Western Grebe


The picture, below, does not hint at the satisfaction of acquiring the shot. 

The Western Grebe comes to Kootenay Lake each fall and leaves for the Coast a few months later. So there is ample time to see it. The problem is that this bird stays far out on the Lake, and usually will not deign to come close enough for a good picture. 

Yestermorn, I was at the Nelson waterfront and wondered when Western Grebes might arrive. Derek Kite promptly pointed to a single one in the middle of the Lake. Although really distant, it seemed to be moving our way. We moved along the shore until close enough to see the red of its eyes.

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Three birds that fish


As I wandered along the shore, I watched three birds that fish.

The osprey has been featured many times with fish. By now most adults have left for the south, leaving the juveniles to follow. That this is a juvenile is easily recognized by its flight feathers, which look as if they have been dipped in cream.

The Pied-billed Grebe is our smallest grebe. It lives on insects and small fish which it swallows whole. This bird caught two fish in a couple of dozen tries.

An  unusual sighting along this portion of the shore was a Double-crested Cormorant. When spotted, it was in the distance swallowing a fish. As I walked closer, it took to the air. To pick up speed, it needed not only to flap its wings, but also to run across the water.

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New home & clothes


I came for the loons and stayed for the grebe.

During the summer, loons and grebes are in their striking breeding plumages and spend their time on small lakes and marshes in the region. With the coming of fall, these birds moult into a drabber non-breeding plumage and move to large lakes, such as Kootenay Lake. From here they often travel to coastal waters. 

The Common Loons and Red-necked Grebe seen this week on the Lake seem to have been caught part way through both their journey and their moult. 

The first birds spotted were two Common Loons. The one on the left is further along in its moult.

Soon a Red-necked Grebe swam by. Its moult is nearly complete.

The new plumage requires maintenance.

And is still in its shakedown period.

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Headless fish flying


Thirteen months ago, I posted a blog entitled, headless fish flying, which explored the reasons one can see such fish flying across our skies. 

Today, I post pictures of the same thing taken over this last week, although this time the activity is probably driven by preparation for migration. Adult ospreys are no longer feeding their young, but are now vigorously feeding themselves in preparation for the long flight to such places as Central America and Venezuela. Four pictures, below.

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When I was in elementary school, I was taught that when water has a temperature of less than 0 °C (well, 32 °F at that time), it is (invariably) a solid called ice. And I was told that it is a liquid from 0 °C to 100 °C (212 °F), and above that, it is a gas. This was one of a number of misleading quarter truths I was taught about the world.

If what my grade-school teacher told me were true, the scene below wouldn’t be possible. Further, much of the world’s weather would be different than it actually is.

These clouds are cirrus, or more descriptively, fallstreaks. The temperature is well below 0 °C and yet the ragged-looking clouds above the streaks are composed of liquid water droplets, while the streaks are composed of ice crystals. Unseen, but transferring mass between the two is water vapour. 

The water droplets are supercooled (still liquid below 0 °C), which is actually a really common state of affairs in the atmosphere. If some of those droplets do freeze, an ice crystal is formed of about the same size. This results in droplets and tiny crystals coexisting in the cloud. This situation is unstable: H2O molecules evaporate from the liquid and condense on the ice crystals causing the water drops to shrink and the crystals to grow. Water vapour is the conduit between the liquid and solid, so all three forms coexist even though the temperature is below 0 °C.

When small, either droplets or crystals have such a tiny terminal fall velocity that the cloud they are in seems to hang in space. However, the ice crystals that have grown at the expense of the droplets have become big enough to have a large terminal fall velocity and so descend in long vertical streaks below the water cloud. 

That these fallstreaks are essentially vertical even while the crystals fall through different levels in the atmosphere is a consequence of the lack of wind shear. There is a wind — the streaks are moving across the sky — but it is virtually the same strength throughout the depth of the cloud. If the wind were to change with height, the fallstreaks would assume the shape of a hook.

