wI have spent quite a bit of time in various bird blinds this spring, watching and photographing waterfowl. On three separate occasions, I had the good fortune to enjoy a ring-side seat as Common Goldeneyes underwent their mating ritual.
It was so interesting to observe! The male would first undergo some ritualized displays in front of the female, including stretching his neck in the air, flipping water with his beak and doing some big leg stretches. When she lowered her head into the water to signal her permission, he would rise up in the water, circle to her back, and climb aboard. Her head would be dipped below the surface for a few seconds, then she would resurface and they would twirl around for about 15 seconds during coitus. The deed done, he would then dismount and swim off, usually shaking his head. She would swim away and take a vigorous bath.
These images are quite heavily cropped, which shows the sequence but has resulted in them being a bit grainy. Enjoy!
We have just returned from an interesting ramble east. There was plenty of wildlife (including thousands of Sandhill Cranes!) and we were happy to savour a beautiful afternoon with friends and crocuses in the Neutral Hills. The drought and early frosts were hard on the crocuses in that area this spring; only the most resilient have succeeded in thrusting themselves skyward through the tough prairie soil and dry brittle grass.
Although pale, small and scarred by merciless weather, these hard-scrabble beauties pronounce—as they have for millennia—the end of winter. Using an old manual-focus macro lens, I enjoyed some quality time in the sunshine, on my belly, in the rarified company of these iconic spring gems.
I am honoured to have one of my images grace the cover of the winter 2021 issue of Nature Alberta. This image highlights an article about one of Alberta's iconic birds - the Eastern Kingbird. Here is a link to the Nature Alberta website (https://naturealberta.ca/) and a link to the magazine (https://naturealberta.ca/magazine/). Nature Alberta is an organization that is a voice and active champion for the appreciation and conservation of Alberta's natural environment. A life-time membership is only $10.00(!) and an annual subscription for the magazine (four issues per year) is only $30.00. I encourage everyone who cares about nature to join this great organization.
Let a chickadee cheer you up this winter! Bird watching is a hobby that has taken off during COVID-19
Myrna quoted in this article.
By Gary Poignant in Alberta Prime Times
Enjoy this article here
When I was invited to speak at the North American Bluebird Society conference in Kearney, Nebraska, last week, we were lucky to have a generous friend arrange to take us out to see a Greater Prairie-Chicken lek. Prairie Chickens have been on my bucket list for many years.
Greater Prairie-Chickens once inhabited the sweeping grasslands of North America, including the prairie regions of Alberta and Saskatchewan. However, their range has been greatly reduced, thanks to habitat loss, hunting and competition from the introduced Ring-necked Pheasant. They are now found only in a few American states.
We arrived at the lek, located on a small hilltop in a large native pasture, just before dawn. We sat quietly in the inky cold, awaiting the arrival of the males. We were first alerted that the show was about to begin by a sound - the ethereal cooing call of the first arriving male. He was joined by another dozen or so other males and we were soon surrounded by mournful-sounding balladeers.
The birds materialized as the darkness slowly faded and we were, for the next couple of hours, treated to an amazing sight. Our guide explained that the females would not likely put in an appearance for another couple of weeks, so it was a treat to have one show up, just before the sun's first rays kissed the hill. Her presence threw the males into paroxysms of dance but she, apparently finding no suitors to her liking, soon scurried away over the far hill.
As the sun came up on this perfect Nebraska spring morning, we enjoyed a spectacle of colour, activity and sound. I was quite amazed at how different their dance moves are from Sharp-tailed Grouse (which are still found, albeit in declining numbers, in Alberta) and it was apparent that these birds inspired the famed Indigenous chicken dances.
Like all lek species, male Prairie-Chickens defend a small territory on the dancing ground. To demonstrate their prowess, they extend their orange eye combs, lower their heads, raise their neck feather tufts (called pinnae) to reveal bright orange air sacs that create a booming sound, stamp their feet, click their tails and shake their wings. They divide their time between looking around and fighting with each other. Their sparring alternates between stand offs, chasing each other and - on occasion - leaping into the air to do battle with wings, feet and bills, They also perform flutter jumps, leaping into the air while flapping their wings and issuing loud vocalizations. It was a challenge to photograph them performing these spontaneous jumps!
