Dipper chicks

 

This year, I did not catch dipper chicks in the nest. But we did capture them in the creek being fed by a parent.

Three dipper chicks stand with their mouths agape and their wings raised as they beg their parent (in the foreground) for some food. 

The parent brings some food to the anxiously waiting chicks.

The chick’s yellow gape is what prompts the parent to place food there. Photo by Cynthia.

A dipper parent feeds a dipper chick a bug. Photo by Cynthia.

 

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Marmot pups

 

This is the time to watch our new yellow-bellied marmot pups. They face their world sometimes with curiosity, sometimes with caution, and sometimes just play.

This was a family shoot. There are two pictures by daughter, Cynthia, two pictures by  grandson, Finn, and one by me.

Looking at the world with curiosity. Photo by Cynthia.

Looking at the world with caution. Photo by Finn.

This pup appears to have come out of a wet cavity. Photo by Finn.

One marmot pup seems to be inviting the other to play. Photo by Cynthia.

“Hello”

 

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Osprey mating

 

Osprey mating does not occur throughout the year, but rather only over a limited time in the spring. The Osprey mating season is now nearing its completion, but, for some, it is still taking place.

This male spent its time between bringing more sticks and mating.

 

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California quail

 

The California Quail does not belong here. But, this one was seen just west of Nelson yesterday.

The California Quail was seeded in the Okanagan for hunting in the nineteenth century, but it is rarely seen here. It is only my second sighting. Nine years ago I saw one in Waneta. As it generally avoids mountains and forested regions, the Kootenays are not particularly suitable for it.

A California Quail seen at Taghum.

 

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May goulash

 

This is a small collection of pictures taken this May which didn’t have a posting of their own. Well in this case, it is also just a few shots while trying out a camera.

One of my first shots was a close view of an osprey rushing by in flight. 

A tranquil shot featured four painted turtles on a loafing log.

A yellow-bellied marmot constantly called and raised its tail. I thought it sought a partner, but none appeared. When I looked at the pictures, I realized its problem: constipation. 

For a while I watched a female Rufous Hummingbird and separately a male Black-chinned Hummingbird (another one is shown here). But, these two were all that appeared.

Finally, a male Rufous turned up. It was cloudy so the iridescent red gorget showed rarely.

However, now and then, the gorget was stunning.

 

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Hummingbirds, plus

 

Hummingbirds have been seen recently around the region. I have seen a female Rufous Hummingbird for about a week. And of late, a male Black-chinned Hummingbird has arrived.

During the hummingbird season, we get three different species: rufous, black-chinned, and calliope. Well, on rare occasions there has been seen a fourth: the Anna’s. The latter is seen at the Coast and in 2017 was made Vancouver’s official bird, but it is exceeding rare here. So we can count on seeing three species here, but as the sexes differ, there are six forms. I have yet to spot all six in one season.

Nevertheless, while watching the black-chinned, a different visitor stopped by.

A female Rufous Hummingbird flies by.

After a few days, a male Black-chinned Hummingbird frequently appeared and on one occasion it flashed its iridescent purple gorget. 

While I was watching the black-chinned, a juvenile raccoon came around and begged.

 

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Eagle’s lost nest

 

Thursday evening (May 16, 2024) a Bald Eagle’s huge nest came down when the top part of the tree blew off in high wind. The two chicks in the nest were killed in the fall to the ground far below as they were just sprouting feathers and still unable to fly. Their two parents survived because they could fly.

The nest was at Fraser’s Landing beside Cherry Bay on the west arm of Kootenay Lake. The nest had been a favourite of mine for a few years. Each year, I photographed the parents and chicks and watched the nest grow larger and larger. What the surviving parents do now is yet to be seen, but they may try to make another nest nearby.

A discussion of the problem faced by eagle parents follows shots from the last few days.

Less than two weeks before the wind, I had taken this shot of the mother on the nest. The two chicks are still too small to be seen above the brim of the nest, but what is evident is that the nest itself is gargantuan.

This was taken a day and a half after the top of the tree and the nest came down in the strong wind. The top of the tree and the debris of the nest is on the ground. The remaining lower part of the tree is standing on the right,

A day and a half after the wind, the two parents are in an adjacent tree. The male (right) has just flown in with a fish. They must now decided what to do. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.

