Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Black-billed Cuckoo Hiding in Branches

A Black-billed Cuckoo hid behind branches at the bend on the hill, where Seven Bridges Road leads down into the valley near Lumsden, Saskatchewan. The bird watched me, then flew to deeper shelter, behind a sturdy branch that blocked my view of its bill and long tail feathers.

These secretive birds breed in Saskatchewan in summer, but I've never heard their call. 

Black-billed Cuckoo, hiding behind a slender branch.  © SB

Black-billed Cuckoo, offering a glimpse
of its long tail feathers and red eye.  
© SB  

What is this bird? A Black-billed Cuckoo
Location: Along Seven Bridges Road, near Lumsden, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  July 26, 2012.  


Monday, July 30, 2012

Burrowing Owls: Grasslands, Pasture and Imprinted

Potter, the Burrowing Owl,
poses in Moose Jaw. © SB
The easiest way to get a photo of a Burrowing Owl in Saskatchewan is to visit the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre in Moose Jaw.

But, depending on background and timing, the resulting image (as shown at left) may not seem realistic...

For example, I adore Potter — last year's newborn and newly imprinted Burrowing Owl  but the photograph of him standing on a sheet-covered chair, with a bird poster behind, does not look at all like a Burrowing Owl in the wild!

Ditto, my shot of Potter, the Burrowing Owl in a floral arrangement, or this same little Burrowing Owl drifting off to sleep. Or my photograph of Potter sitting in someone's glowing red hair and head-swivelling in flowers

But pictures in natural settings are so much more challenging. Burrowing Owls are only about eight or ten inches tall, so they can easily hide in grasses or simply be too far away for a camera to capture. 

They are also most visible when nesting, but that is a critical time when they should not be disturbed. 

Back to photography... As examples of shooting a tame, imprinted Burrowing Owl, zoom in on the details of Potter, above.

And then try the same, with these totally wild Burrowing Owls in their natural prairie settings, first at Grasslands National Park and then on a privately-owned pasture southeast of Regina.

Burrowing Owl beside burrow in Prairie Dog Colony,
Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan 
© SB

Family of Burrowing Owls in Saskatchewan pasture,
southeast of Regina. (Two on dock stalk,
one to the left, half-hidden in the grass.)  
© SB  

I spent close to an hour chatting with the owner of the pasture, who'd offered to point out the burrow location after I told him I'd seen the owls on nearby fence posts and these stalks of dock. (And yes, he has officially reported this nesting site and is now receiving support — aka, frozen white mice — to feed the Burrowing Owls... I stayed far out by the road for the pictures, but he drives right up to the burrow near the dock to drop off their extra food. They're never visible when he wheels by, but he says the food he leaves for them quickly disappears.)

The owls in  GNP also receive similar dead/frozen/rodent sustenance to help broods of this endangered species survive. (I was surprised by how few nests there were in the park... Perhaps 12? This truly is a precious threatened bird.)

What are these birds? Burrowing Owls
Locations: #1, Potter: Saskatchewan Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; #2, owl in the grass: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan (at second Black-tailed Prairie Dog Colony); #3, three owls with stalks of dock: Pasture, southeast of Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates: #1, September 4, 2011; #2, June 23, 2012; #3, July 23, 2012. 


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Downy Woodpecker Drilling at my Window Ledge

A rat-tat-tat-tat from the window caught my attention. I looked up to see a Downy Woodpecker on the windowsill, his beak busy drilling at the ledge.

By the time I got outside to take his picture, he'd flown from the house to the crab apple, and then to the tree by the road.  (He = male = yes. You can tell by the red spot at the back of his head.) 

The Downy Woodpecker who was at
my home office window. © SB

Several weeks ago, I saw a female Downy Woodpecker, and had a slightly better chance to capture her feathers and markings.

Female Downy Woodpecker - no red spot.  ©  SB

What are these birds? Downy Woodpeckers
Location: Male: Front yard, Regina, Saskatchewan. Female: Wascana Park, Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  Male: July 26, 2012. Female: May 25, 2012. 


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Turkey Vulture on High-Flying Carcass Hunt

A Turkey Vulture soared over the Qu'Appelle Valley ahead of me as I drove down Route 99 from Highway 6 towards Craven, Saskatchewan.

