November goulash


This is a collection of images none of which has had a posting of its own. The first two are actually neglected pictures left over from October. The final three were taken this November.

A robin feeds on elderberries.

A Great Blue Heron lands on a rock in the water.

Male Bufflehead Ducks take off.

A Trumpeter Swan lifts its head out of the water as it feeds.

Had I not just photographed this dipper today, it would have deserved its own posting. After hunting on a creek bed, the dipper surfaced with an unfertilized Kokanee egg balanced on its tongue. The egg was promptly swallowed.


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Curiosity of young raptors


Of late, I have become curious about the curiosity sometimes displayed by young raptors.

When I wander past a perched raptor, it usually bolts to a more distant spot. Now and then the raptor will first regard me from its perch, and then take to the air so as to circle overhead for a closer inspection. This behaviour seems to be more characteristic of young raptors than the older (jaded?) ones. It is as though young raptors are showing curiosity about their new world.

Two pictures from last week that prompted this posting

A young (it has yellow eyes) Red-tailed Hawk regards me with apparent curiosity from its perch.

Then, it took the the air, but instead of flying off, it circled overhead to watch for a while.

The stare, probably out of curiosity
A component of showing curiosity is the stare. A raptor can stare because it has the predator’s eyes that face forward. (Songbirds and water fowl, which have a prey’s eyes on the side of their heads, cannot stare). However, the stare as an indicator of a bird’s curiosity is a mixed bag: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

A young (yellow eyes) Cooper’s Hawk stares with apparent curiosity. (Sept. 16, 2019)

A perched adult Merlin may look somewhat inattentively in one’s direction, but only this Merlin chick (down feathers on crown) seemed willing to stare with curiosity at me. (July 23, 2017)

The glance, probably not out of curiosity
Sometimes what appears to be a stare is little more than a glance.

The look of this (probably adult) Pygmy Owl might not result from curiosity, but an attempt to intimidate one into leaving it alone. (Nov. 29, 2016)

This Turkey Vulture probably lacks curiosity in anything not decomposing. (Sept. 15, 2017)

Despite this passing shot of a Great Blue Heron (a predator, but not a raptor), I have never seen one show any curiosity about anything other than its next meal. (Apr. 18, 2014)

The aerial inspection
I suspect that the best evidence of a young raptor’s curiosity is found in its circling overhead while it tries to make sense of an interloper below. This is what the Red-tailed Hawk was doing. 

A young (yellow eyes) Rough-legged Hawk watched the people below. (Feb. 2, 2016) 

And a juvenile Bald Eagle seemed curious about those below. (Jun. 24, 2019)


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Shrike 3


I saw three shrikes yesterday, but it was shrike #3 that puzzled me.

The Northern Shrike is a raptor-like songbird that is around here in the cold season. However, it is not particularly common, so I was unfamiliar with last bird seen.

The first shrike, seen in the morning, was perched on a power wire.

The second shrike, seen at noon, was in a tree.

However, in mid-afternoon, a brownish bird was spotted. It had the strike’s hooked bill, but it lacked a prominent black mask. It turns out to be an immature Northern Shrike.


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Turkey roost


I have occasionally attended a turkey roast, but this was the first time I had seen a turkey roost.

Wild turkeys are not native to this region (when I was a child, there were none to be seen). However, hunting lobbies persuaded Washington State (to our immediate south) to introduce them in the 1960s, and an aggressive introduction program began in the mid-1980s. From there, turkeys spread, first into Idaho, and then into BC. 

While local hunters are allowed to bag them, most people view Wild Turkeys as a curiosity, and maybe a nuisance when they block highways and forage on lawns.

Wild Turkeys do not feed at night, but roost in trees as a protection from predators. It might therefore seem that it would be common to see the turkeys roosting. Alas, they seem to arise earlier in the morning than I do, and I hadn’t seen one in a tree until this morning.

Seen first were many Wild Turkeys along the highway.

However, one holdout was seen still roosting in a tree.


