Monday, April 29, 2013

Snow Mould Spider Webs Emerge From Drifts

Snow Mould. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Snow Mould  © SB
I saw the first snow mould in the garden today, and now I know why I've been sniffling for the past few days.

Fascinating stuff: While we're huddled inside, sheltered during seven months of winter, a fungus grows like spider webs across the dead leaves and stalks left in our garden. Under the snow! Beneath that weight of frozen water. 

Rain is forecast tonight, and then more snow... Then sunshine.

As soon as the ground dries, we'll rake* the snow mould — it emerged only in the last few days, as the  months-old drifts across our garden magically receded.

(*Or, then again, if eyes turn red and sneezing overcomes the rakers, we'll pray for heat and sunshine... Either way, the garden will be cleared for new growth; the snow mould will be gone. Until next spring...)

Achoo! 


What is this? Snow Mould. 
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 29, 2013.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Peregrine Falcon on Regina City Hall

High on a ledge at Regina City Hall, there is a Peregrine Falcon. The falcon likes the east side of the building, birders say, and it's sometimes seen near the south-east corner.

Although falcons aren't huge birds, this one was fairly easy to spot... I'd heard it was often at City Hall, and I saw it from several blocks away. (Then again, at about 16 inches, with a wingspan of about 40 inches, they aren't small birds, either!)

Peregrine Falcon on the east side of Regina City Hall.   © SB

Peregrine Falcons are birds of prey, hunting "mainly medium-size birds from high above in spectacular swoops," my Sibley guide says.

Pigeons — and robins — beware...

High, high - yes, almost near the roof
and sky in this urban canyon. 
© SB

For those who know Regina City Hall, the picture above shows the falcon's position on the ledge. And, for those who don't, this total building shot (taken a couple of weeks ago at the Mayor's Poetry City Challenge), shows the scale — although to see the falcon yesterday, you'd have had to walk around the corner to the east side. 
Regina City Hall. Walk around to the right,
towards the rest of downtown, to see the falcon.
(If, that is, it's there...)  
© SB
For more, the CBC last year aired a video interview about on falcons at City Hall with a bird watcher and with ornithologist, Dr. Stuart Houston.


What is this? Peregrine Falcon
Location: Downtown Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 24, 2013.

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Thursday, April 18, 2013

First Robin Near Regina - Finally Spring!

I finally saw my first American Robin of the year in the Qu'Appelle Valley near Regina, Saskatchewan. (I'd heard rumours of these birds in various part of the city, but they still haven't come near my backyard.)

And so, I present: Robin on a wire fence.

American Robin. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Beneath the robin, snow. Behind the robin, snow...   © SB

There's something about their beady stare that makes me nervous around robins...

Or, perhaps I feel that way because I have some past history with these birds. Back when I lived in Montreal, one of the local robins became an attack bird with only one target: Me. And these are birds with very long memories...

Still, it's lovely to see robins return. It must really be (almost) spring.


What is this? American Robin.
Location: Near Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo date: April 13, 2013.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Herd of Mule Deer in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

On the weekend, we saw a herd of Mule Deer foraging on the hills of the Qu'Appelle Valley — an interesting change from the White-tailed Deer we've seen several times lately.

Mule Deer grazing in the Qu'Appelle Valley. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Mule Deer grazing in the Qu'Appelle Valley. © SB

To me, Mule Deer look grayer than the more common White-tails, but there are other, more prominent differences:
  • Mule deer's ears are enormous, well, like the ears of the mules they are named for. 
  • They don't have as prominently white eye-rings as White-tailed Deer. 
  • Their tails are thin and more ropelike with black tips — and are not raised like white warning flags when they're startled and run. 

Mule Deer in the Qu'Appelle Valley. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Line of Mule Deer walking up the hill. © SB
Mule Deer in the Qu'Appelle Valley. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Mule Deer, Saskatchewan, Canada.  © SB

Not obvious at a glance is that fact that these are true Western deer, said to more abundant in the southwest of the province, while White-tailed Deer are widespread across Saskatchewan and most of North America.


