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


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. (
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. (
Young Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding from petunias, Regina, SK. © SB

Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Regina, SK. © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved. (
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. (
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. (
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. (

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. 


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.

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.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Teepee Rings in Grasslands National Park

High on a hill above a dry valley that stretches south to the U.S. and west as far as I could see, we found an old teepee ring in Grasslands National Park. (It's marked on some park maps, but might be a bit tricky to link the X to the reality, especially as the road twist down slightly below it.)

A Teepee Ring, with red lichen rock, in dry grasses, under a blue Prairie sky. © SB

What is this? A Teepee Ring, and view of the valley beyond. 
Location: South Gillespie Section, West Block, Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: June 22, 2015.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Brewer's Sparrow: Small grayish-brown bird in the Grasslands

Brewer's Sparrow: When I saw this little bird, it looked vaguely familiar. But its markings were far too subdued to be the Clay-coloured Sparrow it vaguely resembled. But Brewer's Sparrows don't have strong plumage contrasts. Their back and face markings are soft and indistinctly streaky, and their overall colouring, a gentle grayish-brown, with no bright white supercilium/above eye stripe or obvious pale central crown stripe.

Brewer's Sparrow with a green bug in its mouth  © SB

What is this? Brewer's Sparrow (and yes, I could always be wrong - but that's what I think this is)
Location: Near Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: June 24, 2015.


Friday, August 7, 2015

Juvenile Horned Lark - Juvenile Sprague's Pipit lookalike?

A juvenile Horned Lark may look confusingly like a juvenile Sprague's Pipit, but I'm told by reliable birder sources that the young bird I photographed on the gravel road this summer was indeed a Horned Lark.

Juvenile Horned Lark, on the ranch road through to the North Gillespie land
at Grasslands National Park, SK  © SB

Apart from anything else, Horned Larks like gravel roads, so it makes sense that it was in front of our car, as we drove between sections of the West Block of Grasslands National Park (i.e., instead of hiding off in the grass, like a proper Pipit might do).

This bird also looks more like a juvenile Horned Lark, I'm told, because of its darkish legs, heavy greyish bill, lack of gape and lack of buffiness. (There's an article of Prairie Ice comparing the two, too.)

So if you've come to this page looking for Pipits, perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to add one to my bird index, but no pix in this post of that bird.

Instead, as this is about Horned Larks, here is the adult male Horned Lark photographed earlier that same day — because this species loves gravel — on the road in Grasslands.

Adult Horned Lark - male, with horns - on the EcoTour Road through Grasslands National Park  © SB

What are these birds? Horned Larks
Location: Grasslands National Park (near the North Gillespie land, and along the EcoTour Road in the West Block) Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: June 22, 2015.   


Monday, August 3, 2015

Savannah Sparrow: Yellow dot above the eye

Savannah Sparrow, singing in the evening © SB
Savannah Sparrows are easy to recognize, as long as you get a chance see the feathers near their eyes.

Yes, Savannah Sparrows are little brown birds, and little brown birds are confusing (to me, at least)!

But these crisply striped, mid-sized sparrows have a distinctive yellow spot before their eyes.

And although they sound more like an insect than a song bird, I have a higher percentage of shots of Savannah Sparrows singing in my files than I have of any other bird. Singing, that is.

Here are a few Savannah Sparrows I saw recently when we visited Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan.

These were taken late in the evening, when I was walking across the grass to look at the angles of light falling into coulees of the Frenchman River Valley.

Perhaps I walked too near the nest — I tried to skirt further away, when I saw the Savannah Sparrow singing — or perhaps it was simply the right time of day for him or her to sing.

Close-up view of Savannah Sparrow and distinctive yellow spot before its eye. © SB

Okay, now the Savannah Sparrow is singing at me...
Time to go in case I'm alarming it... © SB

What are these birds?  Savannah Sparrow  
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 24, 2015.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Upland Sandpiper with juvenile Sandpipers at Grasslands

What an amazing sight to see a flock of young Upland Sandpipers on one side of our dusty ranch road near the West Block of Grasslands National Park (or through it? tough to keep track of current boundaries)... And on the other, an adult Upland Sandpiper scolding the babies off the road.

Upland Sandpiper, near (or in?) the West Block of Grasslands National Park, SK  © SB
Juvenile Upland Sandpiper, following directions and walking away from the road. © SB

And yes, the Upland Sandpiper seems an unlikely bird to find in Saskatchewan's grasslands, until you realize that (as All About Birds says), it's "a shorebird of grasses, not shores."

This long-flying, big-eyed bird, a relative of the curlews, migrates from Prairie grasslands and pastures in summer, to the South American pampas in the winter, and back.

Here's a closer look at an Upland Sandpiper, from a drive I took a few years ago, near the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve, Chaplin, SK.

I don't think of sandpipers as Fence Post Birds, but that's what this Upland Sandpiper is! © SB

What are these birds? Upland Sandpipers 
Location:  In or near Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan, and near the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve, south of Chaplin, Saskatchewan.
Photo date:  June 22, 2015, and June 29, 2012.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Vesper Sparrow: Flash of rust-red on the wings

Vesper Sparrow, watching me from a branch  © SB
Vesper Sparrows sang from branches, perched on picnic tables and watched us from the grass during our trip to Grasslands National Park.

These large sparrows with the rust-red flash on their wings were among the most frequent birds we saw.

I find it interesting that Sibley says "rufous lesser coverts (rarely visible)", as almost all the Vesper Sparrow that I saw had clear — if small — red wing markings...

Perhaps we were lucky, or perhaps these Vesper Sparrows at Grasslands are calm and happy to display their colours...

And yes, they do sing at Vespers (evening time), but also at other times of day.

Vesper Sparrow, posing beside a picnic table, at Grasslands National Park  © SB
Lovely rust and brown Vesper Sparrow.  © SB

What are these birds?  Vesper Sparrows 
Location: Grasslands National ParkSaskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date:  June 24, 2015.

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