This bird, a huge, high raptor, was noticeable for the size of its wingspan — and its small beak and head. (Turkey Vultures' heads, of course, are featherless and red  but I couldn't see that from the ground, nor is the colour highly visible in the photos I took.) 

Turkey Vulture on high-flying hunt © SB

I was surprised by how beautiful the Turkey Vulture was from far below, its under-feathers frilly and light in flight. 

This scavenger spun high on thermals over the valley, and then — on the scent of a carcass?  dove into the hills below.

(And the Turkey Vulture's protective-shield effect continues; this is the second vulture I've seen in the valley, and I haven't yet managed a sharp, noise-free shot.)  

eta: Finally! Some great shots of Turkey Vultures

What is this bird? Turkey Vulture
Location: Qu'Appelle Valley, along Rte 99 (west of Highway 6), Saskatchewan.
Photo date:  July 26, 2012.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Sulphur Butterfly on Blue Aster

Butterflies are frequent visitors to a wildflower garden in downtown Regina, Saskatchewan  Skippers, White Admirals, Monarchs — and, as photographed here, little yellow Sulphur butterflies. 

This Sulphur is feeding from the nectar of a blue violet Aster, a flower now starting to bloom. 

Yellow Sulphur Butterfly Feeding on Blue Aster   © SB

What is this? Sulphur Butterfly
Location: Royal Saskatchewan Museum's Native Plant Garden, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date:  July 12, 2012.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

White-Tailed Deer at Grasslands National Park

This White-tailed deer watched from the wildflowers as we drove along the Frenchman River Valley Ecotour through Grasslands National Park in Saskatchewan this summer.

White-tailed Deer at Grasslands National Park, Canada. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
White-tailed deer.  © SB

What is this deer? White-tailed deer
Location: Grasslands National Park, Saskatchewan.
Photo date:  June 23, 2012.


All images are copyright and may not be used without permission. Thanks! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Upland Sandpiper: South America to Saskatchewan

What big eyes! The Upland Sandpiper calmly watched me
take photographs for several minutes.  
© SB
My first reaction when I saw this Upland Sandpiper perched on a fence post south of Chaplin, Saskatchewan, was:

"What a funny looking shorebird — such a tiny head!"

By the time I saw my third Upland Sandpiper that day, however, I had become charmed by these sandpipers' calm manner  they never seemed at all alarmed that I stopped my car near them to take photographs — and especially by their big, black, attentive eyes.

The small head and large eyes are two of the Upland Sandpiper's three most identifiable body features (along with the short, straight bill), says the pamphlet from the Chaplin Nature Centre. 

Upland Sandpipers arrive by mid-May at the Chaplin Lake areawhere they nest in nearby pastures and wetlands, the Chaplin pamphlet says, adding that these sandpipers breed in most of southern Saskatchewan.  

Beyond Borders, a booklet I picked up at the Nature Centre says these shorebirds winter in South America on the pampas of Brazil and Argentina. They prefer open grasslands, hayfields and pastures, are seldom seen in large groups, and often perch on rocks, trees, and  yes that's where my three most certainly were  on fence posts. 

The Beyond Borders booklet says Upland Sandpipers call is like 
a "wolf whistle".  This bird was somewhat more generally chatty. © SB 

What is this bird? Upland Sandpiper 
Location:  Near the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve, south of Chaplin, Saskatchewan.
Photo date:  June 29, 2012.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lark Bunting: Male, Female and Molting Plumage

Lark Buntings watched from fence posts as I drove through prairie pasture land along a township road south of Regina, Saskatchewan.

The male Lark Bunting in breeding plumage was the easiest to identify. Black, with a bluish bill and white wing flashes, this bird stands out from other tiny brown-striped grassland birds.

Lark Bunting in Saskatchewan.   © SB

The female Lark Bunting was also fine to ID — as soon as she pirouetted through a turn to show that she, too, had white wing flashes. And what a fine grasshopper! The other females of this species that I saw also had insects in their beaks. Great hunters!

