Readers’ wildlife photos

January 18, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today we have some lovely bird photos from reader Paul Matthews. His captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

For my first Readers’ Wildlife Photo post a few weeks ago, I sent pictures of some exotic northern owls. For this one, I propose something a bit more mundane: common winter birds of Ottawa, with a couple of rarer species thrown into the mix. All these photos were taken this winter.

Many people in Ottawa would surely choose the Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) as the quintessential Ottawa winter bird, even though this species occurs here year-round. Sometimes it seems that chickadees are the ONLY birds in the otherwise deserted Ottawa winter woods. These bold and resourceful birds are fixtures at most winter feeders and have learned to come to feed in the hand, to the delight of the humans doing the feeding. Sometimes I’ve had chickadees land on me when I wasn’t expecting it, which can be quite disconcerting.

Another common though much less numerous species is the White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). These nuthatches are often found accompanying chickadees and, like them, will occasionally come to feed in the hand, although they are always much more nervous and reluctant about it. Nuthatches are well-known to be one of the few or only birds to walk down trunks headfirst.

While the previous species is essentially sedentary and associated with deciduous woodlots and forests, the Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) moves about more with the seasons and is more tied to mixed and coniferous forests. The two species are often found together, however.

The American Robin (Turdus migratorius) is my candidate for Ottawa’s most familiar bird (i.e., known to the most people). It is a common sight on lawns in the warmer months but also in a huge variety of treed habitats. The first robin is considered a sign of spring but in fact there are always at least a few that overwinter. These ones had found a water source. There’s something very appealing to me about a robin in the snow–I’m not sure why.

A splash of brilliant red in the bushes: a male Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) brightening up what can be a very grey winter landscape. The heart of the cardinal’s range is well to the south of Ottawa and when I first arrived in the city in the seventies they were quite rare. If a veteran birder took a shine to a newbie, he might tell him (birders were almost all male back then) of a feeder that a cardinal was frequenting. The newbie would be advised to go at first light, which was when the cardinal was most active and likely to come to feed. No such stratagems are required nowadays, as the cardinal population in Ottawa has exploded and they are now very common.

In contrast, sparrows are often considered boring little brown jobs (LBJs), but I find them subtly beautiful. Though a number of species occur here in winter, only one in my book is a true winter sparrow, the American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea). The other sparrow species are all more common at other times of year.

The White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) is a fairly common breeder and abundant migrant, but scarce in winter. I shot this one early in the winter before the snow had arrived to stay.

The Harris’s Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula) is a relative of the White-throated Sparrow and extremely rare in the Ottawa area. It has the distinction of being the largest North American sparrow. This one was at a private feeder about an hour’s drive from Ottawa proper. The photo is fairly heavily cropped.

Wrens are familiar garden birds in the eastern US, but they aren’t especially common in Ottawa. The Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) is like the cardinal in some ways: its core range is the Eastern United States and it is non-migratory. Unlike the cardinal, Carolina Wrens continue to only have a toehold in Ottawa: they are scarce and hard to find. Perhaps their smaller body size makes it harder for them to withstand the bitter Ottawa winter temperatures or perhaps the food at typical feeders is better suited to cardinals than wrens–I really don’t know.

The English name of the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) is really a misnomer for Ottawa. These wrens are fairly common breeders in mixed and coniferous woods and also fairly common on migration. They are tough but they are tiny: only occasionally does one actually try to overwinter here. This one was at the same outflow as the robins above. Last time I checked it had managed to survive one brutal cold snap but now we’re into another, followed by a big dump of snow. I’m hoping it makes it but sadly the odds seem stacked against it: it’s a long time till spring.

As lagniappe, a photo that should surely please our host. (Yes, they get fed.) [JAC: MallardAnas platyrhynchos]

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 16, 2022 • 9:00 am

It’s Sunday, and regular readers will know that this means a themed collection of bird photos from John Avise. His notes and IDs are indented, and, as with all embedded pictures, you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

California Endangered Species

The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 was a landmark piece of Federal legislation that granted legal protection to taxa deemed to be at imminent risk of extinction.  Some states likewise have passed protective laws and compiled their own lists of threatened or endangered species within their respective jurisdictions.  For example, a California Endangered Species Act (CESA), originally signed into law in 1970, has been periodically revised and updated to reflect the changing status of nearly 200 kinds of rare animals and plants.

