Thursday, July 26, 2012

Eating Machines

Caterpillar Update.

There are eleven Monarch caterpillars on my milkweeds as of a few minutes ago. These are the four oldest/biggest ones - the ones that were chewing on the flowers last post.  They are now 4.5-5 cms. long.


And this is (a fuzzy foto of) the brand-new baby.  It is about one centimeter long (and it is on a small tender plant); it will be twice that size by the end of the day.

According to Wikipedia and other sources:

The eggs hatch after 4 days.

The caterpillars consume the egg case, then feed on the milkweed, sequestering substances called cardenolides, a type of cardiac glycoside.  

During this stage of life, energy is stored in the form of fat and nutrients to get them through the non-feeding pupa stage.

Monday, July 23, 2012

We've Got Caterpillars

Monarch Butterfly caterpillars, that is.

 I was just out in the yard checking the milkweed

I counted 8 caters, and I think there's likely more.  One was so tiny, couldn't be more than a day or two old.  

It's been a couple of years since our last big monarch irruption.  It's so much fun to watch the life cycle of these lovely beings.

 Another one

 Oh, hello!

Very funny, Freddie.  Now, get back to your own blog!  And I do wish you wouldn't park your plump little self in that clump of siberian irises.  You are wrecking them. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Eastern Edge of the Big Muddy

Here are some scenes from my bird & nature watching trip on Thursday.  It's about an hour's drive west of where I live now.

Saskatchewan was recently voted to be the 'least beautiful', or as most people said, the 'ugliest' province in Canada.  Really?  Guess those people haven't been here.

This is the eastern edge of the Big Muddy valley & lake in Southern Saskatchewan.

A lot of this prairie is community pasture - publically-owned land - and the Feds plan to sell it off.

I cannot imagine anything more devastating than one day, in the near future, to drive along this road and see the prairie gone and fields of corn planted.  No, maybe too arid and sandy for corn - more like canola (genetically-modified, of course)...but the native prairie, once broken is gone forever.

That's Big Muddy Lake in the distance.  There are so many grassland birds this year.  Many Baird's Sparrows and Sprague's Pipits, both of which have been in decline everywhere.  These mixed prairie grasslands are home to many species of animals and plants. 

I love this place.  

If you do too, please write letters to Peter Kent, Minister of the Environement and Gerry Ritz, Minster of Agriculture, in Ottawa asking them to reconsider the sale of public prairie lands here in Saskatchewan.  Also contact your own MP.  Write letters to the provincial counterparts as well.  

Save the PFRA community pastures!  These are about the only tracts of native prairie left in most parts of the province.  It really IS important, not just to me.

Please read Trevor Heriot's post about this issue:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)

Field notes:  Tall slender wading bird, length  35-40 cm/14-16", long spindly reddish legs; black plumage above, white beneath, long straight thin black bill; white over eye.  On close inspection the male's back is a glossy black and the female's is slightly less glossy with a brownish tint.  

The photo below is of a female; she had a brood of 4 little ones tucked in the grass.  A male is behind her, barely seen.

 All About Birds tells us:
Black-necked Stilts wade for their food, and will only swim or dive when under duress. During breeding and during winter, they are strongly territorial birds, and are particularly aggressive to chicks that are not their own. When not breeding, Black-necked Stilts roost and forage in closely packed groups, often staying within a foot of each other. Black-necked Stilts are semi-colonial when nesting, and they participate en masse in anti-predator displays. The displays include one in which non-incubating birds fly up to mob predators, and one in which all birds encircle a predator, hop up and down, and flap their wings.
About those long reddish/hot pink legs....this species has the second-longest legs (16.5cm/6.5") in relation to the body, exceeded only by flamingos.

Black-necked Stilts inhabit shallow wetlands, salt ponds, flooded lowlands, or shallow lagoons. Human-maintained wetlands such as sewage ponds or flooded pastures are particularly suitable habitats for these birds, since such environments have some sparse vegetation without being too overgrown

Black-necked Stilts wade in shallow waters to capture their meals of aquatic invertebrates and fish. They often consume such fare as crayfish, brine flies, brine shrimp, beetles, water boatmen, and tadpoles. They peck, snatch, and plunge their heads into the water in pursuit of their food, and will herd fish into shallow waters to trap them there 

Black-necked Stilts are closely related to, and often found with, American Avocets.  Juvenile Am. Avocets are black + white, and are sometimes misidentified as stilts.  Different bill shape is the first clue. (There is an adult Am. Avocet in background below).  

They are very vocal birds, issuing a sharp, repeated 'vik!'.  Stilts, along with avocets, are a sort of sentinel bird, alerting other birds in the marsh with their noisy calls.

Black-necked Stilts nest on the ground. They tend to build on surfaces above water, such as small islands, clumps of vegetation, or even, occasionally, floating mats of algae. Both female and male Black-necked Stilt choose the site; they look for places with soft substrate that can be scraped away to form the depression in which they nest.

Male and female Black-necked Stilts trade off the job of constructing the nest. While one mate observes, the other scrapes into the dirt with breast and feet to form a depression about 2 inches deep. As they dig, they throw small bits of lining over their back into the nest. Most lining is added to the nest during incubation, and consists of whatever material is closest to the nest, including grasses, shells, mud chips, pebbles, and bones.

As with most birds, the Black-necked Stilts were hunted almost to extinction in the 19th century.  The species was later protected and has recovered to a point where it is locally common across the southern US.

