Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Migrating Bird Watch March

We were blessed to see so many birds in March that we've created a separate post for migrating and new birds. Although we're experiencing an extremely slow spring thaw, migrating birds are showing up, albeit in much fewer quantities. 

The first migrating bird sighting of the season was on March 16th as I headed toward Francis, SK. My head swiveled from side-to-side to catch any dark spot on the sea of snow. And then I saw it - the long neck of a Canada Goose. All alone, it sat on the snow-covered field a short distance from an equally covered slough. I didn't see its mate anywhere, which left me wondering if it was injured and had fallen behind the flock. 

Canada Goose, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

In case you can't see it in the middle of the above photo, here's a close up...

Canada Goose, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

A few hours later I was on my way home and heard loud honking through my car window. Slowing, I opened my window and caught this Canada goose flapping and honking in a frenzy. I was a miles west of where I'd spotted the lone goose earlier and this one was headed in that direction. I have no idea if this was the mate, but clearly it was in panic mode. I stopped for photos a few times along my route and by the time I passed the stop I'd seen the first Canada Goose of the season earlier, the field was empty. 

Canada Goose, RM Francis, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

On the same stretch of road, I spotted the first Western Meadowlark of the season! I hadn't expected to find a meadowlark ploughing through a snow-covered ditch and so it caught me by surprise as I drove past. After turning around, I drove slowly back, past the way I'd come, to see if I really had seen one. The ditch was empty. Yet still hoping, I pulled to the side of the road and waited with the window down. And then I saw it on a bare patch of ground, striding back and forth and calling out. I've never heard one call before and was left with the impression that it had crash-landed in the snowbank and was now letting the others know where it was. No melodious singing for this meadowlark on this day. 

Western Meadowlark, RM Francis, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

The next day was St. Patrick's day, which I don't celebrate because I'm Scotch and Finnish, but I was having a party at the end of the day after spotting a new bird to add to my Life List. You see, while doing dishes, I noticed the sparrows hiding in the big poplar tree. When the sparrows aren't sleeping in the barn loft, they're hanging around the mixed bird feeder near the cotoneaster or potentilla bushes. When new birds visit, the sparrows go on guard duty around the yard. The only time they hide together in the big trees is when danger lurks. Since I couldn't see an intruder from the window, I went outside and looked around. Suddenly, the sparrows all flew behind the house. A few seconds later they all flew back in a rush and spread into the shelterbelt. 

Before I could blink, a small hawk sailed in low from behind the house and flew out of the yard past the hedgerow before it perched in the high branches of the trees at the end of the driveway. I raised my camera and got off a few shots without making out the species due to the  extreme low light level of the overcast day. I was quite surprised then, when I uploaded the images to my computer and realized I was looking at a Merlin - my first ever sighting, and one for my Bird Life List. 

Merlin, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

A week later while on our way to church, Nelson spotted a large bird of prey sitting in a group of trees alongside the road. Although it looked like a hawk, its beak confirmed it was an eagle. It pointedly ignored us for over a minute before flying past our car. 

Bald Eagle, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

Not going far, it landed in a nearby group of trees where I continued by photo shoot. This isn't our first Bald Eagle sighting of the year, but this young one is the closest capture of 2018.

Bald Eagle, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

On Mar 29th I was going through the bird pics of the day when this next image caught my attention. I added my signature and was about to file it with the other pics of Redpolls when I spotted the thick beak. Redpolls have fine yellow and black beaks, not thick finch-like ones. 

House Finch, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

I took a closer look at the other photos for the day and when I saw this next one I clicked on my bird identification app and pulled up finches. Sure enough, our visitors of the day were House Finches. 

House Finch, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

House finches have a greyish-brown cap with red around it, whereas redpolls have a red cap. The following photo clearly shows the red cap of one of the Redpolls which wintered here this year. You can also see the different beak styles, as well as the breast markings. 

Common Redpoll, RM Montmartre, SK, Mar 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

Although Southeastern Saskatchewan is known to have Ring-necked Pheasants year-round, they usually stay close to the USA border where they are North Dakota's state bird. Nelson thought he was seeing things on March 17th when he spotted one, but then it disappeared into the bush. He took pictures of the area anyway. Good thing, too, because once the image was uploaded to the computer we spotted the tail sticking out of the ditch where the pheasant had taken refuge. 