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Vagrant geese


The large local flocks of Canada Geese sometimes contain surprises: vagrant species that have joined them after having wandered far from their own migrating flocks. The Canada Geese don’t seem to mind, but it is unclear how each manages to recognize the other as kin.

A juvenile Greater White-fronted Goose is feeding alongside Canada Geese.

It is harder to distinguish between a Canada Goose and a Cackling Goose. They are similar, but the Cackling is smaller, and with a short neck and bill.


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Terrorized goldeneyes


The life of a Barrow’s Goldeneye Duck is not exclusively one of enjoying the delights of feasting and mating.

What started as a tranquil scene of a dozen Barrow’s feeding in the shallows was interrupted. As if from a shared signal, all abruptly started running across the water and took flight. Nothing appeared to have caused the disruption — nothing, that is until moments later, an eagle flew low overhead.

A view into the ducks as they took to the air where they wouldn’t make as easy prey for an eagle. The ducks had spotted danger early enough to escape.

Fifteen seconds after the ducks took flight, an foiled eagle looked down on where they had been.


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Precocious goldeneyes


The Audubon Society tells us that Barrow’s Goldeneyes are “found mainly in wild country of northwestern North America”. Chuckle, as the Barrow’s is fairly common here, apparently Audubon’s boffins suspect we lack roads.

An obviously bonded pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes travelled together along the waterfront. 

At one point he approached her using a courting display of pumping his head. It is not yet mid-November, yet Cornell’s insists that “males begin courtship” in December.

Soon afterwards, he was on her pulling himself in to mate by tugging on her head. Although it is not yet winter, also tells us that “winter [occurs] well before breeding season”.

After consummation, he seemed reluctant to let her go, and continued to hold her.

They separated, but did not part. These birds chose to make love rather than follow the manual.


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Accidental Anna’s


An accidental bird is one that turns up well outside its normal range. Also known as a wanderer, it just doesn’t fit the local phenology.

Today, I twice saw an accidental Anna’s Hummingbird. Each observation was remarkably fleeting, and my pictures of it have the quality of things I normally delete. But, it was an Anna’s and so I show them. Also shown is a really fine shot by the person who alerted me to the bird’s occasional visits to a home feeder.

People at the (Pacific) Coast often see an Anna’s Hummingbird. As these birds do not migrate, they are present year round. But, they are far from normal here. 

The Anna’s Hummingbird landed on a branch and promptly lifted off again.

It flew past me and then left.

It turned up a day or so earlier and my host managed a superb shot of it.

The final picture is used with permission.

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Coot’s feet


It was an odd request (but it came from a subscriber to this blog):

[T]here are two deadheads by the water’s edge where the American Coots are climbing out and playing a version of Coot of the Castle. The green legs of the water chicken are stunning…. Please present some pictures at your leisure.

At the waterfront, there are flocks of hundreds of coots amongst various species of ducks: mallards, scaups, wigeons, redheads…. At first look, it is difficult to realize that despite their proximity, a coot isn’t just another duck. Indeed, it isn’t a duck at all. The fact that it looks somewhat like them is just a case of convergent evolution: the process by which really distantly related organisms evolve similar body forms when exposed to similar conditions. Coots are actually members of the Gruiform Order (which includes cranes and rails) and are closely related to moorhens — thus the reference to the water chicken

All of this might seem a tad academic, until one sees the coot’s feet. Unlike the Anatidae Order (which contains swans, geese and ducks) all with webbed feet, coots have individual toes with broad lobes to facilitate swimming — thus the reference to their legs.

Two coots sit on a deadhead. One displays its lobed toes.


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Coot aggression


Coots remain territorial year round. So even when they form large gregarious winter flocks, they will aggressively attack one another. It is the off season for coot breeding and there seems to be little to defend, yet they still go at it.

To signal aggressive intentions, a coot will arch its wings and raise its tail to show white patches.

It was unclear why one bird felt it necessary to defend its shifting patch of water. 

However, it was aggressive towards a number of its neighbours. 


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