Aestivation’s over


Now that September is here, daytime temperatures are somewhat more temperate and the mourning cloak butterfly is back in abundance. 

The mourning cloak likes to avoid temperature extremes, otherwise it closes down. Over winter, it hibernates (becomes dormant to avoid the cold); over summer it aestivates (becomes dormant to avoid the heat). So, it is seen in the spring and reappears again in the fall. 

This is one of many mourning cloak butterflies to be seen at this time.


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Dipped in cream


The wing feathers of the juvenile osprey have been memorably described as having been dipped in cream. They contrast with an adult’s wing feathers, which are uniformly dark.

Now is the time to see juvenile ospreys out of the nest and hunting, for within a month, they will have migrated south. They will return only as (dark winged) adults in two to three years, then to nest and raise their own chicks.

A juvenile Osprey hunts from a tree branch.


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Dragonfly migrant


When we think of local migrants, we usually think of birds. Indeed, many of the birds we watch most assiduously, migrate in and out our region. But…, migrating insects?

Most local insects spend their whole lives within kilometres of where they were hatched. But, a handful do not. Of our many locally-seen butterflies, there are only three migrants. But, the migrating insect seen this morning wasn’t a butterfly; it was a dragonfly, one of only two local migrants: it is the variegated meadowhawk.

Its name, variegated, — exhibiting different colours, especially as irregular patches or streaks — certainly characterizes it. Indeed, the males even shift to reddish as they age. Yet throughout these variations, all display two yellow dots on each side of the thorax.

I could learn little about its range, although it seems that this one will have originated a bit to our north and may well migrate as far south as Central America. But, unlike birds where the same individual migrates both ways, these dragonflies split their round trip across at least two generations — itself a neat trick. 

A striking looking migrating dragonfly, this variegated meadowhawk is on its southward journey.


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August goulash

This is collection of images taken this August that lacked a posting of their own, primarily because they were all taken within the last few days. I would have liked to include some mammals. Alas, while I saw some, there are no shots. Indeed one night (2 am), I awoke to find a rather large black bear looking in my bedroom window. If that weren’t sufficiently impolite, it then vanished as I grabbed my camera.

A juvenile Bald Eagle flies in to feed on Kokanee.

And then goes about hauling it out on the beach and eating it.  

There has been an increase in the number of kingfishers around with their chicks having fledged. 

A Great Blue Heron also flies in to feed on Kokanee.

My favourite shot of the last little while is that of a male shadow darner (dragonfly) hunting on the wing. It is difficult to photograph them as they fly by. But, this time I managed a shot so detailed that I offer it twice. This first one is an overview.

The second is a detailed view. Move the cursor across the image to see elsewhere (click on mobile device). Notice while flying, the darner tucks its legs up behind its head to reduce aerodynamic drag. And at the end of its abdomen are the appendages signalling it as a shadow darner.

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Two migrants


From late July into October, we are visited by migrants. These are birds that bred to our north but stop here to feed on their southbound journey. They range in size and type from the hummingbird to the eagle. Here are two migrants that have been seen in the last two days.

I was at my home when, amazingly, a hawk landed on a hedge in front of me. It was probably interested in the little birds at the adjacent bird feeders. But, what was the hawk? As it landed and departed, it showed a banded tail, but when perched, only its head and shoulder were visible to the camera. 

Speculation is that it was an adult (it has a dark eye) Cooper’s Hawk, but who knows?


Starting in late July, I casually watch for migrating shorebirds.

During our regular summer season, we only get Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers. But, starting in late July, the floodgates open as migrators stop by to feed on their way south. Or, at least that is what is normally expected. Even observations of Spotted Sandpipers have been less common this summer, and I had to await until the dying days of August to see my first migrant. It was a Greater Yellowlegs. 

A migrating Greater Yellowlegs is feeding on a tiny fish.


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Predaters and scavengers


Kokanee salmon flow up local creeks to spawn. Predators and scavengers gather to gorge themselves. Some come to feast on the living fish; some come to feast upon carcasses. Although these pictures were taken where the birds were feeding at the mouth of a creek, the eating was not captured. However, some rather nice flight shots of these birds were.

The osprey is a predator and specializes in catching live fish — it is the only bird in this collection that does not scavenge.

The Bald Eagle (this is a juvenile) is happy to feast on fish, either living or decayed. Here it is plummeting into the water to catch a live one. Alas, it was unsuccessful; the fish escaped.

Ravens are both predators and active participants in the scavenging community.

The Great Blue Heron is happy to feast on either living or decaying fish.

When it comes to scavenging corpses, the Turkey Vulture is pre-eminent. It is the only non-predator in this group; it avoids living fish.

My favourite shot of these events was of a Turkey Vulture flying away from me.


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Passing birds


Most views of animals in the wild are of solitary ones. But it is fun to manage a shot showing a couple of creatures in one scene. Such was the case this morning.

A juvenile Great Blue Heron perches on a branch as a shadowy Turkey Vulture flies by.

One osprey looks on as another flies off.


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Hare’s ears


Wildlife websites assure us that one of the many differences between rabbits and hares is that hares have much longer ears. Usually unmentioned is that this difference vanishes at our northern latitudes. 

The snowshoe hare is present across mainland BC, and indeed through much of Canada. (Its range extends into the US along narrow mountainous tongues.) After looking at the snowshoe hare’s ears, one could be forgiven for thinking it was a rabbit.

The clue to this situation is that hares use their ears as heat exchangers. When the hare begins to overheat, it pumps warm blood through its ears to cool it before circulating that blood to the rest of the body. (Elephants do this also.) Hare species from lower latitudes and hot regions have particularly large ears to facilitate this cooling. Our snowshoe hare has scant need for the heat exchange offered by large ears as it lives in cooler northern climes. Consequently, its ears resemble those of a rabbit.

Yet, there are other differences that signal it to be a hare.

The snowshoe hare, sighted yesterday, has ears that look rather like those of a rabbit.

This blurry picture of its quick departure reveals one of the telltale signs that this is a snowshoe hare: its huge hind feet.


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Robber fly mating


Here are two more pictures of mating insects — well, it is that time of year. These are robber flies. 

A Robber fly, also known as an assassin fly, is large and a powerful flyer. Its name reflects the fly’s aggressive predation: it feeds on other insects captured in flight. It has been a decade since I watched a robber fly feasting on a captured bee.

This interaction was more convivial. 

Robber flies mating. I think that the female is on top.

A view from the other side showing the interlocking abdomens.


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Bluet disaster


Things were now looking good in the world of bluet damselflies. The previous posting, thwarted bluets, had reported on the problems of bluet couples: harassment and inaccessible aquatic weed for egg laying. However, now the aquatic weed had reached the surface of the water and the mating proceeded apace. 

But, suddenly: WHOMP!

Bluets were seen perching and mating in many places.

They flew off together to lay the eggs on the aquatic weed. Certainly there was still harassment by single males, but it could be avoided.

A couple found some suitable weed extending through the surface and proceeded to deposit eggs. The fact that the male is holding the female’s head below the water looks worrisome to human eyes. However, an insect breathes through spiracles on its thorax and abdomen, not its head. 

Ten seconds after the previous picture, a mallard swam by and WHOMP — it swallowed everything: bluet couple, eggs and aquatic weed. What a downer. Well, the mallard looks happy.

The final two pictures were taken by Susi Grathwol and are used with permission.


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