in Northwestern Hokkaido. When we settled in New Westminster, I used to travel 25 km either to Iona in Richmond or Grant’s Narrows in Pitt Meadows to enjoy the fish hawks in action, usually at considerable distance — perhaps a couple of times a year….

When planning our move to Kelowna, we were delighted, in late September 2014 (unusually late, but we didn’t know that then), on one of our first hikes along Mission Creek, not far from our current home, to discover this youngster atop a hydro pole feasting on a spawning Kokanee.

Osprey w/Kokanee - 3
“You shoulda seen the one that got away! It was at least this big!!”

Soon, we were surprised to find several Osprey nests in locations that we often visited. Best of all, from 2014 through 2016, a pair of Ospreys nested in the largest Rec Field light, which we can see from my home office. At last, I was ready, willing, and able to do a little more serious study of the habits and talents of these awesome predators.

Osprey - "Mom said to ask you! Can I fly?"
Poppa and twins atop the Lightship Nest….
“Mom said to ask you, are we cleared to fly yet?”

The story of the raising of the twins (above) in the Spring and Summer of 2016 is told in another post. Today’s episode is dedicated to observations of Osprey in action, especially the father above (Poppa) in Belmont Pond which is only five or six stones throws from our condo and of the twins, once they learned to fly, learning how to do what Poppa does….

A brief word about Belmont Pond. It’s not very big, but it’s full of fish that feed mergansers and our Ospreys. But perhaps not quite what you think. Apparently, it’s an old quarry, not terribly deep, however. And the fish are distinctly non-native. More on this in a bit…. Here’s Poppa Osprey preparing for to catch lunch….

 

 

 

On two separate occasions from this very location, I’ve been privileged to watch both Poppa and Momma go about their predation. It usually takes them a couple or more tries, because, as you’ll see, their target is not very big, but it is very visible from up here!

Hover and drop is not the preferred technique, here.
Rather, the birds use a shallow dive, eagle-like, to grasp their prey in this pond….
The young ones, when they’re read, will learn this method first, too….

Poppa OSPR fishing - 1
Just after capture — what’s he got?
Poppa OSPR fishing - 2
Yes, indeedy, it’s a Goldfish!
Poppa OSPR fishing - 3
Securing his grasp…
Poppa OSPR fishing - 4
…turning…
Poppa OSPR fishing - 5
…”Look what I got!” …
Poppa OSPR fishing - 7
…across the pond…
Poppa OSPR fishing - 8
…up, dammit, up…
Poppa OSPR fishing - 9
…a quick peek into the houses, then up, up, and away!!

This capture went quite smoothly.
But on another day, there was considerably more excitement,
which is covered in this post….

Riding the Elefunk….

February 17, 2018: As I stare out the window at an all-day blizzard, and daydream of Spring around the corner, my mind drifts to new life and ducklings, and trips over this memory of a humorous encounter from two days before Mother’s Day, 2015.

My Beat north labelled.png
Click image to enlarge in a new tab.

There’s a spot on the southwest side of Michaelbrook Marsh, where, if we leave the open playing field and sneak through the long grass, and carefully make our way around the wild roses, we can observe a log that often hosts a Great Blue Heron using it as hunting platform. More likely, though, it’s occupied by bale of Western Painted Turtles.

Rush hour traffic.jpg

On this day in May, however, approaching very cautiously, I was delighted to find a mother Hooded Merganser and her chicks sitting between a pair of turtles. Fascinated, I recorded the scene. When I got home, my imagination took over, and this fantasy played out. And, while admitting that I speak neither Merganserese or Turtleian, I’m confident that this is what was happening….

So the turtles were acting as guards, lookouts, really. Mom was busy just watching over her babies. Boyfriend Pete is, as is the Hoodies’ custom, nowhere to be found at this time.

Among the chicks, most, as is normal, were simply sunning and being good.

But Georgetta and Herman (on the right) were restive, the brother, in particular.
Click any image below to enlarge it in a new tab.

