Heron snacks

 

A Great Blue Heron was snacking in a pond. Well, it probably would have been happy for somewhat larger fare than the minnows being caught. However, it persisted and snacked on a great many of them.

The heron would reach into the pond, grab a minnow and then often open its bill so that the minnow floated between its mandibles before the bird tipped its head and swallowed.

Often when the heron opened its bill, the minnow seemed suspended in a film of water.

Fish: “How about negotiating what happens next? Could we go to arbitration?”

 

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Four flyers

 

Following the posting about three mammals, it is appropriate to treat birds — well, things that fly. And this includes insects.

A damselfly is a common feature of lakeside living in the summer. But, not this one. When damselflies perch, most species hold their wings parallel to their bodies. The exception is a small group called the spread-wing damselflies. Here is one of them perched.

The White Pelican is a bit of an oddity around here. Yet, they do turn up  now and then around the Lake, usually in flocks. This one is on its own.

The Great Blue Heron is a staple around the Lake. I do marvel at their display of wing feathers. This one is landing on the edge of the river.

I saved the best for the last. Ospreys will soon migrate to Central America. But for the moment, here is an adult osprey flying by with a headless sucker.

 

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Three mammals

 

In my wanderings, birds are usually easiest to espy. So, it is fun to watch mammals now and then, even if two of them happen to be in the squirrel family.

Usually when I see a Columbian ground squirrel, it is wary, indeed skittish. So, it came as a surprise to see one largely out of its burrow and chirping away at passing humans. Indeed, it seemed to be harassing people. A clue to its behaviour was its location in a small upland provincial park. This fat squirrel was apparently used to persuading hikers to supply him with comestibles, and now it was doing its best to intimidate each passersby into feeding him. I am reminded of the coyotes in Stanley Park (Vancouver) which have taken to attacking park goers who don’t pay a ransom in food. This ground squirrel looks too small to try that tactic, but it does show a downside of catering to cuteness.

This chipmunk is just too small to intimidate anyone for food. It was content to scrounge for seeds that birds dropped from a feeder.

There are many whitetailed deer at the valley bottoms, yet one usually only sees fawns and does. This buck was seen attempting to navigate thick forest. Because his antlers are still in velvet and are sensitive to contact, passing through a thicket must occasionally be painful.

 

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August goulash

 

This comprises a group of August’s images that lacked postings of their own. It is a mixture of local shots and ones from the around Vancouver. Yet, the Coastal ones are all of creatures (one fishy exception) also found at Kootenay Lake — albeit sometimes only occasionally. I open with raptors, all but one being local.

August is the season when Osprey chicks fledge and head out on their own. Here an adult on the nest is holding a fish, while a fledgling lands.

One fledgling watches another arriving with a chunk of fish. The fish was not shared. 

The Cooper’s Hawk is a bit uncommon everywhere. This one was seen in Burnaby.

Despite range maps that suggest that the Merlin is strictly a summer resident of Kootenay Lake, it is a year round staple of the region. As is evident from this shot, the Merlin is not easily spooked. Maybe it is sizing me up as a meal.

Bald Eagles abound around the Lake, but capturing a close dramatic shot requires insight, such as knowing to visit a spawning creek in August. Photo courtesy Cynthia Fraser.

Another bird that hangs out around spawning creeks is the Great Blue Heron.

Now, this is a morsel that many raptors would happily grab: a house mouse. Of course, its name does not mean that it lives in houses any more than does the House Finch. This one was definitely wild.

A crow inspects roadkill (a skunk). However,  traffic was too disruptive for it to feed.

We have river otters on the Lake, but the fact that this picture was taken at the Coast is evident by their catch: a starry flounder.

This is the season to admire a wide range of migrating shorebirds. This is a parade of Long-billed Dowitchers.

This Downy Woodpecker is on a cedar tree.

Perhaps my favourite coastal observation was of a bird seen here, but only rarely: a Green Heron. It apparently has a greenish back, although that wasn’t evident. Smaller than the Great Blue Heron, it is seen here fishing.

Alas, the Green Heron was spooked by the approach of a Great Blue.

The upside was that I was able to capture a flight shot.

