Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Birdwatching in Europe

A Grey Heron in Europe, a Great Blue Heron in North America. With slow and deep wingbeats the heron winged over me and circled over the river before landing on the wharf.

A Coot in Europe and American Coot in North America.

A gaggle of Mute Swans. They were quiet. A man was feeding them along the Main in Frankfurt. The Black-headed Gulls got their share too. There was a solitary female Teal mixed in with the Gulls and Swans.

Wood Pigeons are the largest in the pigeon family, and compared to the regular-sized pigeon in the lower left, are clearly large. Perhaps four times the volume? Wow! A first.

We were in a park behind the Miro Museum in Barcelona. The bird was so large that my first thought was a raptor.

Black-headed Gulls are common in Europe. By the coast, along the rivers, and in the cities.

This is a first year gull. The black heads will appear next spring when the red proximal beak will offer a stark contrast.

A Common Gull. But not so common that I had ever identified one before. This was a first.

The afternoon temp was cold but the wind made the day very chilly. The gull didn't seem to mind.

This Moorhen swam along the wharf in one direction and then hopped onto the wharf and walked back in the opposite direction.

The bird was on a mission, as oblivious too my presence, as I was to where he was going.

I saw two paraqueets in Europe in November. The first in Brussels was in the gardens outside the Royal Palace. I saw the typical bullet flight but thought the sighting of a parrot at that time of the year to be improbable. Then I heard the squawking. I tracked the birds down and patiently waited until they came into view. A Rose-ringed Paraqueet.

The parrot featured here is the Monk Paraqueet. This parrot has become a public nuisance in Barcelona. Like all paraqueets outside of the tropics these birds were likely released by or otherwise lost from exotic pet owners, and hardy birds that they are, they adapted to the colder climes. The Monk Paraqueet is the only parrot that can build a nest, the entrance to which is well seen in this photo.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Forest of Fungus Flowering
The camera was at ground level and that meant I was lying on frosty ground that melted into one of my pant legs as I composed the shots.

600 years old? An Engleman Spruce half this diameter emerged from the soil in the 1700's. Wow.

Shooting into the sun at a shutter speed of a four hundredth of a second. Isn't modern technology wonderful?

The sun disappeared behind the mountain within five minutes of our arrival at noon in early October. Sunlight is sparse high and deep in the mountains.

A leprauchaun slept here.

Marsh in the mountains. What lives in there? Someone could do a PhD on the ecology of a marsh at 2000 meters.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Banded Peak looked spectacular this morning, courtesy of overnight snow, a cloudless sky, and brilliant autumn sunshine. Wow. I was on my way to Nihahi Creek, my favorite local hike, perhaps because the creek feeds into the Little Elbow and eventually the Elbow, the river beside which I was born. My parents had a home on the Elbow River in Calgary, and Mom delivered me in the Holy Cross, which overlooks the river.
The autumn colors were fabulous, although mostly yellow, courtesy of the poplars that thrive along wet riverbeds at lower elevations. Red Bearberries and Alberta Rose hips were scattered along the trail. The neck patch/moustache of a Northern Flicker added the only other splash of red on the trail. Autumn in the mountains is well advanced. I saw perhaps the final few purple asters, their mid-day sun-basked petals twisted in curls that can no longer unfurl.
I came across a spruce tree, denuded of bark on one side, and the contrast between the orange trunk and bark, the verdant bows, the snow crystals sparkling in the sun, and the tiny patches of blue sky peaking through the trees was pretty spectacular.
Several years ago I enjoyed this hike with Christine and Josh.
We spotted a Three-toed Woodpecker excavating a nest in a spruce. I decided to revisit the nest. The entrance hole was the same size but the cavity was huge. I saw several new holes a meter or so above the original, none completed, but clearly started this spring.
The wind was brisk sweeping down the valley, and when I stopped for lunch I chose the protection of a rocky outcrop and almost sat on this fossil - something like a brackipod?

