Friday, April 27, 2012

White-Crowned Sparrows in Regina

A new bird has been at our Regina, Saskatchewan, feeder this week: A White-Crowned Sparrow. At least, I'm convinced there is only one of these sparrows in the midst of all the House Sparrows and House Finches

This little White-Crowned Sparrow seems shyer than the others, but still quite happy to hang out, sheltering in the lilacs and seeking seeds on the ground. 

White-Crowned Sparrow in lilac branches © SB 

My new Audubon bird app indicates that White-Crowned Sparrows winter in the southern U.S., and migrate through the Prairies to their summer breeding grounds in the North. My iBird app tells me that the White-Crowned Sparrow is one of the best-studied songbirds in North America; much of our knowledge of bird song (and, says Audubon, of the physiology of migration — which makes me suspect knives in both these studies) comes from this bird.

As neutral as the White Crown's colouring is, this bird stands out from the others. While the rest of its body — pale gray and brown — blends with its surroundings, its stark black and white head markings seem vibrant and bright, even in late evening light.

White-Crowned Sparrow eating sunflower seeds © SB 

What is this?  White-Crowned Sparrow 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 27, 2012

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Horned Grebes at Condie Nature Refuge

Near Regina, Saskatchewan: A pair of Horned Grebes rode the waves on the lake at the Condie Nature Refuge on Sunday morning. 

They floated low on the water and the shape of their heads was distinctly unducklike, so I was hoping to see grebes when the images were enlarged.

It was fun to see the pictures emerge and realize that these Horned Grebes were in full mating feathers. Yes, I know — it's that time of year. But a naturalist, I am not! 

Apparently, Horned Grebes can raise and lower their behind-the-eye feathers at will — and when raised, they really look like horns.  

Horned Grebe at Condie Nature Refuge, SK.© SB


What are these?  Horned Grebes.
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, north of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 15, 2012. 
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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mountain Bluebirds: A Saskatchewan Pair

Near the church in the valley, north of Regina, Saskatchewan:  I saw my first Mountain Bluebirds (of the year — and ever!) yesterday, near the lovely St. Nicholas Church, in the Qu'Appelle Valley.

The initial Mountain Bluebird to catch our attention was a male, checking out one of the nest boxes along the road a short distance northeast of the church.

It sat on the fence wire, then fluttered around the opening and flew up to the top of the box. (We stayed in the car, and watched for several minutes.)

The second (and third) Mountain Bluebirds were a pair in the churchyard itself, which we saw later in the morning, as we circled back through the valley on the way home.

(There is a nest box in the churchyard, too — but, yes, these locations are so close, these Mountain Bluebirds may have been the same birds. scouting locations...)

Mountain Bluebirds are small surprising gems — when you're not paying attention, they seem to blend invisibly with their surroundings... But once you focus close (zoom in, mentally or with camera), their colours are so intense (All About Birds calls the males "breathtakingly brilliant sky blue") that I feel compelled to say that I did very little with these photos. (A tiny bit of sharpening, and some correcting for the weird ISO levels I'd left the camera at — and that's it.)

Mountain Bluebird, on nest box  © SB
Close-up (same shot as above)
of Mountain Bluebird 
© SB  

View of the valley near the bluebirds (Facing SW;
above pix were taken of second box from left)
 © SB
Mountain Bluebird pair in the churchyard,
on/above gravestone west of the church © SB   


What are these?  Mountain Bluebirds.
Location: Northeast of Craven, near St. Nicholas Church in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 14, 2012. 

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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Western Meadowlarks - Prairie Fence Post Birds

East of Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada: Driving along the valley today, we heard the songs of meadowlarks. Spring must be here, even if snow remains in the forecast.

We passed at least three Western Meadowlarks sitting on fence posts beside the road. This meadowlark was so well lit that we pulled over and took a few pictures from across the road.

