Friday, January 22, 2016

A day of snow, frost and sunshine in Saskatchewan

Frost and snow - a Prairie winter. © SB
There's something magical about winter in the Prairies, when ice, frost and snow dominate a landscape of blue skies reflecting blue upon the land.

We drove in a loop, north of Regina to the Qu'Appelle Valley, then west and south, then home again.

And along the way, we stopped at a small rural cemetery where every twig on every branch and even every blade of grass was covered with ice crystals.

(There's so little snow on the fields right now that stalks of grass and twigs poke through above the snow cover, and are coated in white.)

How long will this last? We had several cold — and foggy — days that helped to build these layers of hoar frost. Today is cloudy, and we're into a warming, windy trend, so the blue is gone and the crystals will soon melt or crack and fall away.

I'm not a fan of winter's cold — but I can appreciate its beauty! (Especially when I have a warm car in which to travel through it...)

Cottonwood Cemetery, near Regina, SK   © SB

Look way up to the deepest blue.   © SB

What is this? Snow, frost and ice, on a clear blue day.   
Location: West of Regina, Saskatchewan
Photo dates: January 21, 2016. 

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Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hundreds of Bohemian Waxwings in a Lumsden berry bush

Bohemian Waxwing  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Bohemian Waxwing    © SB 
Driving through Lumsden, SK, we saw and heard a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings whistling from tree to tree across the highway and up the hill.

When we stopped, we noticed a small bush covered in red berries — and Bohemian Waxwings — that seemed to be the source of their excitement.

I hiked through the snow to get better light on these birds. The day was mild enough that I'd have been happy to sit and watch them until they moved on, but traffic increased, and it was time to go, so we drove on.

It would be fun to have these birds in my backyard, but for that, I suppose I'd have to have a food supply, and from what I've read of Waxwings, they go through berry-laden bushes fairly quickly.

It was a pleasure to see these birds, with their soft, breathy zhee-zhee songs. (I've seen Bohemian Waxwings before near Muenster, SK, but never hundreds together at one time.)

Bohemian Waxwing  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Bohemian Waxwing   © SB

Bohemian Waxwings  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
A tiny part of the flock of Bohemian Waxwings. © SB

What are these? Bohemian Waxwings.  
Location: Lumsden, Saskatchewan
Photo dates: January 21, 2016. 

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Squirrels near Marguerite Lake, Saskatchewan

I went out looking for birds on the day after New Year's, but when I located the chatter coming from tangled branches in an old orchard, I found a tree Squirrel instead. And it wasn't alone — while I took its picture, I heard others chittering in the trees.

Red Squirrel, posing in Saskatchewan sunshine. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Squirrel, posing in the sunshine. It left this branch after a while,
and higher in the tree to even brighter light.  © SB 

Natural Neighbours: Selected Mammals of Saskatchewan (2001, Canadian Plains Research Centre), indicates that Red Squirrels are more northern animals, while Fox Squirrels tend to live in the southern part of the province, so that's what this fellow likely is...

The day we saw the squirrels, we'd driven out to see friends near Marguerite Lake, south of Indian Head, Saskatchewan. It was so cool and bright that it felt like fall, and the light and the blue and gold colours everywhere were wonderful. 

A view across a field toward Cherry Lake.   © Shelley Banks
A view across a field toward the lake. (The squirrels were in a thicket of trees
just out of sight, at right.)   © SB
Another look at blue and gold © SB

What is this? A Squirrel
Location: East of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: January 2, 2016

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Monday, November 30, 2015

Rough-legged Hawks: Winter in the Qu'Appelle Valley

A Rough-legged Hawk perched on a fencepost beside Rte. 99 through the Qu'Appelle Valley,
ignoring the cars, its head into wind alert for prey.

At this time of year, so much is gold. Fields, feathers, lichen — and raptors' eyes and feet.

Even nearby, the Rough-legged Hawk blended into its surroundings, gold and brown bird on gold and brown fence posts, against gold and brown fields.

And then this feathery-legged Hawk lifted gracefully into the wind and flew over to another post.

Closer to voles and gophers, perhaps? Closer, as well, to me.

These large hawks spend their summers in the Arctic, and their winters in fields and prairies of the U.S. and Southern Canada. The Rough-legged Hawk is known for its well feathered legs — a feature shared to this same degree by only a few other raptors. All About Birds provides good tips for identification, including dark tail tips and dark patches at the bend of the wing.

Rough-legged Hawk. © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Rough-legged Hawk on fencepost, camouflage in plain sight © SB  
In for a landing, Rough-legged Hawk.  © Shelley Banks



What is this? A Rough-legged Hawk.
Location: Near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   

Photo date: November 30, 2015   

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Thursday, October 22, 2015

Autumn and the Pine Siskins are back

I've been enjoying seeing little Pine Siskins at the feeders this week — but strangely, with less excitement than I feel when they are on the other end of their migration, and their arrival is a sign of oncoming summer, not snow.

Pine Siskin stopping to feed on its way south. 

What is this? Pine Siskin, stopping during the migration south.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   

Photo date: October 22, 2015   

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Plight of the Grassland Birds

Coming to Regina, SK, in November, the documentary Plight of the Grassland Birds, followed by a panel discussion with bird biologists Kayla Balderson Burak, Jason Unruh, Ryan Fisher, and Stephen Davis.

Thursday November 19th at 7:00 p.m.
Royal Saskatchewan Museum, 2445 Albert St, Regina

Free admission (suggested $10 donation), Refreshments will be served.
Sponsored by Public Pastures-Public Interest.


