Wing-flap preening


Swans are now heading south to escape the ice, but last February they were heading north to breed. Consequently, twice a year they are feeding in our area as they pass through. 

Last February, I posted about spread-winged trumpeters: I had watched the Trumpeter Swans for an hour or so: first feeding, then preening, and finally spreading their wings. There were 18 swans, each of which underwent the same routine. It became clear that the visually appealing spreading and flapping of the wings was just the final stage of the preening.

First, a swan would spend time using its bill to interlock feather barbules that had become separated, and as a final step, it would spread its wings to align wing feathers that pointed askew. At this point, it was ready to fly.

In last February’s posting I mentioned that “[J]uveniles also spread wings”, but I did not show any. During the present southward migration, I watched this year’s juvenile preening by both using its bill to interlock barbules and then spreading its wings to align the feathers. Two pictures follow.

The juvenile is interlocking wing barbules while its parent looks on.

Subsequently, it spread and flapped its wings to align the feathers.


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In the bill


When not migrating or sleeping, a bird spends most of its time looking for food. Yet, of all the pictures taken of birds, it is relatively uncommon to see a bird with something eatable in its bill. There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the major one is that once food is in the bill, it is so quickly consumed that it is barely noticeable for having being there.

I like to catch pictures of birds with food in their bills. It isn’t easy. Here are four pictures taken over the last little while.

Almost unnoticed is a small beetle in the bill of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. The bird had found it hibernating in the bark of a Douglas fir.

A Dipper has found perhaps three fertilized Kokanee eggs in a stream.

Seeing a swan with something dangling from is bill (other than water) is unusual, because the aquatic weed is usually consumed underwater where it is found.

A Herring Gull eats a fish. In this case, the gull takes some time trying to position the fish as it moves about the water. However, a shot showing the fish’s eye is harder to get. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.


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Barred Owl


Only rarely do I see a Barred Owl, and often someone else spots one for me. And yet, this owl does not migrate with the seasons, but confines itself to a space of about 10 km on a side. These pictures were taken today. 

 It usually hunts from a perch and catches most of its prey at night. During the daytime, it is often sleeping.

But, it will occasionally awaken to view the world with its soulful eyes.


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Nearly two weeks ago, Joanne Siderius, Kokanee Creek Park’s senior naturalist, published some pictures of a cygnet.

Yesterday three of us saw what was apparently the same cygnet at close quarters, again at the park. I have seen a cygnet with its pink bill a few times previously, but only in November or December. This was the closest I had been. 

This might be a Tundra Swan or a Trumpeter Swan. There are ambiguous indicators. Joanne thought it was probably a tundra, and in the end that is my guess also.


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Swan migration


Swans head south in the fall and north in the spring. Already there have been reports of the first swans coming through this region. Yesterday, when I went past a place of shallow water there was nothing to be seen, but when coming back there were four Trumpeters feeding. Here are two of them.


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Apostrophe’s abrasion


Six years ago, I wondered if “if birds named after people will be the apostrophe’s last bastion.” <>

I noted that we had lost the apostrophe in geographic names: “Around Kootenay Lake, Johnson’s Landing is officially Johnsons Landing and Queen’s Bay has become Queens Bay — despite no compelling evidence for multiple eponymous Johnsons or Queens.” However: “In ornithology, the possessive still rules when it comes to birds which have been named to commemorate the work of naturalists from earlier times.” The literature was replete with the Say’s Phoebe and the Barrow’s Goldeneye.

But now, ornithology is about to completely drop the use human names for the common names of birds. They will all be renamed. OK, ornithology in this case is the American Ornithological Society which sets the standard for common bird names in Canada and the U.S. This is described in a number of news stories. Consider: “These American birds and dozens more will be renamed, to remove human monikers.” It is available from

Now, I wish to sidestep the reason for this change (which is the removal of “bird names deemed offensive or exclusionary”) and deal with the collateral damage of the elimination of the apostrophe. Alas, it will go.

The NPR story gives three examples, out about 80, that will change over the next few years: Wilson’s Warbler, Cooper’s Hawk, and the Steller’s Jay, all of which we have here.

The still Wilson’s Warbler will become what?

Cooper’s Hawk will change.

The Steller’s Jay is not only exceedingly common here, but it is the provincial bird of British Columbia. Will its renaming require legislation to continue its presence?

It will be interesting, but I will be sorry to see the continued loss of the apostrophe.

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Buntings and finches


I went for the Snow Buntings, but stayed for the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches.

Often we go for a delightful walk along the shore or in the woods, but see little that prompts a blog posting. Now and then, we are pleasantly surprised. The only occasionally seen Snow Buntings were welcome, but the Rosy Finches were exceptional.

Saturday morning started with the Snow Buntings. First observed by Paul Prappas on Nelson’s dog walk, Cynthia found some there later and took shots. Then, three of us went out to Kokanee Creek Park in the afternoon to see if the Snow Buntings were also there and saw three. Good fun, for I have only seen these migrants every few years.