Fencepost Western Meadowlark, slightly obscured by grasses. © SB 

What is this?  Western Meadowlark
Location: Northeast of Craven, Saskatchewan, along Route 99.
Photo date: April 14, 2012. 

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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Blue Snow Goose or Hybrid? A Mystery to Me!

Mystery goose with other lake geese   © SB  
A strange white-necked goose swam with the regular Canada/Cackling geese on Regina's Wascana Lake in late March.

Its head was white, too, and from the shape of its bill, it looked like a Snow Goose to me.

But I know very little about such things...

From what I've read, however, there are two colour patterns of Snow Geese — the white morph and the blue morph.

White is easy: These birds are primarily white.

Blue, less so. These bird are partly white, and partly gray-brown.

There are also references online to hybrid geese — so perhaps this was a cross of a Cackling and Snow?

(It was the same size as the others on the lake, which looked like small Canada Geese, so perhaps they were Cackling; I don't really know.)

These are my clearest images; not great, but this mystery bird was far across the lake.

Mystery goose with Cackling Geese and Tundra Swan,
Wascana Lake, Regina.  © SB

What is this?  A goose. Perhaps a Blue Morph Snow Goose, perhaps a hybrid with a Cackling Goose. Suggestions welcome! 
Location: Wascana Lake, Regina, Saskatchewan.  
Photo date: March 29, 2012. 


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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pelicans and Cormorants: Wascana Lake, Regina, SK

The pelicans are back in Regina, Saskatchewan. I saw my first in late March, and more (with cormorants!) in very early April, soaring over and congregating in Wascana Lake.

American White Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorants,
Tern Island, Wascana Lake, Regina. (With geese in background,
and a pair of canvasback ducks in foreground
) © SB

I've never seen Double-Crested Cormorants on Wascana before, but maybe I've never looked at the right time. When I went out to take photos early this April, close to a dozen cormorants clustered with an equal number of pelicans on Tern Island, in the lake.

American White Pelicans are huge birds, unmistakable in flight. I'm told they nest somewhere in our region; I know they feed in spring along Wascana Creek.

Pelican flying over the lake  © SB.

There's something eerie about pelicans head on...
Especially with the breeding bump on its bill. © SB  

During breeding season, pelicans develop a very large, easily visible  — even in flight — bump on their bill. This is shed at the end of the season. 

These two fish-eating species — pelicans and cormorants  — are often (or not) considered related, and said to nest together. When I saw them, Canada/cackling geese watched from a short distance away, but didn't move in to share these birds' space — interesting to see, as they'll swim at will with ducks and swans. 

Close-up of the Pelicans and Cormorants  © SB 

Another view of the Pelicans and Cormorants
on their little island 
© SB  

What are these?  In flight, America White Pelicans. On the beach of Tern Island, American White Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorants.         
Location: Wascana Lake, Regina, Saskatchewan.   
Photo date: In flight, March 28, 2012. On Tern Island, April 2, 2012. 


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Friday, April 6, 2012

Ring-Billed Gull at Lunch: Pelican Lake, Saskatchewan

The gull let out a screech
and headed for the centre
of the lake.© SB
I saw this gull over Pelican Lake, along Thunder Creek near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

The gull saw something just below the surface of the water, shrieked and flew out, then pounced.

I wonder what it caught...

A fish with long, thin fins?

A large yellow salamander?

A turtle? (The visible part looks a bit like that, but the shape beneath the water looks far more elongated.)

I didn't see the action until the pictures were taken; my camera sees farther than me.

Gull aiming to grab the long yellow creature,
just below the surface. 
© SB

Gull with lunch. Whatever it may be. © SB

What is this?  I think it's likely a ring-billed gull from its colour and the hint of a dark mark on its beak That's the most common gull in Saskatchewan at this time of year.        
Location: At the Ducks Unlimited viewing location, west side of Pelican Lake, north-west of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. (There is also a PL in the far north of SK, which I have yet to visit.)   
Photo date: March 31, 2012. 


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