Sunday, December 29, 2013

Intergrade Northern Flicker

I have had two Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) coming to my feeders today.  One is a Red-shafted female, which is unusual for my area as I live in the eastern prairies.  The other flicker is this one.

This is a hybrid or intergrade male, with the grey-crowned head and facial colouring of a Yellow-shafted, but with the red moustache of a Red-shafted (black in a Yellow-shafted)

There's a hint of the Yellow-shafted's red crescent at the nape

And, for the heck of it....flicker tongue!

I heard this fella singing/calling from a neighbour's tree when I went outdoors earlier to fill feeders.  Very shortly, the Red-shafted female joined him. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Well, Merry Christmas, Everyone

Another Christmas has wrapped up.  I've been on and off with the enthusiasm this holiday season.  The weather makes such a difference to me - and it has been too very cold for nearly all of December.

BUT, yesterday we had a break.  It was -4C.  It was even sunny!  I went off on my now-traditional drive around the countryside, looking for birds and generally enjoying whatever I find.

Some scenes captured along the way:

Many Canada Geese in residence at Boundary Dam.  Half of the reservoir is ice-free all winter.  This is at a warm water bay.  (The reservoir is used as cooling water for the electricity-generating turbines at the power plant)

There isn't a great lot of snow around, compared to places north of here.  Fingers crossed it stays like this.

My favourite little farm with the beautiful Percheron horses.  Had only a minute or so to snap a quick photo as the farm dog, a large golden lab, was racing my way to check out why a vehicle was stopped at his farm.  Generally, I try not to stop near farm building as it really is a bit disconcerting for the people living there.  I just had to get a shot of this colourful scene, though.

A Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus), one of four seen during the drive.  There is a Snowy Owl irruption down into the Eastern US this year.  We always have a few of these wonderful birds visiting during the winters. Fuzzy photo - he was quite a distance away, but I had to try for a shot.

I hope everyone had a pleasant Christmas.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Colourful In Winter

Today I went out driving around part of my usual winter birding route.  Nothing, Nothing, Nothing.  I don't blame the birds for not being here this year.  We had a disgusting deep cold spell - as has most of North America - since early December.  There just aren't many birds of any kind.

There was, however, this quite magnificent male Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) in a Sea buck-thorn shrub (well, I think it is Sea buck-thorn).  I had exactly enough time to stop my vehicle, grab my camera, turn it on, back the vehicle up and snap a single photo before Mr. Handsome flew off.

If this is, in fact, a Sea Buck-thorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.), its berries are very high in protein, vitamins C and E, and organic acids.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Whooping Cranes

My annual trek to see the Whooping Cranes (Grus americana) at Muskiki Lake, SK.   These are part of the wild flock that breeds in Wood Buffalo NP on the Alberta/NWT border, passes through Saskatchewan on their route to spend the winter at Aransas NWR in Texas.

There were 12 adults and 2 colts that day.  

Er, my video skills are this thing is a little jumpy at the start and end.  

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Prairie Scenes

This is what most LIttle Houses on the Prairie looked like

Prairie sloughs


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Immature Swainson's Hawk

A beautiful young Swainson's Hawk watched me watching it.

Swainson's Hawks migrate 10,000 kms or so to winter in Argentina.  It takes them roughly two months to fly down there, averaging 200 kms a day.

During breeding season, eats mammals, birds, and reptiles. The rest of the year it eats insects, especially grasshoppers and dragonflies.

During 1995-96, heavy pesticide use in Argentina led to thousands of the deaths these hawks.

Swainson's Hawks gather in huge flocks to make the migratory flight - it is a stunning sight that I have been fortunate enough to see a couple of times.

Information Source:

All About Birds

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wildflowering Part I

Late June into July is the best time for wild-flowering here in the Canadian prairies.  June 21st is about when one should start looking for Wood Lilies.

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)  This is the floral emblem of my province, Saskatchewan.  I love this colour of reddish-orange.

First Nations people used the bulbs of these lilies for food, raw or cooked, and as medicine.  The cooked bulbs were mashed and applied to sores, bruises and swellings.   

Scarlet Butterflyweed or Scarlet Beeblossom (Gaura coccinea)..  I swear the only reason I happened to notice this plant is because it was right beside the lily I was photographing.  The petals are white when they unfold from the bud, turning light pink and then scarlet within a few hours.

So far, I haven't found any medicinal uses for this plant. 

Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale).  The European version of this plant was used to stuff mattresses and strew on floors as an aromatic.  

Medicinally, bedstraw has been used in hot poultices to stop bleeding and reduce swelling.  The juice has been effective in reducing the effect of sunburn and insect bites - useful for the hot, dry, mosquito-filled prairie summer.

Shrubby Evening-Primrose (Oenothera serrulata Nutt.).  This is another roadside wildflower that prefers a sandy, dry soil.  Like most prairie plants, they grow low, sometimes recumbent. 

 I do not know whether the seeds of this prairie species contain gamma-linolenic acid and other essential fatty acids of the Evening Primrose Oil extracted from Oenothera biennis.

Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana) is the floral emblem for the neighbouring province of Alberta.  

The hips, or the seed-bearing fruit structure, are an excellent source of Vitamin C; they make an excellent tea and are a valuable winter emergency food.  There are so many things to say about wild rose hips, that I might have to do a dedicated post on the subject sometime.....or else I'll just link to Wikipedia.

