Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas tree of crossbills

It seems even mother nature is in a festive mood and had decorated this spruce tree with Red Crossbills, perched on branches like little red and yellow ornaments!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Preparing for a second shot at 500

Ok, here we go! Second shot at 500 species of birds and mammals in a calendar year coming up for 2013; a mere 13 days away!

As I've said before, last year didn't go so well, this year, though, things are going to be different! I can feel it.

Here's the plan right now.

January 1rst:
Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane in Alberta; Great Gray Owl, Spruce Grouse, Townsend's Solitaire, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike,  Gray Jay, Mountain Chickadee and Golden Eagle are the hoped for targets.

Then onto the Airdrie area for some hoped for Snowy Owls, Prairie Falcons, Snow Buntings, Partridge , Ring-necked Pheasant and Gyrfalcon.

Finally back to Calgary with some Barrow's and Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Canada Goose, Mallard, Bufflehead, Trumpeter Swan, Killdeer, Rusty Blackbird, Brown Creeper, Hairy Woodpecker, Great Horned Owl, Bald Eagle, Pileated Woodpecker, American Crow and Common Redpoll are the hoped for species.

January 2nd:
Birding around my neighborhood in Calgary; hoping for Black-capped Chickadee, White and Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Common Raven, House Finch, Pine Siskin, Black-billed Magpie, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Common Raven, Red and White-winged Crossbill and Pine Grosbeak .

Then it's back to Houston in the afternoon.

January 3rd:
Birding in my yard in the morning in Houston.
Vultures, Pine, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White Ibis, American Pipits, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Common Grackles, Chipping Sparrow, Mourning Dove, White-winged Dove, Northern Mockingbird, Red-winged Blackbirds, etc.

January 4th:
Birding around the neighborhood;
Blue Jay, Robin, Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher, Great and Snowy Egret, Great Blue Heron, American Goldfinch, Rock Pigeon, Savannah and Swamp Sparrow, Sedge and House Wren, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Bluebird, Loggerhead Shrike, Starling, House Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow and many more.

January 5th:
Down to the coast for plenty of goodies and I should have eclipsed 100 by now!

Stay tuned.


Please keep the victims of the Connecticut shooting in your prayers.

Never lose hope; there is always hope.

"It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars."
-  Richard Evans

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart."
-  Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

Monday, December 17, 2012

A pretty little wren

Haven't had much time for posting as I'm sure you've noticed and it's just going to be a quick post today.

Sedge Wrens from about a month back. A small group was hanging out at the local pond and posed for some shots- occasionally. Tough little buggers, always in perpetual motion. Don't know if they are still in the area.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Attempt 2

It has been decided, I try again for 500 species of birds and mammals next year, with a more organized attempt in order. This time it should be good. I tried for 500 birds+mammals this year, however I got nowhere close, thus, the second attempt. More on this to come later, stay tuned.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fiery waters

Haven't had much time for blogging lately or for photography either; hopefully more time will be coming my way shortly. In the meantime, though, here is a shot back from August, when I went camping for a couple days at Kikomun Creek Provincial Park in British Columbia.

I had just been finishing up for the day and was preparing to row my raft back to shore when I began to drift close to one of the juvenile loons and an adult. Seeing as there was still some light, I decided to just carry on drifting and see what happened. I soon got close enough to the young loon to start snapping away and the result you can see above. With the sun setting, a golden light was cast across the lake and absolutely lit up the yellow reeds on the far shore. The reflection of these reeds made a fiery backdrop that helped balance out the dull colors of the young loon and created a favorite shot for me. Hope you enjoyed it as well.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Looks like I'm stuck

Well, it looks like I am nowhere near achieving the always distant yet hoped for goal of 500 species of birds this year, perhaps I will put a more serious effort in next year and call it quits early this year. I had always known 500 for me would be next to impossible but I had hoped for at least 400 and not the 320 range I am in right now.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chipping Sparrow in crabapple

Haven't been out shooting much lately, hopefully I will be able to get out a little this weekend. Due to the lack of new shots I suppose I'll just have to post some from the archive. This one was taken on June 1rst in my neighbor's crabapple tree.

Chipping Sparrow in crabapple tree

I really like the setting on this one and preferred to show more of the scene rather than a closer shot.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A famous birder: Gus Yaki

Posted this on the Birds Calgary blog and I wanted to post it here too.