In today’s post, I share photographs of about a dozen threatened or endangered avian taxa that have been “listed” and thereby afforded special protection under the CESA.  I took all of these pictures in Southern California.

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus):

Swainson’s Hawk (Buteo swainsoni):

American Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum), juvenile:

Light-footed Ridgway’s Rail (Rallus obsoletus obsoletus):

Greater Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis tabida):

Western Snowy Plover (Charadrius nivosus nivosus):

California Least Tern (Sternula antillarum browni):

Least Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus):

Coastal California Gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica):

Belding’s Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis beldingi):

Tricolored Blackbird (Agelaius tricolor):

California Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus):

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 15, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today we’ll finish up Susan Harrison‘s batch of photos from last fall. I accidentally posted part 2 of this series yesterday, so we’re going backwards. But this finishes the lot. Susan’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them. I’ve added one picture from reader Christopher Moss:

Half Moon Bay, Oct. 16, 2021

Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County, CA) is a fishing marina catering to ecotourists headed for the Pillar Point State Marine Conservation Area and Montara State Marine Reserve, which lie just offshore.

Pillar Point Harbor. Numbers of wintering Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) in the harbor are truly fantastic, especially to those of us old enough to remember when DDT made this a rare species.  Rachel Carson, here’s to you!

The rock breakwaters are also foraging habitat for Black Oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani):

Just outside the harbor were many Common Murres (Uria aalge):

A California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus) and a three-times-more-massive Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) amicably shared a buoy.

From Christopher Moss

 I am a film photographer, and enjoy using what are now considered antique cameras. I have been watching a pair of squirrels fighting over the feeder full of sunflower seeds. This was them sorting out the dominance, taken with a 1975 Olympus OM-2n on Kodak Portra 400 and home developed:

Since then, the less dominant individual has persisted and persisted (which may be a redundancy or an Irishism, but he, or she, really has!) and today they have after much chattering and squawking, decided to share the feeder. And, yes, there are photos, but they are taken with another antique camera, which was an Olympus half-frame SLR. This made negatives of half-size from 35mm film, and consequently my ’24-exposure’ film needs me to take 48 exposures. When they are all done I shall process the film and scan the negatives. I promise there will be cute pictures! Maybe this photo will serve as a ‘taster’ in the meantime?

The intriguing thing is this – are these totally unrelated squirrels who have agreed to be co-dominant and share the feeder, or are they nestmates with some remnant of fellow-feeling that allows them to share the feeder? I vote for the latter, even though I have only ever seen very young squirrels share the feeder before, and they were thus very likely to be tolerant of each other for co-nestling reasons.

JAC: I vote for the former!

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 14, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today we have a first batch of photos from ecologist Susan Harrison, taken in October last year at Half Moon Bay in California. Her captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Half Moon Bay, Oct. 16, 2021

Pillar Point Harbor at Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County, CA) is a fishing marina catering to ecotourists headed for the Pillar Point State Marine Conservation Area and Montara State Marine Reserve, which lie just offshore.

Out at sea were many pelagic birds, including Black-Footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes):

These Orcas (Orcinus orca) belong to the “transient” ecotype that hangs out offshore and eats marine mammals – most notably, calves of migrating Gray Whales (Eschrichtius robustus).  They are genetically distinct from the “resident” and “offshore” orca ecotypes, and some people believe all three should be designated as separate species.  We saw two mothers and three young, all individually known to the biologists studying them

Back ashore, we stumbled on a flock of Snowy Plovers (Charadrius nivosus), which hide by crouching in sand indentations.  How many can you count in the first picture?   (I see 10.)

Also on the beach and mudflats were Black-Bellied Plovers (Pluvialis squatarola), Sanderlings (Calidris alba), Marbled Godwits (Limosa fedoa), and other shorebirds.

