August goulash

 

This is an end-of-the-month collection of images, none of which rated a posting on its own.

An osprey pauses on the branch of a snag to eat a fish head first.

A sub-adult Gull (Herring? Ring-billed?) is eating something that looks like it might have been another bird.

A Red Squirrel munches on a cone.

A female Downy Woodpecker ponders opportunities.

A Herring Gull runs across the water to take off.

A Belted Kingfisher flies to its next hunting station.

A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper scours the shoreline.

The fawn of a White-tailed Deer stops browsing to consider an intruder.

A Great Blue Heron lands in the rain.

Not all of the heron’s catches are a mouthful, such as that shown in happy heron.

An American Dipper hunts along a creek.

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Happy herons

 

The Kokanee salmon are spawning and everyone is happy. Tourists come to watch and others come to feed: ravens, gulls, eagles, vultures, ospreys, otters, bears, mallards, mergansers, rainbow trout, and (the focus of this posting), herons.

There are perhaps a half-dozen Great Blue Herons working the creek. They were stationed on trees, rocks, sandbanks and in the water. Now and then one would fly to a new spot.

A juvenile heron stood in the creek eyeing a Kokanee (reddish smudge, bottom centre).

It lunged. Its bill can be seen under the water approaching the fish.

Success. But, the Kokanee is athwart the bill and must be turned before it can be swallowed.

With a flick of its head, the heron rotates the fish and quickly downs the whole thing.

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Osprey & fish

 

Not Kokanee: a few correspondents challenged my identification of the fish as a Kokanee. It is now confirmed to be a sucker.

For many years, I have wanted to capture a sequence showing an osprey plunging into the Lake and then rising out of the water carrying a fish. Four summers ago, I managed parts of the sequence, but alas when the osprey surfaced, it had no fish (see, osprey plunge).   

There could be many reasons for my failures: The event is unpredictable; It is fleeting; It is distant. But, the bottom line is that, as yet, I just have not figured out how to capture the moment. Sure, I have pictures of an osprey packing a fish (often headless), but I have had difficulty recorded the moment of capture. 

Although I still lack the whole sequence, progress was made last Monday while walking along a beach near the mouth of Kokanee Creek. I heard a splash and swung around to see an Osprey lifting a sucker from the Lake.

My favourite shot of the capture was taken one second later as the airborne Osprey flew off with its reluctant prize.

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Mugger outwitted

 

With a killing, a high-speed chase, a mugging, and a plot twist worthy of the mystery genera, the story might make a fine movie—if only the participants hadn’t been three birds and a dead fish.

An Osprey caught a large fish and was carrying it off when a sub-adult Bald Eagle, wanting the fish, gave chase. By the time I managed any pictures, they had already made at least one loop around the bay.

With its greater wing loading, the eagle can fly about ten percent faster than the osprey, so during a straight chase, the eagle will overtake the osprey.

However, the smaller osprey is more agile and can make sharper turns. I assume that is the reason the osprey kept banking and turning in tight circles.

On the straight stretch, the eagle was clearly gaining.

It passed just below the osprey in an attempt to dislodge the fish.

As can be seen here, the osprey is still holding onto the fish, but the eagle had been effective.

A moment later, the osprey dropped the fish (see the disturbed water at the bottom of the picture). Meanwhile, the sub-adult eagle, probably now confident of success, flies by overhead.

Suddenly, the game changed: An adult Bald Eagle came from above the fray and plummeted past the others on its way to the fish. It seems the adult had been waiting for the younger eagle to tire both the osprey and itself.

The adult plucked the fish from the Lake and flew off. If the adult really had planned this and bided its time until the other two birds had tired, then that is one canny eagle.

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Graupel and wind

 

The elements raged. 

Graupel pelted the Lake.

And the wind lifted heavy wooden furniture off of someone’s dock.

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Disappointed dipper

 

The caddisfly larva has the interesting practice of covering itself with an intricate protective case made from found materials—each casing being slightly different. It can look rather like a tiny twig or a bit of bark. By such a camouflage, it seeks to avoid predators.

Dippers find the larvae tasty and have an effective way of extracting them from the casing, as was illustrated in an earlier posting: dipper shake. But, which bit of debris in the water is a larva, and which is merely a twig? It seems that the camouflage can confuse a dipper into picking the wrong thing.

