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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Aug 24, 2010

Flight silhouettes of birds: how to tell the difference

There are certain times when it is incredibly easy to mistake one bird for another, especially if all you see is the bird's silhouette.  Typically we see silhouettes when the light is bad such as at dawn or dusk, or on a cloudy day.  Fog, smog or smoke from a forest fire will also make it difficult to see color.   Sometimes however, it is merely the angle of light that is wrong and / or the distance of the object that you see.  A good example is the height at which a bird flies, the greater the height, the smaller the bird appears to be and the less of it's color you are likely to see.

Aug 19, 2010

Red-winged Blackbird

Clinging to the top
Where ever there is water nearby you will hear the distinct call of the Red-winged Blackbird.  The male of this species, if it is a northern bird, is the first to arrive in spring signaling the beginning of migration, with the female approximately three weeks behind him.  They are also the first to depart, usually in September or October, but their departure can be as early as August, which is unfortunately what has happened this year.  I for one always welcome their arrival, as it means that warmer weather and many more outdoor activities are ahead and I always mark their disappearance with a certain amount of sadness.

Aug 14, 2010

Update: Cooper's Hawk Juvenile

I had a little extra time and energy today, and decided to go to the mini forest in my neighborhood again.  There were some changes there since the last time I visited it.  For one thing a couple of trees were downed during the storm we had the other day.  There was also some new wildflowers and a bird species that I have never seen before.

Unfortunately I didn't get any pictures of those particular birds this time, although I'm sure I will eventually.  However, I did get some wonderful photos of the Cooper's Hawks residing in that little forest and I couldn't wait to share them.

Cooper's Hawk Juvenile
Cooper's looking down
Cooper's Hawk almost hidden
Juvenile Cooper's hawk back view
Wary Hawk
Juvenile Cooper's hawk relaxed
Cooper's Hawk watching
Cooper's Hawk Juvenile watching squirrel

The hawk in the photo directly above didn't seems to mind my presence, or the sound of my camera.  In fact she stayed and allowed me to continue taking pictures for quite some time.  It was really quite amazing, although she did distance herself by hopping up to a higher elevation.  Of the other two, one flew off almost immediately and the other, the one with his back to me, tolerated my presence only briefly.

I hope these photos will help you identify these beautiful birds if you happen to see them.  Just click to enlarge them and enjoy.


Aug 11, 2010

Cooper's Hawk: another surprise

Little Forest

My new neighborhood is turning out to be a goldmine in terms of wildlife.  After things finally settled down to a more typical life pace for me once again, I took a walk around the neighborhood to get to know where everything is.  During my walk I discovered a patch of  forest that was left standing when this neighborhood was developed only a couple of blocks from where I now live.  It is about a block in length and about as wide.  There is a lot of wildlife in that tiny little forest, from sparrows and squirrels, to wrens, cedar waxwings, and butterflies just to name a few I have seen so far.  A nice touch for someone like me who loves to be surrounded by nature.

Forest Floor
The first time I explored this patch of forest I kept hearing the voice of birds I had never heard before, but did not get a single glimpse of them despite circling the little forest three times.   Their voices didn't remind me of  birdsong however.  They were different.  More vocal.  The only way to describe the impression I got from those voices, was one of very deliberate communication.  Except that their voices are musical, consisting of the soft sounds birds are capable of, and at the same time carry a great distance.

First Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

For several days after I could hear these birds calling to each other as I waited for the bus to go to work, when I got off the bus, walked to the store, and once even when I got ready for bed.  From their loud calls I got the impression that these birds were large, and because their calls were coming from different directions I understood  that they were not confining themselves to that little forest.  But they obviously preferred it, because more often than not their voices could be heard coming from the direction of that tiny forest.  Beautiful voices that cause me to feel more like I am in the middle of a forest rather than the city and so, since I have always been a curious person, naturally I eventually just had to follow them back to their source.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk perched

It took a couple of trips but I finally spotted the birds in question and got the most amazing surprise.  These birds were juvenile hawks, Cooper's Hawks to be precise.  At first I only saw only one, but as I stepped under the canopy of trees to get a closer look and make use of my camera, I got my second surprise.  There were actually two hawks sitting on opposite sides of the same tree.  The first one I saw had his back to me, showing the spotting which indicates that he is a juvenile, while the second one faced me, perched in the classic pose of a bird that is relatively relaxed.  That is, she had one leg tucked close to her belly.
Cooper's Hawk perched and close up

As has happened once or twice before, I was so excited and happy, that I actually fumbled around with my camera, trying to change the setting so that I would get the best possible pictures and almost messed up completely.  Once again I was not wearing my glasses and so the setting I used at first caused most of the pictures to be blue.  Fortunately one of the  Hawks stayed still in the tree long enough for me to get the setting right and also get a couple of decent pictures.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk close up
Cooper's Hawks, it turns out, do communicate very deliberately, usually with the female making reassuring calls to the male, and  I suppose their young.  They do communicate with visual displays but apparently due to the dense forest, which is their typical habitat, vocal communication is preferred.  Obviously this little patch of forest that was left standing makes a perfect home for the Cooper's Hawk, to my great delight.

