A Side Trip to the Foothills of Alberta

We encountered stormy weather near the end of our stay in Banff, so decided to head into the Foothills, Our objective was to find a great grey owl.

Heading into the Foothills.
Bad weather ahead!
Great grey owl terrain.
great grey owl – hunting and observing from a fence post.
Taking flight.
In flight.
Hunting the fence line.
Taking flight again.
Swainson’s hawk.
Return to Banff.

Animals in the Rocky Mountains.

The following photos were taken on our recent (June) trip to the Rocky Mountains. With the cool temperatures and late Spring, the wildlife was lower down in the valleys than normal for the time of year.

Black bear enjoying his salad.
Brown coloured black bear.
Big horn rams. There are actually two in this photo, and they are back to back!
Grizzly bear sow with cub.
Black bears clearly enjoy eating dandelions!
Moulting bull moose.
Young grizzly bear.
Black bear family.
Cow elk.
Bull moose
Bull elk.
Mule deer bull.
Black bear.
Cow elk.

Earth Day 2022

Earth Day is a time to reflect! It is a wonderful world of nature that we live in, but so much is threatened. So much is at risk. What will the experiences of nature be for our grandchildren, and for their grandchildren. This post is a compilation of some of the beauty I have experienced, along with a few reflections.

An old lion, returning to its harem. Seen in the Madikwe Reserve in South Africa. Lions are stable in population in protected areas in South Africa, Tanzania, Namibia and Botswana but have declined by about 90% over the last century. Poaching is a serious problem.
Iceberg at dusk, Twillingate, NL. Icebergs are an appropriate symbol for climate change, as they break off from the melting icecaps of the Arctic and Antarctic.
The Aletsch Glacier of Jungfrau in Switzerland. The glaciers of the Alps are in serious decline.
Melting glacial water from the Columbia Icefields in Alberta.
Plains bison fighting in North Dakota. Prior to European colonization, it is estimated that there were between 30 – 60 million plains bison in North America. They were brought to near- extinction by the late Nineteenth Century. Protection of herds, and establishment of wildlife refuges has brought their population back to the range of 20 000 animals. Their status is classified as “Near Threatened”.
Whooping crane chick with parent and sandhill crane, Wheeler National Wildlife Area in Alabama. Another species nearly brought to extinction (only 21 alive in 1941). A great deal of effort has gone into preserving the species since then. There is now a stable migrating whooping crane population in Western North America of some 700 birds. The numbers in Eastern North America are much lower- now estimated at 75. It has been estimated that 20% of the migratory birds in the East over the last twenty years have been shot. Although substantial fines can be levied for illegal shooting of whooping cranes, the imposition of fines is erratic. One individual in Indiana was fined only one dollar plus $500 in court fees by the judge who heard the case.
Humpback whale, starting a dive, Bulls Bay NL. This whale, like so many other whale species was hunted excessively (95 % reduction in numbers). This whale grows to a length of up to 55 feet, and can be found in every ocean of the world. With the end of whale hunting by most countries in the world in the 1960’s and with significant conservation efforts, their numbers have increased and it is generally estimated that there are now about 100 000. Collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and climate change are the most significant hazards for these giants.
Woodland caribou. NL. This species has probably been extirpated in the lower 48 states. There are seriously declining numbers in most of Canada although populations are strong in Newfoundland (estimate of 85 000). The reduction in numbers is due to human activity. While wolves are a natural predator, it is loss of habitat and human activity that have had the greatest impact on populations.
Yellow lady slipper (orchid), Bruce Peninsula, ON. While this species of wild orchid is not particularly threatened, there are more than 200 species of orchid in North America that are threatened due to loss of habitat or illegal harvesting.
Monarch butterfly, MN. This beautiful insect has one of the most interesting migration stories of any species. A complete migration cycle (up to 2500 miles in each direction) requires four generations, while each generation has four stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly). Habitat loss in the wintering grounds and heavy use of herbicides that has substantially reduced the presence of milkweed (required for monarch eggs) threatens this species.
Northern elephant seals, northern California. This is another species, hunted to near extinction in the Nineteenth Century. Conservation efforts have been successful and it is estimated there are now more than 120 000.
Northern gannets, Cape St. Mary, NL. This is the largest sea bird of the North Atlantic and breeds on high, largely inaccessible cliffs above the North Atlantic, where they are generally free from predators. Populations are stable despite declining fish populations, but this is a bird that has shown remarkable adaptation. It is a fish feeder and can dive to great depths. It however has learned to look for fishing boats that discard unwanted species. (Research done by the University of Exeter). In the longer term, it is threatened by declining fish stocks.