Female Lark Bunting with Grasshopper. Saskatchewan  © SB

But this final Lark Bunting, a moulting male, baffled me. I couldn't guess what kind of bird I'd photographed until I got home and enlarged the image. (I use a lens that zooms to 300mm, but my bird shots are usually tiny crops from the resulting photograph; lacking super-vision, I can't see as far in real life as the camera sees.)

Molting Male Lark Bunting on Fence Rail.  © SB

This moulting male Lark Bunting has his own strange beauty, as his mating colours fade to winter browns, whites, grays. 

What are these birds? Lark Buntings  —  male in breeding plumage, female, and moulting male.
Along Township Road 102, south of Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo date:  July 23, 2012.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Baltimore Oriole: Improbably, brilliantly orange

I've seen very few Baltimore Orioles this season — only two, in fact: first, the improbably, brilliantly orange and black bird in this photograph, taken in Saskatchewan's Qu'Appelle Valley; and second, an equally vibrantly orange bird, high in a tree in Regina's Wascana Park.

Baltimore Orioles summer and breed here, but so far, the specialized oriole feeder we bought is not doing its job: Not a single oriole has been sighted in or near our yard.

I was startled when this bird landed on a post beside me;
such a brilliant colour!  © SB

What is this bird? A Baltimore Oriole
Location: In the Qu'Appelle Valley, on the road from Rte 99 over to the little church near Craven, Saskatchewan. 
Photo date:  May 25, 2012. 


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Prairie Muskrats in Saskatchewan

Muskrat near Chaplin, Saskatchewan © SB  
Today, a few photographs of muskrats from my files.

These furry mammals with their long front teeth and freaky bony fingers are common in prairie sloughs and creeks, where they glide silently through murky water, swishing their leathery black tails.

The photos here of muskrats are all from early spring, when ice folded at the edges of the water, and packed snow lined the creeks. 

The first two pictures —  muskrat facing left, and the same muskrat swimming — were taken near the lake south of Chaplin, Saskatchewan, at the end March. Warm weather came late this year and that's ice on the bank, not sand. 

The third picture, of a muskrat eating a submerged reed, was also taken in late March  and chunks of ice are obvious around the muskrat's feet. 

Muskrat near Chaplin swimming in the creek.   © SB   
Early Spring. Muskrat at Valeport Marsh, Saskatchewan © SB  

What are these animals? Muskrats
Location: #1 and #2: South of Chaplin, Saskatchewan; #3: Valeport Marsh, near Craven, Saskatchewan. 

Photo date: #1 and #2: March 31, 2012; #3: March 25, 2012. 


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Ursa Major - Great Bear above my Prairie House

I was delighted to see the Big Dipper bright in the West when I looked out this week at the night prairie sky. 

I took a series of photographs, and the next day realized I'd captured Ursa Major, the Great Bear — the lovely nymph Callisto cast into the heavens to circle the North Star.

The Big Dipper is likely the first constellation that anyone learns  except that it's not a constellation at all, but instead, an asterism that makes up an unlikely tail and other parts of sprawling Ursa Major

The Big Dipper is extremely easy to find in our Northern sky. The Great Bear's body and legs are also fairly simple on a clear, dark night.

And her muzzle, I can see, too — a bright star called Muscida, at the far right end of the line formed across the bowl of the dipper, then the top of the bear's body and off into the fainter clusters of sky objects.

After peering at the image for a while, I can also see her eyes.

As for her ears and the exact shape of her head, I'll need a very dark night to figure those out. (And yes, "her." Ursa Major is a female bear, and Ursa Minor, the Little Dipper, may or may not be her son.)

The Big Dipper is marked in red, the bear's body and legs
in purple, and a rough outline of her head, in green.
(See her muzzle and eyes?)
 © SB  

I think, however, that my outline of this constellation looks more like a horse than a bear, perhaps because of the Big Dipper's handle, which creates that long, elegant tail. It may also be because the fainter stars that help bulk out this shape are not visible within the city.

But now, when I go back and look at the first photograph with just the stars, and half close my eyes, I start to see and feel the presence of the Great Bear in our northern sky.

What are these stars? Ursa Major, the Great Bear (with the Big Dipper) 
Location: Backyard, looking West, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: 10:55 p.m., July 18, 2012.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Belted Kingfishers near Regina, Saskatchewan

Belted Kingfisher, near Regina, SK © SB
I saw this Belted Kingfisher in early spring.

