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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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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!
Let’s begin with the four-leggers: Pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) and American bison (Bison bison).
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….
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!
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
View westward from CHPP Lookout.
A big deal if you live on the flatlands!
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.
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.
While we saw lots of poverty, we also saw h, 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 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 a later post….
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….
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.
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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.
Crownsnest Pass, Highway 3 is not as high as I thought!
May have seen this when I first came through 48 years ago!
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.
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….
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.
Late snow on Little White Mountain. Kelowna lies over the foreground hill in the valley between.
High water at Robert Lake. Eventually the road in the foreground was covered, too! Few had EVER seen levels so high.
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.
Ducks hold a meeting about the flood in Thomson Marsh….
Carp evolving where voles used to play?
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.
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.
Day 2 of Gustafsen Fire — just getting started
3 days later and even more threatening….
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.
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:
Common Yellowthroat practises his vocals!
COYE comes for a visit, but only so far. Still better than anything I’d see for four years!!
Tree Swallows were very friendly!
Here he’s just showing off his wonderful colour!
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:
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.
This is my turf…
and you’re an intruder…
and you can point that thing…
at me all you want, but you’re getting any closer to our nest!
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!
“Oh, I’m injured! Really!
“Totally mangled! Come have a look [heh, heh]!
We also encountered some very calm Canada Geese and their progeny:
“Funny! That sign doesn’t even mention us!”
“You eat! I’ll be the lookout!”
“Mom, wait for me! It’s not easy with these big feet”
“I luv my mum!”
“Okay, babies, stay together now!”
We also had great opportunities to observe a couple of species we don’t usually get so close to:
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) – 1
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis) – 2
“OMG! What have I got myself into?”
“I’m such a handsome dude!”
Called to The Bar…. Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) propelled by tail power. “The only species in genus Ondatra and tribe Ondatrini, is a medium-sized semiaquatic rodent native to North America and is an introduced species in parts of Europe, Asia, and South America. The muskrat is found in wetlands over a wide range of climates and habitats.” (Wikipedia)
“I Am Curious Motley!” Columbia Ground Squirrel (Urocitellus columbianus)
The second part of Day 2 saw us drive from Cranbrook to Waterton Lakes, but that’s for another post — coming soon….
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.
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!
Make sure you capture…
…my best sides —both of them!
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.
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….
In 2015, January, as we were preparing to move up to this wonderful place, Nana and I were house sitting, ironically, just across the lane from the condo we were purchasing. I had excellent opportunities to familiarize myself with the neighbourhood, especially Thomson Marsh. At the same time, a delightful romp of North American River Otters showed up for a two week stay where the marsh widens into pools, very close to home. Despite the low light, I was able to get some photos and video. Since then, despite reports from others, I have not seen them in numbers.
In March 2017, I caught the back of one swimming upstream away from me, and, a day or so later, just missed seeing several in the same spot they’d visited in 2015. Fortunately, another local fotog was able to get some images.
Recently, I was reminded of the 2015 experience when Angela, one of the folks I frequently encounter on my beat, asked if I’d seen any otters lately. That gave me a chance to share some entertaining (she said) video from two years ago. I promised her links, and finally, here they are!!
The first two links are back to my Flickr site. Below them are links to my Youtube account where the videos, also available via Flickr in rough form, have been enhanced to make them easier on the eyes!
See a icon over a photo or link? Click to see an enlarged image or go to another place.
For Woodpeckers Galore, a post based on the same visit to Anarchist Mtn., click here.
May 1, 2015: As promised at the end of the Woodpeckers Galore post, I want to share photos of one of the most industrious Pileated Woodpeckers I’ve the pleasure to observe. We get so see him in dust covered overalls in the midst of his renovations of an existing cavity that is apparently to be reused. His mate sat quietly in a shady nearby tree about 30 meters away. By the way, we know he’s a male by his red malar stripe.
