Short-eared Owls

Earlier this week, we were fortunate to have good views of short-hard owls at Brunswick Point, Delta. We had timed our visit to coincide with high tide, in the belief that rodents would be forced to the surface and inland by the rising water. Whether this rationale was correct or not, it worked and we were able to watch northern harriers and short-eared owls actively hunting. This is quite different from our experience with short-eared owls in Southern Indiana, where it was exceptional to see them at any time other than dawn or dusk, as they would hunt there nocturnally – except in cold or snowy weather.

More from the Nature Reserves of the Lower Fraser Valley in November

The lower Fraser is an incredibly rich area for biodiversity. The river, the valley and the delta combined with a mild climate all contribute to this richness. For birding, November is one of the best months; quite a contrast from the rest of Canada. Many birds from further north are able to winter in the region, while other birds remain year round. The following photos were all taken in the last week.

Short-eared owl. They have recently arrived in the region.
Sandhill crane. While there are some permanent residents, there is a migration ongoing that passes through the Fraser delta.
Tropical kingbird. Normally found in Mexico, a few migrants actually work their way north. There are reports every year or two in the Vancouver area. Definitely a rarity.
Trumpeter swans. Several thousand winter in the valley, generally roosting on small ponds and lakes at night.
American avocet. Not a common bird to see in the region in November.
American goldfinch. Most migrate but some remain for the winter.
Bushtit. A year round resident.
Snow bunting. Another winter visitor.
American bittern. Not too common and generally very difficult to spot. This one was unusually cooperative.
Spotted towhee. One of my favourite residents.
Least sandpiper. Literally hundreds of thousands of shorebirds pass through the Fraser delta, and many stay in the area for the winter.
Sharp-shinned hawk. With the loss of leaves, hawks are generally easier to spot in the winter months.
Great-blue heron. Just can’t resist taking photos of these birds, that are present in large numbers, year round.
Cooper’s hawk. Another hawk that is easier to spot in the winter.
Bald eagle. Their numbers increase dramatically in the winter months.
Ruddy duck. Again, winter is the best time to see ducks in this region.
Ring-necked duck.
Snow geese. These geese winter here in the thousands, migrating from Siberia.
Barred owl. Always a favourite to see!

Autumn in the Fraser Valley

After a warm and dry September and October, Autumn has come to the Fraser Valley, with rain, cooler temperatures and some snow. The following photos were taken this past week.

Bald eagle, Harrison River.
Snow geese. Westham Island.
Spawning chum salmon. Chehalis wetland.
Harrison River
Cackling geese.
Sandhill crane.
Northern harrier , Westham Island.
Barn owl.
Red-tail hawk.
Brown creeper.
Bald eagle.
Male Anna’s hummingbird
Barred owl.
Great-blue heron.
Sunrise over Mount Baker.
Fraser River.

Drama with the Elk in Banff

We had the opportunity to watch a herd of elk, in Banff. Within a herd of more than 80 elk, it would appear that there were two dominant bulls, some lesser bulls, some juvenile bulls with the remainder being cows and juveniles. Above the road we were on, was the dominant bull elk, with a large number of cows. Below the road, there was another large bull elk, with a lesser number of cows. This bull elk, and the cows were clearly agitated and restless. Meanwhile we heard bugling, from the dominant bull in the upper herd. Slowly but surely the cows from the smaller, lower heard started to migrate to the upper herd and the dominant bull. This caused great distress for the other bull and he made moves on several occasions to cross toward the upper herd, presumably to challenge the other bull, Each time he proceeded, he backed off, eventually settling down in the lower field. Meanwhile two lesser bulls started sparring. The following photos illustrate the drama that played out.

Some of the cows and juveniles in the upper herd.
The dominant bull elk, with two juveniles.
The second dominant elk with the lower herd, pacing back and forth. He was extremely agitated and made several short charges. The marks on its side are likely the result of a previous battle with the other bull. We had heard reports that they had indeed battled the day before.
Two cows from the lower herd. They seemed very nervous of the bull and were chased at one point.
The second bull elk, after deciding not to challenge the bull from the upper herd.
Cows from the lower herd, migrating to the upper herd and the dominant bugling bull.
Younger bull elk, trying to establish “pecking order”.

