Friday, April 29, 2016

Greater White-Fronted Goose in Wascana Lake

Greater White-fronted Goose. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Greater White-fronted Goose, Wascana Lake Bird Sanctuary, Regina. 
When I strolled along Wascana Lake, a Greater White-fronted Goose kept me company for a while, paddling beside the path.

The markings on these brown and white geese are both subtle and striking.

Contrasted against the soft brown feathers on its body, its orange bill and white face feathers make it look slightly clown-like to me, a reference unlikely to please this grumpy-looking goose. (I'm sure all geese are very happy, but to me, they generally look 'out of sorts,' as my mother use to say.)

All About Birds says Greater White-fronted Geese have one of the largest ranges of any species of goose in the world, but they are common in North America only west of the Mississippi in wetlands and fields.

They seem to be a frequent visitor at this time of year to Saskatchewan. I've seen them several times at Wascana Lake in Regina, and also in the lakes along the TransCanada Highway near Chaplin and Morse, stopping off on their way north to the tundra.

Greater White-fronted Goose. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Greater White-Fronted Goose at Wascana Lake, Regina, SK © SB
Greater White-fronted Goose. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Head-on, the origin of the goose's White-fronted name is clear. © SB

What is this? Greater White-fronted Goose — Oie rieuse.
Location: Wascana Lake, Regina, Saskatchewan
Photo date: April 25, 2016.

~~~~~

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Message to the Vesper Sparrow in my Regina Backyard

Vesper Sparrow, a large brown-streaked native bird. © SB
To the Vesper Sparrow that landed in our backyard and hopped around, exploring:

Yes, we have grass, but our suburb in Regina's north west is not the grasslands.

You will be happier out of the city, so I can understand why you stayed such a very short time before flying away.

I'm sorry we didn't have more bugs and small seeds for you — I can't even promise that we'll do better next time, because it's likely better for you if you find a wilder place. (Though my yard is pretty wild, by some standards...)

I wish, though, that you'd come in early morning — or stayed until evening — so I could hear you sing.

So many regrets.

But welcome back! I'm glad you dropped by, with your chestnut wing patch, white outer tail feathers, white eye-ring and streaky feathers.


What is this bird?
Vesper Sparrow - Bruant vespéral
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: April 26, 2015.

~~~~~

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ruby-crowned Kinglets in Wascana Park, Regina

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regina, SK  © SB
Ruby-crowned Kinglets fluttered through the bushes along the edge of the water at Wascana Park, their heads lit by a red flame.

These tiny birds (smaller than a warbler or chickadee) have a lovely trick of hiding — or flashing — their bright crown feathers.

At least, the males do; sometimes their ruby crown is visible, and sometimes it's not. (And, from the bird books, sometimes it's far more flashy than shown here.)

Sometimes, too, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet itself would be visible for me...

However, during most of the time I stood watching them, they dove and wove through low stalks, keeping twigs and branches between themselves and my camera, with only an occasional flash of red confirming their presence.

And I have many shots of their tails and backs, or the tips of their beaks peeking out, their rest of their chubby bodies and greenish-buff feathers hidden behind grey branches.

Spring — what fun!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Wascana Park, Regina. © SB

What are these? Ruby-crowned KingletsRoitelet à couronne rubis
Location: Wascana Park, beyond the Connexus Centre, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada 
Photo dates: April 25, 2016.

~~~~~

Monday, April 25, 2016

Purple Finches at our Regina Backyard Bird Feeder

Purple Finch. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Purple Finch, backyard, Regina, SK  © SB
The Purple Finches have arrived at our Regina, SK, backyard bird feeders.

What beautiful birds! The males glow rosy red in the sunlight, and the brown-and-white females have crisp, distinctive markings.

These Purple Finches are larger than our usual pin-striped House Finches — a size difference that is especially noticeable when comparing the females.

A flock of six to eight female Purple Finches arrived Saturday, settling first into our crab apple tree in the front yard to eat new shoots. (Or bugs from new shoots?)

Within a few hours, they moved over to the lilac trees at the back to investigate our feeders. The next day, three males flew in to join them.

The Purple Finch flock is still around today, too, but won't stay long.


Purple Finches. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
One male and many female Purple Finches  © SB

Purple Finch. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Purple Finch, Regina, SK  © SB
Purple Finches.  Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Two female Purple Finches, left; female and male House Finch, right. © SB

What are these? Purple Finches (with a pair of House Finches) - Roselin pourpré
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Photo dates: April 23 - 25, 2016.

