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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Oct 23, 2012

Delightful winter bird

Winter has arrived ever so slowly, we've had snow.  It didn't stay long, but we definitely have frost and cold.  On Monday morning I was restless.  My feet took me down the street despite the cold and wind.   Migration is pretty much over for us, which always leaves me a little sad, although I'm still seeing the odd Robin.  Robins sometimes overwinter.  Hopefully this means that our winter will be mild compared to most years.

I entered the little forest  thinking I would at least get some photos of Chickadees or another species of the local bird population. I was greeted almost immediately by this Juvenile male Northern Flicker.  He didn't seem at all shy and let me take several dozen photos before he flew to a more distant perch.  The forest was very quiet for a while, and then I could hear Chickadees calling somewhere near the heart of the forest, so I immediately headed there.
Male Juvenile Flicker
Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker, yellow shafted

Sure enough there were lots of Chickadees here.  Oddly enough I couldn't get a single photo, however I did get photos of some birds that were smaller than the Chickadee but I thought for sure they wouldn't turn out.  You see these tiny little birds moved almost as fast as a humming bird would and when I moved just the slightest bit they disappeared. 

I went home puzzled and immediately turned on my computer to do a search while my photos were uploading.  What bird could possibly be smaller than a Chickadee?  It turns out that I got two photos of these birds, which were good enough for identification purposes and had me grinning from ear to ear.  They are Golden Crowned Kinglets.  I never in my wildest dreams expected to see this bird here, but it turns out the Golden Crowned Kinglet winters in the north, from Alberta all the way to Alaska.

Golden Crowned Kinglet 1
Golden Crowned Kinglet 2

Today I went out again, hoping I would spot the little beauties one more time.  There were lots of Downy Woodpeckers.  All very busy gathering their breakfast.  In fact there seemed to be an abundance of Downy Woodpeckers.  There were also many White breasted Nuthatch amongst the Chickadees.
Downy Female
Downy Male
White Breasted Nuthatch
Nuthatch and Downy female

I was in the forest for quite some time and didn't spot the Kinglets.  My hands were beginning to hurt from the cold and the wind was picking up again.  I thought perhaps the Kinglets had moved on to go further north.  I was heading home when I spotted movement low to the ground amongst the bushes on the side of the main trail. 

I froze, except to raise my camera and waited.  Sure enough there they were.  Two tiny little Golden Crowned Kinglets.  They were in constant motion and the dense bushes made them difficult to see, despite a lack of leaves, which made it hard to focus the camera.

In the end I moved forward inadvertently and again they disappeared, leaving me disappointed.  Again I thought for sure that I missed every single shot and went home thinking that if I saw them once, I will see them again sometime, even if it isn't until next year.

Golden Crowned Kinglet in glorious detail
Golden Crowned Kinglet checks me out

I'm sure all my neighbors heard my whoop of joy, when I discovered that I again had two photos of these adorable little beauties, only this time in great detail and full color.  I guess it is time to invest in a warm pair of gloves and a tripod, cold or not I intend to head out again as often as possible.  Who knows what bird I will spot next.


Oct 19, 2012

One second with nature October

                                           Beauty in Motion
Sea Gull


Oct 18, 2012

Fierce winds, downed trees and other unexpected sightings

Leaf litter on side of the road
We've been experiencing extremely windy days of late, and yesterday those winds were icy cold. I expect we will be getting snow any day now.   I headed out a little later than usual, as I had a lot to take care of early in the morning.  I hadn't visited the little forest down the street in a couple of weeks and I was extremely curious as to what I might see in the way of small birds and wildlife on such a windy day.  I also wondered where birds would find safe shelter.

 I noticed as I walked down the street, that the Black-billed magpies and crows had some difficulty flying due to the fierce winds and there wasn't a Pigeon in sight, but the Seagulls were riding the winds with great skill.  The leaves were being blown off the trees at an astonishing rate.  I attempted to get some shots of leaves on the wind, but apparently it takes more skill than I have at the moment.

First victim of the winds
The very first thing I saw as I entered the forest was a fallen tree, right across the well traveled path that divides the forest in two.  This was a healthy tree which often allowed me to photograph many a songbird perched on it's lower limbs.  I shall certainly miss it, although now it blocks my carefully worked private path into the heart of the little forest.

There were no birds at first, at least none that I heard, so I took the time to get some photos of the changing leaves.

Lady bug somewhat sheltered
Pretty red leaves
When I rounded the corner at the end of the main path a little while later, I heard and caught sight of a female White-winged Crossbill.