Ring-necked Pheasant Tail, Southeast Saskatchewan, Mar 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

Closer inspection showed the pheasant hiding behind the brush where he was almost camouflaged into obscurity. Gotcha! 

Ring-necked Pheasant Camouflaged, Southeast Saskatchewan, Mar 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

Pins on most of the above images can be found on our Pinterest board Photos: Birds

Friday, March 23, 2018

Monday, March 12, 2018

Wildlife Watch February

February 2018 started off with cold temps in the minus 20's to 30's and stayed that way until the final week of the month. The hope was that we'd get over the cold stuff and begin to enjoy warmer days. The cold temps also meant there wasn't much variation in the wildlife we see in our area. In fact, we didn't see anything other than birds until mid-month.

On Feb 17, Nelson spotted a Red Fox travelling in a stubble field. Nelson pulled over and grabbed his camera. The fox stopped as well and looked around. 

Red Fox, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

And then the fox lay down and closed its eyes. Of course, this allowed Nelson to get some really great shots of a Red Fox,. It seemed unusual behaviour, but then I remembered last November when another Red Fox stopped to pose as our vehicle approached it. We'll post on this behaviour as we catch sight - hopefully more - of these beautiful creatures. 

Red Fox, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

A week later, we had just left home for church and as we crested the first hill we spotted a coyote running across the field. There we were on the hill, with the sight of our house behind us, and a coyote to our 10 o'clock, which meant he wasn't a half mile from our house. I zoomed in to get the shot, and then had to crop it further to get this grainy image.

Coyote, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

On the same day, we spotted four Mule Deer while driving home after church. This first image appears to show a healthy, pregnant doe.

Mule Deer, RM 125 Chester, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

Within the same herd, there is a marked difference in the hair texture between her and the two in the next image, although I don't know if it's due to age, wind, or health, but these two have a scruffy look. I'm thinking they're younger because they don't have the elegance of the first doe, although all appear pregnant and/or well fed.

Mule Deer, RM 125 Chester, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

On the final day of February, Nelson spotted this Moose crossing the road ahead of him and had time to pull over while it lumbered into the bush. He captured this shot of the young bull who was wary, but didn't rush headlong into the cover like some do.

Moose, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

As Nelson zoomed in, he caught sight of the protruding antler buds and took this great shot. This is the first time we've captured a bull moose at this stage of life.

Moose, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

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Images and Pins of the above photos and more of the wildlife we saw in February can be found on our Pinterest boards:
Photos: Birds 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bird Watch February

Nelson started off our February 2018 bird watching competition on the 1st by bringing home this shot of a Downy Woodpecker female. He said it caught his eye in flight and he was able to follow it to a small copse of trees where he took the photo.

Downy Woodpecker, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

A few days later, I caught this Downy Woodpecker male perched among the frost-covered axils, or flower buds, of our Siberian Elms. When I look at this image, I think of apple blossoms instead of frost though.

Downy Woodpecker Male, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

If you're ever driving down a prairie road, I'm sure you've seen those small birds that seem to wait until you get to them before flying out of the way. In the winter around here they're usually Snow Buntings, with Horned Larks coming in the spring. This year the Horned Larks didn't migrate, so we had flocks of both. Although similar in size and shape, the colouring is very different . For example, the Horned Lark has a distinctive yellow throat that I like to compare to an egg yolk or tennis ball when describing it.

Horned Lark, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

I was quite surprised to find a Horned Lark in one of the images of Sharpies I was checking for this post. Although you can't see the yellow throat much due to the low-light level on that day, the image gives a good indication of the size difference between the Horned Lark and the Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

Those other birds you often find on the prairie roads are Snow Buntings. I was pleased when Nelson managed to take a photo of a couple of them because it's not often we see them sitting still. I believe the photo was taken either through his windshield, or reflected through his side-view mirror.

Snow Buntings, Southeastern Saskatchewan, Feb 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

Our resident sparrows hang around the Cotoneaster bush close to the mixed bird feeder when they're not sleeping in the barn loft. They like the cotoneaster because it offers protection in case a hawk or such comes marauding. If I find the sparrows scattered around the yard like sentinels, I know they're staking out their territory, so I grab my camera and check for visiting birds.

But if the sparrows are clustered together in the poplar or apple trees, I know that danger lurks. This was the case when I saw the House Sparrows perched in the Weeping Birch. I grabbed my camera and scooted outside, but only caught the barest glance at a small hawk before it passed over our large spruce trees. A few minutes later, the sparrows were back at the feeder and all was calm once again.