~~~~~

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Yellow-rumped Warbler in Walsh Acres, Regina

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Copyright © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Yellow-rumped Warbler on my lilac tree. (The blurred part
over its tail feathers is an out-of-focus branch between us.)  © SB
Today: A Yellow-rumped Warbler in my backyard. That is a first!

Here in Regina, Saskatchewan, sightings of migrating warblers happen more frequently around the lake than up in the dry northern highlands where I live. (Everything is relative — this is a very small city.)

But as rain clouds hovered over the city this afternoon, a new flush of spring birds arrived, and among them was a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

I suspect this Yellow-rumped Warbler was attracted by our large backyard bird bath, aka fish pond, because when I first saw it, the warbler was preening in a nearby lilac tree, flashing out its feathers to dry.

These warblers are fairly common in Regina in the spring, when they migrate through to their summer breeding grounds, not far to the north or west of here. I've seen them around the lake, but never before in my yard. Winds, rain, and changing weather often bring birding surprises.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Copyright © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, preening after
a backyard (fishpond) bath.  © SB
Yellow-rumped Warbler. Copyright © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Yellow-rumped Warbler, still fanning its feathers to dry.
Beautiful bandit bird! © SB

What is this? A Yellow-rumped Warbler. (Paruline à croupion jaune)
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo dates: April 23, 2016.

~~~~~

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Tundra Swans migrating north through Saskatchewan

We saw several pairs of Tundra Swans along the roadside near Morse, Saskatchewan, when we drove west on the weekend. What a treat! (There were many Tundra Swans in the large lakes near Chaplin, too, but the pond swans were within camera range.)

Tundra Swans. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Tundra Swans, near Morse, SK., heading to the far north for summer.
(Recognizable by bright yellow spots on their bills - and still 

so early in the year that ice remains on the reeds in the pond.) © SB

Tundra Swans are easily recognizable – except when they're not... Most have a bright yellow spot in front of their eyes, which makes the ID process easy — but a small percentage do not have this, according to the Sibley Guide. And that's when things can get complicated in places where Trumpeter Swans may also pass through, as the two species are very similar, especially when seen separately.

As we drove further west — approaching Canmore, Alberta — we saw another group of swans in a roadside pond, and noticed that local birders had seen Trumpeters nearby. None of the six we watched closely had yellow bill spots... Which may make those in the next two images below Trumpeter Swans. Or Tundra exceptions. (Sibley has a list of ways to tell the two species apart, on the guide link, above. In this case, none helped.)


Trumpeter - or Tundra - Swan. © Copyright Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
A possible Trumpeter Swan, near Banff, Alberta.  © SB

Trumpeter - or Tundra - Swans. © Copyright Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
It's not all elegant floating for a swan... First you dabble upside down,
then you dry your pond-dirty neck with a little serene sailing.
(Larger version of the Trumpeter Swan crop, above.)   © SB 

Tundra Swan. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Tundra Swan in flight in Regina, over Wascana Lake.
(Yes, these lovely birds spend time in our city of their way north, too.) © SB
  
Tundra Swans. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Tundra Swans taking off on Last Mountain Lake, near Craven, SK   © SB
Tundra Swans. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Tundra Swans in flight over Last Mountain Lake, near Craven, SK.  © SB

What are these? Tundra Swans — and Trumpeter Swans? (Cygne siffleur et Cygne trompette)
Location:  1: Near Morse, SK; 2 & 3: Near Canmore, AB; 4: Regina, SK; 6 & 7: Valeport Marsh, SK (south end of Last Mountain Lake).
Photo dates:  1: April 10, 2016; 2 & 3: April 12, 2016; 4: April 29, 2012; 6 & 7: March 25, 2012.

