Serendipitous Finds: Bambi, Weasel, and Whatchamacallit

This is a mixed bag, but with one thing in common. These are all unexpected encounters.

First off, there are lots of deer in our neck of the woods, white-tailed deer, albeit I usually come across adults or at least teenagers. Seldom do I see a young fawn, pure and fresh, like Bambi. He was scared to see me, of course, he was all alone.


For this little guy in the following pic, at first I thought it was a gopher but the shape was long and slender. When I uploaded the photo on my laptop did I realize it was a weasel. So, this is my first time seeing a summer weasel. Taking this snap shot is easy and fast, serendipitous. My winter weasel was totally different. I hid behind a tree in -20C temp. for over an hour. But well worth it. Here are the two seasonal coats:

And I caught sight of this tiny inch-long critter crossing the road. Yes, I give my neck full exercise when I walk, look up for birds and down for bugs. But what is this?

Here’s the head. The white spikes are like bristles of a bottle brush. Later I find its name to be Lophocampa maculata, a caterpillar that will turn into the Spotted Tussock Moth or Yellow-Spotted Tiger Moth. It was first described by American entomologist and botanist Thaddeus William Harris in 1841. I’ll just call it bristle head. No offence. Love the colours.

And finally, on a crazy, windy afternoon. I was walking by the river and it felt like a storm looming. Suddenly I was the spectator of a Merganser Race, the mood exhilarating. I can see what Wordsworth mean, ‘My heart leaps up.’

And sure enough, the gulls followed. All of a sudden, hundreds of them took to the sky, maybe a premonition of an imminent change in weather:

Serendipity. That’s one of my favourite words.

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Serendipitous Find: The Osprey Family

Whenever I go out birding, I’ve this expectant mindset: ‘Surprise me,’ or, ‘Make my day.’

Here’s one serendipitous find a few weeks ago. The Osprey family. I’ve since gone back to visit them many times and see their baby grow.

Papa watching over the family home:

Mama and baby in the nest. I’ve since learned that other than just the size or the plumage, I can tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile Osprey by the colour of their eyes. Mom’s are yellow, baby’s orange. You can’t see here in this small pic, but on my laptop they’re dramatic.

A nice spot to build a home, by the river:

Just a couple weeks later, baby has come out of the nest. Sunbathing with Mom. Baby’s the one closer to the nest. Yes, almost as tall as Mom.

And a few days later, trying his wings. Who taught Baby to fly? I never saw any training wheels. You might ask, how do you know it’s Baby and not Mom? The secret’s in the eyes.

Even blew a raspberry at me:

Kids these days, sure grow up fast.

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Reopening: A Bird’s Eye View

We know how hard it’s been these past few months for you humans. Not gathering together means no more communal bathing. That’s tough.

Bathing beauties

Communal Bathing

Don’t get me wrong, we’re very adaptable. We love congregating, but we’re also fine with just being with our significant other.

Mergensers M & F

and practise yoga together:

One leg stance

You may think of us as flocks, but we enjoy being solitary as well. That’s when we gain clarity:

Solitary

or being solitary together, gleaning collective insights through our silent vibes:

Hang out as a group

Guess by now, you’ve gotten used to social distancing. We do that all the time when flying, no fun being poked in the eye by a flapping wing. Social distancing is not a problem as long as you know there’s someone flying with you, only 6 ft. away:

Pelicans

Some of you are gifted with a beautiful voice, we know all that. So you got to belt out from your balcony, we from ours:

DSC_0312 (1)

I’m glad you’re finally reopening. Just like us, you can come out to eat, drink, and be merry, instead of doing that in isolation. We can share the world with each other once again.

But huh… keep your distance please. We’re bathing.

Share the world

 

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Up in the Trees

What I find walking in the woods can be redundant and mundane, that goes for my photos too. But looking up into the trees can be therapeutic psychologically, especially these days, not to mention beneficial for the neck muscles.

Mundane or unusual, here are some sightings during my walks in the past weeks.

You see them everywhere, their by-products littering your grounds. But the Canada Geese in my neck of the woods don’t gather at the Pond or on the ground, but high up on trees. I think they nest there too:

Another CG on tree

Here’s one taking the abode of a previous tenant, the owl family. How do their young come down from so high up? They’ll have to learn to fly first, just like other birds, another birder said when I asked. Or, the mother could carry them on their wings, my imagination added.