House Sparrows in Weeping Birch, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

I've often read and heard that suet feeders help the birds get through the winter because of they gain energy from the suet. This was our first year for this suet feeder which we hung outside my office winder. I must say I was quite disappointed when our resident chickadee only sought out its treasures once in awhile, and the redpolls ignored it completely. Some days the redpolls would eat the swelling axils of the Siberian Elms, acting like binge eaters who wouldn't get another meal for weeks.

That all changed on Feb 21 with warming temps when the redpolls discovered the suet feeder. It seems our birds prefer to peck at the softened suet instead of chipping away at it.

Redpoll, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

As for our resident Black-capped Chicadees, they hold their own where the suet feeder is concerned, after all, they found it first. They also make regular trips to the Niger, or Nyjer, seed feeder and then hide the seed under bark and in tree crevices for cold weather days. The chickadees also chip away at the peanut wreath, the only bird we've seen use it.

Black-capped Chickadee on Peanut Wreath, RM Montmartre, SK, Feb 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

So far no blue jays have found our peanut offering, but we'll keep watching for them.

Images and Pins of the above photos and more of the wildlife we saw in February can be found on our Pinterest boards:
Photos: Birds 

Friday, February 23, 2018

Wildlife Watch January

The year 2018 started off with bitter temperatures where everything on the prairies tucked down tight except for browsing wildlife and people with things to do and places to go. Nelson was the first of the family to spot something other than birds when he caught sight of these Mule Deer trying to hide in some brush on January 2nd.

Mule Deer, Southeastern Saskatchewan, January 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

On January 7th, Nelson saw the white flash of White-tailed Deer bounding across a stubble field and stopped to get this shot.

White-tailed Deer, Southeastern Saskatchewan, January 2018. Credit: Nelson Draper

As posted in Bird Watch January, I was only spotting my usual sparrows, redpolls, and chickadees that stayed the winter at home and it wasn't until I headed to town on January 9 that I saw 2 ravens and a Great Horned Owl. Not only did I see the owl on my way back to Draper's Acres, but I also saw this Mule Deer hiding behind a slough in the middle of a stubble field. 

Mule Deer, RM Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

A few days later, Nelson motioned me to look at the security camera. There was a moose right outside our front door. Well, okay, he was 30 feet from the steps, but still...

We tried taking pics of the moose through the windows without any success, so out of desperation, I squeaked open the front door and ducked my head and camera out into the bitter cold. Nary a sight of it. 

"Where is it?" I stage-whispered over to Nelson. 

"Right there, by the tree," he answered from the kitchen.

I stepped out and aimed my camera at the still-lit Christmas tree, but couldn't see anything beyond it except tracks in the snow. Since Nels could no longer see it either, we locked up for the night and went to replay the security camera footage. It looks confused, doesn't it? 

Moose captured on security camera, January 2018

The next morning I went out for my usual photo foray and immortalized the moose tracks before they got covered by more snow or even melted away. 

Moose Tracks in Snow, Draper's Acres, Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

That was January 12th and later that day as I headed back to the farm after dropping off some parcels at the post office, I took a route further to the west. I don't often go this way in the winter because it involves a couple of steep valleys and I'm unfamiliar with how they react to snow drifts and ice. But it hadn't snowed in several days, a weird January thaw was on its way, and I wanted to see what was out there. 

I didn't see anything driving through the first smaller valley, and I didn't think there was anything while driving through the second valley, either, but as I drove up the side, I spotted movement to the right at the corner of my eye. With the impression that I'd seen a deer, I climaxed the ridge and then turned around at the next approach. I drove back down the into the valley, confirming the presence of several deer on the west side of the hill, as well as several more at the bottom. Apparently, they'd waited until I passed before coming out of hiding. Wanting to take pics in a safe area, I continued through and up to the top of the other side where I could safely turn around. I then drove back down to the valley bottom where I pulled over onto the shoulder. 

Surprisingly, 3 deer stayed on the east side of the road where they searched for food on the frozen bottom of the dried slough. The image you see here is one of the three, clearly showing that it's a Mule Deer from the size of its ears and the colour of its tail. 

Mule Deer, RM Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

To the west beside a large body of water were more deer trying to hide in some scrub brush that was sparse enough to show parts of them, yet thick enough to keep me from getting a good shot. Between them and me was a Game Preserve sign that stated no hunting was permitted, which could explain why they weren't all running away. The last time I was in the area shore birds caught my attention, so between the birds and the deer, I'll check back this way again. 