Latest releases on the shelf.jpg
Mom and chicks between the lookouts. Herman and Georgetta are on the right. 
Click images to enlarge in a new tab.
Guard on the left“Jeeze, I wish Frank didn’t have his butt right in my face.”
Mom: “Such a lovely day. And such a lovely family. I’m so lucky!”
Georgetta: “Wanna go swimmin, brother?”
Herman: “Stop crowdin’ me, Georgetta. I don’t wanna go swimmin’ again!”
Guard on the right: “Man, I hate Merg Duty, especially when there’s so many of these little brats!”
Hoodie babies - 1.jpg
Herman: “Oh wow! Mom got me a pony!” 
Georgetta: “That’s not a ponee; it’s a elefunk!” 
Mom: “Oh dear!” 
Guard: “Must keep a stiff upper lip!” 
Hoodie babies - 2.jpg
Herman: “I don’t care what you say, girl! I’m goin’ for a ride!”” 
Georgetta: “I bet you can’t stay on for five seconds….” 
Mom: “Oh dear!” 
Guard: “That tickles! Must keep a stiff upper lip!” 
Hoodie babies - 4.jpg
Herman: “This has to be the most boring pony EVER!!” 
Georgetta: “I told you—it ain’t a ponee; it’s a elefunk!” 
Mom: “Oh dear!” 
Guard: “What do they think I am, a pony?” 
Hoodie babies - 5.jpg
Georgetta: “Maybe you need a push!” 
Herman: “Maybe this IS a elefunk! It sure is slow!” 
Mom: “Oh dear!” 
Guard: “One-a-these-days, I’m gonna….!”
Hoodie babies - 6.jpg
Herman: “How do I make this guy go?”
Georgetta: “MO-OM! Herman’s not sharing the elefunk!”
Mom: “Oh for Pete’s sake! Speaking of Pete, he’s gonna get an earful if he ever comes back. 
Nobody told me there’d be days like this!”
Guard: “My lips are numb!”
Hoodie babies - 7a.jpg
Well, Herman managed to fall off and had to climb back up onto the log,
Georgetta quit pestering to ride, and
Mom put her hair up to warn the other chicks not to do anything foolish!
As for the guard, he never let on another thing!

A couple of days later, this incident apparently forgotten, I observed the chicks having a ball in their bathtub, making as many bubbles as they possibly could….

HOME chicks making bubbles.jpg
Bubbling with enthusiasm!

~~ The end…. ~~

 

 

Sir Ralph plays scenes from Richard III

Photos originally posted on my Flickr site:

Who knew that Sir Ralph, the most outstanding Great Blue Heron on my beat, is also a part time thespian? Here are a few scenes from his recent performance on the smaller stage at Belmont Pond:

Click on any image to enlarge it in a new tab….

Sir Ralph as Richard III -04
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of” —er—Belmont….
Sir Ralph as Richard III -08
“No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.
But I know none, and therefore am no beast.”
Sir Ralph as Richard III -11
“Shine out fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
that I may see my shadow as I pass.”
Sir Ralph as Richard III -12
“Tis better, sir, to be brief than tedious.”
Sir Ralph as Richard III -14
“Bad is the world, and all will come to naught
when such ill-dealing must be seen in thought.”
Sir Ralph as Richard III -15
“The world is grown so bad that wrens make pray
where eagles dare not perch….”

Sir Ralph, the GBHeron, stars in Thomson Marsh

I recently published a piece on the Great Blue Herons I encounter on my beat. This is an update with photos from the mid January into the beginning of February 2018.

We’ve had a mild winter (so far) compared with last year’s.

Kelowna weather 1801 vs 1701 simple.png
January 2018 much warmer than January 2017, esp. first half! Great news for herons!

A quick note about Sir Ralph, the subject of this piece, originally written for a response to a post on my Flickr site by a Texas colleague who expressed admiration for this bird struggling with our harsh Canadian climate:

On Sir Ralph of Thomson & Michaelbrook Marshes and Belmont Ponds

“Like many of us Northerners (aka Canadians, esp. the BC variety), he finds ways to enjoy every season, and here, in Kelowna, considers winter less “rigorous” than “stimulating.” Since this winter has been much milder than 2017, he has no trouble feeding himself as there has been some open water somewhere in the Marsh throughout.

And now, still in the first week of February, with the RWBlackbirds already back, staking out their territories, there is continuous open water — I estimate the Marsh to be 95% ice free. Although it may snow overnight and melt during the day, Ralph prefers this climate to Coastal rain. His prodigious plumage protects him and promotes his claim to regal status….

As you can see in a later post, he even engages in thespian pursuits when the muse seizes him…. Recently, he performed scenes from Richard III, not because he’s in any way like Shakespeare’s arch-villain, but because he’s versatile enough to play roles from villainy to virtuousness, a virtuoso in fact!

