30 Sep 2011

Wildlife Portrait: October

This is a modified sketch that I did a long time ago.  I hope you like.

Black Panther mirrored

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28 Sep 2011

Surrounded by Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo above

Sometimes when I head out on bird watch, especially during migration, I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of birds all around me.  At times this means a variety of bird species and other times it simply means large numbers of the same species.   Of course I prefer the former, although when it is a bird I have never seen before, the large numbers increase my chances at decent photos.

Very recently I came across the Red-eyed Vireo in the River Valley on just such an occasion.  At the time I didn't know what I was looking at.  I only knew that I had sighted something new, which is of course always fantastic and exiting.

Red-eyed Vireo to the left
Red-eyed Vireo to the right
 It was the noise they were making that attracted me to the little area on an out of the way trail where they were feeding.  When I arrived, I was delighted to see such a concentration of birds.  They were literally all around me and not at all shy about being seen.  In fact, there were so many of them, that I didn't know where to point the camera and of course, being flycatchers, they were never still for more than a second or two.
Red-eyed Vireo directly above

I finally decided to focus on the bushes on just one side of the trail and attempt to track just individual birds with my camera lens for as long as I could.  At first the sound of the camera startled the birds, but they soon got used to it, and thankfully chose to ignore it in favor of continuing their hunt for food.  I of course breathed a sigh of relief, since often birds will fly off because of the strange sound.

Red-eyed Vireo close up
The Red-eyed Vireo is olive green on the back and white underneath.  It has a gray head that is edged in black and red eyes with a black line through them.  They also have yellow undertail coverts, which may be very faint in certain populations.  This bird is quite common and, I'm happy to say,  is thriving in open forests throughout Canada.


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22 Sep 2011

Shorebirds: Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs in flight
The last few days have been quite rewarding, since I managed to get photos of several bird species despite the fact that I did not head out deliberately on bird watch.  There are several places on my way to work where I can stop just to relax before facing the day.  One of these is a small man made pond where I was surprised to see a small flock of shorebirds. 

These turned out to be Greater Yellowlegs.  There was six or seven of them, spread out over the pond.  They didn't stay still very long.  In fact, I was lucky to get shots of two of them together in any one place.  The ones shown directly below were to the right of my position.

Greater Yellowlegs to the right
Greater yellowlegs searching for food

These birds chose to land to the left of me, where they foraged for food.  It turns out these birds are very wary of danger.  They would bob their heads and get set to take flight if I got too close.  They would also immediately call an alarm at the least intrusion from any source, including gulls that landed to close to them.

On the other side of me
Greater yellowlegs on his own

This Greater Yellowlegs was on the other side of the pond all by himself.  I had to literally sneak up on him to get this shot. 
A close up
The Greater yellowlegs belongs to the shorebird species of birds.  They are quite large, about half the size of a small gull, and reside mostly in bogs and marshes in the Boreal forest regions in summer.  These were obviously in the process of migration as they stayed a mere two days at the pond.  However, they spent all of their time consuming as much food as they could.  I am very glad this pond was able to provide for their needs.


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15 Sep 2011

Wildlife Encounter: Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail
Although I love birds, birds aren't my only photographic subject when I head out on bird watch.  Guess I'm a real shutterbug.  I take photos of anything of interest and anything that moves.  This little cottontail surprised me just as I was tucking my camera away and heading home from the river valley.  So I only managed to get the one photo, before he bolted for, and disappeared into the undergrowth.

Snowshoe hare
I'd never encountered this species before and so I had to do some research.  He definitely does not belong to the Snowshoe hare category of species, which is what I see most often.  He is much smaller in size and a uniform brown in color except for his white belly and tail, which I glimpsed briefly as he fled.  His ears are also much shorter and more rounded in shape.

Unidentified cottontail
The only other cotton tail I have ever come across lived near a pond in my old neighborhood.   At the time I mistook it for a hybrid or juvenile Snowshoe.   But it never grew any bigger, even by it's second year,

although it's coloring remained similar to that of the Snowshoe hare in summer.  Apparently it is not possible for this little one to be a hybrid, and by that, I mean a cross between a Snowshoe and a domestic rabbit and I never did identify it as a specific species.

Although there are many species of Cottontail rabbits, the Eastern Cottontail is the most common to be found from Canada to South America.  Cottontail rabbits range in color from rusty brown to gray but all have a white cottontail.  You will find cottontails on the edge of open spaces such as fields, meadows, farms and city parks, amongst bushes and hedges, or deadwood.  They forage for food at night on grasses and herbs, but also love peas and lettuce.


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8 Sep 2011

Edmonton birds: Osprey

Osprey's arrival
Last year I was delightfully surprised to see an Osprey fishing in a local pond.  At the time I didn't think Ospreys made their homes in Alberta.  I saw the Osprey again just this week.  He was circling above my head at the same pond.  It seems he has developed a taste for the goldfish someone has released, who have survived very well, and have grown enormous as a result.

Osprey circling above

Osprey a close- up


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1 Sep 2011

The Cats meow?

Catbird in shadow
Every animal has it's own voice, so it is expected that a dog will bark and a horse whinny.   This is in part how we recognize the animals around us.  However, as I recently learned, sometimes what you hear may be in a place where you do not expect it, nor connect with what you know, and eventually see.  In this case I was surprised to hear a cat's repeated meow as I was concentrating on photographing some Red Tailed hawks.  What would a cat be doing near a hawk's nest after all?

Gray Catbird just a glimpse
So the meow was a sound I just couldn't ignore, and not only because it was insistent.  It was very distracting, coming as it was from a dense group of dogwood bushes very near me.  Naturally I looked low to the ground for the "cat" and under the bushes, only to realize that the meow was coming from the top.  Here I glimpsed a fair sized gray bird with a long tail and a brief flash of red, and as I searched, the meow became more alarmed than insistent.  It didn't take long for me to realize that the meow was being voiced by this bird.   I was immediately enchanted, especially since I am always on the lookout for something new to me.

Gray Catbird clear image

I learned later, this is a Gray Catbird, and the meow is a natural part of the male's territorial song.  The flash of red I saw, was the Catbird flashing his red under tail coverts.   This particular bird, wouldn't come out of hiding, so I only managed to get a few shadowy images.  However, I lucked out this week, when I saw a member of the species in another location, where I surprised both myself, and the Catbird by capturing its image.

Gray Catbird a close-up
The Gray Catbird, as you may have guessed, does not like to come out into the open.  This bird is overall gray in color with a black cap and rusty red patch beneath it's tail.   They have a slim, straight bill and a long rounded tail, which is black. They are known, in addition for their meow, to mimic other birds, much like the Mockingbird to whom they are related.  They prefer dense bushes, such as dogwood to forage for food, but also forage on the ground.   Their diet consists of mainly insects.  When the male sings, the female will sometimes sing the song back to him.  The male's song can last for up to ten minutes during courtship.


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