November 7, 2013 by Rokman61
Summer is winding down, the vegetation is beginning to change colour, and some species of birds are migrating south. A very interesting season.
We don’t usually think of September as a month for wildflowers, but there are still a few showing very nicely. Most striking perhaps are clumps of purple asters (Aster sp.) strung out along the tidal shorelines.
The asters attract a host of flying insects, many of which seem to be the type of flies that mimic bees and wasps. This one is a hover fly (Estralis sp.).
Another species looks much like the hover fly, but has a plain metallic abdomen. Identity unknown to me.
Whilst on the subject of insects, here is one that I remember from my boyhood days in Northern Ontario. These big dark ‘grasshoppers’ were always seen on bare rocky outcrops. Drab in colour, but in flight they exposed bright yellow wing patches. More oddly, they sometimes, but not always, made a loud clacking sound in flight. I see these locally in late summer/fall on gravelled surfaces. They look like the ones from my boyhood, but are usually not so noisy. A Google search leads me to suspect this critter is an adult phase of one of the species in the genus Trimerotropis.
A friend told me that he had found easy to photograph Hoary Marmots on the Blackcomb Mountain ski terrain. Having failed to find these big rodents on previous excursions, I headed up to give it a try. I lucked out with a perfect, sunny, windless day in the alpine – undescribably satisfying. For starters, the background scenery was extraordinaire. One example, a view towards Fitzsimmons Peak and Glacier. (Click for larger view).
This is a clump of Fireweed (Chamerion latifolium(?), formerly in the genus Epilobium) with two generations of seed capsules. The vinaceous-coloured vertical shafts are ‘fresh’ seed heads, and below them are older capsules that have dried out and split open to release the feathery white seeds. Here is a closer view.
One could present a whole portfolio featuring just the marvelous shapes and colours in the tundra plants, but on this day I had come specifically on other business. For more than four hours I walked around, peering over the rock-strewn slopes that the marmots prefer, and covered at least 10 kilometres with nary sight nor sound of my quarry. Having given up I returned to the lift station, where my objective was pointed out to me right behind the restaurant. A real live Hoary Marmot!
Such cute, cuddly-looking, big fur-balls.
In September many birders find it most exciting to focus on the ‘shorebirds’ or ‘waders’ passing through on migration. Many of them nest in the high Arctic and some migrate all the way to southern South America. The anticipation of finding a super rarity keeps the faithful ever hopeful.
The Red Knot turns up in small numbers each fall, usually well out on the mudflats and difficult to approach. The individual here provided an unusual opportunity for some decent photos. One of the field marks for this sandpiper is that it has relatively short legs, as you can(‘t) see from the photo.
All shorebirds are presumably strong swimmers, but I had never seen this particular species do it before.
Long-billed Dowitchers come through in good numbers, and a few stay all winter.
Yellowlegs are large sandpipers of which there two distinct species, the Greater and the Lesser. A few Greaters spend the winter in our area, but the Lessers only visit briefly. Occasionally the two are observed together by a group of birders, and it’s an absolute certainty that one person in the group will exclaim “Now there’s a nice comparison!”. And now I can put an image on this cliché. Here is a nice comparison of the two species.
If you are still wondering, the two birds on the left are Lessers.
One of the most sought migrants is the elegant Buff-breasted Sandpiper – seen very sparingly. Although I did see one this year, I didn’t get any photos, so I will stick in this ringer from 2009.
American Pipits, like many of the shorebirds, nest in alpine meadows and/or Arctic tundra, and pass through in numbers. This small songbird also shares the shorelines and open fields with the waders.
Representing the land birds, the Yellow-rumped Warbler is the most common and abundant migrant forest songbird. This one shows off it’s definitive field mark.
Many species of ducks have two suits of ‘finery’ so-to-speak: a flamboyant breeding plumage and a more conservative ‘eclipse’ plumage. In summer, the common Mallard drakes are plain and brown like the females, and in the fall they moult to take on their definitive striking patterns and colours. During this period of transition we often see some rather odd-looking ducks.
Most everyone is familiar with the Canada Goose, since it is quite common, often abundant, and sometimes a real nuisance in some urban areas. Birders refer to these as ‘mutt’ geese, because genetically they are a mixture of different populations which were introduced into the areas where they now live. They do not migrate. We also have populations of truly wild ‘Canadas’, which are mostly long distance migrants. They come in a wide range of sizes, and some years ago it was decided that there are actually two distance species of ‘white-cheeked’ geese, the larger Canada Goose, and the diminutive Cackling Goose.
One day at Reifel Refuge I noticed this little band of four Cacklers in amongst the hordes of resident mutts.
Here is a nice comparison that shows the size difference between the two species.
Interestingly, all four of the Cacklers are slightly different in size and colouring. Note (in the photo below) the dark breast on the middle bird, and the narrow white neck-ring on the one beside it. The bird at far right has a prominent dark collar below the black neck, and the one at far left not so much. All cacklers also have shorter necks, stubbier bills, and flatter faces than Canadas. The smallest Cacklers are barely bigger than a Mallard.
A brief note about nomenclature. The correct name for the large white-cheeked species is ‘Canada Goose’, and NOT ‘Canadian goose’. “What difference?”, you may wonder. Several years ago a jetliner was forced to land in the Hudson River at New York, its engines having ingested a number of large geese. The newspapers reported that the crash was ” … caused by Canadian geese”. Hey! – those geese had never even been to Canada! So now you know.