Nicola Naturalist Society – January 2021 “Nature News”

As the COVID restrictions continue, the Nicola Naturalist Society is having no evening meetings. Instead we are posting local nature photos and stories provided by our members, which we normally share at our evening meetings as “Nature News”. Here is the latest batch – nicely demonstrating the diversity of our wildlife, even in winter.

We’ve had our share of stormy weather, so it is appropriate to begin with a dramatic photo of a rapidly approaching storm.

Incoming winter storm! Photo: © Vic Newton

It seems a bit early for birds to begin any courtship or territorial displays, but Anne Pang looked out of her window in early January and this is what she reports:

“Grouse hunt! It is truly a lesson in patience with no better teacher than the grouse itself. We spotted from the window, this spectacular display that the bird put on while just walking from one end of the yard to the bushes.  The blurry pictures were taken from the window and at some distance.”

Displays by a Ruffed Grouse as seen through the window. You can easily see where the name “Ruffed” Grouse comes from. Photos: © Anne Pang

Anne continues:  “Then hoping for a better picture, I dashed outside and crept up upon it but it kept well within the bushes and brambles. I stood as still as possible and waited for an interminable time till the cold got to me and I gave up!”

Photos of the same Ruffed Grouse that was displaying. Photos: © Anne Pang

Why would a grouse display in the mid-winter snow? One guess is that this is a male starting to get a touch of testosterone and practising for the spring. It probably takes some skills to woo the lady grouse so never too early to start practising.

Another relative of the grouse recently seen:

A beautiful male Ring-necked Pheasant found in our area. This is an introduced Asian species but is often bred and released by game-bird hunters. Photo: © Paul Willms

In winter we get several bird species visiting us from their summer breeding grounds way up north – in the boreal forest or even in the Arctic tundra. That makes for some interesting winter birding. Here are a few of these species.

It seems like a good winter in 2020-21 for Northern Shrikes. Several have been seen in local Christmas Bird Counts. These tough little birds catch small birds and mice. Photo: © Bruce Walter

In winter we sometimes get flocks of hundreds of Bohemian Waxwings. These winter visitors love Mountain Ash and other berries but once they strip an area of berries the whole flock moves on. Photo: © Alan Burger

Part of the huge flock of 800+ Bohemian Waxwings that spent several weeks within Logan Lake town. Photo: © Alan Burger

A closer view of Bohemian Waxwings. These birds visit us in winter and are very similar to the Cedar Waxwings that we see in summer and that breed here. The Bohemians breed in the far northern boreal regions. Photo: © Alan Burger

A Common Redpoll (notice the red forehead). This tiny finch is another winter visitor to our area, but is a very fickle traveler. Sometimes years go by when we don’t see any, but a few have been reported in the 2020-21 winter in our area. This photo was taken in early January 2021 near the Quilchena Hotel. Photo: © Alan Burger.

Sightings of wintering waterfowl in our area are very dependent on whether the lakes are frozen over. Nicola Lake has been largely open through December and early January this winter and yielded big counts of ducks, geese and swans in the Merritt Christmas Bird Count. Other lakes are mostly frozen over. But waterfowl sometimes persist in our rivers and running streams.

As Logan Lake freezes over in December the waterfowl crowd together in the remaining open water – until that too freezes over and they all leave. Here are Canada Geese, Trumpeter Swans and a lone Lesser Scaup. Photo: © Alan Burger

A pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes – male on the right. These little ducks can often be found in swiftly running streams, like the Nicola River. Photo: © Anne Pang

A neat little parade of Hooded Mergansers along the ice edge – three males and one female. Photo: © Vic Newton

A Great Blue Heron on the ice bordering the Nicola River. In winter these herons will often use ice as a platform to hunt for fish. Photo: © Anne Pang

Time for some mammals …..

A small herd of Mule Deer resting in the long grass. Photo: © Vic Newton

And where there are deer there are predators. Vic got these photos of multiple cougar tracks at an undisclosed location in our area.

Cougar tracks along a rural road. Photo: © Vic Newton

A closer view of the Cougar tracks. Photo: © Vic Newton

A lovely shot of a Snowshoe Hare pretending it is invisible in its white winter coat. Photo: © Paul Willms

Muskrats remain active all winter, but those living at frozen-over lakes are seldom seen as they forage under the ice. This one was swimming in the Thompson River at Kamloops. Photo: © Alan Burger

It seems like a good winter for seeing owls …..

Vic Newton did not have to go far to get photos of a Northern Pygmy-owl – this one was in his backyard! Photo: © Vic Newton

Pygmy-owls have “eyes” in the back of their head – or so it would appear. This feature of their feathers probably deters predation by larger owls or raptors on these tiny owls. Photo: © Vic Newton

Another tiny owl – this time a Saw-whet Owl, which found a sheltered spot to roost during the day. This species is strictly nocturnal. Photo: © Cathy Tombes

Northern Hawk Owls are rare in our area. This one was hunting for mice and voles during the day at a marshy forest-edge near Logan Lake. They are mid-sized owls, about as big as a crow. Photo: © Alan Burger

Barred Owls are now common through much of southern British Columbia, but before the 1950s they were seldom found here, being resident mostly east of the Rockies. Habitat change related to logging and agriculture has allowed the species to invade and thrive in B.C., although it remains fairly uncommon in our area. Photo: Paul Willms.

A Northern Pygmy-owl near the Quilchena Hotel – January 3rd, 2021. The fencepost gives one a good idea of how small these robin-sized owls are. Photo: © Alan Burger

Another view of the same Northern Pygmy-owl. These owls mostly hunt during the day, and this one was so intent in searching for rodents in the long grass that it ignored the photographer. Photo: © Alan Burger

Raptors are also frequently seen in our area in winter. The next two photos show the two most common large hawks found in winter here. The differences in their underwing and tail patterns are key to identfying them when seen from below.

Red-tailed Hawks can be found year-round in our area and are our most common large raptor. This is an adult bird showing off its underwings and red tail. Notice the difference between this bird and the Rough-legged Hawk in the next photo: Photo: © Paul Willms

A Rough-legged Hawk. The name comes from the feathery legs – visible in this photo. This species breeds in the Arctic tundra but is a regular visitor to our area in winter. The small whitish head, black lower belly and black “wrist” patches are diagnostic identification features. Photo: © Paul Willms

Another large hawk that is often seen in winter is the Northern Harrier. This raptor hunts by flying low and slow over open grassy areas and plunging down when it detects a mouse or a vole. The conspicuous white rump, barely visible in this side view, is a diagnostic feature of this species. Photo: © Alan Burger

Northern Harriers are among the most aerobatic of our raptors, doing interesting contortions while in flight if they see something interesting below. Photos: © Alan Burger

Here are some photos of two closely-related finches – one common in our area most of the time and the other a rare and unpredictable visitor.

The Red Crossbill is an interesting species and generally found year-round in our area. The crossed beak allows them to pry seeds from conifer cones. There are at least five different morphs of this species; each morph favours a different conifer species and has a slightly different beak shape and subtly different calls. Here are a female (left) and male, evidently the type that prefers Douglas-fir cones. Photos: © Anne Pang

White-winged Crossbills are far less common in our area than their Red Crossbill cousins. These ones were seen on the Savona Christmas Bird Count. Photos: © Alan Burger

And to wrap up, a pic of a bird we see all year round which is always a reliable contributor to Christmas Bird Counts across much of our province.

