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Dec 31, 2014

Looking for Snowy Owls

Photo by Ryan Schain
I drove around and about  the Holland Marsh today looking for Snowy Owls but did not spot any.   There are reports from many sources that there is a major irruption of these predators underway from northern Ontario and Quebec.   It is just a matter of time I'm sure before they show up in southern Ontario.   The reasonably wide-open Holland Marsh is a reliable spot to see these birds when they make occasional journeys south, because of heavy snow cover or cyclical rodent declines in the north.   My sister Denise lives on the east shore of James Bay in Quebec and she reports that they have had huge amounts of snow already this winter, plus the snow came early.   Today's Toronto Star newspaper reports that there are already Snowy Owls At Pearson International Airport and 14 have been captured for relocation so far this month.  
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Dec 30, 2014

Barred Owl battles Red-shouldered Hawk

The drama begins when a Red-shouldered Hawk perched too close to Barred Owl's nest in Sarasota, Florida.   Fearing it was looking for food, the owl glared at the hawk, flew after it, provoking a violent air-battle which left the owl's talons full of feathers.   Photographer Marina Scarr, who photographed the encounter, reported that neither bird was injured.   The battle included a mid-air collision (bottom photo).
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Dec 29, 2014

Big birds enjoy mild weather over Christmas

400 to 500 Canada Geese congregated on Seneca College's Lake Jonda over the Christmas holidays.   Melted ice left large patches of open water which were just what the geese seemed to be looking for.The building in the background is the old boat house that was once part of the Eaton Hall farm and estate, in King Township.   Sadly many of the old Eaton Hall outbuildings are no longer usable because of their ruinous state.   The geese don't seem to notice any of that however. 
The Christmas season was also kind to many flocks of Wild Turkeys in King Township.   They did not have to deal with snow-covered fields as they foraged for spilled remnant grain.   The 30 birds in the flock above looked sleek, healthy and, they had survived the fall hunting season.
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Dec 28, 2014

Guardian Animal Photos of the year

Britain's Guardian newspaper has selected its Guardian Animal Photographs of 2014. Below are three of the finalists.

 Photo by Rungroj Yongrit / EPA
A Bryde's Whale and seagulls feast on anchovies in the Gulf of Thailand.

 Photo by Ina Fassbinder /Reuters
An Eagle Owl fluffs its featrhers as it sits on one foot on a branch, in its enclosure
 at the Grugapark, Germany.

Photo by Mike Segar / Reuters
A Northern Cardinal sits on a tree branch in falling snow in the New York suburb of Nyack.

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Dec 27, 2014

Birds and butterflies are in the same boat

Photo by BarrytheBirder
Monarch Butterfly in a Canadian garden north of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Photos above and below:
Monarch Butterfly-watching in Mexico is ethereal and mesmerizing.
Armed guards are now used to protect Monarch Butterfly habitat in Mexico.
A local guide in central Mexico is covered in Monarch Butterflies.
Monarch populations are declining drastically, thanks to a deadly combination of factors that include illegal logging in Mexico, wildfires, droughts, and an alarming loss of their crucial milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada.   Last winter marked the lowest Monarch Butterfly count ever recorded.   The North American monarch population has declined 90% over the past two decades.   Numbers dropped from 1 billion monarchs to about 35 million.   Scientists are asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to classify the monarch as "threatened" under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.   In 1996, monarchs covered 50 acres of forest in Mexico in winter.   This past winter they occupied a mere 1.66 acres.   One wonders how much longer we can afford to be always playing catch-up on pending environmental disasters.   And what of the dichotomy between butterflies and poor farmers?
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Dec 26, 2014

Audubon sounds alarm. Are we listening?