All of these wildflowers were found in the same location along the side of the road, dry open prairie conditions. 

Information sources:
Manitoba Wayside Wildflowers, Linda Kershaw 


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Three Years Old

My blog SLWB and I have put in three years together.

We've had some cloudy times when I didn't post for weeks on end and once or twice considered putting the whole thing to rest.  But, then what would I do with the photos I would inevitably take on my frequent birding excursions?   

So, life with birder and her blog still is and probably will be for another year.  (Put a comma wherever you like.)

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Hell Diver

Really?   'Hell Diver'? What a name for such a personable little bird!

The term was often applied to all grebes but especially to the Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) because of its tendency to submerge, very quickly and quietly, when any threats occur.

Pete Dunne says:  "The old gunner's term for the bird, "the Hell Diver," refers to its reported ability to react to the flash of a fowling piece and submerge before the shot reaches the water."

Here's a Pied-billed Chick.  Our sloughs and ponds are filled with these perky little cuties these days.

Cool Fact from All About Birds:
  • The downy chicks can leave the nest soon after hatching, but they do not swim well at first and do not spend much time in the water in the first week. They sleep on the back of a parent, held close beneath its wings. By the age of four weeks, the young grebes are spending day and night on the water. For the first ten days their response to danger is to climb onto a parent's back.  After that, when danger threatens, they dive under water.

These grebes have an ability to almost immediately sink out of sight with barely a ripple on the water surface.  They compress their feathers to change shape thereby regulating buoyancy.  

They feed on aquatic insects, fish and small crustaceans (crayfish are a favourite).

The legs are placed at the rear-end so when a Pied-billed Grebe has to walk somewhere, it walks erect, like a penguin.  (I have never seen this; I am taking Pete Dunne's word for it).  

Pied-billed Grebes do not have webbed feet; instead each toe has inflated, flattened lobes that provides more paddling power.

Pied-billed Grebes only reluctantly fly on their home ponds, needing to make quite a long and ungainly run across the surface to become air-borne.  During their migrations to breeding and wintering locations, they fly at night.

Range Map:

Information sources:

Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion

All About Birds


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Least Flycatcher Nest

One day in late June, I stopped on the side of a road to make some notes about birds I had just seen.  Movement in nearby trees caught my attention.  I noticed a miniscule nest built in the fork of a small tree.  What small bird made this?

I waited a few minutes and a Least Flycatcher flew in and settled down.

All About Birds nest description:  Neat open cup woven of bark strips, grass, caterpillar webs, lichens, hair, feathers, rootlets, mosses, and other bits of vegetation; lined with fine grasses, feathers, hair, down, and plant stems; placed in crotch or fork of small tree.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, I was again in the vicinity.  Madam Flycatcher was not on the nest.  I was about to get out of my car and have a closer peek at the nest when she flew in with some sort of insect...

...and up popped a tiny beak.

All About Birds Cool Fact:  One Least Flycatcher nest was found to have used dragonfly wings as nest lining.

I'd never seen a baby Least Flycatcher before.

An adult is about 5.25 inches/13 cm long.

I watched her make several forays; she was feeding at least two chicks.

It was another few weeks before I returned.  The nest was empty.  

I hope the little family thrived and are now making their way to a southern destination.

Another Cool Fact:  Unlike most species of songbird, adult Least Flycatchers migrate to their wintering grounds before molting, while young birds molt before and during autumn migration. Why such a pattern has developed remains unclear, but it may result from strong selection on adults for early arrival and establishment of territories on the wintering grounds.

Range Map of the Least Flycatcher

Information Source:
All About Birds 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

At The Sewage Lagoon

Our particular sewage lagoon complex is really stinky at this point in the summer, but it is a fabulous place to find birds.

Here are some of our resident Canada Geese (Branta canadensis), strolling down a trail.

There are Eared Grebes (Podiceps nigricollis) with babes everywhere.

Wait for me! 

And a good many of the elegant American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana)


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Jr. Forster's & a Duck

The players:  A family of Forster's Terns (one adult and three juveniles) and a female Canvasback Duck.

The Setting:   A very peaceful afternoon at a prairie slough. 

The Story:  It is quiet.....quiet except for a very noisy, whiny Forster's Tern juvenile, very put out about having to feed itself.

Oh, it picked and pecked at things in the water,

...but mostly Junior begged and fussed.  The two other young terns slept with head tucked under wings.  Perhaps they were tuckered out from their own extended begging antics.

Young Tern:  "Feed me, Feed me, I Am Hungry"

Parent Tern, humming tunelessly to itself, patiently says:  "No darling, you must try to find your own food.

Duck: "Please be quiet.  I'm trying to enjoy the day"

YT:  "Can I have something to eat; give me something to eat, I'm starving, feed me"

PT:  "No, sweetheart, you must learn to feed yourself...see that nice piece of pond scum right is so yummy....try it".

Duck, muttering not quite to itself:   "Give the kid something, anything"  (I am sure a loud duck sigh could be heard).

YT:  "I Need FOOD!!!  Why won't you feed me?"

PT, randomly to all in the area:  "Isn't he just so cute and clever?"

Duck, not seeing the adorableness of the young tern:   "I can't stand this anymore.  I'm outta here.  Honestly!".

Of course, it was me, loitering from a distance, that made the duck waddle off, but still, I like to blame it on the noisy young tern as that is usually my own reaction when my space has been invaded by whiny children.