Monday, September 26, 2011

Stubble Burning: City Smoke Haze

Fire dragons, minutes from my house  © SB

By late Sunday afternoon, smoke from stubble fires in fields around Regina had filled the high sky with a fine gray haze, as if dragons had encircled us with their flames.

Apparently this is good land management, not air pollution (or attacks by alien — aka dragon — species).

Seems odd, but what do I know? I was brought up on asphalt, not wheat fields.

Maybe this looks unhealthy only to those of us with allergies. If seasonal burning works for the rest of you, I'll buy more antihistamines so I'm better prepared. (And read up on taming fire dragons.)


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel: Stripes and Spots

Well camouflaged with stripes and spots   © SB 

When this Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel ran out in front of me, we both froze. I don't know what it thought I was, but in that first flash, I thought it was a snake.

Dramatic as the markings appear in a still shot — and also when the ground squirrel stopped to stare at me — they provided very effective camouflage when it was running through deeper grass.

This little rodent looked about eight or nine inches long, from tip of nose to tip of tail, and about two inches high. It wouldn't let me near enough to guess closer than that.

What is this? A Thirteen-Lined Ground Squirrel.
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 3, 2011. 


Lakeside Shells at Buffalo Pound

I lived beside the ocean for so long as a child that when I see a shell, I automatically think, 'seashell.' But there are land snails, too, and molluscs that live in lakes.

On Saturday, we drove out from Regina to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park to enjoy the late summer weather (33+C). These pictures were taken at the edge of Buffalo Pound Lake, where these (not sea!) shells lay in a line of debris washed along the shore by waves from speedboats and the wind.

What are these? Prairie lake shells, washed ashore?  (or land shells?
Location: Buffalo Pound Lake, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 24, 2011. 


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn Colours in Hot September

Autumn leaves - photo by Shelley Banks

Is it summer or fall in Saskatchewan? It was 33C today, near the end of September. We drove out to Buffalo Pound Provincial Park to look for birds at Nicole Flat, but the marsh walkways are destroyed (by spring floods? or neglect? or winter preparation?) and so we walked on the hill for while, in the heat.  


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Western Plains Garter Snake

Saskatchewan garter snake © SB   
Oh, what a lovely snake! Truly, this Western Plains Garter Snake is gorgeous, though completely unnerving if it twitches in front of your foot, where you thought there was only grass...

I came across this snake in the cemetery at Lebret, Saskatchewan, a day after being startled by a similar one near Fort Qu'Appelle, SK.

This is a Thamnophis radix, a common Saskatchewan garter snake. As the University of Alberta says, the quick way to ID this species is this: If you look down into the grass and see a dark snake with a red or orange stripe, it's likely to be the WPGS, aka, Thamnophis radix haydeni. 

This garter snake seemed totally unafraid of me. A good thing, as that meant it was prepared to pose!

All pictures taken September 10, 2011, in the Lebret, SK, Cemetery.

A loooonnnngggg snake © SB

I am now very scared... © SB   

Okay, maybe I'm not frightened after all... © SB  

What is this? Thamnophis radix, the Western Plains Garter Snake. 
Location: Cemetery, Lebret, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 10, 2011.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Black-Crowned Night Heron near Craven SK

Black-Crowned Night Heron, in marsh east of Craven  © SB 

Along Highway 99, East of Craven, Saskatchewan: One of the biggest and most surprising birds I've seen is this Black-Crowned Night Heron. It was lurking in the newly renovated (thanks to this springs' floods) marsh along Highway 99, east of Craven. 

And yes, this is supposed to be a primarily nocturnal bird — but clearly one that doesn't follow all the rules, as it was only 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. — close to our bright prairie noon. 

This bird is huge — more penguin-sized than anything else. It's also very good at hiding — although perhaps not quite as good as it hopes it is... 

I'd stopped along the gravel shoulder to look at a Great Blue Heron that was hanging out further into the marsh, and it wasn't until after that heron flew away that I noticed this one lurking behind a clump of reeds. 

Flower note: They're too blurry to identify, but from the bright pink colour, the flowers in the top photo with the Night Heron may be Water Smartweed

You can't see me! © SB 

What is this? Black-Crowned Night Heron, a very large bird. 
Location: Along Highway 99, East of Craven, yes, Saskatchewan. 
Photo Date: September 4, 2011. 


