Three-woodpecker day

 

Leaving aside the flicker, which might be seen a few times a week, woodpeckers are spotted only once or twice a year. So, it was unexpected to see three different species of woodpeckers in one day. They are presented in the order seen.

This is a juvenile Pileated Woodpecker (dark eyes) that has been probing a utility pole for hibernating insects. The pileated is our largest woodpecker.

A female Northern Flicker was probing some wooden trim for insects.

There has been a woodpecker feeder on the house for nearly a decade. Its suet attracts jays, chickadees, and nuthatches, but the only woodpecker seen there had been a flicker. That was until yesterday, when our smallest woodpecker turned up: the Downy Woodpecker. The male stayed for some time and was back again this morning.

 

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Eats, fish & leaves

 

There is a classic joke that depends upon the sloppy employment of a comma: Eats, shoots and leaves. This is how Wikipedia tells it:

A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots, & leaves.

The joke turns on the ambiguity of the final sentence fragment. As intended by the author, “eats” is a verb, while “shoots” and “leaves” are the verb’s objects: a panda’s diet comprises shoots and leaves. However, the erroneous introduction of the comma gives the mistaken impression that the sentence fragment comprises three verbs listing in sequence the panda’s characteristic conduct: it eats, then it shoots, and finally it leaves.

I was reminded of the joke this morning as I watched an eagle eat, fish and leave — er, eat fish and leave. The smaller male Bald Eagle is eating (and not sharing) a fish in the company of his larger (presumed) mate.

The eagle…

eats fish

and leaves.

 

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Western larch

 

Come early November, I am often wont to offer an encomium to the western larch. Sometimes the tree is shown covering the mountainside, this time only a portion of an individual appears.

The western larch grows only on the mountain slopes and a few valleys of southeastern British Columbia, plus portions of the adjacent United States. The tree is a deciduous conifer, so autumn causes yellowish-orange needles to splash the slopes with a stunning preface to the greys, blues, and whites of winter.

 

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Dipper scarfs egg

 

A dipper is an unusual songbird on a number of counts. It flies underwater in search of comestibles in turbulent mountain streams. But, when if finds something, it apparently doesn’t eat it immediately, but brings it to firm ground where it first lays it on the surface, then picks it up again and eats it.

In the warm season, the dipper seems to prefer aquatic arthropods. Now that the Kokanee spawning season is over, the dipper is hunting their eggs. 

A dipper first retrieved an (unfertilized) Kokanee egg from the creek bed. Here it balances the egg on its tongue. A tenth of a second later, the egg has been swallowed.

 

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Swans return

 

In late October and through November, swans begin to arrive during their migration south — first in dribs and drabs, then in larger flocks. This last weekend, I saw two families of swans about fifteen kilometres apart. This is one of them.

A family of Tundra Swans rests and feeds by the shore.

 

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Sign sees its breath

 

On the surface of it, a title implying that a highway sign can both see and breathe is nonsense. Yet, when it comes to that breath, which is visible as a steam fog, there is a continuum. While the first three pictures were taken earlier, the final one of the road sign was taken yesterday.

On particularly cold mornings, people often can see their breath. That only means that in the moist air being exhaled, a cloud — steam fog — has formed. Water droplets condense when the water vapour from the lungs, with its high temperature and pressure, mixes with the external water vapour, with its much lower temperature and pressure. It is the mixing of these two markedly different packets of vapour that produces the steam fog that we refer to as seeing one’s breath. Here, an elk breathes warm vapour into the external cold.

However, an exhalation from the lungs into the external cold is not the only way to mix the contrasting amounts and temperatures of water vapour. Here a still warm October stream heats and moistens the air a few millimetres above it. This, then, becomes the equivalent of the moisture from the lungs as it mixes with the colder vapour above. A stream sees its breath?

One does not normally think of a wooden fence as a source of warm moisture, but this one had been wetted by an overnight dew. When warmed by the sun, a thin layer of warm (buoyant) moisture flowed up the side of the fence and, as it mixed with the surrounding colder moisture, it produced a plume of steam fog. A fence seeing its breath?

