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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Dec 31, 2011

Sometimes the Mountain comes to you

Common Crossbill in flight
The last day of 2011 proved to be absolutely amazing.  At sunrise this morning, around 10 am I was waiting for the bus, when a flock of birds swooped in out of nowhere.  As I was asking myself, oh my god what is that bird, and breaking out my camera, the birds settled on a tall pine not twenty feet from me.  I had literally no time to adjust the camera's settings, the wind was gusting and icy cold, but I wasn't going to miss this opportunity, even if it meant missing that bus.

Two males
When I realized I had another lifer, I started chanting- awesome, this is so awesome- as my shutter was clicking away.  Who could blame me, when I had just been wishing I could travel with the purpose of birding, and knew that isn't possible at this time.  I'm sure this has happened to you a time or two, but if it hasn't, I sincerely hope that is does.  There is an old saying that goes something like this: If Mohammed can't go to the Mountain, the Mountain will come to Mohammed.

Common Crossbill - female
Common Crossbill-male

I'm a firm believer that this is true, even though my name isn't Mohammed.  Anyway I felt so good about this encounter, that I went for one last outing later in the day.  I hope your last day of 2011 was a great as mine.

Happy New Year,


Dec 28, 2011

The little forest down the street

Flock of Bohemian Waxwings

The little forest down the street is only about a block and a half long and half a block wide, but it is packed full of a variety of wildlife.  In the year and a half that I have been birding there regularly I have been introduced to at least twenty species of birds and have made many observations.  The most interesting of those, is how the bird populations shift and change in this tiny patch of forest with the seasons. 

Unidentified flycatcher
Tennessee warbler

During the summer of 2009, for instance, this forest was occupied by a nesting pair of Cooper's hawks and although I never saw the adults, I did get many photos of their two juveniles, who spent the summer learning to hunt and fend for themselves.

In January of 2010 a pair of Ravens set up their nest very near by.  When the two Juvenile Cooper's hawks returned at the beginning of April to hunt the forest again, the Ravens chased them off almost immediately, being very intolerant of other predators in their territory, which tends to be very large.  I saw the Ravens do so on a couple of occasion, after which I never saw the Cooper's hawks again.

Orange Crowned Warbler
Ruby Crowned Kinglet
From January to about mid April, 2010 the little forest was occupied mainly by two species of woodpecker and nuthatch, Chickadees, House finches, House Sparrows and shifting flocks of Bohemian waxwings.  However, about the middle of the month I began to encounter some very rapid shifts in bird species population.  Now there was a different species to be observed every few days, beginning with the Dark-eyed Junco, followed by the Ruby Crowned Kinglet, Orange Crowned Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and theYellow-rumped warbler.

Eastern Kingbird
Swainson's thrush
 After a short break where few birds were seen, these were followed by the Gray flycatcher, the Western Tanager, Olive sided Flycatchers, Cedar Waxwings and eventually the Robin.   By May the forest was occupied by a new variety of birds which included Yellow warblers, Cedar waxings, Chipping sparrows and a pair of Mallard ducks.  The Chickadees and House finches were now spread out all over the neighborhood, while the Bohemian Waxwings had returned to the north and the colder climates that they enjoy.
Gray Flycatcher
Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

In the fall, the same rapid shift in bird population and occupation occurred, only in reverse, with the Dark-eyed Junco leaving last.  But there were differences in the bird species I encountered this time.  These included the American Redstart, House Wren, Ovenbird, Swainson's Thrush and Nelson's Sparrows.  It is still amazing to me how such a small natural space can be a home, both temporary and permanent to such a large variety of birds and other wildlife.  I'm certainly looking forward to what this spring will bring in the way of changes for the little forest this spring.


Dec 17, 2011

Christmas Wishes

My Christmas wish this year ~ peace, healing, and good will toward the planet which is our home, and all of it's inhabitants, be they four footed, winged, finned, rooted or two legged.
                                   For those who don't celebrate:

                                    For all those Who do:


Dec 15, 2011

Home Sweet Home

                                         Where does the wildlife live?

Pileated Woodpecker home

Pileated Woodpeckers create square holes, unlike most woodpeckers.  Their nesting hole is created the same way, a new one every year.  Although Pileated Woodpeckers typically choose the highest tree in the forest for their nesting site.  The nest hole above was abandoned, although obviously used at some time, perhaps by another woodpecker species, as there is a second hole dug out  inside.

Nuthatch leaving shelter
I was lucky to capture an image of this Red breasted Nuthatch leaving it's shelter this year, an abandoned woodpecker nest hole.

Muskrat entering it's den
Last spring I captured many images of a Muskrat in a local pond.  I learned that the Muskrat is primarily nocturnal and lives in a den it digs out at the edge of a pond.  The den will have several entrance/ escape tunnels when the Muskrat is done.   In the photo above the Muskrat is heading for it's den, as it was uncomfortable with my presence.
Dug-out colony
Last fall I discovered this colony of homes of simple dugouts around a single tree.  I didn't see the animals that live here.  Ground squirrels perhaps?

