Deer fly eggs


A half-dozen deer flies, Chrysops figidus(?), were laying eggs just above the waterline on a long-decommissioned piling. In their preparation for laying eggs, it is these female deer flies that inflict painful bites as they seek blood that is ultimately used to feed their larvae. (The non-biting males don’t bother with blood, but stick to nectar.) 

A deer fly on the same region of an old piling in 2010

A sighting of egg laying seems to require looking at just the right time on just the right day. By the following morning, the flies are gone and the egg casings have all darkened.

Yet, beyond a fortuitous observation, there was something rather odd: eight years ago, deer flies laid eggs on the same small portion of the same piling. Two observations do not establish a pattern — yet, might something explain it? In each case the eggs were laid on the shady side of the piling about 30 cm above the waterline.

Water is the destination of the larvae that emerge from the darkened eggs. Once there, they eat aquatic insects. Presumably, this is why this area of the piling gets chosen: it is the moister shady side just above the water which will be the larvae’s new home.

A deer fly positions its eggs so larvae can drop into the water.


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Small fliers


It is difficult to capture the passage of small flying birds. Large flying birds are fairly easy for a camera to record, but small ones — ah, there’s the rub. 

Below are three picture of two species showing the flybys of small birds.

While the Wild Turkey is a large bird, its chicks are not, and I have rarely even seen one fly. Here is a Wild Turkey chick flying in the shade against a sunny background.

The same chick then flew into the sunlight. 

A small bird that is always difficult to capture mid-flight is the Spotted Sandpiper.


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Indian pipe


Indian pipe, aka ghost pipe, is a flowering plant that lacks chlorophyll. It evolved to survive in the sunless world of the deep forest floor, and acquires its energy by parasitizing surrounding trees.

These Indian pipe plants were found at the same spot as last year’s pipe.


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Osprey nests


Saturday began with observations of two aerial dogfights between Ospreys and Bald Eagles. This is the season when Ospreys capture fish and bring them to their nests to feed both mates and chicks. As Ospreys are the better fishers, Eagles often try the easy route of stealing a catch, either in the air or from an unguarded nest. Although Ospreys sometimes lose the contest, they always put up a vigorous defence.

As observations of dogfights started the day, it seemed opportune to wander past osprey nests to watch for dogfights, to see if chicks are now poking their heads up, or just to enjoy this magnificent bird. The day brought many scenes along with three more dogfights, only one of which was close enough for decent pictures.

A male Osprey lands at its nest as a female looks on. There is no apparent sign of a chick.

Finally there was a nest where a chick’s head poked up as it looked at mommy.

A curious aspect of watching an osprey nest is the occasional sighting of a bird that has been banded. This band (insert) seems to say top: BAND, middle: 12, bottom: U8 USA. A few years ago, I wondered if a photographed band was worth reporting. Alas, the system seems to have been designed to record only the complete band of dead or captured birds, not the partial band of a bird in the wild.

There is something grand about the sight of an osprey landing on its nest.

This adult Bald Eagle passed overhead without bothering an Osprey.

Finally, one dogfight took place close enough for a satisfactory picture. The fight was between a juvenile Bald Eagle (in its second year) and an experienced eagle-fighting female Osprey. I have seen her many times before and she is at least six years old and probably much more. In the end, the inexperienced thief was driven off and the victor returned to her nest. 


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Merganserlings aplenty


If merganserling isn’t a word, it should be: the chick of a merganser, as in duckling and gosling.

Sources differ as to the number of eggs laid by a Common Merganser, but when it comes to merganserlings that survive to follow mommy around the Lake, I usually see between four and twelve.

Yet, sometimes the number of mergaserlings is huge. I have seen nineteen, twenty-three, and yesterday, thirty-three. These cannot possibly be a single family. 

It seems that merganserlings are born followers. They will leave their own mother just to join a passing parade. Who knows if they ever find their way back to their own mother or not.

A family of Common Mergansers seen a week ago has a typical number of five merganserlings. Apart from their size, the chicks can be identified by the white bar just below the eye.

Seen yesterday was a parade of thirty-three merganserlings along with one nursemaid.


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Flickers tend chicks


Flickers are now tending chicks in their cavity nests.

When bringing food to its chicks, a flicker usually does not fly directly to the cavity where the chicks are. Rather it flies to some adjacent point and looks around for those who might be tracking its movements. It may not look as if this female is bringing food to its chicks, but the food it has collected is stored in its esophagus. 

A flicker feeds its chicks by inserting its bill down the chick’s gape and regurgitating its food. 

From the look of debris left on the parent’s bill, it was a meal of ant’s eggs, a flicker favourite.

Food is brought in; garbage is taken out. A male flicker flies off with a faecal sac.

