Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vesper Sparrow: Flash of rust-red on the wings

Vesper Sparrow, watching me from a branch  © SB
Vesper Sparrows sang from branches, perched on picnic tables and watched us from the grass during our trip to Grasslands National Park.

These large sparrows with the rust-red flash on their wings were among the most frequent birds we saw.

I find it interesting that Sibley says "rufous lesser coverts (rarely visible)", as almost all the Vesper Sparrow that I saw had clear — if small — red wing markings...

Perhaps we were lucky, or perhaps these Vesper Sparrows at Grasslands are calm and happy to display their colours...

And yes, they do sing at Vespers (evening time), but also at other times of day.

Vesper Sparrow, posing beside a picnic table, at Grasslands National Park  © SB
Lovely rust and brown Vesper Sparrow.  © SB

What are these birds?  Vesper Sparrows 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 24, 2015.


Friday, July 24, 2015

Long-billed Curlew in Saskatchewan Grasslands

Long-billed Curlew flying at dusk over the Frenchman River Valley
Grasslands National Park.  © SB
Long-billed Curlews crossed our path several times during our visit to Grasslands National Park in southern  Saskatchewan.

Long-billed Curlews foraged around a Black-tailed Prairie Dog town for larva and bugs. They flew overhead, crying to the dawn. Then finally, one evening, they surged to the edge of the EcoTour road and squawked us away from their presumed nests.

(Something to keep in mind when walking in this grass — many migratory birds nest here.)

Long-billed Curlews are elegant and very large birds — North America's largest shorebird and the largest sandpiper in the world, in fact. But they summer and breed in the shortgrass and mixed grass Prairie before flying off for the winter to coastal Mexico and other hot places (true Prairie residents that they are...).

Long-billed Curlew in grasses at the side of the EcoTour Road through Grasslands National Park, SK ©SB

As the 2002 federal Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada report says, these prairie birds are of special significance:
"The Long-billed Curlew symbolizes Canada’s grassland ecosystems and is easily recognized and admired."
That 2002 COSEWC report says a primary threat to the survival of Long-billed Curlews is the continuing loss of native grasslands, and estimates that in Saskatchewan, 24% of existing grassland is at medium to high risk of being broken. (The 2013 Environment Canada Management Plan for the Long-billed Curlew says 79% of native prairie grasslands here have already been lost.)

Although Long-billed Curlews are relatively common in the protected area of Grasslands National Park, they are considered a Species of Special Concern federally, as well as in B.C. and Alberta — and have disappeared from Manitoba and southeastern Saskatchewan. (As for the rest of Saskatchewan? One might wonder about the future of the Long-billed Curlew here, but a 2013 Environment Canada report says this province has not listed it, and these Curlews don't show up on the provincial environment ministry's Species at Risk page.)

Whenever I see Long-billed Curlews, I feel surprised — and very happy. They are elegant, they are huge, they are lovely, and they have a right to be here, in the grasslands.

What are these birds?  Long-billed Curlews. 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 22 and June 24, 2015.


Monday, July 20, 2015

Clay-coloured Sparrow in Grasslands nesting grounds

Clay-coloured sparrow, 
with crisp white and brown markings © SB
Clay-coloured Sparrows pass through our yard in Regina, Saskatchewan, every May.

I look forward seeing these small, crisply marked birds, and so it was lovely to hear their familiar buzzing when we visited Grasslands National Park in June.

Then, as we walked along a trail by the old Belza place, a high-contrast Clay-coloured Sparrow landed on a stalk beside us and sang.

It watched as we passed, ruffled its feathers in the wind, and sang again. As much as many of us would call bzzzzzz or tssssip a song....

Clay-coloured sparrow, ruffled by the wind in the grasslands © SB

What is this? A Clay-coloured Sparrow.
Location: Near Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: June 24, 2015.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Chestnut-collared Longspur eating grubs near Grasslands

Near Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan, there is a place where Chestnut-collared Longspurs live in summer. When we drive through that area, I want to go slowly, to watch these brown birds on the rocks and sagebrush — and, if they'll cooperate, take a close look with binoculars or camera to see that they aren't simply first-glance brown, but rich chestnut, red, ochre, black and white.

Chestnut-collared Longspur with a grub - dinner? or food for nestlings?
I love the rich brown shades on its back. © SB
Chestnut-collared Longspur on sagebrush. Seen from the front, its black belly draws the eye.  © SB

What are these? Chestnut-collared Longspurs.
Location: Near Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: June 23 and 24, 2015.


