Spring Debutante

This year, there’s only one owlet at the Great Horned Owl household. Since the coming-out party, the family’s debutante is poised to become the star of the woods. Birding paparazzi converge and they’re not disappointed.

But first, a Where’s Waldo quiz for you. Can you spot mama and owlet on this tree:

Ok, blame it on my blurry pic. Mama’s on the top of the picture, baby at the bottom. Can’t see clearly? Here are some close-ups:

Mama is always nearby… the lower right of the photo gallery.

And this little one is a natural talent for the movie screen. Here are some photos for the audition portfolio:

CONSIDERING
DEMURE
SUSPICIOUS
Thank you… yes, this fluffy coat is very comfy… I like it too.

***

A walk in the woods in early spring

I need to specify early spring because we do have four seasons distinctly. And with each passing day, there are nuanced changes, if not the obvious. Last week we still had snow on the ground but yesterday it went up to 18C (64F), very warm for us at this time.

The Pond had melted, but for some reasons I didn’t see any ducks yesterday afternoon. A walk in the forest made up for it. The woods were teeming with life, birds chirping and Canada geese honking to mark their territory. Here are some of my sightings. Can you ID them all?

What is that in the lower right? Yes, you guessed it… a porcupine up on a tree. This is not the first time I see a ball of a porcupine high on a tree branch. A natural ‘Do Not Disturb’ notice… as if saying, ‘just let me sleep it off.’

But here’s the highlight. I was walking in the woods when a few geese flew by flapping wildly and then I saw something not exactly like a Canada goose but… an owl, a Great Horned Owl, landing on the familiar owl’s nest high up on an old tree cavity, that same spot where generations of owls had nested to breed but had been abandoned in the past few years:

The air b&b is being occupied once again! Papa Owl checking to see the home is secure for Mama and her babies. Then he noticed me, and quickly gave me a nasty stare: ‘Whatcha looking at?’


And then he flew right at me. In a split second, I decided to just stand there and watch instead of raising my camera to capture the owl in flight coming directly at me. I wouldn’t have time to frame and adjust my camera anyway. I was too stunned and didn’t want to lose the chance of seeing a Great Horned Owl heading straight at me wing spreading 4 feet wide.

So, no photo for what could have been a marvellous shot if I’d the time and the autofocus of my camera had worked fast enough. No visual to share, but the picture in my mind is indelible.

Good that Papa Owl wasn’t aggressive. He glided past me, yes, brushed past, just flew by a couple of feet beside me and then up a tree. From there he stayed on a branch to watch his home… as he always has, a loyal sentinel.

Anything can happen during a walk in the woods. This time it’s bringing me back to the very basic of seeing, just with my naked eye, and store the solitary experience in a personal vault devoid of any digital or hard copy… so, no need to declutter in the future.

***

Spring Cleaning

A Purification

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise,
have been inattentive to wonders,
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

–– Wendell Berry

Waiting for Spring

Waiting for Spring

Though cloudy skies, and northern blasts,
Retard the gentle spring awhile;
The sun will conqu’ror prove at last,
And nature wear a vernal smile.

The promise, which from age to age,
Has brought the changing seasons round;
Again shall calm the winter’s rage,
Perfume the air, and paint the ground.

The virtue of that first command,
I know still does, and will prevail;
That while the earth itself shall stand,
The spring and summer shall not fail.

Such changes are for us decreed;
Believers have their winters too;
But spring shall certainly succeed,
And all their former life renew.

Winter and spring have each their use,
And each, in turn, his people know;
One kills the weeds their hearts produce,
The other makes their graces grow.

Though like dead trees awhile they seem,
Yet having life within their root,
The welcome spring’s reviving beam
Draws forth their blossoms, leaves, and fruit.

But if the tree indeed be dead,
It feels no change, though spring return,
Its leafless naked, barren head,
Proclaims it only fit to burn.

Dear Lord, afford our souls a spring,
Thou know’st our winter has been long;
Shine forth, and warm our hearts to sing,
And thy rich grace shall be our song.

–––– John Newton

When human and bird collide

Spring is home construction season. The Ospreys are back and busy building their perennial home.

The Ospreys have the same address every year, that’s right on top of a highway sign. I don’t know why they like it up there above a busy highway while there are many trees close to a river nearby. No building permit required, so they are free to set up their family home and raise their young wherever they like.

This year is different. Some human have chosen that exact spot to work on something. Not sure what they’re planning for the site. A lift equipment is nearby and a little wooden triangular structure has been erected, right where the Ospreys are building their home.

So there are two different building plans on the same site, but the Ospreys are undeterred. They haul in material from nearby trees, transporting one twig at a time.

Here’s making the best of a precarious situation. When you have an unknown, triangular intrusion right by your home, might as well use it as a watch tower.

I don’t know how the story will unfold. I sure hope co-existence will be the happy ending.

***

Spring Sightings

First time is always the most exciting. These past weeks, I came across three sightings of something I’d never seen before. They may be common for other birders or nature watchers, but what’s important for me is, those were my first time.

From afar, I knew that wasn’t a Chickadee or a Nuthatch, albeit about the same size but plumper. I took the picture and later looked it up. It was a Dark-eyed Junco. Sure I’ve heard of the junco before, but have never come face to face with one. I further found out that it was one of the most common birds in Canada. Oh really? This was the first time I saw it, and that made it special for me. Love that tiny pink beak.

Another first-time is this photo here. Someone’s having a hearty meal, its delicate hands holding up a green shoot and chomping away. Can you guess what it is? Not a mouse:

Here, its tail gives it away… a baby muskrat. I’ve seen the adult ones but sighting a pint-size muskrat was my first time. At first I thought it was a baby beaver, but the narrow, long tail distinguishes it from the beaver, which has a flattened, paddle-like tail. Here’s a helpful page.