I was impressed by its colours and perky, aggressively cartoon-like head feathers and long narrow bill...

And I thought, 'Surely I'll see more of these birds on the prairie, as spring moves to summer in Saskatchewan.'

But I did not.

And so, to prove to myself that I saw a Belted Kingfisher near my home, here is my little bird — in a very tiny crop  photographed from a great distance away at the Condie Nature Refuge, north of Regina, Saskatchewan. 

Belted Kingfisher at Condie Nature Refuge © SB

What is this bird? Belted Kingfisher
Location: Condie Nature Refuge, North of Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: April 21, 2012.  


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fledgling Brown Thrashers in the Backyard

Long-tailed, beautiful secretive bird, usually in hiding.
(Carrying a scavenged seed.)© SB
Regina, Saskatchewan: For the past few days, we've caught glimpses of adult Brown Thrashers in our yard, foraging under the bird feeders.

Yesterday, two fledgling Brown Thrashers also appeared.

I don't know where their nest was — perhaps in the bushes between our garage and the neighbour's yard, where they often seemed to hover. 

At least one adult was with the young Brown Thrashers — perhaps both were. But the birds rarely stayed still and I saw only one adult with them at a time. 

AllAboutBirds calls the Brown Thrasher "a large, skulking bird of thickets and hedgerows", and says they have "one of the largest song repertoire of any North American bird." 

These Brown Thrashers weren't singing, but only demanding bugs and nuts (the young), and issuing reprimands (the adult/s).

Brown Thrashers are beautiful, with rust-coloured feathers and golden eyes. At least, the adults' eyes look golden; under frequent heavy cloud, the fledglings' eyes looked much more hazy, almost blue. 

Today, I've heard and seen no sign of them. I guess the fledglings' wings are stronger, and they've flown.  

(For the record, I stayed inside and took these pictures through the window in dim light between bouts of rain. And yes, this part of my yard does have a dandelion or two...) 

Adult Brown Thrasher feeds one of the fledglings.  © SB 
The demands of parenthood...
(The fledgling at left, at least, has a seed) 
© SB
Fledgling Brown Thrasher.  This guy could fly a little
and also spent time in the lilac branches and perched
on garden stakes. But mostly, he ran and hopped. 
© SB 

What are these? Brown Thrashers
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: July 15, 2012.  


Monday, July 9, 2012

Western Painted Turtle in Wascana Creek

Regina, Saskatchewan: A wildlife treat at lunch today — a Western Painted Turtle swimming in Wascana Creek. These pictures of this colourful, long-clawed prairie turtle are taken from the little bridge not far from Albert Street.

This turtle looked about a foot long, and was completely invisible once submerged in the algae in Wascana Creek.  (The bits of algae are sharp in the images; without my telephoto lens, they blurred to solid green.)

For more about these turtles  and a glimpse at their wonderful painted lower  see the Western Painted Turtle post from earlier this spring, when I located the spot in Regina where they like to sun.

(And yes, for the record, I still love their name: Chrysemys picta bellii. Bella belly, indeed!) 

Western Painted Turtle in Wascana Creek
  check out the claws!   © SB
Verde, que te quiero verde... Verde agua...
How green can it get! And the turtle, too. © SB

What is this? Painted TurtleChrysemys picta bellii
Location: Wascana Creek (west of the Albert Street Bridge), Regina, Saskatchewan.
Photo date: July 9, 2012.  


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Orange Skipper Butterflies on Purple Flowers

Skipper butterfly feeding on flowers
(Note the long proboscis sipping)  © SB 
Tiny skipper butterflies fed on wildflowers and rested in the grass beside Wascana Creek in Regina last week.

Skippers as a group are easy to identify because their furry bodies are so large in proportion to their wings, at least compared to many other butterflies.

They are also very small — overall, these butterflies are less than an inch long. They were tricky to snap pictures of because they rarely paused long as they skipped from blossom to blossom.

There are many different kinds of skippers, and I'm not really sure what kind sips from our Regina flowers. 

However, the dark rim and markings on their wings look like Delaware Skippers. (Here's their range map, and yes, it includes Saskatchewan.) Perhaps someone who knows will comment here. 