Next to Kessie, the resident American Kestrel, Ralph is one of the most likeable denizens of the fen, even if he rarely smiles (see photo below). He’s got the same dry sense of humour that my dad passed on to me….”

December 2017 ended with a promise of a repeat of January’s frosty days. Turned out to be hollow. Here’s Ralph on December 30:

Sir Ralph surveys surfaces -07.jpg
At least it’s sunny….

By January 20, the Marsh had changed radically:

Sir Ralph likes this weather! -05.jpg
Click image above to open enlargement in a new tab….

At the end of January, we caught up with Sir Ralph in the smaller of the two Belmont Ponds that he also frequents (as well as Michaelbrook which is still quite frozen at this time). While there was only a little open water under the bridge over the very short connecting creek, he was surveying his options very carefully.

Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -07.jpg
Sir Ralph sees his shadow and concludes that Woodchucks are poor prognosticators!

He was smiling as if he had inside info about an early Spring…. Time will tell.

Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -15.jpg
…smiling as if he had inside info about an early Spring….
Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -25.jpg
On his way to check out the “creek” and the larger pond…. Click to enlarge.
Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -35.jpg
It’s a different world on this side….
Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -45.jpg
Sir Ralph tries to blend in with the Cattails along the shoreline….

He can make himself look tall and slim, but sometimes, methinks, he over estimates his “invisibility”….

Sir Ralph checks out Belmont Pond -47.jpg
Ralph tries to hide behind a Cattail, with dubious success….

Two days later, I visited Belmont again, where I found Sir Ralph indulging his passion for the theatre in a marvellous presentation of scenes from Shakespeare’s Richard III….

Click here to see shots from his performance….

🎶 If I had a heron ♬ —

If you’re just looking for information on Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), I very much recommend this website: heron conservation — it doesn’t have my photos, of course!

Published December 20, 2017: Sing to “🎶 If I had a hammer…🎵.”  Click here to open a performance in a new tab. Ignore the brief delay while it loads….

Actually, the title should say,
If I had a dollar —  ever’ time some’un asks me—
if I’ve “seen the heron” —,  I’d be able to buy —
t
hat new lens that I covet!” (Repeat.)

But that’s much too long a title, not to mention that someone stuffed the Genie back in the lamp and erased the password!

I wrote about Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) in my piece on water birds of 2016. In this post, however, I want to give the GBHEs their own place to shine, with a retrospective of some of the fascinating individuals I’ve been privileged to met….

NOTE: Click any single image to enlarge it in a new tab….

Great Blue Heron
Sir Ralph of Belmont Pond, Kelowna, BC. He also frequents nearby marshes when he’s not here.

On “my beat,” I see numerous GBHEs, many with features of appearance (that can sometimes betray me!) and idiosyncrasies that enable me to recognize them, even, Gob fordib, to name them. The one I know best was already named by the residents on Belmont Pond — “Ralph.” Nobody really knows if he’s a Ralph or a Ralphina, but that’s the burden shared by all herons I know….

My beat - satellite - labelled
My Beat: main heron viewing areas are Belmont Ponds, Michaelbrook Marsh, area west of the RV Parking, Teal Pond, and the area from Raptor Tree Pond west to West Pond. Click image to enlarge in a new tab.

In the three years we’ve been here, I’ve discovered that Ralph is the calmest, most photographable of the GBHEs in the area. I encounter him in other locations besides Belmont Pond, including Thomson Marsh’s West Pond, and Michaelbrook Pond. Other herons also frequent these locations, but regal Ralph stands out, so much so that I’ve taken to calling him Sir Ralph of Belmont.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) (2).jpg
171116: Sir Ralph among the cattails of West Pond in Thomson Marsh. Notice his full epaulette.

I think this is Ralph, because I’ve watched him move from this location to Belmont and from Belmont to Michaelbrook and from there back to West Pond. Other herons, of course, may share these locations, so then I have to fall back on Ralph’s calm demeanour which sets him apart from most of the others I observe. However, since I don’t want to strain my credibility, I’ll drop the naming aspect and focus on the photos….

So here from my growing, indeed, groaning, Great Blue collection are some favourites marked with the dates (yrmmdd) when I stole their souls:

Herons in Belmont Pond: As long as there’s some open water in either of the two Belmont Ponds (connected by an intermittent stream) we’ll see herons. The young ones sometimes take a while to catch on to the mystery of Hard Water….

