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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Sep 29, 2011

The Beauty of wildflowers

Purple bells near the river
Always when I'm out on one of my bird watch excursions, I'm amazed by the quiet, natural beauty of the forests and fields all around me.   The diversity of life that nature provides never ceases to provide delight and wonder for all the senses.  Take wildflowers for example.  You will not find many of them in your garden, because most of them grow only under certain conditions that would not normally be present there.

This flower reminds me of tiger lilies

I do not know what the names of the flowers in this post are.  I only know that they are beautiful and that some are similar in appearance to flowers you can find in a garden center, while others would never be found there.   Some might be found in places like the Muttart conservatory here in Edmonton, although I'm not sure about that.

Gorgeous yellow
The flowers featured here all grew in wet, boggy fields or near ponds and waterways, where the ground was naturally saturated with water.
Pink beauty in boggy field

Sep 22, 2011

Sweet little Chipmunk

Chipmunk pausing to check his surroundings
The only time I have ever seen Chipmunks is at my mother's in Ontario.  There they are quite large and quite tame.  Then I had a chance encounter with several members of the Chipmunk species the last time I was down in the Edmonton river valley.  These however, were quite tiny in comparison to those at my Mom's.  They were no larger than the length of my hand, which is small, and they were very slim.  Their long striped tails did not seem to add to their size in any way.  In fact, even with their tails they would probably still only cover my hand in length.

Chipmunk running
Chipmunk alarmed
Chipmunk caught on camera by chance

These sweet little Chipmunks were running all over the place seeking for, and stuffing their cheeks with food.  They moved so fast that if you blinked you missed them and like many bird species, these little guys seldom sit still.  At first I couldn't get near them at all, let alone get a photo, until I decided to sit down at a bench, quietly and remained almost motionless.

Sitting right in front of me
When I did some research on the species I learned that there are over twenty different species of Chipmunks and that they are members of the squirrel family.  Like Squirrels they eat insects, nuts, berries, seed, and grains.  Some species of Chipmunk live in burrows and others in bushes, nests or logs.  They also store their food for the winter.  They generally gather food beneath the protective shelter of bushes and logs, in order to stay safe from predators, so I'm surprised that I saw so many of them out in the open.


Sep 16, 2011

Belted Kingfisher another encounter

Belted Kingfisher perched

It really made my day when I realized on my last outing  that I finally had another Belted Kingfisher in my sights.  At first though, I kept hearing this odd sound.  I knew it belonged to a bird, but not which one and I kept envisioning a crane or heron, but even that sound wouldn't match what I heard.  Then I saw a couple of fair sized birds fly by so fast it made my head spin.  I had no time to raise my camera, never mind take the shot and the sound was coming from these birds.  And then they were simply gone.

Naturally I came alive with curiosity, but the birds did not show themselves again, at least not right then.  I continued on and got some very nice shots of several species of birds, including a juvenile Swainson's hawk.  As I circled one pond, heading for the other just a short distance away, those same birds flashed by me again.  This time I managed to get one photo, but they were flying so fast that it was quite blurred.  Again the birds were making that sound, which I can't even begin to describe.  This time though one of them landed at the very top of a tall tree.  Naturally I wasted no time in taking some photos, which is when I realized that these birds had to be Belted Kingfishers.

Kingfisher male
Male Belted Kingfisher
The Belted Kingfisher is unique in shape and so is easily distinguished from other birds.  A large, heavy bill, seemingly several times larger than it's head at first glance, is quite prominent as a distinguishing feature.  A large head with a ragged crest, usually held erect, makes it appear as though this kingfisher has a very short body.  Another thing to keep in mind when looking for the Belted Kingfisher, is that the female is more colorful than the male, with a redish brown 'vest' prominently displayed around her chest.  Both male and female have a blue breast band beneath a white throat, as well as a white belly, while the rest of the body is blue gray in color.   I was very fortunate to catch photos of both a male and female this time, so you can see the difference.

Belted Kingfisher Female
Female Kingfisher

The Belted Kingfisher eats fish, amphibians, snails, flies, small mammals and reptiles.  Their main diet however, consists of fish.  You will see them perched, ready to launch themselves headfirst into the water, on a branch or other surface just above the water.  They may also be seen hovering over the water briefly in search of prey.  Because of their diet, their home is a habitat that is always near bodies of water or waterways.