Young Common Loons, like the juvenile above, left high and dry when Wyoming's Bergman Reservoir was drained for irrigation, will be come an increasingly rare sight in the United States' northern lakes as the climate warms and the species' breeding grounds shift into Canada. (Photo: Michael Quinton/Minden Pictures/National Geographic Creative)
Croplands have been claiming North Dakota's prairie potholes for many years.   The state's current energy boom only adds to the pressures on habitat, especially for wild animals and birds. (Photo: Jim Brandenburg/Minden Pictures)

The photos above appear in Audubon's new study (A Storm Gathers for North American Birds) by Michelle Nijhuis, on the pending devastation that global warming will have on birds and their habitats. The photos saddened and shocked me, as did Audubon's contention that "Of the 588 species Audubon studied, 314 are likely to find themselves in dire straits by 2080".     Audubon says that only if the oil companies and every citizen begins to reduce the severity of global warming will this unprecedented threat be overcome.   As evidence of the scope of what is happening in just North Dakota, the writer states that every day companies use hydraulic fracturing to extract nearly a million barrels of oil from the Bakken formation, a layer of shale that lies two miles down.   Roughly 8,000 wells are operating already, and an additional 40,000 could be drilled and fracked in the next 20 to 30 years!   I can't recommend highly enough the reading of this Audubon document.   It is a few keystrokes away on the internet, at
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Dec 25, 2014

My pick for best-looking stork? The Black-necked

Photo byPaul Thomsen
The Black-necked Stork
Ephippiorhyncus asiaticus
There are 15 species of storks in the world and I think the Black-necked Stork is the most attractive.   I'm sure I would get a strong argument for the rather garish Painted Stork or the quite impressive Saddle-backed Stork.   It's the dramatic black bill, head and neck that do it for me...and the red legs.   This dramatic-looking bird is native to south and south-east Asia and Australia.   It's numbers in Asia are low however and individual birds are few and far between.   It's numbers are somewhat stronger in Australia (between 10,000 and 20,000) but not enough however, to keep it from being listed as "Near Threatened" on the IUCN Red List.   This bird is strongly territorial and other birds such as the egret, seen in the photo below at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary near Guahati, India, remove themselves quickly when the stork approaches.   The Black-necked Stork is a carnivore with a large diversity in its diet, which can include other waterbirds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, crabs, molluscs, turtle eggs and hatchlings, many species of insects and other creatures.
Photo by Anupam Nath / AP
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Dec 24, 2014

Pity the birds - pity Bangladesh

Photo: Zuma / Rex Features
A kingfisher (above) is washed with water to remove oil from its feathers after the Southern Star VII tanker collided with another ship and spilled thousands of litres of furnace oil into the Shela River, in the Sundarban mangrove forest in Bangladesh.   The collision occured on December 14th.   The Sundarban Forest is one of the world's largest mangrove forests and early reports said that 34,000 hectares of the fragile ecosytem had been affected by the spilled oil.   Bangladesh is hard pressed to supply the expertise and equipment to deal with an environmental disaster such as this.   The UN has now intervened in dealing with the aftermath.   It is not just birds endangered by the spill, but rare river dolphins and hundreds of tigers, as well as huge numbers of fish.   While the oil spill occurred in central Bangladesh, its effect, if not dealt with quickly, could reach all the way to the Bay of Bengal, in the Indian Ocean.   
Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by Khairul Alam / Asociated Press
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Dec 23, 2014

Eagle aerobatics over Alabama

 Photos by Joe Songer
Two juvenile Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) are seen in aerial combat, over a pine cone, as they test their flying manoeuvres above the the waters at Guntersville Dam on the Tennessee River, in northern Alabama, USA.   When the eagles get tired of playing with pine cones, there are 450 fish species (the main food source of eagles) in Alabama: the most species of any state or province in North America.

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Dec 22, 2014

Did you hear that rumbling?

Photo by Gunnar R. Kramer / Reuters
A Golden-winged Warbler is seen in the Cumberland Mountains of eastern middle Tennessee, USA.   Scientists have said a population of the warblers fled their nesting grounds up to two days before the arrival of a massive storm, apparently alerted to the approaching danger by sounds at frequencies below the range of human hearing.

