A good day


It was sunny, so time was spent wandering. The pictures are in the order they were taken.

The first shot of the day was a muskrat. 

Then came a Wild Turkey in display with a female indicating a willingness.

There were many wild ducks seen, but the only I took notice of was the Cinnamon Teal.

A number of types of swallows were photographed, but the only spectacular picture was a Tree Swallow. This male had just fed a female in a nest box.

The first bear that was seen was a black bear with two brown cubs up a tree.

Probably the highlight was two fighting Turkey Vultures fighting over a female. They went at it for about 2 minutes. One male arrived with her, and one left with her, but I could not tell them apart and so it is not clear if she left with the original male or not.

Then there was another female black bear. 

And it’s cub.


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Proud eagle parents



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Yesterday afternoon I was visited by a black bear. It was just rambling through yards looking for overflowing garbage cans. Alas, it found little other than a few dandelions at my place.

It was amiable, generally ignoring my tagging along and taking its picture. It knew I was there, but it wasn’t concerned. It wasn’t until I looked at the pictures that I realized that this bear wore a blaze. 

A blaze is the whitish V-shaped mark on its chest. A large proportion of the black bears in the east wear a blaze; very few in the west do. The last local black bear that I saw sporting a blaze was five years ago.

At one point, it stopped and munched on a dandelion, but the pickings were slim.

Nevertheless, it now and then travelled with its mouth open trying to find something.

Before vanishing into a neighbour’s yard, it stopped and looked back at me as if to say, “You could have been more helpful.”


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Tuesday’s halo complex


On Tuesday, there was overrunning of cirrus over the Lake. On Wednesday, there was rain. Lorraine Symmes took a picture to the west and sent it to me. It showed a halo complex, something that often precedes rain.

All of the optical phenomena in the picture are the result of tiny ice crystals in the sky bending the sunlight. While popular consensus is that ice crystals falling from the sky are uniformly the beautiful stellar crystals, most are not. Most crystals are either simple hexagonal plates or columns. And these fall differently. The small hexagonal plates fall nearly horizontal rather like dinner plates spread haphazardly on a table. Small columnar crystals fall at right angles to the plates, rather like endless pencils spread on the table. This halo complex is made of both types of crystals: plates and columns.

We start at the top of the picture. 

Circumzenithal arc: This is caused by the refraction of the sunlight through the 90° edges of the oriented hexagonal plates. This one is a tad faint, but is the portion of the circle with the zenith (off the frame) at its centre.

Supralateral arc: This arc is tangent to the 46° halo with which it is often confused. It touches the circumzenithal arc but is curved down. This is caused by the refraction of the sunlight through the 90° edges of the oriented columns. It is quite bright in this picture and its centre approximately on the sun.

Upper tangential arc: The optical phenomena in the lower portion of the picture appears separate, but is caused by the same types of crystals. The upper one appearing like a graceful bird’s wings is the upper tangential arc. This is caused by the refraction of the sunlight through the 120° edges of the oriented columns. The 120° is accomplished by light passing through alternate sides of those separated by 60°. This arc evolves quickly depending upon the sun’s height.

22° halo: This is the most common of all the phenomena. It is located at an angle of 22° from the sun. Like the others, it is the result of refraction but of randomly-oriented small plates or columns. It is caused by refraction though 120° prisms.

A halo complex usually presages rain.

Photograph courtesy Lorraine Symmes.


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Well, it is May first and a Rufous Hummingbird male came to visit. May there be more.


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April’s goulash


This is a collection of April’s pictures that lacked postings of their own. It has been cold and rainy, yet there are summer migrants around. And the insect life has begun.

A Western Bluebird couple examines a nest box to see if it will be suitable for their family.

A Black-capped Chickadee works with its partner to carve a cavity nest.

Next are two mammals that are both members of the ground squirrel family. The larger of the two is this one, the Yellow-bellied Marmot, which weighs from 3 to 5 kg. It lives and has its burrows in talus slopes.

