Grizzly feeding


When May arrives, I like to see if I can spot grizzly bears feeding as they attempt to restore their weight following hibernation. Doug Thorburn beat me to it. He sent me some shots of grizzlies at the north end of the Lake.

Two young grizzlies, likely siblings, were feasting on forest greens.

One of the grizzlies looked up at the interloper.

Douglas Thorburn’s pictures are used with permission.


Posted in mammals | 3 Comments

Barrow’s Goldeneye

The Common Goldeneye male has a circular cheek patch and more white on the back. The female bill has less yellow.


Occasionally when I manage a reasonably good shot, I use it as an opportunity to discuss the species. Such is the case with the Barrow’s Goldeneye couple, below; they are one of our two goldeneye ducks. The other is the (ironically, less common) Common Goldeneye. Which brings me to the quirky characterization of our Barrow’s found on the Audubon website:

The less numerous of the two goldeneye species [is Barrow’s], found mainly in wild country of northwestern North America….

Okay, the Common Goldeneye is distributed across much of North America, while the Barrow’s Goldeneye is largely confined to the western cordillera. Here, in wild country (huh?), the Barrow’s is about four times as common as the Common, so hardly the less numerous of the two. 

The Barrow’s Goldeneye is a diving duck that mainly feeds on arthropods on the lake bottom.

A Barrow’s Goldeneye couple swims by. Soon, it will likely head north to breed.


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Coyotes in forest


I am used to seeing coyotes, if I see them at all, as solitary predators. Occasionally, I have seen two hunting together. However, this weekend was the first time I had seen them in a pack. It was probably a family. There were four, possibly six of them. It was hard to tell as they were in the forest ducking behind brush and trees and they vanished quickly. My attempts at photography produced little other than frames showing out-of-focus legs and tails behind bushes. However, one member of the pack did stand still in the open long enough for a picture.

A coyote stands in the forest and looks around.


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Orchid season


Wild orchid season begins in May and, spanning a number of species, seems to run through July. Indeed, on May 1st there appeared the particularly early-season orchid, the Fairy Slipper. And it appeared in surprisingly great numbers (last year there had been few).

Dozens of the western variety of Fairy Slipper appeared on the hillside. 

I found this small group of Fairy Slippers particularly appealing.


Posted in wildflowers | 7 Comments

April goulash


This is a collection of April’s images, each of which lacked a posting of its own.

A Tree Swallow couple prepares to do housekeeping.

The Northern Pintail is most often seen in the spring and fall as it migrates past us.

Turkey Vultures arrived from the south in March and stay until early October.

Painted Turtles emerge from hibernation and bask on a loafing log.

A Red-tailed Hawk flies by.

The Columbian Ground Squirrel is finally out of hibernation and looking around.

New life arrives late in the month.

White-crowned Sparrows arrived at the end of April. A few breed here, but most head north.

As the ground thaws, a mastodon carcass emerges from the permafrost — or maybe not.


Posted in birds, herptiles, mammals | 10 Comments

Black-necked Stilt


The Black-necked Stilt does not visit Kootenay Lake — or that is what the range maps of bird websites would have you believe. Indeed, I have not seen it here before. And the bird isn’t even listed in Cannings’ book, Birds of Interior BC and the Rockies

Yet, in the last two weeks, this stilt has been seen from the Creston Flats (over 80 seen) to Kaslo (over 20 seen). Have they been seen in such numbers before?

I went to the Harrop wetlands to look for them with my daughter. There was one. Which all things considered was, in of itself, an impressive number. Cynthia and I had comparable shots of the stilt feeding, but her shots of it flying excelled, so I just show them.

A Black-necked Stilt lifts off from the Lake. A glance at those long (pink) legs reveals how it gained the name, stilt.

Cynthia’s picture of the stilt flying off has to be a classic for this region.

Cynthia Fraser’s pictures are used with permission.


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Earth Day


Yesterday was Earth Day.

I have looked at many pictures posted by media to mark Earth Day. Curiously, many of them show crowds of humans — and so features the celebrants rather than the thing being celebrated. Other stories treated animals and ecosystems brought back from near extinction. Another showed satellite scenes of the earth’s surface, entirely devoid of clouds, as if this maybe presented the world in its pristine state. (Spoiler alert: the earth does have clouds and they are central to the earth’s climate.)