What are these? Mule Deer.
Location: Near Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo dates: April 13, 2013.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

First Western Meadowlark of the year, Qu'Appelle Valley

Western Meadowlark. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Western Meadowlark in the valley © SB
Western Meadowlarks are back in Saskatchewan. We saw one yesterday along Rte 99, east of Craven in the Qu'Appelle Valley, and then heard another singing several kilometres on. (Still snow in the fields, so roadsides might be the best place to see many spring birds.)

These native birds, while not true larks (as opposed to the Horned Larks, for those who are into such things), are amazing songbirds, and their trills and melodies were among the first I learned when I started watching for Saskatchewan birds.

I love the sound so much that I once taped a Western Meadowlark singing, over the wind in Grasslands National Park. (With my little Flip camera. And did I mention the wind?)

The song of the Western Meadowlark means summer on the prairies to me, and the sight of their bright yellow V-marked throats makes me happy.

I'm also impressed by their camouflage markings... When I got home and downloaded my pictures, I had to search to figure out which one had the tiny Meadowlark, hidden in dead grasses!

Western Meadowlark. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Look left, then right, then cross the road. © SB

What are these? Western Meadowlarks.
Location: Near Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada.  
Photo dates: April 13, 2013.

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Saturday, April 13, 2013

Horned Larks Feeding Along Saskatchewan Roads

Male Horned Lark. Photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Male Horned Lark: fence post bird. © SB 
A few weeks ago, flurries of Horned Larks rose from the sides of the grid roads near Regina when I drove by.

With heavy snow still thick in the fields, the gravel shoulders seemed to be the best — and perhaps only — place for these returning birds to feed.

Horned Larks, named for the spiky black feathers on either side of males' heads, are native North American larks.


They are one of our first birds back after (or, this year, during) winter, and they form flocks alone or with a few other species. Several times earlier this year, I saw these birds along the road with several Snow Buntings. Alas, the Buntings were too far away for my camera (or me) to clearly focus.

I love the males' horns, but I'm even more pleased to have captured a reasonably sharp shot of a female, as I see them far more rarely.

And I'm surprised I haven't posted pictures of Horned Larks yet; I have some good photographs from last summer; perhaps once the snow melts, I'll post a few.

Female Horned Lark. Photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Female Horned Lark in roadside gravel and snow -
great camouflage, but fields are even better. © SB

Male Horned Lark. Photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Male Horned Lark - yes, I know...
An odd shot, but shows his horns!
© SB

What are these? Horned Larks
Location: Along a grid road, near Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: April 3, 2013.

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Monday, April 8, 2013

Regina Backyard Birds: March and early April in Saskatchewan

What birds come to our Regina backyard feeders? Right now, Dark-eyed Juncos, House Finches, Common Redpolls, House Sparrows, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and one American Tree Sparrow. All of these birds were in my yard yesterday; all but two of these pictures were taken then.

There is quite a range in size with these birds, from the tiny wintering Common Redpolls through our seasonal birds, up to the large male resident House Sparrows. And range of songs, too. I love having the migrating native prairie and northern song birds, as they really sound lovely.

(Note - if you are looking for spring birds, such as migratory sparrows, try the White-crowned Sparrow or other May sparrow entries, or try the search links.) 

First, a few of the Redpolls, from a red-breasted male and paler female, to a copper-headed bird. These very small birds have been here most of the winter, but will soon be heading north to the Boreal Forest and/or tundra. (Apparently, we had such a high number this winter because the white birch seed crop was poor in the north... So says the e-bird forecast.)

Male Common Redpoll. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male Common Redpoll in the lilac branches.   © SB
Female Common Redpoll. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Brightly capped female Common Redpoll. © SB
Copper-topped Common Redpoll. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Copper-topped Common Redpoll - perhaps a variant
or young bird. 
© SB

Next, the House Sparrows — our constant and noisy companions, whose call sounds to me like they are accusing us of being, "CHEAP!" The male looks quite threatening, with his scowly-face markings, while the female is a gentle looking beige and brown.

Male House Sparrow. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male House Sparrow - a bird that always looks angry! © SB
Female House Sparrow. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
The much gentler-looking female House Sparrow.  © SB

Among my ongoing favourites are the House Finches. (I was surprised to learn that they weren't common in Saskatchewan until fairly recently — but more on that another time.) The most common finches are red and scarlet, but sometimes we see birds with orange and yellow markings, too. I used to wonder if these were young birds, but I understand that these are a variant. Yeah for variety!)