Here, a second member of the family is the Columbian Ground Squirrel. But it is much smaller than the marmot, and weighs only about 0.3 to 0.8 kg, so about a tenth of the marmot’s weight. This creature carves cavities in fields of dirt.

A just arrived female Osprey looks down from a perch and calls for her partner.

The White-crowned Sparrow is also a summer migrant.

Another summer visitor is the Red-naped Sapsucker. It carves the lines of bark piercings in trees, but here it is apparently looking for grubs in a utility pole.

Bombus mixtus approaches some pieris japonica.


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Decorative or functional?


Almost all sites that treat the Great Blue Heron give a passing reference to the plumes that extend from the back of the head. When mentioning them, one site explicitly says they are decorative. 

Here is a picture of the Great Blue Heron that was taken in November and probably hatched that year. Consequently the dome of the head had not gone completely white and the upper mandible is blue. Nevertheless, the feather plumes have already grown down the back of the head.

This is yesterday’s heron. The adult’s white cap is visible and the upper mandible has become the breeding colour of yellow. The feather plumes extend further down the back of the neck. The question is: Are they functional or decorative? Certainly they look decorative, but then the bird is not flying.

This bird then flew off and the function of the plumes became evident. They provided a smooth flow of air from the head across the back. Recall, that the Great Blue Heron flies with its neck tucked against its back. Not every large bird has such a flexible neck. The crane must fly with its neck extended. Now, look at the plumes coming off the back of the head. The air flows smoothly from the head and along the back making it one continuous surface and thus minimizes drag. The plumes are not decorative, they are functional.


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Chickadee nest


Chickadees are cavity nesters. They carve their cavities out of dead trees starting in April. However, chickadees are selective when it comes to creating their nesting site. They tend to dig several cavities before deciding which one can be their ideal home.

I knew I have discovered one of their trial sites when I spotted a chickadee emerging from a cavity with a mouth full of chips. I had seen this once before, but it was not in a tree that was kept. If this one were kept, I might have the opportunity to see the chicks.

Both members of the mated pair worked on the nest, ferrying mouthfuls of chips out of the possible nest. Over and over, they repeated the exercise.

The chips were carried about three meters away and discarded. They did not want to reveal the nest site by showing a pile of sawdust.


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Glacier lily


One of the first flowers to grow in the spring is the glacier lily. It is often to be seen growing on the edge of a retreating band of snow where the ground becomes very moist. It is mainly pollinated by bumble bees and its bulb is eaten by bears and the foliage by deer.

A conventional view of the glacier lily. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.

A view of a flower from underneath.


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Blue eating & hovering


This is a continuation of the previous posting: flying blue. In that I showed Mountain Bluebirds in flight. Here I show them carrying food and (surprisingly) hovering. 

Bluebirds visit us each spring, and while it is true that a few do nest here, the exciting time occurs when there are many of them on their way north.

The Mountain Bluebird is blue — well, at least the male is. Here, he is siting on a bush in the grasslands and watching for something to eat. I thought he was looking for ants, but that turns out not what he was after.

The female has much less blue on her — a bit on the wing and tail. This one looks pregnant.

Upon spotting something, the bluebird flies down to the grass to fetch it. It seem that this exercise is often unsuccessful.

But, now and then it catches a grub, which it takes to a bush and eats.

My most spectacular shot of a male Mountain Bluebird with a grub is this one.

It then flew towards a bush where it swallowed the grub.

Here are three pictures showing the Mountain Bluebird hovering. I have never seen it hover for long — perhaps two seconds. This particular bird hovered for about a second and what is shown is one half-cycle of its wings. When it is hovering over a spot in the grasslands, it is perfectly still except for the wings. I have kept the trees in the picture to show this.

The wings are now halfway down.

And now they are all the way down. I saw bluebirds hovering over the grasslands, now and then, while it searched for grubs. But, in spite of my repeated attempts, I only managed pictures one time. Note that while hovering, it is not horizontal, sloped upwards.


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