I have watched PIWOs excavate before, chipping away at huge chunks of a tree mainly in search of grubs living in the wood. The shot below was taken Dec. 31, 2015 in Kelowna.
This spring, however, PIWO’s digging reminded me, ironically, of what I saw last year when the smallest of nuthatches, the Pygmy, was working on a nest in a burned Ponderosa stump. There was a steady stream of detritus and dust being flung from the dead tree’s orifice as the shot below shows.
Woody, the subject of this post was in almost constant motion between 12:47 when I took the first shot of him already enlarging the cavity to the last one at 1:05. He had been at it, our ears told us, for some time before we located him, and he wasn’t finished when we withdrew for lunch. Around the time we left, he did take a break to communicate with his mate and to check the area.
Here are the photos. The blurriest betray the constant motion mentioned earlier. In many cases, I had to time my pressing of the shutter button to catch his full profile….
Doing the job! Click any photo in cluster to enlarge them all….
Flinging over his head…
and a breather!
Checking for his mate…
Listening for her call….
Back to work….
I hope to return from time to time to find out whether Woody and Wimsie are successful in raising another generation of these largest of our many fascinating woodpeckers….
The Pileated Woodpecker digs characteristically rectangular holes in trees to find ants. These excavations can be so broad and deep that they can cause small trees to break in half.
A Pileated Woodpecker pair stays together on its territory all year round. It will defend the territory in all seasons, but will tolerate new arrivals during the winter.
The feeding excavations of a Pileated Woodpecker are so extensive that they often attract other birds. Other woodpeckers, as well as House Wrens, may come and feed there. (Interestingly, we saw a House Wren on the day we visited this guy!)
The Pileated Woodpecker prefers large trees for nesting. In young forests, it will use any large trees remaining from before the forest was cut. Because these trees are larger than the rest of the forest, they present a lightning hazard to the nesting birds.
The oldest known Pileated Woodpecker was a male, and at least 12 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Maryland
“The Pileated Woodpecker’s primary food is carpenter ants, supplemented by other ants, woodboring beetle larvae, termites, and other insects such as flies, spruce budworm, caterpillars, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. They also eat wild fruits and nuts, including greenbrier, hackberry, sassafrass, blackberries, sumac berries, poison ivy, holly, dogwood, persimmon, and elderberry. In some diet studies, ants constituted 40 percent of the diet, and up to 97 percent in some individuals. Occasionally, Pileated Woodpeckers visit backyard bird feeders for seeds or suet.”
Nesting: Nesting Facts
Clutch Size: 3–5 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 brood
Egg Length: 1.2–1.4 in ; 3–3.5 cm
Egg Width: 0.9–1 in ; 2.4–2.6 cm
Incubation Period: 15–18 days
Nestling Period: 24–31 days
Egg Description: White.
Condition at Hatching: Naked and helpless.
“The male begins excavating the nest cavity and does most of the work, but the female contributes, particularly as the hole nears completion. The entrance hole is oblong rather than the circular shape of most woodpecker holes. For the finishing touches, the bird climbs all the way into the hole and chips away at it from the inside. Periodically the adult picks up several chips at a time in its bill and tosses them from the cavity entrance. Pileated Woodpeckers don’t line their nests with any material except for leftover wood chips. The nest construction usually takes 3-6 weeks, and nests are rarely reused in later years.* Cavity depth can range from 10-24 inches.” * This appears NOT to be the case for our bird….
“Considered a keystone species, the Pileated Woodpecker plays a crucial role in many forest ecosystems in North America by excavating large nesting, roosting and foraging cavities that are subsequently used by a diverse array of birds and mammals—for shelter and nesting—particularly the larger secondary cavity users (e.g., Boreal Owl, Wood Duck, and American marten; Bull et al. 1997, Bonar 2000, Aubry and Raley 2002a). Pileated Woodpeckers accelerate wood decomposition and nutrient recycling by breaking apart snags and logs and may facilitate inoculation of heartwood in live trees with heart-rot fungi. They may also be important in helping control some forest beetle populations because their diet consists primarily of wood-dwelling ants and beetle larvae that are extracted from down woody material and from standing live and dead trees.”
April 30, 2017: Among the birds that folks out here who are determinedly “non-birders” can name, woodpeckers are popular. Most will at least recognize a Flicker (but don’t ask them to separate Red-shafted, Yellow-shafted and Intergrades, please), perhaps a Hairy or a Downy (though few can identify the differences), maybe a Pileated (although they probably know it better as Woody Woodpecker). Back east, they may have seen a Red-headed or Red-bellied, the former rather obviously named, the latter clearly not. They’ve likely heard of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, yet never seen one, or any of the other sapsuckers — the Red-naped of the BC Interior or the Red-breasted closer to The Coast.
But there are many woodpeckers that “cross the border” into Canada that even regular birders have not seen. Lewis’s were new to me only a few years ago; in a way they helped to bring me to the Okanagan (click here for Lewis’s in another page). Acorn, White-headed, and Williamson’s were on my own list. Two of this group still are. Last week, however, the list shrank by 33%.
Acting on a hot tip from Richard Kobayashi, a fellow Kelowna birder / photographer, who gave us the exact location we needed, we travelled south to Anarchist Mountain located near the Canada-US border between Osoyoos and Rock Creek, BC. About one kilometre north of Highway 3 on the Sidley Mountain Road, we found our targets right where Richard said they’d be, an engaging pair of Williamson’s, as well as three other species plus the usual bluebirds and wrens and sparrows expected in this region this time of year. We had a fabulous birding experience!
The property belongs to Ed Brouwer, an engaging fellow about whom I’ll no doubt write future posts. Ed was kind enough to allow us onto the property; without that permission, most of these photos would not have been possible. Nana and I are greatly appreciative of his generous sharing of the bounty residing on his land!
Williamson’s are relatively rare in Canada, found only in southern BC. In 2005, in aSpecies at Risk bulletin, the Government of Canada estimated that only 430 birds crossed the border into our country to breed. The report noted that the species was in decline as habitat became threatened. More on that later in this post. Let’s get to the photos:
Let me say, right off the top, that the male’s wonderful colours are exceedingly difficult to capture with equipment such as mine. I didn’t fully realize this until I returned home and looked at the quality of my images. Trying to photograph both on an Aspen is a terrific challenge from a white balance / black balance standpoint! The good news is that I have more reason to return and try to improve!
Unlike many of our BC woodpeckers, Williamson’s are sexually dimorphic, so different in appearance that many early observers thought the male and female were different species! The image of the female (below) attests to why: (Click cluster images to enlarge.)
Williamson’s male (low quality shot)
Williamson’s female turned out better.
Pair together; he’s at the nest hole.
As we watched their behaviour, we noticed that both birds kept leaving the big Aspens to visit the bottom five feet of a nearby young Balsam Fir. Closer examination after they left it showed why: (Click cluster images to enlarge.)
Sapsuckers feed here.
Closeup of the sap wells.
Profile of the sap wells.
We were ecstatic about the opportunity to examine their habitat so closely. But the story doesn’t end here. In fact, it was just the beginning. We also had a blast observing the other woodpeckers of this small forest.
Having seen Red-naped sapsuckers up close four years ago, I decided not to pursue them this time. I will go back for them another time, I’m sure!
Instead, I focused on a very cooperative and hard-working Hairy that allowed me over a seven-minute span (I departed before he did) to observe him drilling a new hole.
(Click cluster images to enlarge.)
First encounter with Hairy at the hole.
Close up; no fear of fotog!
Proud of his work!
“Really into it,” you might say!
We also got to watch a Pileated male re-excavating a nest hole while his mate observed nearby. That’s covered in a separate post, but here’s a teaser:
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Every spring we look forward to the return of Ruddy Ducks from their wintering grounds to the south and west (jump tomaps at the end of this post). Two locations where we have most success are Robert Lake on Kelowna’s northern border, and Birdie Lake at Predator Ridge Resort, a few km. south of Vernon, BC. In May 2015, we were treated to the appearance for a couple of days of a solitary Ruddy drake virtually in our back yard, Belmont Pond, shown above.
Our most reliable site for these fascinating little narcissists is Birdie Lake. We discovered this gem about 10 years ago when my son was working at the Ridge and staying only a short walk from the ‘pond.’ It’s a great place for a variety of waterfowl and perching birds. This Spring we were even treated to the calls of Great Horned Owls (although, sadly, we did not locate them). While the RUDUs usually are best photographed in the small ponds on the southwest side, they can also be observed from the deck on the peninsula at the northwest end. That’s where we were able to find and photograph them this year: five bemused drakes and a single, amused hen.
We were treated to some very interesting, indeed, entertaining courtship behaviour from the males. The lady offered some encouragement — as the photos show.
You’re so vain….
…you prob’ly think this set is about you!
Don’t you? Don’t you!
What’s wrong with that?!
Getting the colour balance right with these drakes is always a challenge!
The Audubon Field Guide online, describes our little buddy as: “An odd little diver, the main North American representative of the group of stiff-tailed ducks, with spiky tail feathers that are often cocked up in the air. Usually lethargic, and seems reluctant to fly. On takeoff it must patter across the surface of the water to become airborne, then whirs along on rapidly beating wings. On land it is almost helpless. Flocks of Ruddies wintering on lakes seldom mix freely with other ducks, although they may associate with American Coots.”
Cornell’s Lab or Ornithology adds this description: “Ruddy Duck[drake]s are compact, thick-necked waterfowl with seemingly oversized tails that [in Spring] they habitually hold upright. Breeding males are almost cartoonishly bold, with a sky-blue bill, shining white cheek patch, and gleaming chestnut body. They court females by beating their bill against their neck hard enough to create a swirl of bubbles in the water.” And here’s what this behaviour looked like in the last week of April 2017 (Sorry about the low quality here):
Whew! I’m almost bubbled out!
Hope she’s impressed!
Last look goes to Her Nibs, who looks marvellously unimpressed by the entire show!
I am the target text.
There is some discrepancy in the range maps of the three different sources below. Just goes to show that “The Internet” is not necessarily the arbiter of truth…. Take your pick!
Ruddy Ducks lay big, white, pebbly-textured eggs—the largest of all duck eggs relative to body size. Energetically expensive to produce, the eggs hatch into well-developed ducklings that require only a short period of care.
The bright colors and odd behavior of male Ruddy Ducks drew attention from early naturalists, though they didn’t pull any punches. One 1926 account states, “Its intimate habits, its stupidity, its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself…. Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”
Pleistocene fossils of Ruddy Ducks, at least 11,000 years old, have been unearthed in Oregon, California, Virginia, Florida, and Illinois.
Ruddy Ducks are very aggressive toward each other and toward other species, especially during the breeding season. They are even known to chase rabbits feeding on the shore.
Though Ruddy Ducks are native to the Americas, one population became established in England after captive ducks escaped in 1952. This population grew to about 3,500 individuals by 1992, and now appears to be expanding into the Netherlands, France, Belgium, and Spain.
Ruddy Ducks get harassed by Horned Grebes, Pied-billed Grebes, and American Coots during the breeding season. The grebes sometimes attack Ruddy Ducks from below the water, a behavior known as “submarining.”
The oldest Ruddy Duck on record was a male and at least 13 years, 7 months old. He was banded in British Columbia and 1951 and found in Oregon in 1964.
And a final note from the Audubon Field Guide website:
Current population apparently much lower than historical levels, owing to unrestricted shooting early in 20th century and to loss of nesting habitat.
Let’s hope that restoration of habitat will help these peculiar and loveable little waterfowl!