Their primary ID factors, for me at least, are the finches' delicate breast stripes and slightly crossed, better-to-open seeds bills. The females are brown, the males more colourful.

Female House Finch  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Female House Finch  © SB
Female and male House Finches  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Another female House Finch, somewhat unimpressed
by her potential mate, an orange male House Finch. 
© SB
Male House Finch  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Male House Finch, showing head and back colour.  © SB
Male House Finch  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Pale yellow male House Finch. © SB
Male House Finch  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Another orange House Finch -
I love this one's clear marking! 
© SB

The Dark-eyed Juncos are seasonal visitors. We started seeing them a couple of weeks ago, and now have up to a dozen at a time in the yard. (The one below is looking particularly dark-eyed, shadowed and in the snow...) The Juncos are easy to identify: Gray on the top, white on the bottom... And when they fly, their tails are white and gray. Love the notched tail they display when perched!

Dark-eyed Junco. Photo © Shelley Banks
Grumpy Dark-eyed Junco in snow. © SB

A Red-breasted Nuthatch frequently shows up, usually at the suet feeder. There are several in our neighbourhood, and I often see groups of three or four in the front yard, but our backyard visitor is always solitary. It's also usually upside-down; I rotated this picture to more clearly show its head.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Red-breasted Nuthatch, feeding on seeds in suet. © SB

And, finally, another shot of the American Tree Sparrow that started visiting us in the past few days. The Tree Sparrow's red head and red eye lines are its most obvious marker.  

American Tree Sparrow.  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved
American Tree Sparrow.  © SB

We expect more sparrows and other finches will soon find their way north to visit. 


What are these? Common Redpolls, House Sparrows, House Finches, Dark-eyed Junco, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and an American Tree Sparrow.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo dates: All taken April 7, 2013, except the Nuthatch (March 31, 2013) and the male House Sparrow (April 3, 2013). All were in the backyard April 7, 2013... 

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Saturday, April 6, 2013

American Tree Sparrow: Close-up in Regina, SK

A clearer, close-up picture of the American Tree Sparrow that's visited my backyard in the past few days. This little bird is getting braver, leaving the lilac bushes to hop around the feeders, looking for seeds. (That's a sunflower seed in its mouth, below, not a black beard beneath its beak...)

American Tree Sparrow.  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Migrating American Tree Sparrow, with sunflower seed,
now brave enough to come to close to the house to find food.   © SB

What is this? An American Tree Sparrow, stopping during its migration north.
Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   

Photo date: April 4, 2013. (Still mega snow...)

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Richardson's Ground Squirrel — with snowball

I saw this Richardson's Ground Squirrel two days ago when I was driving grid roads north of Regina, looking for Horned Larks and other spring birds.

He (or she?) popped up from a decaying snowbank to watch me... first his head, then his whole body.

And then the gopher (which is what we call the RGS in Saskatchewan) stood, a snowball in his hands. "Watch it, human. I have a snowball and I know how to use it!"

Or perhaps this is just ice, caught in his wee paw.

Richardson's Ground Squirrel, aka gopher, with snowball in his paw. photo  © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Richardson's Ground Squirrel, aka gopher.   © SB

What is this? Richardson's Ground Squirrel, aka prairie gopher. 
Location: Grid road north of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo date: April 3, 2013. 

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mountain Bluebirds: Brilliant flashes of Saskatchewan sky

Mountain Bluebird on nestbox  Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Mountain Bluebird on nestbox - I hope he stays! © SB
Dozens of sky-blue Mountain Bluebirds rose
from the grass and bushes along the side of Route 99 east of Craven, Saskatchewan, yesterday.

A single brilliant male. A group of perhaps three pairs. A flock of 13 — that I counted. More...

Will these lovely birds nest in the many boxes on the road, or are they moving through?

I hope they stay. To see so many Mountain Bluebirds in one small stretch along the Qu'Appelle Valley, so close to Regina, was a total enchantment.

Sky blue. That's what I've read in bird books about Mountain Bluebirds.

And it's true, as long as you see the sky ranging from pale aquamarine to deepest sapphire, with glints of iridescence.