A Song Sparrow, fluffed up to resist the winter cold. Photo: © Alan Burger

To see photos and the results of the Merritt Christmas Bird Count on 20 December 2020 click here: Merritt CBC 2020

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Merritt Christmas Bird Count 2020

Well, the COVID pandemic certainly threw a wrench in the planning of the Merritt Christmas Bird Count this year. After considerable debate the Nicola Naturalist Society decided to go ahead and run the count, but with strict anti-COVID precautions. We didn’t publicize the count in the media and invited only those who had participated before. We re-organized the count areas within the 22-km count circle to accommodate more, but smaller, groups and kept groups to 2-3 people. On the count day everyone traveled in their own vehicle or within a family or established social bubble. And when on foot we carefully maintained 2 m distances, especially when taking turns to look at a bird through a spotting scope. And, sadly, the popular post-count potluck dinner had to be scrapped.

Loretta and Alan showing covid-safe spacing while birding at Nicola Lake on the 2020 Merritt Christmas Bird Count. Photo: Craig Gartner

Despite these restrictions, and some gale-force winter winds, the count was a success – the 22nd count for the Merritt count circle. Thirty people participated (about average for recent years) and they tallied 61 species and 3,977 birds (also close to average for the 22 counts). A further 6 species were added during the Count Week period.

To see the complete count data click here: Merritt CBC Data 2020

No new species were added to the Merritt count list, but Wayne Weber’s group did manage to call up 4 Virginia Rails at the Coutlee marsh – only the second time this species has been found.

With Nicola Lake and other water areas mostly ice-free, our waterfowl counts were above average for most species and record high counts were tallied for Gadwall (43 birds) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (76). Trumpeter Swans were in high numbers too (75) with many grey juveniles indicating that there was good breeding success in their northern breeding grounds.

A few of the hundreds of Canada Geese on Nicola Lake – overall 536 geese were counted across the count circle – about double the average but not a record high. Photo: © Alan Burger
Another group of Canada Geese at Nicola Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger
More Canada Geese at Nicola Lake near Quilchena. Note the adult Bald Eagle in the top left corner. Photo: © Loretta Holmes
Spot the Gadwall. The duck in the centre is a female Gadwall, looking very similar to the female Mallards that surround her. We tallied a record high of 43 Gadwall on the count day, mostly on Nicola Lake and at the sewage settling ponds. Photo: © Anne Pang

Away from the water most species had fairly normal count numbers, but notably high counts were recorded for Pygmy Nuthatches (30 birds – double the average), American Robins (53 – all in one noisy flock), European Starlings (405 – well above average) and American Tree Sparrow (10 – the second highest count in 22 years). Dark-eyed Juncos (115 – double the average) and Pine Siskins (160 – second highest count) were also in high numbers.

An American Tree Sparrow having a drink at a puddle. Ten of this species were seen, the second-highest number in our 22 Christmas counts. This little sparrow is a winter visitor from northern boreal forests. Photos: © Alan Burger
A great view of a White-breasted Nuthatch. The least common of the three nuthatch species that we get around Merritt, this species was missed in several of our recent Christmas Bird Counts and this bird was the sole representative this year. Photo: © Vic Newton
Another view of the same White-breasted Nuthatch, with a seed in its bill. Photo: © Vic Newton

Big misses on the count day were Common Loon (previously recorded on 15 of 22 counts), Pileated Woodpecker (previously on 16 counts) and Townsend’s Solitaire (previously on 18 counts), although the loon and woodpecker were later seen during the Count Week period. Notably low counts were American Dipper (only 2 seen, the average is 7) and Bohemian Waxwings (66 seen, well below the average of 460 and the record high of 2,009 birds).

Here are more photos from the Merritt CBC:

Alan and Craig birding at the Triangle Ranch near Quilchena. Photo: Loretta Holmes
Two female Common Mergansers on choppy Nicola Lake. High winds for much of the day made it difficult to spot birds out on the lake. Photo: Loretta Holmes
A few of the 951 Mallards seen on the count day. Notice the leg band on the female in front. This bird has obviously been captured and banded at some point in its life. We were unable to read the band information. Photo: Loretta Holmes
This was the only Ruffed Grouse seen on the 2020 Merritt CBC. Photo: © Gerry and Jill Sanford
A couple of shots of a female Hairy Woodpecker on count day. Photos: © Vic Newton
Song Sparrows have appeared in all 22 of the Merritt Christmas counts over the years. They are year-round residents in our area. Photo: © Alan Burger
Northern Flicker is another species that has appeared in all 22 Merritt CBCs. This bird, with the red moustache is a male; females don’t show this feature. Photo: © Anne Pang.
American Goldfinches – female on the left, male in winter plumage on the right. Goldfinches, like most finches, show big fluctuations in numbers as seed crops vary. This year we counted 53, just above average, but in previous Merritt counts the numbers have fluctuated from 1 to 152. Photo: © Anne Pang.
Sharp-shinned Hawks are fairly regular in the Merritt Christmas counts, being seen on 15 of the 22 counts. They are often seen near feeders, where they try to catch smaller birds like sparrows, finches or starlings. Photo: © Vic Newton.

Many thanks to those who participated.

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Nicola Naturalist Halloween Outing – Oct 2020

On Saturday 31 October 2020 a small group of Nicola Naturalist Society members participated in a COVID-safe outing to a site near Juliet Creek. Situated just off the Coquihalla Highway, this was a special site that Norm Hansen had discovered. When the Coquihalla Hwy was built more than 35 years ago the engineers designed spawning ponds to enhance the breeding of the Coldwater River salmon. Our outing was to one of these sites, much modified since it was first built.

Our first sight of the spawning ponds near Juliet Creek. Photo: ©Alan Burger
Beautiful calm conditions – a fine fall day to be out in nature. Photo: ©Alan Burger
Chris R. lost no time in looking for interesting plants in the marshy areas. Photo: Alan Burger
Fall is a time for berries – in this case Squashberry or Soopalalie (Shepherdia canadensis). The leaves of the plants have all fallen, leaving the bright red berries to attract passing birds. Photo: ©Alan Burger
A close view of Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus)
Emergent grasses make a colourful contrast with the green pond. Photo: ©Alan Burger
This American Dipper was sitting mid-pond and singing heartily – an unusual activity for a bird in the fall. But in this case it seems it was trying to deter an intruder into its territory. We watched it chase another Dipper multiple times around the pond. Photo: ©Alan Burger
During most of our visit we could see this Common Merganser diving in the shallow water, seeking small fish – likely juvenile salmon. Photo: ©Alan Burger
Chris L. and Norm exploring. Photo: ©Alan Burger
One of the large beaver lodges in the ponds. Photo: ©Alan Burger
Beavers tend to build dams where there is running water. As a result they block up the channels intended for salmon the access the spawning ponds from the Coldwater River. To try and deter the beavers, the engineers built extensive cages to keep the channels open. Photo: ©Alan Burger
But in many places the beavers have succeeded in damming up the channels intended for fish access. Photo: ©Alan Burger
Evidence of recent beaver activity. Photo: © Alan Burger
Another large beaver lodge in a separate pond. Photo: ©Alan Burger
The Coldwater River runs past the spawning ponds. Photo: © Denise Williams
Alan and Norm on the Coldwater River bank. The trail that is barely visible along the steep bank is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Originally this was a railbed of the Kettle Valley Railroad, but over many decades the river has eroded it all away at this spot. Norm and other volunteers come here every spring to maintain the trail for cyclists and hikers. Photo: © Denise Williams.
Cottonwood trees with glorious golden fall leaves. Photo: ©Alan Burger
An adult Bald Eagle keeping watch over the river from a tall cottonwood tree – already bare of leaves. Photo: ©Alan Burger
And Chris R. still finding interesting plants to photograph – in this case a tiny sedge. Photo: ©Alan Burger

