Bugs on the Trail


It is a nice time of year to take photos of not only birds, but also all those bugs, like butterflies, dragonflies and bees, etc. and I did some of that while on the Shoreline Trail at Elk Island National Park. I previously wrote something on this subject but to my knowledge it was not saved or published, so I am going to try again.

A beautiful bumblebee gorging on clover.
White Admiral Butterfly amidst Prickly Rose
Outer Wing Design of an Azure Blue Butterfly
Inner Wings of an Azure Blue Butterfly
Seven -spotted Ladybug, an introduced spies to Alberta
Wood Nymph Butterfly
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

There are a few that still elude me, but I am having fun going out and about, seeing what catches my eye and am sure there is always more to see.


Red-Necked Grebes


When I returned to the lake last Saturday, the first place I went to was the boardwalk to check on the nesting Redneck Grebe. Still sitting. Here is the nest from last week when both parents were quite busy building it up.

Both were busy adding to the nest as is typical.
This week where some of the nest has disappeared but it is substantial under the eggs.

I am expecting, ha, no pun intended, that the chicks will hatch this week, as they incubate for about 21-33 days. While one was incubating, its partner was bringing more material to firm up the nest. They both take turns sitting on the eggs and building the nest. That must be a tough job since it has been raining every day for weeks. Today is an exception. Cloudy, but no rain! Yay!

That is a long stretch.
Grebe family with their two chicks out in the bay. Parents seem to be having a lively and noisy discussion.
One of the parents feeding it’s chick a juicy tidbit.
Close-up of one of the Chicks
Parents take turns staying with chicks and going to fetch food.

It was fun watching the families in this bay. Red necked grebes will nest in colonies with spaces in between. They are the noisiest ones on the lake with long, braying calls, squawks, clucks. etc. After the chicks hatch, they will mostly ride on their parents back for 7-10 days, and will stay on even while diving. The young may be fed by the parents for up to a month and a half, and can fly at 50–70 days.

I am eager to return and hope to capture some images of the young on the parents back.

The Grass is Greener…


Most of you know the rest of this popular saying. I saw this in action the other night. Let the pictures tell the story.

No animal was harmed in the process of this shoot. At first I was concerned about how he got his head out of the fence, then realized it was a double hole.

I did learn that I need to be careful how I upload and store photos. I usually upload to Windows, then edit in Corel Paintshop Pro. When I upload, the file numbers start over, so I get duplicate numbers for different photos. It wasn’t a problem at first until I clicked on Edit, to go back to the original image, but instead of the one I was working on, it went back to the first image of the same name and I lost the image that I was working on. This taught me that I need to make sub-folders within larger folders or risk losing some photos when I have so many files of the same name within one large folder. Gee, I liked that photo…it was a picture of another rabbit within the enclosure. Live and Learn.

Review of Birds Seen at Elk Island

I started taking the bus to Elk Island National Park in early June and thought it might be a good time to review what birds I have seen so far this summer. I have not seen the over 260 species said to be there but I am working on my list as well as checking up on what some of the familiar birds are doing. I will not be going this weekend because I am taking photos for a friend’s party but have booked my seat for the 20th, which is Parks Day and will be crowded with people, but hoping for the best with the animals and birds as well.

Adult American Coot feeding its Week-old Chick
American Bittern Fly-By
Female Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker
Alder Flycatcher call sounded like “Free Beer” but I may be wrong, and feel free to correct me.
Female Common Yellowthroat
Male Common Yellowthroat
Ring-billed Gull
White-throated Sparrow
Common Sandpiper
House Wren
Male Ruddy Duck
Female Ruddy Duck
Red-necked Grebe Family
Double-Crested Cormorants
Cedar Waxwing
Black Tern
Yellow Warbler
American White Pelican
American Crow
Pair of Lesser Scaup
Franklin’s Gull
Pair of Blue-winged Teal
A Gaggle of Geese (Canada)
Common Tern
Green Winged Teal

There are more birds that I have I have not included here or did not get photos of, but perhaps this gives you an idea of why I keep going back. There is always a hope of seeing something new or the joy of revisiting something that is familiar. It is worth the achy knees and hips, mosquito bites and getting wet in downpours to have my time to enjoy communing with nature, breathe the air and observe and learn from the creatures. I look forward to new adventures and sharing them with you.

Coot Family Feeding

This blog is showing the more “pleasant” family gatherings while parents feed the week-old chicks. Most of the family groups that I observed at this particular spot at Astotin Lake have on average, 3-6 chicks. Both parents were feeding the young, sometimes all together, sometimes dividing the chicks into two groups.

The larger sibling got the prize of the big leech after it was shaken and washed in the water, but the smaller one had been fed just before this.
The chick is calm while it approaches one of the parents.
The parent is obliging.
The chick has received a morsel of some sort.
Later in the afternoon after I took a short hike.
Another parent and chick. I love how they flap their wings in anticipation or excitement!

The strong orange “ornaments” last 7-10 days. Some parents will show preference to the most ornamental but I saw a couple of cases where the parent fed the larger sibling of the clutch. A group of American coots are called a “raft” or “cover”.

Walking through Grasses

While at Elk Island, making my rounds of the ponds, I walked through a small grassy area following butterflies and dragonflies. One butterfly that has evaded me was the Meadow Fritillary, always ahead of me, almost always on the move, so the one shot I got was mostly obscured by grass. I will try again.

Meadow Fritillary Butterfly
Four Spotted Skimmer
This may be a Black Meadowhawk?

While I was concentrating on following a butterfly I heard a s-s-s-s sound. I looked to my left and the hissing was coming from a gander protecting his family that were just entering the pond. His tongue was sticking out so I apologised (how Canadian of me!) and backed off, but got a shot of him and his family before going back to following the butterfly.

I backed off and took a shot. While not hissing, he is still keeping an eye on me.
If only I could get closer…
Mission accomplished! Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Male Ruddy Duck on Alert

This handsome fellow is sharing a pond with a Coot, a pair of Lesser Scaups and a muskrat. Something sure got his attention because he was chucking, churning up the water with his tail erect and crest raised, vigorously bobbing his head up and down, bringing it close to his body then stretching his neck out, even flying across the pond in a rush. I think he has a mate hiding close by on a nest. They were together on the pond last week.

The ruddy duck is one of my favourite ducks, just because he is small and colourful. Also he puts on such a display and is very aggressive when breeding and defending the nest. He arrives a little before the female then they breed. The hen will lay one egg a day , the size of her body weight or more, producing a clutch of up to eight eggs and will incubate about 25 days. When they are threatened, they will usually dive, but I think the flight here is meant to make him look bigger and fierce.

Small duck with a big presence, crest risen, tail erect
He is focused on something and swimming toward it.
A short vigorous rush to scare off whatever.
He is swimming forward and churning the water, making bubbles.
Here is a photo from last week of the male and female Ruddy Duck and American Coot sneaking up from behind.

Red Necked Grebes Nest Building

These two were very busy building their nest up after torrential rains, with three eggs on the nest. They are only about 15 feet from the boardwalk at Elk Island National Park, which makes for good viewing but probably stressful for them. I have seen them on the nest on two different weekends so maybe another week or two? They incubate for 21-33 days and are precocial which means they leave the nest immediately spending most of their time on their parents’ back for the first 10-17 days.

Both worked together fetching plant materials and reeds.
One parent bringing more reeds.
A good mouthful of nest material.
Doing some fine-tuning around the eggs.
Back to incubating
A parent with two fledglings in the larger bay.
The adults feed their young for about 54 days.

Disturbing Behaviour from Coots

I know that not too long ago I commented that I have a strong respect for the parenting skills of Adult American Coots. I may have to retract that statement because now I have seen something more disturbing and I am recording the behaviour. Please be forewarned that this is disturbing to see.

I remember the most recent photos of the babies with one leaving the nest to pursue the food brought by a parent in the entrance, while the other two held back. There were two unhatched eggs in the nest This time, one week later, the nest was empty and looked like the clutch moved to a more private location.

I spotted one clutch under some reeds, not far from the original nest. I saw one chick leave the clutch and incessantly follow one adult across open water. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same eager hungry chick as last week, as it kept taking off on its own.

This one followed the adult incessantly, also feeding itself with greens.
Feed me, Feed me!
Getting Fed or maybe not?

I saw it was fed, but then bit on the head. Once the little one went running back to the nest but soon was out in the open, following the one adult, begging. I first thought it was being too greedy and/or too dangerous being alone out in the open , so was getting a scolding and told to go back with the others. It was a very aggressive bite. The chick backed off temporarily, then followed the adult again.

Is the adult trying to kill it?
This looks ominous, right after the bite to the head.
Definitely stopped this little one in its tracks, looks stunned.
and later, further away, another attack.

I decided to look this up and found out that Coots will “tousle” the chicks grabbing them by the neck and the explanations given were that adults will attack to punish a chick for being too greedy, or kill one that may have been laid in their nest by another hen or kill one if the food supply is low. I think that, like me, the reasons may be little more than guesses rather than scientific fact. I was taking photos of the smallest ones in different families so I am not sure that I recorded only one chick, but think this was the same one, because it would keep returning for more food and more abuse. It made me feel sad, and I doubt I will find it again next week.

I found out Coots are monogamous for life. they have a selective courting structure and will take time before committing to their partner and copulating. The female lays one egg a day usually between late afternoon and evening. They will lay two clutches in a season, an average of up to 9 eggs the first time and 6 the second time, however may suffer high mortality rates due to lack of food availability. Females may make many nests before selecting one for brooding. When there are large clutches, the females may lay their eggs in other nests and there are studies that recorded up to 40% parasitism over a period of 4 years. Parents imprint their first hatches and can tell which chicks do not belong to them and will reject, drown, starve or otherwise kill them. The chicks with the most ornaments or bright feathers, are susceptible to predation but also the most preferential to the parents. The ornamental feathers bleach out after 6 days and become adult coloured after 4 months. Both male and female look the same with the female being smaller. Both sexes will build the nests, with the female doing the majority of the work. Both sexes will incubate up to 21 days with the male sitting on the eggs the most. Sources from Wikipedia.

Right Place at the Right Time

The Parkbus that I rode on went through the Bison Loop upon entering the Elk Island National Park and except for long-distance glimpses, we saw nothing. People went hiking or picnicking and I went wandering with my camera. I did not see too much variety, but what I did see made me very happy.

The best was the last. We had boarded the bus for the return trip to the city when we saw the bison loop field was full of Bison bulls, cows and calves returning from their time in the west field. The herd usually cross the road in the morning and return at night or late afternoon. Our bus driver stopped so we could take photos through the open windows then asked if we wanted to go through the Bison Loop- she received a resounding Yes! It was good to see a herd of bison and especially the red calves, some of whom appeared quite young.

This isn’t the full herd, I think there are about 500 in the park but it was nice to see a small group. I found myself imagining what it would have been like to witness the gigantic herds of long ago. These are the Plains bison, who live in the Park on the north side of the highway. The wood bison live on the south side of the highway. These are the photos I managed to take.

One or two calves are lying down with a harem of cows and one in the distance. the road is part of the bison loop that we drove around.
A cow and her calf, who leaping over the shrubs.
Cows and claves heading away from the traffic which is now stopped to watch the parade.
Two calves, the one in the background was lagging behind and had just caught up. It looked very young
Three bulls and a lone calf-maybe it wants to hang out with the big boys.
By the time we got around the loop this calf and bull were still close together, something I don’t normally see..

I had the idea that the bulls didn’t hang around the cows and calves until rutting season. I was thrilled to see a small herd together especially with young calves. It was a good day!

Eggs hatched, and Babies Arrived

I went back to Elk Island National Park on the Parkbus and this time it was full, so I better be careful about booking ahead from now on. I went to the place where the mother American Coot was sitting on her nest and she and the father, I assume, were taking turns bringing delicious slugs and leeches home to the young’uns. They seen to be recently hatched as the parent’s are chewing the food first, then giving it to the chicks. Sometimes one of the chicks will come out of the nest to get the food. They are at that “so ugly they are cute stage.” I am impressed with the gentleness of the parents as they feed their young. and tuck them underneath their bodies to keep them and the laid eggs warm. There are three chicks at this point.

Usually I try not to bother a nesting bird but these are right beside the boardwalk that winds around the bay. Last year the park staff cleared the bull rushes out of the area that was so overgrown and choked with growth and in danger of drying out and turning into land, so now there is far more open water. While there isn’t as much cover as there used to be for nesting birds, there still is some cover and they are keeping hidden for the most part, but it is a treat to see the ones that are out in the open.

Here are the photos of the American Coot family, nestled in the middle of a stand of reeds.

Some new chicks and unhatched eggs poking out from the hen’s feathers
The chicks are waking up from a nap, and are hungry
Chicks lined up in a row waiting for food delivery from both parents
One chick was quite brave and left the nest to get first dibs on food, wings raised with excitement.
One very Independent little bundle of fluff
Had a feed, time to get back under cover.

In my eyes they are so adorable. I saw no sign of the pair of Blue -winged teals that I saw last time when I was here two weeks ago and assume they are nesting. Nearby is a Red-necked grebe pair taking turns incubating eggs. It will be fun to see their brood when they hatch. I take pleasure in seeing nests that are made of weeds and sticks rather than garbage bags and candy wrappers that I see at the city lakes.