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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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Downy Woodpecker: Backyard Regina Birds

A Downy Woodpecker landed today on the new package of suet hanging from the lilac trees in our Regina, Saskatchewan, backyard. After a taste and many seeds, the Downy flew to a metal lantern hanging nearby.

A female, I think. (The Downy Woodpecker, that is... I have no ideas about the lantern's potential gender.) This small bird was totally black and white, without the characteristic back red neck spot that males sport.

Female Downy Woodpecker, backyard Regina, SK  © SB

What is this? Female Downy Woodpecker 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Photo date: Nov. 8, 2014.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

July's Full Buck Moon — and Young Buck with Velvety Antlers

White-tailed Deer, with new velvet antler. ©  SB 


I saw the young White-tailed Deer one afternoon only, and that was on the day of the July Supermoon.

By coincidence, one of the many names for the July full moon is the Full Buck Moon, so named because July is the time when male deer begin to grow their new antlers.

And this White-tailed deer, posing in the field, sported a lustrous, velvety, curling pair.

(My thanks to the driver who slowed down, then reversed out of the lane when he realized I was carrying my camera gear, hoping for a photo of this White-tailed Deer. He called softly to me as he drove away from us: "Wouldn't want to scare him!")

July Supermoon - aka Full Buck Moon - rising through a haze
of northern  forest fire smoke = pink! © SB 

Supermoon on the rise!  

A Supermoon appears significantly larger (perhaps 15%) than a regular full moon, and occurs when the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its eliptical orbit. (There were Supermoons this year in August and September, too.)


What is this? Male White-tailed Deer, with new velvety growth of antlers. With the July Supermoon. 
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada  
Photo dates: July 12, 2014. 

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Western Willets nesting beside a flooded Saskatchewan field

Flooded furrows, where we saw 
the Western Willets. © SB
As Saskatchewan shifts from dry land to lake country, new sites for shore birds surface — like the flooded furrows in this field, where a pair of Western Willets nested this summer.

The Willets stood guard over their turf, hailing passers-by on the grid road with piercing alarm calls hurled from hiding spots in the grass, and then taking turns to launch up to circle overhead and berate us. 

We weren't trying to bother them... We were just out walking on a fairly busy gravel grid road. And if the Willets hadn't sounded their presence so defensively and noisily, we likely wouldn't have even realized that they were there! 

But how beautiful to see them fly, with their striking dark and white wing patterns! 

Western Willet, circling overhead to scare us away from the nest
— while alerting us to its presence.  © SB 

I never saw the Western Willets actual nest, or any young birds. If there were eggs or fledglings, they were well hidden — at least from those like me, who kept our distance, on the edge of the road. 

And then one day, they were not there. I don't know if a predator found them, or if it was simply time to leave the nest or migrate. But when we walked along that road, Willets no longer followed us, circling with their cries. 

Western Willet, on a Saskatchewan grid road.
(I was very startled when it landed not far from me, 

and stared at me and my camera.) © SB

Can you see the Western Willet? Maybe not, 
if you were out walking at the edge of the field, without a camera or binoculars.... © SB