Early Spring in the Okanagan

From April 8-10, I participated in the Okanagan Spring Birding Tour organized by Avocet Tours. It was an exceptional tour, led by Chris Charlesworth, an extremely knowledgable and gracious leader. Over the three days, we managed to spot and identify 104 species of birds. Being early Spring in the Okanagan, the weather was unpredictable and changeable…………seemingly changing every 20 minutes or so. In fact, we were turned back by heavy snow one night, while looking for owls!

There were many highlights on this outing, which are highlighted ins some of the photos that follow. One of the most important highlights of the tour was meeting and talking with experienced and interesting people with common interests in experiencing nature. I look forward to further outings!

Western screech owl
Western meadowlark
Ruddy duck
Cassin’s finch
Looking for the rare Williamson’s sapsucker
Williamson’s sapsucker
Western bluebird
Mountain bluebird
Great grey owl taking flight at dusk
Great-grey owl – heading in the wrong direction!
A distant northern pygmy owl. We were all amazed at how Chris located him!
Pygmy nuthatch
Forced back from our night bowling trip by snow!
A very early Brewer’s sparrow
Canyon wren- a rarity in Canada
A very distant peregrine falcon
Eurasian wigeon
Red crossbill
Yellow-headed blackbird
Wilson’s snipe

Anna’s Hummingbirds

Since moving to Abbotsford, we have enjoyed having Anna’s hummingbirds in our yard, year round. It amazes us how these tiny creatures have adapted to survive the cold, finding enough nutrition to live on, when temperatures drop below freezing. Clearly, the number of heated hummingbird feeders in our neighbourhood helps, but it is only one factor. The other source of amazement is how early the first brood of chicks fledges. We saw our first fledgeling in early March, meaning the eggs must have hatched in February! One of the most interesting behaviours of the Anna’s hummingbird is the courtship ritual of the male, who will fly straight up into the air, then dive down at great speed in front of the female, and change direction abruptly before he reaches the ground. This causes a fairly loud “chirp” (from the feathers) that can be disturbing to dogs due to the frequencies of the sound. The following photos are a few of my favourites.

Female Anna’s hummingbird at our feeder this winter.
Male Anna’s hummingbird. Its head colour varies according to the angle of light and the resulting refraction from the dark head feathers.
Male Anna’s hummingbird with “apparently” different head colour, due to different angle of light.
Juvenile Anna’s hummingbird.
Female Anna’s hummingbird
Mother feeding the babies. Taken from a location the did not disturb the birds. Cropped image taken with a telephoto lens.
Waiting for mother. Same nest.
The same nest, hours earlier. It was motionless. We soon saw the reason why. A Cooper’s hawk was perched on a nearby tree!
The Cooper’s hawk the caused the hummingbirds to be motionless!

January in the Lower Mainland

This has been a strange winter so far, and a strange January. Severe November flooding, has been followed by abnormally cold weather and snowfall. Fortunately, the last two weeks have been closer to “normal” in terms of temperature and precipitation, and it has been possible to get out and enjoy nature and the exceptional beauty of the region. The following photos were all taken in this past month.