This home may have started out as a woodpecker hole, which was then enlarged.  It has since been abandoned, but I found nesting materials inside.
Under a tree

I know that Squirrels will often dig a home amongst and under the roots of trees, but this one was quite large leaving me to speculate about which animal may have lived here.


Dec 14, 2011

One second with Nature: December

The pond

Dec 8, 2011

What Woodpeckers provide

Pileated Woodpecker

I love Woodpeckers and will often stop and just watch them quietly whenever I get the chance.  The things that all Woodpeckers do naturally, provide, not only for their young, but for other wildlife species as well.

Northern Flicker
Aside from ridding trees of a plague of insects, they also build homes which, when abandoned serve as homes for other birds and wildlife.  Or when they dig deeply while mining for beetles, larvae and other bugs, the resulting hole may also become a home for another small bird or creature.
Nuthatch in an abandoned Woodpecker home
Squirrel feasting on tree sap

Some species of Woodpecker, such as the Yellow-bellied sapsucker also provide sustenance.  When they bore their holes in a circular pattern around the trunk to glean the sap of a tree, the sap keeps flowing for some time after the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker has gone.  This then becomes a source of food for other birds, such as the Hummingbird, as well as other wildlife.

Yellow bellied spapsucker

Pileated Woodpecker and Blue Jay

The Pileated Woodpecker not only digs insects out of the bark of live trees, but will also excavate fallen trees in various stages of decay, exposing nests of insects and grubs in the process.  When he does, other creatures  benefit.  And they know it, as shown by the photo above, where not only one, but several Blue Jays waited as he let the wood chips fly.


Dec 2, 2011

Pest control and alternatives to poison

Mechanical owl

In my post on the "Unintentional side effects of poison" a couple of weeks ago, I showed how more than one species of bird or wildlife can perish when we use poison as the means to control pest species such as Mice and Pigeons.  However, pest control, especially for health reasons, is unfortunately necessary.  What isn't, is the use of poison to achieve it because, as it turns out, there are many alternatives available.

The mechanical owl, shown in the photo on the left, was put in place just recently to discourage Pigeons, as well as a pair of Ravens that had nested inside the tower it is perched on this year.  The owl must have a motion sensor attached to it, because when I saw one of the Ravens attempt to land on the top of the tower yesterday, I heard the voice of an owl and, although the owl itself didn't move, the Raven veered off in alarm.   I haven't seen any Pigeons perched at the top since it was installed.  According to my research there are several different versions of a device just like this, that can be installed which gives off the sound of a predator's call or certain types of sounds disliked intensely by specific pest species such as Mice.

There are also several other simple devices that can used to keep birds from landing on buildings, such as sharply slanted edging.  Another is called a bird jolt, which is a flat strip of material installed much like a runner on the edges of a rooftop. This device gives a bird a slight, harmless jolt of electricity to condition it to stay away.  Flat rooftops, or any flat surface, can also be decorated with an object called a bird spider.  It moves with the breeze and startles birds away.  Other objects, devices and methods include mesh barriers, climbing barriers and all natural, non-toxic liquid or pellet scent repellants and more.

Not only are these pest control methods humane and effective, they prevent the death of other innocent species.  Simple preventative measures such as these can even be used around your home keeping your pets and children safe accidentally poisoning.  More can be learned at the following links and other such sites:



Nov 24, 2011

Alberta winter birds

Today's outing brought home both a surprise and new knowledge about winter and birds in Alberta.  In fact, the day brought more than one surprise.  Starting with the temperature outside, which being -4 this morning, is not typical for Alberta at this time of the year.  In fact that's almost balmy for Albertans.  I said hoora to that and unpacked my camera, having packed it away for winter because it doesn't do well in extremely cold weather.  I will admit that I didn't go far and I was hoping to see some Common Redpolls at the very least, but I really wasn't expecting to see much more than the usual neighborhood birds such as Blue Jays, Chickadees, Merlins, Owls and one, or both species of nuthatch, just to name a few.

Goldfinch female

The first of the birds I heard was not one of those, in fact it had me moving right quickly to locate it.  It's song sounded much like that of the Pine Grosbeak, but that, I realized when I saw it, was the wrong id, since those birds are definitely not yellow.  The photos I got aren't very clear because the bird is at the top of a tall tree and, unfortunately, I don't have a telephoto lens yet.  However I can make out just enough of this bird's coloring to identify it, but to do that I had to do some digging.  I ended up doing a general search on the internet about wintering birds in the province and got more than one surprise, all them good. 