With sunset approaching, I headed out of the valley, stopping only to photograph the Mule Deer that had first caught my eye. Can you see them in this next photo?

Mule Deer, RM Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

I thought that was the end of my blessings for the day, yet as I drove on with my head moving left to right to catch any movement, I spotted several dark objects on the shore of another frozen body of water. Under the colourful rays of a the setting sun, I pulled off the road onto an approach and scrutinized the landscape to the west.

Coyote Pack on Shore, RM Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

Do you see the white snow bank in the middle of the image? That's where I saw dark spots and out here on the prairies, a dark spot on the snow is a good indication of wildlife. So I pulled out my camera and zoomed in, thinking I'd see large rocks or something. Instead I found a coyote pack.

Coyote Pack on Shore, RM Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

There were 4 coyotes in total, but only three would fit in my long-range shot. Any closer and the image gets blocky. One coyote left the pack and headed across the ice, while the other coyotes tucked their heads into their legs and looked like the rocks I first imagined. It was time to move on. 

I took a bunch of sunset pics as I drove home, each one showing bokeh spots from the dust, ice crystals and whatnot attained from driving down prairie roads with an open window in the middle of January. 

Sunset, RM Montmartre, SK, January  2018. Credit: Anita Mae Draper

I'll end our January Wildlife Watch with a video Nelson took on the way to church on January 28th. Although JJ also took video of the same moose with his phone, the quality was inferior with blocky images compared to what you see here. Please remember this was taken with with a cell phone and not our usual cameras. 

Sorry if the video of the moose didn't work for you. Sometimes it does and others...shrug.

Other posts that show what we've seen so far in 2018 are:

Pins of our bird and wildlife photos can be found on the following Pinterest boards:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Owl Sightings

On January 9th while on my way to town, I caught sight of two ravens land near an owl in a copse of trees. After pulling to the side of the road, I reached for my camera in time to see the ravens fly at the Great Horned Owl as if trying to scare it off. After taking a few fly-pasts, they settled in a nearby tree.

Great Horned Owl and Common Ravens, South of Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Source: Anita Mae Draper

A while later, after finishing my errands and heading back to the farm, I pulled over when I passed the same copse of trees and can only assume it was the same Great Horned Owl perched high, with nary a raven in sight.

Great Horned Owl in Trees, South of Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Source: Anita Mae Draper

At least it look like an owl, but I had to zoom in to confirm it. He gave me the eye and then flew down to a lower branch. Due to the distance and wind pushing air currents between my camera and the owl my photos aren't the best, but they're clear enough to see his ears tufts pinned back. I'm not sure about owls, but in a horse it means he's getting ticked off.

Great Horned Owl, South of Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Source: Anita Mae Draper

On January 18th while out and about Nelson also caught sight of a Great Horned Owl, although he couldn't get a clear image could considering the wind and low light level of the early morning.

Great Horned Owl, South of Montmartre, SK, January 2018. Source: Nelson Draper

People are spotting a record number of Snowy Owls this winter of 2017-2018, especially around the Saskatoon area of the province. I haven't seen any this winter, yet Nelson has sighted a few while out and about, including this one on January 31st. It was out in a field and near the end of his camera's focal range, but it's the first one he's been able to capture as proof that they're in our area, too.

Snowy Owl, Southeastern Saskatchewan, January 2018. Source: Nelson Draper

And then on February 1st, he managed to photograph this Snowy Owl female on a hydro pole in the same Southeastern Sask area as the one above in the field. Perhaps it was even the same one.

Snowy Owl female, Southeastern Saskatchewan, February 2018. Source: Nelson Draper

Since we're talking owls, I'll show you pics of a Snowy Owl male, that I saw back in Nov 2015 but never posted on this blog yet. The owl was very cooperative and turned his head completely around so I could take some pics. In the first photo he's looking back, so we see the back of his head...

Snowy Owl, South of  Montmartre, SK, November 2015. Source: Anita Mae Draper

and then he turns and tells me to leave...

Snowy Owl, South of  Montmartre, SK, November 2015. Source: Anita Mae Draper

If you like owls, you might like our post on the Great Horned Owl who came to visit outside my office window last August.

Pins for the above images in this post can be viewed on my Photos: Birds Pinterest board.