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Nicola Naturalist Society – October 2020 “Nature News”

Greetings

With the COVID pandemic as restrictive as ever, we are unable to hold our regular monthly meetings. “Nature News“, a sampling of  local nature photos taken by our members, has always been a feature of our evening meetings. So we are moving that to this website …. here is the October “Nature News“, a wonderful representation of the biodiversity of the Merritt, B.C. area. Thanks to all who contributed photos!

Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) – a widespread plant flowering in mid- to late-summer. Photo: ©Vic Newton
Bumblebee on a thistle flower. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

A note from Bob Scafe: “And something new for everyone, Yellow Chokecherries, compared to the usual Red variety. Our down the street neighbor has a 12 ft shrub of Yellow Chokecherries. They didn’t have any interest using them, so I picked them, and Bev and I made Jelly with them. Sweeter than the red variety, they also have less juice, so require more water. The result is a lovely yellow Jelly, considerably sweeter than the tart red jelly. The tree is a volunteer, not planted by the folks living here, so where did this seed and resulting shrub, originate? My best guess is a bird dropping, as it flew over.”

The unusual yellow Chokecherry (left) compared with the regular berry colour (right), Prunus virginiana. Photos: © Bob Scafe)
And here is that tasty yellow Chokecherry jelly. Photo: © Bob Scafe
Mountain Bluebirds. Notice the leg band on the left bird – which is a juvenile fresh out of the nest. The Avian Research Centre, the folks running the bluebird nestbox program in the Nicola Valley, are banding the nestlings. So in future years look out for colour-banded birds returning to our area. If you see one, record the colour and which leg (left or right) the band is on. The bright blue adult male is on the right. Photo: © Vic Newton

Susan Newton got a surprise when checking nest boxes on Lindley Creek Road this summer. There was a dead mule deer right beside the Bluebird box. Much to the surprise of Sue who almost walked on the animal while checking the box. And several others were also interested in the dead deer ……..

A Turkey Vulture disturbed at a deer carcass next to the bluebird nest box. Photo: Vic Newton.
Turkey Vultures at the deer carcass next to the bluebird nest box. Photo: Vic Newton.
A lovely scene of a Bald Eagle against the background of hoodoos. Photo: ©Vic Newton
A close-up of the Bald Eagle. Photo: ©Vic Newton.

Other Nicola Naturalist members also had interesting encounters with raptors. Here is a note from Tom Willms, who lives on the edge of Upper Nicola village, close to Nicola Lake: “We had a Peregrine Falcon in front of our place this morning. It had killed a Wood Duck but unfortunately it landed on the highway. I took a shovel and moved it to a safe location and the Peregrine eventually came back to finish breakfast.”

Peregrine Falcon with its Wood Duck prey – unfortunately right on the busy Highway 5A at Nicola Village. Photo: ©Tom Willms.
A closer look at the Peregrine and its Wood Duck prey. Photo: ©Tom Willms.
The late Wood Duck that was killed by the Peregrine Falcon. Judging by the unworn plumage (look at the pristine tips of the wing feathers) and the coloration of the head this was a juvenile bird – evidently not fully aware of the dangers of falcons. Photo: ©Tom Willms.

Later Tom’s father Paul came and got this great photo of the Peregrine eating the Wood Duck – now in a safe location ……

Peregrine Falcon with its Wood Duck prey. Note the falcon’s bulging crop. Photo: © Paul Willms.
Another newly-fledged juvenile – this time a Bullock’s Oriole. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent
Yet another newly-independent juvenile – a Red-necked Grebe on Mamit Lake. It still has the zebra-stripes on its head from its chick phase. Photo: ©Alan Burger

For more wildlife photos from Mamit Lake click here: Alan Burger Nature & Birding BC

Grey Catbird – a widespread species in our area but seldom seen because they tend to skulk in the thickets. Notice the rufous undertail visible in the left photo. Photos: ©Tom Willms.
A crisp portrait of a male Brown-headed Cowbird. Photo: © Cindilla Trent.
A great photo of a Marsh Wren in its cat-tail habitat. Photo: © Cindilla Trent.
A female Common Merganser on Shuswap Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger
Ring-billed Gulls breed on an island in Shuswap Lake near Salmon Arm. After breeding the gulls wander and can be found on many other lakes in our area. This adult bird is just starting to get the greyish head that they have in winter. Photo: © Alan Burger

Our resident Lepidoptera aficionado Bob Scafe has been busy photographing and recording all the moths that are attracted at night to his porch light. His tally over five years is now up to 525 species – who would have guessed Merritt had such moth diversity? Here are a few of his latest finds.

A Hemlock-Looper moth (Lambdina fiscellaria). This insect gets its English name from the mode of movement of the caterpillar, which stretches forward to attach the front legs, then loops its body to bring the back legs forward. Photo: © Bob Scafe

Bob notes: “Hemlock Looper moth is having a break-out year, as far as numbers are concerned. As their names suggest, the caterpillars feed on Hemlock trees. Vancouver, West Van, and Hemlock ski area have had an 18-year high with clusters of thousands of moths seen at street lights.”

The next moth is more elusive and has an appropriate name: Phantom Hemlock Looper. Bob reports: “Phantom Hemlock moth is a new sighting this year. I have not seen this moth in my previous five years of moth watching. For 2-3 weeks this year, I caught 4-5 every night, and of course, I’m wondering what has changed. My moth people are just as confused as I am about this year’s activity. Perhaps it explains, in part, the Phantom name.”

A Phantom Hemlock Looper (Netytia phantasmaria) with beautiful wing markings. This is a male with impressive antennae – used to locate the females via their chemical pheromones. Photo: © Bob Scafe.

Bob again: “The Ten-spotted Rhododendron moth also appears for about 3 weeks each September, and usually in good numbers, slowly building to 8-10 per night, then slowly, the numbers decline, till there are none. In most cases, the name of the moth is derived from the foods eaten, or characteristics of the species Caterpillar, not the moth.”

A Ten-spotted Rhododendron moth (Dysstroma sobria). Photo: © Bob Scafe

This next moth is a real beauty. Bob notes: “The October Thorn, is a September moth in the Merritt area, but is most commonly seen in October in the United States. It provides a welcome flash of golden brightness as it flies by the patio lights, and while it never appears in Merritt in great numbers, I will see 5 or 6 each September. A very fast and elusive flier.”

What a beauty! The October Thorn moth (Tetracis jubararia). Photo: © Bob Scafe.

