Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A visit to the Narcisse snake dens

I had a journey to make up to Lake Manitoba on the weekend and my good friend Bear joined me for the ride to the res. On the way home we went my Narcisse and were pleasantly surprised to see that the snake dens were open to the public. The red-sided garter snakes in the north spent our long brutal winters underground in limestone caves and many hundreds, even thousands, gather at these denning sites each fall in preparation for their winter sleep. At this time of the year they are emerging from the rocks…

When they emerge the snakes have breeding on their mind and you will see many mating balls where large numbers of the smaller males slither over a female (much larger) in an attempt to be the one who gets to mate. This is just a small mating ball!

Here you can see the males following the larger females as she slides away (she is the one with her head furthest to the right)

Even without a female present they don’t mind a little company it seems!

You can see the size differences well in this image

A couple of close-ups - the second shot shows the forked and bicoloured tongue.

There was other wildlife to see on the day of course – a few shots from the drive include this muskrat on the ice

An adult Bald Eagle on the ice

Marbled Godwits feeding in frosted fields

And Double-crested Cormorant and Great Egret taking off. The Great Egret is near their northernmost breeding colony in North America at Dog Lake…

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A boreal night

I love the “owl spring”, i.e. the period between mid March and mid April when owls are usually their most vocal as they establish their breeding territories. I do several Manitoba Nocturnal Owl Surveys in this period and I would do more if I could. Last night was a great night to be out surveying and I heard five species. Mostly when you do owl surveys, hearing is the sense you use. By that I mean you don’t see owls so often. For the past few years Boreal Owls (Tengmalm’s Owl if you prefer) have been hard to find, presumably because the vole cycle was in its trough. This year however is looking much better and last night however I heard a total of 6 Boreal Owls and got to see two of them that were close to the road. This first male was singing high in a jack pine – notice the posture and the puffed out feathers around the throat (typical posture of many small owls singing). In the case of this Boreal Owl, the whole body quivered with the vibrato song.

As luck would have it, he looked down at me, allowing this photo...

Amazingly, a second Boreal Owl a few kilometers away also allowed a few photos – again notice the body movement as he sings (compare the two photos)

I nearly got the take off shot I have been dreaming about – I like to try to predict when owls will take off by subtle changes in body posture but most of the time my reflexes are just a fraction of a second to slow… as in this case.

I’ll be heading back to the boreal forest as soon as I can!
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