~~~~~

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Redpolls are visiting Regina again - Going North?

Female Common Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Female Common Redpoll on our feeder this week. © SB
We've seen very few Redpolls in our Regina, Saskatchewan, backyard this winter — but now one is back.

These birds seem  to follow different routes north and south each year.

During the winter, we had a small flock of five or six birds drop by for seeds below the feeder. They were here for one evening only. A few posed on the bare lilac branches, and by morning, all were gone.

This week, a single female Comon Redpoll is back, shyly pecking for seeds and avoiding the other birds. (Going back north? I wonder.)

It seems odd to me to see solitary Redpolls, like I often do in Regina. When I see these tiny finches at the Abbey in Muenster, where I go for February writing retreats, they are usually in large flocks, singing as they swoop from tree to tree.

Female Common Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
On of the female Common Redpolls
that dropped by our Regina backyard in late January. © SB
Small Flock of Female Common Redpolls. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Others in that January mini-flock of Common Redpolls.  © SB

The winter Redpoll flock at the Abbey also include vibrant males, as well as the occasional and rarer Hoary Redpoll, which is the same size but a far paler bird than the brown-belly-speckled Common Redpoll. Below are some shots of birds I took at St. Peter's in February... and my guesses about which might be Common Redpolls, vs Hoary Redpolls.

Female Hoary Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Female Hoary Redpoll, all silvery white with a tiny bill
(Or, then again, there is a tiny blush of red on its chest - an immature male?) © SB
Male Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Male Redpoll - I think likely Common, from the bill size,
though he doesn't have much streaking, so maybe Hoary?  ©SB
Female Common Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Female Common Redpoll   © SB
Male Common Redpoll. © Copyright, Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Male Common Redpoll  © SB

What are these? Female and Male Common Redpolls, with one (?) Hoary Redpoll. (The ones with red chest markings are male.)   
Location: Top three images: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan; bottom four: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo dates: Top: April 7, 2016; next two: January 31, 2016; four Muenster birds: February 19 - 23, 2016.  

~~~~~

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Another Sharp-shinned Hawk in Regina, SK, backyard

Sharp-shinned Hawk on tree. © copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
From a distance, the hawk. ©SB
This year's juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk was waiting for sparrows high in my neighbour's tree, rather than devouring them on a trellis in my own garden, as I photographed a few years ago.

We wondered whether a predator had flown in when all the chattering feeder birds suddenly fell silent, then disappeared into hiding spots around the yard.

And there it was, a large dark shape in the evening branches.

It watched me as I walked down the alley to get closer.

It didn't seem bothered by my presence — I was so far below, and on the other side of a high fence. Besides, it was watching for prey.

Three views of a Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. © Copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Closer telephoto views of my Regina neighbour's backyard hawk - likely a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk. ©SB

At least, I think this was a Juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk from its colouring and quite bright yellow eyes...  Looks a bit like a Merlin, too, but Sharpies are more likely in backyards, says HawkWatch International, which adds that the eyes are a "telling giveaway."   

What is this? A young Sharp-shinned Hawk - Épervier brun 
Location: In my neighbour's backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan
Photo dates:  February 2, 2016. 

~~~~~

Friday, April 8, 2016

Pine Grosbeaks - A Glimpse of Scarlet Winter Birds

Pine Grosbeak. © Copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male Pine Grosbeak, taking a break from feeding on crabapples. © SB  
As winter ends, a memory of one
of the most beautiful birds I saw this season: A male Pine Grosbeak feeding on frozen crabapples in an old orchard.

We'd been watching the flock for days, hoping to see a mature male in all his scarlet glory, but for days, he eluded us. (Was there really only one? We saw many females and/or immature males, with their far less vibrant colouring.) Finally, one evening, he appeared; word quickly spread, and the cameras came out.