 

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Requiem for a snag

 

I didn’t know the tree when it was alive and bore leaves. Indeed, I don’t even know what species it was. I had known it only as a large snag and a wildlife tree for the last four years. Today, on a windless clear day, and with a resounding CRACK, the whole tree tipped over. Now on the ground it began a new stage in its evolution.

While many small birds visited it, in August its sunlit position beside a spawning stream meant that big birds, such as Bald Eagles and Turkey Vultures, hung out there as they hungrily eyed the Kokanee spawning in the waters below. Indeed, it was the Turkey Vultures I had come to watch for they used that particular snag in an unusual way. At night, they would roost elsewhere in the forest, but, with the rising sun some would gather on the snag and spread their wings in the sunlight to warm themselves after a cool-night’s sleep. I have come to liken the comfort the vultures seemed to experience from this stance as their version of a morning cup of coffee. 

All of that came to an abrupt end early this morning. A Turkey Vulture was perched with wings spread in the sunlight. In response to an initial snapping sound, the vulture flew off. It returned quickly and tried to resume the pleasures of the warming sunlight, but then with the ultimate loud CRACK, the vulture took to the air again as the snag slowly tipped and then thundered to the ground.

With the rumble of the snag crashing to the ground, the vulture’s favourite warming tree was gone leaving no obvious replacement.

A Turkey Vulture perches spread winged in the early morning sunlight. It seems that this way to warm after a cold night was equivalent to their morning cup of coffee. They might now need to go cold turkey (so to speak).

I only had my birding lens handy, so when the snag abruptly started to fall, I captured a portion of it and this looks rather as if it were merely a leaning tree. No, this trunk was on its way down and thundered to the ground. The snag’s new existence, alas, does not include spread-winged vultures and as being the only nearby snag to catch the early sunlight, the vultures might now have to do without their morning coffee.

 

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Away views: heron & crane

 

I was at the Coast for three weeks so watched wildlife. Birds were seen mostly. The species I will show in the next few postings can all be seen at Kootenay Lake — herons are common here year round, cranes are at the south end of the Main Lake in the summer.

Of course, the Great Blue Heron is a staple of Kootenay Lake. However, its fishing success in this coastal pond seemed far greater than what I had noticed here.

At the same pond was a family of Sandhill Cranes. It was the first time I had seen a chick.

Sandhill Cranes are opportunistic feeders, but most often they eat plants and grains.

But they also scrounge for small animals.

Adults have a red patch on their heads that the chicks lack.

Plumage is a variable grey and is often streaked with brown from the iron-rich mud used when preening.

A heron and cranes were in the same pond; Occasionally size comparisons were possible.

Sometimes the comparisons even extended to mallards.

 

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Heron drag

 

This posting is about the aerodynamic drag on a flying Great Blue Heron. So why open with pictures of the Sandhill Crane? Well, the two species are often confused. Further, they have different strategies for minimizing aerodynamic drag.

We see both species: the Sandhill Crane is a warm season visitor to the south end of the Main Lake; the Great Blue Heron is a permanent resident of all the Lake. And for good measure, I toss a swan into the discussion.

Now, I start with the flawed tradition of offering a digression on a digression (heron > crane > cranberry), I note that the cranberry is named after the crane; it is literally the crane berry. This close view of bare skin on the head of a Sandhill Crane suggests why.

Here are two Sandhill Cranes on the Creston Flats.

And here are two Great Blue Herons on the West Arm. At a casual glance, the one might be mistaken for the other, both being big birds with long necks and legs. However, cranes and herons even belong to different families.

This view of a heron, which has just taken to the air, illustrates the reason that long-necked birds need to address the problem of aerodynamic drag. The S-shaped neck sets up turbulence in the airflow across it, so increases the drag. Quickly it will adjust its neck.

The Sandhill Crane, with a somewhat less flexible neck, flies with it fully extended.

So do both of our swan species. This is a Trumpeter Swan.

The heron adopts a different solution to the problem of drag. In sustained flight, the heron tucks its head tightly against its back to provide a smooth flow of air across its head and back. One does wonder whether the crane or the heron adopted the better solution. 

