Bald, not Golden


Yesterday, a friend told me that she had just seen a Golden Eagle that was hunting by the lakeshore. I was assured that it must have been a golden as it was particularly large and brown. 

Hmm…, I was skeptical that a golden was what was seen. The problem is that a Golden Eagle didn’t quite fit the proffered description. Consider, a Golden Eagle: 

• prefers to hunt small mammals in the uplands, not fish at the lakeside
• a Golden Eagle is not particularly large, being slightly smaller than a Bald Eagle
• is brown, but so is a juvenile Bald Eagle, which does hunt over the lake
• can be distinguished from a bald by, among other things, it golden nape

Today, I visited the nest of a Bald Eagle, where its two (brown) chicks were holding court. When they fledge, they will appear larger than their parents for their feathers will not have been worn. However, they will lack the golden nape. 

Juvenile Bald Eagles are often misidentified as Golden Eagles, a result of being both brown and of wishful thinking.

Looking for an illustration, I visited a Bald Eagle’s nest and photographed two (brown) Bald Eagles chicks (and mommy) sitting on a nest.


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Raccoon feeder


The feeder wasn’t intended for raccoons. It is for birds, specifically finches.

Around humans, raccoons normally are nocturnal. Alas, the bird feeder is not left out at night, so a racoon kit has stopped by during daylight hours.

Kit: “This feeder is not well designed; The holes are a bit small for my hands.”

Kit: “I apologize for complaining about the design. Please don’t remove it. I’m hungry.”


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Local tigers


Almost simultaneously, the tigers have arrived. They are: a tiger beetle, a tiger butterfly, and a tiger lily.

I have commented previously, somewhat whimsically, on our rather odd naming conventions for species: butter sipping (on butterflies and buttercups); horned birds and insects; siskins and catkins. But, naming local things after tigers has got be one of the oddest. 

The tiger is the apex predator of an Asian cat family (felidae). It has orange fur with black stripes. So, why are local animals named after this distinctly alien species? 

Our Canadian tiger swallowtail butterfly won’t have been named for its predator characteristics. Maybe it is those black stripes, but the butterfly’s base colour is yellow, not orange (oops!).

The tiger lily is orange, but alas, the black embellishments are spots, not stripes. Now, that is a rather sloppy bit of naming.

The tiger beetle is certainly named, not for its appearance, but its predation. I have watched them within the week, but this is an earlier shot of two tiger beetles mating. Of course, the question could be posed: Why name this predator after tigers, as opposed to grizzlies or cougars? The province has quite a number of beetle species that are styled as tiger beetles.

Then there are moths. BC has nearly a dozen species of moths that are styled as tigers. This is one of them, presumably named because of the black stripes (against yellow) on its abdomen.

So, we have a few dozen species of various sorts that are named for a large Asian cat. Hmm, there does seem to be a certain linguistic bankruptcy among taxonomists.


Posted in bugs, wildflowers | 7 Comments

Eagle chicks


I visited the eagle’s nest at Cherry Bay to see how its two chicks were doing.

The two chicks appeared to be out of their down and sporting dark brown juvenile plumage.

The story became much more interesting when one of the chicks spread its wings in a practice flight exercise — although its flight feathers have yet to grow. Some of the earlier down is evident on the chick’s lower body. However, the fascinating thing was a display of the white rhaches (the feather shafts) of the proto-flight feathers which extended from each wing. The rhaches grow first and then the barbs extend from them and fill in the feather. Although these feathers are growing quickly, flight is still a while off for these chicks.


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Two June orchids


Since mid-May, I have been watching for the appearance of the mountain lady’s slipper. I had already posted images of two earlier local wild orchids: fairy slippers, and striped coralroots. But, the mountain lady’s slipper had yet to appear. Today we saw five of them along a trail in Kokanee Creek Park. Now, that was nice enough, but behind them in the woods was a freshly blooming spotted coralroot, something I had last seen a number of years ago.

One of five mountain lady’s slippers seen beside a trail.

The flowers of the spotted coralroot grow as a raceme: multiple flowers sprouting from a single stalk. The flowers of a raceme start low on the stalk and gradually spread upwards. This one had just begun, so flowers did not yet cover the whole stalk. Maybe a more impressive image is yet to come.


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Butter sipping


I am sure the participants did not appreciate the etymological niceties of their situation as a butterfly sipped nutrients from a buttercup. The names of each species seems to have been of imitative origin, and resulted from their yellowish colour resembling that of butter. (In the case of the butterfly, perhaps only a few yellow species prompted the name.)

A clouded sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice) sips nectar from a buttercup.