Sep 8, 2011

Nature's pest control warriors: Olive sided Flycatcher

Olive sided flycatcher in the distance
Many species of birds and other wildlife are beneficial to mankind in a variety of ways.  One very helpful means is the consumption of insects that can be destructive and / or present a health threat to plants, people and other wildlife, if their populations were to soar out of control.  Some species of bird have specialized diets that include specific types of insects, but others birds are not so picky.  These eat a variety of insects such as mosquitoes, flies, beetles, caterpillars, spiders and more.  Of these, some gain sustenance exclusively through the consumption of insects.  The Olive sided flycatcher is one of these species; one of nature's little pest control warriors.

Olive sided flycatcher above
Looking around for prey

The Olive sided flycatcher is a boreal forest bird that consumes mostly flying insects such as flies,bees, ants, moths, and grasshoppers to name a few.  You will find him perched high on a dead branch from which he spots prey and launches himself to capture it.  Small prey is consumed in flight, while larger prey, such as grasshoppers are brought to a perch, where it is bashed against the wood to subdue it.  Like other flycatchers he often returns to the same perch, however, he is the only known flycatcher to use this method of hunting exclusively.
Olive sided flycatcher
Sadly, as a species, the Olive Sided flycatcher is seen less and less often, as their numbers are declining severely, due mostly to winter habitat loss through deforestation, habitat destruction and climate change.  Their numbers have declined by as much as 75% in certain areas in the last forty years.  I was extremely fortunate to capture images of this one.


Sep 2, 2011

Seven rules of birdwatching

When out on bird watch there are seven  rules that I follow that are sensible, and bring both reliable and surprising results.

Bohemian Waxwings

The first rule is to always dress appropriately!  Long sleeves and long pants, sturdy footwear, preferably hiking boots is what I typically wear.  The long sleeves protect against both scratches from the branches of bushes as well as insect bites.  Pant legs are usually slim for the same reason.  I wear a hat to protect against the sun's glare, rain or any insects, such as ticks that can drop down on your head from above.  I also wear a vest with pockets for my cell phone, lighter and other little tools that won't fit into my camera bag.  Accidents do happen, so I like to bring some things to take care of myself in that event.

Bring homemade mosquito repellant!  I don't know about you, but I prefer the home made over the chemical kind which are toxic, even though they are said to be safe.  Sometimes Mosquito populations soar, especially after a lot of rain, and slapping at  Mosquitoes and scratching their bites can ruin a bird watch experience like nothing else can.  This is another reason why, I love Dragonflies and when the city can't spray for mosquitoes I am not concerned.  If the city can't spray it means more Dragonflies will survive.  The more I see the better, because they dine on Mosquitoes, which means their populations decline drastically once the Dragonflies emerge.
Follow that sound!  Unless there is a crashing sound in the forest, one that a large animal might make, I typically follow any unusual sounds.  It just might be coming from the throat of a bird.  This, as I recently learned, can be anything from a cricket like song, to a cat's meow or a bark.  Gray Catbirds meow, and an owl can voice a sound that is remarkably like a dog's bark. 

Gray Catbird
Find new places to explore!  While I do not recommend that you necessarily do this alone, it is a good idea. Otherwise you take the risk of seeing the same species of bird over and over.  Remember that there are a wide variety of habitats in which birds survive.  While some birds prefer to be near water, others prefer leafy trees to pine.  Some prefer mixed forests, others open fields or the edges of them, and some prefer cliff sides.  Not only does exploring new places provide you with new scenery, doing so will provide the adventure of discovering new bird species.

Boat Tailed Grackle Female
Bring the camera equipment!  Taking photos of the birds you see will help you identify the species later.  In the excitement of the moment, when you see a bird that you have never seen before, your mind tends not to take in the necessary details that you need to make the identification.  This is especially true, if you see the bird only briefly.  Identification from such a brief glimpse then becomes frustrating and spoils the experience.  This is never more true than when, for one reason or another, you cannot return to the place where the bird was sighted.  A bird that I once photographed on a vacation does not make it's home here in Alberta, just to give you an example.

Bring extra SD cards and re-chargeable batteries!  Nothing is more frustrating than seeing the card full, or battery low message on the screen of a digital camera.  In my experience, one of these messages tends to come up either when you are in the middle taking photos of a new bird species, getting a close up or when you are not nearly ready to head home because there are many birds all around you.

Leave that camera on! When I first started out bird watching I had a habit of turning the camera off  to conserve the battery when I didn't see any birds.  This turned out to be a very big mistake, as I missed many opportunities for photos.  Many times birds can surprise you by arriving very suddenly and they often don't stick around for very long.  Even very large birds in an open sky.  I now leave my camera on until I am very nearly home.  It was the only solution.