Of course, Earth is an exceeding complex system of interacting components. No single feature captures the whole — each scene presents but a glance.

Yet, this year’s emphasis on climate suggested celebrating local weather. Of course, climate and weather are not the same thing, but just as life is comprised of momentary instances, so too is climate the sum of momentary weather events.

So, here are some tiny weather events that capture moments in the local climate.

Looking north, one sees Lake, mountains, snow, glaciers, forests, and beaches.

With a deafening din, a hailstorm pummels the Lake.

Cumulonimbus mammatus hangs over the Lake during a summer thunderstorm.

Frost flowers grow on the beach in the late winter.

A steam devil travels across the Lake midwinter.

A semi-circular rainbow is completed by reflections in the calm waters of the Lake.

A snowflake’s view of where it will come to rest.

An iridescent wave cloud hangs over the Lake in the summer.

The local weather contains many components, one of which is wildfires.

There are undulations in the atmosphere instigated by flow over mountains. While these waves are often inconspicuous, smoke from a distant wildfire reveals them. 

This phenomenon carries the deceptive name of a smoking mountain. It is actually cloud formed downwind of the mountain by air being drawn up the lee slope.

Cumulus clouds transport significant energy from the surface to the atmosphere.

Just earth, air and water.


Posted in weather | 11 Comments

Ospreys and geese


Ospreys tend to return to the same nests year after year. However, often when they return, they find their last-year’s nest already occupied by geese. The osprey sometimes succeeds in driving the geese out, but sometimes the goose just completes its earlier nesting season before the osprey takes over. 

Yesterday, I watched osprey harass geese which had taken up residence on a couple of different nests. There were no good shots of the osprey dive-bombing the geese, but here are pictures of the participants. 

Prior to the osprey’s return, geese took up residence in osprey nests. 

An annoyed osprey flies by.


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Herons are back


I saw a Great Blue Heron this morning.

This might seem to be an inconsequential observation. One might see herons in every month of the year, so it isn’t as if they are like ospreys: gone in the cold weather; here in the warm. Yet, Kootenay Lake is on the northern edge of the heron’s permanent home in North America and the bird is remarkably fickle when it comes to hanging around us. Indeed, as Cornell Labs notes: “Great Blue Herons generally move away from the northern edge of their breeding range in winter.” This is reflected in the our low frequency of heron observations in the cold months. Indeed, I haven’t seen a single heron this last winter.

This graph shows the frequency of observations of the Great Blue Heron locally. It is quite low in the winter but begins to pick up in April.

This morning, a Great Blue Heron flew by, the first I have seen since last fall. They are back.


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Bombylius, Not Bombus


With the advent of sunny spring, I noticed my first lawn flower of the year, a chionodoxa, a tiny bluish flower with a whitish centre. It is sometimes known as the glory of the snow.

Abruptly, the flower was visited by the first bumblebee of the year. Well, that is what a companion suspected — but it wasn’t a bumblebee, but a bumblebee mimic, a mimicry crafted to avoid being eaten by a bird. Rather than being a bee (Bombus), the visitor was a fly (Bombylius) and a predatory one at that. 

The flower appears early in the spring; the bombylius does likewise. The reason the fly does involves a story about solitary bees, for this is the time that solitary bees temporarily leave their nests unprotected. Unlike the social bees, each solitary bee lays her own eggs and does so in a small tunnel she has provisioned with food such as nectar and pollen. She then seals the entrance.

However, for the short time it takes the solitary bee to do this, the tunnel entrance is open and that is when the Bombylius fly enters and deposits its own eggs inside. When a bombylius larva emerges, it feeds on the provisions meant for the bee larvae. It then changes form and eats the bee larvae, themselves. Bombylius has only a short time in the spring to give its offspring this opportunity.

You do what you have to do.

The tiny chionodoxa graces the spring lawn.

It was promptly visited by the Bombylius major, an early spring bee-mimic fly.

The next day, a Bombylius major visited a dandelion as it sought more nectar. Its long legs and proboscis have probably evolved to protect it from an easy attack by crab spiders.


Posted in bugs, wildflowers | 4 Comments