Saturday, March 30, 2013

Upside-down Nuthatch on Suet: Backyard Feeder Bird

Outside our Regina, Saskatchewan, dining room window: a Red-breasted Nuthatch on the suet feeder. Hanging upside down. Motionless.

First thought: Take its picture. Second thought: Was it stuck? After I went outside to check (camera in hand), I took a few zoom shots, during which the little bird remained still. So I talked to it, and asked if it needed help to get free — and it flicked its head sideways, released its grip on the suet holder and flew into the lilac bushes.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Natural inversion: upside-down Red-breasted Nuthatch 
watches the humans.   © SB

I wonder if it could be tamed? I know a place in Saskatchewan where Red-breasted nuthatches are hand-fed... (Just hold out your palm with peanuts and they'll land.)

(And a confession — when I posted a version of this image on Facebook, I rotated the nuthatch 90 degrees, which makes a more conventionally attractive picture. It's difficult to look at this bird in its actual photographed position, with sharp detail at the bottom, depth-of-field blur at the top. Our left-right, top-bottom eyes aren't used to seeing nature invert our perceptions. Which makes it all the more interesting...)



What is this? Red-breasted Nuthatch
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo date: March 27, 2013. 

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pin-striped House Finch with Snowflakes

Male House Finch waiting for a spot at the bird feeder; photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Male House Finch waiting for a spot at the bird feeder © SB

I would have been happier to see this magnificently striped House Finch in the lilac bushes this morning, if he hadn't been modelling the latest in spring snowflakes!

(Yes, still snowing, but we know the melt is on the way and the water birds will rejoice when they see all the new lakes and ponds Saskatchewan plans to provide for them in 2013...)

Close-up of House Finch, with snowflakes.  photo  © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Close-up of House Finch, with snowflakes.   © SB

What is this? A male House Finch
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. (Photo taken, as with most of my backyard pix of House Finchesredpolls and other birds, through the dining room window.) 
Photo date: March 27, 2013. 

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hoar Frost: Close Up of Delicate Crystals

Seen through a macro lens, hoar frost is amazing, an intricate network of varied ice crystals.

We often get hoar frost on the Prairies, on those winter (and yes, fall and spring, too) days when early morning ice fog condenses, freezes, grows on plants, grasses, trees. But I don't always stop, take a deep breath, and look...

And so today, a couple of images taken with a macro lens (click to enlarge) to show this delicate beauty on a leaf and branches:

Hoar frost growing from a dried leaf.   © SB

Frost on a branch against the winter sky. © SB 

For more pictures — and to see the thumbnails below in more macro-lens detail — see my Hoar Frost Flickr set.

hoar-frost-detail-15hoar-frost-detail-14hoar-frost-detail-12hoar-frost-detail-11hoar-frost-detail-10hoar-frost-detail-9
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What is this? Macro details of hoar frost.

Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  February 2013

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Monday, March 25, 2013

Hoar Frosted Branches, Sunny Winter Day

This morning, frosty cold weather (-20C), with fog dissipating into sunny skies.

Fog + cold = hoar frost, one of the loveliest parts of winter, when trees coated with ice crystals glitter in sunshine. Here is a sample, from a recent frosty day.

Each branch and twig coated in hoar frost. photo  © Shelley Banks
Each branch and twig iced with hoar frost.   © SB

What is this? Another winter scene with hoar-frost coated trees.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  February 27, 2013

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Winter Trees: Beauty of Snow and Ice

Late March, and it's still winter on the Prairies. Earlier this evening, I looked out to see huge fluffy snowflakes falling. But there is a beauty to this cold and ice that my warmth-seeking self at times forgets.

Here, a reminder of a day not so long ago when the world glowed — all black and white, in colour.

Down the lane, under ice-tipped trees, winter sparkles.   © SB


What is this? Winter scene, with an arch of hoar-frost coated trees.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  February 22, 2013

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Hairy Woodpecker near Muenster, Saskatchewan

From the trees, knock-knock-knock. A large woodpecker with a beak about as long as its head. A Hairy Woodpecker this time, instead of a Downy.

It was a dull day, and the woodpecker kept in the shelter of the branches, foiling my attempts to focus my camera on it. Then that bird flew off, but when I walked on, I saw another Hairy Woodpecker that was slightly more willing to pose. (But only slightly.)

And yes, on the Saskatchewan prairies, we indeed have trees and forest bird species.

Hairy Woodpecker at work   © SB


What is this bird? A Hairy Woodpecker (female, from the lack of red nape spot, and Hairy  not Downy  from its size, its bill and the spur of black feathers at the side of its breast).
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  March 1, 2013

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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Day of Spring: Snow and White-outs

On the first day of spring, I drove 50 km to Regina Beach to visit a friend, in white-outs, white-knuckle driving for part of the way.

If you need to take a picture to prove you were there, check
the rear view mirror, find a safe pull-out, be wary, then shoot © SB

What a strange winter climate we have in Saskatchewan. (Summer, ditto, but that's another post.)

