Monday, March 26, 2012

Prairie Gopher: Richardson's ground squirrel

Prairie Gopher stands and watches
from dry grass at the side of the road.© SB
A gopher ran through the grass at the side of the gravel road. When we stopped, he stopped. Then he stood — hands neatly clasped in front of him — and watched us.

Prairie gophers, aka Richardson's Ground Squirrels, are a common sight for summer drivers here. The gophers sunbathe on or skitter across small highways and grid roads. When cars approach, they scramble away — or stop and stare. (The lucky ones then skitter on.)

Most gophers seem shy and afraid of humans — a reasonable stance in a place where some (most?) humans see these ground squirrels as such significant pests (because of burrows and wide-ranging appetites) that people have been trapping, poisoning and shooting gophers — and cutting their tails off  — since the first homesteaders arrived. (Got to love "civilization.")

Pests? Perhaps.

But gophers remind me of meerkats posing by their dens. And the curiosity and sociable spirit they share, living in colonies and all, seems admirable.

And exotic! I've heard stories of eastern Canadian and European tourists more fascinated by these tiny creatures than by any of our other larger animals. (Yes, they need to see prairie dogs, that is true...)

Perhaps we need more photographers to capitalize on the cuteness of gophers?

A (massive green-clothed) gopher has long been the mascot for a local sport team. What other opportunities might there be for gophers to promote Saskatchewan?

What is this?  A Richardson's Ground Squirrel, locally known as a gopher.       
Location: North of Regina, Along Route 99, east of Craven, Saskatchewan.  
Photo date: March 25, 2012. 


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Canvasback ducks: Valeport Marsh, Saskatchewan

Female  canvasback,
surrounded by males.© SB
We drove to Valeport Marsh today looking for birds, those returning for summer or migrating through. There were about a dozen canvasback ducks — too far out in the semi-frozen water for my eyes to even notice, but my camera sees much farther, and when I scanned the edges of the pictures I'd taken of tundra swans, they appeared.


Male canvasbacks are brightly coloured with a rust head and neck, white sides and wing back, and red eyes. Female canvasbacks are drabber, but have that same distinctive sloping forehead and bill, says the National Wildlife Federation's Field Guild to Birds of North America.

I admire the fortitude of these ducks — floating in ice!

The river is semi-frozen, but the canvasbacks don't care  © SB

What are these? Canvasback ducks     
Location: Valeport Marsh, near Craven in the Quappelle Basin, north of Regina, near the picnic site.  
Photo date: March 25, 2012. 


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Redwinged Blackbirds: Flight Over Saskatchewan Marsh

Redwinged Blackbirds
with scarlet flashes hidden © SB
The song of the Red-winged Blackbird was familiar — but the colour was lacking in the cluster of birds in the reeds. Instead of the bright scarlet wing flash, only thin yellow lines showed.

All About Birds says this happens often with Red-winged Blackbirds: "Glossy-black males have scarlet-and-yellow shoulder patches they can puff up or hide depending on how confident they are."

Confidence aside, as these pictures show, redwings are without doubt more visible when their wings are, in fact, red!

The first picture also shows one mottled brown female Red-winged Blackbird in flight with the flock, as well as a couple of younger, more brown/yellow birds.

Redwinged  Blackbirds in flight.
(Note the female, flying low in the middle,
and the two more brown/yellow juveniles) 
© SB
Red-winged Blackbirds, Copyright  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
A squadron of Red-winged Blackbirds takes to the sky © SB

What are these? Red-winged Backbirds .     
Location: In a marsh north of Regina, off Route 734, west of Highway 11.  
Photo date: March 23, 2012. 


Friday, March 23, 2012

Red Fox After Prairie Winter

Looks like it's been a hard winter for this small red fox we saw north of Regina today. It was far off in a field, standing, watching. When we slowed the car parallel to — but still far from — the fox, it hunkered down to hide in the grass, then jumped up and bounded into the bush behind it.

This red fox's face reminds me of an old cat's swollen face after a fight. 

The fox also looks like it's glaring, certainly not happy to see me or be seen. 

May Spring be happier than Winter.... 

What is this? A red fox .     
Location: In a field north of Regina, along Rte 734, west of Highway 11.  
Photo date: March 23, 2012. 


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring: Muskrats in Wascana Creek

Muskrat: Wascana Creek, Regina © SB
Regina, Saskatchewan: A pair of muskrats swim in Wascana Creek near the city centre. They surface around a cluster of branches and sticks that perhaps hide the entrance to their den, burrowed into the bank.

