June 24, 2013 by Rokman61
In mid-June I had occasion to spend a few days in Salmon Arm (a smallish town in south-central BC on the Trans-Canada Highway). The occasion was presented when our son Dave was sent there by his employer to fill in for a week for someone on holiday. Since his accommodation was covered, I took the opportunity as a chance to poke around in this interesting corner of the Province.
Remember you can click on images to get a larger view – mostly on landscape-formatted (wide) images, less so on ‘portrait’ (tall) photos.
Dave’s job is to run the planer at a small mill that specializes in high-quality red cedar products. He gets to operate some of the peripheral machinery: in his words, it’s “Like a big Tonka toy”.
A few of the birds I encountered.
Salmon Arm is located on the southern tip of Shuswap Lake, a well-known venue for summer boating and watersports. At this location there is a large marshy shoreline which is a nesting area for Western Grebes – the birds famous for their water-walking courtship performance at mating time (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_fEU1UPm9c).
A few Clark’s Grebes also nest here, one of the very few places in BC. I was too late in the season to see the dance, and didn’t come across any Clark’s, but I did observe this pair of Western Grebes passing a small fish.
The bird on right is a classic Western Grebe. Clark’s Grebe is very similar, distinguished by showing some white extending above and in front of the eye. The two species do hybridize, and the bird on left with paler plumage above the eye could be carrying some Clark’s genes. (Enlarge for a closer view).
This pair of Killdeer were noisily racing around on the front lawn of a private residence – the ‘lawn’ in this case – cleverly consisting of crushed stone – no watering, no mowing, etc.
Killdeer nest on patches of bare open ground, and presumably this is their claimed patch. When still, they blend in amazingly well with the gravelly substrate.
Brewer’s Blackbirds winter in large flocks with starlings and other blackbirds, usually around barns with lots of cow effluent. It’s a treat to see them in their nesting habitat, often foraging around standing water. A fairly plain bird, but subtly iridescent, and an eye that can get your attention.
This one is a Willow Flycatcher – no attempt to hide for him.
These Tree Swallows were foraging over a wetland in a clammy drizzle. Hunting must have been marginal, so maybe they were taking a break and discussing strategy? Despite the dull light, their blue colour almost glows.
Butterflies – I’m guessing at the name of the first one.
Meanwhile, whilst driving around the countryside near Salmon Arm, I came upon a small flock of Angus-type cows. Conspicuous amongst them were a few unusual ones; these apparently are a special breed of beefers developed by a local stockman – known as Oreo Cattle.
Change of pace: mystery photo – maybe you can guess what it is? Abstract art? (Answer at end of blog).
Back in the Lower Mainland – here are a few more birdies.
Violet-green Swallows are often seen zipping around overhead – little missiles, white below and dark above. One needs to see them perched close to fully appreciate the gorgeous colours for which the bird is named.
Many of my previous postings have included a shot of a Great Blue Heron. I’ve missed out lately, so here I am back on track. This bird has nabbed a large Brown Bullhead, a type of catfish native to eastern North America, and now found all through the Lower Fraser drainage. Because the fish has three large spines (on its gill covers and on the dorsal fin) the heron could not swallow one so large, so had to give it up. Although not a native fish, the bullhead provides a major food source for our nesting Ospreys.
Why not two Great Blues? – sort of a make-up for past misses. This one is a young-of-the-year.
The adult Bullock’s Oriole is a brilliant orange colour, which I have yet to catch in its full glory. This one is a first-year male – not too shabby itself.
There is an interesting story behind the Anna’s Hummingbird. The epicenter for this species is/was California, but it has been spreading northward along the coast for many decades. In the 70’s it was a rare find in Vancouver, and now it is common, even abundant in our area. The first one appeared in our yard about 5 years ago, and now they nest in the neighbourhood and are present daily at our feeders. They do not migrate, so we have these sprightly gems all through the winter. Here is a youngster from this year’s batch.
Each year we have Dark-eyed Juncos nesting near the house, often in very busy locations. These birds nest on the ground, and manage to produce at least two batches of young per summer. Here is the second nest of the year, neatly tucked under some dry leaves to form a bit of roof. The second image shows how well-hidden the nest site is.
Here one of the parents waits impatiently for me to finish taking the baby pics.
A family Barred Owls that reside in a small park near our home are very accustomed to people and generally go about their business without regard to gawkers. These two young-of-the-year went about their grooming, stretching, and interacting as I took my photos. The pics look a bit strange because the birds are in deep shadow with very bright sun in the background, requiring a bit of ‘processing’ to bring them out.
More swallows, this time a rather sad story. At Pitt Lake near Vancouver, there are two roofed wooden tower structures intended for wildlife viewing. A few years ago they hosted active nesting colonies of Cliff Swallows, and it was a real treat to be able to watch them go about their business at very close range. In about 2009 or 2010, the nests were mysteriously destroyed, the swallows disappeared, and did not nest for at least two seasons. In early July I discovered that they were back at one of the towers, actively building several of their unique mud nests. The photos are on the murky side as the nests are tucked into dark corners under the roof. The second pic shows a swallow adding a pellet of mud to its structure.
