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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Nov 28, 2012

A winter witch, a mystery flock, and an absence of local birds

Winter witch
The very first thing that caught my eye as I followed a flock of birds into a part of the neighborhood I hadn't yet explored, was this winter witch.  Perhaps she is responsible for producing the icy winds we had today, which made it feel twice as cold as it really was.  Well, ok maybe not, but I wonder if I could blame her for the skittishness of this new and mysterious flock of birds we have in the neighborhood.  They appear to be all black but it is hard to tell since every time I see them they are in silhouette against a cloudy and gloomy sky.
A birding mystery flock
Unidentified flock of birds

The first time I saw them, there were only four at the end of my drive way and I didn't have time to stop and take photos.  Since then the flock seems to have grown to several dozen.  I have seen them almost every day, usually when I'm headed off to work, so today I decided to make a serious effort to get some photos for ID.

However, no sooner did I get within twenty or thirty feet of the tree they were perched in and they'd all take off in a single wave. I spent so much time tracking them around the neighborhood that the winter witch bit my toes, or maybe that was Jack frost.

I decided to admit defeat for now, but I couldn't resist checking out the little forest while I was out, since it was on the way home anyway.

Winter colors and snowfall
So I deliberately turned my back on that flock of birds, turning right at a beautiful birch tree on the way, knowing I would see that flock again.


The forest was strangely quiet when I arrived a little while later.  All I heard was my boots crunching over fresh snow which was kind of eerie.  I stopped often to listen for bird calls, but except for the scolding of a squirrel and the odd car driving by in the distance, I heard nothing. 

Black capped Chickadee
It wasn't until I circled the forest completely that I heard the voices of a Nuthatch and a couple of Chickadees.  Both species were very busy with the task of survival and paid me no attention at all.

Nuthatch Investigating a cavity
White breasted nuthatch
I watched them for a while before I continued on, thinking it was strange that there were so few birds about, even for this time of year.  There should have been House Sparrows, and House Finches, as well as some woodpeckers about.  At the very least I should have seen some Blue Jays or Magpies, but the only other bird's voice I heard briefly was that of a lone Bohemian Waxing way up in the tree tops.  Perhaps the witch teamed up with Jack frost to send even these birds to warmer climes, although I sincerely hope not :)


Nov 23, 2012

Sharing some favorites from this summer

I have been extremely busy this past week between work and another project, and  I haven't had the chance to go out to visit with nature.  So I thought I would just share some of my favorite photos of birds and other delightfully winged creatures from this summer.

Alder Flycatcher
Cape May Warbler
Canada Warbler
Unidentified spiky caterpillar
Ballerina pose-American Redstart female
Hooded Merganser
Lady bird
Paper wasp
Monarch Butterfly
Black chinned Humming bird
Great Horned owl

If you would like a closer view, just click on the photos above to get a larger version.


Nov 17, 2012

One second with nature: November

As some of you may know, winter is not one of my favorite seasons. However, every season has it's own beauty, so I thought I would share a glimpse of the little forest down the street as I discovered it just after a major snow fall.

A winter scene

Nov 16, 2012

Juvenile Eagle in silhouette and a lesson

Eagle attempting to catch a thermal
A few weeks ago, I was getting off the bus at a busy intersection, when I spotted a large bird just above me at a midpoint in the intersection.  It was flying really low, but  it was cloudy and gloomy, and all I really noticed at first was that the bird was in silhouette and rather large.  Raven, I thought, but then revised that thought instantly, because this bird was too large to be a Raven.

At this point I reached for my camera but the bird had already moved quite a distance, and I was kicking myself for not reacting sooner.
Eagle Juvenile or subadult
Still seeking a thermal

The camera's zoom revealed that I had an Eagle in my sights and as fortune would have it he, or she, was trying to catch a thermal and so circled above me for quite some time.  Unfortunately the images I captured are all in silhouette, but I was convinced that I had captured a Golden Eagle and I was positively thrilled.

However, when I looked at my images later in the day doubt crept in.  You see, there was simply too many white patches on this bird to be a Golden Eagle unless it was a Juvenile Bald Eagle or an Eagle in molt.   I needed a positive ID and I suspected that this particular bird was a juvenile or subadult.

My internet search led me to several excellent websites that very helpfully provided lots of information and identifying field marks to look for.  As you can see, my images didn't provide great detail so, the most useful  field mark for me, is that an eagle with a white patch under the armpit is a Bald Eagle.  Golden eagles, both juvenile and adult may have white patches but apparently never in the area where the wing meets the chest of the bird.

