Disheveled darner


The flight season of the Shadow Darner lasts into October making it perhaps the last dragonfly of the year.  The female that landed on a piling and made feeble attempts to lay eggs. It looked thoroughly disheveled, with its end-of-the-season tattered wings. 

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Iceland Gull


Sometimes it takes a decade to solve a mystery.

Today, I was walking in Kokanee Park and saw a bird that didn’t quite fit my repertoire. Certainly, it was a gull, but which one? When the image was on the computer, it turned out to be an Iceland Gull, and one in its first winter of life.

Now, the name, Iceland Gull, is a tad deceptive. While some of them do visit Iceland, they only do so in the winter. A Canadian population breeds in the Arctic Archipelago and some of them winter along the West Coast. A vanishingly small number of these birds pass through our region in October and November when going between sites. Here was one at the mouth of Kokanee Creek, in late October.

An Iceland Gull in its first winter stops by Kokanee Creek Park in late October.

But how did this solve a decade-old mystery? The clue comes from reading the literature on the Iceland Gull. I learned that it has an unusual behaviour. Unlike other gulls, it: “Picks food off [the] surface of water, often without landing, and swallows prey while flying.” I have seen a gull do this — but only once, and that was ten years ago. While flying, it grabbed a fish and then swallowed it while still on the wing. 

But, was it an Iceland Gull that performed this singular feat?  The migration time fitted. The picture, below, was taken 2011/10/20, only four days off being ten years to the day from my present observation. Further, the pattern of wing plumage is virtually identical to a picture of a nonbreeding adult Iceland Gull shown on All About Birds. Further, two seconds after this picture was taken, the gull, still on the wing, had swallowed the fish.

My suspicion is that the unusual decade-old behaviour of catching and swallowing a fish was because the bird was an Iceland Gull. Now, because this gull’s fishing behaviour is mentioned on a few websites, I suspected that there must be quite a number of pictures online showing an Iceland Gull flying with a fish sticking out of its bill. 

I found none. I cannot imagine that my decade-old shot is unique, but here it is.

An Iceland Gull scarfs a just-grabbed fish during flight. It was seen only about 100 m from where today’s Iceland Gull was seen near the mouth of Kokanee Creek.


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Evidence of cougar attack


I have never seen a cougar (although, it may be that a cougar has seen me).

I suspect that cougars are few in number around here, primarily because deer abound. After all, cougars are deer specialists. While I see a great many deer, it is rare to see evidence that cougars have attacked them. Out of a great many pictures I have taken of deer, few showed evidence of cougar attacks.

Two years ago, I photographed a doe that had flesh wounds from cougar claws. Then in late September of this year, I photographed more evidence of a cougar attack on deer. But, as the final pictures reveal, those pictures only show deer that survived an attack. In the end, the present number of cougars does not seem to have a significant impact on the number of local deer. 

A white-tailed survived a cougar attack that ripped flesh off her side.

Last week’s doe showed claw marks on her side. The deer’s left side showed more marks.

Those two pictures only showed deer that escaped a cougar. How many didn’t escape? In the snow are the remains of one deer that didn’t make it.

And, one more victim.


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Bears in a tree


From August until the snow flies, I keep an eye out at the valley bottoms for black bears. Five were seen apparently fattening up for hibernation: the first two fancied fish; others chose apples. Only the last two stuck around long enough for pictures for they were spotted asleep high in an apple tree. 

A century ago, this valley had many orchards: apples, pears, plums, and cherries. That industry died, but descendants of those trees linger. It is likely that only the wildlife knows where all of the remaining trees are.

A black bear cub snoozed on a branch high in an apple tree. Below it, and partially hidden by the trunk, was another sleeping bear (mommy?).

At one point, the cub lifted its head and drowsily glanced at the distant interlopers.


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Red-tailed Hawk



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September goulash


My usual claim for my monthly goulash is that it presents a collection of images that lacked postings of their own. Again true this month, it was also the case that previous postings this September were remarkably few — only three of them. While I roamed around recording many things, subsequent distractions were such that little was added to the blog. Now, I particularly wanted to see bears, and did spot two of them, but interactions were so brief, they resulted in no pictures. Sigh…. 

I begin with an observation of a Western Toad with an unexpected twist: it is green. Yet, apparently green is an allowable toad variation. Why start with a toad — well, so I can follow it with a toadstool. 

September and October are times to admire the mushrooms, which abound. I believe this is the Amanita muscaria, the cap colour of which can vary from red to orange, and maybe even tan and white. This mushroom is often said to be a toadstool, an informal term long used to describe poisonous mushrooms upon which toads were believed to habitually rest. While things called toadstools are not necessarily poisonous, it is the toxicity of the Amanita muscaria that gives it the reputation of being a toadstool. Alas, I have yet to see a toad sit on a toadstool. 

I suspect that these are Suillus sibiricus, also known as the slippery jack.

Unfortunately, my knowledge of mushrooms is so sparse that this is included only because it looks nice. But, what is it? (Reader Joanne has identified it as orange jelly spot.)

This fish being carried is likely the osprey’s final meal before its migration to Central America. Our  summer’s ospreys have now left us. When an osprey flies off with a freshly caught fish, it usually holds it with both feet apparently so as to better control the fish’s struggles. The osprey has already eaten this fish’s head, so as is often the case with dead fish, only one foot is used to carry it.

A saffron-winged meadowhawk rests on the beach. When younger, only the leading edge of its wings were yellowish. The male even loses that coloration as it matures, but the female’s yellow coloration increases with age. This one is presumably female.

This buck’s antlers have lost their velvet but being rather young, the buck’s antlers are so small that it will not be able to compete successfully for a mate in the forthcoming rut. 