Monday, September 5, 2011

Full House at Thistle Diner

Butterfly on thistle flower - photo by Shelley Banks
Full house at Thistle Diner: Butterfly, fly & bumblebee  

I'd like to describe this picture — the last in a series with these three insects — in terms of a children's cross-genre fantasy epic...

Princess Butterfly recoiled in horror as the steel-plated robot bumblebee crawled closer, his henchman fly guarding the blossom behind him. 

And she does. Recoil, I mean. Her proboscis, that is. Which is coiled, indeed. (And, while I regret any potential gender stereotyping, in this story, the butterfly is, in fact, a princess in a flowing yellow gown.)

The shot immediately before this picture, in which the butterfly appears to first notice the bumblebee, is on my Prairie Wildflowers blog.


Potter, Burrowing Owl: Rotating Head

What's front or back when your head rotates like this? 

There is something eerie about a creature like Potter, the Burrowing Owl, whose head can rotate 270 degrees, so that he stares at you like this, body aiming forward, face back.

For Potter's full bouquet, see below, Burrowing Owl Floral Arrangement. (Try doing it with your head facing backwards...)

What is this? A somewhat-tame burrowing owl — he's being imprinted to help educate people about the issues his at-risk species faces. 
Location: Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 4, 2011. 


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Burrowing Owl Floral Arrangement

Live Burrowing Owl perches in florist's arrangement - photo by Shelley Banks
Gerbera Daisies and a Burrowing Owl © SB

Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Floral arrangement: Burrowing Owl with Gerbera Daisies. Who wouldn't want a bouquet like this delivered to their door?

The frame around Potter, the Burrowing Owl, is fake — but the rest of this picture is absolutely genuine.

I drove out to Moose Jaw today to see Potter, the latest Burrowing Owl ambassador — who must be about six week old, and, although he seems tiny, is now nearly adult-sized. He's being imprinted*, and so spends his time with people, and one of his hang-outs is at the BOIC office on the MJ Exhibition Grounds.

Potter is also very patient — and as the newest star of the centre, he is clearly used to cameras. After posing on the floor and a chair for a me, he flew up to this far more photogenic location — a bouquet on the office desk.

*And why is Potter being imprinted? So that he can work with the team at the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre to educate people from school children to adults about this species at risk. And how at risk are Burrowing Owls? These owls are on Canada's endangered list, and Manitoba says they are on the brink of being wiped out across the Prairies. And why are burrowing owls endangered? That's complicated... loss of habitat, decreased prey, fewer burrows...  


Potter the Burrowing Owl Drifts off to Sleep

Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, SK: One final picture of Potter, the Burrowing Owl. Given how late it is when I'm writing this and how tired I feel, it's appropriate that he's drifting to sleep. Drifting bird-style, of course, propped on one foot.

Potter, Burrowing Owl - photo by Shelley Banks
Time for sleep...   © SB
Nature Saskatchewan describes these small birds of prey as "slightly larger than a robin." In the wild, they may live only an average of three to four years. Most of Canada`s (few) burrowing owls migrate 2,500 to 3,500 km to southern Texas and Central Mexico; their flight begins from late August to mid-October, and by November, we hope that they`ve arrived.


Burrowing Owls in the Office

Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, Saskaskatchewan: When you are raising an imprinted Burrowing Owl in your office, where do you let it sit?

Anywhere it wants! You want the bird to accept people and not be afraid, don't you? So it's all good. The owl can land safely on the desk, the chair, the flowers, your hair...

Wait a minute! An owl... on your head... ??? Well, on Lorri's head at least. She works with the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, and her hair was Potter's chosen perch for a while this afternoon. (After he got out of the Burrowing Owl floral arrangement, he flew right up.)

It's not unusual for Potter to land on someone's head... The BOIC's Facebook page talks about Potter landing on a little boy's head this weekend. Tears at first ensued, but then they became friends.

Potter, the Burrowing Owl, on Lorri's head, © SB

What is this? A somewhat-tame burrowing owl — he's being imprinted to help educate people about the issues his at-risk species faces. 
Location: Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 4, 2011. 


Cedar Waxwing Calling: Anybody Out There?

Cedar Waxwing © SB 

Condie Nature Refuge:  One Cedar Waxwing called from the top of a drowned tree along Boggy Creek.

See, see, see.

It waited. No bird answered. It flew away.

What is this? A Cedar Waxwing, a fairly common prairie bird. 
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, near Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo Date: September 3, 2011.


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