Restoration goulash

 

A week ago, this blog crashed: earlier postings could not be seen and nothing more could be posted. The blog is now restored.

A week ago, the wildfire smoke became intolerable, and I headed west to find cleaner air. While away, I continued to explore nature. All the things I show in this restoration goulash are things that have also been seen around the Lake, yet a number of them are distinctly uncommon there.

This female Anna’s Hummingbird is showing iridescent spots on her throat. Around the Lake, Anna’s are seen rarely. I have seen one.

The male Anna’s is noted for its iridescent gorget and crown.

I get to see a Barred Owl at the Lake maybe once a year, yet here I have seen three.

Looking greenish owing to light passing through the leaves, another Barred sits deep in a deciduous tree.

Certainly Wood Ducks are seen around the Lake, but I include this shot of mommy and chick because I liked the lighting.

We have Wilson’s Warblers at the Lake, but I had to go elsewhere to see one.

Second only to the Anna’s in the unlikelihood of it being seen is the Virginia Rail. 

 This marsh bird is not only few in number, but decidedly secretive. 

Here is the (black) chick of the Virginia Rail.

I can see a Merlin a few times a year around the Lake, but I include this picture because it is amusing. Notice the wooden beam extending from below the house peak on the right. It is festooned with wires in an effort to prevent birds from perching on it and defecating. The Merlin’s response: move to the peak and defecated on the roof.

Certainly we have raccoons around the Lake, but I have rarely seen a mommy raccoon with its kit, and certainly not in a tree.

 

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Merlin 1, Catbird 0

 

The Merlin is the larger of our two regular falcons. It often takes songbirds by approaching them rapidly from below and behind in their blind spot. On this occasion a juvenile Merlin had captured and killed a Grey Catbird. 

The juvenile Merlin was seen standing over its prey, and partially blocking a side road. It held its ground with a look that said: “This bird is mine; Stay clear of me.”

We just waited by the side of the road for passage (but took pictures) as it continued to feed. Meanwhile another catbird (the prey’s mate?) was calling from the branch of a tree above us.

After a while, the merlin became skittish and flew off. It and another Merlin complained bitterly about our presence, so we just drove off.

The final flight picture is courtesy of Finn Fraser Grathwol.

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Western toadlets

 

Locals have a thing for toadlets. There are even Toadfests where people help them move from a pond to adjacent woods so as to enable them to cross intervening roadways. But, many toadlets make it to the woods without human intervention. 

It all starts in May with toad amplexus where the Western Toads mate and produce strings of eggs. Then come the tadpoles. Finally the toadlets emerge and head for the woods. That is what we are seeing here. 

A toadlet (about the size of a dime) swims to the shore.

A toadlet then heads across the beach to the woods where it will spend most of its adult life.

 

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July’s hummers

 

Our three regular hummingbirds arrive in April to breed. First males come, soon followed by females. The three species are Rufous, Calliope, and Black-chinned. I have not seen a Calliope since early May (although others have) so I only show the other two.

Rufous males don’t stick around after breeding and begin their migration to western Mexico by early July. So the males are gone. The females stick around for only another few weeks, and are then followed by juveniles in August. It is now mid July and we are still being visited by Rufous females, one of which stopped by a few times this week.

The Black-chinned female is the most frequent visitor. She may be tending a nest, but seems more or less unconcerned by an adjacent human clicking a camera.

Occasionally, a male Black-chinned comes by. He is distinctly skittish. If the watching human so much as twitches, he is off.

The infrequency of the male’s visits made it difficult to obtain a shot of him flashing his purple gorget. Here is one attempt.

 

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Pin feathers

 

By watching eaglets over the last month or so, I discovered pin feathers. Mind you, I would have discovered them much earlier had I done more reading — or kept chickens.

A pin feather is just a feather during its formation. Normally, a feather is composed of non-living material, but when growing, it is enclosed in a protective keratin sheath and is supplied with nurturing blood. What is seen is the long whitish tube extending from a partially completed feather — a somewhat strange sight.

The problem with spotting pin feathers on a recently hatched chick is that the chick is usually deep inside the cup of a nest which is, itself, located high above eye level. By the time the chick emerges, the feathers have already formed.

However, I occasionally watched a nest of Bald Eagles from high on a distant bank, which placed my eye almost at the same height as the shallow nest. Further, the eaglets would occasionally spread their wings in practice flight, and in doing so, display some pin feathers on their wings.

I set the stage with a picture taken in mid-June (2021/06/14). I had used it earlier to illustrate that Bald Eaglets had mainly dark brown plumage, and so were readily confused with Golden Eagles. Most of the feathers shown here had already formed.

However, in a picture taken a week earlier (2021/06/06) white extensions can be seen from some flight feathers. At the time, I thought these were the feather shafts without realizing that they were actually enclosing keratin sheaths and were called pin feathers.

A picture of an eaglet’s spread wing in mid-June (2021/06/14) shows pin feathers on both the flight feathers and dramatically on the underwing coverts.

However, by mid-July (2021/07/11) all feathers look completely formed. Will flight be far off?

I include this picture of the two chicks, just because I like it (2021/06/29).

