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

December 30, 2021 • 8:45 am

In lieu of the usual photos from readers, I’ll show today some pictures of my wildlife family: the ducks of Botany Pond. Here are photos from the first two years I met Honey and tended her brood: 2017 and 2018.

They may refurbish the pond next year, which would mean a sad season without ducks.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Below: the first time I met Honey, in 2017. She had four ducklings, and I don’t know if had more hatched but died. These four grew up and fledged:

A selfie with Honey:

Later: hardly distinguishable from Mom:

Showing the Lab School students how to feed the ducks:

Honey’s brood in 2018: eight, now being fed regularly. They all fledged.


On the duck ramp; the first year we had one made:

Growing up:

And, with feathers, at the awkward teenage stage:

Almost ready to fly, but still stuck to Mom:

Mom, free at last:

My sweet hen, here doing her soccer ball imitation:


Readers’ wildlife photos

December 23, 2021 • 8:30 am

Today we have photos from Emilio d’Alise, and they’re of my favorite bird: the mallard!  Emilio’s intro is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Mallard or wild duck (Anas platyrhynchos)

These mallards were all photographed in Monument, Colorado, on a pond behind the Public Library. There is a large population of ducks and geese that inhabit the pond nearly year-round, in part because people feed them.


Drake standing on one leg:



Reverend Warren’s weekly bromide and sermon in the New York Times

December 12, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Why, oh why, does the New York Times continue to print an Anglican priest’s useless lucubrations week after week after tedious week? For the Reverend Tish Harrison Warren, on deadline, always decides to write a column with the theme, “How can we improve our lives by pondering Jesus?”  There’s a slight variation this week, for she’s pondering Mary as well as Jesus. Click on the screenshot if you love Jesus:

The email bringing me Rev. Warren’s words (ceiling cat help me, I subscribe) was headed: “What Mary can teach us about the joy and pain of life.” Well, what can the fictitious virgin teach us about those things? Simply this: life is a mixture of joy and pain.  We know this because Mary was told by an angel that she will have a great son, but at the same time she is greatly troubled, for she senses her son will come to no good end nailed to the cross. She had joy and heartbreak.

And so we learn that we have joy and heartbreak, too, and you can’t have one without the other. (Not true: many people have a ton of heartbreak and no joy.) The Reverend Warren:

Mary was called by God, and her life reminds me that the vocations that God calls us to inevitably involve both joy and pain. “Love and loss are a double helix this side of heaven,” I write in my book “Prayer in the Night,” “You can’t have one without the other. God’s calling on our lives will inevitably require us to risk both. We know this dappled reality in the most meaningful parts of our life: in struggling through marriage or singleness and celibacy, in loving and raising children, in our work, in serving the church,” and in our closest friendships.

(I think she stole the odd adjective “dappled” from another religious source, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Pied Beauty.”)

How many times have you heard something like this, but without the goddy part? It’s simply the old bromide that life has both pain and joy.

And then comes the sermon: we can’t fill the hole in our lives without God and Baby Jesus, for the hole is God-shaped:

When I feel loneliness, loss and the emptiness present in even my very good life, I rush to fill it up. Winds of emptiness echo in a hollow moment of my day, and I run to distraction. I stuff my waking moments with busyness, social media, argument, work and consumption. These can be cheap attempts at joy, or at least at numbing any sense of grief.

But Mary’s story recalls that joy can’t be gotten cheaply. The pain of the world cannot be papered over in a sentimental display of tamed little angels and a cute, chubby baby Jesus. The emptiness in the world and in our own lives can’t be filled with enough hurry or buying power or likes or retweets. We wait for the birth of Jesus, who was called Emmanuel, God with us. We wait with Mary for our hunger to be filled.

This seems nothing more like an attempt to converting readers to Christianity. It’s surely more than Warren’s own personal story, for she tells it to “us”, and also informs “us” what we should do to fill our void. Or is she sayng something else? What is the sweating Reverend trying to say?

But now it’s time to head home, where I have Pinker’s new book waiting for me, a t-bone steak marinating in the fridge, and a good bottle of red wine to accompany it.  For me, at least, joy can be gotten pretty cheaply: the price of a steak, a book, and some Rhone wine. As far as I’m concerned, Baby Jesus can wait.