It has been a while since I last did a famous birders post but today, we have a very special expert birder and naturalist who some, if not most of us know personally; Gus Yaki.
Photo by Bob Lefebvre. Gus with an injured Ring-billed Gull.

Gus is a lifelong naturalist who has had a profound effect on numerous Calgarians, Albertans and people from across Canada and many other countries, including me. In November 2009, I was just starting to get seriously into birding and enjoying nature when I went on a Nature Calgary field trip to Fish Creek PP led by Gus; he did such a great job leading the trip that he helped to propel me into the world of birding. Gus leads many trips throughout the year whether they be birding, botany or anything else dealing with nature, you can see some excursions that he will be leading for Nature Calgary in the near future here.

Originally from North Battleford Saskatchewan, Gus used to walk 3 miles to school each day and got to learn and enjoy local fauna and flora this way. He started a nature tour service and, in 1983, led a trip around North America, following in the footsteps of Roger Peterson and James Fisher who had gone 30,000 miles around North America 30 years earlier. As Peterson's and Fisher's journey was immortalized in the book Wild America, so Gus' trip was immortalized in the book, Looking for the Wild, written by Lyn Hancock, who was on the trip with Gus. Gus is very active in all conservation, birding and overall nature aspects of Calgary and, for me, is undoubtedly qualified as a famous birder.
Below are some questions I asked Gus about various aspects of his birding and natural life and his responses.
Note: Photos below courtesy of
Image courtesy
When did you become interested in birds and nature?
I had nothing to do for nine months before I was born, so I listed all the bird sounds that I heard: as a result, I had a life-list (heard only) of 14 species when I took my first breath.

Seriously though, I don't ever remember not being interested in birds and nature. One of my first teachers had a little 3 x 6 inch bird booklet. Walking almost three miles to school, I would see a bird on its nest. At school, during recess, I would thumb through this little publication to find a matching description. On the way home, I would confirm that I had correctly identified it.

Later, the CCF government provided a lending library service to those living in Saskatchewan, so I was able to borrow such books as Birds of Canada by P. A. Taverner, with illiustrations by Allan Brooks. Needless to say, I soaked up those illustrations and texts, so that when I saw the real thing, I was able to instantly identify it.

By then, I had realized that birds were only part of nature: they needed the other plant and animal species to provide food, shelter, and reproductive services - as did all other species, so naturally, I expanded my horizon accordingly.

You led birding tours; how many different countries have you visited while birding and what are some of your favorite countries to visit for experiencing nature?
Yes, I started my own nature tour company, "NATURE TRAVEL SERVICE" in 1972, and personally traveled to some 76 political entities. Places such as Antarctica and the Svalbard Islands (Spitzbergen) are not countries - thus entities. I did operate tours to additional destinations, which others led for me.

What were some of my favourites? I have been frequently asked that. I usually reply that it is the place that I am at that time. In terms of the most bang for the buck, I would have to reply that it would be East Africa - particularly Kenya and Tanzania. The masses of mammalian life was outstanding. On one trip, we saw at least 75 species of mammals. One day we recorded 34 species - some of them in the hundreds of thousands, and the total for the day was in excess of a million individuals. To put that into perspective, when I moved to Calgary in 1993, after going afield almost every day, it took me six months to see 34 mammal species - and usually only one of a kind at that.

On one four week trip to Kenya, we saw 618 species of birds - more than all the species ever reported as being seen in Canada.

Other notable destinations would include Australia, which has some 750 species - many belonging to totally different families than we have.

In late March, Israel was also spectacular, observing a million birds of prey and storks, etc., using the Great Rift Valley to migrate out of Africa, and then spreading throughout Asia and Eastern Europe.

South America is known as the Bird Continent, because it hosts over 3,000 species. This diversity is great - but the richest areas are in forests, and that makes it more difficult to see many of those species.

What has been one of your most memorable birding experience?
Apart from seeing the sights in Kenya and Israel, mentioned above, my most memorable sighting was of 17 Whooping Cranes that were migrating south on 20 Aug, 1946. At that time, supposedly there were only about 21 individuals of this species alive in the world. This small population's nesting ground in Wood Buffalo National Park was then still unknown, not discovered until 1954. Most wintered at Aransas Nat. Wildlife Refuge in Texas.

