Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Melanistic Pheasants

The town where I live is known to have a population of wild melanistic ring-necked pheasants.  I didn't know about this until after I'd joined a local bird watching group on Facebook - a benefit of getting to know some local people who were knowledgeable about such things.  I saw my first pheasant soon after moving here this past summer, but it was a normal one, and I didn't really expect to see the melanistic ones.  Much to my surprise, they have become regular visitors!

Here is a standard coloured ring-necked pheasant (male).  You can see the dark copper tone on his chest leading to lighter coloured copper with black tips on the sides.  There is a light patch on the lower wing in almost a light grey tone.  He has a bright white collar with a dark green and blue iridescent head.

This is a partly melanistic male.  Some melanistic males (especially those bred in pheasant hatcheries) are almost completely black.  This is a wild melanistic male, and he has no sign of the usual copper colour on his chest and wings.  His chest has green and purple iridescence and he has a similar head feathering as the normal pheasant, but a bit darker.  He still maintains the white collar feathering.  You can see that his back feathers are a more olive-toned brown, compared to the red brown of the standard male pheasant.

Here is an even more striking melanistic mutant that recently visited.  As you can see, he is almost completely lacking the white collar - there are just a few hints of white around his neck.  The bands of colour patterns on his wing and back feathers are much more detailed than on the regularly coloured male pheasant.

Melanism is a genetic mutation that causes birds to have excess amounts of melanin in the feathers, causing darker pigments than usual.  Leucism is the opposite condition - a lack of pigment causing very pale feathers.  Melanistic pheasants are available from some hatcheries, but the ones visiting me are a locally-based group of wild pheasants.  We do not have any pheasant hatcheries in this area.

Because of inter-breeding between the regular coloured pheasants, there is a range of colour variation in the pheasants I have visiting my yard.  In the fall, I noticed a female pheasant with a troop of youngsters and I was intrigued by the fact that all her young appeared to be male (due to the red on their faces) but their feathering showed different colouring, more than I would have expected for adolescent birds at different stages of moulting.  Here is a photo of the adult female (in the rear) with two of the variant coloured young males.

As you can see, this young male is lighter coloured overall, with more light coloured edging on his feathers.  I might have thought he was a female, but the red on the face is a give-away.

This young male, by contrast, has darker lacing and darker overall feather tones.  I am sure these youngsters have become some of the adults now visiting.

They tend to feed under my bird feeder where the other birds drop seed.  I have been putting out some chicken feed pellets that I had on hand as well, to support them during this winter weather when there is a lot of snow cover and possibly limited feed available.  This has given me some good opportunities to photograph them.  My photographs are all taken through the windows of my home office, so the pictures aren't always as clear as I would like, but it has provided me a chance to get some good close-up shots of plumage variation.

Here you can see the significant difference between a regular male (right) and a melanistic male (left) feeding at the same time.  They almost look like two different species!

Note that the photographs I am sharing often have the tails cropped out.  This is because there is very little difference in the long tail feather colour, and my objective with this post is to demonstrate the difference in feather colours on the body and head of the birds.  These aren't "great" pheasant photographs - they are expressly chosen to demonstrate the plumage differences.

The difference is also evident in the female pheasants.  Here is a picture of a standard coloured female.

Here is a melanistic female.

Here they are together.

You can see significant differences with the edges of the wings in particular.  Here is the comparison of the standard female's back, showing her wing edges.

The melanistic female, by comparison, has far less delineation of the wing edges, because the pale edging is absent.

I'll share several more images of some of the different individuals who are currently visiting my yard. If you take the time to look closely, you will see significant variation in the patterning within the feathers, as well as in the colours.  I am sure that the continued breeding of these pheasants will result in many beautiful variants for birders in my area to enjoy over time.

This individual has much lighter and more significant patterning on many of his wing feathers, extending to some of the chest feathers.

This one retains some copper tones, but is still darker than normal.

The differences show very starkly when the variants are next to each other.  I notice that the "normal" coloured ones seem to show some aggression or dominance towards the variants.

These two appear to have the standard colouring at first glance, but notice how the one on the left has much more patterning on the 'shoulder' feathers and a darker copper colour on the chest.

This is one of my favourites.  His feathers are like jewels in the sun, but I haven't managed to get a good photograph of him in the sun yet.