And a gorgeous big moth by another of our naturalist members ……

Lovely photos of a One-eyed Sphinx Moth (Smerinthus cerisyi). Photos: © Diana Grimshire
A dragonfly perching on a finger. Photo: © Cindilla Trent.
A Caddis Fly sampled among the many moths at Bob Scafe’s porch. Photo: © Bob Scafe.
This Columbia Spotted Frog was found in Cindy Trent’s yard. Photo: © Cindilla Trent.

Time for some mammals. As always deer are a common sight in our area and sometimes a bit too familiar when they are in one’s garden …..

A male Mule Deer with velvet antlers resting in the long grass. Photo: ©Vic Newton.
Another male Mule Deer in a scenic location with grass and rabbitbrush. Photo: © Vic Newton.
Mule Deer make regular visits to the Scafe’s garden. They usually prefer Bev Scafe’s white petunias but, as you see, don’t mind the red ones either. Photos: © Bob Scafe.
The Scafe’s garden Mule Deer – very relaxed and checking out the neighbour’s cat. Photos: © Bob Scafe

Bears are usually less welcome visitors in town. This little cub appeared in Logan Lake and spent an anxious hour wandering the lawns before heading back into the forest. The human residents spent an anxious hour wondering when Mum was going to appear, but she never did.

This Black Bear cub appeared in Logan Lake in early October. Photo: © Alan Burger
Another look at the Black Bear cub exploring the gardens of Logan Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger

Tom Willms found this interesting hollow tree that had obviously been visited by a bear – perhaps an arboreal den?

This big Ponderosa Pine has a large hollow that is evidently a bear den. Photo: © Tom Willms.
A close look at the cavity reveals the claw marks of the climbing bear and tooth marks where the bear worked to enlarge the opening. Photo: © Tom Willms.
This bat – tentatively identified by two bat experts as a Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus) chose to roost by day on Paul Willms’ house foundation in Merritt. Photo: © Paul Willms
Mom Yellow-bellied Marmot using a boulder as a convenient lookout. Photo: © Cindilla Trent.
These River Otters entertained people visiting the wharf at Salmon Arm for half an hour. They are less popular with local boat owners when they come aboard to romp, test out the upholstery …. and poop. Photo: © Alan Burger
Also at Shuswap Lake, Salmon Arm were many Green-winged Teal. Female on the left, male on the right (just moulting into his breeding plumage). In many of our duck species the males take on their colourful breeding plumage in the fall and spend much of the winter trying to woo the ladies to breed with them in early spring. Photos: © Alan Burger

One of the highlights of early fall is when flocks of Sandhill Cranes pass by on their southward migration. Their evocative bugling calls can be heard for miles.

Part of a flock of 200 Sandhill Cranes flying high over Logan Lake town – heading toward Mamit Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger
Sandhill Cranes flying over Logan Lake. Photo: © Alan Burger.
A nice portrait of a male American Kestrel. This little falcon is quite common and often seen sitting on telephone poles in open grassy areas. They live mostly on large insects like grasshoppers and dragonflies, but will also take mice and small birds. Photo: Vic Newton.
And here is the Kestrel eating a grasshopper. Photo: © Vic Newton.

And to end with another couple of photos of a falcon eating prey …..

A Merlin plucking and eating its prey – looks like a Mountain Bluebird. Photos: © Anne Pang.

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Kane Valley – spring outing 20 June 2020

The Nicola Naturalist Society held our first field outing on 20 June in Kane Valley since the beginning of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. It began as a grey drizzly day but despite the damp weather 9 members showed up. Because of the damp weather 9,000 mosquitoes showed up. The weather improved and a breeze brought some relief from mosquitoes so we had good wildflower and wildlife experiences.

We arrived in separate cars and scrupulously maintained 2 m spacing, in keeping with the anti-COVID guidelines.

Our first stop was at Hill’s Homestead on the Kane Valley ski trails. This big open slope bounded by lovely old growth forest is always a great spot for spring flowers – and it did not disappoint.

Arrow-leaved Balsamroots light up the hillside at Hill’s Homestead. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A close up of Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) flower. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Sticky Geranium (Geranium viscosissimum), a common flower on the hillsides. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Silky Lupines (Lupinus sericeus) were at their prime on 20 June on Hill’s Homestead meadows. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Masses of Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). Photo: ©Alan Burger

Woolly Groundsel (Senecio canus), also known as Ragweed. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Upland Larkspur (Delphinium nuttallianum) – providing splashes of brilliant blue among the yellow Balsamroots. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Margaret inspecting flowers at Hill’s Homestead. Photo: ©Alan Burger

The hillside meadows are home to many sparrows – Vesper Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, and, bordering the forest, Dark-eyed Juncos and Chipping Sparrows. But small nondescript sparrows are hard to see as they flit among the hillside plants so their songs are usually the key to identification.

A Vesper Sparrow broadcasting its lovely song among the Balsamroot stems. Photo:©Alan Burger

Another look at the Vesper Sparrow among the Balsamroot stems. The small diagnostic patch of cinnamon shoulder feathers are just visible in this photo. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Small-flowered Penstemon (Penstemon procerus) – uncommon but found in clusters on the Hill’s Homestead meadows. Photo:©Alan Burger

Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius) – a distinctive bloom on the hillside meadow. Photo:©Alan Burger

Meadow Death-camas (Zigadenus venenosus) – a common plant in the meadows. Photo:©Alan Burger

Denise among the masses of blooms of Hill’s Homestead. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Andrea and Chris did the most adventurous botanizing – hiking over the hills in search of rarities. Chris reported “…vast mesic meadows with masses of bloom included: Thread-leaved Sandwort, Pink Twink, Microseris nutans, Wild Forget-me-not or Blue Stickseed, Parsley Fern, Sweetgrass, Sedges, Junegrass, several types of Pussytoes, Tower Mustard, Desert Parsleys, Heart-leaved Arnica, Lupines, Round-leaved Alumroot….to name but a few.”

Spotted Saxifrage (Saxifraga bronchialis) – one of the distinctive specialties discovered by Chris and Andrea at the high rock ledges. Photo: ©Chris Rimmington.

Common Sweetgrass (Hierachloe odorata) and sedges. Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

Nodding Microseris (Microseris nutans). Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

Timber Milk-vetch (Astragalus miser) in the pea family. Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

Those in the group who were the least mobile ended up having the best wildlife sightings – a black bear, a mule deer doe with a fawn close by, and Canada Geese with goslings on the nearby pond. The same pond also had a muskrat, Western Toad tadpoles, a young Columbia Spotted Frog and a few large leeches.

A muskrat crossing the pond at Hill’s Homestead. Photo: ©Alan Burger

The nearby old-growth forest also provided some interesting birding.

A couple of singing male Lazuli Buntings were one of the avian highlights. Several of our group had good views of this colourful male among the big trees bordering the hillside meadows. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Gerry and Helen in the old growth forest bordering the Hill’s Homestead meadows. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A female Cassin’s Finch – one of the 31 bird species seen on our 20 June outing. Photo: ©Alan Burger

On rocky outcrops we discovered a different set of plants flowering …..

Shrubby Penstemon (Penstemon fruiticosus). Colourful clumps of this hardy plant occur on rocky slopes. Photo:©Alan Burger

Round-leaved Alumroot (Heuchera cylindrica) – another fairly common plant of the rocky outcrops. Photo:©Alan Burger

One of the Campions – possibly Night-flowering Catchfly (Silene noctiflora) growing on gravelly soil. Photo:©Alan Burger

Our second stop was another large hillside meadow further along the ski trail loop. By this time the clouds were opening up a little and we finally saw a few butterflies.