Here they are gathering mud from this mound in the marsh next to the tower.
When I examined my images, I realized that one of the birds I had photographed was a fledgling, as indicated by the wide gape (base of the bill) and fuzzy plumage. Of interest, where did this bird come from? From a single nest that had not been previously reported, or from another nearby nesting locality?
And the sad part – within a week or so it was reported that the nests had been trashed again, and the birds were gone.
A few non-bird subjects . . . .
I had no idea what species this one was, but when I grabbed my dragonfly book it just happened to open at the exact page and it flew right out at me – a Four-spotted Skimmer.
One day my good friend George announced in his blog that he had come upon an astonishing hatch of little skipper butterflies in a park near his home. He photographed hundreds – no, thousands! – of the tiny flutterers. I went out to check for them in similar habitat close to my home and found nary a one. So Norma and I had to head into town to take in the show. As advertised, they were everywhere. This first pic shows over two dozen. The second pic has a lot more – count’em if you can.
Here is a closer view. The species is the European Skipper (Thymelicus lineola), an introduced one. George presents a wealth of interesting information on this species in his blog, considerably more than I include here. Check it out at http://burnabybirdguy.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/butterfly-bonanza/
In our yard we often get a few white butterflies, which I just assumed were ‘Cabbage Whites’, a common alien garden pest. When Norma checked them out more closely, some turned out to be native Pine White butterflies, here seen feeding on oregano blossoms.
One of my very favourite places to visit each summer is Cypress Bowl Provincial Park, in the Coast Mountains just north of Vancouver. Despite this area being a highly developed venue for the 2010 Olympics, there is some fine quiet habitat in the little valley between the two developed slopes. In particular, the sub-alpine vegetation along the Yew Lake trail is most interesting. A few random selections:
(Note: I had assumed this Bunchberry was the species canadensis, and labelled it as such. A good friend has corrected me: the tiny flowers are bluish, rather than yellow as in canadensis, so the correct species is unalaschkensis, which is a hybrid between canadensis and suecica or Bog Bunchberry, which has blue flowers and a bluish tint to the bracts. I had also used an obsolete generic term Cornella. These flowers are tricky!)
There are many varieties of mountain-ash in our urban landscape – this one is our only native, and provides a striking splash of brilliant red colour when in autumn foliage.
Back in the lowlands, and July being the relatively ‘slow’ time for birds, flowers again get proportionately more attention. Here are a few of the more prominent native species we are likely to encounter in the coastal area.
This is the native species of spirea that occurs abundantly throughout our damp lowland areas. Note the towering form of the flower heads compared with the flatter ones of the very similar species from Cypress Bowl (above).
This one is a common tall shrub, also found in damp coastal areas.
This photo was taken from our deck, as we are treated to quite a show each summer. Despite its specific name, it blooms profusely in July in the lowlands. (BTW, the genus for this species has recently been changed from Epilobium to Chamerion).
The native flora are most interesting to some of us, but it is often the non-natives that are most conspicuous. Some are rather aggressively invasive and hence quite undesirable, whereas others are arguably benign and add extra colour to our landscapes. Some examples.
One day I happened upon this shallow lake that hosted a rather stunning display of waterlilies.
I’m not sure of the botanical classification of this one – presumably it is a cultivar derived from a species in the genus Nymphaea. Interestingly, some blossoms are intense pink while others are very pale, with virtually no intermediates.
When the flowers are done, then cometh the fruits. In many instances I find the fruit is every bit as colourful and interesting as the blossoms – sometimes even more so.
Red Elderberries decorate our lowland scrubby areas every July. Unlike the blue elderberries of the dry interior, which are noted for use in pies, jellies, and wines, the berries of our species are mealy and un-appealing for consumption – but they look good.
The oregon-grapes berries may look appetizing and are said to be good for jelly, but I would rate them as very poor eating. Here are some blue-coloured berries that are quite the opposite – delicious! These are commercially grown fruit at a ‘U-pick’ near home, and provide one of my favourite kind of summer recreation.
Just at month’s-end there were two more shorebirds that presented themselves as co-operative targets.
A young-of-the-year Spotted Sandpiper – it won’t get its spots until next year.
Wandering Tattlers nest in alpine tundra in the far north and winter along the coast from California south. A very few come through our area each year, but usually don’t stay for long. This one was a most accommodating individual, and had retained its breeding plumage – something we rarely see. When I went out to photograph the bird, it had been parked on a rock without moving for some time – waiting for the tide to recede and expose his ‘table’.
I wanted to get a better angle on the bird, so crept down on the rocks and found a comfortable perch. Just then the bird started to move around, slowly working its way towards me.
Eventually it came TOO close to fit in the picture frame!
Next it began to forage actively – here it is consuming a small crab. One observer reported watching it eat six crabs in a matter of several minutes.
Finally, here is the source of the ‘abstract art’ – Dave’s recmobile.
This posting seems to have gotten rather long! Congratulations and thanks if you managed to get this far.