Oh, and joy is absolutely free at Botany Pond, where Draco and Molly are the sole residents this sunny but chilly afternoon. Honey and her swain are long gone.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 5, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have our Sunday aliquot of photos by biologist John Avise, and today’s subject is dear to my heart. John’s captions and IDs are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:

Lake Merritt Ducks

Last week, I flew north to spend Thanksgiving with my family in Oakland, CA.  Near the center of that city is Lake Merritt, an estuarine jewel that has the distinction of being the United States’s first official wildlife refuge, designated in 1870.  I took the opportunity to repeatedly hike the lake’s 4-mile circumference, and here are some photographs I took of the ducks I encountered.  Several of these species (notably the Canvasback, Greater Scaup, and the Goldeneyes) are quite rare near my home in Southern California, so I was especially happy to
find them on this trip to a more northern part of the state.  [I hope I’ve identified the scaups correctly; the Lesser and Greater can be very difficult to distinguish!].

Part of Lake Merritt in its urban setting:

Ruddy Duck drake (Oxyura jamaicensis):

Ruddy Duck hen:

Bufflehead drake (Bucephala albeola):

Bufflehead hen:

Canvasback drake (Aythya valisineria):

Canvasback head portrait:

Canvasback hen:

Greater Scaup drake (Aythya marila):

Lesser Scaup drake (Aythya affinis):

Common Goldeneye drake (Bucephala clangula):

Another Common Goldeneye drake:

Common Goldeneye hen:

Common Goldeneye pair:

Barrow’s Goldeneye drake (Bucephala islandica):

Barrow’s Goldeneye hen:

Another Barrow’s Goldeneye hen:

 Mallard pair (Anas platyrhynchos):

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 4, 2021 • 8:00 am

Today we have assorted photos of MALLARD DRAKES courtesy of Emilio d’alise. His notes and captions, which are brief, are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.  He sent a lot of photos, so I had to make a judicious selection.  This is part 1 of several parts. To come: hens, landing, and flapping.

Mallard or wild duck (Anas platyrhynchos)

These mallards were all photographed in Monument, Colorado, on a pond behind the Public Library. There is a large population of ducks and geese that inhabit the pond nearly year-round, in part because people feed them.

Drakes feeding (this upside-down foraging is called “dabbling”:

Duck runs NYT marathon (not the whole thing)

November 10, 2021 • 2:30 pm

You’re not going to get anything substantive here today as I’ve had a serious bout of insomnia (early awakening) and it’s making me exhausted all day (worse: I’m not supposed to nap). I will lick it, but for the nonce it’s very hard to write.

So today you get persiflage. But this is a good one (if you like ducks–and who doesn’t).

Below, courtesy of the Daily Paws website, you see Wrinkle the Duck running the New York Marathon. (She’s a Pekin duck, a domesticated variety of the wild mallard, and I thought Wrinkle was a drake because the duck doesn’t quack but grunts (only female mallards quack). So be it.  They don’t tell us how much of the Marathon Wrinkle ran, but since we don’t see her crossing the finish line, it can’t be the whole thine!

From the site:

It’s time to bask in the athletic prowess of Wrinkle, the especially spiffy emotional support duck who ran at least part of the New York City Marathon on Sunday.

The videos of her quick waddling in her homemade red shoes have enthralled millions on TikTok. I honestly don’t know whether to call it a stride, strut, or trot, but it seems that Wrinkle, who is a Pekin duck, is enjoying her jog and the adulation of the marathon crowd. She’s so confident!

It can’t help but make you grin, and one person in the comments of the TikTok video said the footage had made her smile during a bout of depression. “As an official emotional support duck, hearing this makes me feel like I’m doing my job well,” Wrinkle’s account replied. “Wrinkle loves you.”

. . . Wrinkle also loves running, whether it’s at her house (providing some oddly soothing ASMR as she waddles) or out in a field where she’s “fast as duck.”

Do note her special jogging shoes.


h/t: Diana

The duck season is winding down

November 7, 2021 • 1:00 pm

We have very few ducks left at Botany Pond, and the ones we know come and go sporadically (we know not where). Honey and Prince Charming are the most regular (Dorothy seems to have vanished), but other familiar ones show up too, though we never have more than six or seven.  On Friday we stop feeding for good as the nights are going to be in the thirties, so it’s migration time. (The duck migration season is late this year.)

