Monday, February 20, 2012

Driving Around Today

A Holiday Monday here in Saskatchewan.  Also the last day of the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend.  I left the house as the sun was rising, which isn't as early as it sounds - sunrise was at 7:52 this morning.

I hoped to get out to the warm water bays at Boundary before the fishermen arrived.  I beat the fishermen but a seismic crew got there before me and scared the birds off the water closest to the road.  Bah.  Oh well, I scoped the birds on the far shore and found a Hooded Merganser diving for its breakfast.

Then I drove into the area where the hot water (from the power plant) runs into the reservoir. 

A little bit of steam rising.  In very cold weather, the fence is covered in ice and the trail extremely treacherous.  

You can see a coal seam at the water line (under small the ice shelf).

A Snowy Owl on a new power pole - Shot #1

Shot #2.  See Ya!

I just love this bridge and its bit of road.  It's near Torquay, SK. 

I added two species to my 2012 List:  Mourning Dove and Gray Partridges.   The Mourning Dove is unusual - every Fall, a few stay around and try to survive the northern Winter, most don't win that game.  But this year has been particularly mild, so this particular little dove has managed to stay alive. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Couple of Mulies

We've had a mild Winter.  There's very little snow.  I see few deer during my drives around the country.  They haven't needed to band together in herds; they have ample grazing.  These two Mule Deer look healthy, as did the rest of this small herd near Rafferty Dam.

A few other of my Mule Deer posts, some with more information are here and here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Canada Geese in the Morning

I have a like/dislike attitude toward our huge coal-fired power generating station.  It is dirty and polluting (although, to be fair, a lot of emission controls have been put in place).  But, happily for a birder....water from the adjacent reservoir is used for cooling, and the returning hot water keeps part of the reservoir ice-free all Winter.  Believe me, it makes birding in the frozen prairies a lot more interesting during the cold, short days from December to April!

My 'usual' birding route takes me down Fisherman's Road and over to the hot water outflow and the bays and channels nearby.

This is the flood channel between Boundary and Rafferty reservoir.

On the other side...more geese, and a couple Mallards flying

There was quite a racket of honking going on.

There are 10,000-15,000 Canadas on Boundary during the winter, along with 5,000 or more Mallards  (low estimates).

Sometimes I see Hooded Mergansers, usually Common Goldeneyes, a Lesser Scaup or two, Ring-necked Ducks and the occasional Redhead.  There's a Ruddy Duck staying the winter this year as well. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Another Brilliant Prairie Sunrise

For just a few minutes on Monday morning, the south-eastern sky looked like this.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Freezing Foggy Morning

A freezing fog moved into my region sometime Friday night.  The air temperature hovered around -3C.  At 9:00 a.m., yesterday (Saturday) I started a drive around my usual birding route. 

The sun looked like this

And the countryside was coated in magical frost.

Frosty mornings are very quiet.

I saw no birds at all until this flock of 15-20 Common Redpolls flew from one frosted tree into some also-frosted low shrubs

This scraggly weed never looked so pretty as it did yesterday.

Then the fog burned away, moved off to deposit icy crystals somewhere else.  This lone tree beside a pond is stunning against the bright blue sky.

And, finally, the white (leucistic) finch showed up at the feeders late yesterday afternoon. 

Beautiful day.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Leucistic House Finch

House Finches are quite variable in the amount of streaking, the extent of red areas and in the shades of red.  I currently have several bright red males, at least one orange and a couple weeks ago...a partially white bird.

Abnormal pigmentation is usually means there's been a glitch in the bird's genetic processes involved with deposition of pigments when the feathers are being formed but sometimes disease and diet can be factors that interrupt the pigment placement.

According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Handbook of Bird Biology, pages 3-50 to 3-52, there are three main types of pigments found in birds: melanins, carotenoids and prophyrins.   Since porphyrins probably aren't involved, I'm going to leave them out of this little discussion. 

Melanins are deposited on skin and feathers as tiny granules.  They are the most common pigment, producing shades from blacks to browns, red-browns, yellows and pale yellows (eg. the yellowish down of young chickens).  Birds synthesize melanins from amino acids acquired through their diet.

Carotenoids produce reds, oranges and many yellows.  They are synthesized only by plants, therefore, birds must acquire them through their diets - either by 'eating the plant substances or eating something that has eaten the plants'

In an article titled Bird Leucism at, Melissa Mayntz says:
The degree of leucism, including the brightness of the white and the extent of pigment loss, will vary depending on the bird’s genetic makeup. Birds that show only white patches or sections of leucistic feathers – often in symmetrical patterns – are often called pied or piebald birds, while birds with fully white plumage are referred to as leucistic bird.
Leucism, or leukism, is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment, particularly melanin, from being properly deposited on a bird’s feathers. 

Shortly after these photos were taken, my area was hit with a sudden and extreme drop in temperatures.  It was -30 pretty well steady for 3-4 days, with a brisk wind creating a windchill factor of -41C. 

Mayntz again:

While leucism can be unusual and exciting for a birder to see, birds with the condition face special challenges in the wild. Lighter plumage may rob the birds of protective camouflage and make them more vulnerable to predators such as hawks and feral cats. Because plumage colors play an important role in courtship rituals, birds with leucism may be unable to find strong, healthy mates. Melanin is also an important structural component of feathers, and birds with extensive leucism have weaker feathers that will wear out more swiftly, making flight more difficult and eliminating some of the bird’s insulation against harsh weather. White feathers also reflect heat more efficiently, which can be fatal for birds that rely on sunbathing and solar radiation for heat in northern climates.

The warmer weather has now returned, but I haven't seen the white finch at the feeders.  

Reference articles and general reading on Leucism/leucistic birds:

Bird Leucism

Sibley's   Abnormal coloration in birds: Melanin reduction

Carotenoid Pigments in male house finch plumage in relation to age, subspecies and ornatmental colorations