What are these birds? Western Willets.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada  
Photo dates: July 6 and 7, 2014. 

~~~~~

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower in Regina


Crop from photo below, highlighting many-coloured fireball over Regina, SK   © SB
For the past two nights, I've tried to photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower from my back deck in Regina, Saskatchewan.

This approach has several advantages:
  • No driving required;
  • The deck is large, with comfy chairs;
  • It faces north, and we live near the north edge of the city;
  • It's near the kitchen, in case of a Scotch emergency.

However, there are drawbacks: 
  1. This is not a Dark Sky Preserve. (see #3 and 4.)
  2. There was an awesome Supermoon this week — full and bright, glaring over my house to create a grey glow amidst all the moon shadow in the backyard;
  3. Our local street lights cast a vivid orange tungsten hue over everything; 
  4. Although Regina, SK, is a small city, its light pollution is intense; this extends north beyond Regina Beach and south past the Highway 39 turnoff to Weyburn, east beyond Indian Head and west far past Moose Jaw. That's a corridor more than 150 km long! (Try the DarkSkyFinder for your neighbourhood);
  5. The Perseids' peak and mine don't coincide... Theirs comes between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., when the constellation Perseus rises high in the night sky; mine is significantly earlier.

Fireball/Meteor, above, in context, over the roof of my garage., shortly before midnight, Aug. 11, 2014.
The star by the © symbol is Capella, the brightest star in the constellation Auriga;
the constellation Perseus is at right.  © SB

But, sometimes I've had luck with backyard photography, and I've captured interesting star and northern lights photos from home.

My favourite photograph from this week's at-home experiment with the Perseid meteor shower, above, captured a brilliant fireball streaking west from the Perseid radiant towards Ursa Major. This meteor glows brightly in successive shades of the colour spectrum, from its pink-orange head to green-blue tail. And lest I be accused of photo manipulation — yes, I do... Sometimes. In this case, I shifted the photo's white balance cooler to compensate for Regina's tungsten hue, aka.light pollution. (see #1, 3, and 5, above.) But unretouched on the camera's LCD screen, this fireball flared a perhaps more dramatic red and green.

This satellite might look like a meteor shooting west of Cassiopeia,
but a series of shots track it across the sky.
About 10 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014.  © SB

As for shooting, I set my camera to Interval Mode with long exposures, and just let it go... Constant shooting is great for distinguishing air planes, satellites and general space junk from meteors, as the former will track a path across the field of view over a series of shots, while meteors will flare in only one. My shutter speed ranged from 20 seconds to four seconds, with the best results at the shorter end. (The super-long exposures overwhelmed the delicate and brief meteor flashes with their excess capture of dark night.)
  
And the meteors? My camera caught a few; I saw a few more. (Perhaps six the first night; three, the next.)

I was surprised to see more meteors the evening before the major shower — between 10 p.m. and midnight on Aug. 11 — than on the hyped night, Aug. 12. But it wasn't a surprise that I got crisper photos when I set the tripod down on the path, rather than up on the deck itself... (Note to self...) I also took many photos of the stars... Capella and Polaris. And the constellations: Ursa Major, Casseopia, and Perseus. And got some not bad shots of air plane lights, too...

Some of my satellite shots almost look like meteors, but air planes with their blinking lights — which appear as rows of dots in my long-exposure photos — are unmistakable. (To see which satellites are overhead, or whether the International Space Station is visible, check Heavens Above. There are apps to track and identify regular air traffic, too.)

As for this light streak in Perseus, it's an air plane. During the long exposure,
the camera's sensor caught its lights blinking over and over again.
(Casseopeia is the sideways W in the upper right.)
About 
11 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014. © SB

And this crisp slash of white above Casseopeia? At first, I thought
it might be  the International Space Station, as ISS looks a little like this...
But ISS wasn't visible, says HeavensAbove, so this must be a satellite.
About 
10 p.m., Aug. 12, 2014. © SB 


What are these? Night sky shots, showing a fireball meteor, an air plane and a couple of satellites. 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo Dates:  August 11 and 12, 2014.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Fritillary, Blue and White Butterflies on Alfalfa

Butterflies seem to love Alfalfa, and in recent weeks, I've seen several kinds on Alfalfa's bright blue and purple flowers. Pictures follow of a Western White Butterfly, two Silvery Blue Butterflies, and a Fritillary Butterfly. (I know, there are many kinds of Fritillaries; I'm not sure which this might be.)

Western White Butterfly   © SB
Silvery Blue Butterflies... mating?   © SB
Fritllary Butterfly   © SB

What are these? Butterflies:  Western White, Silvery Blue and Fritillary. 
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan.
Photo Dates: July 5, 2014.



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Monday, August 11, 2014

Monarch Butterflies in Regina

I often see Monarch Butterflies in Regina in the summer, although this year has been an exception, and so far, I've seen none. (I hope that's because I was travelling a lot, not because of the Monarch Butterfly declines I've read about.)

These pictures of Monarch Butterflies on Showy Milkweed were taken at Nature Regina's Native Plant Garden at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. (The garden has several kinds of Milkweed, a plant that's essential for Monarch larva.)

Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed, Native Plant Garden   © SB 
Monarch Butterfly larva feeding on Milkweed  © SB 
Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed.  © SB 


What are these? Monarch Butterflies 
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo Dates: July 5 and 11, 2012.



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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels on Saskatchewan Roads

Today, to remind myself and others that Prairie Nature is not all for the birds, another Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel.

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel -- I love the markings! © SB 

I love these long and skinny, striped and spotted guys and had fun recently watching (through my camera's long lens) a female moving her young across a grid road.

And watching a tiny 13-lined Ground Squirrel watch me... (They are very small, even if snake-like in proportions...)

And watching one standing on guard, Meerkat-style, in the grass at the edge of the gravel.

What fascinating little creatures we have in Saskatchewan.

Mother moving baby Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel -- as seen through telephoto, and enlarged.
The young one at left, apparently left behind, looks so bewildered...   © SB 

Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel on guard © SB 

What is this? A Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan.
Photo Dates: Top and bottom, July 21, 2014; Centre, July 7, 2014. 


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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bufflehead: Duck on the Pond

A small duck swims across the pond on the Abbey farm — to my eyes, based on the small white oval patch on its head, a female or perhaps more likely, a juvenile Bufflehead.

(And these, the Sibley's guide says, are our smallest North American ducks...)

Bufflehead duck swimming on the Abbey pond, early morning. © SB 
For comparison, a pair of Bufflehead ducks - in different light,
in a different place... The male, at left, has much more white. 
© SB 

What are these? Bufflehead ducks
Location: Top: Near Muenster, SK; bottom: Wascana Lake, Regina, SK
Photo dates: Top: July 8, 2014; bottom: May 4, 2012.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bobolinks in field, near Muenster, Saskatchewan

I saw my first pair of Bobolinks today when I walked the grid road mile (times four) around St. Peter's Abbey. Their songs are so joyful— these, like many birds, remind me of exuberant human laughter!

Bobolink, perched on stalk of dock.   © SB 

One swooped down onto a stalk of dock, while the other... Well, it disappeared from my view, as I was focused on the more sedate Bobolink (if such a word could possibly fit these happy, clown-like birds), trying for a picture of it far off across the pasture. I was also trying to test how close I could creep without startling this stunning little blackbird, with its yellow cap and white wing and back feathers.

These birds have an amazing annual migration, flying from across North America down to Paraguay. I'm glad I got closer today than in my last Bobolink photo attempt, last summer at Grasslands.
Bobolink, in flight over the field, displaying feather colours.  © SB 

What is this? A Bobolink
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada
Photo date: July 8, 2014

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