I then searched through my pictures of nestlings. The only one where I was looking down into the nest was one of robins. The pin feathers are apparent on the heads of the chicks (2016/07/14).

 

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Now cool whitetails

 

I am a hunter — but not the type who shoots to eat; I shoot to admire (and do so with a camera). 

However, if you want to understand some aspects of animal behaviour, you might consider hanging out with those who do shoot to eat. They see and track a great deal. 

Over a week ago, in the midst of the outrageous hot spell (mid to high 30s), I posted a picture of a Steller’s Jay supposedly complaining about the temperature. Karen Pidcock then asked: “How do you think the wild creatures are holding up in this heat?” I didn’t know. 

An internet search revealed that those who shoot to eat believe that deer hide in the shade rather than move about when the temperature is high. Indeed, I saw none during that hot spell. Yet now, with temperatures in the mid 20s, I saw three deer, and a more secretive male was seen twice. So, it seems, the deer are moving again.

A male white-tailed deer looks at me over his shoulder. As his antler development seems a bit late for July, he is probably a (first year) spike deer. 

 

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Round-leaf Orchid

 

Karen Pidcock guided me to a group of these orchids high on a mossy bank above the Kaslo river. I believe they are large round-leaf rein orchids, Platanthera orbiculata. (The small round leaf orchid is a different plant.) This is the the eighth local wild orchid I have photographed. It is also the first orchid I have seen that is pollinated primarily by moths and sports a nectar spur.

This wild orchid was apparently named for the two large roundish leaves at the base of its stem. The flowers grow as a raceme. The other oblong leaves in this picture are queen’s cups.

This is a closeup of a few of the flowers on the raceme. The landing strip for polinators is the labellum, the long petal hanging from the front of the flower. The pollinia are the two orangish pods at the top of the flower. This is discussed in greater detail with the next illustration.

Below is a detail from the centre left of the above picture. This orchid seems to be largely pollinated by a couple of species of noctuid moths, presumably having been attracted by a scent the orchid emitted at night. The moth would approach the illustrated flower from the left landing on the labellum (the landing strip). The moth must extend its long tongue deep into the nectar spur, which is also long to force the moth to press its head against the pollinia, which are then attached to the moth’s compound eye. The moth then carries the pollen to another flower.

There is an evolutionary process here which gradually increases the length of both the moth’s tongue and the nectar spur. The moths with the longest tongues are favoured as they can reach the bottom of the spur and so receive the most nutrients. The flowers with the longest spurs are favoured as their reproductive organs optimally press against the moth which then increases their reproduction. So, each slowly gets longer and longer.

 

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June goulash

 

This is a selection of June images none of which had a posting of its own. While not exclusively birds, there is certainly a preponderance of them.

Two Bald Eagle chicks still in the nest are scrapping over a bit of food.

No summer month would be complete without a shot of a hunting osprey. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Fraser.

Hover flies (a.k.a. flower flies) often mimic bees and wasps to avoid being eaten by birds. 

The Eastern Kingbird is a flycatcher. Here it is chasing something in the air.

I had not seen a heron do this previously. It vigorously shook to toss off something.

Mommy Common Merganser paddled by with her three chicks.

A Cedar Waxwing flew to a new feeding location on a black hawthorn tree. 

I have seen rather few Common Yellowthroats this season, but here is one.

A Tree Swallow looks out of a nest box.

A western garter snake wanders through the grass. It uses its extended tongue to sniff its surroundings. It looks as if it has just discarded its old skin everywhere except on its head. Picture courtesy of Cynthia Fraser.

This is a fledged robin chick. It has a spotted breast and wings flecked with white.

This year has brought us many Brewer’s Blackbirds. The male has yellow eyes and a glossy (almost liquid) black and midnight blue plumage.

Often shots of hummingbirds show the more spectacular male. This is a female Black-Chinned.

This Steller’s Jay looked right at me and squawked, as if to say: “Do something about these outrageously high temperatures!”

 

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Two dragonflies

 

It seemed a bit early to see the first dragonflies of the season, but there they were. And a welcome sight they were. These acrobatic aerial predators are especially partial to mosquitoes, flies, mayflies, midges, and gnats. If the insect flies, a dragonfly captures and eats it. A summer at the beach greatly benefits from the predation of dragonflies.

There are quite a few species of dragonflies. Here are two seen today.

Saffron-winged meadowhawk

Eight-spotted skimmer

 

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Crabbing season

 

The crabbing season has begun, so I went crabbing. 

Mind you, I am not talking about the crabs found in oceans, but the crab spiders found here (and elsewhere).

A crab spider is an ambush predator that waits patiently on a flower for its meal to arrive. Sooner or later, a pollinator — bee, fly, or ant — arrives at the flower. The spider then grabs the prey with its front legs and delivers a deadly dose of venom through its fangs. The venom’s effects are twofold: It paralyzes the insect, and it digests the insect’s insides. The spider then uses its fangs like a straw to drink the insect’s pre-digested insides.

Around here, daisies are favourite hangouts for crab spiders, however they are seen waiting for visitors on other flowers. 

In the morning a female crab spider (Misumena vatia) was stalking prey from a daisy.

In the afternoon, on a different daisy, a crab spider was feasting on a (mining?) bee.

 

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