A tiny Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) on a larkspur flower. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Common Alpine (Erebia epipsodea) was the only butterfly that was active at mid-day, although most, like this one, were lurking deep within the vegetation. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Andrea and Chris explored to the top of the rocky hill above the meadow. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Here too masses of Arrow-leaved Balsamroot provide swathes of colour. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Scattered among the moist grassy areas were Chocolate Lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata). Photo: ©Alan Burger

Blue Stickseed (Hackelia micrantha), also known as False Forget-me-not  – a common plant in the open aspen woodlands. Note the mosquito sucking nectar on one of the flowers. Male mosquitoes are content with nectar, while the females, needing extra nourishment to produce eggs, are sucking blood from the photographer. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Desert Parsley (Lomatium ambiguum). Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

Parsley Fern (Cryptogramma crispa) showing the different leaf forms – the taller vertical leaves are the fertile ones carrying the spore-producing sori, and the lower more horizontal leaves are the sterile ones just for photosynthesis. Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

Rockcress (Boechera retrofracta). Photo: ©Chris Rimmington

One of the many Ciquefoil species, probably Sticky Cinquefoil (Potentilla glandulosa) just starting to bloom. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A House Wren – a common bird of our forests, usually nesting in old woodpecker holes. Photo: ©Alan Burger

For a checklist of the birds, mammals and amphibians recorded on this outing click here: NNS Critter List 20June2020

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 5

June 15, 2020.  This might be last in our series of virtual spring outings. With the relaxation of some of the COVID restrictions we are going to try a real outing on Saturday June 20th (members have received an email on the details) – well spaced of course.

To see the previous four Spring 2020 virtual outings click here: Photo Gallery

We have a bumper crop of great photos submitted by Nicola Naturalist Society members. Thanks to all the photographers who contributed pictures.

We’ll start with spring flowers – now is a great time to get out with your camera and wildflower guide to enjoy our native flora.

Murphy Shewchuck originally sent this image as part of a really splendid video, but unfortunately our website has restrictions on the size of file we an upload so we couldn’t share his video at this time. But this image gives you an idea of the glorious wildflowers – in this case at Hill’s Homestead, Kane Valley.

A colourful vista of flowering Arrow-leaved Balsamroot on Hill’s Homestead, Kane Valley. Photo: ©Murphy Shewchuk.

A close-up of the Arrow-leaved Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitata). All parts of this showy plant are edible – leaves and roots were commonly eaten by local Indigenous people. Photo: ©Martin Ince

Old Man’s Whiskers (Geum triflorum), a widespread plant in our area. The feathery clusters of seeds which follow flowering give it the English name – look out for those later in the summer. Photo: ©Martin Ince

Field Locoweed (Oxytropis campestris). This low-growing plant is called Locoweed because its leaves are toxic and cause cattle to lose muscle control and stagger. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Birds are always our most photographed wildlife, and with good reason – they are diverse, common and colourful.

Angry bird!? Birds don’t really have facial expressions – we just interpret the markings that way. A Bullock’s Oriole – one of our more tropical-looking summer visitors. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Here’s a more benign-looking Bullock’s Oriole at a nectar feeder. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

The intense blue of a Mountain Bluebird is one of the loveliest sights in our spring and summer. Photo: ©Vic Newton

An impressive clutch of House Wren eggs. These birds often use nest boxes put out for bluebirds. In this case the wren has also incorporated a few bluebird feathers in the nest. Photo: ©Vic Newton

And here is one of the parent House Wrens belting out a territorial song. Photo: ©Vic Newton

We’re having a wet rainy spring this year so there are many ponds full or overflowing – a good year for ducks!

With a wet rainy spring our ponds are overflowing. Yellow Waterlilies (Nuphar polysepalum) are common in many shallow ponds and lake edges. Photo: ©Shelley Cressy-Hassel

One thing you will notice in mid-June is that most of the ducks you see (and most of the photos submitted) are of males. This is because in ducks (but not geese or swans) the males play no part in incubating the eggs and raising the ducklings. Their job is done once they have mated with the female and she goes off to look after the eggs. So the males can hang out with the other boys or head off to some safe moulting site.

Two male Blue-winged Teal showing off the plumage that names them. Photos: ©Alan Burger

A male Barrow’s Goldeneye. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

A male Hooded Merganser. In this photo the hood is flattened but during courtship the hood (head crest) is raised to enhance the male’s display. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

A male Northern Shoveler – this species wins the prize for the biggest snoz in our neighbourhood. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Ring-necked Ducks (male left, female right) can be found in our area for most of the year as long as there is open water for them to feed in. They dive to find insect food in the bottom of shallow ponds and lakes. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Spring and early summer are the best times to look for butterflies and other insects. This is a good time to brush up on your identifications with our two online butterfly and moth guides:

Know Your Butterflies & Moths

More butterflies and moths of the Merritt area

A Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) at Tunkwa Provincial Park. There are several Blue butterfly species in our area – identifying them often means looking closely at both the upper (dorsal) and under (ventral) sides of the wings. Photos: ©Alan Burger

A large cicada – probably the Mountain Cicada (Okanogana bella). Cicada’s do not emerge from their underground larval stage every year. Perhaps 2020 will be a good year for seeing cicadas? Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

Want to learn more about cicadas? Here is a fun website: Cicada Mania

This Plume Moth (Oidaematophorus mathewianus) looks as though someone has lopped off its head. Certainly an unusual looking insect. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A large beetle, possibly a Blister Beetle (Family Meloidae). Blister beetles give off a nasty chemical, cantharadin, if handled or threatened, which can cause blisters on human skin. Photo: ©Shelley Cressy-Hassel

Swallowtail butterflies are some of our most impressive insects. Large and boldly coloured they are hard to miss. Here in southern BC we get several species and the photos sent in included three different species – all beautiful to see.

Old World Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon). The English name reflects this species’ distribution – although it is a native species here it is also found in Europe and Asia. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Found in the southern third of BC it is a fairly common species here. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Wow! A kaleidoscope of colour and in the midst is yet another type of swallowtail – this is the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio canadensis). It has a more northerly range than the previous two species. Photo: ©Shelley Cressy-Hassel.

A few more of our colourful wildflowers …..

A lovely cluster of Golden Fleabane – also known as Golden Aster (Heterotheca villosa). This is one of many daisy-like flowers that bloom in summer in our area. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

Thread-leaved Sandwort (Arenaria capillaris). Can be found in drier areas like sagebrush or rocky slopes. Photo: ©Martin Ince

Lemonweed (Lithospermum ruderale) is a widespead perennial in grasslands, open forests and rocky areas. Photo: ©Martin Ince

Backyard feeders often attract a different set of avian customers in summer than in winter. Here are a few birds that are absent in winter but you might see them at your feeder from spring through fall.

