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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

May 26, 2011

Planting flowers to attract humming birds

Flowering Bush
The theme for the week seems to be flowers.  The trees, bushes and wildflowers everywhere are blooming magnificently and, here in Alberta at least, May long weekend and the week following is for planting flower beds and gardens.  Just by chance last week, I was speaking to someone about Humming birds and the possibility of seeing them in Alberta.   This person got me all fired up about attracting them to my yard since, according to her, they visit both sides of her house every year.  I love Humming birds, and although I have seen them in my Mom's front yard in Ontario,  I have never seen one here in Alberta.

Needless to say, although the weather has been positively dreary, I spent the week planting flowers with the express purpose of attracting Humming birds to my front yard.  Keeping in mind that humming birds need shade, as well as a place to perch and rest, or to escape predators, I planned my flowers beds accordingly.   I have one right under my living room window where a nice big pine tree provides shade for much of the day.  Here will go the bright red Humming bird feeders.  More than one feeder is required, as Humming birds are surprisingly territorial and will fight over the feeders they consider to be part of it.

Ruby Hummer

I also planted a variety of flowers which will be growing at differing heights.  Humming birds are attracted to the color red and to flowers that are trumpet like in shape, but it is apparently important not to plant flowers that represent just one color theme.  So a variety of color is best, according to all I have learned.  Because Humming birds arrive in Alberta in May, I purchased flowers from a garden center in addition to planting seed.

Tree in bloom
I planted flowers in the brightest possible colors, including blue, purple, yellow, orange and red.  Among these are Morning Glory and Snapdragon, which I just love, but I also planted some flowers that I don't particularly care for.  I would love to have planted some Holly Hock, which attracts Humming birds, but there simply wasn't room, as this is a very large plant.   The Humming Bird feeders will go up tomorrow.   Since it is now very near the end of May, I  hope I haven't left it too late, as it will take time for the Humming birds to discover both my flower beds and the feeders.  I will let you know the minute I meet with success in this endeavor.


May 19, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker: the largest remaining species

Pileated Woodpecker surprising encounter
Apparently the Pileated Woodpecker is the only one of the largest woodpecker species in North America that has proven to be adaptable to the devastating effects of deforestation by mankind on the larger woodpecker species.  It has made a nice comeback, after it's numbers declined in the nineteenth and twentieth century.  The other two species of this size, the Ivory billed Woodpecker and Imperial Woodpecker, are thought to be extinct.

They say that this woodpecker is shy.  I have yet to see evidence of that however, since this particular woodpecker was unconcerned by my presence, or the sound of my camera, and let me get within a few feet before flying off.   My first encounter with this female was a total surprise and brought me much joy.   The joy I experienced was equaled by this second encounter, since I haven't seen a member of her species in many years.

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpeckers benefit mankind by mining the trunks of trees for parasitic, or destructive insects and their larvae, which they consume and in so doing, keep the trees which provide our oxygen healthy.  They also benefit and attract other bird species, in that the many holes they drill into tree trunks provide these birds with convenient homes.  This of course benefits birdwatchers, but more importantly the forest itself, because many bird species consume insects.  The more insects that are consumed by these birds the healthier the forest will be after all.

Evidence of Pileated woodpecker presence

Pileated woodpecker female
Pileated Woodpeckers can live up to ten years and do not migrate.  They are territorial and defend their territory vigorously, except during migration, when they are more forgiving of trespassers.  This, and the fact that they will move an egg that has fallen from the nest to a safer location proves that they are intelligent.  These woodpeckers do not use the same nest site two years in a row, and the male creates the cavity for the nest site to attract a female.

When searching for the Pileated Woodpecker look for square holes in tree trunks such as the one shown just above, as this is the only woodpecker to drill holes that are more square than round.   Pileated Woodpeckers will also excavate fallen tree trunks, and so may be seen on the ground quite often.  The male of the species has a  large red stripe below the eye, while the female has a black one, otherwise the two are identical in coloring.