White-winged Crossbill
Female White-winged Crossbill
I don't often see these birds, certainly not two years in a row, but the sighting bodes well for winter birding this year.   This female had some difficulty keeping her perch in the pine tree where I first caught sight of her, but after finding a more secure perch, sheltered from the wind, she decided to abandon it once she caught sight of me.  Although somewhat disappointed, I wasn't surprised as I was out in the open.  After loosing sight of her completely, I continued on to enter the forest on another path at the rear.

This path too provided the obstacle of another recently fallen tree and at the heart of the forest I discovered a third.  At this point I thought it might be a good idea to get out from under the trees, since there are several very tall trees that are dead but still standing at the center, and the winds were getting worse, coming in fierce gusts, besides I wasn't hearing any birds here at all, not that I could hear much above the rising winds.

Common Redpoll
When I left the forest I paused to have a look around.  There are several houses here about thirty feet from the edge of the forest.  It is the gardens of these homes that face the forest and it is there that I spotted a flock of small birds heading for the trees of one of the sheltered yards.

Redpoll hunting for insects or seeking a secure perch
Trying to keep it's perch

At first they attempted to perch and hunt in the trees closes to the fence, but here the wind was still strong, and it wasn't long after that they moved to trees and bushes next to he house and I lost sight of them.  All in all it was a day of unexpected sightings.  I didn't expect to see live trees knocked down by the force of the wind for example.  I also didn't expect to see Common Redpolls this early in the season, but I am really hoping they and the Crossbills are not just passing through.


Oct 12, 2012

A trip to the Calgary Zoo and a personal discovery


Near the end of September my wonderful daughter arranged a trip to the Calgary Zoo for me. I was very excited and feeling very much like a kid.  You see, this was to be only my second visit to a zoo in my life time and I have heard a lot of good things about that particular Zoo. Including the fact that the animals there are very well cared for, unlike the last Zoo that I visited.  So I couldn't wait to go.

We left at dawn, in order to arrive in time for the zoo to open.

The road to Calgary
The sunrise was absolutely gorgeous.  Unfortunately it was on the wrong side of the vehicle.  Still, there was a lot of other things to see. There are many prairie potholes, ponds, and other, larger bodies of water which were still very much occupied by a surprising number of ducks and geese.  There were cows and horses in the fields and some gorgeous scenery that included low lying fog in valleys with trees in fall colors all around it.

Horse in the field

There was a coyote running in a field alongside the road and I saw an Eagle way off in the distance.  Best of all, about a half hour after sunrise I spotted a huge bull Moose running through another field.

Bull Moose
The drive to Calgary went without a hitch and was very enjoyable.  When we arrived, the zoo had just opened it's doors. The zoo itself is divided into sections and themes based on the country or continent that the animals came from.  There is a Canadian exhibit, an African exhibit and so on.  Since the main part of my excitement about the trip was seeing the Bald Eagle in residence, we went to see the birds first.  Here are just some of the photos that I took.

Megallanic Penguins
Snowy Owl
Juvenile Rough-legged Hawk
Barred Owl
Grey Crowned Crane
The birds are beautiful as you can see.   They were either tearing down the Eagle exhibit for good or performing some sort of maintenance, so I didn't see it, but I'm sure I will see an  Eagle close up sometime soon.  Besides, at this point of my visit my mind was beginning to protest the cages.  Bird should fly free.

Mountain Goat

Next was the Canadian wildlife exhibit.   Here were Mountain Goats, Big Horned Sheep and a Cougar, Black bears and Grizzlies.

Black Bear
These next photos are from the African exhibit.


Since I don't have room here to show you everything that I saw.  The next photos will just show a few more of the highlights.
Tiger cubs
Sandhill Cranes

Lemur in a very unnatural setting
Although I was both delighted so see all the beautiful wildlife and grateful, on the way home I was struck by how much I disliked the fact that the birds and animals I saw were behind fences, bars and glass.  When I looked at my photos, I realized that I had been making every effort to take photos that didn't include the different enclosures.  As you can see, this wasn't always possible.

I couldn't forget how the Gorilla above looked directly at me as if to say, why wont you let me out.  I know that the animals at the Calgary zoo are treated well.  They are healthy and have a reasonable amount of space to roam.  I witnessed an interaction between the Giraffe and an employee at the zoo, and the employee was very patient with the Giraffe who was being very stubborn about going inside for a show.
I also know that many zoo's are doing conservation work.  The Calgary zoo has a breeding program for Whooping Cranes for example.  Zoos also provide an educational service.