An action shot of a male Calliope Hummingbird. This is North America’s smallest bird. In our area it is our second-most common hummingbird, after the Rufous. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Western Tanagers at a nectar feeder. These are both males. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

A male Western Tanager eating orange at a backyard feeding station. Tanagers have a diverse diet of insects and berries in our area but love exotic fruit too. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Black-headed Grosbeak – female on the left, male right. An uncommon bird in our area, it is more closely related to tanagers than to our common Evening Grosbeaks, but shares the name because both species have hefty beaks. Photos: ©Cindilla Trent

Away from feeders there are still plenty of species to see in your backyard, as you follow the anti-COVID lockdown and spacing guidelines. Here are some fairly common garden birds.

Cedar Waxwings arrive in late spring, usually some weeks after the wintering Bohemian Waxwings have departed for the north. They are often in flocks of 5, 10, 20 or even more. This photo nicely shows the red waxy-looking feather tips that give these birds their name. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Something has excited this Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Normally the ruby crown is not as conspicuous, but here it is raised and obvious. Perhaps a potential mate is near, or a territorial rival? Photo: ©Cindilla Trent.

Our most common warbler, the Yellow-rumped Warbler is found in a range of habitats – forests, shrubs , gardens and, as here, the edges of wetlands. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Spring and early summer are also important times for amphibians and reptiles. Dormant for many winter months they have a short season to find food and reproduce.

The Long-toed Salamander is the only salamander found in the Nicola Valley area. This one was living in some rotten logs in a Logan Lake backyard. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A Western Toad camouflaged against a pebbly background. This chunky amphibian is quite common in our area. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

Another view of a Western Toad. They can be quite variable in colour – green, brownish, grey. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

A Western Rattlesnake. This photo was taken in the Okanagan but rattlesnakes do occur in our area in the warmer parts of the lower Nicola Valley towards Spences Bridge. Photo: ©Cindilla Trent

One of the longest and fastest snakes in BC, the Racer deserves its name. Usually one just sees a slim wiggle disappearing in the grass. Photos: ©Jennifer Newton

A closer view of a Racer. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

Time for some mammals ……..

A nice shot of a Mule Deer buck with velvet antlers. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Bear sign. Looks like this aspen was climbed by both an adult bear and a cub. Photo: ©Shelley Cressy-Hassel

More local wildflowers …..

In spring, damp open meadows can be covered with Few-flowered Shooting Stars (Dodecathion pulchellum). Photo: ©Alan Burger

Showy Daisy (Fleabane) (Erigeron speciosus) – a widespread daisy in our area. A similar species occurs in alpine areas, blooming much later in summer. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

An unidentified beetle snacking on pollen or nectar on a Showy Daisy flower. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

Cut-leaved Daisy (Erigeron compositus) – another widespread daisy in our area. The white petals shrivel leaving rounded yellowish pods where the seeds develop. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Showy Jacobs-ladder (Polemonium pulcherrimum). This beauty blooms in late spring in low elevations but as late as August in alpine areas. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

Beautiful – but a serious pest. Dalmatian Toadflax (Linaria genisfolia) is spreading in the Nicola Valley, much to the concern of ranchers and range managers. Introduced from Europe, it thrives on roadsides and other disturbed sites. Photo: ©Jennifer Newton

We’ll wrap this edition up with a few more local birds …..

A Western Meadowlark in typical open grassland habitat. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Great Blue Herons are the only herons usually found in the Nicola Valley. Fish are their primary prey, but they also take aquatic insects and even voles and mice. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Not all sparrows are dull and nondescript. The Lark Sparrow is quite rare in our area, but a delight to find with its bright markings and lovely song. Photo: ©Vic Newton.

Another look at the colourful Lark Sparrow. Photo: ©Vic Newton.

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 4

This is the fourth in our series of virtual spring outings during the 2020 COVID restrictions, with photos by members of the Nicola Naturalist Society. Scroll down to enjoy a bumper crop of interesting spring photos.

To see previous editions click here:  First Virtual OutingSecond Virtual OutingThird Virtual Outing.

As the end of May approaches we are still seeing some new arrivals of spring migrant birds and many have settled down, selected territories and are singing and nesting. Some of the resident birds get an early start on breeding. Great Horned Owls are among the first of our birds to start pairing up and nesting – often while there is still a lot of snow on the ground. So in May this is what you might see ……………

Mom – or it could be Dad – and two half-grown Great Horned Owl chicks near their nest in the Coutlee area. Note the beginnings of the feathery “horns” even in these young chicks. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Adult Great Horned Owl near the nest site, Coutlee area. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Even at a young age, Great Horned Owl chicks start moving around the branches near their nest site. The parents keep a close watch over them. Photo: ©Pat and Cathy Tombes

Many waterfowl also get an early start in breeding. So in late May we might expect broods of tiny ducklings or goslings to appear.

A Canada Goose pair with three newly hatched goslings – May 24, Logan Lake Marsh. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Other waterfowl are still in courtship mode. Ruddy Ducks have one of the most unusual courtship displays.

A Ruddy Duck male giving its unique bubble display. The bird pumps its head up and down, beak just touching the water and blows bubbles. Female Ruddy Ducks must find this irresistible, although there was no female in sight to appreciate this particular display. Photo taken at the Logan Lake Marsh reserve. ©Alan Burger

And if the bubbles don’t do the trick, the female’s heart will melt at the sight of the powder blue and pink beak. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Warblers are a welcome addition to our spring avifauna. Although they are sometimes hard to see high in the trees, their cheerful songs liven up our spring soundscape.

One of our brightest warblers, Yellow Warblers are most often found in deciduous trees and shrubs, like willow thickets. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Yellow-rumped Warblers are probably our most common warbler, found in a wide variety of forest and bush habitats. Photo: ©Vic Newton

One of our less common warblers, Nashville Warblers are always welcome visitors in the “Country & Western Music Capital of Canada”. Photo:©Paul Willms

This is not a warbler, but the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet is a common and very vocal member of our forest community. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Finches have strong and melodious voices too. Cassin’s Finches are quite common in our area from spring through fall. They are one of the more unusual songbirds in that the female can often be heard singing from a treetop as well as the male. They look similar to the resident urban House Finches but have subtle differences in plumage and song.

Cassin’s Finch, female (L) and male (R). Both sexes generally show more of a slight crest on the head but in these photos the head feathers are slicked down. Photos:© Paul Willms

Another look at a female Cassin’s Finch. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Here is a male House Finch to compare with the Cassin’s Finches. This species has a shorter beak than Cassin’s and has a slight “sneering” look to the curved beak. There are subtle differences in the plumage too. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Black-headed Grosbeaks are uncommon spring-to-fall visitors in our area. With the chunky beak they look a bit similar to the resident and common Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, but they are not closely related to those species. This is a male. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Swallows are, of course, harbingers of spring and summer. Six species of swallows breed in our area, using different nesting sites. These two species are both common and sometimes hard to separate in flight.

Tree Swallows are probably our most common and widespread swallow, nesting in tree cavities (usually old woodpecker nests) and nest boxes. In flight they look similar to Violet-green Swallows (see next photos) but sitting on a wire they are easier to separate. Photo: ©Anne Pang.

