Thursday, April 16, 2015

Purple Finches vs Red House Finches in Regina, SK

After waiting and hoping for a Purple Finch to join the House Finches in my Regina, SK, backyard, I was lucky and caught some great pix of a stunning pink male Purple Finch this morning.

I'll confess: My red House Finches are so red that I kept hoping maybe they were really Purple Finches, just because that sounded more glamourous... But every time I wondered, searches online — and in my bird books — would soon dissuade me. And once you see both, they are clearly different, and the Purple Finches are stunners!

First, the male Purple Finch: The raspberry pink colour is very noticeable, even when he's hiding behind our lilac branches. At closer range, the pink wash across its wing and back feathers becomes evident, as do the sometimes-slightly-erect head feathers and the raspberry pink — but not brown — streaks on its chest.

Male Purple Finch, washed in pink.  © SB
Male Purple Finch - strong reddish pink colour
on back  and wings ©SB

The male House Finch, on the other hand, though equally delightfully bright, has a more limited area of reddish colouring: Its head, chest and lower back. And, House Finches all seem to have strong brown speckling across their chests. For most in our backyard, the red is more of a scarlet shade, although we've also had some that are yellow, and a few, orange.    

The back of the House Finch is much more brown
- as is the back of its head. ©SB
Lots of scarlet on this House Finch,
though its head and belly are brown. ©SB
The female Purple Finch also has very distinctive facial markings, with clear whitish stripes on its face.  

Lovely female Purple Finch with white facial stripes  ©SB

The female House Finch, in comparison, has a softer-toned, all-over brownish face, with delicate brown chest streaks. (Personally, I love the female House Finches; they're one of those birds that looks drab at first, but whose subtle contrast can be quite delightful.) 

Pretty -- and subltely marked -- female House Finch © SB

What are these? Purple and House Finches 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: Male Purple Finch, April 15, 2015; female Purple Finch, April 10, 2015. Male House Finch, April 7 & 15, 2014; female House Finch, April 15, 2015.  

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Raspberry-washed Purple Finch in Regina backyard

A female Purple Finch came to our bird feeders last week, and I've been waiting for a male to show up. Yeah! I looked out the window mid-morning, and there he was. And yes, he was resplendently pink, like "a sparrow dipped in raspberry juice," as Roger Tory Peterson is quoted as saying!

 Male Purple Finch on Regina, SK, backyard bird feeder  
And that "shadow" behind him isn't a camera trick, but another finch in the shadows that's eating. ©SB 
Female Purple Finch on Regina, SK, backyard bird feeder  ©SB 

Neighbourhood Red-Breasted Nuthatch with female Purple Finch.  © SB  

What are these? Purple Finches (with Nuthatch) 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 10, 2015 (female) and April 15, 2015 (male) 



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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Juncos Return to Regina, SK

Juncos have been flocking in our Regina, SK, backyard for the past two weeks — although perhaps flock is an overstatement for groups on three, five or seven birds! We're on the migratory path for Dark-eyed (Slate-coloured) Juncos, and look forward to these clean-cut birds stopping in to feed in spring and fall.

Sharp contrast Junco - dark gray and white with pink bill.
The under colouring blends well with snow © SB

This year, there was still snow when they arrived, so I had a chance to enjoy the Dark-eyed Juncos pretty protective colouring with both light and neutral contrast. Seen in snow, what struck me was how perfectly their white chest feathers blended with that background; in early grass and dirt, their back and wing feathers blended oh so well.


The lighter gray famale Junco has softer brownish feathers on her back.
The upper feathers blend well with the grass and scattered seeds ©SB

What are these? Juncos (Dark-eyed, Slate-coloured group) 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 8 and 10, 2015


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Monday, April 13, 2015

Sandhill Cranes over the Qu'Appelle Valley

Part of a flock of Sandhill Cranes over the Qu'Appelle Valley  © SB 
We heard their rattling bugle calls looked up to see dozens of Sandhill Cranes flying over Saskatchewan's Qu'Appelle Valley.

They wheeled and turned, disappeared from sight, returned to merge with another group, then flew over one final hilltop and were gone.

At least, gone from sight. Their loud calls continued for a long time after, and I sat on the hill and listened.

It's the first time I've seen so many, and was glad we had binoculars and a long camera lens to get a closer view and identify this clearly non-goose, non-heron, non-pelican flock. Long necks extended, wings wide and dark legs trailing... So graceful, so beautiful — and so loud!

I first saw Sandhill Cranes in fields at the north end of Last Mountain Lake, near the bird sanctuary. Those were closer, the adults' rusty heads easy to see. That flock had stopped to feed on their way south in fall; today's were on their migration route back to the north.

Sandhill Cranes near Lost Mountain Lake ©SB
Sandhill Cranes in flight near Lost Mountain Lake ©SB
Sandhill Cranes feeding near Lost Mountain Lake ©SB
Sandhill Cranes flying over the Qu'Appelle Valley ©SB

 A ragged V of Sandhill Cranes breaks off from the main flock to circle, then return. © SB

What are these? Sandhill Cranes
Location: #1, 5 & 6: Qu'Appelle Valley, near Regina; #2, 3 and 4: North end of Lost Mountain Lake. Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: #2, 3 &4: October 1, 2012; #1, 5 & 6: April 12, 2015. 