These birds are not a gentle baby blue; their feather flash, reflect the light.

Flying jewels, impossibly, brilliantly blue.

And yet, at the same time, easy to miss or to ignore.

The two cars that passed me on that (at times) quiet road buzzed by in a cloud of dust, their drivers oblivious to the tiny beauties on the valley fence posts, grasses, trees.

Female Mountain Bluebird on a wire - softer, grayer. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Female Mountain Bluebird on a wire - softer, grayer.  © SB
Fence post Mountain Bluebird, #1, male. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Fence post Mountain Bluebird, #1, male. © SB
Fence post Mountain Bluebird, #2, male. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Fence post Mountain Bluebird, #2, male. © SB 

What are these? Mountain Bluebirds.   
Location: Along Rte 99, not far east of Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo date: April 3, 2013. 

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

American Tree Sparrows Arrive in Regina, Saskatchewan

Another wonderful sign of spring: American Tree Sparrows have arrived back in Regina, Saskatchewan — I wonder what they think of our remaining three feet of snow?

These red and gray native birds winter across the U.S., migrate through southern Canada, and summer in the north: the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alaska. They're songbirds (yeah!), so a lovely — if temporary — addition to our backyard flock.

American Tree Sparrow, Regina, SK. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Two shots of the most visible
American Tree Sparrow.  © SB
American Tree Sparrow, Regina, SK. photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
I love that red crowned head! © SB

The Tree Sparrows in my yard were shy, perhaps just because this was their first day near our feeders? If so, perhaps they'll be more bold if they stay a while? Whatever the reason, the two that dropped by hid deep in the lilacs and back near the garage.

I love their red heads and crisp marking — a lovely change from our resident gray and black House Sparrows.


What is this? An American Tree Sparrow, migrating north

Location: Backyard, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo date: April 3, 2013. 

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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Deer in the Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan

One of many Qu'Appelle Valley deer. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
One of many Qu'Appelle Valley deer.
(Crop from 270 mm) © SB
We saw dozens of deer near Regina, Saskatchewan, yesterday — in the Qu'Appelle Valley east of Craven. First, one group of 11 White-tailed deer, then a handful more, and then larger herds.

The deer were feeding on grasses exposed by the receding snow, and from our distance, they looked well-fed and healthy... But camera lenses can be misleading, and this is said to have been an extremely harsh winter for wildlife.

These White-tailed deer were entertaining to watch — some appeared completely oblivious to us, as we stood on the road above. Others seemed mildly curious, while a few ran away, white tails flagging a warning.

Oddly, though, in running away from the fields, they ran up and across the incline towards us, as if safety meant their usual route through the wooded slopes of the valley sides — even if that meant crossing the road in front of a car. Our car.

I've noticed small flocks of roadside birds do the same: They see the car, swirl up to flee — and as they rise, they turn and fly towards the vehicle, often flying right at or beside it.

Two deer watch from the valley bottom. Photo © Shelley Banks, all rights reserved.
Two deer watch from the valley bottom. (Crop from 300mm)  © SB

Distant shot of a group of White-tailed Deer. (From the road, at 200mm)  © SB


What are these? White-tailed Deer (And no, we were not close to them...) 
Location: South side of the Qu'Appelle Valley, east of Craven, Saskatchewan, Canada.   
Photo date: April 2, 2013. 

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Monday, April 1, 2013

Dark-eyed Junco: Northern Birds Return for Spring

Dark-eyed Juncos are among the birds now arriving in Saskatchewan, migrating north after our harsh winter — and so, despite the many feet of snow in our yard, I am starting to believe in spring!

Dark-eyed Junco, back in Regina, SK. photo © Shelley Banks; all rights reserved.
Dark-eyed Junco, back in Regina, SK.
(See the lilac buds! Spring!)   © SB

We saw the first Dark-eyed Juncos on the weekend. These elegant pink-billed, gray and white birds were back this morning, hopping across the snow looking for seeds that the finches, sparrows and redpolls have scattered from the feeders.

I love the spring birds on the Prairies. So many flock north, brightening our lives at this time of year.


What are these? Dark-eyed Junco (Slate Coloured)
Location: Backyard bird feeder, Regina,Saskatchewan.  
Photo dates: March 30, 2013

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