Please feel free to comment, correct me if I am wrong, or provide helpful tips of any kind

Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Aug 24, 2012

Fall migration: A storm delivers some lifers

Pine Siskin

Tuesday night we had a very stormy night, with strong winds, lots of thunder and lighting, and tons of rain.  Normally a good storm has the power to put me to sleep instantly, if I'm not at the window watching the lightning show, that is.  Only this time that didn't happen.  A couple of times, as I was trying to sleep, I heard birds calling, which is very unusual.  So I made up my mind to head out early, to see what the weather had delivered up.

American Goldfinch and Pine Siskin

American Goldfinch

Early morning found me heading out the door dressed in my oldest jeans and shoes, and very much encouraged by the birdsong all around.  The very first birds I saw was a flock of Pine Siskin at the top of a tall pine, a lifer for me.   Not soon after, and only because he seemed to be flying with the Siskins, I spotted my very first American Gold finch.

Orange crowned warbler
Yellow- rumped warbler

I also saw, and was delighted by the Orange crowned warblers,  Yellow-rumped warbler, and  Oven-bird. 

I had placed myself just under the branches of a tree, next to some low bush.  Here I tried not to do much more than move my arms to work the camera, so I wouldn't cause the birds to fly off into another part of the forest.  This is a strategy that works for me more often than not, if I really want to capture some images of wildlife or birds, since I shoot hand-held and the range on my lens isn't great.

Oven bird
Bell's Vireo-a lifer

I was soon literally surrounded by birds, and for a while I wasn't sure where to point my camera.  But once over my initial excitement and delight, I concentrated on capturing as many birds on camera as I could.  I was both relaxed and enjoying my self immensely.  Time seemed to stand still, like it always does when I'm out visiting with nature.

It wasn't long however, before I realized that although some of the birds I was seeing seemed familiar, there was something about them that was different.  Since I wasn't certain and wouldn't be until I had a closer look at my photos later, I dismissed the thought.  So I really had no idea that I already had more than two new lifers on my memory card.

Cape-May warbler female-another lifer
The real excitement came when I caught sight of a large bird, that I just knew I had never seen or even heard of before. A new discovery.  This is the point during my bird watching where I really start to look forward to doing some serious research, something that I truly enjoy doing in a case like this.

Philadelphia Vireo-my first
Canada Warbler 1- another first
Canada Warbler 2
What was the fuss all about you ask?   It took several hours, but I finally found her, and not on-line where expected, but in one of my bird books.  The bird you see below is either a female or juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Although a part of me insists she is female.  She is larger than the Pine-Grosbeak I discovered last year.  When I began my search, I really had no true idea where to start, due to her size.  It was only the shape of her bill that gave me a starting point.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak female or juvenile
Rose-breasted Grosbeak

But the very best part of bird watching for me, is the joy of discovery and learning, with the occasional bit of mystery thrown in the mix.  I will never get tired of it.

Enjoy, Susan

Aug 17, 2012

Once second with nature August

A rare sighting for this part of Alberta.  Captured in Edmonton, July 2012.


Aug 16, 2012

My first hummingbird

One morning this week I went out to try and spot some new birds.  Migration has begun, ever so slowly. There are birds arriving in one's and two's that I don't normally see after spring migration.  At first I didn't see much, so I busied myself taking photos of wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies, knowing that eventually there would be birds about.  Birds have a tendency to move about from place to place in any forest, so all I had to do was wait.


It wasn't long before I began hearing the cheerful song of Chickadees.  Where there are Chickadees, it is quite likely that other birds are about as well.  So I stood very still, under cover of a Mountain Ash tree, and concentrated on noting flurries of movement.  I spotted a juvenile American Redstart almost right away, in amongst the Chickadees.

Juvenile American Redstart

There was nothing more for a few minutes as I continued to stand very still, and then something very tiny zipped by me so fast that I almost believed I had imaged it.  A few seconds later it zipped by me again, it was so fast that when I tried to keep my eye on it I had difficulty following where it went.  It took some time, and I had to step out from under cover to do so, but I finally spotted something the size and color of a new leaf perched at the very top of a dead snag.  If I hadn't been looking there just seconds before, I wouldn't have recognized that it was a bird.

Black-chinned Humming bird
Black-chinned humming bird profile

I realized almost instantly, by the size and bright color, that I had to be looking at a humming bird. While my heart rate kicked up and sounded like a drum to my own ears, I also realized, that it would have to stay perched so I could focus on it with the camera.  The problem was, it would perch only for a second or two before it would zip off again, and much like a butterfly, it was unpredictable as to the direction it would take.

Humming bird is getting alarmed

Now there are times when I can be very patient, especially if patience is essential. So I waited and watched, and waited some more.  It zipped by me several times more but finally landed behind me on the branch of a bush, near the Mountain ash I had been using as a blind of sorts earlier.  I slowly turned around, not wanting to startle it.  But it stayed, and to my great joy, I managed to get about twenty shots off before it disappeared for good.

