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 Prairie Passages Tour
Photo dates: July 6 and 7, 2014. 

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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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Monday, June 2, 2014

Tennessee Warbler in the Impossible Apple Tree

After the rain, a Tennessee Warbler landed high in the impossible apple tree in our Regina, Saskatchewan, back yard.

Tennessee Warbler, checking for bugs in the new apple shoots.   © SB

At least, that's what I think this tiny migrating songbird must be, based on its colours: its back, a vivid bright green; belly, white; and head, soft gray with white eye arcs.

Warblers are fairly rare visitors for us. I think more visit the trees and houses in the parts of Regina near Wascana Lake and along Wascana Creek. But we live on the dryer high ground, to the north. (Odd for such a small city to have such clearly distinctive zones...)

And about that apple tree? Impossible, because we live so far out of normal apple range... And because its fruit, though reasonably plentiful, is bitter-sweet, not great for either eating raw or cooking — although these apples can be delightful if mixed with firmer fruit in pies.

Tennessee Warbler - view of back feathers. © SB

What is this? A Tennessee Warbler, as far I can figure from my bird books. 
Location: Backyard, Regina
, Saskatchewan, Canada.  

Photo date: May 20, 2014

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

White-crowned Sparrow - with a very white head

Mystery bird - looks like a White-crowned Sparrow © SB
An unusual bird visited our Regina, SK, backyard feeder many times this spring — one like nothing I've seen in bird books, but which we think is likely a White-crowned Sparrow with partial albinism.

Its head and neck are white, except for a few fine, lingering black traces on its crown.

Its markings were so striking that I started calling it a Ghost-crowned Sparrow.

At first, it was very timid — as all of the newly arrived migrating sparrows seem to be.

But it quickly realised that this was a fairly safe food source (our cats stay indoors, though others wander through... And a Sharp-shinned Hawk has landed here, too.)

In any case, it settled in for several weeks, then flew on.

White-crowned Sparrow - if that's what it really is - posing in the backyard.  © SB

A beautiful White-crowned Sparrow - with a difference!  © SB

For reference, here is a White-crowned Sparrow with typical markings. Others that arrived this spring are shown a few posts down: White-crowned Sparrows in my Regina backyard - Spring!

A typically coloured (and curious) White-crowned Sparrow   © SB

What are these? White-crowned Sparrows (the one at top seems to have partial albilism).  
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo dates: Top photo, May 6, 2014; others, May 9, 2014.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Gadwalls at Dusk in Wascana Park

Last night, I walked through Wascana Park and saw a pair of Gadwalls in the fenced waterfowl area.

At first glance, these big gray-brown ducks are less than spectacular, compared — just for example — to the common Mallard... But look closer at the male's velvety feathers and striking black tail, and at the female's crisp plumage.

Female Gadwall rising in the water, dusk in the Wascana Waterfowl Park   © SB

Gadwalls at dusk in the Wascana Waterfowl Park   © SB

Male Gadwall in clearer lighting, near Lumsden, SK  © SB


What are these? Gadwalls.
Location: (top), Wascana Park, Regina, and (bottom) 
near Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: Top two: May 30, 2014; bottom, April 21, 2012. 

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