Crossbill flicker


Experienced birders might suspect that today’s posting is a hoax — it is not. The picture of the crossbill flicker at the bottom is real. 

Crossbills are finches whose bills are adapted to prying seeds from cones.

Flickers, however, are woodpeckers and have parallel mandibles used for carving cavities.

This recently spotted flicker has an unusually long bill that is crossed. While the bird looks healthy, it is unclear how it is able to indulge in a normal flicker’s behaviour with such a bill. I have not previously seen a woodpecker that looks like this, but Gary Davidson tells me that there is an uncommon syndrome known as Avian Keratin Disorder. See also, Deformed Bill Research. First seen twenty years ago among chickadees in Alaska, the disorder has spread to other species and has clearly reached Kootenay Lake.


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Trumpeter visit


On their annual migration south, Trumpeter Swans are visiting the Lake in threes and fours.

These trumpeters are in the waters beside Kokanee Creek Park.

To my surprise, these swans took flight. The trumpeter is a big bird and must run across the water to pick up the speed necessary to become airborne. This gave me the unusual opportunity to photograph the liftoff. But, why did they take flight? Usually when a swan spots a beach walker, it just lazily moves slightly offshore, so this abrupt departure was unexpected.

Now airborne, one of the Trumpeter Swans flies past.


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Rowan robin


The rowan trees are many and heavily laden, but where are the irruptives?

At this time of year, I watch for irruptives. These are birds that don’t visit us each year, but occasionally do so as a result of dramatic, irregular, food-seeking, migrations. So far this season, I have caught glimpses of only White-winged Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, and Pine Siskins. 

However, I am really looking for large flocks of either Pine Grosbeaks or, in particular, Bohemian Waxwings. Some other years, I have seen them feeding on rowan berries (mountain ash), so I have been watching such trees.

Alas, I have not seen any irruptives on our rowan trees as yet. But, the trees have been attracting robins. I will continue to watch.

A robin manoeuvres among the rowan berries.


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Elk browsing


The elk were browsing.

Generally, cervids (the deer family) partition their resources between grazing (root meaning: grass) and browsing (root meaning: buds) so as to limit competition in feeding. Grazers, such as elk, primarily eat grass; Browsers, such white-tailed deer and moose primarily eat buds and leaves. 

The key word here is primarily. When the season changes and their favourite food is scarce, cervids will adapt. So it is that elk, which previously I always had seen grazing had begun to browse.

Elk will graze on grass when it is available (April 30, 2012).

However, this week elk were seen browsing on the needles of Douglas-fir trees.

“Well, what did you expect? I was hungry.”


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Cormorants three


Who can plumb the cormorant’s mind?

Two perched cormorants croak at a third as it flies past. Were they warning it to stay away? Were they welcoming it? Who knows?

Two Double-crested Cormorants react to a third’s flyby with croaks.


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Kingfisher’s plunge


Sometimes a picture is posted merely because I like the action displayed.

A male Belted Kingfisher plunges. It passed out of view before hitting the water.


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Dipper’s bluff called

Spread-wing dipper posted Nov. 6.


Joanne was right.

Earlier this the month, I posted the image shown to the right. I wondered about the dipper’s spread-wing stance. Large birds do this to dry their wings, warm their wings, or cook their parasites. None of these seemed to apply to dippers. Why was it doing this?

Joanne Siderius is the Senior Naturalist at Kokanee Creek Park, where the picture was taken. She said, “Oh, that is a territorial threat posture directed towards another dipper.” Interesting — there was, indeed, another dipper present.

Yesterday’s observations produced a technically poor (sloppy framing, one bird out of focus), but striking image that underscores Joanne’s contention. It shows the aggressive reaction of one dipper to being challenged by the other. Yet, as quickly as tempers flared, they passed. Moments later both dippers were foraging quietly on adjacent portions of the creek. 

(Before showing the attack picture, there is the challenge and surprise picture.)

Two dippers had moved close as they foraged. So, one faced the other and spread its wings in a territorial challenge. This picture was taken just as it realized that the other dipper wasn’t about to cede what it thought was its portion of the creek.

“Yikes, it is calling my bluff. I’m outa here.”


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The Bufflehead Duck is a small waterbird of winter. It has been around the Lake for nearly a month now, and is likely to stay through April of next year.

The striking black and white plumage of the male actually shows iridescent blues and greens.

The female bufflehead (right) has a more muted plumage.


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Wildlife visitors


These coyotes were seen elsewhere last week.

Birds visit my yard; Deer visit my yard; But Sunday’s visitors were unusual: two coyotes followed by two ruffed grouse. 

Upon spotting me, the coyotes quickly vanished into the woods without the courtesy of posing for portraits — so I illustrate the species with two seen elsewhere the week before.

Unlike coyotes, grouse believe they cannot be seen if they don’t move, and this makes them much easier to photograph.

Two ruffed grouse sit invisibly in a thicket on the edge of my yard.


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Dock 'n' duck


Dock 'n' duck is an odd title for a posting that only shows a picture of a circling eagle.

However, this is the second time this year that I watched an interesting behaviour whereby a duck — earlier a mallard, this time a merganser — escaped a predatory Bald Eagle by hiding under a dock. On each occasion, the eagle circled in its attempt to position itself for a dive onto the duck, but the duck out-manoeuvred it.

It made me appreciate our boat docks in a new way. Prior to their construction, a swimming duck had nowhere to hide from a predatory eagle. The duck could dive below the surface, but the eagle would simply await the duck’s need to surface for air, pounce and eat it.

An eagle circles over a dock, but had to give up when the merganser hid beneath the dock.


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