Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Forster's Tern: Tumbling from the sky

On a gray May Saskatchewan day, this white tern tumbled from the sky into a slough and caught — I wonder what? The tern's black-tipped orange beak seems to be holding something dark. A fish, perhaps?

This has been identified as a Forster's tern for several reasons:
  1. It looked almost white;
  2. Its tail is luxuriously long and beautiful — a give-away sign;
  3. Several have been noted here recently.

Elegance of motion, white feathers, wing, tail, clouds © SB 
The splash and capture by Forster's Tern © SB 
Success - the tern flies away with his prize © SB 

What is this?  Forster's Tern  
Location: Near Yellow Grass, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: May 21, 2012.  


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mountain Bluebird in the Valley

Mountain Bluebird on fence
beside its nestbox  © SB
On the weekend, I saw two nest boxes in the valley with active pairs of Mountain Bluebirds hovering nearby.

A rarity, yes, as most boxes along the Qu'Appelle east of Craven are busily occupied by tree swallows.

And oh, the loveliness of this tiny bird!

Mountain Bluebirds are so vividly blue — and so amazingly easy to pass by without even seeing.

I'm fascinated by how colours that on close examination look vivid and distinct blend to invisibly into the surroundings.

But then again, perhaps we rarely look at what surrounds us.

I feel honoured to know these bright, impossibly possible Mountain Bluebirds exist, and somewhat sad to realize it took me 15 year in Saskatchewan to find them.

At the nestbox  © SB

What is this?  Mountain Bluebird
Location: Near the little church across the valley from Craven, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: May 19, 2012.  


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Western Painted Turtles at Wascana Lake

Hi, I'm a Western Painted Turtle - who are you?  © SB
When the Friends of Wascana Marsh held an outdoor nature festival in Wascana Park a couple of weeks ago, one highlight for me was the chance to see Western Painted Turtles on the shallow shore and mud along the edge of the lake.

Online images of Western Painted Turtles often show a tiny human hand holding an even tinier turtle.

But these guys were in the wild, far from hands and fingers, and looked about a foot long. (Sources say perhaps 10 inches; I had no ruler. They may be right.)

The scientific name for these beauties is Chrysemys picta bellii — chryso, from Greek for gold, and emys, for the same for freshwater tortoise. Picta? That's easy: Painted, or Latin for coloured. 

And while I really wanted bellii to refer to these Western Painted Turtles' very bella bellies, I was surprised (or do I mean, disappointed?) to learn that instead of beautiful, bellii apparently refers instead to zoologist Thomas Bell, a collaborator of Charles Darwin's. 

Hmm... I think I prefer my etymology... Or we could rename with a word merge: 

Chrysemys picta bella belly bellii. 

By any name, beautiful. But, like so much of life, only beautiful when you stop and look. First, you have to know that the turtles are there (and not carelessly destroy their habitat). Then, you have to look beyond their dull, sun-glazed upper shells to see the amazing markings of their skin and undersides.     

Group of Western Painted Turtles sunning on the west side
of the water, Wascana Lake 
© SB  

Side view, Western Painted Turtle.   © SB  

What are these?  Western Painted TurtleChrysemys picta bellii
Location: Wascana Marsh (the enclosed area, beside the lake), Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: May 12, 2012.  


Friday, May 11, 2012

Black and White Warblers: Willow Creepers

My latest warbler of the year is the Black and White Warbler, a tiny distinctive bird that creeps up, down and around the trunks of trees, foraging for insects. 

Again, I'd love to have a clearer shot of this guy, but he was either too watchful and shy, or too occupied by the bugs in the depths of crannies and on the backs of branches to wait for me to focus.  

Black and White Warbler pauses in his downward
feeding walk on this willow tree.  © SB
Upside down Black and White Warbler watches me. © SB

What is this?  Black and White Warbler  
Location: Les Sherman Park (west of Neil Balkwill Centre) Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: May 9, 2012.  

Yellow Warblers: Spring in Regina

The Yellow Warblers are back — it finally feels like spring is really here in Saskatchewan! There is even a hint of summer in their bright flashes of colour in the trees. 

Warblers are shy creatures, and unlike shore birds that placidly pose in open water, they like to hide in bushes. From me, at least. 

And so, while it would be lovely to post a clear shot of these bright Yellow Warblers, that is not yet to be, as they have yet to pose for me...

Yellow Warbler © SB  

Hiding in the branches © SB   

Yellow Warbler
in willows
© SB   

What are these?  Yellow Warblers  
Location: #1-2, Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan (near the swimming pool); #3, Condie Nature Refuge, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: #1-2, May 9, 2012; #3, May 5, 2012.  


Yellow-Rumped Warblers: Wascana Park, Regina

Warbler bandit on patrol
Yellow-rumped Warbler at Wascana Park. ©SB 
I saw my first warblers this month — and these Yellow-rumped Warbler were among the first.

Yellow-rumped Warblers may look brown flitting through the trees.

However, with luck, few leaves and good lighting, as soon as the warblers stop on a branch, the yellow flashes on the head, sides and rump will be clearly visible — along with the black head markings.

(And is it just me, or does the top warbler look like it's scowling?) 

A much more friendly looking bird.©SB  

What are these?  Yellow-rumped Warblers
Location: Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan (first: north of the Legislative Buildings; second, along the path by the lake, south of the summer bird refuge.)  
Photo date: May 4, 2012


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Yellow-Headed Blackbirds in Saskatchewan Slough

Dozens of Yellow-headed Blackbirds thrive among the reeds in a slough not far north of Regina.

These are the first Yellow-headed Blackbirds I've seen in the 15 years I've lived in Saskatchewan — and while I won't say the wait was worth it, I will say that I'm glad it's over.

To me, the stark contrast looks unreal, as if a bright yellow bird had donned a black mask and robe, then wandered, scowling, into the swamp.

They are not exactly melodious. Instead, their song sounds like the raspy squeal of huge metal hinges, a door that will not open.

But glowingly beautiful  — yes, I will grant these lovely (noisy!) birds that!


What is this?  Yellow-headed Blackbird
Location: Slough north of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: May 5, 2012. 


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

White-Throated Sparrow: Canada Songbird

White-Throated Sparrows have arrived in our backyard, singing their Canada song. (At least, that's how the bird guides "oh-sweet-Canada" describe it, and Gord calls them the Canada Bird, so that must be right.)

From a distance, White-Throated Sparrows look like White-Crowned Sparrows. To me, at least. When these songbirds are in the branches of the lilac tree, and I am perhaps not totally attentive.

Up close, there are a few significant difference, such as the bright yellow spot above the eye and their clearly defined white throat patch.

Apparently, these forest sparrows breed mostly across Canada — so why not call White-Throated Sparrows Canada birds?

White-Throated Sparrow - Canada songbird.©SB
White-Throated Sparrow - 
looks white-whiskered to me! ©SB

What is this?  White-Throated Sparrow 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 30, 2012. 


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Harris's Sparrow: Migrating North

Harris's Sparrow, a visitor winging north to Canadian boreal forests and tundra to nest, stopped at my backyard feeder this week. These small songbirds, recognizable by their black bibs, foreheads, napes and crowns, travel north and south by season through the centre of North America.

Here's a cool fact: Harris's Sparrow is the only bird species that nests in Canada — and nowhere else in the world! (I know this is true — and a cool fact  —  because All About Birds tells me so.) 

Harris's Sparrow pecking through sunflower seeds
Harris's Sparrow watching me, watching him.

Harris's Sparrow, eating seeds.

What is this?  Harris's Sparrow 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 28, 2012. 


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