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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jun 29, 2012

Birds amongst the blossoms

I was very fortunate this spring to catch several images of birds perched among, or near various spring blossoms this year. 

Cedar waxwing  and crab apple blossoms
 The crab apple blossoms in the photo above, actually caused the Cedar Waxwing's cinnamon and yellow coloring stand out.

Black bird and blossoms

I must confess that I do not know what species of tree this Red-winged Blackbird is perched on, but the blossoms sure complement the birds coloring.

This Clay-colored sparrow just loved hanging out with the honey suckle blossoms.  In fact, it was the only place I saw this bird over the period of several hours.

This House-wren on the other hand wasn't at all choosey.  I saw her perched on Lilac bushes, in Crab-apple trees and several other blooming trees, whose names I don't know.  Both birds and blossoms are beautiful, but when combined...well you decide.


Jun 22, 2012

Tiny, fiercely protective and courageous

Over the last couple of weeks, I have had occasion to be stunned by the courage of some of the smaller bird species.   You see, I unintentionally ventured too close to their nests, or perhaps their fledgelings.  Although I didn't see them if they were there.  

On the first occasion, it was the Dark-eyed Juncos who started zipping by, and all around me, on the little trail I was following.   They were deliberately vocal too, and quite obviously wanting me to follow them away from the direction I was going.  When I didn't do so, they approached even closer, while their voices rose in volume.  Both male and female were present, each taking it in turn to get closer and closer to me, in an effort to get my attention.

Here the Male Dark-eyed Junco still has a beak full to feed his chicks
The Female Junco protesting loudly
On the second occasion I was bombarded by the voice and attention of a pair of Song Sparrows, coincidentally enough along the same little trail, only a week later.  Except this time I was heading in the opposite direction. It made me wonder what other bird species had chosen nest sites there and it was also brought home to me just how little we humans really see of our surroundings, when we are visiting with nature.  
Very Vocal-Song Sparrow
On another fly-by
Just yesterday the same happened again while I was exploring a new trail alongside the creek in the ravine just a few blocks from my home.  This time it was a pair of White-throated sparrows.  They got so close to me, that I literally had to watch where I put my feet.  At first the male was trying to get my attention from below and the female from above. There was dirt flying from the male's feet as he scurried around on the forest floor trying to get my attention.   In fact, both parents were so quick that I was hard pressed to keep track of them.  They also switched places frequently.

Male White-throated sparrow
Set for another fly-by
I can't imagine the amount of courage it would take for such a tiny creature to accost another who is  likely to be several hundred times larger than itself.  On each of these occasions it was obvious that these were parents in their fiercest protective mode.  Of the three species, the White-throated sparrow was the fastest and the Song-sparrow the loudest, but each was quite determined to protect their young from any perceived threat and I feel privileged to have witnessed the behavior. 


Jun 16, 2012

Great Horned Owl

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the most amazing magic moments take place.  These are the wow moments, when you want to shout awesome, or something similar, at the heavens or dance with joy.   During those moments everything within you sparkles and shines, and you feel much like a child again, and hopefully your gratitude is complete.  I was fortunate to have one of those wow moments today when I visited a local pond that is surrounded by a small patch of  forest.

Owl giving me his back
I was not looking for any bird species in particular.  My intention was to simply enjoy whatever nature had in store for me and I was not disappointed.  My first clue that it was not going to be an ordinary outing was that I kept getting glimpses of bird species and snippets of bird song, but not really seeing much of any one species in particular, except of course the Black-billed Magpies which seem to be everywhere at this time of year.  I also kept hearing what sounded like a raptor fledgeling begging for food.  I had heard the same on a previous outing, but was unable to spot the source.

Great Horned Owl spots me
At this particular location there has been nesting pair of Swainsons Hawks for several years now, and I made the mistaken assumption that I was hearing one of their offspring.  But shortly after arriving this morning, I saw that the Swainson's nest had been destroyed.  Half of it was hanging off the lower portion of the tree it had been built on.  No doubt the heavy snowfall we had earlier this year caused it's collapse.  I also haven't seen much of the Swainson's Hawks recently, when normally they would be the first bird that I see here.

Owl chooses to ignore my presence

In any case I kept hearing this "begging", but couldn't spot the bird and decided to concentrate on other birds.  After circling the forest and spending some time on a side path photographing wildflowers, I realized that the begging sound was really close.  And I just knew something good was about to happen, as I stepped under the canopy of  trees to have a look around.  The forest was really dense here and difficult to navigate, but after negotiating several fallen logs and a downward slope, I finally spotted him.  My very first Great Horned Owl, one who was objecting very loudly to being harassed by hordes of Magpies.  I was stunned, amazed, overjoyed...well it was just awesome.


Jun 14, 2012

One second with nature: June

We've had a lot of rain lately, bringing refreshed beauty and accelerated growth, and in some instances new life.  Have you ever really looked around after a good rainfall?

Raindrops and Petals

Jun 7, 2012

Early morning surprises

The smaller of the two ponds
One of my favorite places to go for bird watch is a relatively new development on the southside of the city. There is a natural area there, right next to Walmart, where there are two ponds, a small forest and some farmers fields, complete with marshy areas. I haven't seen many hawks this year, and I knew I was virtually guaranteed to see some hawks hunting there.

I really needed some alone time as well, away from people, and this location was perfect.  I left earlier  than I usually do, just to ensure that I  would have the place to  myself, and I wasn't disappointed.  I was greeted almost instantly by a pair of Swainson's hawks riding the thermals, but ducked into Walmart  real quick to grab some breakfast at the Timmy's inside. 