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Toad amplexus


Toad amplexus ≡ toad sex

Amplexus (Latin for embrace) is a type of mating exhibited by western toads (and other amphibians) in which there is physical contact, but fertilization is external to the body. During amplexus, a male uses his front legs to grasp a female under her armpits and stimulates her to release eggs into the water. He then fertilizes them. Around here, amplexus is an activity of May.

In the shallows next to the shore, the smaller male western toad has embraced the female.  

Elsewhere in the shallows, another couple is in amplexus. The strands of eggs from an earlier encounter are apparent on the right.

A second male (left) is attacking a pair of toads in amplexus. He is trying to force the earlier male to release its grasp on the female so he can then mate with her. Also, notice the egg strands in the water on the upper right.


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May goulash


This is a collection of images from this May, none of which has had a posting of its own. As spring is upon us, this collection is diverse, but hardly exhaustive.

Of our three regular hummingbirds, the Calliope is the smallest and, perhaps, the least common.

Naming conventions are a bit odd when it comes to animals that are not mammals being named for the characteristics of mammals. Consider horns. All male bovids have horns (some females do also). So, what does one make of a Horned Grebe, a Horned Lark, and a Great Horned Owl, each of which is a bird. They have ornamental head feathers that, while not horns, reminded someone vaguely of them. Also, insects lack feathers, but do have antenna. So, a few with particularly long antennae have been styled a longhorn beetle or a longhorn bee, as if they were cattle. Sigh. Here is a longhorn bee feeding on a dandelion.

This juvenile Bald Eagle just flew from its perch.

This alpha looper moth was sleeping on a window in the daytime (thus the dark background). The pattern on its wings normally provides a superb camouflage when it sleeps on the bark of a tree. However, by choosing a window, the moth became strikingly obvious. A few minutes after this picture was taken, a bird spotted it and ate it. 

The Great Blue Heron is with us year round, but it is less abundant in winter than summer. 

While the grizzly bear is a carnivore, it also eats grass and broadleaf plants such as cow parsnip.

A young Red-tailed Hawk looks over its shoulder.

A Pale Swallowtail sips nectar from lilac.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler moved frenetically through the brush so was difficult to photograph.

A mining bee has stored its collection of pollen on its hind legs. 

It is clearly now summer as the Spotted Sandpiper is scouring the beach for arthropods.

A westslope cutthroat trout (or so I suspect) cruises the shallows.

The trillium flower is normally white. However, when under stress (low temperatures, aging) it manufactures a defensive chemical (anthocyanin) which also turns the petals purple.


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Mule deer


I see perhaps 20 to 50 white-tailed deer for every mule deer spotted. This was not the deer frequency during pre-settler times when mule deer dominated. But, white-tailed deer moved in with the settlers. Certainly, we now have both species locally, but I live at the valley bottom, a region favoured by white-tailed deer. Mule deer are usually found higher on the mountain sides. One must head uphill to see mule deer, and even there, they can be sparse.

As distinct from white-tailed deer, mule deer are characterized by:

• somewhat larger body sizes
• more greyish than tannish pelage in winter (both are reddish-brown in summer)
• larger antlers that are dendritic rather than single branching
• large ears (which gives them their name)
• black-tipped rope-like tail, as distinct from a broad tan tail
• when escaping, they often stot
• a much larger home range
• don’t do well around people (unlike the white-tailed)
• inhabit the higher elevations

Two mule does were seen today at an altitude of about 680 m.  

The mule doe was feeding on leaves. Her large ears and rope-like tail are evident.

Two doe were foraging together. Here is a problem: Can you match the heads to the butts?


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Snipe’s snag


I went looking for grizzlies, but found a snipe.

The Wilson’s Snipe is a secretive shorebird that probes the water’s edge to capture and eat invertebrate larvae. When approached, it flushes with a rapid and erratic flight. This is not a bird that wants to be noticed — it wants nothing to do with you.

A Wilson’s Snipe hides along the shore.

Yet, in late May for three years running, I have seen one perched prominently on a snag (and the same snag) next to a wetland. What prompts this abrupt change in behaviour from introvert to extravert?

On May 29, 2019, a Wilson’s Snipe perched prominently on a snag next to a wetland. 

Then on May, 23, 2020, the Wilson’s Snipe was chattering away from the same snag.

Again yesterday (May, 25, 2021) the snipe was back on the same snag.

What prompts a normally timid bird to become an extravert each May? The answer came from the Audubon Society, which explained:

The Wilson’s Snipe becomes more flamboyant in the breeding season, when it often yammers from atop a fencepost or dead tree.

Ah, this seems to a case of how a compulsion for courting can alter one’s behaviour.


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