Thursday, July 16, 2015

Prairie Hare at Sunset in Grasslands National Park

We were walking towards the Frenchman River Valley at Grasslands National Park late one evening, when suddenly, my husband signalled to me. A Pronghorn Antelope, straight ahead, he said.

I couldn't see anything, but aimed my camera and captured...

A Prairie Hare, ears lifted straight up to catch our voices, body stiff and ready to flee.

Sunset in Grasslands National Park. A Prairie Hare listens and waits for the photographers to leave.   SB

What is this?  A Prairie Hare. 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo Date: June 24, 2015.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Juvenile Brown Thrashers in Regina SK backyard

A few years ago, when a Brown Thrasher nested near our backyard and brought fledglings here to feed, I noticed the hazy blue of the young Brown Thrashers' eyes.

This week, two juvenile Brown Thrashers have been visiting. These adult-sized birds have typical Thrasher markings, along with slightly downy feathers and cloudy baby eyes that are now shifting to gray on the way to adult Brown Thrasher gold.

Juvenile Brown Thrasher - note the blueish eyes. So Thrashers must have nested nearby again.  © SB

I've read that Brown Thrashers are "usually hidden in dense brush," "uncommon, solitary, and inconspicuous" (Sibley), and yes my backyard is a little overgrown, with a heavy vines on latticework and a robust tomato patch.

But when Brown Thrashers visit, they hop along in the open grass, or perch high in plain sight in the neighbour's tree to recite their loud, long catalogue of songs.

What is this? A Juvenine Brown Thrasher.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  

Photo date: July 12, 2015.


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Marbled Godwit nesting in Grasslands National Park

When these Marbled Godwits saw our car driving through range land in the West Block of Grasslands National Park, they suddenly reared up out of the grass.

If I could talk to birds — and if they'd listen — I'd like to tell them that when nesting, silence is best. I don't know you're there, I'd say, until you rise up and ululate at me.

And so, Marbled Godwit, let it be known that your high-pitched trills and lamentations told me that your nest was near. But I'd also like to say, I didn't leave the road to take these pictures.

This Marbled Godwit is screaming at me. And yes, we drove on... © SB

A beautifully camouflaged Marble Godwit. © SB
This bird has a _huge_ wingspan! © SB

 (I feel partial to Godwits, because I saw them in estuaries in Ireland. Not this species, though...)

What are these birds?  Marbled Godwits 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 23, 2015.


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Panning a Pronghorn Antelope near Grasslands National Park

The Pronghorn Antelope ran through a field along the north access road to Grassland National Park's Ecotour Road. Our car was stopped — I was taking pictures of birds — and when we saw the Pronghorn, I followed it with the camera. What luck! The animal is in focus, while the background is slightly motion-blurred! (The Photo Gods are not always that kind to me.)

Pronghorn Antelope, running along the fence line on the access road to Grasslands National Park ©SB

What is this?  A Pronghorn Antelope, which is really a Pronghorn and not an Antelope at all... 
Location: near Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 23, 2015.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Barn Swallows in Grasslands National Park

Barn Swallows are architects, confidently adapting human-made buildings by crafting nests under the eaves. And they earn their keep, harvesting thousands of mosquitoes. They are also very swift flyers, and easiest to photograph if they decide to pose quietly.

And, luckily, Barn Swallows seem inclined to pose at the new campground at Grasslands National Park, where I caught several by the cookhouse and on the park sign.

Orange and blue with a bug in its mouth. Barn Swallow. 
(Look at that long Swallow tail!) ©SB

This pair of barn swallows might be welcoming visitors --
or warning us to move away from their nest in the nearby info booth. ©SB
Barn Swallow.  ©SB

What are these birds?  Barn Swallows 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 22 and 23, 2015.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Adult and Fledgling Birds

On my morning walks, I hear a bird mewling from the thicket where, last summer, I saw an adult and a very young Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. And yes, it is the Sapsucker, likely nesting there again! (It's always on or near one specific tree.)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 2015 version. ©SB

Here are the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers I saw last year — an adult, and a very young bird:

Fledgling Yellow-bellied Sapsucker ©SB
Adult Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  ©SB

What are these birds?  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
Location: Near MuensterSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  July 5, 2015, and July 16, 2014

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