There were few animals, a red squirrel and a least chipmunk were my only companions that day. I did see coyote tracks in the snow along a trail, all the prints in a straight row, which means the animal was moving briskly.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September is Rutting Month. There were 8 moose in a mudflat below Mount Engadine Lodge. A older bull with a grand set of antlers, a younger bull who did not look as if the words, "mine is bigger than yours" was on the tip of his tongue, six cows, and two yearlings. The mudflat is popular every evening, more so I'm advised in the spring, when up to a dozen congregate to enjoy whatever it is in the mud that they enjoy. Salt? Aquatic plants buried in the mud? Each other? I asked the staff at the lodge, I read an entire book on Moose by a fellow who spent his academic life studying them in Denali in Alaska, and I looked up Moose in the Ben Gadd book, but no definitive answer. Some of the cows allowed themselves to sink in to belly level. A mudbath at a Moose Spa? When I woke up the next morning, only the young male was still there, lying down, layed back in the mud. I captured a photo of the big bull with this unique soundless posture. He looked as if he was making a noise, but if he did, the sound was not for my ears. In the Denali Moose book I saw the same picture with an explanation. During rutting season, the bulls drink female urine and then adopt this posture to allow the hormones in the urine to stimulate chemical sensors in the hard palate. Apparantly, this allows the bull to know which females are ready to rut. Wow. A urine connoisseur. My kind of story! You just know this will find a place in my next talk on voiding problems.

Great bird weekend. Townsend's Solitaire, typically perched on top of a pine tree. Yellow Warbler and American Tree Sparrow, both on the way South, and my first Alberta sighting of the latter. The brilliantly rufous crown, grey temples, and yellow lower beak were all too obvious in the autumn sun. Spruce Grouse. Stellars's Jay at the Lodge, my first sighting on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies. Both the Slate Grey and Oregon Junkos. A Horned Grebe and a Coot in the slough at Sibbalds Flats. This solitary Canadian Dipper was in a marsh, not the typical habitat, and I caught the white eyelid closed in this photo. The usual suspects were in the area. Ravens, Crows, Robins, Grey Jays, Chickadees.

I climbed this Pine Tree. Not for the view, which was quite good at the base. Rather, I was watching a Townsend's Solitaire, when I realized we were not alone. I heard a large animal moving through the brush about 100 meters below me. Earlier, I had stepped over this bear scat.
I was alone, which is not the
recommended situation in the mountains but an absolutely perfect situation for the imagination to run rampant. I strained my eyes for about five minutes, could hear the animal moving in some brush, but could not see a thing. I would like to tell you that I climbed the Pine Tree for a better look, and indead the view was much better for the extra 4 meters, but security was the larger issue. I placed my pack about 25 meters away, took my bear spray, binoculars, and camera with me, put on my gloves, and discovered that Pine Trees are perfect for climbing. Lots of room between the branches, strong but springy footholds where the branch emerges from the trunk, and capable of supporting a 150 pound man at almost the top. I spent about ten minutes in the tree, never saw a thing, and climbed down after the absence of noise for about 5 minutes. Several hours later, on the way down, I came across the likely culprit, this moose, feeding in the same brush. There were two females browsing the brush within a half a kilometer.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The silloutted outline and hunched forward pose suggest something ominous about this bear. And there was. The bear charged us, a bluff charge from a great distance, but enough that I sure jumped.

Ursus Blonde

Likely a three year old and the first summer away from the mother. Paul and I happened upon the bear while driving out after a hike up to the lower of the Headwalls Lakes. I imagine this young bear would have enjoyed the numerous cutthroat trout that Paul caught that day.

We stopped the car and the bear walked right in front of us. We enjoyed the event more than the bear did. The ears are back and the mouth is open in a don't-mess-with-me growl.

Prairie View Lookout Trail

Indian Paintbrushes have fascinated me since I first saw them years ago in the Sunshine Meadows. Way back when, I tried to transplant these flowers in our garden but to no avail. The rootstock is actually a parasite that grows off the roots of other plants. I've taken hundreds of photos of paintbrushes, always hoping for that perfect shot with several layers of flowers in crisp focus against a lush green and blurred background. Someday the setting, the light, and my experience will come together.

These layers of color at the edge of Barrier Lake caught my fancy.

The late afternoon sun was in our face as Paul and I walked out from Commonwealth Lake when. The owl swooped across the forestry road and up into a spruce tree about 30 meters away. "Northern Hawk Owl," I wondered, since I knew these owls to be diurnal in there feeding habits and the bird looked to be about the right size. The owl landed about 25 meters up the tree, and the 35 to 80 lens on my Canon was not the right tool for a good view that far away. I took some shots anyhow, but with the sun behind the bird, good images for identification were more wishful thinking than likely. I walked slowly toward the bird and took shots every five meters or so and eventually managed to have the sun behind me with a good view, albeit with the bird still too high up for easy identification. I took about twenty still shots and then set the camera to take some rapid sequence fast shutter shots in case the bird flew. I must speak owl because the bird did just that and I managed one good shot for identification purpuses. Back home I zoomed in on the not too crisp hand held images. They proved good enough. The tiny ears, the relative "absence" of the neck during flight, and the black elbow markings on the underside of the wing identify this as a Short-eared Owl, a first for me.