White patch under armpit
As you can see in this last image if you click to enlarge the photo, the Eagle that I captured here has white patches under the armpit.  So what I have here is clearly a juvenile or subadult Bald Eagle.   Now you might think that I would be disappointed to discover that I did not capture an image of a Golden Eagle.  

This is not the case however, I did capture the image of an Eagle, the closest image I have yet been able to get.  The species doesn't matter, as I do not often see Eagles in the city.  I also learned a valuable lesson in bird identification.  Life doesn't get better than this for me.


Nov 8, 2012

Nuthatch behavior and changing weather

Tuesday Dawn melt
Tuesday morning almost all of the snow had melted due to warming temperatures.  It felt like spring.  The birds however seemed to know that would change, as they were frantically flitting from one perch to the next in search of food. More so than usual, and members of the nuthatch family most specifically.

Nuthatches are often difficult to spot, but although they are quite active they are not usually as hyperactive as say a Kinglet or Chickadee.  Yet Tuesday morning their frantic foraging made them both more visible and more difficult to capture on camera. They seemed to be everywhere from the tree tops to the forest floor and  they moved at a speed that beat my shutter, which is set pretty high, so that I ended up with very few decent captures.  I began to wonder what was going on, as this certainly was not any behavior I had observed before in Nuthatches. 

Red-breasted Nuthatch
White breasted nuthatch
Brown Creeper

The speediest of them all was the Brown Creeper, who I have only observed in the past as moving at a pace that could best be termed leisurely. 

In fact, this nuthatch, below, was seeking a place to store food.  I watched him for several minutes, as he moved up and down the tree trunk, and finally hammered the food into place.

Seeking a place to store food
I went home slightly puzzled and couldn't get the behavior of these birds off my mind.  There had to be a reason, but I knew I would eventually figure it out.

Wednesday morning

As it happens I didn't have to.  Wednesday morning brought the answer, in the form of heavy snowfall and windy conditions, which lasted all day and well into the night.  Conditions such as these would most certainly make it much more difficult for birds to forage for, and find food.


Nov 1, 2012

What to do with an injured Bird

Tuesday morning was cloudy and windy but I went out on bird watch for a little while anyway hoping to catch a straggler or two, but didn't see much more than Chickadees and Blue Jays, which is not surprising at this time of year.  Tuesday night the temperatures began to drop to more seasonal levels and snow began to fall, and by now I was kind of resigned to the fact that, with the exception of possible irruptive bird species, I wasn't likely to see anything new or unusual til spring.

My son handling Mr Mallard very carefully

So I was completely shocked when my son arrived home very late from work on Wednesday evening carrying a Mallard duck.  The poor bird had an injured wing and seemed half frozen, or shocky.  I didn't know what to do.  We discussed how to care for the bird, and I even researched what they eat, but I really wasn't comfortable with the idea.  What if we did all the wrong things and the bird suffered for it?

Covered with a towel

So while my son showered I Googled and  called Wildlife rescue, who transferred me to wildlife rescue for the city of Edmonton.  They gave me explicit instructions on what to do and not to do for this bird.  I thought that I would pass this information along here, as it is very important to remember if you ever encounter a situation such as this.

1. The instructions were to place the injured bird in a box with a towel beneath it for warmth and to cover him with another towel to keep him warm. 

2.  It is also important to keep the bird quiet and calm, so less light and noise is preferable. 

3.  Do not feed or water the bird

4.  It was then explained that a bird's bones begin healing very quickly, and can be completely healed in as little as two weeks.   So it was imperative to get him to a vet right away.  If it is left too long, the bones heal all wrong which would be very bad for the bird.  He could end up being grounded for life, and his chances of survival would be very low.
The kind lady then explained that because Wildlife Rescue is a volunteer operation there was no one to pick up the bird.  However there is an Emergency Veterinary Clinic in the city, which would take care of the birds injuries free of charge.  The bird would then be transferred to a wildlife rehabilitator or sanctuary from there.  All I had to do was get the bird to the Vet. 

Mr Mallard resting
We didn't have an easy time of it getting the Mallard into a plastic tote.  We didn't have a box.  He was very frightened and despite his injured wing, jumped out of my sons arms almost as soon as he got him in the door.  It took some time to calm him down and then my son gently picked him up off the living room rug to transfer him to the tote.  He didn't enjoy being covered with a towel either, we ended up just draping a towel over top of the tote so he could rest.

I'm glad Mr. Mallard's injuries weren't worse.  Because it took us a while to find a ride to the Vet.  My daughter, sweetie that she is, came to the rescue with her hubby, but we had to wait until she was off work.  It turns out the tote was perfect for the ride to the vet.  We drilled breathing holes in the lid and the dark inside kept the bird calm during the ride.  I'm happy to report that Mr. Mallard is now safe and well as can be.