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Dec 21, 2014

Good news about Crested Ibis in China

Photo by Ding Haitao/Corbis
The endangered Crested Ibis (Nipponia nippon) is seen above in the forest at Tongchuan City, in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province.   This ibis was once thought to be extinct, but the number of Crested Ibis has increased from seven 1981 to more than 2,000 now.   The Crested Ibis was once numerous in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Russia.   The last one in Japan died in 2003, and the remaining wild population was found only in Shaanxi Province.   Captive bred birds were reintroduced back into Japan in 2008.   Restoration projects in China, Japan and South Korea seem to showing great promise.
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Dec 20, 2014

Drone photographs eagle

Photo: Dendi Pratam/dronestagram
Dronestagram, a bird's-eye view image sharing site, launched in 2014 has become so popular that National Geographic recently co-produced a contest to show some of the more interesting photos being taken.   The contest produced some of the most exciting photographs every taken by a drone camera.   See and learn more by Googling dronestagram or go to 

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Dec 19, 2014

The end of vultures?

Eurasian Griffon Vulture
Photo by Chris Hellier/Corbis
Diclofenac, an anti-immflamatory agent and painkiller was introduced around the end of the 20th century in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh to treat sick cattle.   But cattle carcasses eaten by vultures caused a fatal kidney condition and within a few years vultures declined by an amazing 99.9% across south Asia.   The worst-affected species were the Long-billed, Slender-billed and Oriental White-backed Vultures which all suffered population crashes in south Asia.   Without significant international action, all three species are likely headed to extinction.   Now, Spain and Italy are considering allowing Diclofenac to be used in their countries, even though a safe alternative exists.   What may be lost?   Spain holds the vast majority of four of the most vulnerable species: 90% of the continent's Eurasian Griffon Vultures, 97% of the continent's Cinereous Vultures, 67% of the continent's Bearded Vultures and 85% of the continent's Egyptian Vultures.   Many are working against this threat.   Spread the word and be part of the solution.
Cinereous Vulture
Photo: Prague Zoo/Wikipedia
Egyptian Vulture
Photo by Carlos Delgado/Wikipedia
Bearded Vulture
Photo by Tony Heald/

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Dec 18, 2014

My favourite hummingbird pictures

The recent bird photographs, by Dave Kemp, that I posted in this space a few days ago, got me to thinking about my favourite photos by this gentleman from the lower British Columbia mainland.   The pictures are of a female Anna's Hummingbird and nestlings.   These photos are beautiful of course, but the other word that comes to mind is intimate.   I feel I could reach out and touch this wonderful bird.   Anna's Hummingbirds not only eat nectar, but also consume small insects.   In fact, they eat the largest amount of insects of all North American hummingbirds.   Maybe the large meat diet explains the Anna's aggressive and highly territorial behaviour.


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Dec 17, 2014

"Two turtle doves and a..."

Photo: Wild Wonders of Europe/Varesvuo/ 

UK Turtle Doves decline 95% since 1970!
The European Turtle Dove is the fastest declining bird in England, declining 95% over the past 44 years and the State of Europe's Common Birds 2007 report has stated that the decline of Turtle Doves in Europe has fallen 75% since 1980.   The causes?   Food shortage and disease.   The British Ecological Society and the Societe Francaise d'Ecologie recently explained how agricultural environment schemes encouraging farmers to include areas containing early-seeding arable plants on their lands can provide crucial food sources for many birds.   By planting seed-rich plants as widely as possible, farmers can also help reduce the spread of parasites between birds.   The societies' study detected high levels of Tricohomonas gallinae, the parasite which causes tricohomonas lesions and death in both adults and nestlings.   If an analysis confirms a direct link between food availability and health and reproductive success, it is believed that it may be possible the reverse the population trend of Turtle Doves through agri-environment initiatives that provide more seed during the mating season.  
Photo by: John A. Thompson / Wikipedia
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Dec 16, 2014

Pelican almost swallowed by whale

Photo by Kate Cummings / Barcroft Media
A Brown Pelican is almost swallowed by a Humpback Whale off Monterey, halfway along the California coast.   The pelican had been floating on the water's surface eating fish, when the whale burst from the sea to collect a mouthful of anchovies. 

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Dec 15, 2014

More British Columbia birds by Dave Kemp

No sooner had I completed Sunday's blog entry of Dave Kemp bird photos from Canada's west coast, than a second batch of great shots showed up in my email, and I am pleased to share them also in this space.

Northern Shrike
Great Blue Heron (mirror-like image)
Great Blue Heron (with mouse)
Northern Harrier (female)

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Dec 14, 2014

Photos from Canada's west coast by Dave Kemp

Over the last couple of years, I've had the pleasure of seeing many bird photographs by Dave Kemp.   Dave resides in the village of Steveston in southern British Columbia, near the ocean and has unlimited opportunities to take wonderful photos.   For the past several months however, I have not be able to open many of Dave's emails which contain his latest pictures.   I admit I am a Luddite when it comes to computers.   Actually I'm not sure I have ever figured out how paper clips work.   But this week an email arrived from Dave and, miracle of miracles, I was able to download some of his recent bird photos which I am please to share in the space.
All photos by Dave Kemp
                                                              Northern Harrier                                                        
Orange-crowned Warbler
I was especially interested to see Dave's photo (above) of an Orange-crowned Warbler.   What is special about this shot is that one can readily see the orange patch on the top of the bird's head.   Most people rarely or never see the orange feathering.   Many bird books tell readers that they should not be surprised to not see the orange spot.   My National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America states: "Tawny-orange crown, absent in some females and immatures, is seldom discernible in the field".   Meanwhile, my Peterson Field Guide says: "Orange of crown seldom visible".   I've only ever seen this warbler's orange topknot once.   The bird was migrating through my backyard a little over four years ago and I was able to see the small patch of orange on top of its head.
White-crowned Sparrow
Short-eared Owl
More of Dave's photos can be seen by Googling Dave Kemp's Picture perfect Photo Gallery or going to

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Dec 13, 2014

Chadwick's chicken

                                                                                           Painting by Phil Chadwick
My friend Phil Chadwick, former weatherman and now painter, is taking a few days off from painting to prepare for Christmas.   He is however showing, on his blogsite, older paintings from his pre-plein air days.   I can only describe the painting above as brilliant, in hue and composition.   Here's how Phil describes the painting above, which he describes  as "...a blast from the past", on his blogsite: "This is one of my brother's rescued chickens strutting in the shade of an outdoor pen.   He bought a dozen or so of these hens for a buck a bird.   They were to go into the pot, but (his) brother gave then a home, plenty of food and lots of water.   The girls responded beautifully and started to lay eggs like never before.   There feet had all curled up and now in their new surroundings, they healed and they strut again.   This is a good news story!".   Prints of his paintings, from both his studio-painting days and now his plein air days, are available by going to    

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Dec 12, 2014

What to do with 20 cms. of snow?

If you  are a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) and 20 centimetres of snow are falling, you latch onto a solid perch, puff-up your feathers as much as you are able, close your eyes and dream of full bird feeders, continuously re-filled throughout the rest of the winter.
Photos by BarrytheBirder
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Dec 11, 2014

Stretching their wings...

 Photo by John Tajima / Cater News
Photo by Owen Humphreys / PA
These two co-incidental lookalike photographs were supplied by press services to news outlets and likely showed up in many  printed newspapers and on their websites this week. I spotted them on the Telegraph Picture Galleries.   The two juxtaposed similar poses, caught my eye, as I'm sure they did other online birders.   In the top photo, photographer John Tajima captured the Great Grey Owl snatching up a mouse, near the Ottawa River Park, in Canada's capital city. In the bottom photo, by Owen Humphreys, a plump turkey makes a run for it at Fenham-La-Moor farm, in Northumberland, England.   I'm betting it did not become airborne.

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