Mount Saint Helens

Last week we traveled to Mount Saint Helens. It was our third attempt to view the mountain. On our first attempt, we had a good visit to the Visitor Centre, but the mountain was obscured by cloud. On our second attempt, we had to turn back because of dense fog! On this trip, the mountain was in clear view, although as the day wore on, nearby mountains (Mount Rainier and Mount Adams) became obscured by rapidly building clouds, which came with the mid 30’s temperatures (90 degrees Fahrenheit). The National Monument dedicated to the 1980 eruption is awesome, in the truest sense of the word. It is difficult to imagine the slide that took more than 2000 feet off the mountain. It is just as difficult to imagine the blast that scorched and knocked down large trees more than twenty miles away. Similarly it is difficult to imagine an 800 foot tsunami in Spirit Lake, caused when it was hit by the immense slide. The film we saw in the Visitor Center is exceptional. After our visit to the Visitor Centre, we decided to take the back roads that approach Spirit Lake from the east. Despite a long drive over very slow roads, it was well worth the effort.

Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens National Monument Visitor Centre
The view from the Theatre at the Visitor Centre. After the movie, the screen lifts to reveal this view.
One of many bridges on the way. This one is 370 feet above the canyon.
Erosion through the volcanic mud flow, below Mount Saint Helens.
A barren mountain slope more than 20 miles from Mount Saint Helens, showing trees scorched and blasted to the ground by the 1980 eruption.
Driving to the east side of Mount Saint Helens, we had only brief views of Mount Rainier, due to the build up of clouds in the heat.
Spirit Lake, viewed from the east. The scorched remains of thousands of trees trunks from the eruption litter the lake.
Scorched remains of tree trunks in Spirit Lake.
Elk, on the drive to Spirit Lake. We also had a large black bear run across the road in front of us, after which it scrambled at great speed up a steep slope. No photos as I was driving, and he disappeared quickly!
Mount Adams, one of four volcanic peaks we saw on this outing (Mount Rainier, Mount Saint Helens and Mount Hood being the others).
Steam, emerging from the dome on Mount Saint Helens.
The view from Windy Point, which was the end of the road on this eastern entry to the Mount Saint Helens National Monument.

At the Osprey Nest

In Abbotsford, near the Fraser River, there is an osprey nest I like to visit from time to time. Last year, I was able to watch a pair of ospreys raise one chick. On various visits, I saw the adults on the nest, and later when the egg had hatched, bringing fish to the chick. This year, this same pair has had two chicks that are now close to fledging. I was lucky enough to see the ospreys mating in late April, shortly after their return to the nest. More recently I have watched as the parents return with fish and the juveniles practice flapping their wings, soon ready to take flight. One is clearly more advanced than the other- I believe it hatched earlier than the other. But earlier this week I was able to watch the mother selectively feed the less developed of the two chicks. It has been interesting to watch how the one parent on the nest is well aware of the approach of the other with food, well before I can hear or see the approaching parent. It is also interesting to see how defensive the ospreys become when an eagle or vulture passes nearby. On my last visit to the nest, I was also able to observe a raccoon and two black bears that were foraging nearby (too far for good photos). I expect one of the juveniles will fledge this week. I look forward to more visits.

Osprey in flight near nest in late April.
Male osprey approaching nest.
Male osprey, landing on female.
Note the manner in which the male has clenched its talons to prevent harm to the female.
Three months later – July 25. Mother osprey with two chicks.
Male osprey, bringing “catch of the day” to the nest.
Mother feeding juvenile osprey. She would break off pieces of fish and feed the two juveniles. It seemed that she was deliberately feeding the lesser developed juvenile more. This happens to be the more developed juvenile.
Male osprey, returning to the nest with more fish. I have observed the osprey delivering full fish , as well as “half fish”, as in this photo.
The two juveniles. The one juvenile has been spreading its wings over the last week. The second juvenile has not started this behaviour yet.
Female osprey returning to the nest with a stick that it carefully placed. The juveniles clearly thought that mother was returning with food. Was the mother teaching Nest Building 101?
Mother watching junior flexing its wings.
Father, off to do more fishing.

Summer Birds: Western Canada

A selection of bird photos taken in Western Canada in late May, June and July.

Sandhill cranes – mating dance
Common mergansers
Lazuli bunting
Varied thrush

Common yellowthroat
Cooper’s hawk
Cedar waxwings
McGillivray’s warbler
Western tanager
Western tanager
Black-throated grey warbler
Black-headed grosbeak
Pileated woodpecker
Black-throated grey warbler
Bullock’s oriole
Yellow warbler
Willow flycatcher
Bullock’s oriole (female)
Townsend’s warbler
Common mergansers
Common merganser with chick on back
Pine siskin

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.