Black-bellied plover and sanderlings:


Here’s an old joke about Sanderlings.  Question:  What do their dating profiles say?   Answer:  Likes to take long walks up the beach…. and down the beach…. and up the beach…. and down the beach….

Marbled Godwit:

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 13, 2022 • 8:46 am

When Hili didn’t go up by 7:15, I got people writing to me asking if I was okay. Thanks for the concern, and I’m fine. I was just lazy today and also got hung up printing a bunch of stuff to read. Also, the university is pretty much closed and I’m the only person in my building, which is wearing on me. Plus, the early-morning routine is hard in the winter (kvetch, kvetch. . .)

Okay, on to the readers’ wildlife. Today we have photos from reader Keith. His captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

California quail (Callipepla californica), male and female; as you and WEIT readers probably realize, the birds with the larger, teardrop-shaped ornamentation on the forehead are typically the males.

The covey was feeding alongside a trail adjacent to an open-canopy field of grass.

Steller’s jay (Cyanocitta stelleri):

A  beautiful, and cheeky, western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) who doesn’t think the rules apply to him. He’s probably correct.

Black-tailed deer (aka mule deer, Odocoileus hemionicus):

 Acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus) and its stash tree, Arizona:


Unidentified bird. Readers?


Readers’ wildlife photos

January 11, 2022 • 8:45 am

Reader Gary Arndt sent in photos of a place I’ve longed to visit: South Georgia Island. Famous for Ernest Shackleton‘s desperate visit in an attempt to rescue his men after his ship was destroyed by an Antarctic icepack, it harbors Shackleton’s grave as well as one of the largest colonies of King Penguins anywhere.  Here’s where it is:

Gary’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

I thought my first submission would be for images I took on South Georgia Island when I visited back in 2012.South Georgia is one of the largest penguin breeding areas in the world. I saw at least five different species of penguin there, but by far the most prevalent are the King Penguins. The largest site for them is the area known as the Salisbury Plain, where you can find well over 100,000 penguins.

In addition to penguins, you can find fur seals as well. South Georgia used to be a big area for seal hunters in the early 20th century. The seal pups will often be found sleeping on Tussock Grass like this one.

This is a leucistic fur seal next to a normal fur seal. I actually saw several leucistic animals including some penguins on this trip, which is far more than I’ve probably seen anywhere else on Earth.

Some species of penguins have very cute chicks. King penguins are not one of them.

The reason why all the penguins are on land is so they can hatch their chicks and feed them until they are ready to go into the water and start feeding on their own. You can see lots of penguin vomit on the breasts of the chicks.

Rockhopper penguins are one of the other species you can find on South Georgia. I did occasionally see different penguin species intermixing, but mostly they kept to separate colonies.

Elephant seals can also be found on South Georgia. The males will spar with each other on the beach to establish dominance and to control their harems.

Most of the female elephant seals will just spend their time on the beach sleeping with the other females in their harem.

South Georgia was home to millions of seabirds. However, when whalers arrived in the early 20th century they brought rats which decimated the seabird population. Since I was there, they have completed their rat eradication program and it appears to be successful. Reports are that the seabird population has already rebounded and is growing rapidly.

South Georgia is best known as the location where Ernest Shackleton rescued his crew from the HMS Endurance. He landed on the south shore of the island and walked across the mountains and found this Norwegian whaling station called Stromness.

Shackleton’s remains were eventually moved to South Georgia Island and they rest today in the island’s only thing you can call a settlement: Grytviken.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 10, 2022 • 8:30 am

Today’s photos, a mixed bag of taxa, come from reader Chris Taylor in Australia (that almost rhymes!).  His notes and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Another set of photos:  all were taken at home on my property outside Canberra.

Black Fronted DotterelElseyornis melanops, at the edge of the dam next to the house.  These are quite common visitors, and have even tried to breed here. Unfortunately, their nest attempts have not met with success.

An Eastern Grey KangarooMacropus giganteus, on the dam above the house just before dawn.  Very common here; there are mobs of up to 50 that move between the forest reserves up above our house and the paddocks in the valley.

An Echidna, Tachyglossus aculeatus, ambling across one of the paddocks.

Eastern Long-necked TurtleChelodina longicollis. These are quite common in the farm dams and waterways around here.  Unfortunately, many fall victim to cars as they try to cross the roads – they just stop walking and retreat into their shell as a car approaches, with the inevitable result.

We quite often see snakes here.  The most venomous are the Brown snake, and the Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus, pictured here. The Brown is reputed to have the third or fourth most potent venom of any snake, while the Red-belly comes in rather further down.  It is said that the red-belly will eat brown snakes, and so when they are around, brown snakes will not be a problem.  Just how truthful that is I can’t say, but the years when the red-belly was here we didn’t see a single brown.

A Jewel Beetle, Scutiphora pedicellata:

Welcome Swallows, Hirundo neoxena. The first photo is of a swallow nest and fledgeling in the roof of one of the sheds above where we parked our vehicles. So during the time when the young birds were still in the nest, we had to clean the car windows every time we wanted to drive out!

The second photo is of the swallows bathing in the dam below the house.  They would fly around, then almost hover for a moment, before dipping their breasts into the water.

Two photos of Willie Wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys). A very common bird, and here all year.  First we see a bird coming in to land on a fence post.  The second is one of a nest.  This is constructed from spider web, and this nest was particularly cozy as it was luxuriously lined with Alpaca fleece that the birds had been able to gather from bits left in the paddock after we had shorn our animals!

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 4, 2022 • 8:30 am

Send in your photos, please, and thanks to the readers who have sent in pictures.

Today’s photos come from recently retired professor of law and mathematics Paul Edelman, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Continuing with the results of my birding in Florida.  We went to CREW Rookery , a wild-life preserve southeast of Ft. Myers.  It starts as a boardwalk over a marsh and then changes into a raised dirt trail through the marsh and had great luck in spotting warblers.  For classic warblers we found a Northern Parula (Setophaga americana), a Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens),a Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia), a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), and a Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica).  The last two were new birds for me!

Northern Parula (Setophaga americana):

Black-throated Green Warbler (Setophaga virens):

Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia):

Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas):

Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica):

We also saw two kinds of vireos, the White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus) and the Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius).

White-eyed Vireo (Vireo griseus):

Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius)

Finally, throughout our walk we kept hearing the cries of the Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus).  I caught this pair in a tree as we walked out of the preserve.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 3, 2022 • 8:30 am

The attrition of my stock is worrying, so please send in your photos!

Today’s pictures come from Reader Dave; his captions are indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Attached please find the next (assorted) batch of photographs, captured across New York, Vermont, and Maine. All photos labeled “, ©DSF_ All Rights Reserved.”

Dispelling Enlil:

Blue Hour:


Birch Condensate:

Inertial Rift:


Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor):

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis):

Red-Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis):

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 2, 2022 • 8:30 am

Please send in your good wildlife/travel/people photos, as the tank gets ever lower. . . . .

Today is Sunday, which means we have a batch of bird photos from biologist John Avise.  The narrative and IDs are his, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Sibling Species

By definition, avian sibling species are closely related but reproductively isolated species that are nearly indistinguishable in the field by their plumages.  In ornithological circles, perhaps the most famous complex of sibling species involves the Empidonax flycatchers (or “empids” for short), of which about a dozen look-alike species breed in various parts of North America.  Today I share my photos of several empids, probably none of which will you be able to tell apart by appearance.  So how did I identify these species when I took their photos?  I did so by their song, behavior, range, or habitat, all of which differ characteristically among various empid species.  For example, only the Gray Flycatcher of Western North America consistently pumps its tail while perched, and only the Acadian Flycatcher of the Southeastern United States has an explosive “spit-a-KEET” song.  Anyway, happy birding!

Acadian Flycatcher (Empidonax virescens):

Gray Flycatcher (Empidonax wrightii):

Hammond’s Flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii):

Another Hammonds Flycatcher:

Dusky Flycatcher (Empidonax oberholseri):

Pacific-Slope Flycatcher (Empidonax difficilis):

Another Pacific Slope Flycatcher:

Yet another Pacific Slope Flycatcher:

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher (Empidonax flaviventris):

Willow Flycatcher (Empidonax traillii):