Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hallowe'en and the Ghosthead Nebula

Credit: Mohammad Heydari-Malayeri et al., ESA, NASA
Explanation:  Halloween's origin is ancient and astronomical. Since the fifth century BC, Halloween has been celebrated as a cross-quarter day, a day halfway between an equinox (equal day / equal night) and a solstice (minimum day / maximum night in the northern hemisphere). With a modern calendar, however, the real cross-quarter day will occur next week. Another cross-quarter day is Groundhog's Day Halloween's modern celebration retains historic roots  in dressing to scare away the spirits of the dead. Perhaps a fitting tribute to this ancient holiday is this view of the Ghost Head Nebula taken with Hubble Space Telescope. Similar to the icon of a fictional ghost, NGC 2080 is actually a star forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of our  Milky Way Galaxy. The Ghost Head Nebula spans about 50 light-years and is shown in representative colors.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Red-breasted Nuthatch

 Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) at my feeder yesterday.  

Cornell University's All About Birds begins the description of this species

An intense bundle of energy at your feeder, Red-breasted Nuthatches are tiny, active birds of north woods and western mountains.

All About Birds also describes their call as "excitable yank-yank calls sound like tiny tin horns"

The RBNUs are mostly Winter birds in Southern Sask; however, at least one pair was frequently at my feeders throughout this past year.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Walkin' The Kids

Once in a while I walk my cousin Larry's Kids.  He has three Miniature SchnauzersThey are adorable little dogs, these three.

We're ready, tangled but ready.

Jake and Rx

Bella and Rx

Rx - not a typo.  His name is Rx, as in ℞, short for 'prescription' because his dad is a pharmacist. 

There was a lot of this

And a lot of this

Continual unbraiding of this

And a bit of this

Very good doggers. 

Fox Sparrow In My Yard

Yard Bird!   Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca), apparently of the iliaca group, meaning of the Red and/or Eastern subspecies

 It ate seeds all day with the juncos, sparrows, doves and grackles.  In the very latest afternoon, I saw it at the back of my garden in shrubs whose leaves have not yet fallen.  It was searching the leaves as if looking for insects.  It also flew down to the ground below, did a bit of scratching, ate some snow, and flew back up into the shrubs.

  • The Fox Sparrow is much larger than other sparrows.
  • They scratch in leaves for insects and seeds and often make so much noise that they sound like a much larger animal.
  • Adults are known to perform a broken-wing display to lure potential threats away from the nest.
  • A group of Fox Sparrows are collectively known as a "den", "flock", and "slyness" of sparrows. (

It's a bit late in the year to be seeing this species here.  These sparrows only migrate through my area so are very infrequent visitors.  My neighbour (and cousin) Larry had one in his yard a couple years ago (envy).  That was in the Spring.   

Thursday, October 28, 2010


I needed a lighter, brighter look here. 

European Starlings

European Starling  Sturnus vulgaris

It was a windy, cold, Winter-storm sort of day here yesterday.  By afternoon, six European Starlings had joined the resident birds (Blue Jays, Eurasian Collared Doves, House Finches, House Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Common Grackles, Hairy Woodpeckers) at the feeding locations.  The birds pictured above are in non-breeding plumage.
Although there are approximately 200 million starlings in North America, they are all descendants of approximately 60 birds released in 1890 in Central Park, New York, by Eugene Schieffelin, who was a member of the Acclimation Society of North America reputedly trying to introduce to North America every bird species mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare.  (from Wikipedia)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blue Jay Outside My Window

On My Street

To a certain portion of the local population, this hit of Winter means getting out the slidey things and heading for the valley.

The one boy is doing a fine slide with just his boots.  This is on the street in front of my house.  There's just enough of a downhill slope to keep the momentum going very nicely.   Haven't seen a vehicle go by since 7:30 a.m.  

Solar Prominences and Solar Max!

At the end of September, 2010, our own personal star (no, not You, silly, or any of those jaloonies on that television show) had a bit of a hissy-fit (rather like some of those jaloonies on that television show)

This is a still-photo from Astronomy Photo of the Day.

Credit: SOHO-EIT Consortium, ESA, NASA
Explanation: What's that coming over the edge of the Sun? What might appear at first glance to be some sort of Sun Monster is actually a solar prominence. The above prominence, captured by the Sun-orbiting SOHO satellite earlier this year during an early stage of its eruption, rapidly became one of the largest ever on record. Even as pictured, the prominence is huge -- the Earth would easily fit inside. Asolar prominence is a thin cloud of solar gas held just above the surface by theSun's magnetic field. A quiescent prominence typically lasts about a month, while an eruptive prominence like the one developing above may erupt within hours into a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), expelling hot gas into the Solar System. Although very hot, prominences typically appear dark when viewed against the Sun, since they are slightly cooler than the surface. As our Sun evolves toward Solar maximum over the next three years, more large eruptive prominences are expected.
I say, GO solar prominences, because that translates into magnificent aurora borealis down here on our planet Earth.  AND, I've been invited to go along with some California friends to visit Churchill, Manitoba to see polar bears and Northern Lights, probably next November.  

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Today in My World, Or: I'm Never Ready for Winter

Let's see:  started the day well before the crack of dawn, driving 200 kms directly into a 60-70 kmh NW wind to get to Village RV in Regina by 8:30 a.m.  

Two hours later I was on my way back home,  with the wind behind me at least.  This is an intersection at the newest eastern subdivision along #33  (yes, that's very slippery, icy slush)

Flags at Stoughton

Icy rain freezing on my living room window

My back yard right now.  It looks calm and peaceful, but it isn't.  The wind is gusting, snow is blowing and the doves and grackles are wondering what the heck happened to the sunny warmth of yesterday.  So am I.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another End of Summer Ritual

I spent most of yesterday cleaning my beloved JVD, (Jan Van Diesel), my Class B RV.  We're going to Regina for some winterizing tomorrow and back home to be put in storage.  For the entire Winter?  We'll see how bored I am around March 1st.

Shhhh, I'm thinking of selling and buying a little ultralite camper trailer.  There's so many places I can't go with this rig - so many roads down to good birding spots I have to pass by.  So many trails my Tribute could handle easily.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Sandhill Cranes - Saying Goodbye

This is a small part of a flock of Sandhill Cranes I was near a day or so ago.   I love cranes.  They are my 'Spring Has Come' birds.  I grew up on a farm here on the Canadian Prairies, not far from where I live now.  The Winters are long, dark, and often harshly cold.  I remember my mom running out of the house in the early Spring to listen to the sounds of returning Canada Geese. 

Now, we have Canadas around all year thanks to part of Boundary reservoir being ice-free (power generating station pumping hot water back into the reservoir).  It's the Snow Geese and Sandhills arriving in Spring that get me joyfully running outside to listen. 

These days, in Fall, hearing the cranes means saying 'Goodbye' to the warm parts of the yearly cycle and getting ready for the cold and contemplative times.

If you like crane sounds, turn up your audio.  The short video isn't much, especially since I sort of trail off into my car at the end, but the sound is fairly good.   

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Gyrfalcon Kind of Day

This is a juvenile Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

Gyrfalcons....well, this was another of my nemesis birds, until a couple Winters ago when I saw a grey-morph adult Gyr sitting on a power pole along Fisherman's Road, west of Estevan.  That one sat only long enough for me to have a look with the bins.  But, as all birders know, it was long enough. 

This is the (edited) email exchange today between Guy Wapple (birder friend and one of the people I sent my pix to for confirmation) and I.

Me:  Is this a juv Gyr?
Guy:  I would say definitely say YES!!!  Is the jinx over?  Story please.....
Me: second Gyr. This, however, will really take over as my major sighting so far.  Good thing there wasn't a lot of traffic on #18 between Torquay and Outram, because I must have been the strangest vehicle on the road in a long time.  While ambling back to Estevan... I saw a raptor on a power pole ahead....I was on alert for I drove up slowly, had the camera ready and snapped this photo before I looked with the binocs.  Bird flew on 3-4 poles.  A truck passed me, the bird flew back in the other direction, I turned around, met another truck, caught up with the bird again pole-sitting, this went on (back and forth) twice more, with me being more and more convinced of the Gyr Factor (and people who may have been watching, of the Nut Factor).  Finally the bird got sick and tired of me and flew off across the field to the south of the highway. 
Edward Brinkley's NWF Field Guide to Birds of North America, says:
Gyrfalcon is a relatively rare raptor of Arctic habitats; it only occasionally leaves the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska.  It hunts birds as large as geese, usually simply by chasing them down.  The world's largest falcon, it averages twice as heavy as Peregrine Falcon.  The species varies in color, from white to very dark brown birds.  Most adults in North America are lead gray above, and juveniles are medium brown above.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

For Those About To Bird,

Sigh, I shouldn't try to blog when I'm sleep-deprived.  I can't stand the original title to this post (Can Anything Be More Perfect?).  It doesn't make sense.  More + Perfect = Dumb.  I'm changing it to what it should have been to start out with. 

Original post follows:

Okay, now, The Birdchaser has a blog entry wherein AC/DC is linked to birding...sort of.

For Those About to Bird, We Salute You!
It was just a matter of time to find a way to get one of my fav bands on this blog; next up, Led Zep?  I actually thought I might get Robert Plant on here before Angus.  Just 'cause.

Sandhill Cranes

The day was like this

and several thousand Sandhill Cranes  (Grus canadensis) were flying around.  Here's a few of them.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Extreme Vinyl Cafe

Bet me that I will be up all night reading this.

UpDate:  I Was.  Read it cover-to-cover and savoured every story, every phrase.  This book has mostly stories about Dave and his son, Sam.   Stuart McLean is one of the truly great among writers, humourists and story-tellers. 

Ack!!! I Am Totally Wrong

My American Bittern post of awhile ago ... well, not a bittern at all.  Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron!  Thanks for the correction, Guy.

I've adjusted that post a little - like took out the bittern stuff. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Operation Migration - Whooping Cranes

Live Crane Cam:

Operation Migration 

Click on the above  link for Live Crane Cam and for daily field notes as the 2010 class of Whooping Cranes (the Eastern non-wild flock) makes it's first flight from Michigan to Florida.  The Live Crane Cam (on the ultralites that lead the cranes) starts about 7:00 a.m. Eastern Central on flight days.

Lapland Longspur

Lapland Longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus) are down for the Winter.  They are here in the thousands, hundreds of thousands, bouncing around in huge flocks, landing in fields to eat, at sloughs for a drink of water and quickly rising up, and flying on a little farther.  Click on photo to enlarge - these birds have fun flying.

 Here's a lazy one (and the only one) who didn't fly up before I could get my camera focused.  This bird is in non-breeding plumage.  Lapland Longspurs molt only once a year, in the Fall; the males and females look alike at this stage.

In the Spring, the males look like this, and they perch at the tips of long grass stalks to sing and show off.  (Photo from Wiki)

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology, North American Birds On-Line

One of the most abundant terrestrial birds wintering in northern North America, the Lapland Longspur breeds across vast areas of the Arctic, where it is almost invariably the most visible and abundant bird and sometimes the only nesting songbird. In winter, it is generally uncommon in eastern North America and west of the Rocky Mountains, but huge numbers can be found west of the Great Lakes and across the Great Plains from southern Canada to northern Texas, often feeding on waste grain in agricultural fields; some flocks have been estimated as large as 4 million birds. Such flocks are sometimes victims of mass destruction at lighted structures when their nocturnal migrations and winter wanderings coincide with snowstorms and poor visibility.
This species is known as the Lapland Bunting in Britain. The North American name “longspur” refers to the unusually long claw on the hind toe of this and other species in the genus Calcarius . The other 3 species in the genus are confined to North America, whereas the Lapland Longspur occupies an extensive Holarctic range, breeding across northern Eurasia.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Bluebird of Unhappiness

Nice!  I came across a group of five Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), near the hamlet of Roche Percee, at the Langen Corner, if anyone knows the area.  Now, there are usually Eastern Bluebirds along this part of the Souris River, but I hadn't seen any during the summer.  These birds are a bit of a big deal out here in the Prairies.  The South-eastern corner of Saskatchewan (where I live) is at the species' normal north and west range limit.  The bluebird we usually see out here is the Mountain Bluebird, one of which I also saw today.

When I first saw this little group - two adult males, maybe a female plus juveniles - they were sitting on big round hay bales, flitting down to catch insects.  They flew from the open hay field to the dead trees along the river.

The dead trees along the river are on the south side of the road, which meant that I would have to try to take a picture facing into the light, which was basically flat anyway.

This is my camera.  Distance, bad light and facing into the sun are way beyond its (our combined) capability.

I have borrowed this for a few days

but it won't speak to this

so the only photos of the Eastern Bluebirds are these

which makes me terribly sad and unhappy because this is what the birds really look like.

from National GeographicPhoto by Richard Day/Animals Animals—Earth Scenes


I found this male 'Prairie' Merlin (Falco columbarius richardsonii) out in the country yesterday afternoon.  The prairie version of the Merlin is much paler in colouring than the very dark West Coast race (F.c.suckleyi) or the nominate Northern race (F.c.columbarius) which is somewhere between the two in colour.

There's a resident female Merlin in my neighbourhood.  She regularly swoops into my backyard, scaring the bejeezus out of the sparrows, doves, finches.  Sometimes she nabs one. 

Merlins were formerly known as Pigeon Hawks.   In fact, here's the neighbourhood girl chowing down on one of our lovely Eurasian Collared Doves, which is about the same size as a pigeon.  Photo from last Winter sometime.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Henry's trip to Chudleigh's

Hi, my name is Henry.  I'm pretty excited because my Mom and Dad are taking me somewhere.

Oh wow, we're at Chudleigh's Farm, an all-round fun place to go to see some animals, pick some apples and get pumpkins, and...and...and.  Smells like apples!

Here's me with my pretty Mommy, Holly

This is me and Dad, Greg.  He put on an old flannel shirt just in case someone wanted this ole tractor rev'd up and some work done around this place.

I look like my Dad, don't I?

Well, what's this now?  A puppy?  Sure, I'll try petting him as long as I can hold on to my Dad. 

That's all from me for now, I'm Henry and I live in Toronto, Ontario.