A dipper scans for interesting titbits.

Spotting something, the dipper reaches underwater to grab it.

At this stage, neither the dipper nor I can tell if it’s a larva.

The dipper soon assesses it as a twig and doesn’t try to open it.

Maybe hunting from another log will prove more successful.

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Gull migration

 

This is the season when birds that have summered to our north begin to flow across our region as they migrate south.

This flock, migrating down the Lake, comprises California Gulls.

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Headless fish flying

 

Were the fish flying? Some might quibble that these fish weren’t flying; an Osprey was flying. Yet, if I were to say I flew to Vancouver, would people believe that I had flapped my arms, or would they understand that I had been carried by some flying device?

The sight of a headless fish flying across the sky is certainly one of the oddities of the local summer.

The question is why?

I became aware of the phenomenon of a headless flying fish nearly a decade ago when I was kayaking and an Osprey flew past with one. Since then, I have had many such views. (Sept. 14, 2007)

A web search for osprey carrying fish reveals many images similar to the next one: a complete fish. Only a handful of headless ones appear. Does this mean that what is common here is rare elsewhere? It is more likely that this is the result of a photographer’s bias for showing the complete fish. (Sept. 1, 2013)

In the above picture, the Osprey is carrying the fish with its head forward so as to minimize drag. When it lands, the head continues to face front ready to be eaten. (Aug. 17, 2010)

Many birds of prey eat the head first, presumably because brains are tasty and nutritious. However, an Osprey probably eats the head first, rather than the tail, because it merely has to lean down to feed. (Aug. 17, 2010)

What is striking about the previous two pictures, and the next one, is that the Osprey has not taken the fish to a nest. Rather, it has stopped to snack. When it flies off, it will be packing a headless fish. An Osprey pausing for a quick snack seems to be one of the reasons headless fish fly around the lake. (Sept. 13, 2014)

Another reason headless fish fly around our skies is an Osprey’s protectiveness. If an Osprey leaves any portion of a fish unattended, it will be stolen. The primary threat seems to come from a Bald Eagle. This Osprey packing a headless fish is being chased by a sub-adult Bald Eagle. Had the Osprey not taken the fish along, the eagle would have stolen it from the nest. As it was, the eagle failed and the Osprey kept its fish. (Jun. 5, 2010)

Indeed, any unattended fish will attract scavengers such as this gull hoping for scraps. (Sept. 7, 2013)

There is another curious wrinkle in the story of headless fish flying: humans. Ospreys are partial to making nests upon human structures, but the humans, themselves, make Ospreys nervous. The dock pilings and the dolphins (channel markers) that Ospreys favour are inherently places of considerable human traffic, so we may have to forgive them for their inconsistency of retreating when a human has the audacity to turn up. (Osprey family on dolphin, Sept. 2, 2013)

But, why would an Osprey take its fish with it just because a boater docks or obeys regulations and passes a dolphin on the proper side? The boater is not about to try to steal the fish from the nest. Alas, the Osprey does not know this. It only seems to know that when retreating, take along the fish. This instinct prompts an increase in the number of headless flying fish during boating season. (Aug. 13, 2015, FFG)

Not to mention, a smaller number of complete, but strangely hairy fish flying about the Lake. (Aug. 13, 2015)

Finn Fraser Grathwol’s picture of the Osprey packing a headless fish is used with permission.

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Young hawks

 

Over recent months, I have shown this year’s young of many species from Tree Swallows to White-tailed Deer. Here are the young of two hawks: Osprey and Red-tailed Hawk. 

A juvenile Osprey is still in the nest, but it is learning to fly by facing into the wind and flapping its wings.

This juvenile Red-tailed Hawk still seems to be trying to make sense of its new world.

It lifts off. Juvenile Red-tailed Hawks do not show a reddish tail for their first year.
 

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Bat hunting

 

For ingenuity and technical prowess, there are few exploratory projects around the Lake that can rival that of Derek Kite’s photography: He has set out to take pictures of bats. But, not just bats in a roost, but bats on the wing while hunting insects over the Lake at night.  

This is like the proverbial problem of finding a black cat in a coal cellar, but with the added difficulty that the cat (the bat in this case) is not only unseen in the darkness, but is passing through the cellar at a high speed. 

The bat banks as it swings around to capture an insect.

Derek Kite’s picture is used with permission.

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