New Tenant

occupying the nest of the owls

A Robin, never too common for me, especially when I capture a handsome one:

Robin not common

One time, I saw this ball from afar:

Ball on tree

Walked closer and found this. Do porcupines nest on trees too, or just for naps? Or, is it something else? The next day I went back to look for it and it was gone.

Porcupine ball

Mundane or unusual, my curiosity is piqued walking the same paths year after year. This curious Yellow Warbler well represents my feelings:

Curious Yellow Warbler

Here’s another curious one:

Curiosity

In a previous post about the Yellow-rumped Warblers, I’d noted that the white-throated one is called the Myrtle Warbler of the East and far north, and the yellow-throated one the Audubon’s Warbler from the West. Just curious, what do you call this one with both white and yellow on the throat:

Yellow-rumped Hybrid

Curiosity in the mundane. Maybe that could get me out of bed on those days when I get too used to that stay home mandate.

.

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Birding with Annie Dillard

This is not merely wishful thinking.

I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek years ago. At this moment in time, with the pandemic and disruptions, it seems like what she describes in her book is a piece of Arcadia, a setting in a totally bygone era, idyllic, clean and pristine, and also something I’ve long swept to the back of my mind. Just this week, I’ve the chance to listen to the audio version of the book, read by the marvellous Tavia Gilbert, a very ‘Dillardy’ voice. Her narration prompted me to dig out my copy of Tinker Creek.

This time, Dillard’s nature writing meant much more to me. When I first read it years ago, I wasn’t a birder, couldn’t even ID a chickadee. Now, though still with minimal knowledge, at least I know what bird it is she’s describing.

It’s her chapter entitled “Seeing” that grabs me most. Her words I must quote directly:

Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair… the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say of vision that it is a deliberate gift…

I know how hard it is to capture an oriole before it ‘fades into leaves’:

Oriole

For nature does reveal as well as conceal: Now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do. For a week last September migrating red-winged blackbirds were feeding heavily down by the creek at the back of the house. One day I went out to investigate the racket; I walked up to a tree, an Osage orange, and a hundred birds flew away.  They simply materialized out of the tree. I saw a tree, then a whisk of color, then a tree again. I walked closer and another hundred blackbirds took flight. Not a branch, not a twig budged…

Even though I haven’t seen an Osage orange before, I know exactly what Dillard means by hundreds of blackbirds taking flight from one single tree. I’ve seen not blackbirds, but waxwings or starlings like that. As for our blackbirds, they usually gather at the Pond, solitary among cattails, seldom in flocks of hundreds:

RWBB

How I get what she means by nature reveals as well as conceals. Just a few days ago, I had both of these experiences.

I saw a pelican swimming peacefully on the Pond:

Pelican in serenity

Just as I went closer, she flew away. It happens a lot of times when I try to take bird photos:

Pelican Flying Away

And conversely, I also have a now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do moment. Walking in the woods, I suddenly caught sight of something in a distance, a ghostlike appearance:

Distant finding

As I waded around fallen trunks and leaves to get closer to investigate, hopefully to get to the front to take a picture, I lost sight of it. Then suddenly, something huge close by me flew away. It was right beside me!

GB Fly away

GBH Fly 2

It was a Great Blue Heron. I’d never seen it in the woods perching on a tree, only by the water. Just as I didn’t expect it, I saw it, and just as I realized what it was, it disappeared.

Now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do, now-you-don’t again. “These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration,” Dillard writes. Too mundane to even mention? Far from it. “The grand nonchalance” of nature keeps us in a place of humility and evokes our need for sharper senses.

Yes, a better camera.

 

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Birds, Buds, and Social Distancing

Haven’t been to the Pond for weeks. For one thing, March and even April we were still having snow, too early for spring birding. Another reason is the provincial park where the Pond is had been closed due to Covid-19.

It reopens this week and I take the first opportunity to head over there with my camera. The woods are lovely, teeming with life, cacophony of bird songs and goose calls. The deciduous trees are still bare, but buds are bursting out.

What a joy to meet my avian friends. May is a busy time for migratory birds to come back and nest. Social distancing is no problem. They make sure I stay away at least 30 ft. Hence, these blurry photos even with my 300mm tele lens.

