March 27, 2022

Turdus migratorius Migration

American Robins are quintessential early bird whose appearance at the end of winter gives hope for longer and warmer days.

Rick Howie, retired BC Habitat Biologist and one of Canada’s best naturalist explains robin migration.

“While migration is heavily influenced by day length and the genetics of birds themselves, temperature and weather do trigger bird movements. In the spring, the northward movement of Robins often matches a line across North America where the average temperature is 2 degrees centigrade. As temperatures warm and this isotherm moves northward, the majority of robins follow it. Many birds have the capacity to sense advancing pressure systems so it is possible that they could move south ahead of a major cold front while fighting the urge to remain north as the day lengthen towards spring. The benefits of staying north and being the first birds back to the grounds can be risky business.”

Posted on March 27, 2022 22:02 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2022

Snow Fleas

If you have not seen them you would likely classify Snow Fleas in the same category as the Sasquatch and SideHill Gougers. But those who have seen thousands of tiny dark specks hopping about on the snow, know that Snow Fleas are real.

They are usually seen on winter days when the temperature is warmer than -4 degrees C. During these days, the Snow Fleas are moving about on the snow surface searching for something to eat — usually pollen or other windblown organic material.

Snow Fleas are not fleas in the true sense, but belong to an order of insects called Springtails. They are minute, wingless insects that normally move about by walking on the tips of their claws. However, when frightened they release· their springtail (an appendage that is bent forward under the body just in-front of the rear end) which catapults them forward. It is this hopping motion that gives them their common name - Snow flea.

Snow Fleas are not the only insects capable of surviving in cold weather. There are also Snow Spiders, Snow Scorpion-flies and Snow Crane Flies. They all demonstrate a remarkable biological phenomenon of remaining active in sub-zero temperatures. There is not a great deal known about how these cold-blooded insects manage this feat. However, Naturalist John Woods men­tions in his article One Step From Death “that the Snow Cranefly body fluids freeze slightly below zero enabling them to function in a supercooled state.” In other words they can move about when they should be frozen solid. John also states "we do know that supercooled animals are living on the edge of death. A sudden jolt, the knock from a branch, a whack from a falling clump of snow, can start a chain reaction crystallizing their body fluids and killing them in their tracks." Whether or not Snow Fleas operate with a similar an­tifreeze is not known. In any case, knowing that Snow Fleas do exist should make your next winter walk or cross-country ski trip more interesting.

Posted on February 11, 2022 03:17 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 04, 2021

Chickadee Love Song

Most everyone can identify the bird that sings a rapid, nasal chickadee-dee-dee. It is the call the chickadee uses to challenge intruder or to express alarm and it can be heard anytime during the year. However in April, which is the beginning of the courtship season, the chickadee adds a less familiar tune to its vocabulary. It sings a sweet two-toned whistle of two or three notes, the first being higher and longer than the last one or
two. This "love song" sounds like feee-bee or if you listen closer to lunchtime it sounds more like cheezzee-burger. The song can be heard from now until the early part of the nesting season. It is a delightful ditty, which means spring is here.

Posted on April 04, 2021 03:48 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 29, 2020

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl, an owl in hawk's clothing. It is a fitting description
considering the bird’s appearance and behaviour. At first glance, the crow
sized Hawk Owl resembles an overgrown Kestrel. The wings are relatively
short and pointed and its flight is swift and direct. The tail is long and
wedge shaped. Another hawk-like similarity is its habit of perching on the
tops of power poles or dead trees to survey the ground for movement of
small mammals. When the prey is spotted it drops from its perch and bullets
towards its meal (usually a meadow vole). Hunting during the daylight makes
the Hawk Owl even more akin to hawks. Yet, with all these similarities, the
Hawk Owl’s large head, soft feathers and large yellow eyes mark it as a
true owl.

The reason it is called Northern Hawk Owl is that they are essentially a
sub-artic bird. Occasionally, though, they wander south during sever
winters when food shortages occur in the north.

