Category: Birds

Bluebird WM

Yellowstone was full of bluebirds.  I have only seen parents and offspring together before, but during this trip there were flocks of over 20 birds.  This handsome male perched on a branch right next to the road which made it very easy for me. He didn’t seem to be bothered and continued to eye up the landscape for unsuspecting insects.

Rude Awakening

Bison and Magpie PS SS WMWhere has April gone? I will try to catch up on my posts over the next few weeks.

I took this one in Yellowstone about a month ago. The bison herd was bedded down and just waking up from a frosty night in the park. The magpies were going from one bison to the next, singing their typical magpie songs and picking off bugs as the sun rose over the hills. Most of the bison didn’t seem to mind the wake up call, but this one didn’t take too kindly to it. It tossed its head back several times to try to dislodge the bird, but the magpie just ignored him. Eventually the bison gave up his protest and went back to trying to get some more rest.

Feather Duster

Northern Hawk Owl Tree watermark

One misstep or mis-perch and this northern hawk owl might become a feather duster as it precariously sits on what looks like a very uncomfortable perch. It was about a year ago that I took this photo up in the Yukon and in the next week I will be passing by this spot on another Alaskan, Yukon and BC adventure. Hopefully I see a few more of these amazing birds along the way.

Dipper whats over there PS SS WM

About a month ago I had a great encounter with an American Dipper. It started off with me getting a shot of it looking off into the distance at something that caught its eye. Notice the ice crystals on the legs!  No big deal for a dipper!

Dipper with stickleback swimming PS SS WM

Seconds later it was diving into the frigid waters and hunting down a fish. With water droplets beading off the feathers, it surfaced and started swimming towards me to the nearest bank. The fish squirmed back and forth but couldn’t break free from the tight grip on the tail. These fish are known as sticklebacks, aptly named for the multiple sharp spines that run along their backs. This didn’t seem to deter the dipper though. It managed to avoid the spines and once to shore the fish was quickly put out of its misery.

Dipper stickleback water splashing PS SS WM

Water droplets fly as the dipper smacks the fish against the ice to kill it. Once dead, the bird took a brief break before it picked the fish up again and repeatedly smacked it against the ice. This continued for several minutes with the dipper slowly moving closer and closer to me. The only explanation I can think of for why it continued to hit the fish against the ice was that it needed to blunt the sharp large spines before it could swallow the fish whole.

Dipper stickleback beak back PS SS WM

At this point the dipper was a mere 5 feet from me.  Almost like a house cat that brings a mouse back to show off its catch! This was the final shot before it gulped the fish down and dove back into the water for another. Such an amazing sequence to see and I continue to marvel at these unique birds!


Dipper tongue out reflection log watermarkA funny photo for the day. I will let you decide if the dipper was sticking its tongue out at me, for the photo, or just because it can!

Fluffed Up

Dipper yellow water tail matching wood watermark

An American Dipper takes a break from hunting to fluff its feathers. Birds will do this for a variety of reasons. In this case the dipper purposely fluffed the feathers to trap air between the different layers. This serves two main functions. One is to keep the warm air close to the body to maintain its body temperature and the other is to get enough air between the feathers to improve buoyancy when diving for food. By doing so,  it easily floats back to the surface with minimal effort despite being weighed down by whatever food it manages to catch. A sick bird will also appear fluffed but this is accompanied by other signs such as lethargy, decreased alertness such as closing of the eyelids and usually thin body condition. As for the photo, it is one of my favourites because of the soft yellow tinge to the water created by the setting sun and the way the bird’s tail feathers match the angle and pattern of the splintered bark.

Grooming ravens watermark

I’m not sure why the other photos didn’t appear in the original post but no matter…they are here now! Keeping with the Corvid theme this week, two ravens share a moment together as one gently grooms the feathers of its perspective mate.

Feather grooming ravens watermark

After a few minutes of the back grooming the favour was quickly reciprocated with some delicate grooming around the face, beak and neck of the other raven.

Ravens billing watermark

The grooming behaviours must have been well done since it was quickly followed up by more intimate behaviours. This is known as billing, and apparently it’s not something ravens do with just any raven!  The beaks of birds are very sensitive due to the many nerve endings similar to our own lips, so it isn’t much of a stretch to think that his feels good to them. Things continued to get heated, and not wanting to intrude on their developing relationship anymore than I already had, I quietly packed up and left them to their own devices.

Magpie in flight deer carcass watermark

First let me say that this post was already in the works before today, which is why I got quite the laugh this morning when fellow blogger and wildlife photographer, Lyle Krahn awarded me the dubious distinction of the ‘Forgot to Leave’ award! Check out Lyle’s site for the full story as well as his great wildlife photos and stories!

Whenever I come across a carcass I have visions of wolves or cougars, or the even more elusive wolverine catching the scent and coming in to feed. The thought of witnessing these rarely observed animals in the wild doing things that I or few others have ever seen before keeps me out in the wilderness for hours on end. So with that optimism in mind, I hunkered down and waited. As you can probably imagine, sitting around in -15 degree Celsius temperatures is no fun. You can’t move around to keep warm since that will scare off any wildlife and the cold has a way of quickly removing any resolve that might have initially been there. But that day I was determined to give it a few hours so I waited some more. Within about an hour some magpies showed up and distracted me from the cold. In between feeding on the kill, they flew off to cash their food. Before flying back down to get more pieces of meat they perched in nearby trees and called out. This was great for me since it gave me enough time to turn the camera back on, compose the image and get my finger out of my glove to fire off the shutter. In their typical dramatic aerial flare, they swooped down to the carcass and fanned out their beautiful wings and tail feathers. I was treated to these displays for hours but eventually my resolve was broken. The tipping point was the hot packs I had placed in my boots and gloves could no longer keep my toes and fingers warm. Getting a few images like this made the surrender a little easier but as I hiked back to my car I wondered what I would have seen if I had waited a bit longer.