When I emerged it wasn't to see the hawks.  Instead I was greeted by this lone, White Pelican.  What a fantastic surprise.  I nearly dumped my coffee on the pavement, as I scrambled to get my camera set and focused.  As I was snapping the photos, questions were popping into my head in rapid succession.  Why is it alone?  What's it doing here?  Are there more?  If so, where? So as I was taking photos I was trying to get to the ponds at the same time.  But hurried glances produced no more than this lone bird.

White Pelican
White Pelican circling above
I watched with delight, as he circled above me for a few more minutes, trying to catch an upward thermal and then he was gone off in a direction I couldn't follow, leaving me somewhat deflated.  I continued on to the smaller of the two ponds, where a bench was waiting and settled in for a bit of absolutely nothing.

My favorite flower
Right next to the bench is a silvery bush with tiny little yellow blooms that smell divine.  I don't know what it is called, but I look forward to taking in it's scent every year.  These little blooms don't last long, just a few days, but I never forget their smell.  I sat and relaxed, taking in the scent of the blooms, listening to the spray of the water fountain in the pond and soaking up the sun.

Swainson's Hawk

Red-necked Grebe
Before long I noticed a Red-necked Grebe on the pond, just drifting, a Swainson's Hawk above, and the song of a Clay-colored Sparrow, and then this gorgeous Swallow-tail landed on a bush a just few feet away.  That's what got me moving again about an hour later.  I took my time trying to locate the Clay-colored sparrow, but although I could hear more than one, they were no-where to be seen.  However, I did come across these Canada Geese at the far end of the pond.

Canada Goose and goslings

Which one is the youngest
I don't know how many goslings there are, but they were closely guarded by four adult geese. Who hissed at me  when I got too close, but once they got used to my presence, they just ignored me.  If you look closely you will see that the goslings are of several age groups.  I left them wondering how many families of Geese, the goslings actually belonged to.

My slow wandering eventually took me across the farmers field to the marshy area on the other side.

Small marsh

Red-tailed hawk

As I was crossing the field I spotted a Red-tailed hawk and saw a couple of Killdeer off in the distance.  When I reached the marshy area, the first thing that I noticed was that the frogs were silent, unlike last time I was here.  It was also much dryer.  I  guess the rains we've had in the past few days have not been enough to keep it from drying out.  There were some deer tracks in the dry mud, as well as the tracks of some very large birds, and, by my guess, a coyote.

Clay-colored sparrows were singing everywhere but there was also one other odd sound, not a song, but definitely a bird, that kept coming to my ears, and then a bird suddenly landed on the ground about twenty feet in front of me, that I didn't recognize.

A meadowlark

It turns out to be my very first Meadowlark.  As is typical when I spot a new bird, I was dancing inside with joy, while I took as many photos as I could and attempted to move closer an inch at a time, over what seemed like an hour.  Just when I was getting close enough to make out some real detail, a Killdeer performed a very noisy flyby and the Meadowlark took off.  Oh well, if I see it once I will see it again.  Although I really wish I had gotten close enough to see if it is an Eastern or Western Meadowlark.

I returned to the ponds and spent the next couple of hours leisurely exploring the forested area and the edge of the fields.  When I returned to the bench by the small pond, I startled a young muskrat back into the water.  Another wonderful surprise, the last one for the day.


I don't know what this one was doing up and about during the day time, since they are nocturnal and it was almost noon by this time, but I'm very glad he was.  Notice how  he uses his tail like a rudder.  He looks fairly big in the water, but was small on land from the quick flash of him that I saw, a little smaller than a guinea pig.



Jun 2, 2012

The Delights of May

May has been both exciting and delightful. The most exciting and rewarding experience, since I began to watch birds and to take their photos. There were many firsts, as well as new discoveries and insights. Too many to include in a single post, as a result every time I began to write a post, I got stuck. Today I decided the simplest way to share, for now, is to just show you some of the highlights.

There was nothing more delightful than this, totally unexpected lifer.  A Black-throated Green Warbler.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Looking for prey

It was followed by the beautiful Magnolia warbler.  I have been hoping to spot one for a couple of years now.

Magnolia Warbler
Showing me his other side

I almost missed this one, I believe it is a Veery, but please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

It took me quite a while to identify the little flycatcher below, but I managed it after consulting several bird books, as well as websites.

Least Flycatcher
A closer look

This little bird below was a gem, but not because I haven't seen the species before.  I have been listening to his song for several years now, one of my favorites, but have never been able to match the song up to the bird, and was absolutely tickled when I finally did last week.

House Wren
When I visited a pond on the south side of the city, I was surprised to stumble across this Killdeer, as I was returning from investigating a marshy area in a farmer's field near the pond.  I don't know which one of us was more startled, the Killdeer or myself.  He blended so well with the dirt, dry stubble, and grass, that I literally didn't see him, although I did hear him.  I didn't think to look at the ground to find him though.

Killdeer in the field
Killdeer in flight
This Philadelphia warbler is another lifer for me.  I mistook him for a Tennessee, until I got a closer look at the photos at home.

Philadelphia Vireo
Keeping an eye on me
The most exciting events of May arrived in the past couple of days.  The first, is not a bird at all, but must be included.  I have never seen a Monarch butterfly, not in any province that I have lived.  Yet this one greeted me as I got off the bus after work, quite literally near my front door.  It was really windy out, so I guess you could say the wind delivered him, and as I understand it, I should not be seeing him at all.

Monarch Butterfly
Settled above me
The last day of May brought this beauty to the pond near my work.  If I hadn't been looking for a pair of Eared Grebes I had spotted the day before, I would have missed him altogether.  Who would have thought I would get so excited over a duck, but he is a stunner.

Hooded Merganser Male
Showing his speed