Trumpeter Swans


Swans do not make their home here. They live to our south in the winter, and to our north in the summer, but they pass through this region twice a year in transit. Indeed, as they come through in dribs and drabs, a few might appear at the Lake at almost any time during the cold months. 

Today there were a dozen trumpeters in the shallows off Kokanee Park. Here are two.


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Mule Deer


 This posting revisits one picture of the latest December goulash, the male mule deer. The caption I wrote at the time was: “He looks remarkably young with his small barely branching antlers. Yet, he has a spouse and has sired a fawn, to which he is very attentive.” This is the picture I showed.

Certainly in a closely related species, the buck of the whitetailed deer ignores his young and leaves the job of raising it to the female. So might not the buck of the mule deer do likewise? But, I had not seen it, and what I had observed on this occasion was this male was being most solicitous to the fawn. So, I wrote it as I thought I saw it. Yet, there is another interpretation and it is offered by Ed Beynon of Castlegar. He notes:

As a reformed ungulate hunter I want to comment on the dialog re the young mule deer buck.  Generally ungulate males never recognize their offspring. My take on the young buck is that he is the doe’s 2021 fawn, the fawn is her 2022 fawn and that they are playmates/buddies.

Ed Beynon’s analysis is undoubtedly correct, and the young buck and the fawn are siblings rather than parent and child.

Here are the other actors in this minor scene which took place when the older deer crossed though a barb-wired fence but the young fawn found it difficult.

This is the mule-deer doe who easily crossed the fence.

Here is this year’s fawn who struggled with the fences.

Here , the older sibling looks for a way through the fence maze for the younger one.


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Pygmy Owl


Now is the time to see the Northern Pygmy Owl. Well, we have it year round, so why select now to see this daytime hunter? Well, for most seasons, it hangs out at higher elevations, a mountainous area that has a low population of humans. But come winter time, the Pygmy Owl often comes to the valley bottoms and hunts small birds such as irruptives.  

I found the Pygmy Owl on the North Shore of Kootenay Lake on Sunday, but it was perched high in distant trees, so I returned the next day. It was now hunting close to the ground beside the road. One thing about these owls is that not only do they hunt in daytime, but they are not particularly sensitive to humans. So park beside one and take its picture. 


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Last year closed with a picture of a visiting bobcat. It was the last time I expected to see it — but yesterday at noon, it was again on my deck at a place that all the little birds hung out as they eat.

As this is a uncommon observation, and the bobcat looks somewhat like an ordinary domestic cat, it is worth examining. I start with the bobcat leaving.   

The bobcat is nearly twice as big as a domestic cat, although when seen alone this is more difficult to notice than some its other features. This cat did sit beside a feature on the deck, which was subsequently measured to show its shoulder height was about 36 cm. The more striking feature of the bobcat from behind is its short tail after which it is named: a bob cat. The tip of the tail has black on the top, unlike the lynx with black top and bottom. The ears have black tufts sticking out the top, and white on the ear’s back.

As the bobcat was leaving the deck, it looked up at me. Its ear tufts are readily apparent.

My favourite shot of the bobcat is this one where it was deciding whether to leave the potential feast of little birds. Its black ear tufts and a one white ear spot are visible. Who knows whether I will see it again?


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December goulash


This is a small collection of December’s pictures that lacked a posting of their own. December was an unfortunate month that was remarkably cold during its middle portions with animals and observers biding their time. Nevertheless, there were some truly delightful observations. They are presented in the order they were observed.

This is a young male mule deer. He has all the characteristics: black-tipped white tail, dark forehead, and largish ears (after which he gains his name). He looks remarkably young with his small barely branching antlers. Yet, he has a spouse and has sired a fawn, to which he is very attentive.

We are near the northern boundary of the winter population of the Varied Thrush. Sometimes the bird is plentiful as it explores its northern boundary; at other times, it seems absent. On this occasion it was plentiful.

A male Pileated Woodpecker was probing a utility pole for grubs. 

In the early hours of the morning, a bobcat stopped by my home. It was only the second time I had seen this animal. On its wanderings, it came within about a half metre of me. One might think that this could be a ordinary house cat. But no, it was considerably larger, and do admire the small short black tufts on the ears.