These birds, as the Audubon field guide says, are "often absurdly tame." I took the pictures of the red Pine Grosbeak through a gap in a windbreak wall of spruce trees, and yes, it saw me, but appeared barely curious. A quick glance, then a return to what mattered: eating the fruit at his feet.

The female Pine Grosbeaks tend to be more beige or gray overall, with golden highlight feathers on the head and back... Immature males, the same, except that some may also sport brighter orange feathers. I'm not sure I can tell the difference, though I'd tend to call the brighter birds, males. (Birds.Cornell.edu has some comparative shots, though the author of that page was also less than confident in the distinctions.)

These are large birds of the boreal forest — significantly bigger than the House Finches that frequent my backyard bird feeders. All About Birds calls them the rarest of winter finches, and says they periodically make winter irruptions into southern Canada and northern United States. I understand that the colouring of the males may vary through shades of pink, but ours was most definitely scarlet.

Pine Grosbeak. © Copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
I'm going to guess that this one is a female Pine Grosbeak -
though it could equally be an immature male. ©SB
Pine Grosbeaks. © Copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male Pine Grosbeak in the crapapple, at right;
immature male or female on the ground, at left. ©SB
Pine Grosbeak. © Copyright Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
I'd call this an immature male, making the transition to full scarlet feathers.
Not only are his head and back bright, but there are a few scarlet
feathers already dotting his chest. ©SB

What are these? Pine Grosbeaks — Durbec des sapins.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo dates: Top three: February 17 - 19, 2016; bottom: November 14, 2014. 

~~~~~

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bald Eagles - adult, juvenile, in the nest and in flight

Bald Eagle  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
Adult Bald Eagle, soaring above its Richmond, B.C. nest.
White head, white tail, gold eyes, gold beak, dark brown body. © SB
After yesterday's post about Bald Eagles in the Qu'Appelle Valley, I decided to share a few images of young eagles.

I photographed the juvenile Bald Eagle in the tree below in the Qu'Appelle Valley. I was startled to see it sitting in dead branches right beside the road, looking out over the fields and creek.

And I wasn't at first sure what this juvenile eagle was — other than being a very large bird! I was used to seeing adult Bald Eagles from my time living in B.C., but I hadn't seen the young back then, with their mottled feathers and still-dark eyes and beak.

The other pictures of Bald Eagles on this page were taken in the Richmond, B.C., area, where eagles are fairly common birds. (The gigantic nest below is right above a popular bicycle and walking path, on the edge of a busy golf course. The eagles appear to re-use the nest annually, and are quite used to humans — though it's unfortunate that our garbage infiltrated their nest.)

Juvenile Bald Eagle  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Bald Eagle in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.  Its feathers are very mottled,
and the beak is still mainly dark, though beginning to turn gold, as are its eyes.  © SB.

Two Juvenile Bald Eagles  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
Pair of young Bald Eagles in their nest, Richmond, B.C.
(yes, that's a plastic garbage bag at left...)
Bald Eagles are very dark feathered when young, with dark beaks and eyes, too.
It takes about four years for them to get their full adult colouring. ©SB

Two Juvenile Bald Eagles  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
The Bald Eagle nest, from greater distance 
for a different perspective on these massive birds.  © SB

Juvenile Bald Eagle  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight, in Richmond, B.C.
(This is the same young bird as in the shot below.) © SB 

Juvenile and adult Bald Eagle  © Shelley Banks, All Rights Reserved.
Adult and juvenile Bald Eagle, along the highway near Richmond B.C.
There was a group of four in a field - 
two adults, and two juveniles. 
(A family group, perhaps?) 
The adults and the juveniles staged several (mock?) battles, flying furiously
at each other, and then calmly strutting together along the grass.  ©SB


What are these? Bald Eagles.  
Location: Near Craven, Saskatchewan, and in Richmond, B.C.
Photo dates: Adult flying, May 4, 2013; Qu'Appelle Valley, March 24, 2012; Nest, June 8, 2014; and Juvenile, flying and with adult, 
May 5, 2013.
~~~~~

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