Fallstreaks contain a mixture of solid, liquid, and vapour, all at a temperature below 0 °C.

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Grizzly boar


One’s opportunities to spend quality time with a grizzly bear seem limited to a few times a year and, even then, they are fleeting. Alas, grizzlies like to keep their own company.

So, it was nice earlier this week to spend ten minutes or so with a grizzly boar. Well, I am not sure that he was really aware I was there as the bear’s vision isn’t all that good, and the wind was towards me. 

This handsome grizzly boar is almost certainly the father of the tagged bear discussed earlier.

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Sandpiper migration


As the fall looms, many birds migrate. I have shown other sandpipers that were passing through: Greater Yellowlegs, a Solitary and a Least Sandpiper. Here are three more.

The Long-billed Dowitcher breeds along the Arctic coast, but winters along the southern coast of the U.S. and in Mexico. It is just refuelling as it passes through here.

On one occasion it seemed to stumble and had to use its wings to regain its balance.

A particularly uncommon visitor locally is the Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

It breeds on the Arctic coast and islands and usually migrates through the prairies to southern South America. Note its yellow legs.

Seen with the Buffy is a Baird’s Sandpiper. Note its black legs.

Both of these two sandpipers are insectivores, but the fact that they hang out together is probably the result of the Baird’s, which often travels in flocks, looking for company rather than the Buffy needing company. The Buffy is in the foreground and the Baird’s is closer to the water.

The Buff-breasted Sandpiper flies down the beach. The Baird’s Sandpiper will follow.

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Hawks plus


The interesting things one can watch, often changes with altitude. 

Pipits prefer the high country where they travel in flocks scrounging the ground for insects.

Certainly the Red-tailed Hawk can be seen everywhere, but I have only seen one all summer in the valley and three in the mountains within an hour.

The best sighting was of a Cooper’s Hawk, an uncommon bird of open forests.

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RAPP Grizzly


In my wanderings yesterday, I met a grizzly bear — what a delight.

That delight faded when I realized that it was being used as a promotional billboard for a provincial ministry. It bore ear tags that proclaimed:

Huh? What in the world is RAPP, and why would a grizzly be used to promote it? 

My immediate reaction was that RAPP must be part of a grizzly tracking programme and that the folks that stapled this message to the bear’s ears wanted to know where it was. 

How naive of me. 

RAPP stands for Report All Poachers and Polluters. The number is also used to report conflicts with wildlife. Ok, these are a worthy causes. But, does it merit stapling the message to a Grizzly’s ears? I tried phoning the number, but the recorded message left no option to ask that question of a human.

I invite readers to suggest other worthy governmental promotions that might be stapled to provincial wildlife. I offer a few examples:

• Highways could have deer marked to proclaim: Watch for wildlife.
• All spirit bears could have ear tags that said: Na-na, na-na, you can’t shoot me.
• Forestry could put flags on caribou antlers that said: We support logging.
• Maybe schoolchildren could be used to promote the Education Ministry’s bargaining position.

I chatted with the grizzly about the strange adornments on its ears. It assured me that it was deeply embarrassed to be used as a billboard for any governmental programme. It said, “It just hurts.”

At this point, I remembered Aesop’s fable of the lion and the thorn. “Would you like me to remove them for you?” I asked. “Yes, please don’t let me appear in your blog this way.” I said, “Consider it done.” The grizzly smiled its appreciation. 

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Osprey feeds


It is now the second week of September. Osprey chicks have (substantially) fledged and are hunting on their own. Consequently, the adults have to feed only themselves and, after catching a fish, often stop on a snag to eat. The adults start heading south next week and all soon will be gone.

It is fun to see these end-of-the-season fish feeds.

An adult osprey has paused on the branch of snag to feed on its freshly caught large-scale sucker, which it eats head first. For a short time, it tried to stare me down when it found me watching.

However, I (apparently) was not viewed as a threat, and it was hungry, so, soon it was back to feeding.

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