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Megafauna kids


By the time December comes, the megafauna kiddies from last summer are beginning to get larger, but are still much smaller than the adults. Here are two.

A juvenile of this year accompanies adults in a herd of bighorn sheep.

Later, the juvenile looks over a snow bank at the interlopers.

An herd of elk contained a half-dozen females but only one juvenile. This is an adult whose snout is flecked with snow from scrounging on the ground for things to eat.

While the adults scrounged for food, the juvenile just stood still and waited.


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The glory is a beautiful phenomenon that is only rarely noticed. Its rarity results from the requirement that your shadow must be cast down onto a cloud in the centre of the glory. Mind you, to see your shadow in the centre, you must be fairly close to the cloud, but that was normally the case when seen from a mountain. Thus we get names for it like the Brocken bow and spectre (19th century, Germany) and Buddha’s light (a couple of thousand years, China). The name, glory, is rather old and speaks to the assumed beatification of the person whose shadow appears surrounded by the colourful rings of light.

One of the easiest ways to see it these days is from an airplane, although the type of cloud, the wings, and the seat position often prevent a sighting. As such it is rarely noticed, plus the height of the plane above the cloud usually eliminates the shadow. It has been seen from mountains around Kootenay Lake, but flying in and out of the region provides the easiest observations.

The glory is often seen together with the cloudbow, so, there is an overlapping drop size that is common to both phenomena. Yet, it isn’t perfect. The cloudbow seen earlier lacked a glory (drops a bit too big?), and this glory lacks a cloudbow (drops too small?).

The glory seen on the stratocumulus when flying out from Kootenay Lake is a phenomenon of single scattering. Notice that it isn’t seen in gaps between the clouds where photon penetration has resulted from multiple scattering. The pattern is a series of concentric rings with reddish to the outside and bluish towards the centre. There is a faintly visible third ring. The aircraft is too high above the cloud for a shadow to be seen.


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Dipper eats


The Kokanee salmon have visited the creeks, spawned, and have died. The bears, the eagles, and the vultures have left after eating their fill of both live and dead fish. Now only some mergansers and mallards stay to consume the remaining Kokanee carcasses. And the dippers dive and bring up some of the eggs in ones and twos, whereupon they are consumed one at a time.

A dipper surfaces from a dive with an egg in its bill that is quickly eaten. The eggs come in two flavours: golden — which are fertilized; cream — which are unfertilized. This egg is golden.

“I’m off to find some more.”


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Last Sunday, I watched something over the Lake that I had not recalled seeing with such clarity before: two different mechanisms for droplet formation from the same source.

A decade, or so, ago, I wrote a piece about the two mechanisms for droplet condensation. There I criticized teachers for getting it wrong, by saying that cold air cannot hold as much water vapour as warm air. This was despite it having been known for two centuries what was actually happening. That essay is called condensation. Here, I will just accept that, and go with what is correct.

Condensation might occur when two parcels of sub-saturated water vapour mix. Or, it can occur when water vapour is cooled. 

Typically, clouds (or fog) near the surface result from vapour mixing — in which different forms of cloud result from different mixing circumstances. In this scene, the cloud (fog) at the Lake’s surface is the result of vapour mixing. It is known as steam fog and can result when quite cold air overlies much warmer water.

Typically, clouds well above the surface form as a result of vapour cooling — in which different forms of cloud result from different cooling circumstances. The convective towers of cloud that arise high over the Lake’s surface is the result from this water vapour cooling. 

This scene was a little uncommon. Usually, when cold air flows over warm water in the fall, the high winds cause the convective towers to warp up as steam devils. In this case, the cold air must have arrived overnight and it was now calm. This resulted in convective towers growing out of the steam fog.


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Giant ichneumon wasp


What is any wasp, let alone this one, doing around here in the later half of October? Most wasps have died out except for their queens who have bedded down for the winter. There are a great many species of wasp and a great many species of ichneumon wasps in particular. What is this one, a giant ichneumon wasp, doing here now? 

This giant ichneumon wasp is particularly interesting: it is large; it lives less than a month; it does not sting; the female has a very long ovipositor.

It settles on wood and drives its long ovipositor into the bark and deposits an egg on a horntail wasp. The egg then parasitizes the horntail wasp. 


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