Chipmunk foraging


As a child, I remember chipmunks down around the lakeshore. Now, with the odd exception, I have only see them much higher in the mountains. Indeed, today’s chipmunk was foraging and feasting at about 1500 metres elevation. 

A chipmunk forages on an unrecognized plant.

The thing about small creatures is that they are not as strongly influenced by gravity as are large creatures. Here the chipmunk casually leaps from one twig to another.

The chipmunk forages on something. Is is a seed or a leaf?

Whatever it is, it is quickly consumed.


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Seeing nature remotely


Sometimes one cannot get out into nature oneself and the only way to appreciate it is remotely through a book, TV, or possibly even a blog.

There was an occasion fifty years ago today when I found an aspect of nature inaccessible, so I watched it remotely via TV — and even took a selfie of the occasion.

This occasion merited the only selfie I have ever taken.


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Cimbex sawfly


The white stripes on its abdomen made it look sort of like a large bald-faced hornet resting on the forest floor in the rain. But, that couldn’t possibly be correct: It was lethargic, Its face was entirely black, Its long legs had yellow barbs; It lacked a wasp waist; And what in the world were those yellow butterfly-like clubbed antennae? 

Given the dim light, picture taking was problematic, but it was good enough for a partial identification. The insect was a sawfly of the genus, Cimbex, probably Cimbex americanus. A relative of ants, bees, and wasps, the short-lived adult lays its eggs in the leaves of various deciduous trees and then dies.

They are not often seen in the heavily coniferous forests around here.

A Cimbex sawfly sits lazily on the wet forest floor.


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Vulture symposium


Today, I was granted observer status at a symposium of Turkey Vultures. The gathering was called on account of a cougar kill of a hapless deer. At eighteen delegates, it was the largest congregation of vultures I have witnessed, although it was reported to have been larger a day earlier. 

I chose to attend the first meeting of the morning, which seemed to be a disorganized exercise in callisthenics whereby vultures preened and stretched their wings in the sunlight after a wet and cool night.

Six of eighteen vultures are seen here, five of which have wings spread to catch the sunlight.

On an adjacent snag, four more vultures preened and basked in the sunlight.

It is always a difficult decision whether to turn one’s back or front towards the sun.


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Upland flowers


At this time of year, mountain meadows are awash with wildflowers. Here are four of the myriad species.

The pearly everlasting gains its name both from its appearance, and from the ease with which it can be dried for winter bouquets.

All parts of the Columbian monkshood are highly poisonous. Indeed, the genus name, aconitum, means without a struggle suggesting how its victim would expire.

The pink mountain heather is an evergreen shrub with a profusion of tiny flowers.

Bear grass is a majestic plant that grows from one to two metres in height and is festooned with hundreds of white to creamy flowers.


Posted in wildflowers | 7 Comments

Misplaced marmot


Today, I took pictures of two different species of marmot. However, that wasn’t the unusual aspect of the event. It was that they were both in the subalpine. 

We are one of the few regions in the Province that is host to two species of marmot: The larger hoary marmot is found in the subalpine; The smaller yellow-bellied marmot is found at the valley bottoms. Presumably, this division is driven by competition for resources.

I had previously only ever seen the yellow-bellied marmot at altitudes not far above lake level, typically about 560 metres, So, why was today different?

A hoary marmot was seen today at an altitude of about 1900 metres, which is typical.

A yellow-bellied marmot was seen today at an altitude of about 1660 metres, over a 1000 metres above its typical local range, and within the range of hoary marmots. Why?

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Wasp mating ball


And now for something completely different.
          catchphrase from Monty Python’s Flying Circus

The observations made little sense to me. Why did a small group of sand wasps wrap themselves into in a ball? As far as I know, this isn’t a regular activity for either social or solitary wasps.

First, here is a picture of the event. A second image will follow a found explanation.

Sand wasps (Genus: Bembix) flew in and wrapped themselves into a ball.


Sand wasps in the genus, Bembix, are solitary, and non-aggressive:

• Solitary   This means that they don’t live in a hive where a queen wasp is the only one that mates and produces offspring. Solitary females each mate and produce their own young.

• Non-aggressive   As they have no need to defend a hive, they lack aggression. One can stand in the middle of a swirling population of dozens of sand wasps, and they go about their activities while ignoring the human in their midst.

In the early summer, sand wasps emerge from their long, shallow, natal tunnels in the sand. They mate, and then the females lay eggs in new tunnels. Into these tunnels are dragged all manner of flies and other bugs that have been paralyzed with a sting. These serve as food for the wasp grubs. Grubs, that by the next summer will emerge as a fresh batch of sand wasps.

Now, let’s return to the mating stage. Males patrol the area looking to mate with a freshly emerged virgin. She then flies up and they mate on the wing. It seems that the mating on the wing does not always go as planned and the two of them sometimes plunge to the ground. At this point, a number of others join in and make a frenetic mating ball. 

A mating ball of sand wasps

The explanation of this event is found on the blog of Bug Eric.


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Indian pipe


The season of indian pipe is upon us again. That it has appeared this early in the summer may be a result of our recent rain and cloud.

Although it looks like a fungus, indian pipe is indeed a plant, but one that lacks chlorophyll and so cannot manufacture its own carbohydrates. Rather, it obtains carbohydrates from another plant (such as a tree) through a fungal intermediary. This tactic enables it to compete successfully on the dark forest floor where little sunlight penetrates.

Indian pipe has started pushing its way above ground. Soon, its white flowers will attract bees.


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Finn’s view


Two days ago, I noted that during a walk in the woods, my daughter, Cynthia, managed nicer images than I did.

Recently, my grandson, Finn, also spent a week with me. During our walks, he did likewise. He is faster on the draw, and more patient in observing than I am. Here are four of Finn’s shots.

A European Skipper sits in a world awash with ocher.

A white-tailed buck in velvet peeks out from the security of tall grass.

An Eastern Kingbird goes after a bug in the grass.

His most dramatic shot is of squabbling Tree Swallows.

Finn Grathwol’s images are used with permission.


Posted in birds, bugs, mammals | 6 Comments

Chipping Sparrow feeding


I have reached the enviable situation where my descendants are besting my photographic efforts.

This is the summertime, and I am being visited by family, some of whom choose to wander the woods with me. The striking thing is that when we go out, these family members frequently succeed in capturing more interesting scenes than I do. There will be other such postings.

The three images below, were captured by my daughter, Cynthia, — alas, I missed the shots. She recorded a Chipping Sparrow feeding an insect to its just fledged chick.

The adult Chipping Sparrow is on the left passing a winged insect to its chick.

“Yummy, that is good.”

“But, it is not enough. What else are you going to get for me.”

Cynthia Fraser’s images are used with permission.


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