First arrival is usually the American Robin. Here’s one relaxing among the buds:

Robin

Delighted to find the Yellow-rumped Warbler:

Yellow Rump Warbler

Warbler

Here’s another one. But when I get home and upload the photos, I see this one has a yellow throat, different from the one above with the white throat:

DSC_0740

Upon some digging, I learn that the white-throated one is called the Myrtle Warbler of the East and far north, and the yellow-throated one the Audubon’s Warbler from the West. Two different species of Yellow-rumped Warblers that meet at a small locale here in Western Canada. Right here at the Pond is where I’m fortunate to see both of them. Here’s a map showing their distribution.

A “Where’s Waldo the Warbler” puzzle for you: Where's Waldo the WarblerAnswer: Right in the centre of the photo.

By the water, a Northern Flicker:Northern Flicker
In another locale, the House Finch:House Finch 1

And from a much farther distance, another life staying close to its home. It has to be much bigger than a bird for me to see it among this environs from so far away:DSC_0714
And that’s my neighbour keeping the social distance, yet so amazingly close. An excited “hello,” my heart shouted, for this is the first time we meet:DSC_0716

No, it’s not a deer.

 

 

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We all need intermissions

… in between movies. Get out of the dark chamber. Off the snack-littered couch. Watch the large screen Nature has to offer.

480 Bike.jpg

Nothing is ‘just a sparrow’. Or, just some rocks. Here’s the true colour of the water in Lake Louise, Alberta. The famous, majestic lake you’ve probably seen on postcards or travel websites, but here you get to see the tiny sparrow by the Lake:

Sparrow.jpg

Blurry? Yes, so’s Monet’s paintings.

After a few days of rain, yesterday’s sunlight brought me out to the river. My heart leapt up when I saw these Pelicans preening in the morning sun:

500

500 Pelicans

Makes me think of Degas’ ballerinas:

degas

Blurry? You wouldn’t mind a bit, I bet.

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Spring Birding at the Pond

Here at the Pond, that is, the real, literal Pond, Spring is a busy time. I know, for some of you, Spring is so far behind as you’re deep into Summer already. I caught the following pics early this week while it was warm and sunny; yesterday was a downer, a chilly 5C (42F). But then the high came last night with the NBA game. We The North, Arti watches movies, birds, and basketball.

Now is a wonderful time to greet migrating friends coming back to nest.  Even if you’re just strolling in the woods near the Pond without intention to spot birds, you’re bound to see some beautiful creatures amidst the cacophony of chirps and songs. 

If you spot a furry ball like this up on a tree branch, don’t pass by without pausing:

Furry Ball 2.jpg

Wait a bit, and you’ll see what it really is. A baby owl preening:

Owlet waking up

A big yawn… nice, no teeth to brush:

No teeth to brush.jpg

Here’s looking at you, kid.

Looking at you kid.jpg

A ‘Where’s Waldo’ exercise: All in the family. Well, not all, some. How many owls can you see here:

Spot the owls.jpg

Alright, enough spotlight. Somewhere else, a Yellow Warbler is singing his heart out in the bright sunshine:

Singing Yellow Warbler.jpg

And further away, silently perching on another tree, a Great Blue Heron. I seldom see one high up on a tree and not in the water. A bit blurry pic cause it’s so far away:

Great Blue Heron.jpg

With song birds, it’s ‘hear before you see’. By their calls, I know they’re around. Finding them is another matter. Taking a photo of them is a challenge. I can hear two Baltimore Orioles calling and responding to each other from two trees some distance apart, airmailing each other.

BO.jpg

Closer to the water, a Yellow-headed blackbird is posing for me:

Yellow-headed Blackbird.jpg

Enjoying a swim is Mr. Merganser:

Mr. Merganser

I always think of Lucille Ball whenever I see a female Merganser:

Lucille Ball.jpg

How’s your Spring exploration so far? Birds, wildlife, Nature finds?

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The Colours of Fall

About this time last year, I had a post entitled “Golden Fall”. Yes, the title says it all. We don’t have much reds in our fall, no maples, but we have foliage like gold.

Here are some photos I took after returning from Toronto a few days ago, just in time to witness the changing of the seasons and catch the last remaining songbirds before they fly south. This is ‘my Pond’, home at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

DSC_0563.jpg

An Orange-crowned Warbler in the golden foliage. It’s goodbye until next Spring, my avian friend:

DSC_0665.jpg

Here’s another one. Olive against red.