Bald eagle, landing on a branch. There are literally thousands of eagles in the Fraser Valley presently.
The snowy owl is a rare visitor to the region, and indeed this lady is the first snowy owl I have seen in BC.
On a recent bicycle outing, I was lucky enough to see a couple of sea lions. This photo was taken near the Steveston Docks. I wish I had recorded their sound as well!
Short-eared owl. I never get tired of photographing owls. This is one of many short-eared owls I was lucky enough to see this month.
A visit to Chilliwack Lake. As the lake is at a higher elevation, the park has snow throughout the month. This certainly made Brock (my golden companion) very happy!
The spectacular Mount Slesse
The sunrises and sunsets have been spectacular this month. Some attribute this to particulate in the air from the volcanic eruption near Tonga. This view of Mount Baker (10900 feet elevation) and The Sisters, was taken at sunrise at Boundary Bay. I did nothing with this image to enhance saturation or vibrance, it was that spectacular a sunrise, with the colour changing by the minute!
Lake Chilliwack, as seen from the Provincial Park.
An odd looking duck. A surf scoter drake, seen from the pier at Iona Beach Regional Park.
A ring-necked pheasant, strutting across the trail at the Reifel Bird Sanctuary.
The spotted towhee is one of the most common January birds in the Lower Mainland.
One of four kinds of loon, seen on the coast in January. In their non-breeding plumage they can be difficult to tell apart. I believe this is the red-throated loon.
Ice crystals, growing on the snow at Chilliwack Lake. I had never seen this extent of ice crystals growing on snow. I think it was due to fog coming off the lake in sub-zero temperatures.
Kayakers on the Chilliwack River. (There was snow on the road!)
Great-blue heron taking flight at dusk. This is another very common bird in the Lower Mainland in January!
River otter. It was a thrill to watch this family of otter fishing!
Coyote, looking for rodents. They are fairly common in the grasses at the edge of the salt water.

The Faces and Eyes of Owls

With the snow and cold weather, and the resulting icy roads, it has been difficult to get out for birding. Instead, I have been looking over older photos. My favourites, tend to be pictures of owls. Unfortunately, far too many owls are harassed by overly “keen” photographers, who do not respect the needs of owls to be left alone. I have been fortunate in the last number of years to have encountered many owls, often without other photographers in the area. With a high resolution camera (allowing for substantial cropping), and a long telephoto lens, it is not necessary to get too close to the owls I am photographing. In the past year I have been rewarded on numerous occasions where owls have been completely relaxed in my presence. These are some of my favourite photos of owls, taken over the last ten years in Ontario, Kentucky, Indiana, Florida, Alberta and British Columbia.

I have encountered short-eared owls in Kentucky and Southern Indiana (on reclaimed coal mining lands) and from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Although they are generally nocturnal, they will sometimes feed in numbers in the daytime, particularly in cold snowy weather. One time, in Southern Indiana, there were close to twenty owls, flying all around me. This is a lucky shot of one that flew directly over me, while hunting for small rodents.
Snowy owls, particularly the very white male, are always a special find. Southwestern Ontario in the winter months has been a particularly good area for finding snowies. This one was observing me from the top of a hydro pole.
This burrowing owl was a resident of Marco Island in Florida. I have also encountered burrowing owls in Paraguay, Brazil and Saskatchewan.
One of the most enjoyable “owl experiences” I had was one early morning in the winter in Alberta. While driving along a country road, we stopped our car when a great gray owl flew onto a tree by the side of the road. When we came to a full stop, we realized that there was a pair of owls, mating. A few minutes later, mister owl (shown above) flew over the road and landed in a tree beside the car and proceeded to stare at us.
The tiny northern pygmy owl is a fierce hunter and will take on rodents and birds both smaller and substantially larger than itself. It does not seem to be at all intimidated by people and I watched this particular owl for about an hour, as it hunted (successfully), fed on its catch and flew back and forth around me. They are found throughout the mountains of Western North America.
This past summer, I was able to watch a pair of barred owls raise three owlets in a secluded area about 20 miles from where I live, over a period of several months. The parents were very comfortable with me in the area, and often flew within twenty thirty feet of me. This recently fledged owlet however, wasn’t as confident, but still wanted to get a better look at me.
The long-eared owl is an owl that does not like to be bothered. It is very secretive and nocturnal in its habits. This individual was photographed on private property in Ontario.
The northern hawk owl is an owl of the north, venturing into southern Canada, occasionally in the winter months. I was lucky enough to see this individual some ten years ago while heading to a bird sanctuary in the Lower Mainland of BC.
This eastern screech owl was photographed in Ohio, in the Spring. Screech owls are very nocturnal, and most often seen in the daytime in the winter, when they come out of their hollows to sun themselves. I have seen eastern screech owls in Ontario and Ohio.
The great-horned owl is at the top of the food chain when it comes to owls, and will prey on rodents, small mammals, other birds and smaller owls. I have encountered them in South America, Alabama, Indiana, California, and British Columbia. In our neighbourhood here in BC, we hear them from time to time at night and have seen their silhouettes at night.
The barn owl is found throughout the world but is rare in Canada, and generally only found in Southern BC. It is a nocturnal hunter but occasionally can be found hunting in the early evening or early morning.