The first is that the bird at the top of that tree turns out to be a female American Goldfinch, a first sighting for me.  The second surprise is that many more bird species remain in Alberta over the winter than most people assume, including hawks and ducks.  Although the American Goldfinch does migrate, not all of them do, just like not all Canada Geese migrate.  This of course is wonderful news for me, which means I can't wait to get out there again, provided it isn't too cold.  If you wish to find out which species are regularly sighted in Alberta every winter just follow this link: http://www3.ns.sympatico.ca/maybank/other/abwinter.htm

Purple Finch male and female
My last surprise of the day was another first sighting.   One that I didn't realize I had made, because I was totally focused on getting another glimpse of the Goldfinch.  When I got a good look at all of my photos for today, I discovered a photo of Purple Finches in yet another tree top.  Again the photo isn't particularly good, although better than the one of the Goldfinch.  But that's ok, usually if I see a bird once, I see it again sooner or later, although hopefully sooner.  That means better photos are in store eventually.


Nov 15, 2011

One second with Nature: November

                                                     Nature provides

The unintentional side effects of poison

Common Raven

Many local businesses have resorted to using poison to control pest species such as Pigeons and Rodents.   The reasons for doing so vary from loss of property and profit, to health concerns, and droppings leaving an unsightly mess on the sides of the buildings and rooftops.   However, the use of poison to control these pest species has a very unfortunate side effect that very few people mention, witness or even understand.

The poison that is used does not just target and kill the intended pest species.  In fact it can, and does act like a disease, which spreads to include other species.  Take the Raven for example.  Not only do local Ravens hunt Pigeons for food in winter, thus helping to control their population, they also eat carrion.  Their doing so helps prevent the spread of disease, but has now come with deadly consequence.  Just lately I was told by a friend that the body of a Raven had been found in a Garden Center without wounds, or other indication of injury that may have caused it's death, and this was not the first time this year.  While the Garden center is now closed, they still store seed and so, still implement pest control measures.

A couple of days ago I came across this little bird, in the photo below, outside of a business, near that same garden center.  It was a very sad species introduction for me.  As you can see there are no wounds, there is also no window nearby, ruling out a window strike.  My best guess, since this is a seed eating species, is that he got into some of the poisoned seed left out for the Pigeons on the rooftop.  
Common Redpoll male
Carrion eating species of birds and finches are not the only species to be affected.  Some of the poison that is left out for pest species to consume, is slow acting and creates horrible suffering.  Once the poison takes effect, the creature cannot move very fast or very far.  I have seen this many times, when I worked in a warehouse that stored and sold grain and seed products.  The result is that the poisoned creature can often be found out in the open somewhere between the location of the poison and a place of safety.  This leaves them vulnerable to predators such as the Merlin below, a Peregrine Falcon, an Owl or even a pet cat.

Family cat
While the predators may then instantly relieve their suffering, they in turn will suffer and die, when the Rodent or Pigeon is consumed.  Their bodies, if not left to decompose, will eventually be discovered and consumed by one of the many carrion eating species of wildlife.  If they do not consume the dead or dying creature themselves, as might be the case during the breeding season, then an Owl, Raven, or Merlin will feed the poisoned pest species to their mate, or their young, killing them instead.

While I know that this was not intentional on the part of the decision makers involved, the use of poison as pest control measure has created a very bad, very indiscriminate cycle of death for many wildlife species that needs to be stopped.   However, the sad truth is, this local community isn't the only one to use poison to control pest species populations and eliminate health threats.  Poison has been used for many years by communities the world over.  Are there alternatives?  More in another post.


Nov 9, 2011

Defying Gravity

Going Down

One of the reasons I will never tire of watching birds is the many things that birds are capable of doing.  The White-breasted Nuthatch is one of my favorite small birds to watch, if I get lucky enough to have one occupied with foraging at a single tree for any length of time, that is.
White-breasted Nuthatch just hanging on
As a species they seem to enjoy walking down the tree head first.  Sometimes they walk down in a quick spiral, stopping now and again to swallow a bug.  This one, however entertained me by showing off his strong legs and feet, and defying gravity altogether as he did so.  He walked along the underside of the branch, taking his time and foraging as he went.  Then he just dropped off.

Viewing the world upside down
Looking for bugs

His little wings spread and he was gone in a blink.


Nov 4, 2011

Fall Flames

Northern Flicker in part silhouette

The mind's eye sees more than it's physical counter part picks up.  This can include the brightness and contrast of color, details on the wings of a bird, or the slightest motion.  A camera can help to capture what the physical eye has missed.  In this post I thought I would share some of my favorite photos from this fall.  All but one of these images are modified to emphasize the natural beauty which prompted me to take the photos.

Color flow
Cascade of flame

Sometimes the light is just right to help capture that image on camera, and at other times the natural mix of colors help to frame a momentary scene almost perfectly.

Common Yellowthroat

White-breasted Nuthatch
Golden Flame