Our guide advised us that it is usually only one male that mates with all the visiting females - he with the most experience, the most impressive eye combs, longest legs, and best territories (nearest the center of the lek). As with all grouse species, no pair bond is formed and the males play no further role with the family.
We left the blind - hearts filled with joy - after the warm morning sun melted the frost and the males had wandered off to feed for the day. What a privilege it was to bear witness to this marvel of nature.
It has been far too long since I'd updated this website and updated my blog. If you want to follow me, I do update my Facebook page on a regular basis. We made a trip to Edmonton last week - to check the 3rd (!) printing of Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide. While there, we slipped up to St. Albert to try to catch a glimpse of the Ash-throated Flycatcher that has been seen at Lois Hole Provincial Park. Well, the bird was a no show (it hasn't been seen for a couple days) but we were greatly entertained by the local chickadees!
I have always had a soft spot in my heart for porcupines. I remember my parents being upset when a porcupine decided to chew on the outhouse seats, and I have had the occasional nasty task of pulling quills from the muzzle of our family dog. But it is always a treat to encounter this prickly rodents, and it is always a treat to be able to get some photos.
Last week, while hiking on a natural area near Endiang, we encountered this young porcupine ambling down the trail towards us. My friend circled around to encourage it to continue walking my way so I could take some photos. The tall grass made it difficult to get a clear shot, but I was happy with this image. I will post more images later.
Over the years, I’ve had several encounters with Ruffed Grouse, the most common and widespread grouse species in Alberta. On winter rambles, I’ve come upon the plunge holes where they have spent a cold winter’s night snug under the snow. Last winter, we were delighted to have two resident grouse feed on the scattered seeds beneath the bird feeders and dine on the willow tree buds. In the spring, I’ve spent many an hour watching the males drum and, in early summer, have seen grouse families. Encountering a mother and her chicks is always a thrill. At first, a defensive mother tries to be intimidating (she raises her crest feathers, fluffs out her neck ruff, spreads her tail, makes threatening sounds and charges) but if that doesn’t work, she drops to the ground and freezes in place. A couple summers ago, I got my first-ever glimpse of newly hatched chicks (called cheepers). It is my opinion that they are the most adorable of all baby birds!
My most recent encounter with a grouse was in early September, when a friend and I had the good fortune to spend a few days in the Nordegg area. While ambling through a mixed-wood forest area, we heard a grouse drumming. Male grouse will sometimes drum in the fall because the hours of daylight match those of spring, reactivating their hormones. It is thought that fall drumming may also serve as a territorial notice; a message to other males that the log/area has already been claimed and will be used again in the spring.
This male was extremely tame, so we spent some interesting hours watching and photographing him. After about 10 minutes of drumming on a high log, he seemed to lose interest and wandered off. Just when we thought he had disappeared, he ambled across the path in front of us, nibbling away at small buds. It was remarkable how well camouflaged he was, his plumage perfectly matching that of the underbrush. He melted again into the trees, but just as we were about to leave the area, we heard him drumming again, this time from atop a steep ridge. We quietly made our way to this new spot and sat in awe a mere five metres away as he drummed every few minutes for the next half hour or so. He was obviously aware of our presence, as he would occasionally cast a glance our way. However, he must have considered us non-threatening because he continued to display. After snapping some images, we left him alone to boom his prowess to the other grouse in the valley.
We hope to return in the spring to see if this very cooperative male survived the winter and is back on his log.
I hope you enjoy a few grouse images that I've been able to collect over the years.
Re-posting these images or publishing is not permitted without Myrna's written consent.
Copyright Myrna Pearman Publishing 2020 - Site design and maintenance by Carolyn Sandstrom