Eared Grebes are a very cool bird. They look fantastic (especially the red eyes), are great divers and really show their personalities. I watched a group of eight that swam alone and in pairs on the marsh.
There were a couple of characters who squawked or bickered a little but mostly they all meandered around grabbing insects off the water, diving for things under it and paddling around.
I was watching these birds from the Ducks Unlimited blind on Frank Lake. They swam within a few yards many times and gave me a wonderful opportunity to observe them in good detail for over three hours.
It was a beautiful afternoon on the water and along with the Eared Grebes, I watched Western Grebes, Black-crowned Night Herons, White-faced Ibis, American Avocets, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Canada Geese. It was a great afternoon on a beautiful Prairie lake.
A Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) rests between calls in a bramble of willow catkins.
Mother Nature flipped a switch a week ago and now we are free of snow and the temperatures are t-shirt appropriate. The moose probably aren’t excited about the warmer weather but I’m sure they are enjoying snacking on the new greenery. Looking at the photographs of this young bull moose afterwards, it struck me that it has been about nine months since I have had snow-free backgrounds of moose.
Regarding the moose, expect that they will start retreating for the cooler forest just after dawn pretty soon. I think it is finally safe to say we are now coming out of the mild, but very long, winter here.
In front of the patio to the front door of my house there is a stump where the previous owners had cut down what must have been a large tree. Aside from the occasional decoration, this trunk remains largely unused by us. However, we all like it so there it stays. Now, I understand why… today a pair of Boreal Chickadees started to dig out their hollow to make their nest. They carried out small clumps of wood pulp clawed out on every trip. I hope they choose to stay here.
It has been just about ten months since my last encounter with a Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) in one special area I frequently visit in Bragg Creek. Last year, there was a two month stretch where I would regularly see one or more of four owls in the forest and fields there. The long absence could be for any number of reasons but most likely it was me not seeing them or them not wanting to be seen. I know from talking with people in Bragg Creek that owls remain year round but I think some rotate around different spots throughout the year and some migrate away for at least a few months.
Last night I went for a drive with my daughter to see what animals were out and about. When I first spied this owl it was perched on a sapling standing in the middle of one of the meadows. It was a couple of hundred metres away so we watched for a minute and then carried on. About a half an hour later we returned and found the owl in a tree along the fenceline. It was watching over the grassland and soon dove successfully on a field mouse. It carried that back to a fencepost, had its snack and then went for another one. Given the place it was, the way it hunted and its markings I think it was one of the four from last year. She looked hungry so I imagine there are owlets back at her nest. Over a fifteen minute period of watching her, three rodents fell victim to her aerial strikes.
It was special to be there with my daughter for this encounter. However she fell asleep as it was close to her bedtime so I will show her the pictures and we will have to return – maybe tonight. Last year I had almost daily encounters with the Great Grays in this area. I can only hope for a repeat this spring.
The past weekend I was able to devote much of my time photographing along the grassy marshes that line the edges of Frank Lake near High River. This lake is a major stopover in Alberta for migrating birds and I was there to check which birds might be there in early spring. One of the open ponds was popular with a few different ducks which drew my attention. I worked my way over near the water edge but then soon forgot about the ducks.
There were a few American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) fishing in the shallow water. These shorebirds stole the show for me and I spent that evening and came back again on Sunday to enjoy watching and photographing them.
Curious, beautiful and agile the Avocet is a great bird to photograph. I had not been around them before so it was a lot of fun learning some of their habits. I’m excited to get back down there as they start their courtships.
Mark Garbutt, a fellow photographer who I met on the weekend, said their dance is elaborate and wonderful to watch. I hope to be able to see some of these performances in the next couple of weeks.
This coyote didn’t seem impressed with the storm that tore across the Foothills on the weekend. The front of the blizzard was pretty wet so when the temperature started to drop, everything built up a layer of ice. I suppose this creature didn’t feel like trotting around with the extra weight, and the blinding snow, so it laid down and burrowed in. It was resolute to stay put and only watched me as I set up my camera and lens for this picture. Most coyotes will perk their ears so I wondered if this one may have been injured or sick. However, I went by a couple of hours later and the coyote had moved on. The storm was still raging so maybe dinner had called her to action. When I’d seen her earlier, I thought she might not leave until the weather improved considerably.
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The small ponds that dot the Prairies at this time of the year each hold the chance of a surprise with regards to birds. With the migrations back to the north starting to pass through, swans, cranes and geese can be found at any bog, pool of meltwater or more stable body of water. The waterfowl which will summer here are returning as well so ducks of all stripes and sizes are looking for water to nest alongside.