However, they are a bit of a big deal up here in the southern Canadian Prairies, this being their northernmost breeding range limit.  If a nesting colony is found, we birding types make an effort to travel the distance to see them.  These particular birds were in a loose colony at Channel Lakes near Avonlea, SK.

Most information was from All About Birds (linked above)

Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America 
National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SNOW in July

SNOW.....a little birder humour (yeah, very little, I know) the 4-letter code for Snowy Owl.  

I found one today sitting on this old wind mill tower.

It is currently about 32C (or 90F) here.  This is an arctic tundra bird; it should be way up at Cambridge Bay or somewhere else in Nunavut during the summer not down here lingering around the hot prairie along the 49th parallel, for pete's sake.

It was panting.

Last winter was a crazy one for Snowy Owls, with reports of many reaching areas in the Southern US.  There was even one report from Hawaii.  Now this one (it is mostly white and looks like a male, just sayin') south of Torquay, SK today.  

As my man Bill Shatner would say: "Weird or What?" 

Monday, July 9, 2012


Mama has twins!  

This photo of a White-tailed Deer with her fawns was taken by friend Barry Dies.  He and Mariliyn have the most wonderful back yard  - their lawn slopes down into a ravine lined with low trees and shrubs.  Looking out their kitchen window, one is likely to see Ring-necked Pheasants, Eastern Cottontails, Coyotes, Mule and White-tailed Deer, to name a few inhabitants. 

Barry says White-tailed Deer often produce twins; Mule Deer usually just have a single fawn.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Scenes from Churchill

A marshy, muskeg and willow-surrounded lake near Churchill.

I'll post various northern photos over the next day or two until I can work up a long post or two about the Churchill part of my recent trip.

But first...I have to a) go see if the Dickcissel is still singing in the dock weeds beside a hay field and b) do some weeding in my garden.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Polluted Prairie Air

I went out driving around my 'usual' birding route very early this morning.  See the brown smudge across the sky?

Where did it come from?  

The coal-burning power plants?  Well, not the  Shand plant - the light wind was from the wrong direction.  Boundary plant?  Maybe, of course we have been assured all impurities have been captured and removed by the scrubbers on the stacks....  [Yeah, right] 

Can't be dust in the air.  We had a super-soaker of a rain last night. 

We do have an oil boom going on - lots of drilling, flares burning off gas and all other related activity.  Is that the cause?

Whatever it is, it disgusts me.  I live in SE Saskatchewan.  There is no body here, so to speak.  We practically define the phrase 'wide open space'.   We should not have polluted air.  But, we do.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

New Bergthal Mennonite Street Village

I was over in Southern Manitoba (again) this past week, unsuccessfully 'chasing' Dickcissels - I was a few days behind the mowers; hay fields have been cut.  The few reported birds have gone, or at least were not visible or singing the days I was driving around.

But, as always, my little trips aren't just about birding.  I stopped into New Bergthal
Mennonite street village very early one morning.  Other than this marvelous house-barn and the big red barn next door - both of which are museum/interpretive centres - all the sites are private residences and working farms.  It is a very peaceful place.  It is also a National Historic Place.

Neubergthal is one of the best-preserved single street Mennonite villages in North America. The village layout and architecture was developed over centuries of Mennonite life in Europe and Russia. Some characteristic features are:

  • A single village street, lined by straight rows of cottonwood and maple trees, and well-maintained fences.
  • Long narrow lot farmsteads perpendicular to the street.
  • Homes that consist of house and barn connected together, set back from the street at a uniform distance, with main doors facing south, containing a central brick heater with four of five rooms around it. Barns had a predictable layout for stabling animals, and for storing feed fuel, harnesses, and tools.
  • Flower, vegetable, and tree gardens, and fruit orchards arranged in a distinct pattern.
  • Outbuildings arranged to the side and rear of the lot
  • A herdsman's house.
  • The village school, church, and store. 
Neubergthal Street Village National Historic Site of Canada was founded in 1876 by a group of related Mennonite families on the open plains of southern Manitoba. The village is now surrounded by flat farmland. The community occupies six sections of land where residences, farmyards, and communally owned arable fields and pasturelands are arranged in long narrow farmsteads. The farmsteads that form the village are positioned in traditional fashion behind fencing along a single tree-lined street, creating a distinct identity. Official recognition refers to the street village on the block of six sections of land.

Mennonites, descendants of the 'Anabaptist' wing of the 16th century Reformation, were persecuted for their beliefs while they lived in the Netherlands. They fled to the Vistula Delta (Poland) where they prospered as farmers and tradesmen for over 200 years. When their staunch opposition to bearing arms was being challenged and heavy taxes were being imposed, they responded to the invitation and promised privileges of Catherine the Great of Russia and emigrated again, this time to the steppes of southern Russia. During the 1870s, landlessness and the threat of military conscription triggered another migration.

From 1874 to 1876, the entire Bergthal Colony packed up their belongings and dreams and moved to North America, many settling in the newly created Province of Manitoba in Canada.

Neubergthal was a place of communal efforts. Working cooperatively demonstrated that permanent agricultural settlements could succeed on the open prairies. The families helped each other in building homes, threshing grain, butchering hogs, preparing manure bricks for fuel, maintaining roads, and organizing fire insurance and orphan funds. They also had a communal pasture and water reservoir.  


First settlers moved from villages east of the Red River to the west, looking for fertile farmland. The community of Neubergthal was based on family relations, which can be seen in the surnames of those first inhabitants:  Hamm, Klippenstein, Klassen, Dyck, Wall, Friesen, and Funk.

The photos are mine but all the Information is pretty much directly from:
Canada's Historic Places

New Bergthal Mennonite Street Village