Saturday, October 15, 2016

Brief visit to Alberta

I enjoyed a recent visit to Alberta to attend the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef and specifically to look at what these roundtables can do for the plight of declining grassland birds.  I also enjoyed a little birding on the weekend following the meetings from the foothills west of Calgary. In addition to my previous two posts on the Northern Pygmy-Owl and the Clark's Nutcracker, here are a few images from this area.

I start with two scenery shots of the foothill country, coated in a light dusting of snow and hoarfrost in early October to give you a sense of the landscape.

There were some thoroughly enjoyable mammal sightings in this beautiful landscape including  several elk. This magnificent male was rubbing his heard on a tree, seemingly with great relish:


There were lots of opportunities to observe Mule Deer, including this stotting pair. The stott of the Mule Deer (a jump with all four legs leaving the ground and landing at once), and some other deer and gazelles, is considered by many to be a form of "honest signalling", i.e. telling a predator "I am so fit you will never be able to catch me".

And this Red Fox posed for just long enough to allow a few photos:

There were some thoroughly enjoyable raptor sightings as well, not least of which were five Golden Eagles seen migrating along the foothills east of the Rocky Mountains within a few hours. This is a first year bird with more white in the underwing than adults. These huge and magnificent Aquila eagles are always a great pleasure to watch!  

There were many Rough-legged Hawks on the move and this female on a frosty perch was too striking not to take a habitat photo.

One of the highlights was  watching two Common Ravens mobbing an adult Northern Goshawk. Ravens are of course a large and audacious species but the Northern Goshawk is an apex predator that is not to be trifled with.  Unintimidated by those powerful talons, the ravens escorted the Accipiter "off the premises".
The handsome male American Kestrel also warranted a quick stop! The only other falcon seen was a flyby Peregrine Falcon.

I did not spend a lot of time looking for waterfowl but did record an impressive number of Hooded Mergansers. This male (not in breeding plumage) chasing a female Common Merganser was rather comical. The size difference was immediately apparent.

One of the first passerines I saw on this trip was the Mountain Chickadee. This species is endemic to the mountainous regions of western North America and I seldom get to see them so I especially enjoyed photographing this one with a caterpillar.

Although I am used to seeing the other two chickadee species that were present in the flocks here (Black-capped and Boreal), I couldn't resists a few photos of Boreal Chickadees of perches laden with snow and hoarfrost:

A first-year Northern Shrike also provided a thoroughly enjoyable photo opportunity, albeit distant.

And I photographed a few other familiar faces such as this American Tree Sparrow

 And this Rusty Blackbird on yet another frosty perch: 

A thoroughly enjoyable short trip with special thanks to Doug Collister and family!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Portrait of a Nutcracker

The Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) has an exceptional spatial memory, being capable of hiding and refinding thousands of seeds and nuts. Another interesting fact about this species is that both sexes incubate the eggs and the male develops a brood patch (unusual in the Corvidae - crow family). There are only three species in the genus:
  Clark's Nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana) of western North America
  Spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes) of Eurasia
  Large-spotted Nutcracker (Nucifraga multipunctata) of Kashmir

and their closest relatives are the ground-jays (Podoces) of Asia and the choughs (Pyrrhocorax) of Eurasia. In all three of thee genera the bill is rather long and slightly decurved.

On a recent brief visit to Banff National Park, Alberta Canada, I took a few minutes to get to know this magnificent denizen of montane coniferous forests a little better. The first photo shows a nutcracker in their habitat

And the second photo gives a closer look but still offers a typical view of one perched near the trunk of a conifer.

I finish with two portraits. First a vertical composition, showing the underparts and the undertail, and  which I think captures some of the bird's personality:

 And finally an upper body portrait  to show off their simple elegance and beauty:


Monday, October 10, 2016

Northern Pygmy-Owl

The Northern Pygmy-Owl (scientific name differs by taxonomy; IOC: Glaucidium californicum; AOU: G. gnoma) is Canada's smallest owl and the only pygmy-owl (Glaucidium) that occurs here. This tiny little resident is found mostly in the mountains of western North America (in Canada mostly in British Columbia but it does occur east of the Continental Divide in westernmost Alberta).

After a recent conference in Banff, I managed to photograph two Northern Pygmy-Owls. The first was along the Bow Valley in Banff National Park and the second in the foothills east of the park. The first five photos below show the first of these two owls. I was lucky to spot this bird atop a pine near dusk and, even better, watched it fly down to an aspen and then dive into a spruce to grab a small bird.

The first photo below (followed by a crop of the same photo) shows of the owl with the snow-covered mountains in the background:

This mountain shot also shows the owl's 180 degree head turn:

This is the point where the pygmy-owl dove into the spruce. Although I suspected it was hunting I wasn't sure at first...

until it emerged with a small bird (looking at the photos later I suspect the prey was a Dark-eyed Junco). As this was right at dusk, I suspect the junco has already settled in to roost for the night (I have watched Eastern Screech-Owls grab prey at the roost like this several times):

These next two photos show the second owl in the foothills east of the Rockies; the first perched high atop some hoarfrost laden needles and then in a leafless aspen.   

I hope you enjoy these photos as much as I enjoyed the thrill of seeing these tiny owls. Special thanks to Doug Collister and family for their exceptional hospitality!
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