Posted on November 29, 2020 23:29 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 09, 2020

House Finches are Singing

The songs of House Finches were not always heard in the Columbia Valley. In fact they were unknown in the province until 1935, when a pair of House Finches were reported nesting in Penticton. By 1937 they had also arrived on the coast and were observed nesting in Victoria. From these 2 small pioneering populations the House Finch launched its rapid range expansion into British Columbia. By 1970 it had moved east into the Southern Interior Mountains and was recorded near Cranbrook. House Finches first appeared on the Lake Windermere Christmas Bird Count in 1994 And now are a common sighting at local bird feeders.

Posted on June 09, 2020 13:45 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 14, 2020

Columbia Spotted Frog Tadpole

For the last couple of weeks Columbia Spotted Frog tadpoles are changing (metamorphosis) into frogs. You can see the fully developed hind legs in this photo. The front legs develop inside the tadpole’s body and do not become visible until they pop out fully formed. This tadpole had also lost it’s gills and was seen swimming to the surface to suck in air. The tail is the last to disappear as it is reabsorbed into the body.

Metamorphosis is a particularly hazardous time for amphibians as they do function well in either water or on land. At this stage they are less efficient at avoiding predation than either tadpoles or frogs.

Posted on February 14, 2020 05:09 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Wolf Tracks

Wolves spend 8 -10 hours/day on the move and can travel great distances.

Wolf tracks, like those of all canids, show four toes on each foot with claw marks present. The tracks of a wolf and large a dog are indistinguishable, even to a trained wolf biologist.
The secret to telling the two apart is not in looking at the tracks, but in examining the behaviour of the animal that made them. A dog will move in a wandering crisscrossing path, stopping often to play, sniff, and dig. A wolf, on the other hand, moves more in a direct line. They march most often in single file and only stray from their course to investigate danger or potential food.

The wolf's front legs are close together but their knees turn in and their paws turn outward allowing their front feet to set a path which their hind feet follow precisely. When trotting, wolves leave a neat single line of track, an advantage when moving through deep snow.

Wolf tracks will wander more when snow is not too deep, creating a pattern of braided footprints and making it easier for observers to number individuals traveling in the pack. There were 5 in this pack.

So next time you are out in the snow - check for tracks.

Posted on February 14, 2020 00:53 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 16, 2020

River Otters

Observations of River Otters in the Columbia Valley have been increasing. The one pictured here was seen swimming in open water of the Columbia River

Otters rely upon the presence of clean, unpolluted water for their food, primarily fish. The ones in the Columbia Valley feed mainly on Northern Pikeminnows (Squawfish) and in the fall eat spawning Kokanee Salmon. South of Toby Creek you can often see the shell remains from where otters have eaten freshwater mollusks.

Because otters are high in the food chain, they are particularly susceptible to the accumulation of organic compounds and heavy metals. This makes them good indicators of contaminant levels in the aquatic environments. So it is a good sign that River Otter numbers are increasing in the upper Columbia Valley.

Posted on January 16, 2020 05:58 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 13, 2020

Stories in the Snow

One of the fun things to do this time of year is to go into the wetlands looking for animal tracks in the snow. Pictured here are tracks of a coyote and weasel that cross paths but what is the strange design over their tracks? The design was made by an elk slipping on ice.

Posted on January 13, 2020 03:17 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 10, 2020

Wintering Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles feed mainly on fish, either self-caught or taken from Osperys. But when fish are scarce they prey on smaller mammals like hares, muskrats and beavers. They will also take waterfowl and can be seen forcing ducks and coots to dive again and again until the exhausted bird is easily captured. However in winter when the waters freeze the Bald Eagles that remain in the Columbia Valley rely largely on carrion.

Photo immature Bald Eagle feeding on a White-tailed Deer carcass. The deer was likely kill by a train as it was near the railway tracks..

Posted on January 10, 2020 15:43 by larryhalverson larryhalverson | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment