Cryptic muskrat

 

Sometimes camouflage allows wildlife to pass almost unnoticed.

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March marmot again

 

Over the preceding five years, the first marmot I noticed appeared progressively earlier in the season. Five years ago, it was late March, last year it had shifted to late February. Was this a trend? With the persistent snows of this year, the first marmot spotted is again in late March. 

Yesterday’s yellow-bellied marmot looks almost pensive as it contemplates spring.

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Killdeer skating

 

Killdeers are the first shorebirds to arrive each year. They have been reported from around the region for a week now. This year, some encountered ice.

A frozen pond did not prove as inviting to an arriving killdeer as would a watery shoreline. 

It decided to go elsewhere, but taking off from ice proved to be a dignity-destroying affair.

It regained its footing only to look like a beginning skater. 

Finally airborne, it chirped its displeasure with ice in late March. 

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Icicle ripples

 

With the (inept) proclamation in the media that yesterday was the first day of spring, icicles would seem to be an inopportune topic. Yet, sometimes a natural phenomenon festers for years before treatment. Such is the case with icicles.

Icicles were a winter staple of my childhood home (elevation ~1060 m) in Rossland. That was in an era that preceded modern home insulation, so heat leaking through the roof in sub-zero weather resulted in abundant icicles. Indeed, my father broke his back in a fall from a ladder while trying to clear icicles from our home.

The origin, growth, tapered shape, and many features of icicles provide a rich cabinet of curiosities. These are worthy of many postings, so more may appear in subsequent years. The topic for the moment is the ripples that may grace the sides of icicles.

The odd thing is that sometimes icicles have remarkably smooth sides; yet, sometimes they display ripples which, strangely, all have a wavelength of about a centimetre. Now, I cannot explain why these ripples arise. However, as a result of a study by Chen and Morris of the University of Toronto (On the origin and evolution of icicle ripples), I can say what causes them: salt. Salt is an ionic solute: It separates into ions upon dissolution. I can only guess why this might produce ripples in icicles. 

These icicles have smooth sides indicating that the water flowing to them from the roof is pure. 

These icicles show prominent ripples suggesting the presence of an ionic solute, such as salt. They formed in the wilderness from the natural drainage off the face of a cliff.

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Road rock

 

A temporary break in the rains has left mountain slopes sodden. This has resulted in mudslides blocking highways. 

When late in the day, one lane of this highway was opened to alternating traffic, it was clear that in addition to a few mudslides a substantial rock blocked the passage.

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I watch, you shouldn’t

 

Red-tailed Hawks are rather like governmental spy agencies: They like to watch, but they do not appreciate it when they are, themselves, monitored.

The hawks frequently watch from utility poles or trees alongside a roadway, apparently waiting for road-kill. They remain unconcerned if the traffic speeds by below, but if they notice that someone is watching them, even from afar with a scope, they often retreat.

While I am sympathetic to these hawks and do avoid stressing them, it is ironic that they want us to ignore them while simultaneously perching on man-made structures so as to watch our roads. By way of contrast, an eagle or owl would just ignore a passing human. 

A minor perquisite of this hawk skittishness is that as a hawk leaves, flight shots are possible. Below are three different flying hawks taken over a period of a three weeks.

A Red-tailed Hawk flew off as I watched from the roadside. The reddish tail is obvious.

Another Red-tailed Hawk lifted off from a distant utility pole and then proceeded to hunt from aloft. This was the first time I had seen a hawk deploy its alulae while trying to hover over prey.

This Red-tailed Hawk flew from a roadside lamp standard. That its tail has yet to turn red reveals it to be a juvenile. 

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Short-eared Owl

 

You might see one around the Lake, but exceedingly rarely. Indeed, I had only seen a Short-eared Owl once before and that was in 2012 on the grasslands of Kokanee Creek Park (owl wins). This time I got a better picture.

Short-eared Owls compete with Northern Harriers for mice and voles found in grasslands. Not surprisingly, they are not buddies. When spotted, the one below was being chased by two harriers, but it then looped around behind and chased them. A scrappy owl it is.

A Short-eared Owl is chasing harriers that are out of the picture.

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Harrier

 

The harrier is a distinctive hawk that flies low over grasslands searching for mice and voles. 

Northern Harriers can be seen in the fields around Kootenay Lake at any time of the year, but they are never common. My sightings have been from the south end of the Lake in January (raptor rapture), the north end in April (Lardeau walk) and the West Arm in September (harrier at Park). However, the harrier pictures shown below were taken at the Coast (of BC).

The brownish female harrier has her head tipped down as she searches for grassland comestibles.

The greyish male harrier does likewise.

That harriers cruise low to the ground enables this view of a female from above.

And she alighted nearby allowing a portrait.

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Back again

 

My postings have been so few of late that a subscriber speculated that she had fallen off my list. No, nothing changed other than my productivity. However, like the sub-adult Bald Eagle below, the time has come for me to feast on nature’s delicacies again.

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Heron stance

 

The first thing to realize is that this picture does not show what it appears to show.

It is easy to imagine that this is a picture of a bird squatting to poop in a field. That is not what is going on, but what is this Great Blue Heron doing? In a few decades of casual heron watching, this is only the second time I have seen a heron adopt this stance — it is far from being an everyday sighting. My first sighting, in the summer of 2012, was posted with a detailed discussion as balalaika heron.

Ok, the executive summary is that the heron is baking its parasites. The underwing feathers become infested with parasites, but they cannot withstand high temperatures. By exposing them to sunlight and so heating the underside of its wings, it kills and so rids itself of parasites. 

It was in the heat of summer on the earlier time I saw a heron doing this. The heron had to go to a great effort to prevent the heated blood from reaching its brain by extending its neck. On this occasion, the air temperature is only about 5 °C and the heron’s neck is not extended, but the result is the same: feathers cleared of parasites.

A Great Blue Heron bakes its parasites by spreading its wings and exposing them to sunlight.

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