Hummers three


We are a few weeks into the hummingbird season. It started slowly with the arrival of male Rufous Hummingbirds. Then some female Rufous arrived. Now are added the Calliope and Black-chinned. Sometimes they share a feeder, sometimes they fight to dominate access to what is actually a plentiful resource. 

This is a week-old view of a male Rufous when it had the feeders all to itself.

The male rufous hummers spar over feeder access.

Female Rufous hummers have arrived.

An occasional Black-chinned Hummingbird visits.

Our smallest hummingbird, the Calliope, comes often and seems to go unchallenged by Rufous.

My most spectacular shot of the morning was of a male Rufous Hummingbird that was attacking another hummer from above. Its two notched tail feathers are clearly visible.


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Owl’s nest


The Great Horned Owl is billed as widespread and common throughout North America. But, just try to find one: it has camouflage colouring, it is primarily active at night; it nests unobtrusively high in trees.

My favourite observing location for a Great-Horned nest is, for the moment, interdicted by covid-19. This will pass, but it was nice to have been told of another local nest. Yesterday, I visited it in rain and failing light. And then again this morning.

A Great horned Owl parent prepares to feed its expectant chick.

And offers, what appears to be, the remains of a small bird.

When visited the next morning, the parent was on a branch and the chick was on the nest.


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Flash your gorget


The hummingbird’s gorget is iridescent: See it at one angle to the sun and it is dark, twisted to another angle and it glows brilliantly.

A male Rufous Hummingbird twists its head and flashes its gorget.


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I have been visited by male Rufous Hummingbirds for about a week. But, until yesterday, I only managed poor shots of it. The males arrive here first; I trust the females will be along shortly. And maybe some other species. I look forward to it all.

A male Rufous Hummingbird flies by.


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Spring Azure


How delightful: May began with an azure speck darting under azure skies. The speck was the Spring Azure, a tiny (2 cm wingspan) butterfly whose local flight period corresponds closely with this month. 

The thing about the the Spring Azure is that when it perches, it folds it wings to reveal the camouflage grey on the wing’s underside. It is only when flying that it shows the bluish upper wings — or that has alway been the case for me. Until this morning, that is, when one alighted and spread its wings. Lovely.

A Spring Azure shows the colour of its upper wings even though it has landed.


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April goulash


This is a collection of images from April, each of which lacked a posting of its own.

If a robin is swallowing worms, it must be spring. This is a female.

The Varied Thrush is a close relative of the robin, but unlike it, this thrush is skittish and flees from suspected intruders. Indeed, while the above robin was casually photographed from nearby, this close shot of the Varied Thrush required the use of a car as a bird blind.

Every April brings the Bombylius major in numbers to the back yard. This tiny bee-mimic fly is a nectar robber. It uses its long proboscis to steal nectar and pollen from a flower without ever touching either anthers (male) or stigma (female). In this way, it violates the contract between flowers and insects: nectar in exchange for pollination. However, it is likely that its long legs and proboscis evolved, not for larceny, but to protect it from crab spiders lurking among the flowers.

I know of two heron rookeries adjacent to Kootenay Lake. A number of Great Blue Herons flying around this one suggest that it is active again this year. 

A summer staple around the Lake is the Tree Swallow. It nests in flicker cavities and collects insects for its offspring with acrobatic flights over the water.

A bird with a remarkably similar name, the Tree Sparrow (as distinct from the Tree Swallow), has a rather different behaviour. It passes through here twice a year during migration. When present, it secretively forages for seeds and insects low in the brush.

When I see a Red Squirrel with something in its mouth, that something is usually comestible. But, here the squirrel is carrying nest-building material. 

A bale of painted turtles is lounging on a loafing log. A reasonable question is: Why are they all facing in the same direction? Curiously, there is an amazingly simple answer.

Columbian Ground Squirrels are now out of hibernation, and this one has pulled sentry duty.

It is tempting to imagine that every sparrow one sees is a Song Sparrow. But, while ubiquitous, it is not exclusive. This is a Savanah Sparrow, a bird passing through as it heads north to breed. 

Much the same can be said for the White-crowned Sparrow — most seen are heading north. 

A male osprey flies by with a just-caught fish (likely a Kokanee).

“I cannot abide all this pandering to those irrelevant species. I’m so outta here.”


Posted in birds, bugs, fish, herptiles | 10 Comments

Mountain Bluebird and grub


The Mountain Bluebird is an insectivore that particularly favours eating caterpillars. Yet, in the many pictures I have taken of this bird foraging, it is only rarely that I have captured an image of its successful insect capture.

The birds’ hunting success rate seems as remarkably low as has my own success rate in capturing images of the birds’ insect captures. 

So, it was a delight to see a female Mountain Bluebird which had just captured a caterpillar. 

The caterpillar was quickly aligned with the bluebird’s bill and swallowed.


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Bee or fly?


It is spring and buzzing abounds as pollinators visit flowers. 

If one follows the news media, it is tempting to assume that those pollinators are bees, and in particular, honeybees. Actually, in many cases, they are either bumblebees or are flies. (I have seen no honeybees in my yard so far this spring.)

Indeed, most of the pollinators I have noticed are flies — but, flies that look remarkably like bees. Many are bee mimics. They perform this subterfuge to trick birds into leaving them alone. A bird can find a bee painful to capture, and so will generally also avoid something that looks like a bee.

Despite the fact that many birds cannot easily distinguish a stinging bee from a tasty fly, human observers can. What are the clues?

Bees have small eyes and long antenna; Flies have big eyes and short antennae. (OK, bees also have four wings while flies only have have two — but in the field the wing differences are difficult to spot.) 

A bumblebee (a Bombus bifarius) visits a flower. It has small eyes and long antennae. 

A similar looking fly (a Criorhina sp.) visits the same flowers. It has big eyes and short antennae.


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Hawk & snake


Sometimes one doesn’t know what one has until well after the observation.

As I took the picture, I noticed nothing other than a perched Red-tailed Hawk. When I looked at it on the camera, I noticed that the hawk was holding a stick, possibly for nest building. When I looked at it on the computer, I realized that the stick was a snake. I guessed a species, but when I asked Jakob Dulisse, an experienced local biologist, he eliminated my guess as to a species and opined, western garter snake (Thamnophis elegans). OK, not a stick.

A Red-tailed Hawk has captured a western garter snake,

and flies off with it.


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As I watched a Bombus melanopygus in my yard, it struck me that this springtime bumblebee bore a relationship to a bird in a posting of three days earlier. In that posting, Ruby flashes, I showed a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with a modestly uncommon display of its ruby crown.

Bombus melanopygus seems to be named for the melanin in its abdomen and consequently is also known as the black-tailed bumblebee (melano pygus translates as black buttock). The thing about melanin is that while large quantities of it produce black, small quantities of it produce red. (Indeed, it turns out that redheads are just brunettes with small doses of melanin.) In Bombus melanopygus, the concentration of melanin, and so the colour, varies with latitude: The abdominal segments are black in the south, but red in the north. We are in the north, so Bombus melanopygus shows red segments here.

A Bombus melanopygus flies to a new flower and displays its ruby red abdominal segments.


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