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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Thwarted bluets


The sex was good, but quickly things went downhill.

Tule bluets are damselflies, the smallish cousins of dragonflies. While we have a number of species of damselflies, the tule bluet is the one I see most frequently along the lakeshore. August is the time for bluets to mate. Their requirements are few: a partner, a place to perch while mating; and undisturbed access to a place to lay the eggs.

Male and female tule bluets are easily distinguished by colour: the male is bluish, the female is yellowish. Initially, the male transfers sperm from near the tip of his abdomen to the end near his thorax. Then he uses claspers on the end of its abdomen to hold the female by the back of her neck. She, in turn, swings the tip of her abdomen around to receive his sperm. So far, so good.

The couple flies off together to lay the freshly fertilized eggs. He continues to hold her neck and accompany her so as to protect his investment from the incursions of nearby single males, who would highjack her and replace his sperm with their own.

As the couple searches for a place to lay their freshly fertilized eggs, they are relentlessly harassed by single males who wish to take over the female. Here, another male has attacked the couple by climbing on the female’s back during flight.

If running the gauntlet of interloping single males isn’t enough, another problem emerges. The bluets lay their eggs on aquatic weed that has breached the surface of the lake. This year, the aquatic weed has yet to grow tall enough to reach the surface so the damselflies cannot get to it. As I watched, only one couple managed to get close to some weed, but they failed to reach it. Between the relentless harassment and the inaccessible weed, it was not a good morning for bluet couples.


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July goulash


This is a collection of images from this July that did not have postings of their own.

The idiom, snake in the grass, implies treachery. In reality, our garter snake is harmless.

This Cedar Waxwing seemed intent on expressing its opinion.

Here is a Wild Turkey mommy with her eleven chicks.

Mommy osprey has torn off a bit of fish and is feeding it to one of her three chicks.

A female Western Tanager rests between flights.

A juvenile robin has a speckled breast.

We get many different flycatchers during the warm season. This is probably the Dusky Flycatcher.

This family portrait shows mommy osprey (in the back) with her three chicks.

Normally, it is the white-tailed deer that is seen in the valleys. This, however, is the mule deer.


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Flickers fledged


There are only a few days during which one can watch flicker chicks being fed at the entrance to their cavity nests.

When they hatch, chicks are small and rest inside the cavity, so each parent has to go inside to feed them. Chicks become big enough to peek out just before fledging.

This cavity nest contained four chicks. These pictures were taken during the short interval when they were visible. They have now gone on their way.

“Hello, daddy.”

Father has arrived with a crop full of ant’s eggs and is feeding one of his four chicks.

Both parents feed the chicks. Here mommy has arrived to attend to them.

She flies off to fetch more food. A parent’s work day is long.

At the cavity’s entrance, three of the chicks pose for a farewell picture before flying off.


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Sipping minerals


When encountered in the alpine, Bombus melanopygus was sipping nectar from an Alpine Milk-vetch(?). Farther down the mountain it was seen on the ground, apparently sipping minerals from rocks. This was unusual.

The first observation of melanopygus was mundane: It was visiting vetch for nectar.

Later it was seen fighting over access to something on the ground.

The bumblebees then started puddling on the rocks. They were presumably sipping needed minerals in solution from the rocks. Butterflies do this, but it was an unexpected sighting for bees.


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