Winter Birds in Delta

Yesterday, we finally had a day of sun, after record breaking rainfalls in Abbotsford and throughout the Lower Mainland. As I have not managed to do much birding over the last few weeks, and because the Trans Canada Highway east was still closed due to flooding, I headed west to Delta. It was a good decision, as I managed to see and photograph many species. This is a sampling of what I saw.

Hooded merganser drake (with breakfast).
American wigeon drake.
Juvenile peregrine falcon, after chasing away a northern harrier. They are difficult to photograph in flight due to their speed!
The northern harrier that was chased away by the peregrine falcon.
Great-horned owl.
Northern pintail drake.
Bewick’s wren.
Ruby-crowned kinglet.
Red-tailed hawk.
Ring-necked pheasant.
Murmuration of dunlin (with their backs showing).
Murmuration of dunlin, with the sun catching the white underside of the birds.
Close-up of dunlin in flight.
Eleven great-blue herons.
Northern shoveler.
Wood duck drake.

The Grizzly Bears of the Klyte River (BC)

Last week, I had the incredible experience of traveling to the Klyte River to watch grizzly (brown) bears feeding on spawning salmon. The trip started in Campbell River on Vancouver Island with a two hour boat trip, across to the Mainland, and up Toba Inlet. The Klyte River, is in the traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation, and the Klahoose have organized guides, tours and viewing stands from which the magnificent grizzly bears can be observed. It was an exceptional experience and I think the photos that follow speak for themselves. On the way back to Campbell River, we were fortunate enough to see several humpback whales, which spend their summers in the Salish Sea. Soon, they will be heading south to warmer waters.

Campbell River Harbour. Departure was at 7:00AM. We returned at 5:00 PM. A full day!
There are literally hundreds of waterfalls between Campbell River and Toba Inlet!
Approaching Toba Inlet in the fog and rain.
Being welcomed to the traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation. (This lady also served as a spotter for the bears.)
Klyte River. The weather changed constantly…from fog and rain to sun in minutes!
Arriving / departing from Toba Inlet.
One of several humpback whales seen on the trip between Campbell River and Toba Inlet.

Birds in Flight

I can’t resist trying to take photographs of birds in flight. It is challenging, anticipating which way the bird will move, and simultaneously trying to ensure you have the correct focus, exposure, and shutter speed. Most pictures taken are failures, but if you take enough pictures, some are bound to turn out. Here are some of my favourites from the last few years.

Bald eagle
The critically endangered whooping crane. Photo taken in Indiana.
Peregrine falcon attacking an eagle. I was focusing on the eagle and didn’t realize that the falcon had photo-bombed my picture. Sometimes you are just lucky. Photo taken in Florida.
Snow geese lifting off from a pond in Indiana.
Bald eagles competing for the same roost. (Photo taken in BC).
Snowy owl taking flight. (Ontario)
Osprey, returning to the nest. (Ontario)
Bald eagles, in a mating ritual. (BC)
American white pelicans. (Florida)
Trumpeter swans. (BC)
Merlin, with a goldfinch.
Female belted kingfisher in flight. (BC)
Peregrine falcon