Here is what  else I have learned about this hawk so far:  Cooper's hawks are medium sized North American hawks, who make their home anywhere from southern Canada to northern Mexico.  These hawks have begun inhabiting cities and towns, it seems, due to large populations or Rock Pigeons, since their primary diet consists of birds.  Their life span is an average of twelve years, with the oldest known living Cooper's Hawk reaching 20 years. 

Second Juvenile Cooper's hawk in flight

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk spend time as "branchers" before learning to fly, perching in trees around the nest and still receiving food from the adults. The two juvenile Cooper's hawks I saw must be almost ready for independence, since I  saw them fly short distances.  However, I did see the parents fly in to protect them from a Goshawk that had arrived on the edge of the little forest just yesterday.  Goshawks, who also prey primarily on birds, will sometimes hunt juvenile Cooper's hawks.  This is when I heard the incredible range of vocalizations Cooper's Hawks are capable of, from alarm and distress, to fear and reassurance.  An experience that I am unlikely to forget, which also caused me to learn something about the behavior of all of these hawks, both directly by sight and indirectly through my research.

Cooper's hawk in the distance

I believe it was the female who flew in to protect the juveniles, as she seemed about the size of the Goshawk and I know from my research that the male cooper's is smaller than the female, although everything happened so fast that I can't be certain, and I wasn't fortunate enough to get pictures this time.   The female Cooper's hawk can stand as tall as twenty inches in height.  The juvenile Cooper's hawk, as you can see in my pictures, has golden yellow eyes, while the mature hawk has orange to red eyes.  I have yet to see the adults up close, although there is still time before migration and I certainly intend to go back before the end of the season. You can recognize the Cooper's hawks by a long barred tail ending in white, an eyebrow marking similar to the Goshawk, and a black cap on the head which is brown on a juvenile.  There is more information on this hawk at the following sites if, like me, you are interested:


Note: the calls you hear on the link directly above is the alarm call of the Cooper's hawk

Here is a video:


Aug 6, 2010

Osprey sighting number2

This Osprey appears to have decided that it likes the taste of goldfish. I sighted him yesterday as I got off the bus near the park.  I was hesitating and looking across at the park, trying to decide whether I wanted to take a few minutes to relax there before work, since I was early, when I saw him.  Naturally the sight of the bird decided me, and the camera was on the him almost the second that I spotted him.  It took the Osprey two tries, which upset the ducks, but he caught another very large gold fish as you can see.  Once again this bird made my day.

Osprey in flight and close up

Osprey flies just above ground
Osprey so close

Osprey begins stoop
Osprey dives for pond
Osprey clutching fish
Osprey taking off
Osprey gaining height

Osprey with catch above



Aug 5, 2010

Black-eyed Junco: Back yard bird

Black eyed junco perched

I just finished moving and while moving isn't a lot of fun, it did bring new bird watching experiences, beginning in my own back yard on the very first day that I occupied my new abode.  My new neighborhood has a lot of  trees with fruit and berries, a lot of bushes with the same and almost every yard is filled with beautiful flowers.  The result is a notable difference in bird population.  Whereas my old neighborhood was populated mostly by house sparrows, song sparrows, chickadees, blue jays, magpies and crows.  This new one is occupied by many Cedar Waxwings as well as other birds that I have yet to identify.  Naturally I just love knowing that I will have some new discoveries to make in the near future.

Dark bird in the tree

This little bird, a Black-eyed Junco likes to occupy a tree in a neighboring yard right outside my kitchen window, where he sings his little heart out and defends his territory.  Black-eyed Junco's can be positively identified and distinguished from the Black Phoebe, a similar bird, by their pink bill.  As you can see this particular variety stands out with it's simple contrasting coloring of dark upper parts and light underparts.  Other varieties of course have slightly different coloring.

Black-eyed Juncos belong to the sparrow family of birds.  They are flocking forest birds that typically forage on the ground, but will occupy backyards in cities and towns, especially in winter.  In summer their diet consists mostly of insects and seed, and in winter seed and fruit.  They will follow food supply south in winter unless the food supply is stable in the region that they occupy.  So if  fruit and bird feeders are readily available some will stay.  They are apparently not very numerous in Alberta, which might explain why I have never seen this bird before.  Having discovered this, and since my new home happens to have bird feeders in the tree just outside my front door that someone has left behind, I will make an effort to keep the bird feeders filled to capacity.  Hopefully my new little neighbor will stick around this winter.

Black eyed junco on roof
More information about this bird can be found at these links:


Black-eyed Junco's song can be heard here:

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