 

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Flying fish

 

Problem month: Unlike my usual ten or so postings a month, for the last thirty days, I made only one. The blog, itself, vanished, and even when it was restored, the subscriber emailer did not work. Add to this, interminable thick wildfire smoke blanketed the area making eyes burn and breathing difficult. (I fled to the Coast.) Further, local covid cases skyrocketed. It has been a difficult month. Sigh…, with this posting, the blog, mailings, and I seem restored.

More than any other bird, the Osprey is the symbol of Kootenay Lake. It is numerous and highly visible during the warm season as it fishes and nests over and adjacent to the waters. If you head out on the Lake in the summer, or even walk its shore, an inquisitive eye treats you the sight of an osprey hovering over the water, diving, lifting fish from the water, and flying off with it to feed its young.

This leads to a summer of flying fish, many of which are headless.

Ospreys and humans have had a long relationship, certainly since European settlers started driving pilings in the shallows, and possibly earlier. Ospreys like the easy access to the Lake that humans provide by building dolphins and erecting pilings. They find these human structures propitious for their nests. Mind you, while ospreys tolerate human presence, they chirp their objections if people happen to get too close to what they perceive as their nest-bearing structures. Oh well, they are fun to watch.

The relationship did not always go as well as it does now. When I was a child, my family was horrified when louts would set nest-bearing pilings afire so as to incinerate osprey chicks. (The pilings at Troup still bear the scars of those fires.) The motivation for this bit of vandalism was apparently the assumption of local fishermen that the ospreys were stealing all the good game fish, and these were fish the humans wanted for themselves. 

Apart from the inherent injustice of this behaviour, it relied upon a faulty assessment of osprey activities. Osprey generally grab the easiest prey, and those tend to be the slowly swimming suckers. Suckers are not the good-eating fish that fishermen seek. However, the facts did not stop humans from demonizing osprey believing that they favoured trout and Kokanee. Sigh….

Here are two pictures of flying suckers taken this last week.

 

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Restoration goulash

 

A week ago, this blog crashed: earlier postings could not be seen and nothing more could be posted. The blog is now restored.

A week ago, the wildfire smoke became intolerable, and I headed west to find cleaner air. While away, I continued to explore nature. All the things I show in this restoration goulash are things that have also been seen around the Lake, yet a number of them are distinctly uncommon there.

This female Anna’s Hummingbird is showing iridescent spots on her throat. Around the Lake, Anna’s are seen rarely. I have seen one.

The male Anna’s is noted for its iridescent gorget and crown.

I get to see a Barred Owl at the Lake maybe once a year, yet here I have seen three.

Looking greenish owing to light passing through the leaves, another Barred sits deep in a deciduous tree.

Certainly Wood Ducks are seen around the Lake, but I include this shot of mommy and chick because I liked the lighting.

We have Wilson’s Warblers at the Lake, but I had to go elsewhere to see one.

Second only to the Anna’s in the unlikelihood of it being seen is the Virginia Rail. 

 This marsh bird is not only few in number, but decidedly secretive. 

Here is the (black) chick of the Virginia Rail.

I can see a Merlin a few times a year around the Lake, but I include this picture because it is amusing. Notice the wooden beam extending from below the house peak on the right. It is festooned with wires in an effort to prevent birds from perching on it and defecating. The Merlin’s response: move to the peak and defecated on the roof.

Certainly we have raccoons around the Lake, but I have rarely seen a mommy raccoon with its kit, and certainly not in a tree.

 

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Merlin 1, Catbird 0

 

The Merlin is the larger of our two regular falcons. It often takes songbirds by approaching them rapidly from below and behind in their blind spot. On this occasion a juvenile Merlin had captured and killed a Grey Catbird. 

The juvenile Merlin was seen standing over its prey, and partially blocking a side road. It held its ground with a look that said: “This bird is mine; Stay clear of me.”

We just waited by the side of the road for passage (but took pictures) as it continued to feed. Meanwhile another catbird (the prey’s mate?) was calling from the branch of a tree above us.

After a while, the merlin became skittish and flew off. It and another Merlin complained bitterly about our presence, so we just drove off.

The final flight picture is courtesy of Finn Fraser Grathwol.

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