While I did not manage a picture of a black bear, I did manage some of its tracks in mud. The one in the centre is the left hind foot. Behind it (left) is the right front foot. I cannot decide about the track in the front. There is a goose track at the picture bottom.

A garter snake on the beach probes its surroundings with its tongue. To do this, the snake did not need to open its mouth but stuck its tongue out through a groove in its upper lip. The tongue flicks around and collects molecules, but what they are is only determined when the tongue is brought back into the mouth. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Fraser.

I am used to seeing two species of chickadee: black-capped and chestnut-backed. This is only the second time I have seen the Mountain Chickadee at the valley bottom. 

I close with two sky pictures. The first is a refutation of your grade-school teacher who told you that liquid water (necessarily) freezes at temperatures below 0 °C. While water does this when impure and in bulk quantities, there are many circumstances where it does not. So, saying that liquid water freezes below 0°C is only a rule of thumb that sort of works for puddles and ponds. However, smallish, nearly pure, cloud droplets can remain liquid to temperatures of -20 °C and much lower. In this picture, the sharp-edged, whitish clouds are filled with these supercooled water droplets. Hanging below them, the fuzzy grey streamers are made up of ice crystals. They are called fallstreaks and they occur when some of the supercooled cloud droplets do freeze and grow very rapidly as ice crystals which then fall out of the water cloud.

This is a confusing sky. The sharply outlined (aircraft) contrail looks as if it is closer (lower) than the seemingly more distant (higher) clouds. That the contrail is actually above those clouds is evident by the fact that, as the sun is up, the contrail is casting a shadow down upon them. Indeed, it is casting separate shadows on two different cloud layers. That there are two cloud layers is not particularly obvious by just looking at the clouds themselves, but the shadows make the layers obvious.


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Heron snacks


A Great Blue Heron was snacking in a pond. Well, it probably would have been happy for somewhat larger fare than the minnows being caught. However, it persisted and snacked on a great many of them.

The heron would reach into the pond, grab a minnow and then often open its bill so that the minnow floated between its mandibles before the bird tipped its head and swallowed.

Often when the heron opened its bill, the minnow seemed suspended in a film of water.

Fish: “How about negotiating what happens next? Could we go to arbitration?”


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Four flyers


Following the posting about three mammals, it is appropriate to treat birds — well, things that fly. And this includes insects.

A damselfly is a common feature of lakeside living in the summer. But, not this one. When damselflies perch, most species hold their wings parallel to their bodies. The exception is a small group called the spread-wing damselflies. Here is one of them perched.

The White Pelican is a bit of an oddity around here. Yet, they do turn up  now and then around the Lake, usually in flocks. This one is on its own.

The Great Blue Heron is a staple around the Lake. I do marvel at their display of wing feathers. This one is landing on the edge of the river.

I saved the best for the last. Ospreys will soon migrate to Central America. But for the moment, here is an adult osprey flying by with a headless sucker.


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Three mammals


In my wanderings, birds are usually easiest to espy. So, it is fun to watch mammals now and then, even if two of them happen to be in the squirrel family.

Usually when I see a Columbian ground squirrel, it is wary, indeed skittish. So, it came as a surprise to see one largely out of its burrow and chirping away at passing humans. Indeed, it seemed to be harassing people. A clue to its behaviour was its location in a small upland provincial park. This fat squirrel was apparently used to persuading hikers to supply him with comestibles, and now it was doing its best to intimidate each passersby into feeding him. I am reminded of the coyotes in Stanley Park (Vancouver) which have taken to attacking park goers who don’t pay a ransom in food. This ground squirrel looks too small to try that tactic, but it does show a downside of catering to cuteness.

This chipmunk is just too small to intimidate anyone for food. It was content to scrounge for seeds that birds dropped from a feeder.

There are many whitetailed deer at the valley bottoms, yet one usually only sees fawns and does. This buck was seen attempting to navigate thick forest. Because his antlers are still in velvet and are sensitive to contact, passing through a thicket must occasionally be painful.


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August goulash


This comprises a group of August’s images that lacked postings of their own. It is a mixture of local shots and ones from the around Vancouver. Yet, the Coastal ones are all of creatures (one fishy exception) also found at Kootenay Lake — albeit sometimes only occasionally. I open with raptors, all but one being local.

August is the season when Osprey chicks fledge and head out on their own. Here an adult on the nest is holding a fish, while a fledgling lands.

One fledgling watches another arriving with a chunk of fish. The fish was not shared. 

The Cooper’s Hawk is a bit uncommon everywhere. This one was seen in Burnaby.

Despite range maps that suggest that the Merlin is strictly a summer resident of Kootenay Lake, it is a year round staple of the region. As is evident from this shot, the Merlin is not easily spooked. Maybe it is sizing me up as a meal.

Bald Eagles abound around the Lake, but capturing a close dramatic shot requires insight, such as knowing to visit a spawning creek in August. Photo courtesy Cynthia Fraser.

Another bird that hangs out around spawning creeks is the Great Blue Heron.

Now, this is a morsel that many raptors would happily grab: a house mouse. Of course, its name does not mean that it lives in houses any more than does the House Finch. This one was definitely wild.

A crow inspects roadkill (a skunk). However,  traffic was too disruptive for it to feed.

We have river otters on the Lake, but the fact that this picture was taken at the Coast is evident by their catch: a starry flounder.

This is the season to admire a wide range of migrating shorebirds. This is a parade of Long-billed Dowitchers.

This Downy Woodpecker is on a cedar tree.

Perhaps my favourite coastal observation was of a bird seen here, but only rarely: a Green Heron. It apparently has a greenish back, although that wasn’t evident. Smaller than the Great Blue Heron, it is seen here fishing.

Alas, the Green Heron was spooked by the approach of a Great Blue.

The upside was that I was able to capture a flight shot.


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