The ten feet nearest the ground can be impossible to see through, while above that, only blue!

We have blizzards without any snowfall. All we need are high winds and loose snow, and the whole world whirls in white, white washing away distance, vision, depth, perception... Snakes, finger drifts, white drowning in white white white white white white white.

And while other places are rejoicing in daffodils and tulips, we fear the highway still... (And, with reason. On my way to the Beach, I passed emergency vehicles — fire, ambulance, tow...)

Snow! I feel buried 6.5 feet under — this year's record fall. I want mud, buds, birds and spring!


What is this? Blowing snow on the highway. 
Location: Near Regina, Saskatchewan. 
Photo dates:  March 20, 2013

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Northern Hawk Owl near Regina, Saskatchewan

Today I saw the Northern Hawk Owl that's been sighted north of Regina, Saskatchewan, in recent weeks.

Northern Hawk Owl, near Regina, SK, Canada   — SB

I was driving home after a "gotta-get-some-fresh-air!"* outing towards the nearby town of Lumsden when a big-headed, long-tailed bird swooped across the road and up to the top of a shelterbelt tree.

I pulled over to watch —  and to try for a clear picture in the 15 seconds it stayed in the tree, in motion  all the while as it swivelled to check its surroundings.

And then it was gone.

(*I'm a bit stir-crazy, with this record-breaking prairie winter, with its 200-cm of snow!)


What is this? A Northern Hawk Owl.
Location: Near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date: March 19, 2013. 

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Gray Partridges in Regina, Saskatchewan

Yes, Gray Partridges in my Regina, Saskatchewan, front yard. This pair showed up mid-morning on a harshly-backlit, white-sky winter day, as part of their local garden tour — in from the country, browsing for food.

Not sure what these red-headed birds found in our snow drifts, though, other than the buried remnants of two frozen Christmas trees. Still, they made me smile. (I love the bouncing effect of the bird, front left, which has both of its feet off the ground.)

Gray Partridges, touring the neighbourhood. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Gray Partridges, touring the neighbourhood. © SB

We usually see a Partridge or two on our street at least once every winter. Odd, though... Not in summer. And I've only once caught a glimpse of their chestnut-red or gray-brown feathers out in what I think should be their natural habitat (whatever that means to a bird), north of the city at the Condie Nature Refuge.



What are these? Gray Partridges.
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Photo dates: March 16, 2013. 

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

White-tail Deer of Deer Valley, Saskatchewan

Out driving, looking for deer this week, we found these White-tail Deer in the aptly named Deer Valley, near Lumsden, Saskatchewan.

The deer watch me as, elbows and lens propped on a distant snowbank, I take a telephoto shot. photos © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
The deer watch me as, elbows and lens propped on a distant snowbank, I take a telephoto shot. © SB

The deer are watchful, cautious. They don't look like they approve of human incursions, even (especially?) at the edge of this new real estate venture — an area marketed with their name and body parts (Whitetail Ridge, Deer Point Place), where their wild majesty may soon be seen only as an annoying intrusion into gardens and golf.

Yes, the lowland where they are feeding will be a golf course again once the snow clears and the land dries out. Lush valley bottom claimed for human recreation...

Try to ignore the natural world if you will. But it is here, hidden perhaps and unnoticed. But watching...


What are these? White-tail deer.
Location: Near Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Canada. 

Photo dates: March 14, 2013. 

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Immature Redpoll: Copper-headed bird

A Redpoll that merits a post of its own —  perhaps an immature bird? — perched on the red auger, with the soft steel blue of a grain bin behind. 

Redpolls winter in our part of the Prairies. At least, this year, that's what they are doing. Their habits seem a bit irregular; many people have commented that they've not seen these birds before. 

The copper-topped ones are fairly rare. In the flock I photographed, which comprised hundred of birds, I only noticed a handful with variations on this copper-top colouring. All the rest sported shades and intensities of vibrant pink chests and bright red caps

As this Redpoll's colouring is half-way between the juvenile and mature bird, I wondered if perhaps it was immature...

Redpoll with a copper cap on its head.  photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
Redpoll with a copper cap.   © SB

What is this? Redpoll, perhaps an immature bird.
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo dates: February 18, 2013. 

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Range of Redpolls: Pale, copper, scarlet, red northern birds

A recent treat: A large flock of Redpolls, congregating around an auger beside a granary filled with Canola seeds. The Redpolls ranged from well streaked browns with vibrant red chests (Common Redpolls?) to extremely pale birds with only a hint of pink on their chests (Hoary Redpolls?), with several copper-capped birds (immature?) and one that was very mottled and dark (juvenile?).

Yes, lots of questions, re: identification, because these small northern birds are tricky. Apparently, the very light birds may summer on Arctic tundra, while the darker, brighter birds come south in winter from the Boreal forests. Makes sense, so far as camouflage, I guess, if that's all there was to it... Whatever the background, the range of colouring was lovely to see.

