Western toadlets

 

Locals have a thing for toadlets. There are even Toadfests where people help them move from a pond to adjacent woods so as to enable them to cross intervening roadways. But, many toadlets make it to the woods without human intervention. 

It all starts in May with toad amplexus where the Western Toads mate and produce strings of eggs. Then come the tadpoles. Finally the toadlets emerge and head for the woods. That is what we are seeing here. 

A toadlet (about the size of a dime) swims to the shore.

A toadlet then heads across the beach to the woods where it will spend most of its adult life.

 

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July’s hummers

 

Our three regular hummingbirds arrive in April to breed. First males come, soon followed by females. The three species are Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned. I have not seen a Calliope since early May (although others have) so I only show the other two.

Rufous males don’t stick around after breeding and begin their migration to western Mexico by early July. So the males are gone. The females stick around for only another few weeks, and are then followed by juveniles in August. It is now mid July and we are still being visited by Rufous females, one of which stopped by a few times this week.

The Black-chinned female is the most frequent visitor. She may be tending a nest, but seems more or less unconcerned by an adjacent human clicking a camera.

Occasionally, a male Black-chinned comes by. He is distinctly skittish. If the watching human so much as twitches, he is off.

The infrequency of the male’s visits made it difficult to obtain a shot of him flashing his purple gorget. Here is one attempt.

 

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Pin feathers

 

By watching eaglets over the last month or so, I discovered pin feathers. Mind you, I would have discovered them much earlier had I done more reading — or kept chickens.

A pin feather is just a feather during its formation. Normally, a feather is composed of non-living material, but when growing, it is enclosed in a protective keratin sheath and is supplied with nurturing blood. What is seen is the long whitish tube extending from a partially completed feather — a somewhat strange sight.

The problem with spotting pin feathers on a recently hatched chick is that the chick is usually deep inside the cup of a nest which is, itself, located high above eye level. By the time the chick emerges, the feathers have already formed.

However, I occasionally watched a nest of Bald Eagles from high on a distant bank, which placed my eye almost at the same height as the shallow nest. Further, the eaglets would occasionally spread their wings in practice flight, and in doing so, display some pin feathers on their wings.

I set the stage with a picture taken in mid-June (2021/06/14). I had used it earlier to illustrate that Bald Eaglets had mainly dark brown plumage, and so were readily confused with Golden Eagles. Most of the feathers shown here had already formed.

However, in a picture taken a week earlier (2021/06/06) white extensions can be seen from some flight feathers. At the time, I thought these were the feather shafts without realizing that they were actually enclosing keratin sheaths and were called pin feathers.

A picture of an eaglet’s spread wing in mid-June (2021/06/14) shows pin feathers on both the flight feathers and dramatically on the underwing coverts.

However, by mid-July (2021/07/11) all feathers look completely formed. Will flight be far off?

I include this picture of the two chicks, just because I like it (2021/06/29).

I then searched through my pictures of nestlings. The only one where I was looking down into the nest was one of robins. The pin feathers are apparent on the heads of the chicks (2016/07/14).

 

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Now cool whitetails

 

I am a hunter — but not the type who shoots to eat; I shoot to admire (and do so with a camera). 

However, if you want to understand some aspects of animal behaviour, you might consider hanging out with those who do shoot to eat. They see and track a great deal. 

Over a week ago, in the midst of the outrageous hot spell (mid to high 30s), I posted a picture of a Steller’s Jay supposedly complaining about the temperature. Karen Pidcock then asked: “How do you think the wild creatures are holding up in this heat?” I didn’t know. 

An internet search revealed that those who shoot to eat believe that deer hide in the shade rather than move about when the temperature is high. Indeed, I saw none during that hot spell. Yet now, with temperatures in the mid 20s, I saw three deer, and a more secretive male was seen twice. So, it seems, the deer are moving again.

A male white-tailed deer looks at me over his shoulder. As his antler development seems a bit late for July, he is probably a (first year) spike deer. 

 

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Round-leaf Orchid

 

Karen Pidcock guided me to a group of these orchids high on a mossy bank above the Kaslo river. I believe they are large round-leaf rein orchids, Platanthera orbiculata. (The small round leaf orchid is a different plant.) This is the the eighth local wild orchid I have photographed. It is also the first orchid I have seen that is pollinated primarily by moths and sports a nectar spur.

This wild orchid was apparently named for the two large roundish leaves at the base of its stem. The flowers grow as a raceme. The other oblong leaves in this picture are queen’s cups.

This is a closeup of a few of the flowers on the raceme. The landing strip for polinators is the labellum, the long petal hanging from the front of the flower. The pollinia are the two orangish pods at the top of the flower. This is discussed in greater detail with the next illustration.

Below is a detail from the centre left of the above picture. This orchid seems to be largely pollinated by a couple of species of noctuid moths, presumably having been attracted by a scent the orchid emitted at night. The moth would approach the illustrated flower from the left landing on the labellum (the landing strip). The moth must extend its long tongue deep into the nectar spur, which is also long to force the moth to press its head against the pollinia, which are then attached to the moth’s compound eye. The moth then carries the pollen to another flower.

