Hints of eagle love


Bald Eagles are early breeders. But, January? Well, it seems so.

The early part of this minor drama was seen but not recorded. A female eagle was sitting on a branch and suddenly began to call. Soon it was visited by another calling eagle.

A male eagle landed a little farther out on the branch and both called incessantly. This picture was taken by Cynthia Fraser.

Once they settled down on the branch, it was easy to tell which was which. Among raptors, the female is bigger. Bald Eagles mate for life.


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Ravens and mice


Ravens have intelligence. Indeed, lab studies demonstrate that ravens will cooperate on a project that requires two of them. If yesterday’s test is a measure, they regularly cooperate on a joint exercise in the wild. Mind you, it all happened prior to any observations, but the results seem obvious. 

Two ravens had set on a mouse nest, and each then grabbed a victim. They were seen first when they flew off together to utility poles on opposite sides of the road to eat them.

On the north side of the road was seen a mouse whose head had already been eaten.

A closer view was obtained from the raven on the south side of the road.

The south-side raven was tossing fur around to get at the meat.


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Dipper caviar


Kokanee Creek is thickening with gorgeous surface and anchor ice as temperatures plummet and remain below freezing this week.  Yet, dippers seem undeterred. Dippers appeared to delight in the variety of expanding new ice perches.

This dipper dove off of a sheet of surface ice, and resurfaced with several Kokanee eggs. Dipper with 2 Kokanee eggs in open beak

This dipper waded and dove off ice in the upper regions of the spawning channel and emerged with what I first thought was a worm, until I saw the eyeball and then assumed it was a fry. Turned out to be an alevin. During the winter, fertilized eggs develop in spawning channel gravel, eventually hatching into tiny alevins. Alevins are still larvae and cannot feed themselves. The alevin’s orange yolk sack provides all their nutrients. It doesn’t become a fry until it’s developed enough to be able to feed itself. Dipper eats an alevin

So, as we slide into 2022, I am left wondering: are the fertilized eggs or the alevin the dipper’s cavier? 


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White hare


It has been about seven years since we last had a flurry of observations of the Snowshoe Hare. Maybe it is enough that the numbers are starting to come up again. I have seen tracks and now Derek Kite has seen a Snowshoe Hare down a road in the mountains.

Of course, at this time of year, the hares are white.

In July 2015, the Snowshoe Hare is brown, with the exception of its large hind feet.

But, fast forward to this winter, it is white, with black eye and ear tips.


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Irruptive Bohemians


Perhaps three or four dozen Bohemian Waxwings graced the skies at one time. I tried to capture a flight shot, but only succeeded in capturing two in a tree.

The Bohemian Waxwings is perhaps the ultimate example of an irruptive bird. It lives in the north, but in some years, it travels in large numbers to the south in search of food.  This is such such a winter.

Two Bohemian Waxwings, out of a large flock, rest in a tree.

This detail of one of the waxwings shows the red, waxy tips on some of their wing feathers. The colour comes from carotenoid pigments found in the fruit waxwings eat.


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Wandering Elk


Recently, I had my first daylight sighting of two bull Elk who sauntered past midmorning with what appeared to be a breeding harem of maybe two dozen cows and calves.

During Fall mating season, Elk are polygamous. A mature male Elk (bull) will court and mate with many cows while protecting his breeding harem of cows (and their existing calves) from all other bulls. However, this local group of Rocky Mountain Elk had two large males with similarly well-developed antlers travelling together. I do not know why.
group of elk with 2 bull elk and 3 cows

The Elk group headed towards the nearby river and proceeded to slough through chilly water to arrive at a large flood plain on the far side of the channel. After they crossed, some began grazing on woody plants, grasses and leaves. But other Elk seemed to keep looking downstream and calling out.

Elk are social animals and it became quickly clear that some stragglers had waded to a small downstream island, rather than fully crossing the river. After much vocalizing, this wandering cow and calf began crossing the rest of the river in an effort to rejoin their larger family group.
two cow Elk crossing river

This Wapiti bull unwaveringly watched the wading wanderers. 
bull Elk with 5 to 6 point antlers

Meanwhile, at the other end of the flood plain, it appeared that a calf was nursing.
cow appears to nurse calves

I say appeared, because I’ve learned that our Rocky Mountain Elk calves tend to be born in May or June and weaned in the Fall. So, December seems rather late for nursing. Maybe this was just several minutes of intense sniffing or licking? If you are an Elkpert, I welcome your insights.


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Deer in suspension


White-tailed deer can bound; mule deer can bound, but can also stot. The bound is a variation of the gallop, but the hind and front legs act together rather than individually. The bound, the gallup, and the stot are all types of gaits the animal employs when it travels.

The first time I saw a deer seemingly suspended in air was when I watched a white-tailed deer leap over another. It had been standing on the left side of its neighbour, but chose to head to the other side. The bounding deer pushed off with its two hind legs, jumped overtop its neighbour, and landed beyond it when its two front legs touched down together. 

This morning my daughter, Cynthia, managed a shot of a white-tailed deer in mid-bound as it travelled across a field. As with the earlier deer, this one had pushed off with its hind legs and landed first upon its front legs. 

The bound is a distinctly different gait than that sometimes practised by the mule deer. In addition to the bound, they often stot. This gait involves pushing off with all four legs simultaneously, bouncing up into the air, and then landing on all legs at once. Travel is slower than when bounding, but the stotting gait allows a quick change in direction and easy climbing of hills. When in suspension, the leg position of those who stot is distinctively vertical, rather than spread. Here are two mule deer stotting.

My favourite shot of a mule deer stotting is this one taken by my wife, Dorothy. Notice how the position of its legs differs from that of the bounding white-tailed deer, above.


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Magpie feasts


We do not have many magpies around Kootenay Lake. This bird favours open country, and most of the lake is rimmed with forests. However, if you know where to look, we do have a few.

Black-billed Magpies have a wide-ranging diet: fruit, grain, insects, small mammals, and bird’s eggs. Unexpectedly, carrion is a particular favourite. Before today, I had never before seen magpies feast upon it.

A Black-billed Magpie flies in. What attracted it?

Quickly, it was evident that the appeal was the decaying carcass of a deer.

It set to work swallowing endless bits and pieces of the carcass.

Occasionally the magpie would fly back into the trees with a mouthful.

“This is good stuff; you should try it.”


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Bohemian Waxwings


About four dozen Bohemian Waxwings have arrived.

The Bohemian Waxwing is an irruptive bird. Usually it winters in the north, but occasionally it irrupts southward in large numbers and then delights watchers as the arriving flock feeds. Then another few years go by when either very few or none will be seen.

This is a view of a handful of the waxwings high in a staging tree. They have gathered adjacent to the one with the berries. They then fly to the berry tree in waves, grab some food and return to the staging tree.

A Bohemian Waxwing flies off with its prize.


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Midnight bears


You would think that any self-resecting bear would have bedded down for the season. But, no, despite it being mid-November and snowing, for a half hour around midnight last night, I was kept awake by two black bears foraging on rowan berries beside my home and even climbing from a tree onto the roof of my bedroom.

I chose to stay inside, judging that the difficulties and hazards of getting a good shot of a black bear at midnight were not worth the effort. However, I did discover that nighttime bears can be spooked by shining a spotlight through a window and into their faces.

The big fellow adjacent to my window could have been the twin of this earlier visitor.


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