Front and side views of an aptly-named male Violet-green Swallow. Photos: ©Vic Newton

A few more of our spring migrant birds:

Golden-crowned Sparrows are uncommon breeders in our area and the ones we see are sometimes on their way to other breeding grounds further north. The similar White-crowned Sparrows (not shown) are common breeders here. Photos: Vic Newton

The unmistakable intense blue of a male Mountain Bluebird. They are most often seen at nest boxes placed for their use on fence-posts, but this male is using a natural cavity, probably excavated by a woodpecker. Photos: ©Vic Newton

Are Black-necked Stilts becoming a regular visitor to the Nicola Valley? This pair was found in a shallow pond near Tunkwa Lake north of Logan Lake on May 25th. See our Virtual Spring Outing #3 for other photos of this rare shorebird. Photo: ©Alan Burger

While most woodpecker species remain with us year-round, Red-naped Sapsuckers migrate south for the winter. Their distinctive staccato drumming is a feature of the spring forests. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Another view of the Red-naped Sapsucker. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Fish-eating hawks, Ospreys are a common site from spring to fall in our area, along rivers and lakes. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A male Rufous Hummingbird – our most common hummer. The males are aggressive little demons, driving away other hummingbirds at feeders and flower patches. Photos: ©Vic Newton.

A male Anna’s Hummingbird. Unlike our other hummers this species does not undertake long-distance migrations and on the BC coast winter feeders allow it to stay all year round. In the past decade this species has started showing up more often in the Merritt area but is still rare. Photos: ©Paul Willms

Some mammals and insects too are emerging as spring progresses.

Yellow-bellied Marmots have emerged from their long winter hibernation. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A bumblebee visiting a dandelion flower. In their efforts to rid their pristine lawns of dandelions people often overlook the value that these spring flowers have to many pollinators, like bees. Photo: ©Alan Burger

And our resident species remain interesting and varied.

Bright heads and flashing white wing-patches make Yellow-headed Blackbirds highly conspicuous in their marshy cat-tail nesting habitats. and in the grassy areas where they feed. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Hard to see! A mule deer resting in a shady nook near the Merritt golf course. Photo: ©Paul Willms.

Relaxing in the long grass – another urban deer in Merritt. Photo: ©Paul Willms.

A charming close-up of the tiny Pygmy Nuthatch. Fond of big old Ponderosa Pines this bird has become harder to find after the pine beetle infestation killed many of our veteran Ponderosas. Photo: ©Vic Newton

We mentioned singing at the start of this outing. Well no group of birds can match the strenuous effort that wrens put into their songs. These tiny birds produce loud and prolonged songs that will drown out many much larger species.

House Wrens are common in thickets throughout our area. Their loud song is a mix of rattles and varied trills. This species often takes over nest boxes intended for bluebirds or swallows. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A Marsh Wren belting out its spring song from a cat-tail in the Logan Lake Marsh. Photo: ©Alan Burger.

Broadcasting in all directions – a Marsh Wren gives a view down its capacious throat. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Like any opera star, sometimes a Marsh Wren sings with eyes closed to get the full volume output. Photo: ©Alan Burger

 

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 3

This is the third of our virtual outings during the COVID-19 pandemic, with spring photos of local wildlife from the members of the Nicola Naturalist Society, based in Merritt, BC.

If you missed the first edition of this virtual outing – click here

For the second virtual outing –  click here

In mid-May, many migrant songbirds have arrived to set up territories, begin singing and start nesting.

Western Kingbirds have recently arrived in our area. These large flycatchers are typically found in open areas like grasslands and hayfields. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A lovely habitat photo of a Western Meadowlark – the melodic symbol of grasslands in the southern interior of B.C. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A pair of Western Meadowlarks foraging in the long grass. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A couple of sharp images of one of our more common warblers – Orange-crowned Warbler. The orange crown is often not visible. Photos: ©Bob Scafe

Blurred by the action! A rare photo of an interspecific spat between a female Rufous Hummingbird and a male Calliope Hummingbird. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A male Calliope Hummingbird showing off his iridescent violet gorget. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Many of our year-round resident birds are also preparing to breed. Blackbirds that spend the winter in large flocks are now more dispersed, often paired up and territorial.

Brewer’s Blackbirds – male left and female right. This attractive blackbird is often seen along roadsides, feedlots and other open areas. Photos: ©Anne Pang

A colourful year-round resident in our area, Evening Grosbeaks are always great to see. Photo: ©Anne Pang

One of the avian mysteries in southern B.C. over the past few years has been the huge fluctuation in numbers of Pine Siskins. These small finches are usually regular visitors to feeders year-round. In the winter of 2018-2019 with a superabundance of Douglas-fir cones there were siskins everywhere. In contrast, siskins were hard to find in the winter of 2019-2020 even though there were still a lot of Douglas-fir cones available. Now we are seeing a few siskins reappearing in the Nicola Valley and surrounding areas, but still in low numbers.

Missing for many months in our area, some Pine Siskins are reappearing in our area, at feeders and in the woods. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Pine Siskins (on the left) are once again showing up at Merritt feeders this spring. The species is usually a common year-round resident in our area but was rarely seen in the 2019-2020 winter. The bird on the right is a male House Finch – another regular at feeders in Merritt. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A pair of Mourning Doves in a Merritt garden. These days the introduced Eurasian Collared Doves are more often seen in urban areas than these native Mourning Doves. Photo: ©Paul Willms

Wetlands are busy places in spring and right now there are hundreds of ducks, geese, coots, and other birds in the lakes, ponds and marshes in our area.

An American Coot begins a nest in Rush Lake on the Douglas Lake plateau. Photo: ©Alan Burger

An inhabitant of many marshes and lake edges, Pied-billed Grebes are quite common but often overlooked. They tend to skulk around reed-beds and other aquatic vegetation, diving to catch aquatic insects and small fish. This one was at Rush Lake on the Douglas Lake plateau. Photo: ©Alan Burger

One of our less common dabbling ducks, Cinnamon Teal are most often found in shallow ponds. The male is unmistakable, but the female, seen bathing here, can easily be confused with other female dabblers. Photo: © Jack & Carol Madryga

Another look at Cinnamon Teal – female on the left, male right. Photos: ©Anne Pang

A pair of Gadwall. The male is easy to identify with his grey-brown plumage and black rump. The  female is similar to a female Mallard and other large female ducks, but note the dark tail and bicoloured bill. Photo: Anne Pang

A pair of Blue-winged Teal. Once again the male is distinctive but the female is similar to other female ducks. Photo: ©Anne Pang.

An Eared Grebe. More than 60 of these tiny grebes nest at Beaver Ranch Flats – lovely to see in their smart breeding plumage. Photo: ©Anne Pang

In spring wetlands are good places to look for rare birds – some of them are just passing through but others have been found breeding on rare occasions in southern B.C. Here are a few recently found in the Merritt area.

A Greater White-fronted Goose hanging around with the local Canada Geese at Beaver Ranch Flats on the Guichon Ranch. Greater White-fronts breed on the Arctic tundra – so this bird was probably a juvenile or was still heading north a bit late. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Three Black-necked Stilts, along with a couple of Greater Yellowlegs, at the flooded field next to Beaver Ranch Flats on the Guichon Ranch. B.C. is north of the regular breeding range of these stilts but in recent years a few pairs have been breeding in southern B.C. Photo: ©Alan Burger

A close-up of a Black-necked Stilt at Beaver Ranch Flats on 5 May 2020. Photo: ©Alan Burger

Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in small numbers in shallow wetlands in southern B.C. This pair was at Beaver Ranch Flats. Unlike most birds, in phalaropes the female (left) has the brightest coloration and the less colourful male (right) incubates the eggs and rears the chicks. Photo:© Anne Pang

And finally, here is a delightful sequence of a local sparrow reveling in its bathing.