One muskrat is cinnamon in tone, with the hint of a bandit mask beside the eyes. (Let's call her the female.) Her fur seems dry and fluffy as she floats along. Above the water, her tail... that thick bullwhip tail.

Muskrat: Crossing the creek.  © SB  
The other muskrat is darker. Sleek and very wet. He crosses the stream to our side and swims along the shore, heading away from us. I run back to get in front, to get this muskrat's picture.

Muskrat Love.

Captain and Tennille sang that, though my guess is most of us old enough to remember, remember only the odd title. Not the even odder words: Muskrat Suzie, Muskrat Sam, Do the jitterbug in Muskrat Land...  

Why the jitterbug? Why not the crawl? Or the sleek muskrat slide across the creek?

Sticks and branches: The muskrat den? 
She is swimming in front.  © SB  
The tail, the tail -- the muskrat's scaly tail.  © SB   
Meet the eyes of the wild things...
They, too, have a place on this earth. 

What are these?  .A pair of muskrats in Wascana Creek.     
Location: Near Kiwanis Park, east of the Elphinstone Bridge (pix taken from north/east side of creek), Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: March 18, 2012. 


Monday, March 19, 2012

Rough-Legged Hawk on Railway Crossing Signs

We saw several hawks on Saturday when we drove home from Moose Jaw to Regina along Highway 39. Only one — this Rough-Legged Hawk — was cooperative enough to sit on railway crossing signs and wait for the photo sessions to begin.

Rough-Legged Hawks breed in the Arctic and winter from southern Canada south, through grasslands and open cultivated areas. All About Birds highlights their dark wrists and broad dark bellies as identification marks.

The Cornell-sponsored ABB site also says that the Rough-Legged Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle are the only hawks in North America to be feathered all the way down their legs to their talons. (Extra warmth for their cold climates.) If you look closely, you can see the leg feathers in several of these images, all taken of the same (cooperative) hawk.

For more clues, I looked at How to Identify a Rough-Legged Hawk, from Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN.

After we passed this Rough-Legged Hawk perched on a whistle crossing sign, we turned around, went back, stopped near it. and took several pictures before the hawk slowly lifted and flew away — to the classic red and white X of the next railway crossing sign.

It was a dull day and this Rough-Legged Hawk was backlit, so all of these images have been processed to bring out detail and colour.

Rough-Legged Hawk on whistle-crossing sign. © SB

The hawk appeals to the human need
(greed?) for eye contact. © SB

Top markings, in flight. © SB

Under markings, with dark wrists and belly. © SB

Rough-Legged Hawk in flight. © SB

Rough-Legged Hawk
on prairie crossing sign. 
© SB

Close-up of Rough-Legged Hawk
Here's looking at you... © SB

What is this? A Rough-Legged Hawk.    
Location: Along Highway 39, from Moose Jaw to south of Regina, Saskatchewan.  
Photo dates: March 17, 2012. 


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Canada Goose on Ice (Wakamow Park)

A Canada Goose exploring that magical time — out of winter, but not quite spring, when rivers are frozen or maybe melt  — or maybe that's all an illusion.

These geese seem like year-round residents here. Yes, many Canada Geese fly south, and their Vs in spring and fall skies are impressive, as is the noise they make when they honk overhead on their flight. But some remain resident, always here, feasting on park and farmland, even in winter.

What is this? A Canada Goose.    
Location: Along the Wakamow (Moose Jaw River), in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, 
Photo dates: March 17, 2012. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Snowy Owl: Field Mice, Beware!

Snow owl - photo by Shelley Banks

Night Snowy Owl

Beware, beware, his flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice
and close your eyes with holy dread.
For he on lemming bones hath fed
And drunk the voles of Paradise!


Photo. Real, a snowy owl just north of Regina — but really taken in daytime. 
The Brightness slider plummeted; temptation gripped me, and I fell. 

Apologies to Coleridge fans for stealing lines from Kubla Khan. 
(For my sins, I had to study this in high school, and it stuck.) 


Monday, March 12, 2012

Jupiter and Venus meet in the night sky

Two of the brightest stars in the prairie sky right now are planets — Jupiter and Venus in conjunction in the west, clearly visible at dusk and for a few hours after.

Jupiter and Venus in conjunction, in Aires © SB 
I set up the tripod in the backyard about an hour after sunset. The picture above, taken when it was still light enough to catch the branches of a lilac bush and the deep blue evening sky, shows the constellation Aries at right, with the two planets on the left.

