Ruffed Grouse reappears


Comprehensive digital records from show that the Ruffed Grouse can be seen in this area year round. My own records say otherwise.

When I look at the dated pictures I have taken in my yard, there is a conspicuous gap in the warmer months. Mind you, my yard pictures are taken at the valley bottom, while ebird treats all altitudes. (This is a mountainous region.)

There is information here about the behaviour of the Ruffed Grouse: The bird seems to head to the uplands in the warm months and return to the valleys when the snow falls (I have not seen this behaviour discussed anywhere).

It is December and a Ruffed Grouse reappeared in my yard. I expect to see it and its kin for maybe another six months before they head to the uplands again.


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Snow on snout


“Surely you don’t think that I can forage in winter without getting a little bit of snow on my snout.”


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Lake star


We have all seen them: star-like patterns of melt on the shallow ice of bays.

With any luck, this posting will be followed by one with more information on these so-called lake stars, for much of their formation remains a mystery to me.

Over the years of casually noting lake stars, I had just assumed that they were the result of the drainage of surface melt water back through a hole in the ice. Evidence is accumulating that this is backwards. Here is what seems to be the consensus of the few who have explored the patterns.

• a new thin (a few centimetres) layer of ice forms over stratified water
• atop the ice, it is important that a thin layer of snow has fallen
• a small hole forms in the ice (Why does it form?)
• while the lake water immediately below the ice is at 0 °C, below that, it is warmer
• capillary action causes some warmer water to wick upwards onto the snow
• this arrived water depresses the ice surface increasing the flow of water
• arrival of increasingly warm water from below increases the melting

The formation of the arms of the star remain a mystery for me. However, what I had not realized is that the flow of water is up, not down. The snow atop the ice is a necessary feature because it serves to wick the lake water onto the surface. The wicking is important as it can bring up the warmer water from below, whereas buoyancy would not do so. (Water is densest at 4 °C so the warmer denser water lies a bit below the surface.) It also remains unclear to me why the lake stars form at some places but not others. 

A common, but mysterious lake star forms in thin snow-covered ice on water.


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Raptor ramble


I spent a few hours rambling among raptors. While many were seen perched, this posting favours raptors seen flying.

We have two resident falcons, each of which was seen. This is the smaller; it is a male kestrel.

Slightly larger than the kestrel is the Merlin. It did fly, but I missed it.

The largest raptor seen was the Bald Eagle.

I managed no particularly good shots of a flying Rough-legged Hawk. This one will have to suffice.

However, when perched, this same female rough-legged posed for me.

This is a bit of an oddity. I believe it to be a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk. Across the continent, the plumage of this bird is highly variable, although the dark morph is uncommon here.

My favourite flight shot of the ramble was of the more common local form of Red-tailed Hawk. This is a juvenile bird: the red of its tail has yet to develop and its eyes are yellow.


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Turkeys in trees


The first time I saw a Wild Turkey in a tree was only a month ago. While they do roost in trees overnight, and some subscribers commented that they see them there regularly, I had only seen these birds when they were foraging on the ground.

However, this last weekend I happened upon many turkeys flying in and out of trees.

Three are seen here. 

One turkey was off on its own.

It had spectacularly spread its wings and tail while flying in.


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Lucy’s back


How can one distinguish one Canada Goose in a flock of a few hundred? It is easy if that goose is leucistic. 

A leucistic animal is one where some region of its pelage lacks pigment. It is not an albino, which describes a complete lack of pigment throughout the body. For the leucistic animal, the pigment loss is just local. 

A leucistic female Canada Goose has been seen around the Lake for over a half-dozen years, but I last saw it four years ago. As the Canada Goose can live for a couple of dozen years, we may continue to see her for a while longer.

A Canada Goose — nicknamed Lucy for being leucistic — was spotted along the shore among other geese. Her normally whiteish chinstrap is slightly beige, but her leucistic cap lacks all pigment.