Autumn comes early in the mountains. Clouds of dryads lay along the trail . The silky plumes had unfolded and were only waiting on a good breeze to scatter the seeds to new homes

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Canadian Hoary Marmots sing a long monotone whistle to let you know they are out and about in the rocks and boulders that are strewn down the steeper slopes at the tops of the valleys in the Rockies. This little marmot was likely about six months old, one of four or five from the winter litter. His first sunshine was likely in April and on this September afternoon, he was soaking up the rays for one of the last times before the family settled into winter hibernation. During the summer Golden Eagles snatch the less wary babies and Grizzlies dig out the burrows in the late summer and fall.

I heard the whistle and spotted two generations sunning on adjacent boulders. The sun was in my face so I decided to circle behind them. "They'll scurry into the rocks," I figured, but hope springs eternal. I moved very slowly, I was carrying about thirty pounds on my back and dancing the boulder ballet as quietly as possible. To my pleasure and amazement the furry little animals continued to sun, seemingly oblivious to my antics. I stopped to take pictures every five meters or so, thinking every shot would be my last, and eventually ended up about ten meters behind and above them. There was no wind, so my scent, if that were an issue, was minimized. I was definitely in what I would expect would be the peripheral vision of those big eyes, but they never turned to me. Once I had closed in to the ten meter mark I positioned myself with my pack-ladden back against a big chest-high boulder and adjusted my Canon SLR with the Ultrasonic 100 to 300 zoom lens. I adjusted the polarizer. The late afternoon sun was full and hot so I shortened the shutter speed to about 240 and took a few shots. The sun was way too bright to view the images. I bracketed the shots. After about ten shots I decided to move closer. I had really settled into my shooting position, and when I shifted, the sound of my pack scraping off the boulder startled the marmot. I froze. The little critter looked right through me. I don't think they can see very well. I waited a minute and crept slowly to within five meters and took more shots. The next time I moved the little marmot moved to the edge of the rock, and when eventually I moved to within three meters, the animal slipped over the edge and disappeared. As I tried to walk around the boulder, the marmot emerged again and almost ran into me. I climbed below the boulder and found the little marmot settled in the entrance of a burrow, waiting on who knows what. I took more photos, while the trusting little animal meandered around the entrance of the burrow. I can only hope that marmots can recognize a Grizzly from a human, because by the time I took my last shot I was only a meter from his hoary body.

There was a bear warning online for the trail and there were signs at the trailhead. Surrounding the trail for the first few kilometers were layers of Canadian Buffalo Berry bushes basking in the September sunshine. About half a clik up the trail we came upon fresh scat to confirm the presence of the big bear. There was fresh berry scat everywhere, some strewn in tiny droppings that suggested the presence of the three cubs that the notice suggested were feeding with their Mom. Big plops for Mom; little drops for the first year cubs. Three cubs is a large litter for Banff. This meant a healthy Mom, abundant food last year before she went into hibernation, just as much food this year for the cubs, and the absence of a male predator grizzly popping up when Mom was not prepared. We never saw the bears but both that day and two days later when we hiked out, we learned that we had just missed the family on both trips. Other, more fortunate (?) hikers came across the grizzlies just before or after we passed.

Spruce Gourse are either the most timid or the most stupid birds in the Rockies. These birds nonchalantly wander across the path, seemingly oblivious to humans, and unless you move suddenly, jump, or run at them, they just carry on. We came across three families. I followed one family off trail to get a better picture. I circled round a family of four and was happily taking photos when I hear this "whirring sound,"a call I had never heard before. The grouse all ran back towards me, then past me, as if I were only another spruce tree, and sequestered themselves in a group under a bush. Something had spooked them. A coyote, a raptor, a something.

Pileated Woodpeckers work at the base of trees and peck out rectangular holes. This was a fresh site, less than two days old, because I would have seen the sawdust on the way up. The beak-pecked spruce dust was very fresh and evenly distributed at the base of the tree. I'm not sure why, but the bird often pecks out two eyes and either a nose or a long mouth. Always makes me think of Munch's The Scream. These birds are the biggest woodpeckers in Canada.

Orange is my favorite color in nature. Well, green is great too, but orange is the color of the sun, and green is the color of growth, courtesy of the sun.

I love lichen. I lichen love.

Well, anyway, this was a bit of sunshine in a green forest, on a boulder covered in a kaliedescope of lichen.

Lots of shrooms; lots of panaromas; lots of fun.