muskrat and ducks water 2 watermark

One afternoon I crouched by a small piece of shallow open water on an otherwise frozen lake trying to get some decent photos of green winged teal. Just as the ducks went bottoms up to forage for food a muskrat appeared from the bank. It immediately spotted the teals and to my surprise, swam directly towards them. The unsuspecting birds continued to dabble away at the bottom of the lake as the muskrat quickly closed the gap. Just as it was about to reach one of them, the ducks spotted him and in a burst of energy they frantically splashed and paddled away. Not to be discouraged, the muskrat picked up his pace and gained ground (or water) on them. Like a wolf separating off the weakest animal, the muskrat honed in on the slowest one. With less than a foot between them, the muskrat went into stealth mode. It dove under the water and in a burst of speed went for the underside of the duck. I’m not sure if it was successful at biting the duck or not, but the duck flew up into the air and the muskrat surfaced in its wake. Before the teal could land, the muskrat turned its attention to the others and another chase ensued.  After several close calls with the other teals the muskrat took a break. It dove down, grabbed a plant and headed back to its lodge.

Muskrat chasing ducks watermark

Seeing that the muskrat was gone the ducks resumed feeding. After no more than a few minutes the muskrat returned. This time the ducks were prepared. Seeking refuge from the marauding muskrat, some of the teals jumped out of the water and rested along the frozen shoreline.  As they preened themselves the muskrat chased after the remaining teals still in the water. They quickly decided to join the others along the shoreline, which seemed to placate the muskrat. It found some more food and returned to its lodge. Some of the teals sat down on the ice while the others kept a lookout. They were soon on high alert again as the muskrat made its way back to the feeding area. With its head above water the muskrat must have spotted the ducks. It swam back and forth directly in front of them but the ducks stood their ground.  That is until the muskrat launched itself out of the water and literally started running after the teals on the frozen lake! After a bit of frantic waddling the teals took flight and landed back in the open water. This only resulted in a brief reprieve. The muskrat dove back into the lake and resumed the cat and mouse chase. This cycle continued off and on for over an hour. By then the teals must have had enough and flew off, no doubt in search of a muskrat free patch of open water!  I made my way back to my car, chuckling to myself along the way. Just before I was out of sight, I turned for one last look and there was the muskrat eating a plant in the middle of the water with no teals to be seen!

American dipper in ice cave watermark

The dipper gets the distinction of being the only aquatic passerine (songbird) in North America. Remarkably, it makes its living diving and swimming in frigid glacier fed waters and then flies around in temperatures as low as -40 degrees. Adaptations that allow this bird to survive include an extra layer of feathering, an enlarged preen (oil secreting) gland for waterproofing, a nictitating membrane (third eyelid), enlarged muscles of the eye to accommodate for underwater vision, nasal flaps and increased hemoglobin levels to boost their blood oxygen carrying capacity that is essential for underwater swimming for up to 30 seconds at a time! I spotted this one along a partially frozen river as it entered a small ice cave in search of food.

Snow Buntings

Snow buntings in flight 1 watermark

In a co-ordinated burst, a flock of snow buntings cascades from a tree to fly off in search of food.

Mountains sunset duck ripples watermarkA green winged teal creates ripples in the water as the sun sets in Banff National Park

Bald Iceagle

Iced up Eagle watermarkLast weekend I came across a peculiar scene with this bald eagle literally swimming across an icy cold river using its wings as oars.  Up in the sky the distinctive call of ravens could be heard as they circled. The eagle managed to make its way to shore, climbed up a bank and rested in the snow. After several minutes it attempted to fly off but was unable to get any lift. It did this a few more times but still couldn’t get off the ground. Thinking that it had fractured one of its wings, I put my gear down and hiked into the forest to try to keep out of its sight while I approached it. I got to within about 30 feet before I ran out of any tree cover. By then the eagle had spotted me and I made a dash for it (don’t worry, I’m a trained professional and I have handled many birds of prey!). It quickly beat its wings and ran through the snow as fast as it could. Just as I was getting close enough to grab it, it managed to get out onto an ice-flow that would not support my weight. It seemed to know this because it turned and watched me as I came to a halt. Thinking that it might come back onto more stable land, I headed back into the forest to wait. About thirty minutes later, I moved into a better vantage point but it must have caught sight of me. With its powerful legs it sprang up into the air and managed to get just enough lift to take off. Thankfully, it cleared the river, flew several hundred feet and managed to perch in a nearby tree!

While I didn’t see the initial incident it is highly likely that the ravens managed to ground the eagle in the river. Once there, it became waterlogged. By resting in the powdered snow, some of the water was absorbed while the rest turned to ice. By repeatedly trying to take off, the ice crystals on the tips of the feathers would have been knocked off, which must have been just enough for it to regain flight. Thankfully no broken bones, but likely a bruised ego and a new respect for ravens! I on the other hand learned that eagles can swim and I have a new respect for their ability to tolerate frigid conditions and still survive!

Red Poll

Male red poll watermark

A male red poll (males have crimson breast feathers in addition to the red cap) sits on snow covered fir tree in Banff National Park

I often drive several hundred kilometers and spend countless hours outside trying to find wildlife to photograph. However, sometimes it’s much easier. This past week I  just had to look out my office window!  Sitting in a stand of aspen trees was this great horned owl. Not surprisingly the usual four squirrels that frequent the backyard were nowhere to be seen. I quickly grabbed my camera, took a few photographs and returned to the warmth of my office to watch the owl from a distance.