Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Common Grackles in Regina, Saskatchewan

A flock of more than 60 Common Grackles descended on my front yard in Regina, Saskatchewan, today, chattering from the grass, trees, driveway, sidewalk and bird feeder.

Common Grackle. Copyright © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
One Common Grackle returned to the bird feeder.   © SB  

The grackles scattered as soon as I eased the door open to take a photograph.

Most of these large black birds then seized space on the neighbours' yards, until a city bus belted down the street and drove the horde of chattering birds ahead of its wake.

Chattering. Yes, grackles are noisy. Imagine 60 creaky gates exchanging gossip at the back of a hardware store.

The sight of so many grackles, yellow eyes glittering, chilled me. What else would come to mind but The Birds?

But grackles are also highly sociable — all that cheerful clattering from trees and lawns.

And they are strangely beautiful, their feathers iridescent in the sun.

What is this? Common Grackle
Location: Front yard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: August 22, 2012.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Turkey Vultures in Saskatchewan's Qu'Appelle Valley

Fence-post Turkey Vulture, displaying its long claws.  © SB
Eight Turkey Vultures sat on fence posts at the edge of the Qu'Appelle Valley, near Craven, Saskatchewan.

Further down the road, a dozen rose from a tree-filled coulee to soar across the sky.

In all, I saw more than 20 Turkey Vultures that day — a personal record.

Even better, I managed a few clear shots of this impressive, large (and very weird looking) bird.

These carrion-eaters have red featherless heads — good for personal hygiene, and an easy way to identify Turkey Vultures at close range. In the sky, their dark upper and light lower feathers are a better marker, as well as the shape of their wings and tail.

The Vulture Society says Turkey Vultures do well in landscapes with open and wooded areas, but can be found almost anywhere. (The Society also calls Turkey Vultures "gentle and non-aggressive," which will be good to remember if I am lucky enough to again be confronted by so many.)

Turkey Vultures: Eight on posts, two on the ground.   © SB

Turkey vultures: 10 flying over the trees.  © SB

Turkey Vulture, wings spread in flight.    © SB  

What are these?  Turkey Vultures
Location: Along Route #99 through the Qu'Appelle Valley, north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: August 10, 2012.  


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yellow Shafted Flicker near Lumsden, Saskatchewan

The Northern Flicker sat on a post in the Qu'Appelle Valley along Seven Bridges Road in Saskatchewan, unflinchingly watching me as I pulled over the shoulder, slowly wound down the window and took its picture.

When another car approached, this Flicker (a fairly large woodpecker) turned and rose in flight with a yellow flash of its wings, only a hint of which is shown here along the fine yellow edges of this bird's wing and tail.

Her wings and tail, I should say. The distinguishing feature between males and females in these Flickers (Yellow Shafted, from my books) is the black moustache males sport, which is absent here.

Northern Flicker, wind ruffling the feathers
of her spotted breast.    © SB

What is this? A Northern Flicker (Yellow Shafted Flicker) 
Location: Along Seven Bridges Road, north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: August 10, 2012.  


Friday, August 10, 2012

Black Terns: Moulting and Defending

The Black Tern screeches at me © SB.
The Black Terns who watched me pull over beside a Saskatchewan slough today may have thought I had baby birds on my mind.

(I had no thought of nests. I left the car only to try to take pictures of Smartweed, a pink native wildflower.)

Several Black Terns screeched across the water and circled low above my car — and my head — again, and again, and again, their mottled feathers bright in the July sun.

Only when I saw these photographs did I realize that at least one was carrying a large dragonfly in its beak. Food. Perhaps for itself, or for a fledgling.

I first saw Black Terns at this slough several weeks ago, when members of this breeding colony still wore their sleek black and gray distinctive feathers. Already, these terns are moulting, loosing black in belly patches as they change into their winter under-body white.

Black Tern with Dragonfly  © SB

What are these?  Black Terns  
Location: Near a slough, north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Photo date: August 10, 2012.  


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Red Crossbills in Cypress Hills: Male, female and juvenile

Red Crossbill at Cypress Hills   © SB  
The first Red Crossbills I saw were far down the road north of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada), caught by the camera while I took photographs of Cedar Waxwings.

That pair of birds — a brick-red male, and the more subdued yellow female — picked through the hot gravel, perhaps searching for grit or salt in the stones.

Later that day, I saw another pair, this time a reddish male and a mottled brown juvenile, high on bare branches in the park, near Elkwater Lake, Alberta.

All About Birds explains that Crossbills feed on conifer seeds, and their weird (crossed) bills help them open tightly closed cones (spruce, pine, Douglas fir, and hemlock).

The Encyclopaedia of Saskatchewan says Red Crossbills are one of 12 species of finches in Saskatchewan, and in Cypress Hills, they breed and feed in large stands of lodgepole pine.

Juvenile and adult Red Crossbills,
at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park.  © SB

Road birds: Red Crossbill pair forages in gravel    © SB  

What are these birds? Red Crossbills 
Location: Eagle Butte Road, SW Alberta, and in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (Alberta and Saskatchewan), Canada.  
Photo dates:  July 30, 2012.  


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cedar Waxwing on Barbed Wire Fence

A Cedar Waxwing landed on the barbed wire fence and watched us, when we stopped at the side of the gravel road to watch ducks on a pond and several tiny distant Red Crossbills feeding in hot road stones. 

This Waxwing is missing the red wing tips some Cedar Waxwings sport. A juvenile? Or simply a bird with no red tips? 

Roadside Cedar Waxwing  © SB

What is this bird? Cedar Waxwing
Location: Eagle Butte Road, SW Alberta, just north of Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park (Alberta and Saskatchewan).
Photo dates:  July 30, 2012.  


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