Amazing!  Look at those feather patterns!  He's absolutely stunning!

A last shot of the darkest one to visit so far.

Sharing with Wild Bird Wednesday.  I haven't had many birds to share in recent months with the winter being upon us and the variation in birds being quite low at this time of year, but I felt these pheasants were worth showcasing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Friday's Hunt v 3.04

It's time for Friday's Hunt again.  This has been a very busy week again.  I am into my second week with my new work contract and it seems to be going well, but it is certainly keeping me occupied. The prompts for today's hunt from Eden Hills are:  Starts with D, Week's Favourite, and Close Up.

Starts with D
We had a major ice storm earlier this week.  For the provincial power utility, it was the worst ever storm on record for power outages.  There are still people without power.  We lost power for one night, but fortunately it was back on the next day.  Anyway, the letter D applies to lots of things related to the storm.

Dropped (or Downed) tree branches.  We had a lot of them, and there were also downed power lines all over the province.  It's taking a long time to clean up.  This branch is over part of our driveway - it's a big one!

Here you can see the damage at the top of a tree.

Here is the piece that dropped to the ground from that damaged tree - it nearly fell into the sheep and goat pen, but was stopped by other trees in the way!

Drooping trees.  The ice was so heavy on these birch trees, they were drooping down to the ground!

Dripping water, due to the temperature going above freezing for a short time after the storm.  Here you can see the drips on the top part of my bird feeder pole.

The driveway was a rather dangerous - rather like a skating rink!

Week's Favourite
It's not a great picture really, but this week I was very excited to see a male evening grosbeak at my feeder for the first time here in Sackville.  I hope he will come back!

Close Up
I took a lot of close-up shots of the ice after the worst of the storm was over.  Here are a few of those that I thought turned out well.  This old, dried birch leaf was encased in ice.

The cheerful red of this crab-apple still shows through its icy cage.

The yew shrub's branches were also encased in ice.

I think it's fascinating how this branch looks as if it has thorns, but those are just formed by the ice encasing the branch.  They must have formed when the precipitation was between rain and freezing rain, so as it dripped from the branch, it froze.

Finally, another tiny leaf - see how its serrated edges are so clearly defined inside the ice, and you can even see the patterns within the ice caused by the freezing water.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Unbearable Cuteness of Voles

That's it.  I've had enough.

All future voles wishing to take up residence in my yard are required to submit an application.  The application must detail where they plan to forage, and at what time of day, so that I can determine whether or not this will interfere with my home office work schedule, because this level of distraction simply cannot continue.  Voles with distracting foraging plans will be required to submit revised schedules.

Voles of senior age who are willing to live quietly and peacefully in the wooded areas are exempted from the application process.

All voles must submit a photograph along with their application in order to ensure that they can be identified in pictures taken by the homeowner.  If voles are photographed outside of their permitted areas, they may be subject to disciplinary proceedings, which may include temporary residence in an indoor habitat with an exercise wheel for the visual delight of the homeowner.

All voles are kindly requested to refrain from overtly cute poses on weekdays between the hours of 9 am and 6 pm, such as, but not limited to, posing with snowflakes on the nose, posing with paws holding seeds, posing while licking seed bits off paws, posing while exposing cute belly portions, posing half-in and half-out of tunnels, and posing under any form of vegetation in an "umbrella" style of setting during precipitation events.

Posing by the bird feeder pole is also not recommended due to the high cuteness factor.

Seriously, no snowflakes on the nose!

And no paw licking!

Furthermore, all voles wishing to take up residence must submit documentation on their precise species and any subspecies information, given that the homeowner is prone to fits of prolonged research on vole species following intense photography sessions.  The homeowner suspects that you are a Southern red-backed vole and a Meadow vole, but this is by no means confirmed.

All voles are welcome to clean up the area under the bird feeder before 9 am, and after 6 pm, using any pose they wish to adopt.  Neighbouring but non-resident voles are also welcome to visit during this timeframe.

Any vole seen to be making an exhibition of itself by jumping about gleefully under the bird feeder during the daily working hour timeframe shall be subject to eviction proceedings to the woods, where it must remain out of sight for at least 7 days while it considers its behaviour.

 And for goodness' sake, just stop being so darned cute! 

 Yes, you, I'm talking to YOU!