Hummingbird moth


The hummingbird moth has been billed by Nature Canada as one of Canada’s coolest creatures. Although a moth, it is out during the daytime when it sips nectar by hovering over flowers like a tiny hummingbird.

Somewhat uncommon, I have seen our local species only a couple of times, most recently in 2016. It is the Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis). Four different species of hummingbird moths are found in North America, but sources suggest that thetis is the only one found in British Columbia. 

It is again the time of year to watch for this strange creature, so yesterday I went looking. What I spotted, was clearly a hummingbird moth. It was out in the daytime and sipping nectar as it hovered over flowers. However, it was distinctly different than the thetis normally found in BC. What was it, and how did it get here?

I start with a picture of thetis, a Rocky Mountain Clearwing I took four years ago so as to show the differences with this year’s moth. 

This is the moth seen yesterday. It behaves the same way as thetis as it hovers over a flower sipping nectar. Further, it is about the same size, but its body and wing pattern is different. When this blog was first posted. I thought yesterday’s moth was an eastern hummingbird moth. I was wrong. It is a Yellow-banded Day Sphinx Moth (Proserpinus flavofasciata), something labeled a hawk moth. However, this hawk moth behaves much like the hummingbird moth: it hovers over flowers as it sips nectar.

Here is a side view of the moth sipping nectar.


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Striped coralroot


The striped coralroot is a wild orchid that is both uncommon and widespread. Favouring the deep forest floor that little sunlight reaches, it obtains its energy, not as a result of photosynthesis, but through fungi. Indeed, the plant lacks not only chlorophyll, but even leaves. 

The striped coralroot was the second wild orchid found in Kokanee Creek Park this year.


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Grazing grizzlies


The grizzly bear has a fearsome reputation as a predator. It is earned: the bear is strong and combative. But, while it is a carnivore, most of its time is spent eating plants, often just grazing. 

A grizzly sow (r.h.s.) and her two yearling cubs were grazing in a meadow. While people often suggest that grizzlies eat skunk cabbage, this family ignored them and just went for the grass.

When the bear’s head was down, it was difficult to decide which plant it was eating, but when it lifted its head, the grass dangling from its jaws provided compelling evidence.

The sow is in the foreground and her (male?) cub is behind. A grizzly’s dished face profile is clear.

Here, it looks as if mommy is growling at something and her (female?) cub is cowering. Such is the happenstance of the shot. Actually, the sow is just chewing some grass and the cub is merely lowering its head to graze some more.


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Two courtship displays


I watched two courtship displays of birds this morning. One was obvious; the other was subtle. A courtship display is a behaviour in which an animal (often a male) attempts to attract a mate.

The courtship display of the Wild Turkey is anything but recondite. The male spreads its tail, fluffs up its feathers, its head turns blue, its caruncles turn red, its beard hangs down and its snood elongates. Does it work? Well, the number of Wild Turkeys does seem to be increasing. Consider the role of the snood: a red fleshy protuberance that drapes overtop the bill and hangs down well beyond it. It turns out that females prefer to mate with long-snooded males, and this provides a sexual selection that increases the snood’s length. Of course, in an example of the excesses of the marketplace, the displaying male turkey is used in grocery-store marketing in the fall. Alas, it is the spring when the male displays, not at Thanksgiving.

A year ago, I saw a Wilson’s Snipe perched atop the exact same five-metre-tall snag as today. This struck me as rather odd as this snipe is usually secretive. It is well-camouflaged, shy, and it conceals itself within ground vegetation only to flush when approached. Yet, this is the second time I had seen one chirping its presence out in the open. It turns out that this is a courting behaviour. It sings a loud kit, kit, kit from a rather visible perch to attract a mate.


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Marmot suckles


The pups of the Yellow-bellied Marmot are now out of the burrow. 

But, they are still firmly bonded with mommy.

Here one pup suckles.


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Beauteous deceit


So far, I have photographed six species of wild orchids in Kokanee Creek Park. Always the first to bloom is the beautiful fairy slipper. It has two varieties, eastern and western; the Park gets each.

As with all flowers, the fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa) is pollinated by the insects it attracts, in its case the pollinators are primarily early season bumble bee queens. However, this beauteous flower cheats on the contract between flowers and insects. That contract is the one where flowers offer nectar and pollen to insects in exchange for the service of pollination.

The two yellow objects on this bee’s thorax are pollinia placed inaccessibly there by a fairy slipper.

Alas, the fairy slipper presents a vanilla scent (suggesting to the bee that it has nectar) and fake stamen (implying that it offers pollen), and these lure bees, but the flower provides the bee with neither pollen nor nectar. Rather, the flower glues some pollinia (packages of pollen) onto an inaccessible location of the bee’s thorax in a way that provides the bee with zero benefit. The bee inadvertently then carries the pollinia to another flower which it pollinates.

The fairy slipper provides no payment in exchange for the bee’s service. By the time this early-season bee gets wise to the ruse, pollination is complete. The fairy slipper has accomplished its objective through deception.

An eastern variety of fairy slipper. Here, the fake stamen are yellow.

A western variety of fairy slipper. Here, the fake stamen are white.


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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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