Humming bird is making eye contact

Thank goodness for shutter speed settings. I couldn't wait to get home to check out my new photos and identify this little jewel of a bird.   I was delighted to find that not a single photo was blurred, although the light hadn't been great. With a little tweeking I managed to make the photos somewhat lighter and identify the humming bird as a female or juvenile Black-chinned humming bird. What a delight.

Here is the humming bird again

I had to go back and see if I could spot it again. This morning I got the little gem on camera in full sunlight.  Although this time it is a male, judging by the forked tail you can just make out through the branches.  Mind, I had to crop the photo so I could share it, but I'm still dancing a little jig in my head.  You may have to click on the photo to see a larger version.


Aug 10, 2012

Within a field of oats

A Field of Oats

A recent visit to the edge of the south side of the city, took me through a field of oats, got me muddy to the ankle, soaked to the waist, and attacked by innumerable insects of the biting persuasion. Yet I went home happy as a clam, because it was all worth it from my point of view.  I discovered that a field such as this, hides much more of nature than it shows, if you will just venture to explore.

There are small pot-hole sized ponds throughout this field for instance. These are surrounded in turn by bushes and small trees, which shelter many song birds with a preference for low bush and/or marshy areas for habitat, such as Meadowlarks and Clay-colored sparrows. 

A prairie pot-hole
Shore-bird foraging for food

These small bodies of water also attract Ducks, Geese, Sora and Herons.  You can hear frogs singing way before you reach the pot-hole they have chosen for their home.  During migration many other species of birds make use of these pot-hole ponds to rest and refresh. Like the as yet unidentified shore bird in this photo just above.

Cherry-faced dragonfly
Butterfly skimming the top of the field

Blue Damselfly
A variety of Butterflies, Dragonflies, Damselflies and crickets also inhabit this field of oats.

Track of a mammal next to my footprint

There were tracks everywhere, most likely fox or coyote, and Deer tracks as well.  The pot-holes shrink and expand, depending on the amount of rainfall.  The wildlife which is most dependent on water will shift, if needed, to another pot-hole with more water.  The frogs did so earlier this year, when there was little rain, and I noticed that the tracks follow where the biggest concentration of wildlife is within the field.  Recent rains have, in turn created pot-holes where there were none before.

Pink wildflower
Yellow wildflower

In between the rows of neatly planted oats, I discovered these two jewels.    

But that is not all to discover.  The most visible creature to be seen, soared above the field. 
Swainson's Hawk
Swainson's Hawk Soars

A predator and a beauty, the Swainson's Hawk, who never fails to make a showing when I visit here.  I have also seen Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harrier's and Merlins here.  Every time I visit, I discover something new and I always wonder what I will see next.   I can't wait to go back.


Aug 4, 2012

Robins and nature's abundance

Time to visit the little forest again. It changes so fast and so often that I always feel as though I might miss out.  This time I wasn't going bird watching alone. I was joined on the main path by this friendly little kitty, who either followed me around or ran ahead like an eager puppy, when he wasn't waiting for me to tag along that is. What a wonderful companion he was, although I did have to warn him away from the squirrels a time or two.

The kitty following me
Kitty waiting for me

The forest had indeed changed again, the fledgling crows are gone and the cheerful Chickadees are  are back in view, with the nesting and raising of the young all done. The city has cut down one of the dead trees and wisely, in my opinion, left the trunk and branches on the ground to recycle naturally.

What really got my attention though, was the abundance of both Robins and berries this year.
American Robin Adult
Juvenile Robin1
There seemed to be a Robin on every branch and in every bush.  They were mostly juveniles , with a few fledgelings mixed in. The cat would disappear occasionally and reappear again to alarm the anxious parents of the fledgelings.  Fortunately for the Robins, he seemed disinterested in them, being far more focused on the squirrels.
Juvenile 2
Juvenile 3
Fledgeling in the berry bush
There were berries everywhere I turned.  There is the green berry that was turning orange and then red on single stemmed plants all over the forest floor.  Then there is the Mountain Ash berry, but I also counted at least four species of berries that I couldn't identify.  Most of these berries are red, and some of the birds were eating them, although I suspect that they might be toxic to people.

Juicy red berries
Berries just ripening
More red berries

There are also berries that are edible, like these Saskatoon berries. 
Saskatoon berries
Yum, they make great jam.  There are both high-bush and low-bush cranberries, and  I also found this gem in the photo below.  I love raspberries and black berries.

Ok, I confess, I cheated, this raspberry bush was growing along the fence of a property that backs on to the little forest.


The crab-apple bush at the entrance to the forest is also producing a bumper-crop of little apples for the birds and squirrels to feed on this winter, although they are still green.  That crab-apple bush supplies a lot of food for the wildlife in the forest almost all year round, from seed, to fruit and flower petals.  The wildlife just loves it.  In fact, I have captured many photos of birds and squirrels on that bush.
Squirrel snacking on Saskatoon berries
For now the birds and squirrels are enjoying the berries as you can sort of see in this photo.