Juvenile Great Blue - 151122.jpg
151122: (small Belmont Pond) I’m confused….

Click any of these  photos taken two months later to enlarge them all

 

 

 

 

The juvenile below photographed in a similar pose to 151122 bird, almost two years later,  — struggling with soft water….

Juvenile Great Blue 170915.jpg
170915: I think I hear a goldfish….

Five days earlier, near the same spot:

Great Blue Heron juvenile (Ardea herodias)-10.jpg
170910 : Making a statement….
Great Blue Heron juvenile (Ardea herodias)-11.jpg
170910: Missed Opportunity

And elsewhere:

The Darkling Heron Bby Lk 140910.....jpg
170910: Burnaby Lake ~ The Darkling Heron
Belmont GBHE 151208 - 08 ed.jpg
151208: Bench Boss waiting for the Belmont Pond team to show up…

171216: Yearling Noogye watching the large Belmont Pond freeze….

"Standing on One Leg" looks grumpy
150902, Large Belmont Pond: Standing-On-One-Leg 
with Western Painted Turtles: Ted, Thurston, and Truman:
Ted: “Ol’ Standing-On-One-Leg looks crabby tonight.”
Thurston: “Where? Where? I can’t see him!”
Truman: “Behind you, bud, but trust me, it ain’t worth turning around for….”
Standing-On-One-Leg: “Hmmmn. Must look up my recipe for ‘Turtle Soup’.
The new guy - 1 Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).jpg
171216: Yearling Noogye watching the large Belmont Pond freeze….
The new guy - 2 Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias).jpg
Noogye closeup….

On high perches and in flight:

Great Blue Heron juvenile 170901-01.jpg
170901 Noogye: Once upon a roof, there was a young heron….

Capturing herons in flight is always a bit of challenge, but rewarding when you succeed….

Click any of these  photos from 150922 to enlarge them all

 

 

 

 

When gliding towards a landing, or making a short takeoff and landing, GBHEs often stretch their necks out like the ones below:

GBHE gliding 151029-3.jpg
151029 descending into Thomson Marsh near the Raptor Tree….
Great Blue Heron 170716 in flight.jpg
170716, Thomson Marsh, a short hop from one pond to the next….
Ralph in his willow
161105: Ralph above small Belmont Pond making a fashion statement.
Ralph in his willow - regal.jpg
161105: Ralph in his regal pose at the top of the small Belmont Pond Willow….
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) -01.jpg
171016: Great Blue, not sure which one, in the Raptor Tree above Thomson Marsh.

Herons waiting:

Great Blue Heron - Rotary Marsh
170118: A well wrapt fella at Rotary Marsh, Kelowna. Looks a lot like Ralph, but probably isn’t, as RM is several kms away from Ralph’s domain…

Click any image to enlarge them all and read the full captions….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herons foraging:

Great Blue Heron
Desperately Seeking Sushi….
Great Blue Heron - Belmont
and finding it!

Winter GBHEs are no less discriminating

Great Blue Heron
Stalking…
Great Blue Heron
Spotting…
Great Blue Heron
Striking…
Great Blue Heron
and Savouring!

And finally (“Whew!” you say), a few portrait shots:

GB Heron juvie - 2
140917: Colony Farm, Coquitlam. Yearling. Note the greenish lore (just in front of the eye), absent in fully mature GBHEs. 
I like the translucence in this image….
Young GB Heron - 13 Bby Lk 140829
140829: Burnaby Lake: another juvenile, detailed. Lots of vinous colour here….
Yearling Great Blue 150921.jpg
150921: Mission Creek, Kelowna. Another juvenile that posed beautifully in very special light.
Great Blue Heron portrait
151027: Michaelbrook Marsh. Full adult, possibly Michael….
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) -02
171028: Thomson Brook North: Young Adult, possibly Michael…. I like the backlighting here….
Ralph, Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) -01
171117: West Pond, Thomson Marsh. Also backlit, crest only raised by the breeze….
Great Blue Heron - 7
170327: Small Belmont Pond: Ralph in full adult plumage, so close and still I could almost touch him….

And most recently, from December 30, 2017, in Thomson Marsh, West Pond….

Sir Ralph surveys surfaces -07
171230: Sir Ralph surveys surfaces….

Hope you enjoyed the show….

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!