I’ll have one more substantial post with photos and videos, but here are a few photos of what I call “The Royals”

Honey, my beloved hen:

Her consort Prince Charming, in all his glorious raiment:

The bonded pair, soon to head south:

And as the leaves turn, so the ducks’ thoughts turn to the Mississippi Flyway and their overwintering grounds. I hope to see Honey next March:

Thursday duck report

October 14, 2021 • 1:15 pm

It’s getting towards the end of duck season at Botany Pond, though the warmer weather at this time of year may be slowing migration. Still, we’re down to anywhere between 2 and 9 ducks per day, all of them familiar. There are Honey, Dorothy, and Prince Charming (their drake), Mona, a duck with only one working eye, Cyndi, a duck trained to eat out of our hands, who jumps up for food (see below), her boyfriend Charlie, and a trio of undocumented ducks we call “the sisters.”

Here’s the member of team duck who trained Cyndi (or is it the other way round?) to eat from her hand. Now Cyndi will jump and even flutter up to the hand to get duck pellets. Her swain, the drake Charlie, has learned to do the same thing by watching Cyndi.

We all love Cyndi; she is a sweet and affectionate hen who comes running when she sees her own personal staff member on Team Duck. Here she is leapiing; you can see her feet off the ground.

Here Cyndi’s getting ready to flutter up to the food:

More of her cute activity. We’ve had one “trained duck” every year (last year it was one who flew up and perched on the metal pond railing when called), but Cyndi is by far the most interactive. We will miss her.

Another video of her feeding:

Cindy on tippy-webs:

Cyndi and boyfriend Charlie. They’re a handsome pair, aren’t they?

Drake fight! One of the drakes, Drako, had not achieved full color yet. But he was a mean s.o.b, and chased all the ducks. Here he gets into it with another drake. Note how they swim side by side in between repeated attacks. I suspect they are wooing females. (Ducks pair up, I hear, before they fly south.)

Prince Charming, the chosen mate of both Honey and Dorothy. I know he will fly away with them when they migrate, but I don’t know if he’ll return with them. I have trouble telling drakes apart as they have no distinctive marks on their bill.

We mustn’t forget the turtles, who come out only when it’s warm and sunny now. They’re preparing for winter.

And so we’re getting ready to say farewell to wings, but 2022 is another year. . . . .  Every year is different at Botany Pond, full of its own quirks and drama.

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 11, 2021 • 8:00 am

Please send in your good photos, as the tank is depleting faster than I’d like. Thanks.

Today we have a potpourri of photos from various readers and contributors. Their captions are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

The first photo is by Jamie Blilie:

Winter plumage American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) in the middle of a snowstorm.  Taken Dec 23, 2020, in a tree in our back yard, Minnesota.  We have many winter resident birds.  We have many feeders in our yard to help them through the winter (we feed much less in summer).

Reader Bryan found slugs making The Beast with Two Backs in Middlesex County, Massachusetts:

I saw this the other day (cool fall day in N. hemisphere).Reading a bit tells me it is gastropod copulation involving Spanish slugs, Arion vulgaris.  It was satisfying to know I stumbled (figuratively!) on a fascinating biology topic.

From Thomas Czarny, sent September 8:

Yesterday an epic line storm coming across Lake Michigan slammed into the Traverse City, MI area causing widespread wind, rain and hail damage.  Below is a sequence of photos of the advancing front as it swept inland from the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Shoreline.  Only the first one is my photo, the rest are from friends and other local sources.  At last report the Cherry Hut in Beulah is still intact.🍒

From Divy:

 We went to the Ubud Monkey Forest in Bali a couple of years ago.  If I remember correctly, this was a tourist conservation, owned by the local community.  There were several Hindu temples within the forest which were closed-off to the public; only the monkeys could enter. I believe these were Balinese long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis).

Reader Reese sent in some photos he got from a friend who tends ducks in a pond by his house. I’m going to show these photos to Honey.

From my friend John Williamson who feeds ducks and other wildlife on a resaca in Brownsville, Texas.  I hope some of your pals are planning on wintering there.  His house backs up to Town Resaca (which appears to be a body of water that goes nowhere) in Brownsville, not far from the Gladys Porter Zoo.  I attach a few more photos so your ducks have a better idea of the winter spa awaiting them:

Note that he has built a duck-feeding platform (and also a Buddha platform).

Nutria (rodents also known as coypu; Myocaster coypus) also appreciate the duck corn.  There also seem to be duck pellets: