Thursday, June 28, 2012

Willow Ptarmigan

Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) is a medium-sized grouse (there is a subspecies called Red Grouse in the UK) common to the northern latitudes, breeding just above treeline and retreating south into shrubby thickets or subalpine forests in winter.  

Found singly or in pairs in summer, they group together in quite large flocks in winter, burrowing into the snow for protection from the cold.

Willow ptarmigans moult from April to November, becoming entirely white during winter, mostly mottled brown during summer and a warmer shade of brown in autumn.  Both sexes retain the distinctive black bill and tail feathers year round.  When males moult in spring, their head, neck and upperparts turn reddish brown.  They reveal their bright red eye combs during courtship and aggression.

I didn't get a good photo of the female as she prudently slipped away into the meter-high willows.  She was in her breeding colours:  mottled brown overall, white belly, legs and undertail coverts.  

This fella was displaying and calling:  go-back go-back go-back-brrrrrr-ack-ack-ack

It has feathered feet to add insulation and enable it to walk on snow.

Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!  When we watched this bird and its mate walk on the small, sharp-edged road gravel, it looked as if they had very sore feet. 

In all other species of grouse, only the female takes responsibility for the young. However, the male Willow Ptarmigan often takes responsibility of the young also, in particular in defending them against predators. A small minority of male Willow Ptarmigan are polygynous.

The nest is a shallow scrape lined with grass, leaves and feathers, sheltered by rocks, logs or low shrubs.  The chicks leave the nest immediately after hatching and fly within a week.

Willow ptarmigans are mostly vegetarian, eating low foliage, buds, flowers, willow catkins and berries; they eat insects when available.

Quick now....what is the state bird of Alaska?  Yes, Willow Ptarmigan!

UPDATE:  I must add this little anecdote supplied by my friend Donna in Stettler.  She was up in Alaska some years ago.  There's a town there called Chicken.  Seems the original name was to be 'Ptarmigan' but the townspeople could not agree on how to spell this, so ... the town of Chicken, Alaska came to be. Who doesn't love that story? 

Thanks Donna.

All information from:

Birds of Canada (our guide Ken de Smet co-authored this book) 

The Encyclopedia of North American Birds, Michael Vanner
Parragon Publishing, UK


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Riding Mountain National Park

I'm going to back track a little bit from Churchill photos/posts re my recent birding trip.....back to Riding Mountain National Park, also in Manitoba.

This is an incredibly beautiful place, especially in the very early morning.



Check it out here 

Arctic Hare

This is my one and only look at (and chance to photograph) an Arctic Hare (Lepus arcticus).
The arctic hare is distributed over the tundra regions of Greenland and the northernmost parts of Canada. Towards the south of its range, the arctic hare changes its coat colour, moulting and growing new fur, from brown or grey in the summer to white in the winter, like some other arctic animals including ermine and ptarmigan, enabling it to remain camouflaged as the background changes.However, the arctic hares in the far north of Canada, where summer is very short, remain white all year round.
The arctic hare survives with a thick coat of fur and usually digs holes under the ground or snow to keep warm and sleep. Arctic hares look like rabbits but have shorter ears and can stand up taller, and can live/maintain themselves in cold places unlike rabbits. They can travel together with many other hares, sometimes huddling with dozens or more, but are usually found alone, taking in some cases more than one partner. The arctic hare can run up to 40 miles (64 km) per hour. Its predators include Arctic wolf, Arctic fox, and Ermine.
The arctic hare eats mainly woody plants but also dine on buds, berries, leaves and grasses. In the early summer they eat purple saxifrage. It has a keen sense of smell and may dig for willow twigs under the snow. When eating plants, the arctic hare likes to stand where there is less snow to easily locate twigs or plants that fall off or lie on the ground for it to chew on/feed on. This hare can eat meat.
There now, that last statement...."can eat meat".  I was the northern-newbie on this trip.  Everyone went on and on about how big, I mean BIG, these animals were.  I was looking for an absolute monster, yes, a gnashing, drooling meat-eating bunny. 

And while the arctic hare Is one of the largest living lagomorphs, this particular one was about the size of a white-tailed jackrabbit down here in Southern Saskatchewan.  See my post from last year sometime 

Wikipedia says:  On average, this species measures from 43 to 70 cm (17 to 28 in) long, not counting a tail length of 4.5–10 cm (1.8–3.9 in). The body mass of this species is typically between 2.5–5.5 kg (6–12 lb), though large specimens can weigh up to 7 kg (15 lb)

Kaufman describes it as length 24", weight 10 lbs.   Apparently, there is quite some variation in size.
Female hares can have up to eight baby hares called leverets. The leverets stay within the mother's home range until they are old enough to survive on their own
All info taken directly from Wikipedia


Kaufman Field Guide to Mammals of North America 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Still Life Moment

I call this photo:  Still Life with Ibis and Duck

It's a White-faced Ibis and a Northern Shoveler.  Really too bad they were on the wrong side of the road - the side where my camera was pointing directly into the sun. 

I'm having just a little difficulty recovering from my birding trip, what with immediately coming down with a cold plus seasonal allergies.  If I'm not sneezing, blowing or slumping around like a well-used pot scrubber, I'm sorting through the hundreds of photos I took.  Too bad most of them aren't terribly interesting or good photos! 

Ah, well, things will regroup sooner or later.  I shall try to get some regular postings going on here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Silver Fox

I am so excited about seeing this beautiful, beautiful animal early this morning...and so happy I could get some decent photos.

From Churchill, is Silver Fox (Vulpes vulpes).

Ken de Smet and I were coming back into town from scoping birds at Cape Merry this morning.  Silver Fox was hunting at the edge of town.  It was quite unconcerned with us. 

Silver Fox is a melanistic form of the Red Fox.  I'll be posting more about my new most favourite animal - well, wild animal.  (No offence to my adorable cat Freddie!)

Friday, June 8, 2012


We flew into Churchill, Manitoba on Calm Air late this afternoon.  It's a bit of a return to Winter for fact, it is likely colder here now than it was in Estevan for most of the past Winter.  I will survive and so will my cohorts, except Rhonda from Alabama is not quite aclimatized to this sort of chill.  The breeze coming in off the iced over Hudson's Bay is mightly cold.

So far the birding is fantastic, and I expect it will just keep getting better.  This is my first trip Up North so many of the northern birds are Lifers for me.  It is very exciting.

This is the tide coming in near the mouth of the Churchill River near the old grain terminals. 

There are hundreds of Ruddy Turnstones sitting on the little ice flows near shore.  Many pairs of Common Eiders (Lifer), a few pairs of Long-tailed Ducks, one pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, many Arctic Terns  (Lifer) and several Parasitic Jaegers (Lifer) scaring them into dropping their freshing caught lunch.  Amazing to watch.

Anyway, I'm tired tonight.  Maybe I'll get a couple hours tomorrow to sort through some pix and post a few.  I've been averaging 4 hours sleep per night, with little 'time off'.  Hope I can sort through a few pix tomorrow and post some things.

My alarm is set for 4:45 a.m.  We are meeting at 5:45 for breakfast and then off birding who knows how many hours.  Our leader, Ken, is just a trifle hyper.  We older gals need a tad more rest than he seems to....however, we are pretty gung-ho ourselves!