There is an evolutionary process here which gradually increases the length of both the moth’s tongue and the nectar spur. The moths with the longest tongues are favoured as they can reach the bottom of the spur and so receive the most nutrients. The flowers with the longest spurs are favoured as their reproductive organs optimally press against the moth which then increases their reproduction. So, each slowly gets longer and longer.

 

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June goulash

 

This is a selection of June images none of which had a posting of its own. While not exclusively birds, there is certainly a preponderance of them.

Two Bald Eagle chicks still in the nest are scrapping over a bit of food.

No summer month would be complete without a shot of a hunting osprey. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Fraser.

Hover flies (a.k.a. flower flies) often mimic bees and wasps to avoid being eaten by birds. 

The Eastern Kingbird is a flycatcher. Here it is chasing something in the air.

I had not seen a heron do this previously. It vigorously shook to toss off something.

Mommy Common Merganser paddled by with her three chicks.

A Cedar Waxwing flew to a new feeding location on a black hawthorn tree. 

I have seen rather few Common Yellowthroats this season, but here is one.

A Tree Swallow looks out of a nest box.

A western garter snake wanders through the grass. It uses its extended tongue to sniff its surroundings. It looks as if it has just discarded its old skin everywhere except on its head. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Fraser.

This is a fledged robin chick. It has a spotted breast and wings flecked with white.

This year has brought us many Brewer’s Blackbirds. The male has yellow eyes and a glossy (almost liquid) black and midnight blue plumage.

Often shots of hummingbirds show the more spectacular male. This is a female Black-Chinned.

This Steller’s Jay looked right at me and squawked, as if to say: “Do something about these outrageously high temperatures!”

 

Posted in birds, bugs, herptiles | 7 Comments

Two dragonflies

 

It seemed a bit early to see the first dragonflies of the season, but there they were. And a welcome sight they were. These acrobatic aerial predators are especially partial to mosquitoes, flies, mayflies, midges, and gnats. If the insect flies, a dragonfly captures and eats it. A summer at the beach greatly benefits from the predation of dragonflies.

There are quite a few species of dragonflies. Here are two seen today.

Saffron-winged meadowhawk

Eight-spotted skimmer

 

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Crabbing season

 

The crabbing season has begun, so I went crabbing. 

Mind you, I am not talking about the crabs found in oceans, but the crab spiders found here (and elsewhere).

A crab spider is an ambush predator that waits patiently on a flower for its meal to arrive. Sooner or later, a pollinator — bee, fly, or ant — arrives at the flower. The spider then grabs the prey with its front legs and delivers a deadly dose of venom through its fangs. The venom’s effects are twofold: It paralyzes the insect, and it digests the insect’s insides. The spider then uses its fangs like a straw to drink the insect’s pre-digested insides.

Around here, daisies are favourite hangouts for crab spiders, however they are seen waiting for visitors on other flowers. 

In the morning a female crab spider (Misumena vatia) was stalking prey from a daisy.

In the afternoon, on a different daisy, a crab spider was feasting on a (mining?) bee.

 

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Heron preens

 

As wildlife contortionists go, few exceed the twists of the heron when it preens. It preens to repair its feathers and spread waterproofing oil on them.

The Great Blue Heron hunts for fish in Kootenay Lake year round. However, its numbers are greater in warm months. Further, its plumage evolves from juvenile to adult and from non-breeding to breeding season. The heron seen yesterday was an adult in its breeding plumage.

The white crown and black pigtail show this heron to be an adult. The orangish upper mandible and shaggy plumes on neck and back show it to be in its breeding plumage.

The heron seems to be acquiring oil from its preen gland on the base of its back. The oil is used to waterproof its feathers. The bird’s two shaggy plumes are clearly visible here.

The bill is used to preen most of its feathers.

However, the bill cannot be used to preen the feathers of the head, so a foot is employed.

 

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Bald, not Golden

 

Yesterday, a friend told me that she had just seen a Golden Eagle that was hunting by the lakeshore. I was assured that it must have been a golden as it was particularly large and brown. 

Hmm…, I was skeptical that a golden was what was seen. The problem is that a Golden Eagle didn’t quite fit the proffered description. Consider, a Golden Eagle: 

• prefers to hunt small mammals in the uplands, not fish at the lakeside
• a Golden Eagle is not particularly large, being slightly smaller than a Bald Eagle
• is brown, but so is a juvenile Bald Eagle, which does hunt over the lake
• can be distinguished from a bald by, among other things, it golden nape

Today, I visited the nest of a Bald Eagle, where its two (brown) chicks were holding court. When they fledge, they will appear larger than their parents for their feathers will not have been worn. However, they will lack the golden nape. 

Juvenile Bald Eagles are often misidentified as Golden Eagles, a result of being both brown and of wishful thinking.

Looking for an illustration, I visited a Bald Eagle’s nest and photographed two (brown) Bald Eagles chicks (and mommy) sitting on a nest.

 

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