Birds bring colour to any day, no matter the season. In this case its in the form of the Bohemian Waxwings, a bit of a colour on their face, on their tail wings and on their sides. All highlighted by the light on a sunny winter morning.
It's always a special moment when an owl is spotted. Which is hard since they blend in so nicely with their surroundings and most are not active during the day. I have been fortunate enough to come across in Banff, Great Horned Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Barred Owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl and number of times have seen the Great Gray Owl. Still hoping to see the owls that only pass through Banff, Long-eared Owl, with more luck to see Short-eared Owl and keeping all my fingers and toes crossed to see the beautiful Snowy Owl. There are lot of places outside the mountains where these owls are spotted more often, but I enjoy the challenge of finding them in Banff National Park.
Northern Pygmy-Owls are found throughout the mountains and good for all of us who look for them, they are active during the day. It was late morning when I came across this one, perched high on a branch of a dead Douglas fir tree. Stayed in that spot for near an hour, grooming itself under the Sun before flying off to look for food.
On a cold morning, about 100 Bohemian Waxwings were busy eating juniper berries. With cold temperatures they need to consume extra calories to maintain weight but also to have energy to stay warm and as well to survive the cold nights when they don't eat. Between consuming berries they were taking water breaks.
I'm always amazed with birds, how they are able to survive in pretty harsh conditions. Take this small bird the Common Redpoll, during the winter it's found in the northern parts of Canada and we get to enjoy it in the mountains during the winter.
Great Gray Owl can consume several voles per day, to do that they have a great ability to hear and locate the voles in thick grass and in the winter under the cover of snow. The facial disc helps the owl direct sounds to its ears. They have asymmetrical ear openings, the left ear opening is higher than the right ear opening. Which enables the owl more accurately decide where the prey is before attempting to ponce on it. If that was not amazing enough, it has been reported that one Great Gray Owl broke through the snow crust that could hold a 170 pound human. All that work for a tasty vole.
It's challenging trying to take pictures of the birds in the winter in the mountains, but its worth it. When they are not top of the trees singing, Pine Grosbeaks come down looking for food. And when they do, that's my time to take their pictures. The females have the yellow colour and the males the red. I know they have moved in when I start hearing them in later part of the fall and that's when I start spending some time taking their pictures.
Another Christmas Bird Count is behind us, many of us were out listening and looking for birds. The day started out cold, but it got warmer as the sun got higher. Same for coming across birds for the team I was part of, we kept seeing ravens but not much else until we got closer to the afternoon. Birding in the mountains in the winter will keep you humble. It's not uncommon to count 50, 60 or on a very lucky day even 70 different species while birding during spring and early summer. In the winter we are thrilled to come across 10 or more species in the area our team covered. Today we topped 10 and the bonus was coming across this beautiful Northern Pygmy Owl.
It's December and the Christmas Bird Counts are around the corner. The one in Bow Valley will be taking place on Saturday Dec. 16. Pop over to the site "bowvalleynaturalist.org" if you like to play a role with the count. If you live elsewhere, check the web for the organization playing a role near your home. It's a fun way to spend time enjoying nature with others while counting the various species of birds coming across our way. When all the counts are gathered, analysed and compared to previous years, we get an idea how our feathered friends are making out.
It has been a while since I last saw a Great Gray Owl. I came across this beautiful owl recently, it was hunting. It did not come across any prey while I was there, it moved from tree to tree as it listened for anything moving under the not so deep snow. I more or less stayed put as it moved around and before I know it, it was gone.
Bald Eagles do enjoy eating fish, but they are open to other dishes when the opportunity presents itself. Water-fowls, small mammals, carrion and if they can't find their on food, they will steal from other animals. This adult was hoping to catch one of the water-fowl that was hanging around the marsh I was visiting. But the ducks were too quick that morning, alert and in the air before the eagle had a chance. As the eagle made few circles in the air before flying away, I quickly got myself higher to get this eye to eye level picture.
We don't get that many chances of seeing Blue Jays out here in the mountains, let along get a good picture of one. During one afternoon I was exploring when I saw this one, it was looking for food along the edge of the forest. Took my time getting close enough to get pictures, once we were both comfortable with the space between us. I then ended up spending about half an hour getting few good pictures.
Why is this adult Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding a juvinile Brown-headed Cowbird that is twice its size. Well, the cowbird does not build its own nest, instead it lays eggs in the other bird nests. Where the cowbird egg will hatch faster than that of the host species, giving the cowbird a head start getting the food from its host parent. As well the cowbird will develop faster and sometimes push out the eggs or the young nestlings or just smother them at the bottom of the nest. The host parent does know any better and ends up raising a Brown-headed Cowbird.
Pileated Woodpecker is the largest woodpecker in North America, roughly the size of a crow. They have an amazing zany call, inspiring the cartoon character Woody the Woodpecker. If you come across rounded rectangle holes near the bottom of the trees, then this woodpecker has be there, looking for wood ants. Here in the mountains they can be spotted year around.
I came across an active Rufous Hummingbird nest during the latter part of July, normally when the hummingbirds are done with nesting and enjoying the summer until they make their way to Mexico for the summer. During the summer the Rufous Hummingbirds can be found as far north as Alaska. No other hummingbird breeds farther north then the rufous. One way travel from their winter home Mexico to Alaska is about 6400 kilometres, not bad work for a very small but feisty 8 cm long bird.
Over the summer I got to watch this mother look after two nestlings. Over a three week period saw her catching insects, feeding and as well looking after herself. This picture I took in the morning after she just finished with the feeding and taking a rest.
I was taking pictures of other birds, when I saw this Cedar Waxwing fly by front of me and land near running water. I quickly put my camera on it and realized the bird had landed on a garter snake. The snake did not even look back, it moved forward and the bird got off it and started bathing in the water.
There's no free ride for wildlife, but in this case it seems the two Barred Owls invited the harassment form the Black-billed Magpies. During the sunrise the two owls were calling out near the top of the trees. Soon seven magpies came over and waisted no time giving the owls hard time, quickly handing out aerials assaults. The two owls tried different tactics, one perched between branches and just took it for few minutes until the magpies moved on. This one was more agitated, moving from tree to a tree. The magpies were always right behind it, they almost seem to be delighted that their harassment was working. Finally after half an hour, the magpies had enough and flew away.
Took this picture last month when this juvenile and one other in nest were still being fed by the adults at the nest. The adults are not the quietest birds near their nest, they had attracted the wrong type of person or persons. Who had climbed the tree using climbing gear and disturbed the nest. It took me about two weeks to realize everything was okay in the nest and two birds eventually fledged.
This adult Common Loon and its mate did not have success last year raising a family, the eggs did not even hatch. It might be related to a local grizzly bear who has a taste for eggs and or there is a good chance photographers got too close to the nest. It might have been great for the photographers to get good pictures that way, but very stressful for the adults getting their pictures taken from few meters away while sitting on the nest. This year there were two chicks, after a week one was grabbed by a raptor, the parents are doing a good job rasing the remaining one. Six days after the eggs were hatched, I was able to get this picture.