But the following is the most exciting find for me. In a shimmering pond lined with cattails…

I found a water bird I’d never seen before. It had a greyish white patch on its cheek:

I learned later that it was a Red-necked Grebe, breeding mainly in Canada (distribution map here). A grebe is not a duck; it doesn’t have webbed feet. I went back several times and found there were two pairs of them. I look forward to seeing their babies on their back in the coming days or weeks. I’ll be visiting them often.

Their colour features are fine and distinct, rusty red long neck and breast, with a yellow strip along their beak. Loud and distinct calls. Male and female have similar appearance.

I can’t explain it… I’m mesmerized by their serene movement, and yes, crazy calls. I’ve gone back a few times already, at different times of the day and in different weather. Nature’s calming sessions.

***

O Brother (cheerily), First of May

May has arrived! The Brothers Karamazov Read Along thus begins.

Your part of the world might be all green and colourful, more conducive to outings and nature wandering than reading. But then again, you can read outdoor too. Just bring the book along and sit under a tree … in a lawn chair, and enjoy the warm breeze.

As for me at the Pond, things aren’t that rosy yet. But I have blue sky, white clouds, and buds bursting out on trees.

All are welcome as we start our slow and leisurely reading of the classic which critics hail as Dostoevsky’s culminating, greatest work (pub. 1880, his last novel). Here’s a schedule of our posting dates, according to the four sections of the book:

PART I – May 22

PART II – June 12

PART III – July 3

PART IV & Epilogue – July 24

If you’re not a blogger, you can still read together with us. On the posting date, stop by and leave your thoughts as a comment. Or, you might have read it before, several times, I welcome your insights!

Happy May! Happy Reading!

________

For more details:

The Brothers Karamazov Read Along Invite Post

Heralds of Spring

April is unpredictable. One day we have warm, sunny weather, the next there would be flurries. But the creek and pond have mostly melted. A new sound I heard a few weeks ago when I was walking by a stream, something I had never encountered before. The sound of melting: the cracking of ice, like a small firecracker had gone off.

But this is the true herald. When I saw the first robin, I knew Spring had arrived. There were many of them during my walk last week, turning the woods into a convivial nesting playground.

And up in the sky, a red-tailed hawk flew by. Sunlight seeping through its feathers:

At the bird sanctuary, the wood ducks are back, brightening up a cold morning:

But here’s what made my day: my first time sighting a Hooded Merganser. This is rare in our locale. From their range map, they’re only passing through during migration.

I often think of the female Common Merganser as having hair like Lucille Ball’s. I’ve found another celeb look-alike… the male Hooded Merganser’s hair sure has an Elvis look:

As for the female, I always find them to be more playful than the male, both the Common and now as I observed the Hooded one. Wish I’d taken a video to share. She was splashing and calling out in exuberance, while Elvis glanced back in nonchalant coolness:

Sure, shake your sillies out… Spring has sprung!

***

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.

 

 

***

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?

***

First Spring Visitors to the Pond

They brought me out of hibernation.

It’s been a long winter, not record temperatures, but record snow, all the way into March and April. The Pond started to melt just last week. Then they all came, so fast. I’m amazed at the varieties, some I haven’t seen before.

One evening last week:

Evening.jpg

American White Pelicans in the evening light, welcome back!

American White Pelicans.jpg

And then from a distance, some I wasn’t familiar with:

New visitors.jpg

A white hood, not a Bufflehead. The sun was setting quickly, and I must say goodbye, not for long though.

Went back next morning and saw them. I wouldn’t have known if not for another photographer who told me they were Hooded Mergansers, rare visitors to the Pond. Only the male is white-hooded. The female looks like the Common Merganser female which always reminds me of Lucille Ball for some reasons:

Rare Visitors.jpg

Hooded male.jpg

The Great Blue Heron, frequent visitor to the Pond, a bit shy as I approached:

Great Blue Heron.jpg

Takes off.jpg

The Lesser Scaup:

Lesser Scaup.jpg

Northern Shovelers playing catch:

Shovelers.jpg

Just as I was leaving, I was stunned to see these beautiful creatures flying above. I wasn’t ready but still able to snap a couple of photos. Not until I went back home and did some search did I realize I’d just seen a ballet of Trumpeter Swans in the sky:

Trumpeter Swans.jpg

Swans 1

Don’t fly away, stop by the Pond next time!

 

***

 

Owl Babies’ Day Out

It has been three weeks since I last posted about a first sign of spring: Grizzly bear coming out of hibernation. Now, spring is in full force. Another sure sign in my neck of the woods is Great Horned Owlets out to enjoy the sunshine.

First, let me play a little ‘Where’s Waldo’ with you. Can you find the owls in this photo? How many do you see?

DSC_0613

The obvious ones are on the top branch, mom on the right with her baby, and in the lower, closer to the trunk, another owlet.

Some are just born to be more independent. Take a closer look at this cool, furry owl baby perching on her own branch. Seeing me eagerly snapping her photo, she sits still for me, giving me a big smile even:

Doll

 

She reminds me of those Ukrainian dolls.

Furry

But don’t think she’s all innocent and vulnerable, look at her claws:

Claws

And to the mother and the other baby in the upper branch, again, they know how to please us nature paparazzi, just by being themselves:

DSC_0607

Babe & Mom.jpg

And here, a little action for us, Mom preening her baby. The term of endearment is instinct:

Mom preening baby

Preening babe.jpg

I can hear the baby say: “Thanks Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!”

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