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 allaboutbirds.org 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, allaboutbirds.org 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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Four swans plus one


Five swans have been hanging out at Nelson’s waterfront for a few days. They have stopped by to refuel during their long migration south from the Arctic. Despite the appearance of being a single family of five, it is probably one of four Trumpeter Swans and one Tundra Swan.

The swans spent their time dabbling as they fed in the shallows.

Two adult swans are whitish, while three juveniles are greyish. When first spotted by Chris Drysdale, there was just a family of four Trumpeters. A fifth swan, another juvenile, was hundreds of metres along the shore and hanging out with Canada Geese. This fact alone suggests that the extra juvenile wasn’t part of the Trumpeter’s family. However, it sort of joined the others, but remained standoffish. Indeed, getting close pictures of the five of them together presented problems because while the extra swan remained in the vicinity of the others, it was only rarely close. In this picture, the extra swan is at the back (right), but swimming past the others.

Evidence is piling up that the fifth one is a Tundra Swan. Not only did it not arrive with the others, but it is smaller than the Trumpeter juveniles and in this shot, it is being attacked by one of them. 

What is likely a Tundra juvenile is the swan at the front (farthest away). It is distinctly smaller that the Trumpeters. Also, examine the legs of the three of them. A feature of Trumpeter juveniles is their pale drab-yellow legs. Tundra juvenile legs are black.

Trumpeter Swans enjoy the serenity of being a Trumpeter. 

“I don’t care how badly you Trumpeters treat me, I am proud to be a Tundra.”


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October goulash


This is a collection of images from this October, none of which has had a posting of its own. The month started slowly with many walks producing few good observations, but things improved towards month’s end.

A dozen different species of gull have been seen occasionally, but only three are really common: Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, and California Gull. This is the California.

I rarely see a House Sparrow (male on left, female on right), despite it being widespread and common across the continent. However, the bird is an urban junkie, and I am rural.

A Double-crested Cormorant had been seen a few times early in the month, but always swimming in distant waters. This one was nearby as it took its leave from a piling.

The Black-billed Magpie is a striking bird, but somewhat uncommon in this heavily forested region. So, getting a close shot of one flying past packing prey (a grasshopper) was a delight.

This iridescent wave cloud was seen the same day as the Bufflehead Duck’s iridescent feathers.

A female elk resting in a forest was seen about an hour prior to the elk exhaling steam fog.


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Cold-morning elk


In the cold-morning air, an elk could see its breath. It is my guess that elk will have, at best, only a shallow grasp of the physics of the experience. 

The elk’s exhaling is producing steam fog. The process producing the condensation is identical to that which produces steam fog on the lake and the condensation trails (contrails) from the engines of high-flying jet planes. 

Condensation of water vapour results from either one of two different situations: vapour cooling (a consequence of the slope of the vapour-pressure curve); vapour mixing (a consequence of the shape of the curve).

Some writers find it tempting to explain the condensation by claiming that the exhaled vapour is cooled by encountering the cold air. Yet, the resulting mixture has undergone neither a net cooling nor a change in average moisture content. So, vapour cooling cannot be the origin of this condensation. 

However, vapour mixing, by itself, can produce condensation, particularly when there are great differences in the moisture and temperatures of the things being mixed, such as with contrails, steam fog over water, and seeing one’s breath.

An odd thing is that people watching the elk and breathing the same air did not see their own breaths. The implication is that the air exhaled from the elk’s lungs had the higher temperature (and moisture content). Possibly this occurs because these elk have just transitioned into their winter fur and were somewhat overheated.

A female elk breathes out steam fog.

A spike elk (a yearling male) breathes out.

Apparently, another youth has just taken up vaping.


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