The day before, 19Aug1946, I had witnessed 100,000+ Sandhill Cranes flying southward over me all day. The next day, the Sandhills again poured over me in similar numbers. Just before noon, a flock of about 20 low-flying Sandhills suddenly appeared immediately above the trees just at the north edge of the field where I was stooking sheaves of grain. Upon reaching the open sun-lit field, the Sandhills encountered a thermal and began to circle and rise up. As I watched them, I noted a flock of white birds, which I first assumed to be gulls, also circling to the NW of me. However, they soon ceased their circling, probably not having an effective thermal, and headed my way, ultimately joining the Sandhill Crane flock above me. The two species joined and circled together, ever gaining altitude - and eventually drifted off in a SSE direction. Both species were similar in same size and shape. The white birds had black primaries - and thus could only have been Whooping Cranes. When you plot a straight line from Wood Buffalo to Aransas, it takes you right over where I was watching these birds, about 35 miles, NNE of North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

People questioning me about this sighting have suggested that the white birds might have been American White Pelicans or Snow Geese. The fact that the two species where so similar, with neck outstretched and long trailing legs, totally rules out any species other than Whooping Cranes.

How many birds have you seen in your lifetime?
I have never counted the species, but I would estimate that I may have seen at least half of the currently recognized total of 10,000 species - thus about 5,000 species.
I never set out to observe as many species as I could - instead, I made sure that my participants could see all that was available at each destination. I repeately visited the same countries, etc., but had I made a point of visiting new ones each year, the total obviously would have been much greater.

How have bird populations changed from what you have seen throughout the years, especially those in Calgary?
Sadly, many species have had dramatic declines. I remember Point Pelee National Park in Ontario well. I first visited it one weekend in May1952, when we saw 1000 Wood Thrushes ahead of us on the road as we drove along. By the late 1990s, when I was spending up to three weeks there, we wouldn't see a single thrush of any species. A similar story involves the wood warblers. I recall seeing 34 species of warblers (and other small birds in a single tree) at one time one day. Today, it might take you a full two weeks, scouring the entire park, to see all of them.

Re: Calgary, some of the raptors, especially Ospreys and Bald Eagles have increased in numbers, with the cessation of the use of DDT in Canada and USA. However, I noticed a big decline in Swainson's Hawk numbers; initially we regularly saw 50 or more individuals when driving from Calgary to Canmore. About 15 years ago, their numbers dwindled down to five sightings. This was probably attributable to the insecticide used to kill grasshoppers in Argentina, the winter home of Swainson's. In my early years here, some seven pairs of American Kestrels regularly nested at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Their numbers have now dropped to zero in most years.

Shortly after arriving in Calgary in 1993, I started a monthly walk along the Elbow River, from Stanley Park to the Glenmore Reservoir. Since then, at least 14 species of birds that were relatively regular breeders, such as Belted Kingfisher, Eastern Kingbird, Western Wood-Pewee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Baltimore Orioles, etc., have totally disappeared. Other abundant species, such as House Wrens and Yellow Warblers, have also greatly declined.

Where is your favorite location to bird in Calgary?
This varies with the season. In spring and autumn, the Glenmore Reservoir is host to many species of waterfowl. The White Spruce forests in the western end of Fish Creek Prov. Park, Weaselhead and Griffith Woods Park host a number of rarer passerines. The Bow River is a mecca to winter waterfowl, and attract many migrants and breeding species at other times of the year..

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Size is deceptive

Last week I had a photo of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. This week it's a Rufous Hummingbird, seen in the exact location. The female Rufous was harassing all of the Ruby-throats with a ferocity and relentlessness that belied its tiny stature!
Canon 7d;  Manual exposure, 1/160, f8, ISO 1600, with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

That doesn't have a ruby throat!

Spent a couple hours last weekend roaming around my neighborhood and came across plenty of hummingbirds, all except one of which was a Ruby-throated (story about this will be posted on the Birds Calgary blog within the next couple of days). They were very hard to get  decent photos of and reminds me that I should set up a perch and feeder to get a nice background and a fixed location to shoot the hummers at. 

Anyways, here is one of the female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, they lack the ruby-throats that distinguish the males.

Unfortunately the light was really poor and I had cranked the ISO up way too much, resulting in a very noisy image; I had to do a lot of noise reduction!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Up to 315

Today was a good day, I found 2 new species for my year list after spending several hours out in my neighborhood. First was a Mourning Warbler flitting about the bushes near the local pond and second was a stunning Yellow-breasted Chat in the same bushes.

These "bushes" are actually a long line of trees and bushes that form a very good migrant trap in the spring and fall. I have had 120 species there in just over a year.

Also added Red-breasted Nuthatch to my Harris County list today when I heard one yanking away at a neighbor's house here in Houston.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Leucistic Ruby-throat

During a visit to the Smith Point Hawk Watch last weekend, we noticed a female Ruby-throated Hummingbird among the dozens of other hummers that had a slight aberration. This hummingbird was partially leucistic as it had a white forehead.

While not quite as evident here thanks to the harsh light you can see it has a white head. Not the greatest shots but I wanted to post them anyway as it is not everyday I get to see a leucisitic hummingbird. Here is a photo where the white forehead is easier to see.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The smallest of them all

Yesterday, while out for a walk in my neighborhood here in Houston, I discovered 2 migrating Least Sandpipers, one winter plumaged adult and one juvenile.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper;  Canon 7d; Manual exposure, 1/800 sec., f6.3, ISO 640 with Sigma 150-500 @500mm

Least Sandpipers are the world's smallest shorebird at a mere 5.1 inches and 0.7 ounces. While neat to see such a small wader, being this small does make photography slightly harder as you have to get even close to fill the frame. Luckily for me, the juvenile was quite confiding once I settled down and waited.

Juvenile Least Sandpiper;  Canon 7d; Manual exposure, 1/800 sec., f6.3, ISO 640 with Sigma 150-500 @500mm

 I really wanted the low angle to cut out the distracting background and focus in on the bird and its reflection however this meant getting quite wet and muddy, worth it in the end though!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

An Ojibway Legend

An Ojibway legend here taken from: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

Once upon a time there was an old man who became blind. He felt badly because he could no longer see to catch fish and hunt for his family. A loon swam up to him and called to him asking, “Why are you crying, old man?” The old man said, “Oh loon, you are a wise bird and a wonderful fisherman; with your red eye you can see to great depths to catch fish for yourself and
your family. I can no longer see to catch fish, so my family is hungry; that is why I am crying”.

The loon called back to the old man, “Come and hold tight to my wings and bury your eyes in my feathers and I will take you through the pure waters to the very deepest part and then you will be able to see again.” So the old man grabbed the loon’s wings very tightly and buried his sightless
eyes in the loon’s feathers and the loon dove into the water. Down, down, down they went until the old man thought his lungs would burst. When they came back up the old man could see light, and could just make out the trees on the shoreline. They dove again deep into the water and the old man again thought his lungs would bust because they stayed under water so long. When they cam back to the surface the old man could see. The old man was overjoyed. He said to the loon,
whose feathers were all black at the time, “Oh loon, I am so grateful to you that I am going to give you my most precious possession: this beautiful necklace made
of white shells.” The old man took off his necklace and tossed it around the loon’s neck. Everywhere the shells touched, the loon’s black feathers turned to white marks. That is why the loon has a beautiful white necklace and a white pattern on its back.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Well I've procrastinated for way too long now and haven;t posted more loon shots soon enough so more will be on their way, starting with this one.

Canon Rebel XSi;  Manual exposure, 1/250 sec., f6.3, ISO 200 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 229mm

This loon came so close that for this shot was taken at 229mm with only minor cropping. It had come up on my side and had taken me by surprise so as I flipped around in my raft to try to get in a better position, the loon rose gracefully up out of the water and shook itself off, leaving my unprepared as this was the only shot I managed to fire as it settled back down into the water.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Big Year Update

Some of you may know that I am plodding along with my own version of a mini-Big Year; I started it after hearing interesting things and set an unlikely personal goal of 500. While it has definitely been slow and has slowed down even more in the last month or so, I have recently added 2 black-and-white plumaged southern birds; Swallow-tailed Kite and Wood Stork. The Swallow-tailed Kite I spotted over Bear Creek Park here in Houston on the 1rst of September. 2 days later I spotted my first Wood Storks down by the Gulf of Mexico.
Wood Stork

I'm now at a total of 310 species of birds for the year and 33 species of mammals.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

All Hail the King of the gnats!

Did some research on the scientific names of birds recently and discovered that empidonax means "King of the gnats", which I thought was quite interesting. For some reason however, I don't think any gnat would appreciate being ruled by a bird that would eat them any chance it got!

This Least Flycatcher was seen in Calgary last month in Hull's Wood in Fish Creek Park. It was difficult to get a nice clean shot because of their habit of flitting around a lot.

Canon Rebel XSi;  Manual exposure, 1/250 sec., f6.3, ISO 400 with Sigma 150-500 f.56-6.3 @ 500mm

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Loon photography; slightly tricky!

Photographing loons can be rather tricky; you have to properly expose the black, whites and keep that stunning red eye lit up and not dark in the shadows. Positioning is very important, if you could keep yourself in between the sun and the loons with your back to the sun, most of the shots would come out okay. Though it didn't help when the loons drifted by the raft on the wrong side!

I also found keeping the camera steady to be a challenge. I tried to bring a tripod on the raft however that didn't work to well so I had to content myself with resting the camera on top of the life jacket all minors were supposed to be wearing (oops!) on the side of the raft. Though they can be difficult to expose they are very interesting to photograph and they seem to be rather curious too, often if I let myself drift in the lake, they would come within feet of me. I found this to be rather important too as I didn't want to disturb them so I would always try to let them come to me instead of me going to them. Here are a few of my better shots from the trip.
Canon Rebel XSi;  Manual exposure,  1/500sec., f6.3, ISO 400 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Another important factor is timing, just a split second later and I might have missed the water droplet in the photo above, that's why it helps to have high speed bursts!

More photos to come soon!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Loons at Kikomun Creek P.P.

The main highlight for me of my family's annual camping trip to southeastern B.C. is spending hours out on the lake in a raft photographing the Common Loons that call this place home each year.

Here is just a sample of the posts to come on the loons.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Slowing Down... or Speeding up?

So its been a while since I've mentioned my mini Big Year at all but here we go.

Since leaving for Canada in June, I was at 249 species and prospects of getting to 500 were looking very slim. However, driving home from the airport that night, I added a new species immediately, Great Horned Owl, which had managed to evade me for half the year.

The next week went by very quickly and I added another 21 more western and northern species that I had not had a chance to see up until then. A couple more trips throughout the area surrounding Calgary, Alberta in June saw me get 31 new species for the month. In July, I mopped up a few more species such as Mountain Bluebird and Prairie Falcon before being invited to Waterton N.P. but some birding friends. Here I added a great 14 new species.

August saw me go shorebirding with another birding friend where we found Baird's Sandpiper and an interesting sighting of a Partridge. I was looking through the rearview mirror when I saw the bird scampering across the road, I turned quickly to make sure I was actually seeing it with my own eyes and just caught another glimpse of it before it disappeared into the tall grass. This was my 300th species. A camping trip to southeastern British Columbia saw me catch up on a few species and I got to 305 species, though I managed to miss Red-naped Sapsucker and its unlikely I will find one this year.

Migration in Calgary and area saw me find three new species, two of which were lifers. The 3 species were Ovenbird, Connecticut Warbler (lifer), and Cordilleran Flycatcher (lifer) out in the foothills.

For mammals I did quite well, more than doubling my total of 16 to get to 33. Some very good species there and a couple of mammal lifers as well!

This summer got me back on track for 500 and it should be an exciting finish to the year. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Last week, I went on a camping trip with family to southeastern British Columbia, more specifically Kikomun Creek Provincial Park. This was our third year there and I love going back for the amazing opportunities to photography a family of loons as each year they call the lake home. You know the park is going to be good when you haven't even finished setting up the tent and a White-tailed Deer and her young fawn wander past your campsite.

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/200sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Keeping it simple- here's a photo of a Belted Kingfisher from the Weaselhead Natural area taken last week.

Friday, August 3, 2012

One special moment with the hunter

While out on an early morning excursion to the Weaselhead Natural area, I came across this fellow hunting. I was standing silently on a dirt path when there was a huge commotion and not 20 feet away, a Snowshoe Hare burst out of the woods and sprinted away as fast as it could. Seconds later, this Coyote emerged from the woods in hot pursuit of the Hare. He only stopped for one intimate moment when he looked me straight in the eye before turning and chasing after the hare. Didn't see them again.

Canon 7d;  Manual exposure, 1/160 sec., f6.3, ISO 640 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Scientific names of birds

Recently, some birding friends and I were in the mountains listening to the strange song of the Varied Thrush. While its song may not always be described as beautiful, its plumage is definitely gorgeous and we thought its name did not do justice to its beauty. One topic brought us onto the next and soon we were discussing Latin names. While many birders tend to overlook the scientific names of birds, these titles can be quite interesting though I know I certainly had trouble digesting all the taxonomy and etymology! If you enjoy wrapping your heads around this, read on! If you're like me though, it may seem simply too much!

I was looking in the Federation of Alberta Naturalists 'Field Guide to Alberta Birds' (1998) when I noticed that the authors had the etymology (study of the origin of names) of the birds scientific names translated. However, before we get to etymology, let's look at taxonomy (the classification of species).

All birds are in the Animal Kingdom (Animalia), the Chordata Phylum (with a backbone), and the Class Aves (birds). This is where the similarities stop though and the birds separate into their respective Orders such as Falconiformes (hawks and eagles) and Passeriformes (Passerines). Then, species are divided down into Families for example Parulidae (Wood-Warblers.) After the Families come the subdivisions of Genus and Species. These last two are used in the bird's scientific name as binomial nomenclature, which describes the species of living organism. For example, a Red-breasted Nuthatch is Sitta canadensis. The word 'Sitta' is the nuthatches genus and 'candensis' is the name that specifically describes the Red-breasted Nuthatch. With the name Sitta canadensis, scientists everywhere know that you are talking about the Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is where the classification of species ends and we can look at the origin of the species' binomial nomenclature and the etymology of the name.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Etymology, the origin of words can be fascinating. I found that some of the scientific names of birds were quite interesting, for example the Red-necked Grebe. This grebe's genus name is Podiceps which is Latin and means "rump foot", referring to the posterior position of the grebe's feet. Its species name, grisegena, is also Latin and can be translated to "gray cheek". Thus when we look at the whole scientific name and try to make sense of it, we might come out with something like "gray-cheeked rump foot", which in itself, can be quite descriptive of the Red-necked Grebe.

Here are a few more bird names and their meanings.

Black-crowned Night Heron- Nycticorax nycticorax- nyctos: "night" and corax: "a crow". Basically, a night crow!
Gadwall- Anas strepera- Anas: "a duck" and strepera: "noisy". A noisy duck? Names like this really make me look at the species again as I never really thought of the Gadwall as a noisy duck.
Barrow's Goldeneye- Bucephala islandica- Bous: "bull", kephale: "head" and islandica: "of Iceland". Giving us... "Bull-head of Iceland". Interesting.
Bald Eagle- Haliaeetus leucocephalus- halos: "the sea", aetos: "eagle", leucocephalus- leukos: "white" and cephalus: "head". White-headed Sea Eagle sounds descriptive!
Least Sandpiper- Calidris minutilla- Calidris: " a gray speckled sandpiper", minutilla: "very small". Very small gray speckled sandpiper is right- these guys only weigh 24 grams.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- Empidonax flaviventris- Empidonax: "King of the gnats", flaviventris: "yellow-bellied". What a name! Yellow-bellied King of the gnats!
Tennessee Warbler- Vermivora peregrina- Vermivora- vermis: "worm", voro: "eater", peregrina: "to wander". Wandering worm-eater perhaps?
Lark Sparrow- Chondestes grammacus- Chondestes: "grain eater", grammacus: "striped". Striped grain eater.

Lots of cool names in this book to look at though I must admit that some don't seem to make much sense. I also find that I learn a lot about species when I know their Latin names as then it might tell me more, for example how Gadwall's Latin name means noisy duck. Then you've got the neat names such as Empidonax meaning 'King of the gnats'! Very interesting and worthwhile to know the scientific names!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Clay-colored Sparrows

As some of you might know, I visit Fish Creek Provincial Park a lot. When I am up here in Calgary in the summer, I try to visit the park at least 3 times a week. And why not? There are so many intriguing subjects to photograph. Take last Thursday for example. I was photographing a family of Kestrels (post to come soon!) when I heard a loud and insistent chirping coming from behind me. I turned to see a rather large juvenile Clay-colored Sparrow still getting free food from it's parents.

Canon 7d;   Manual exposure, 1/800sec., f7.1, ISO 320 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @500mmm

Though many naturalists and photographers alike consider sparrows to be drab little unphotogenic birds, sparrows can be among my favorite subjects to shoot. They can sometimes present a challenge to get them in the right lighting and poistion but if you do, the results can be very rewarding.