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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Super Blood Harvest Moon Lunar Eclipse: September 2015

The full moon, in a full lunar eclipse, near Banff.  © SB
I watched September's full moon rise through clouds near Banff on Sunday, its glow the deep orange-red that comes with a full lunar eclipse.

Because of the moon's position on its orbit, this was a Super Moon, appearing eight percent larger than usual.

Because of the time of year, it's often called the Harvest Moon.

And because of its coppery colour, some call this a Blood Moon.

It was an eerie sight. Even knowing a little of the science behind it, I was in awe.

So beautiful! (And yes, it was visible in Regina, too — even more visible, in fact, as there were no/few clouds and I'm told the moon was easy to see from moon-rise on. But I was in the mountains, a lovely — if at that time cloudier — place to be.)


What is this? The Moon, in almost total eclipse. 
Location: Lac des Arcs, near Banff, Alberta.  
Photo date: September 27, 2015


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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Regina, Saskatchewan (and Quebec)

Juvenile male (from the faint black throat streaking) Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our hanging basket Regina, Saskatchewan.  ©  Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)
Juvenile male (from the faint black throat streaking)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird at our hanging basket
Regina, Saskatchewan.  © SB
I've long known there were Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Saskatchewan.

I used to see hummingbirds, with wonder, at an aunt's farm and small-town backyard, when I was a child.

But I have never been lucky enough to see Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in my own Regina backyard...

Until last week, when a Ruby-throated Hummingbird — a juvenile male, I think — started visiting to feed from our hanging basket of small red petunia flowers.

This lovely hummingbird, with faint dark streaking on its throat, has visited at varying times of day ever since.

Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding from petunias. ©  Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)
Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding from petunias, Regina, SK. © SB

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Regina, SK. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird, more clearly showing feathers
and the beginnings of throat markings. Regina, Saskatchewan. © SB

Perhaps because I lived in the Caribbean as a child, I consider Ruby-throated Hummingbirds — and all hummingbirds — to be tropical birds. So my delight at seeing them here, in the high Canadian prairies, is mixed with awe. They seem out of place, and yet Saskatchewan is where they belong, one of the places where each summer, they breed. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds also breed in Quebec, where I saw several a few weeks ago. 

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird, in the Laurentians, Quebec. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird,
in the Laurentians, Quebec. © SB

The map of the Ruby-throated hummingbird's migration is interesting, because it swings up the Eastern U.S. into Quebec and Ontario, and then flows west across Canada to the Rocky Mountains. If we lived in the neighbouring states to the south of Saskatchewan, we'd be lucky to see, if any, stray hummingbirds blown of course during migration. Or more likely — in my case, at least — none at all. 

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird preparing to feed  at the Sapsucker tree, Quebec. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird preparing to feed
at the Sapsucker tree, his throat bright in the sun.
(The drilled holes are a source of sweet sap and insects.) Quebec © SB 

Earlier this summer, we spent some time at an old cabin on a lake in the Laurentians in Quebec. Ruby-throated Hummingbird would hover beside our cabin feeder, feed from the local Yellow-bellied Sapsucker tree, flirt in the woods, and pose on bare branches beside the dock. 

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds playing at the mating dance, Quebec. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (ShelleyBanks.ca)

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds playing at the mating dance.
(The male is at right, middle and lower, and out of sight, top.
His iridescent red throat feathers look brown in shadow
and only light up in the sun).  Quebec.  © SB


I was so happy to see the hummingbirds at the cabin in Quebec, and never thought I would see them again this summer — in my own Regina, SK, backyard!


What are these? Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
Location: With flowers, in Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan; posing, feeding and dancing in the trees, near a cabin in the Laurentians, Quebec. 
Photo dates: Regina: August 20, 2015; Quebec: July 26 and 30, and August 1, 2015. 



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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Regina, Saskatchewan: Pelican City

A trio of pelicans lands on Wascana Lake  © SB

I enjoy seeing American Pelicans each summer in Regina, SK.

These huge, sometimes-awkward-sometimes-elegant birds look to me as if they should be in a wild jungle.

But they summer here, in lakes the middle of the North American prairie.

I don't know exactly where they breed, but every day American Pelicans fly onto Wascana Lake, in the park in the middle of our city, to feed.

Blacktipped wings bent, they are bigger than Eagles and land with a splash in the lake. Then they dip and fill their flexible beaks and swallow. Repeat. Dip, swallow. Groom. Repeat.
 
American Pelicans in Wascana Lake, with a view of the City of Regina beyond © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
American Pelicans on Wascana Lake, with a view of the City of Regina beyond. © SB

American Pelican © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Watchful American Pelican, keeping it's eye on the shore. © SB

What are these? American Pelicans

Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates: August 18, 2015.
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Monday, August 17, 2015

Yellow Warblers in my Regina backyard - my August surprise

Yellow Warbler. She popped up out of the lilac leaves
when I was photographing another bird with its young.
What a lovely surprise!  © SB 
I have mixed feelings about the warblers that have started visiting my backyard in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Yes, Yellow Warblers are particularly stunning!

Bright flashes of light through the tomato garden and lilac trees!

And yet...

Where were the Yellow Warblers all summer? Way up north?

I wonder, are they stopping in to visit now because they are migrating south?

Is there something these Yellow Warblers know that I'm trying to ignore? Something, perhaps, like the coming onset of fall, and what falls after that... Winter?

This Yellow Warbler was checking out the green tomatoes - great camouflage for her.  ©SB

What are these? Yellow Warblers. Female, from the lack of red breast streaks. And so beautiful! 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates: August 17 and 16, 2015.

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