Finally, steam fog pours off of yestermorn’s road sign. As with the fence, the back of the sign had been moistened with dew overnight and was now warmed by the sun. The warm dew-covered sign was behaving the same way as the elk’s lungs.   

 

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Shrikes return

 

The Northern Shrike is a songbird that eats other songbirds.

Indeed, with its hooked bill, it is almost a wannabe raptor. Alas, it lacks a raptor’s talons and so must impale its prey on thorns as a way of holding them in place as it uses its hooked bill to tear them into bite-sized pieces. 

Having bred in the boreal forest well to our north, the Northern Shrike visits here only in the winter months, beginning in October. Mind you, as with predators everywhere, it isn’t a common find, but just an occasional one. So, I was delighted to encounter one in the grasslands of Kokanee Creek Park this morning. Curiously, this is where I have also seen Northern Shrikes other years. There it hunts small birds and ground-dwelling vertebrates from prominent perches. I also include a picture of a shrike taken a year and a half ago as it took a shrew from those grasslands.

It will also hang out adjacent to household bird feeders hoping to pick off tasty little birds. 

A newly arrived Northern Shrike watches for prey from a convenient thorn bush.

From a year and a half ago on the grasslands, a Northern Shrike captures a shrew.

 

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Young Bald Eagles

 

A newly fledged Bald Eagle takes four or five years to become an adult with a dark body and white head and tail. During those first few years, it has a strikingly different look. 

Over the last weekend, I visited a river flowing into the Lake that is still replete with spawning Kokanee. It was attracting many hungry Bald Eagles that were perched on the trees along the shore while they watched for fish. Below are shots of two of the young eagles seen.

The fledgling Bald Eagle departs its nest looking dark —  plumage, eyes, bill — all dark. However, there may be flecks of white in the plumage. Further, the cere (fleshy area at the base of the bill), mouth gape, and feet are yellowish.

The transition to the look of an adult takes the better part of five years. This bird is probably in its third year. Eyes and bill are now mainly yellow, feet are a brighter yellow, and head and tail are nearly all white, but there is still white on the body and wings.

 

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Disparate defences

 

I think that I am on safe ground to suggest that prey prefer not to be eaten.

Yesterday I watched two prey animals which had adopted rather different methods of defending against predators. They were a mountain goat and a ruffed grouse.

The mountain goat is a large animal, but not so large that it cannot be overcome by a cougar. Despite being conspicuous, the goat makes no attempt to prevent being seen; rather it attempts to prevent access. The goat’s defence against being eaten is to go where the cougar is loath to tread: cliff faces. Consequently, mountain goats have developed a great agility to navigate nearly vertical surfaces.

The ruffed grouse faces a different problem in avoiding predators. It is small enough that it can be eaten by both land predators, such as coyotes, and aerial predators, such as eagles and hawks. So, it tries to be inconspicuous by hiding in the undergrowth and has developed camouflage and stealth. Its plumage resembles the dappled pattern of light on the forest floor and by moving slowly, it looks like a shifting pattern of sun flecks through leaves. The problem is that the grouse maintains the same defence strategy even when the background isn’t dappled, such as when crossing snow or gravel.

A mountain goat is safely perched on a narrow ledge half way up a 300 metre cliff.

Perhaps the funniest (non) defence by the normally camouflaged grouse is when it slowly crosses a plain surface. Now conspicuous, it would be better for it to flush.

 

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Fishing grizzlies

 

Three smallish grizzly bears were fishing in a stream. I suspect that these bears were cubs freshly on their own as they had yet to develop the prominent shoulder hump of adult grizzlies.

This grizzly appears to be looking straight at me. While undoubtedly aware of a human presence, it seemed unconcerned. Indeed, the look towards me was just a glance as the bear turned its head. Actually, grizzlies are influenced more by smell, and this one was fishing on the edge of a stream filled with freshly rotting Kokanee spawners. There was really only one thing on its mind: fish.

Sometimes a bear would stand in the stream and just eat a fish floating by. 

Other times, the grizzly would wait on the shore and grab one from the shallows. 

Yum, yum.  

The final picture was taken by Cynthia Fraser and is used with permission.

 

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