The prize was seen about 60 meters outside the Park. Although the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches were so uncommon at these low altitudes that at first, while interesting, they went unrecognized. These birds breed at the highest altitudes of any bird and rarely descend to the valley bottoms. It is even rarer to see a flock in the valley.

Let’s start with buntings.

A Snow Bunting on Nelson’s dog walk. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.

Two of the three Snow Buntings seen in Kokanee Creek Park.

Following this there were a large number of birds seen just outside the Park. They were alternately eating on the ground and flying to the next feeding place. This group contains less than a third of them. They took a while to identify. Photo by Cynthia.

There were more than sixty of these birds, and much of their time was spent on the ground finding things to eat. This small slice of them shows both the interior variety and the coastal variety. Photo by Cynthia.

Here is a closer view of the two subspecies. The interior variety is seen on the left (colour to below the eye), and the coastal variety on right (grey on the cheek). The coastal variety was most of the crowd, but clearly not all.

The Gray-crowned Rosy Finch is one of those birds that saves energy by alternating between flapping and gliding. Here it is gliding.

I don’t often get a chance to see a large flock of birds in close flight. So, it is fun to comment on something I have witnessed in a flock before: collisions. Now there are a number of web pages from reputable sources that will assure you that birds in a flock never collide. Alas, these sites are promoting nonsense. There are at least three collisions in this one picture. Birds collide in a flock all the time, but they recover quickly.


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Thud. A robin collided with a window and fell to the deck. What followed was unexpected.

Soon a Short-tailed Weasel found the robin. Now it wasn’t clear whether the robin was dead or just stunned, but the weasel quickly settled the issue. 

A Short-tailed Weasel is a prolific land predator. But, it is cautious, usually hunts at night, stays well hidden, and is really fast. It is thus not an easy animal to photograph.

This portrait and the following two were taken through a window. It seemed to know it was being watched, but was determined to get away with its prize.

The object was to now move the robin to some other place and to eat it there. The deck of the house was not sufficiently private.

It grabbed the bird by its beak to try to move it.

The weasel stopped and looked around. It was remarkably cautious.

This blurry shot would normally be a reject, but not this time. The weasel began racing toward the edge of the deck and was in the air with its prize. Its striped abdomen was a surprise.

This fast moving weasel then jumped off the edge of the deck, so as to have its feast below.


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On October 1st, it was a gorgeously sunny day for strolling under blue skies along the sandy shores of Kokanee Creek Park. The bees were buzzing, corvids cawing, and gulls were feistily feeding on fish. But it was a lone, and possibly lonesome shorebird that caught my attention. 

Standing at the end of a sandy point was a bird with bright yellowish-gold flecks on its crown and wings. I suspect this bird is a migrating golden-plover.

When I first observed it,  the bird was standing still and looking around. Then it would walk or scurry a few steps and pause again, occasionally bending over to peck its beak into the sand to acquire food. Apparently, golden-plovers really like to eat insects and invertebrates, although they won’t refuse berries and seeds.

It also seemed quite happy wading in Kootenay Lake as it searched for food.

After perusing Sibley, Cornell’s All About Birds, and iNaturalist, my father and I think this bird’s markings are most consistent with a juvenile American Golden-Plover as opposed to the primarily coastal Pacific Golden-Plover. However, neither are common migrants through this area, so I am wondering what others think? I also wonder if this is the first recorded visit of a golden-plover to Kokanee Creek Park?


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Cloudbow & glory


I no longer travel much by plane, so my opportunity to see cloudbows and glories is not great. But last week, I flew to the Coast, and for most of the way the plane was above a thick layer of stratocumulus. Now a thick layer of cloud decreases the contrast of these optical phenomena, but you make do with what is available and I did see both together.

Last year, I posted two pictures: a cloudbow (taken from a boat), a glory (taken from an aircraft). Although, each showed the same portion of the sky, the antisolar point, they did not show the other phenomenon.

This very wide-angle picture of a cloudbow was taken over a year ago from a boat. It shows most of the bow and a (supposed) reflection, but it does not show a glory. The photo was taken by my son, Alistair M. Fraser.

Also taken about a year ago from a plane is a telephoto shot of a glory. There was no cloudbow in the scene.

Last week, I was on a plane going to the Coast, and there appeared both phenomena. But, both are somewhat faint, possibly due to the thick cloud. The glory is on the left and a portion of the cloud bow is on the right. In a paper entitled, Simulating glories and cloudbows in color, Stanley Gedzelman says, “Glories are generally more distinct for clouds of droplets of as much as ∼10 μm [about 10 microns] in radius. As droplet radius increases, the glory shrinks and becomes less prominent, whereas the cloudbow becomes more distinct and eventually colorful.” So, the cloud in the glory picture above probably had most drops smaller than 10 microns radius, and above that, the cloudbow picture probably had drops very much larger. This just taken picture below, had drops in between in size. However, this scene does show the relative sizes of the two phenomena. (The wing and the edge of aircraft window is also on the left.)


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