Venus is the brightest shining "star", while in this image, Jupiter (at left) has a slight pink fringe — a weird digital artifact. Not an artifact, but also (beautifully!) weird, are the dots above and below Jupiter, at about the 11 and 5 o'clock positions. Moons!  (Click to view larger.) 

Jupiter has moons!  © SB   

What is this? The early night sky, with Jupiter (left) and Venus (right) in conjunction in Aries.   
Location: My backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan. (facing west)  
Tech stuff:  ISO 400, 0.8 sec; Nikon D7000, Nikkor 40mm 2.8 lens; one hour after sunset.   
Photo dates: March 12, 2012. 


Monday, March 5, 2012

Exercising the Draft Horses

The weather has been lovely for walks, drives — and exercing the horses. I saw this pair of Belgians with their owner near Lumsdan, Saskatchewan. 

"Beautiful day," he called at me across the field. "Just exercising the horses." 

Dashing through the snow
On a two-horse open ... tire with seat?© SB

What a team! 

The seat/man are hidden behind the left horse. 

What are these? Belgian Draft Horses .    
Location: In a field along Highway 641, south of Lumsden, Saskatchewan, not long before going down the hill.  
Photo dates: March 4, 2012. 

Dark-Eyed Slate-Coloured Juncos - Regina Backyard Guests

Dark-eyed Juncos flit through our yard in winter. On a non-scientific basis (i.e., when I happen to be by the dining room window and I'm lucky enough to see them), I'd say they've shown up four or five times so far this season. Factor in the fact that I'm away most of the day and rarely at that window when I'm home, and (if you're good at this kind of analysis), you might have a clearer sense than I do of how frequent their visits really are.

I think these Dark-eyed Juncos are stunning. Seriously formal in their colours, and so beautifully distinctly different when seen from  above or below. Gray on white on gray on white on gray on white... Beats the mottled colours of the regular sparrows (about the same size, and my most common feeder guest) any time. I think... Right now, at least, looking at their photos, I think that... But then again, I really like House Sparrows...

In any case, judge for yourself — aren't they lovely?

Dark-Eyed Junco waiting for seeds. © SB

Dark-Eyed Junco at the suet feeder. © SB

Cornell's All About Birds website has photos of two main kinds of Dark-Eyed Juncos. The birds in my yard fall into the Slate Coloured branch of that family tree. It's not uncommon, according to the pictures on that site, for their gray back feathers to be mixed with brown — especially with females.

AAB says Juncos are sparrows, distinguished by their colouring especially the flash of white tail feathers in flight. They breed in deciduous or mixed forests, and winter in fields, parks, roadsides, and backyards across the country. They are a very common bird at feeders; if you're interested in their songs, there are audio files at the Cornell site.

What are these? Dark-Eyed Slate Coloured Juncos.   
Location: My backyard bird feeder, Regina,Saskatchewan.  
Photo dates: December 30, 2011


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The March Hare in my Regina Alley

After a mild winter, it's already March. But snow still covers the ground and the prairie hares are still very white. I startled this one when I backed my van out of the garage this morning. It ran ahead of me, down the alley — then stopped to pose for a picture. (Long lens; I was about one short alley block away.)

The March Hare -- prairie hare, March 4, 2012. 

I have other pictures of hares in this blog, at Whitetailed Jackrabbits in my Neighbourhood, and in LatitudeDrifts, at Morning Jackrabbits in Regina

What is this? White-tailed jackrabbit or prairie hare.
Location: Regina,Saskatchewan.
Photo dates: March 4, 2012


Fewer Snowy Owls - are they heading north, away from Regina?

Regina, Saskatchewan: There are fewer snowy owls now. A few weeks ago, any drive in the countryside would lead to half a dozen of more sightings of owls on posts and poles. Today, I saw only two: one far off into a field, and one skittish regular near St. Michael's, the retreat in Lumsden, SK.

Here's what may be my last clear shot for the year, a snowy owl north off Regina, west of Highway Six on the way to Craven.  I feel honoured to have witnessed the Winter 11/12 owl irruption from the Arctic.

Snowy Owl, February 20, 2012
north of Regina, SK, Canada  ©SB

What are these? Snowy Owls. For more pictures of these birds, see LatitudeDrifts
Location: near Regina,Saskatchewan.  
Photo dates: February 20, 2012


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