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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Common Mergansers in Flight

A pair of Common Mergansers swan along the melted strip of water on a lake near Regina, SK, and then lifted into the air.

Like many ducks, the Mergansers at first seemed ungainly in flight, with lots of fast flapping instead of the slow glides of other birds. But look closer and note how beautifully streamlined they are.


Pair of Common Mergansers in flight near Regina  ©SB
Common Mergansers, like a pair of jet airliners  ©SB
Graceful Mergansers in flight. 
The female in front, has a brown head and gray markings;
the male has high contrast white and dark,  © SB

What are these? Common Mergansers
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 11, 2015. 



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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fox Squirrel at the Bird Feeder - Again!

The birds in our Regina, SK, neighbourhood have to compete with a fairly wily — and determined — Fox Squirrel that scouts backyards for nuts, seeds and other treats.

We have a small ledge where we sometimes place peanuts when we see Blue Jays nearby, and the Fox Squirrel has decided it's a good foraging and resting spot. I doubt it realizes how well its fur matches the wood trim — but who knows? Maybe it's making a fashion statement.

Fashionable Foraging Fox Squirrel    ©SB

What is this? Fox Squirrel
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 4, 2015. 


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Friday, April 10, 2015

Red and Orange House Finches in Regina Backyard

We've enjoyed seeing both red and yellow-orange House Finches in our Regina, SK, backyard this spring. Although the red ones are the brightest, they are also the most frequent visitors.  I love seeing these lovely birds flaunting other colours!

One of the yellow-orange House Finches that's visited our lilac bushes  ©SB
A scarlet House Finch and one that's more peachy, feeding during late snow.  ©SB
The male House Finches get the flashy shades; females have softer plain brown streaks.  ©SB
House Finch in April snow.  ©SB
And, one last orange House Finch at the black sunflower feeder.  ©SB

What are these? House Finches
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 4-8, 2015. 

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Blackpoll Warbler's amazing migration includes Regina, SK

Blackpoll Warbler in Wascana Park, Regina SK  © SB
Amazing story on CBC News today about the tiny Blackpoll Warbler's annual migration. Here's a snippet:
The blackpoll warbler weighs just 12 grams – less than two loonies. But the new tracking study shows it is capable of flying up to 2,770 kilometres over the western Atlantic Ocean over three days, without stopping to eat or rest.
These Boreal Forest songbirds gather (possibly from as far west as the Yukon) on the east coast in the fall and then launch into a 62-hour non-stop flight to the Caribbean and South America, the study in Biology Letters says. It concludes:
This is one of the longest non-stop overwater flights recorded for a songbird and confirms what has long been believed to be one of the most extraordinary migratory feats on the planet.
A few years ago, at a nature festival in Regina, Saskatchewan, our bird guide pointed out the Blackpoll Warbler I photographed, above. It was resting in the trees near Wascana Lake, on its way to our northern forests.

It's great to learn more about their migratory paths, and wonder if — in addition to its spring overland journey — this one also took part in the fall overwater flight. Also brings home how important caring for our environment — and theirs — really is. On a really grand, global scale.

Lots more in the CBC story — even pix of their miniature tracking backpacks.


What is this? Blackpoll Warbler
Location: Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Photo date: May 12, 2012.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Aurora over Regina - St. Patrick's Day Geomagnetic Storm

One advantage of living at the north end of a small prairie city like Regina, SK, is that light pollution—while intense, even here—doesn't always block the aurora. Dims it, yes, but when there is a good show, I can often see it from my backyard. Unless the clouds move in, as they did tonight...

Low and faint Aurora Borealis over my garage roof. The small W-shaped constellation in the middle
above the tree left of the garage is Lacerta, the lizard, also called Little Cassiopeia.  

This show was forecast to be intense, and was far brighter before I set up the camera. Before, there was a bright green arc in the north; after, only a few flickers of light. 

It will likely be brighter later—and would certainly be more magnificent out of the city! But the Northern Lights always come in waves, and tonight the clouds and my fatigue have won. 


What is this? The Aurora 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada  
Photo date: March 17/18, 2015.
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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Pair of Downy Woodpeckers: Regina Backyard Birds

This morning, both the male and female Downy Woodpeckers dropped by to savour the suet in my Regina, Saskatchewan, backyard. (And it was, in fact, called Woodpecker Suet, or Suet for Woodpeckers, which would be somewhat better...)

The female perhaps saw me through the lit dining room window. She took off. The male stayed long enough to pose on the nearby lilac tree — and then show off his suet-tackling skills.

Downy Woodpecker, waiting to launch onto my backyard bird feeder. © SB 

These little birds — barely bigger than our ever-present sparrows — a) are extremely wary; b) have excellent eyesight; or c) dislike me and/or my camera. Whenever I show up at the window when they're feeding, the Downy Woodpeckers track my movements for several seconds, and then take off. (My co-resident, however, claims he can tramp around the back porch snow without disturbing them, so he's opting for c), in spite of my claims that either a) or b) are clearly more likely to be true.) 

Downy Woodpecker clasping suet holder. © SB

What is this? Downy Woodpecker 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada  
Photo date: December 2, 2014.

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