For the past six weeks or so we have been delighted by the nocturnal trilling song of a little boreal owl. I believe the male has claimed our little forested yard as his own. He sings almost every night from one of the old northern flicker cavities in the black spruce stand surrounding our home. With his little round head filling up the hole he serenades the darkness, or sometimes accompanies the glow and flicker of the aurora.
Click on the left side of the audio bar to hear the song of the boreal owl.
The boreal owl is a nocturnal hunter of voles, shrews, flying squirrels and small birds.
A female northern flicker approaches the nesting cavity.
Life at the nest of northern flickers is at a frantic level. Most of the long, Alaskan summer days keeps the adults working at a breathless pace. The pair at this nest take turns guarding the nest from the resident red squirrel or trespassing northern flickers and taking forays out into the black spruce forest to hunt for their main food, wood ants and their larva. When the female arrives back at the nest cavity with food for the young, the male departs.
To listen to the audio clip, click on left side of the bar. Volume at right. Adult male northern flicker responds to his mate appearing near the nest. Then listen as female enters nesting cavity to feed chicks. Continue reading →
Red squirrel has cached black spruce cones in an old flicker hole.
I am still on my backyard safari. This is where I do some of my favorite work. I have had professional photographers scoff at the mere suggestion of doing in-depth work with such “insignificant” species as the red squirrels, voles and the like. But I happen to enjoy photographing all species of wildlife including red squirrels. The idea of a backyard safari is to give one the incentive to compile a complete coverage of the wildlife in your immediate surroundings as well as gaining experience turning photographic potential into great photographs.
Red squirrel pry the scales off a spruce cone and feeds on the tiny seeds.
Red squirrel jumping.
The red squirrel jumping straight on is a tough one. I found a place where the squirrel routinely jumps form one branch to another. The distance is just over three feet and it takes less than a second. The problem lies in the tiny amount of depth of field with the 560 mm telephoto lens. I use a Nikon 200-400 lens with a 1.4 tele-extender and pre-focus at about 4 meters. There is less than one inch that will be in sharp focus. I manage to get off about three frames each time the squirrel jumps and only about one in fifty photos will be in focus. What that boils down to is about one photo every four days will be a keeper. I could increase the percent of successful shots by adding a trigger which trips the shutter as the squirrel crosses a beam of infra-red light. Maybe next week.
One of the few sets of snowshoe hare tracks I have seen in the backyard this winter. They are currently at the low-end of their population cycle.
The male boreal owl is still calling from the flicker holes but not every night. I suspect he is also singing his territorial songs from other possible nesting sites in the area.
The male boreal owl begins his territorial songs just before dark.
The aurora borealis usually begins with a band of green, glowing light in the northeast.
Northern flying squirrel and boreal owl at the entrance to the same old northern flicker nesting cavity. The flying squirrel taken with a Nikon D3s digital camera and boreal owl shot with a Nikon F3 on Fujichrome film were taken more than ten years apart. The images illustrate the importance of the northern flickers, a keystone species. The flickers nest building activity increases forest biodiversity. Photographs were taken near my home in Slana, Alaska.
For more than two months this male northern flicker and his mate maintain a territory centered around their nesting cavity in an Alaskan black spruce forest. Flickers are the most common woodpecker in Alaska’s interior. Continue reading →
Male northern flickers call to establish a breeding territory and attract a female.
This week was spent working on northern flickers which have shown up on our homestead. I have worked these beautiful woodpeckers extensively in the past yet there are still great shots to be had. I concentrated on getting the best shots I could of the opportunities that presented themselves. The leading off photo of the calling male was one shot I needed to improve on. This kind of shot presents a challenge because normally the eyes will be in focus but the long bill is not. I shot this at F16 to give enough depth of field. Continue reading →