White-crowned Sparrow bathing – just look at that commitment to cleanliness! Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow bathing. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow -the belly-wash. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow doing the head-dunk portion of its bathing repertoire. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

White-crowned Sparrow emerging soaked after a vigorous bathing episode. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

 

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 2

More interesting spring photos from the members of the Nicola Naturalist Society, based in Merritt, BC.

If you missed the first edition of this virtual outing – click here

More spring arrivals in the Nicola Valley …..

Smallest of all North American birds, the Calliope Hummingbird is one of four hummingbird species that one might see in the Nicola Valley. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Say’s Phoebe – usually the first flycatcher species to arrive in our area in spring. Note the black tail and cinnamon flanks. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A Cassin’s Finch male. These finches arrive in spring and are quite common all summer in the Nicola Valley. Don’t confuse them with the resident House Finches. Photo: ©Paul Willms

A nice close-up of a Cassin’s Finch male. Note how long the beak is in contrast to a resident House Finch. And a much brighter plumage, with a bit of a head crest. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Vesper Sparrow – a common sparrow of the open grasslands in our area. Has a lovely complex song. Note the diagnostic cinnamon scapular patch. Photos: ©Bob Scafe

Who, other than Bob Scafe, would submit a great photo of some insulators? Oh … there is an Osprey in the background. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A pair of Ospreys back from their winter migrations are re-occupying their nest. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A female American Kestrel on an Osprey nest. Kestrels nest in tree cavities so would not be trying to take over this nest. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Beautiful patterns! Common Loons have arrived in our lakes in their fresh breeding plumage. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

Spring is a great time to see a big diversity of waterfowl in the Nicola Valley.

Why are these ducks called Ring-necked Ducks and not Ring-billed Ducks? No-one knows. This is a male. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Male Northern Pintail. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A pair of Cinnamon Teal – female on the left. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Buffleheads – female on the left, male on the right. These small ducks nest in cavities (and duck nest boxes). Photos: ©Anne Pang

A pair of Canada Geese have usurped an Osprey nest on a high pole. When the ducklings hatch they will have long drop to reach the ground. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A nice mix of diving ducks – Canvasbacks at the back and Lesser Scaup in front. Both species breed in the Nicola Valley. Photo: ©Vic Newton

Quiz time! Can you figure out the species of these two male goldeneyes? Note the shape of the white cheek spot and the amount of black and white on the folded wings. Only one of these species breeds in our area but both might be seen here in winter and during spring migration. Keep scrolling down to see the answers.
Photos: ©Vic Newton

A big flock of Coots on Nicola Lake. These birds will disperse to nest in shallow lakes and ponds. Photo: ©Vic Newton.

A closer view of the Coots. They are not ducks (note the bill shape) but belong to the Rail family (Rallidae). Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

And birds that remain with us all year round are also interesting.

A female Hairy Woodpecker. Photo: ©Anne Pang

A Bald Eagle adult. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A Sharp-shinned Hawk. These little accipiters are regularly seen all winter in town – often trying to catch birds at bird feeders. They also nest in our area.
 Photo: ©Vic Newton

Penetrating gaze! This photo captures the intensity of Sharp-shinned Hawks.
 Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

Some species that spend the winter with us will soon be leaving to head to northern breeding grounds ……

Northern Shrike. These birds breed in the northern boreal forests and edges of the tundra but spend the winter in our latitudes. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

And finally a couple of photos of one of our most charismatic mammal species:

River Otters in Nicola Lake. Photo: ©Vic Newton

A River Otter. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

P.S. Goldeneye quiz: The bird on the left is Barrow’s Goldeneye and on the right Common Goldeneye. Both males. Barrow’s Goldeneyes breed in our area. Common Goldeneyes breed further north but some overwinter and migrate through our area.

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Nicola Naturalists’ spring 2020 virtual outing – No. 1

With the COVID restrictions still in place we are unable to have our usual evening meetings and outdoor outings. So here we have organized a virtual naturalist outing, with members contributing their recent photos of local nature for all to share. Thanks to all who have contributed.

This is the first edition of our spring virtual outing. To see the second edition – click here.

This is always an exciting time for arrival of spring migrant birds. Here are a few fresh arrivals:

Yellow-rumped Warblers are often the first warblers to arrive back. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

One seldom sees the ruby crown of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet this well. Doug Turvey managed to get this great shot in his backyard. Photo: ©Doug Turvey

Anne Pang’s cherry tree attracts many birds. Here is a Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Another spring arrival in Anne’s cherry tree – a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Photo: ©Anne Pang

And finally a Dark-eyed Junco gracing Anne’s cherry tree. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Perhaps the most exciting arrival so far – this Burrowing Owl was raised in the Nicola Valley and has just returned to Loretta Holmes’ study site. Photo: ©Loretta Holmes

White Pelicans on Nicola Lake. At this time of year we regularly see these huge birds passing through and spending some time on our bigger lakes. Photo: ©Mary Masiel (Vermilion Forks Naturalists, Princeton)

Long-billed Curlews can sometimes be seen on hayfields in the Nicola Valley at this time of year – this one was near Nicola Lake. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

For several years now we’ve had a late-April outing to the Douglas Lake plateau to look for migrating Sandhill Cranes. No organized outing this year, but several of our members have been up there and found good numbers of cranes resting on their northward migration. The marshy area on the Douglas Lake Ranch just west of Chapperon Lake seems like a good place to look.

Sandhill Cranes on the Douglas Lake Ranch fields. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

A coser look at some Sandhill Cranes – April 2020. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Sandhill Cranes in the marshy area near Chapperon Lake. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Cranes starting to take off. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Cranes taking off. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Sandhill Cranes departing to continue migrating to northern breeding grounds. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

 

And of course spring is also a time when hibernating critters emerge and insects  metamorphose from larvae or hatch out ….

Common Garter Snakes emerging from their winter hibernaculum on Lundbom Common. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

The Patchett / Spius Creek forest service road has been a productive butterfly hunting ground for Bob and Bev Scafe. This is a California Tortoiseshell found there on 20 April 2020 – an unusual species in our area. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Compton Tortoiseshell – another uncommon butterfly located by Bob and Bev Scafe. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

Mourning Cloaks are one of our most common spring butterflies and one of the few butterflies to overwinter as adults. Photo: ©Bob Scafe

This is a good time to brush up on your local butterflies and moths – visit the two  identification postings that our resident lepidopteran enthusiast Bob Scafe has created:

Know your butterflies and moths – Merritt BC

More butterflies and moths of the Merritt, BC area

And it is always a treat to see those animals that are around all year:

A Hairy Woodpecker female about to depart from Anne Pang’s bird-bath. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are often hard to identify if there are no colourful males with them. Photo: ©Anne Pang

Quiz time! Here we have does of our two local deer species. Which is a Mule Deer and which a White-tailed Deer? Photos: ©Vic Newton

A Steller’s Jay at Lundbom Common. Photo: ©Frank Ritcey

What a great photo of curious River Otters! – taken at Monck Lake Park. Photo: ©Vic Newton

 

P.S. Deer Quiz – the White-tailed Deer is the one on the left, Mule Deer on the right.

 

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