DSC_0690.jpg

A ‘Where’s Waldo’ puzzle for you:

DSC_0686.jpg

The White-breasted Nuthatch against a watercolour backdrop:

DSC_0647 (1).jpg

Two-frame capture of a shy subject. See it in both?

DSC_0545 (1).jpg

DSC_0546 (1).jpg

Home is where you know every path and turn, where to shoot with the sun at your back for the best light, and where to look for your friends whatever the season, to wave goodbye as they leave, and then welcome them back for another new lease.

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Summertime… and the feeding is easy

No matter where you stand in the food chain, in the summer woods, everywhere you turn is a ready picnic, nature’s smorgasbord. Just look at all these flies:

Appetizers.jpg

Yummy appetizers for the Yellow Warbler:

The Hungry Warbler

Or this succulent fruit. I’m sure the bee knows he’s an item on the smorgasbord too.

to eat or not to eat.jpg

But for the moment, indulge:

bee.jpg

Not so lucky for this dragonfly, securely locked in the beaks of a Song Sparrow:

Song Sparrow lunch.jpg

Robins are clean eaters, they swallow berries whole:

Robin

But not the Goldfinch:

American Goldfinch messy eater.jpg

Eat to your heart’s content, no need for etiquette here:

Messy eater.jpg

This baby Oriole in its high chair waiting for lunch. Be patient, junior, mommy’s coming:

Feeding 1.jpg

Feeding 2

Feeding 3.jpg

Take it easy, my Deer friend. I wouldn’t want to do the Heimlich Maneuver on you:

Deer friend.jpg

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What’s your summer smorgasbord like?

The Colour of Summer

To be technically accurate, here are some photos I took after June 21. Not that I’m partial to the colour yellow, but that’s mostly the colour of our summer woods, greenish yellow.

The Colour of Summer.jpg

 

Sometimes you can see dots of pink, the Alberta wild rose:

Alberta Wild Rose.jpg

or tiny red fruits:

Summer fruits.jpg

Golden cattails by the water before they ripen into brown candlesticks:

Cattail.jpg

The Pond in summer is quiet. In contrast, the woods host a cacophony of songs and calls, like the tuning of strings and woodwinds before a symphony concert, albeit finding the actual sources is difficult, let alone taking photographs of them. The blurry pics just show how hard it is to find them staying still in the clearing for more than 2 seconds.

Migratory songbirds too are mostly yellow here, like this Wilson’s Warbler with his black cap. You might be surprised, but we don’t have any red birds like the Cardinals:

Wilson's Warbler.jpg

The Baltimore Oriole:

The Baltimore Oriole.jpg

The American Goldfinch:

blurry Goldfinch.jpg

In the tree, there’s a tiny spot of silvery blue… the Tree Swallow waiting for lunchtime:

Tree Swallow.jpg

Some can’t wait, like this hungry Robin:

The Hungry Robin.jpg

or this Yellow Warbler. Whatever’s in your mouth, mosquito or fly, I’ve to say, ‘Thank you for eating!’

Hungry Yellow Warbler.jpg

The Hungry Warbler.jpg

What colour is your Summer?

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Spring Baby

They’ve come back, the Great Horned Owl couple.  Their perennial arrival to nest is as predictable as the grass turning green and the leaves bursting out from the bare branches. They even check into the same abode.

After a long wait since April, I finally got to see the new addition last week. This time, an only child.

Here’s baby peeking out to feast on the sights and sounds of spring:

Baby in nest

A close-up of this spring baby:

Baby close-up.jpg

Mom or Dad is always watching close by, here basking in the evening sun:

At dusk

Yesterday, it’s baby’s day out. Where’s Waldo?

Where's Waldo?.jpg

Look up, there he is, at the top of the tree trunk:

Camouflage.jpg

Trying out wings:

Wing.jpg

and showing off a downy coat:

Downy.jpg

As always, Mom is nearby, ever watchful:

Keeping watch.jpg

Posing for all the nature paparazzi below, here it is, the feat of turning your head 180º:

head turned.jpg

Enjoy while you can, soon you’ll be an empty nester, too soon.

 

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