Now, some reflections on the situation. Eagles like to find a tall largely bare tree (this one was dead) near the water. They started the nest maybe a half-dozen years ago. Each year they added to it, until it was big and heavy enough to bring down the tree in a strong wind. The question is: why was the nest allowed to become so big and heavy that it collapsed the tree and killed their chicks?

The simple answer seems to be parasites. Bald Eagles are at the top of their food chain and there are few other animals that catch them and eat them. But parasites are very small and are found on the tree and in their food. It seems that protecting themselves and their chicks from parasites prompts them to add a new fresh clean layer atop the nest each year. So, the nest gets bigger and bigger and this ultimately almost always causes it to fall in a strong wind. So, their tactic of adding sanitized layers makes sense. Unfortunately, they wait until the nest makes the tree fall rather that quitting after, say four or five years, and at that time building a replacement nest.

To celebrate this tree, here are two pictures from the past.

Both parents and two small chicks in the nest from 2022.

One parent and two larger chicks in the nest from 2021.

This is not the only eagle nest I have watched come and go. But, I want to mention one other dead tree that was visited regularly by Turkey Vultures until it fell down. Alas, as far as I know, it hasn’t been replaced.

For some time, a tree near Red Fish Creek was used by Turkey Vultures to warm their wings in the sunlight. But, these birds did nothing to bring the tree down; it just fell when there was no wind.

 

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May miscellaneous

 

I went looking for something else, but instead found, well, many other things.

On a pond by the river, there was a loafing log with 14 painted turtles in three sizes. The mature females are the largest and there were 2 of them. Next in size were the males (5 of them), and then there were the hatchlings (7 of them). The painted turtles owe their name to the patterns on their ventral (under) side. Although painted turtles are known across the continent, only the western ones actually have patterned ventral surfaces. So, our turtles do, but to see it, you have to turn them over.

This is a male mule deer. You can see its recently started antlers, which will grow to combat size by the end of the summer. The most frequently seen deer at the valley bottom is the female white tail. The mule deer is found at higher altitudes. This one was about 1200 meters above sea level.

It is the time to see recently hatched chicks. These 11 are Mallards with their mommy.

The western trillium is found here, but is not nearly as common as many other flowers. As the name suggests, it is patterned on three: both petals and leaves. I noticed that it was reasonably abundant on the shady side of the road, with none on the other side. Well, it does prefer the shade. It is also spread by ants which love to collect and eat the shell casings but then scatter the seeds. Older flowers fade to a pinky purple. 

The Columbian ground squirrel is common in many fields in the West. However, normally, most parts of it are hidden in the grass. This view of it standing erect on a gravel road was appreciated.

This female Ruffed Grouse was in the back country forest and was difficult to photograph as it kept running back and forth in the bushes. It finally dawned on me that it was reacting to my presence and was trying to persuade me to follow it away from its nest. With this realization, I left and gave it the satisfaction of chasing me off.

 

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Two shorebirds

 

Killdeers, I am used to seeing, as they migrate to this region earlier that other shorebirds. But now I was expecting to see the Spotted Sandpiper. But, no, there was a Solitary Sandpiper, probably on its way north. It spent a long time feeding near the shore.

A Solitary Sandpiper feeds in the shallows. (It has a leaf temporarily caught on its foot.)

But, we did see a Killdeer — indeed there were two of them mating. She has lifted her tail and he has lowered his to allow their cloaca to make contact. Photo by Cynthia Fraser.

 

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Sage Thrasher

 

Wander around enough, and you will sooner or later encounter something offbeat. That is what happened yesterday morning when I found a Sage Thrasher.

The Sage Thrasher is a western bird that is one of the rarest birds in Canada and is Red Listed in BC (candidate for extirpation). It is known in very small numbers in the southern Okanagan, but is largely unknown in this forested region. Apparently in the Okanagan, it is closely associated with remnant sagebrush grasslands, but the loss of this habitat due to development seems to have produced increasing losses in these birds.

The Sage Thasher is about the size of a robin.

It uses undulating flight, where part of the time, its wings are beside its body.

The Sage Thrasher does find some insects for food.

 

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