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Heron’s nest


Spotting a heron in its nest is not easy. The nests are uncommon, high in a tree, and generally hidden by the rest of the canopy. A chance opening in the foliage sometimes offers a peek. Rick Greene told me where to look.

A number of herons were flying in and out of this portion of the forest, so there are probably more nests, but only one could be seen from the distant ground.


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Swallow’s saga


Tree Swallows often nest in the cavities that Northern Flickers have carved in the pilings of docks.

A person commits an offence if the person … possesses, takes, injures, molests or destroys a bird or its egg.     BC Wildlife Act.

But in mid-June, one of those pilings had rotted at the waterline. It then broke in two, and its upper portion began to cant dangerously. The broken portion was only stopped mid-descent by the stirrup that loosely held it to the dock.

However, the Lake was going down. It wouldn’t be long before the dock and its stirrup would drop below the broken piece causing the piling top to fall into the water and drift off. This would be bad on two counts:
    • a broken piling floating among boat traffic poses a danger;
    • the piling’s active nest of Tree Swallows would be destroyed.

Clearly, the broken piling had to be removed before it fell into the water. But, how was this to be done in the light of an active bird’s nest? Moving the nest and disturbing those birds would violate the wildlife act. And if it were moved, would the swallows accept the new location and continue incubating their eggs? Even if the swallows were to accept the new location, would the eggs have survived the double whammy of the break of the piling, and its subsequent move?

This was tricky. Three pictures tell the story. 

A piling had rotted at the waterline, and two-and-a-half weeks ago, a storm had caused it to break. The portion above the waterline tipped but was held precariously by the stirrup loosely adhering it to the dock. As the water level was dropping, this momentary reprieve would soon end causing the piling to fall into the Lake and to drown the nest. A swallow can be seen looking out of the cavity.

A couple of days after the break, the top of the piling was cut off well below the cavity but above the waterline. It was then set on the dock at about the same sloping angle, and loosely attached to the adjacent piling with a collar which allowed it move down as the water level dropped. During the hour and a half it took to do all this, the Tree Swallows agitatedly flew in circles around the operation. However, the following morning, when this picture was taken, the swallows had accepted the new location and were again tending the nest. This part was a success, but did the eggs survived the break and the move? There was nothing to do but wait.

Two-and-a-half weeks went by. Even though the adults continued to occupy the cavity, there was no way to know if the eggs had actually survived. We would have to wait to see if chicks poked their heads out — or that was the thinking until unexpectedly the swallows offered early irrefutable evidence that at least one chick was doing well: a faecal sac. The picture shows the female flying towards the cavity while the male removes the poop from one of the chicks. It will be fun to see chicks when they emerge, but, for now, everything is looking good.

In the time that has passed since the piling broke, the Lake level has, indeed, dropped. Had nothing been done, the piling would have fallen, drifted off, and drowned the nest. Maybe the offence of briefly molesting these nesting birds can be forgiven.


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Wild Turkey chicks


This is the season of chicks.

Wild Turkey adults are large and highly visible; their chicks are small and inconspicuous.

Mommy and three of her chicks forage in the grass.

While Wild Turkey adults look almost comical, chicks can look surprisingly noble.


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Species diversity


A year ago on Canada Day, I posted a collection of my favourite images from the previous decade, and said: “My two-dozen mute portraits offer peeks into the charm and beauty of life in Canada.” Commenting on it, Carlo said that it offered a “somewhat different view of our ‘population diversity’ than what is usually presented.” I liked that.

So, on a day when most people choose to celebrate themselves, I will celebrate a broader diversity with a collection of my favourite images recorded since last year’s July 1st. Some are permanent residents and some are migrants. (Note: No migrant was apprehended, harmed, or separated during these encounters.) 

A Black Bear cub catches its first Kokanee salmon in a local creek.

A Northern Flicker chick welcomes its mummy bringing food. 

A Mountain Bluebird dons a tutu.

A Grizzly Bear sow and her cub graze in a field.

A Golden Eagle scours the valley bottom for comestibles.

Snowshoe Hares were plentiful this last year.

A Great Blue Heron flies overhead.

Looking out from treeline talus, a Hoary Marmot guards his domain.

A Hooded Merganser swallows a sucker whole.

A Mallard demonstrates walking on water.

An Osprey flies by with a headless fish.

The Mule Deer is the only local animal that stots.

Two River Otters claim a dock as now belonging to them.

A Pika cries “eep”.

Common Redpolls scrounge seeds in the midwinter.

A male Ruffed Grouse is in full display.

A Red-winged Blackbird announces springtime.

This Wood Duck is confident that it is superior to all the rest of us.


Posted in birds, commentary, mammals | 15 Comments