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November goulash


This is a collection of images none of which has had a posting of its own. The first two are actually neglected pictures left over from October. The final three were taken this November.

A robin feeds on elderberries.

A Great Blue Heron lands on a rock in the water.

Male Bufflehead Ducks take off.

A Trumpeter Swan lifts its head out of the water as it feeds.

Had I not just photographed this dipper today, it would have deserved its own posting. After hunting on a creek bed, the dipper surfaced with an unfertilized Kokanee egg balanced on its tongue. The egg was promptly swallowed.


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Curiosity of young raptors


Of late, I have become curious about the curiosity sometimes displayed by young raptors.

When I wander past a perched raptor, it usually bolts to a more distant spot. Now and then the raptor will first regard me from its perch, and then take to the air so as to circle overhead for a closer inspection. This behaviour seems to be more characteristic of young raptors than the older (jaded?) ones. It is as though young raptors are showing curiosity about their new world.

Two pictures from last week that prompted this posting

A young (it has yellow eyes) Red-tailed Hawk regards me with apparent curiosity from its perch.

Then, it took the the air, but instead of flying off, it circled overhead to watch for a while.

The stare, probably out of curiosity
A component of showing curiosity is the stare. A raptor can stare because it has the predator’s eyes that face forward. (Songbirds and water fowl, which have a prey’s eyes on the side of their heads, cannot stare). However, the stare as an indicator of a bird’s curiosity is a mixed bag: sometimes yes, sometimes no.

A young (yellow eyes) Cooper’s Hawk stares with apparent curiosity. (Sept. 16, 2019)

A perched adult Merlin may look somewhat inattentively in one’s direction, but only this Merlin chick (down feathers on crown) seemed willing to stare with curiosity at me. (July 23, 2017)

The glance, probably not out of curiosity
Sometimes what appears to be a stare is little more than a glance.

The look of this (probably adult) Pygmy Owl might not result from curiosity, but an attempt to intimidate one into leaving it alone. (Nov. 29, 2016)

This Turkey Vulture probably lacks curiosity in anything not decomposing. (Sept. 15, 2017)

Despite this passing shot of a Great Blue Heron (a predator, but not a raptor), I have never seen one show any curiosity about anything other than its next meal. (Apr. 18, 2014)

The aerial inspection
I suspect that the best evidence of a young raptor’s curiosity is found in its circling overhead while it tries to make sense of an interloper below. This is what the Red-tailed Hawk was doing. 

A young (yellow eyes) Rough-legged Hawk watched the people below. (Feb. 2, 2016) 

And a juvenile Bald Eagle seemed curious about those below. (Jun. 24, 2019)


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Shrike 3


I saw three shrikes yesterday, but it was shrike #3 that puzzled me.

The Northern Shrike is a raptor-like songbird that is around here in the cold season. However, it is not particularly common, so I was unfamiliar with last bird seen.

The first shrike, seen in the morning, was perched on a power wire.

The second shrike, seen at noon, was in a tree.

However, in mid-afternoon, a brownish bird was spotted. It had the strike’s hooked bill, but it lacked a prominent black mask. It turns out to be an immature Northern Shrike.


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Turkey roost


I have occasionally attended a turkey roast, but this was the first time I had seen a turkey roost.

Wild turkeys are not native to this region (when I was a child, there were none to be seen). However, hunting lobbies persuaded Washington State (to our immediate south) to introduce them in the 1960s, and an aggressive introduction program began in the mid-1980s. From there, turkeys spread, first into Idaho, and then into BC. 

While local hunters are allowed to bag them, most people view Wild Turkeys as a curiosity, and maybe a nuisance when they block highways and forage on lawns.

Wild Turkeys do not feed at night, but roost in trees as a protection from predators. It might therefore seem that it would be common to see the turkeys roosting. Alas, they seem to arise earlier in the morning than I do, and I hadn’t seen one in a tree until this morning.

Seen first were many Wild Turkeys along the highway.

However, one holdout was seen still roosting in a tree.


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