May 15, 2011

Hooded Warbler: Second Stow-away

Hooded Warbler attempting to hide
I was somewhat disappointed by the low number of bird species that I encountered while on  Caribbean Cruise, however, many of the birds I did see, I would never have come across if not on holiday in the Caribbean.   This is likely one of them.

One truth to tell here, despite my love of birds, is that I was less aware as to how, when and where to look for birds then as I am now.  Another is, that I was fortunate to see these birds at all, since, after all, how many birds, besides gulls, do you see when the much of your time is spent out in the middle of the ocean?

Hooded warbler
This Hooded Warbler accompanied us from our first, to our second port of call and spent the majority of it's time attempting to escape all the people and noise on board ship.  At one point, this little beauty was so desperate, that it was hiding behind the liquor bottles at the outdoor bar on deck. 

Hooded Warbler Cropped
Unfortunately, since this bird is only a rare visitor to Alberta, so I am unlikely to see it here. If I ever do, I will be sure to let you know.



May 5, 2011

Three Butterflies wake from hybernation

Mourning Cloak
By the time spring arrives I am usually so desperate in my longing for a glimpse of color and signs of life outdoors, that I tend to notice more of everything than at any other time of year.  Take butterflies for instance, I never would have noticed them, if I wasn't actively looking for any sign of life other than the ordinary.

Last year I did some research and learned that the Mourning Cloak actually hibernates through winter.  Although I mistakenly assumed that it was the only butterfly to do so, it appears that at least two other species do the same.  The Green Comma and the Admiral, which I spotted just this week.

Green Comma
Admiral Butterfly
I find this fact to be absolutely fascinating and, since I am always eager to learn, plan to do some more research to find out just how many species of butterfly hibernate each year.  I also always assumed that all butterflies mate in the fall, only to die a few days later.  Obviously I am in error, and perhaps a butterfly's life cycle is much longer than I thought.  The species of butterflies that I present here, for example, mate in the spring.

I will let you know what I discover in another post.  In the meantime, if you have any knowledge on the subject feel free to comment below.



Virginia Rail: a stow-away

On the window frame
I was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean and wouldn't have spotted this bird if I didn't have a habit of waking at 4:30 or 5 am daily.  I was up on deck with my coffee waiting for the sun to rise, having discovered early on in the cruise, that in the Caribbean the sunset and sunrise are absolutely gorgeous.  This bird quite simply startled me by landing on the railing on the side of the ship.

We were in the middle of the ocean at the time, so the bird had to have been hiding somewhere on board.  Unless of course this species regularly crosses the ocean by flying from island to island, and just needed a convenient place to rest.  However, there was no land in sight.  At least not on the side of the ship that I was on at this particular moment.  Because the bird was obviously distressed by my presence, but stayed anyway, I am going to assume that it couldn't leave.
Perched on the lounger

What ever the reason for it's visit, I was delighted and soon enough the bird relaxed enough, that it actually wandered around deck within a foot or two of where I sat.

Virginia Rail
Virginia Rail - A Close up

The sun wasn't quite up yet, so a flash was still required and this frightened the bird at first, but as you can see I still got some decent, if not excellent photos.   Which was really good, because I never saw the bird again after I returned to my cabin, and assume that it took off for the beach at our next port, several hours later.

The Virginia Rail makes it's home in marshes of Nova Scotia, California, as well as Central and South America.  It is a waterbird which feeds on mollusks in the mud of the marsh.



May 2, 2011

Cooper's hawk returned as Adults

I was both surprised and delighted to discover that the Cooper's hawks I photographed so obsessively last year have returned sporting their adult colors.  It is absolutely incredible how much of a difference the changes have made to their appearance in just a few short months.   Take a look below, and see for yourself.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk
Juvenile Cooper's
Adult Cooper's perched high
Adult Cooper's close up

I just know I will be going back very soon to try to get a clear close up of these beautiful birds.