Clay-colored Sparrows also have to be one of the most strikingly marked sparrows with thier bold patterns and subtle beauty, though this juvenile does not quite yet have the same bold facial markings as the adults.

Juvenile Clay-colored Sparrow

The juvenile Clay-colored Sparrow was perched right in the open, perhaps not yet having learned the valuable lesson of staying hidden but the adult, with food in it's beak was much more cautious and wary- hopefully the young bird learns his lesson soon or some raptor will enjoy a nice meal.

Canon 7d;  Manual exposure,  1/1000 sec., f7.1, ISO 320 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Monday, July 30, 2012

Standing out

The other day in Fish Creek I came across a family of Common Mergansers sitting on some pebbles in the the river. They posed nicely for some time until a biker came racing by loudly and scared them into the water.

Canon 7d;  Manual exposure,  1/160 sec., f8, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm
When the young mergansers were scampering into the water, most were focused on their destination, however, one happened to glance over at me, giving me a neat perspective shot.

Same settings as above

While I enjoyed photographing the mergansers I'm always disappointed when people in parks scare away the subjects I'm shooting.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A tale of Two Chipmunks

Here in Calgary, there is only one common species of Chipmunk to be found within the city limits; the Least Chipmunk.

Least Chipmunk     Canon Rebel XSi;   Manual exposure   1/200 sec., f8, ISO 400 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 340mm

The Least Chipmunk can be seen throughout the city at various parks and natural areas. I saw this one at the bird feeding station in South Glenmore Park.

Recently, I went down in the southwest corner of Alberta to Waterton Lakes N.P. with some friends doing a bird and mammal Big Year. One of the mammals they were looking for on this trip was the Red-tailed Chipmunk, a new species for me. We saw this Chipmunk and it was in some good conditions for photography too!

Red-tailed Chipmunk    Canon 7d;  Manual exposure, 1/800 sec., f6.3, IS0 1000 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Friday, July 27, 2012

Speak up m'boy!

At one point when I was photographing the 2 herons clashing in the pond last week, the adult heron reached up and scratched his head. Now, I hate to say this, but at that point, he looked exactly like my grandfather without his hearing aid in. In reality, he wasn't straining to hear something but just scratching his head. But still...

Canon 7d;  Manual exposure,  1/1640 sec., f6.3, ISO 250 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 400mm

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Clash of the herons

On a recent bike ride of mine to Votier's Flats in Fish Creek P.P. I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron in a storm water pond so I got myself into a good position to photograph it. I sat watching and photographing the heron for some time when suddenly, an adult Great Blue flew in.

A rather impressive landing...

The adult heron seemed to "own" the ponds and did not take kindly to the young heron fishing in his waters. The adult proceeded to hunch himself up in a bid to frighten the juvenile.

All hunched up, the adult Great Blue proceeded to hurriedly chase the juvenile around the pond until finally the young heron took a running start and flew off.

Far from being content however, the adult flew after the young one and the two of them disappeared over the hills. I didn't move from my position however, because I had a feeling that at least one of the herons would be returning. Sure, enough, several minutes later, the adult returned finally content at having chased the young upstart off of his territory.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Elk at dusk

While looking for a Dusky Grouse in Waterton Lakes N.P. with the Fur & Feathers 500 team we saw an Elk at dusk. Does this make it a Dusky Elk?
Canon 7d-   Manual exposure, 1/160 sec, f9, ISO 4000 with Sigma 150-500 f5-6.3 @ 290mm

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Waterton Trip with the Fur & Feathers 500 team

I visited Waterton Lakes National Park recently with the Fur & Feathers 500 team as they attempted to add a few more species of birds and mammals to their list for the year. You can check out their blog here.

Cameron Lake-  Canon 7d,  Manual exposure  1/1000sec, f11, ISO 1000 with Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS @ 18mm
I brought my new 7d with me and managed to capture some images; above is the gorgeous Cameron Lake.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spotless Spotted Sandpiper

Okay, try saying that 10 times fast. Spotted Sandpipers, while spotted in their breeding plumage, do not have spots in winter or when they are juveniles. Juveniles can be separated from winter plumaged birds by the scaling and barring on their upperparts, which nonbreeding adults do not have. Right around now, we start to see juveniles so look out for them; I recently found this juvenile in Votier's Flats in Fish Creek Provincial Park.