Skipper butterfly on a stalk of grass  © SB
Top view, Skipper butterfly   © SB

What are these?  Skipper butterflies on alfalfa or wild purple vetch. (Perhaps Delaware Skippers.) 
Location: Along Wascana Creek, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: July 5 and 6, 2012.  


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Sweet Yellow Clover at the edge of the Dirt Hills

Summer south of Avonlea, Saskatchewan © SB 

When I pulled off the road and rolled down the window to take this picture, my van filled with the sweet honeyed scent of yellow clover. I sat for a while, slowly relaxing, inhaling. Summer. 

What is this?  Rural landscape. (Foreground: sweet yellow clover, with a band of Canola behind at the foot of the gentle slope of the hill.)
Location: At the edge of the Dirt Hills, somewhere south of Avonlea, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: June 30, 2012.  


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Prairie Hawk with Fresh Kill

Swainson's Hawk with kill on fencepost © SB 
The Swainson's Hawk lifted slowly into the air from its fence post when I drove past, only to land a few posts further down the gravel road.

Until I passed that post.

And then again, the hawk rose.

And again.

When I slowed to take a picture of this hawk at the fourth (and for me, final) post, I saw why it might have been flying such short distances with each lurch into the sky.

The heavy weight of dinner. A fresh kill. Something once furred, now degloved, lay beneath its claws.


And yes, I'm pretty sure this is a Swainson's Hawk... 

But as for the prey, it looks like a lot of meat for a gopher... Who knows? 

What is this?  A Swainson's Hawk. With prey.    
Location: South of Chaplin, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: June 29, 2012.  


Monday, July 2, 2012

Killdeer: Nine Mating Moves

Yes, this is a Killdeer mating sequence, shot south of Chaplin, Saskatchewan, along the shore of Chaplin Lake, part of the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network.

And no, I didn't deliberately shoot these killdeers mating. As those who know me know, I'm very short-sighted. My telephoto zoom is my vision piece. And, as those who've taken pictures with me also know, I take lots of shots at a time.

It's the law of large numbers: The more pictures I take of any given subject, the more chance there is that at least one will be in focus.

Or, they might reveal an interesting sequence... 

Like this...

The Nine Mating Moves of a Killdeer. 

1. The nonchalant approach. Really, this killdeer is just strolling down the beach. 
10:27:11 a.m. 

2. What's that? A hot new bird in the neighbourhood?  
 10:27:12 a.m. 

3. Maybe call. See if he's free and interested. 
10:27:14 am. 

4. Time for a drink. And a mirror. 
 10:27:26 a.m.

5. Ready. 
10:28:35 a.m.

6. Steady
(Only one pair of legs on the ground. Yes, it was the Killdeer foot count that told me something was going on.
10:28:40 a.m.

7. Go! (Or not. I was a very long way away.) 
10:28:48 a.m.

8. More action.  (Or maybe he's clambering off?
10:28:49 a.m.

9. The End.
10:28:51 a.m.

I don't know what that male did to lure her across the beach. Scraped a nest, perhaps? 

And yes, I was shocked when I realized what I had taken pictures of... I mean, isn't the end of June a bit late in the season for mating? What are they thinking? 


What are these?  Killdeers 
Location: South of Chaplin, along Chaplin Lake, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: June 29, 2012.  


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Blue Damselflies in the Garden

Glowing brown eyes of a blue damselfly © SB
Blue damselflies have arrived in my Regina backyard, feeding on (something in?) the grass and oregano.

I managed to get a couple of pictures of these quickly flitting — and very tiny (so difficult to focus)  insects. 

There are many kinds of damselflies. This, I know, because I have a copy of Dragonflies and Damselflies in the Hand. (Hutchings and Halstead, Nature Saskatchewan.)

And that book's focus is Saskatchewan's Boreal Forest, for which it lists at least nine kinds of damselflies; who knows how many others are here in the south of the province, on the Prairie? 

Well, someone no doubt does   just not me.

So when I write, Blue, please understand that I mean Blue in its most generic, colour-descriptive sense. Because these are  Blue

Except for their oddly yellow-brown eyes. 

Blue damselfly on grass blade © SB  

What are these?  Blue damselflies   
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: June 28, 2012.  


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