Whooping Crane
However, animals do not belong in cages.  This is especially true for animals that typically migrate or stake out large territories, like the Buffalo.  Animals that are very social like the Elephant, should never be forced into isolation, and I firmly believe that the more intelligent species of wildlife such as the wolf, Gorilla and Elephant will suffer the most psychologically from their captivity. 

Canadian winters must be especially difficult for animals like the Elephant, Ostrich and Giraffe, who would be forced into smaller enclosures during that season, since they come from a part of the world that is warmest year round, and I wondered what the zoo did with the Flamingos in winter.

For me the most enjoyable part of the Calgary zoo was the Botanical exhibit, which included a large variety of Butterflies sailing around amongst gorgeous tropical flowers and plants. 

Orange beauty
Giant Hibiscus
Black Beauty
Another Black beauty
But even this exhibit had it's dark side.  These butterflies can never be released into the wild because many of them would perish or become an invasive species.  I learned a lot about wildlife on this trip and I also learned a lot about myself and what I believe.  As much as I loved seeing all the wildlife, I prefer to see it in natural settings and free.  I doubt that I will visit another zoo.



Oct 4, 2012

October at the pond

October pond
Fall is not just about migration, it is about changes in nature as well as weather, and also of gatherings. I discovered the truth of this on the first day of this month when I visited the twin ponds on the south side.

The weather was gloomy and windy. It was very quiet.  There was very little to see in the way of wildlife at first, and I really didn't expect to see much, but it never pays to assume anything when you are out visiting with nature.

The gathering started so slowly that I really didn't catch on right away.
European Starling
It began with my sighting of a lone Starling up in the tree tops.  Where there is one, there is usually more and I soon spotted a small flock, but I was distracted by the sound of some shorebirds behind me.  I love watching shorebirds and I so rarely get to see them, that my attention was immediately diverted.   I was surprised to discover that more than a dozen Greater Yellowlegs were busy feeding and chasing each other all over both of the ponds.

Greater Yellowlegs chasing one another
Greater Yellowlegs searching for food among the rocks
 Some were even resting on sunken logs.

Greater Yellowlegs at rest
I watched them with delight for quite some time and then a couple of Blue Herons arrived.  One was an adult, the other a Juvenile.  I startled the Adult into flight quite unintentionally, but the juvenile didn't seem to be bothered by my presence, as long as I didn't move too quickly.  Trust me when I tell you that I learned  how to stalk the Heron without catching it's attention more than briefly.

The Adult Blue Heron
In the beginning, I ended up sitting under the low branches of a young tree, which was surrounded by some dense bushes that made a nice natural blind. Here I watched the Juvenile Blue Heron hunt for his breakfast for a good long while. It was fascinating, as Herons seem to have endless patience when it comes to hunting prey.

Great Blue Heron Juvenile
Juvenile Heron caught a small fish
Before long I heard the voices of ducks and I looked to the other side of the pond, where some very unfamiliar but duck-like shapes were sitting all in a row on the concrete pipe that allows water to flow from one pond to the next. 

Ducks all in a row

In order to get closer to see what species they were, because I can't wear my glasses when I'm taking photos, I had to get around the Juvenile Heron.  I didn't want to startle him into flight however, so I moved only when his attention was on a fish in the pond.  It seemed to take forever, but while I was sneaking past him, I was rewarded with some closer photos of him.  Trust me when I tell you, I have no problem with that.

Juvenile Great Blue-close up
While more ducks were arriving on the larger pond, I discovered the three ducks on the other side of this pond were either female, or juvenile Common Merganser ducks.  I was delighted.  The last time I saw a Common Merganser, it was a male of the species and that was several years ago. I have never before seen a female or juvenile, which made this encounter rather special.

Merganser ducks
Shaking off the water
The Common Merganser duck is apparently a very quick flier.  I don't know exactly what startled them into flight, but fly they did.  They reminded me of one of those huge french jets at take off, or a loosed bullet, as you can see below.

Mimicking a Concord
The next species to arrive, were the Canada Geese.  They did so in tens, and pairs, and groups of four or five.  It didn't take long for the larger of the ponds to be filled by dozens of geese.

A pair
Canada geese arriving
Over my head
Canada geese gathering to rest, feed and bathe
Some of the smaller birds had also arrived while I was focused on the larger species.  These were mostly White throated Sparrows, but there were also Swainson's Thrush, and Dark-eyed Juncos.

Swainson's thrush

White throated Sparrow
There was so much more to see and share from that day.  For one thing the fall colors at the pond were gorgeous, but I will have to leave that for a future post. In the meantime, if you wish a closer look at the photos above, just click to enlarge.

Susan   -->