Tuesday, November 30, 2010


UPDATE 03/12/10:  I just received a link re more photos of this storm, plus an interview with the photographer, Sean R. Heavey.  (Thanks, Barry)


Once again, I cannot resist, what with being an absolute weather geek and all. 

This storm cell was photographed (not by me) near Glasgow, Montana this past summer.  The summer before I was camping in my Class B RV in western North Dakota.  A storm similar to this was being warned about on the Sidney, Montana radio station.  Nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.  Fortunately, that storm's path did not coincide with mine.  (Click on photo to enlarge)

Credit & Copyright: Sean R. Heavey

Explanation: Is that a spaceship or a cloud? Although it may seem like an alien mothership, it's actually a impressive thunderstorm cloud called a supercell. Such colossal storm systems center on mesocyclones -- rotating updrafts that can span several kilometers and deliver torrential rain and high winds including tornadoes. Jagged sculptured clouds adorn the supercell's edge, while wind swept dust and rain dominate the center. A tree waits patiently in the foreground. The above supercell cloud was photographed in July west of Glasgow, Montana, , caused minor damage, and lasted several hours before moving on.   From Astronomy Picture of the Day

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Hairy and The Downy

The suet plug feeder hanging on my apple tree will go for days without any one showing any interest at all so it was nice to see a Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) pecking at the suet one afternoon. 

Shortly after the Hairy got settled in for a good feed, a little female Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) showed up.  You can really notice the size difference in these two otherwise very similar birds.

She seemed quite ticked to find the Hairy around and kept edging closer on the branches

until she finally caused her bigger relative to fly off to a hanging seed feeder.  Then, she followed it over there and flushed it out too.  Little brat.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Have I Mentioned

that I absolutely adore Fox Squirrels?  Well, I do.  I love that little smile on their faces and the overall look that says:  "Hi there, I'm cute.  Are you at all interested in giving me a peanut or two?" 

I'm a major distributor of peanuts, much to my neighbour Marian's annoyance.    (Hi, Marian).

Personable little mutt!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

At the Edge of the Ice

Thousands of geese, 99% Canadas with a portion of the smaller bodied, smaller-billed Cacklings, are huddled along the edge of the ice and the shore at Boundary reservoir.  Keeping them company are Mallards, Common Goldeneye, a Bufflehead or two, a Western Grebe, and Hooded Mergansers. 

Currently, the ice front is just south of the Sunset Subdivision.  It will eventually progress another 500-600 m at least.  But, for now, the air temperature has moderated.  Fine with me.  When the ice is on this stretch of water, I can bird from my car using a window mount for my scope.  I like it.  I'm a lazy birder.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Northern Flicker Hybrid

We have had a lack, a dearth, a severe shortage of Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) this Fall.  Really, we usually have scads of these colourful, interesting woodpeckers around.  One finally showed up at my feeders a couple days ago.  Turns out it isn't the average Northern Flicker. 

There are two subspecies of Northern Flickers designated by the colour of the shafts of their primaries (flight-feathers).  

The Yellow-shafted is the eastern type; the one we have where I live.  Both males and females have yellow shafts, yellow undersides to the tail feathers and underwing plus a red crescent on the nape of the neck.  The males have a black malar (moustache).  The Red-shafted is the western version.  Red shafts and undersides of tail feathers and underwing, no red on nape.  The male has a red malar.  Hybrids are common where the regions overlap. 

My visitor is a hybrid.  It is Yellow-shafted, but there's black AND red in the malar.

 I'm a fair distance from regular Red-shafted territory (which is, say, Alberta and west), so this fella is a bit unusual for this area.  He's out of range. 

This sort of explains his sudden arrival - possibly flying ahead of the recent cold front, or got lost dodging a previous storm.  Who knows.  Some birds wander.  He's here now and eating ravinously at my feeders.  I hope he stays.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I cannot help myself.  This Astronomy Picture of the Day talks about 'stardust', which is one of my whimsical labels for all things astronomical.

So here is Stardust In Aries

Credit & Copyright: Alessandro Falesiedi

Explanation: This composition in stardust covers almost 2 degrees on the sky, close to the border of the zodiacal constellation Aries and the plane of our Milky Way Galaxy. At the lower right of the gorgeous skyscape is a dusty blue reflection nebula surrounding a bright star cataloged as van den Bergh 13 (vdB 13), about 1,000 light-years away. At that estimated distance, the cosmic canvas is over 30 light-years across. Also surrounded by scattered blue starlight, vdB 16 lies toward the upper left, while dark dusty nebulae sprawl across the scene. Near the edge of a large molecular cloud, they can hide the newly formed stars and young stellar objects or protostars from prying optical telescopes. Collapsing due to self-gravity, the protostars form around dense cores embedded in the molecular cloud.
(As always, click on photo to enlarge, if you want to)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Something Warm

It's another cloudy, gloomy day where the fresh snow and sky are exactly the same colour; everything else is varying shades of brown.  I need a quick trip to the beach.  A beach.  Any beach. 

Nevis.  That's St. Kitts in the background.  (Tall Ship sailing adventure some years ago, part of which I blogged about here and here and here and here).

No one on the beach mainly because Nevis isn't overly populated and most tourists go to the more popular St. Kitts.  That was starting to change though.  By now, the natural area behind this stretch of beach is likely a golf course.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Icy and Beautiful

At Boundary Dam campground yesterday

Short-Eared Owl

Short-eared Owl  Asio flammeus

From The Owl Pages

A Danish bishop and amateur naturalist, Erich Ludvigsen Pontoppidan, published the first description of this Owl in 1763. In Latin, the word "flammeus" means fiery, flaming, or the colour of fire. Local names for the Short-eared Owl include the Evening Owl, Marsh Owl Bog or Swamp Owl, Grass Owl, Meadow Owl, Mouse-hawk, and Flat-faced Owl.

Does anyone else's eyes go crossed looking at this bird? 

Anyway, this is an owl of the open country.  It hunts mostly by night, but also frequently by day, flying low over grassy fields looking for mice and voles.   See the very deep wing-stroke, and the flight identification marks: the dark spot on the 'wrist'.

Check out these great photos of SEOWs at Nick's website

The Smoke That Honks and Quacks

It was very cold yesterday.  I went down to Boundary Dam to see how far the ice has progressed.  Because of hot water pouring back into the lake from the power plant, half of it remains ice-free.  And because of the temperature variant, there is usually mist coming off the water. 

Starting from the end of the reservoir farthest from the hot water channel...

The mist is getting thicker as I get closer to the warmer water

The people who live around the great Victoria Falls in Africa, call the it The Smoke That Thunders, referring to the huge amount of mist and loud roar of the falls that can be seen and heard for miles.

Here, in the Winter at Boundary Dam, we have The Smoke That Honks and Quacks.  There are thousands of Canada Geese and Mallards out there on the water, but can't see 'em for the 'smoke'.

This is the boat launch directly across from the hot-water channel. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

I Know It Is Cold When

the roof of my house emits a sharp CRACK every so often.  -27C.  I truly hate these extremely cold temperatures.  Thankfully, there is no wind this morning.

As much as I dislike to go outdoors in this cold, I dutifully pulled on the seriously warm outdoor wear to go spread out an extra large portion of birdseed.  That was just before the sky lightened.  It's slightly cloudy this morning, so no bright sunny dawn today.  There would likely be sun dogs in the sky.

The birds started arriving as soon as I got back indoors.  House Sparrows, House Finches, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a lone Dark-eyed Junco.  Wonder where he came from?  He wasn't around yesterday.  I haven't had any juncos in a few weeks. 

Now the doves are flying in.  This cold is very hard on their feet.  Toes will be frost-bitten.  But most will survive the cold (maybe not the Merlin); as I've said before, they are survivors, these doves.  I know they are cold, though.  They fly in from whatever spruce tree is home, perch briefly on an overhead wire maybe, flutter down for a minute or so of fast seed pick-up, then fly back to the very relative warmth of the thick evergreen boughs.

I wonder whether the Great Blue Heron I saw a few days ago got it together and flew off for warmer climates.  I hope so. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Cattle Drive

A couple Sundays ago, I went for an early morning birding drive.  It was a day just like the one currently unfolding except it was 25 degrees C warmer, with a tad less snow, so I didn't have to shovel out the driveway before I left. 

Uh-oh.  Cattle Drive. 

I wanted to be on the road they were headed.  Hmmm,

A couple hundred cows and their calves ambling along could take a while

So turned around and found a hen Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) high-tailin' it across the stubble

And shortly after, a group of males flushed from the ditch.  I wasn't ready for an action shot, but here it is anyway.

My mission this winter is to get some decent Ring-necked Pheasant photos.  They are crafty birds.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Mountain-Climbing Dream

Whew, I woke up from a dream wherein I was about to climb Mount Rundle at Banff.  One moment I was gazing at the mountain, the next I was geared up to start climbing the steep face.  I don't do mountain climbing.  I'm not afraid of heights but I do have a big fear of falling.  This was a bit of a nightmare!  At least I didn't wake up clinging to a rock wall unable to make myself take the next step....

It is a beauty, though, isn't it.  The classic thrust-fault Rocky Mountain.  I took this photo in October on my way home from the coast.

From MountainNature.com
The smooth sloping face of Mount Rundle has formed the focal point for millions of photographs over the past 100 years. However, as countless visitors snap their shutters at this picturesque peak, few appreciate the summits role as a perfect representative of Front Range mountain structure. Few peaks show the dramatic impact of thrust faulting like Mount Rundle. The Mount Rundle Thrust Fault, found at the base of Rundle’s steep eastern slope, allowed massive layers to be pushed eastward several kilometres. Cascade Mountain and the Three Sisters are part of the same thrust sheet.
The lower slopes are composed of steep, sheer cliffs of Palliser limestone. These hard rocks were formed near ancient coral reefs where lime rich muds were deposited to incredible depths. Similar conditions can be found in the Caribbean today. Moving above these cliffs, the mid-slopes of the mountain take on a softer, more crumbly nature. These soft layers are characteristic of the Banff Shales which form the middle of this three layer sandwich. Dark, and rich in organic matter, the Banff Shales may be 1,200 m thick. Were the hard limestone summit of Mount Rundle to erode away, these shales would quickly follow. Soft and easily eroded, they offer little resistance to the persistent forces of erosion and weathering.
The sheer summit of Mount Rundle is composed largely of ancient marine shell fragments now stranded more than 3,000 m above the nearest ocean. These limestones are part of the Livingstone Formation of the Rundle Group

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ms. Merlin Strikes Again

Remember when I blogged about this?  Well, she stopped in for lunch today.  I just saw her flying away when the dogs next door were let out.   I found this in the back yard.

A closer look at the feathers and debris revealed a bunch of sunflower seeds.  The dove, for yes, it was an EC Dove, had been feeding and had a full crop.

Sunny and Warm, but Not Here

We've had a snowy spell and the temperature has dropped from cold to COLD overnight.  I must climb into my outdoor gear to sweep off and fill the bird feeders.  Then the walks need shovelling...

Walks done.  The driveway will have to wait until I thaw out a bit.  So, now it's time for thoughts of a sunnier and warmer time. 

This will do nicely, for starters.  Butterflies in Peru, somewhere along a little tributary to the Rio Maranon.

Photos by my friend, Larry Wan

WARNING:  more photos of my Peru Amazon trip may be frequent for a little while, including yes, The Snake Episode. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Ross's and a Snow

Most people are familiar with the Snow Goose  (Chen caerulescens).  Non-birders, though, are probably unaware there is another arctic-breeding, white migratory goose - the Ross's Goose  (Chen rossii)

The Ross's is smaller, has a smaller head and much smaller bill that lacks the "grin patch" of the Snows.

Here's a photo of a Ross's and a Snow that I took a couple days ago just south of Crosby, North Dakota.

Also like the Snows, there is a dark-morph of the Ross's (I don't have a photo).  

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


My part of the country is loaded with Mule Deer (Odocoileus hemionus).  These deer are common out here in the western part of the continent.

They get their name from their big, mule-like ears.

It's only the males, or bucks, that have antlers.  The size and number of tines indicate the animal's age and apparently it's nutritional state as well.  Their antlers branch to form two equal forks.  White-tailed Deer have forward curving antlers with a number of points or tines branching from the main beam.   The antlers may reach a span of 1.5 meters and are shed about December every year.

Mulies don't run with leaping bounds and gallops as do White-Tails.  
They "stot", which is the term for that peculiar stiff-legged, all four feet hitting the ground together, thing they do.  One of these bounces covers almost 3 meters and they can reach speeds of 70 kmh/45 mph for short periods

I hoped this doe would get into the stotting gait, but she didn't so here's a shot of her north end as she was heading south.

The tracks will vary from a rough "V-shape" while running to a straight line with slower speeds.  The hoof print may be described as two paisley shapes facing one another with smaller "dots" of the dew claws at the wider end of these paisleys.

Mule deer tracks are virtually the same as White-tail tracks in shape.  The White-tails tend to drag a hoof, leaving a little furrow.   Tracks info from bcadventure.com

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

White Velvet on Grey

I saw these Tundra Swans today during a drive in North Dakota.  They are such elegant birds.

Encounter with a Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting  Plectrophenax nivalis

All right, a little closer up view, maybe

This bird is in non-breeding plumage and I'm not sure if it is male or female, could also be a juvenile.  It was solo and flushed from some grass when I drove into a parking area at Rafferty dam.

It was surprisingly calm and unafraid; it wasn't all that close to me.  Usually these little birds are in fairly large groups, often mixed flocks with Horned Larks.  This one wasn't in any great hurry to be somewhere else - maybe resting from a long flight down from the Arctic.  Or not.

Getting tired of the cold, barren rock look, bird flew down to sit on a post for a while.

And finally, it turned back as to say, "well, I'll be off then" and flew away into some thick, frosty grass.

Thanks, little Snow Bunting.  It was a pleasant meeting.  Look how the colours of the plumage lets it blend perfectly into the surroundings. 

Here's some Cool Facts from All About Birds

  • The male Snow Bunting returns to its high Arctic breeding grounds in early April, when temperatures can still dip as low as -30° C (-22° F) and snow still covers most of the ground. The female does not return until four to six weeks later.
  • Early arriving Snow Bunting males set up and defend territories that include good nesting sites. They will still come together in flocks to forage, and usually roost in loose groups of from 30 to 80 birds.
  • The Snow Bunting places its nest deep in cracks or other cavities in rocks. Although such nest sites are relatively secure from predators, rocks are cold. The thick nest lining of fur and feathers helps keep the eggs and nestlings warm, but the female must remain on the nest for most of the incubation period. The male feeds her while she is incubating so that she does not need to leave the nest very often.
  • Although breeding and nonbreeding males look quite different, the Snow Bunting has only one molt each year and no true "Alternate Plumage." After the molt in the late summer the male looks brownish with a brown and black striped back. Underneath the colored feather tips, the back feathers are pure black and the body feathers all are white. The male wears off all of the feather tips by actively rubbing them on snow, and he is immaculate white and jet black by the time breeding begins.