So on with the Redpoll show. First, a potential Hoary Redpoll, marked with a hint of pink on its chest.

Very pale Redpoll - perhaps Hoary, from its absence of streaking on chest and underside. Almost imperceptible chest markings.  photo  © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Very pale male Redpoll - perhaps Hoary, from its absence of streaking on chest and underside.
Almost imperceptible pink chest markings.   © SB

Next, because they were such a treat, a juvenile/immature redpoll — brown-streaked, with beige/gray feathers and a copper cap on its head, along with an orange-scarlet bird. 


Very brown, very shy bird. A juvenile? photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Very brown, very shy bird. A juvenile? © SB
A Redpoll with a scarlet/orange cap and breast markings. photo © Shelley Banks
A male Redpoll with a scarlet/orange cap and breast markings. © SB
And finally, a few of these lovely northern birds that look more like classic Common Redpolls:

A Redpoll so bright, it looks like it was dipped in raspberry juice.  (At right, another immature copper-headed redpoll.) photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
A male Redpoll so bright, it looks like it was dipped in raspberry juice; with female.
(At right, another immature copper-headed redpoll?) 
© SB
The auger and grain bins, on a winter white day photo © Shelley Banks
The auger and grain bins, on a white winter day.© SB 

What are these? Redpolls — Common Redpolls, with perhaps Hoary Redpolls, juvenile Redpolls and immature Redpolls. (The ones with red chest markings are male.)   
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo dates: February 18 to 21, 2013. 

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

First Gopher of the Year: Spring?

We saw our first Richardson's Ground Squirrel, aka prairie gopher, of the year today, looking stunned — or sunbathing? — on a snowbank beside the road.

These gophers hibernate for many, many months... Males apparently wake before females, so perhaps this little fellow was wondering where his mates were.

So, the question of the day: Now that he's awake, does that make it spring? (Please?)

All right, now, I'm awake! Bring on the fun! © SB 


What is this? A Richardson's Ground Squirrel, aka a gopher.   
Location: Near Lumsden, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo dates: March 14, 2013. 

~~~~~

Friday, March 8, 2013

White-winged Crossbills, high on winter conifers

Male White-winged Crossbill. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male White-winged Crossbill. © SB

High in the February firs, small flashes of red bob around masses of cones.

Birds — White-winged Crossbills — pecking cones apart in search of seeds.

The bright red males are much easier to spot than either the olive/yellow females or the pale orange-spattered immature males, both of which blend in well with the colours of the trees.

Get close, if you can, and look at their beaks. Yes, they cross — the better to pry open pine and fir cones.

I thought it odd that these northern red birds were called white...

But there are also Red Crossbills, without the white streaks on their wings, so it's the white that distinguishes this species.

Male White-winged Crossbill, walking down a fir cone. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male White-winged Crossbill, walking down a fir cone. © SB

Pink/orange mottled immature male White-winged Crossbill. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Pink/orange mottled immature male White-winged Crossbill. © SB

Gray-green female White-winged Crossbill.  photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Gray-green female White-winged Crossbill.   © SB

White-winged Crossbill, at the very top of the tree. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
White-winged Crossbill at the very top of a tree. © SB


What are these? White-winged Crossbills.  
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo dates: Late February, 2013. 

~~~~~

Monday, March 4, 2013

Moonset at Sunrise: A Glow of Gold, Blue, Pink

Moonset, at sunrise.

From my window looking west, the sky glows pink as the rolling earth slides up and away from February's shimmering Full Snow Moon. Across the hall, hoar-frosted trees and snow in the east burn under a dawn fireball.

A golden sunrise. A  glittering pink moon.

Just before 8 a.m. facing west, the setting moon is bright pink coin in the sky. © SB
Just before 8 a.m. facing west, the setting moon is bright pink coin in the sky. © SB

Across the hall, the sun blazes trees, ice, snow. photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Across the hall, the sun blazes trees, ice, snow. © SB

What are these? Images of the moon setting in the glow of sunrise, and the glow of sunrise itself less than 10 minutes later on an icy winter morning. 
Location: Near Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date: February 27, 2013. 

~~~~~

Friday, March 1, 2013

High-flying jet: Four engines, four vapour trails

Clear winter blue, and cirrus avaiticus streak our prairie skies — condensation trails from jet engines of airplanes passing far overhead.

Four engines generate four trails that blend to two, then sometimes, to one. This trail stayed in two long streaks across the wide blue bowl above me.

(My in-house source tells me that planes this large, flying in this northwest-southeast direction, are generally international, flying over the pole to U.S. airports. At its height, it certainly wasn't landing anytime soon!)
Jet vapour trails: photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
I'm leaving, on a jet plane, contrails soaring.... © SB 


What is this? A jet and contrail (condensation trail, cloud formed by airplane) above my house.
Location: Far above Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. 
Photo date: February 9, 2013. 

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