It was in one of these shallow ponds in between Bragg Creek and Calgary that I found a paddle of ducks comprised of Mallards, several Barrow’s Goldeneye and one lone Hooded Merganser. It has been a while since I have seen one of these ducks and with this one, I was reminded how interesting they are. The fan-shaped crest with its white patch is very conspicuous. With his crest extended, this Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus) seemed to strut around the pond as it swum between two female Goldeneyes.
When some Canada geese landed in the water nearby and started a racket with their honking, most of the ducks took flight, as seen below and in the lead photograph, for a less active spot.
It’s a great time of the year as spring starts to win its fight with winter and the birds come back to the Prairies. I really enjoyed spending time with these ducks.
After watching a Barn owl hunt across the long grass marsh flats at Boundary Bay through dusk in mid-March, I was packing up when I saw a Snowy owl perched on a log. It was about 100 yards away but the white oval shape stood out distinctively against the blues and blacks of evening.
I worked my way along the levee towards the bird and it just stared at me as I stopped about 50 feet away. We stared at one another for a minute and then the owl whipped its head around and cocked it towards some sound or motion I was oblivious to. It didn’t attack and went back to looking around for a while. A few minutes later, it launched onto another large piece of driftwood which was closer to the ground.
From there, the snowy stalked along the wood and ended up jumping into the grass at one point. It stayed in the grass for a little bit but I didn’t see whether it was successful in catching something or not.
The bay was dark by this time and I left the owl as it flew to another perch nearby. I had a few great encounters in Boundary Bay – I’m already excited to go back soon.
I have always loved the crazy colours and patterns displayed by the male Wood duck (Aix sponsa). They have been somewhat elusive in the areas I am typically out photographing wildlife. When I was at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary a couple of weeks ago, I came across a raft of them paddling around a chain of small ponds sheltered by overhanging branches above and reeds behind.
The ripples in the water and the distorted reflections served as a chaotic yet still suitable background to photograph these beautiful birds. I stopped and enjoyed almost an hour of watching these fellows swim, waddle and chase one another as well as their better halves. The weather picked a great time to cloud over and the diffused, even light allowed those colours and the textures in the feathers to own the stage in several of the images.
One of the last ones I photographed before moving on caught my eye as it hopped out of the water onto a log jutting out of the water. After shaking himself off, he cocked his head and fixed me with this one-eyed stare. The stare, his body posture along with the tail feathers slightly askew suggested a bit of a character and he was a fitting model to finish this duck encounter with.
There were a trio of Sandhill cranes along the trail north of the main gate of the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. They were jostling with mallards and pigeons for the bird seed that is available at the entrance and purchased by some visitors. This seems to be a good spot for them and it was a great place to photograph these cranes. The Sandhill crane has an interesting story in Western Canada, it was really wonderful to see them up close.
Boundary Bay is lovely throughout the year. Early spring along the levee that runs parallel to the tidal flats, driftwood piles and grassy fields is not an exception. When we were there last weekend, the rain rolled in as we were watching Snowy owls scattered across the grassland which did contribute to a beautiful scene a couple of hours later. At the time, it set the owls in their poses as they hunkered down through the showers.
Jack and I waited for the weather to change so that the owls may take to the air. Dusk was quickly approaching and we had hopes that these raptors would start hunting. The rain increased and we walked back along the dyke towards the parking lot a couple of kilometers away. As the car came into view, the rain lessened and when I was at the trailhead, the sun had even hazarded a couple looks under the clouds. The evening light was beautiful though very soft as it was filtered by the clouds and water vapour in the sky. A rainbow over the water drew my attention out over the flats and that’s where I first saw a distant bird flying low over the marshes.
I followed it through the gloom and as it moved closer and into the sunlight, I was able to identify it as a Barn owl (Tyto alba). This was my first sight of one of these owls in the wild and I fell in love immediately.
They have a chaotic flight pattern where they swoop along and then dive with great conviction downwards at crazy angles when they find a target. It crisscrossed a large area for about half an hour and all I could have wished for was a bit more light.
Dusk was well entrenched by this time and I was pushing the camera’s ISO and autofocus hard. The owl was curious too and swooped by on two separate occasions. The whole time spent watching this bird was a great experience and I’m looking forward to my next encounter with one of these beautiful owls.
I could still make out the silhouette as it flew further away but my attention was pulled in a new direction by a Short-eared owl that circled by for a couple of minutes and then a Snowy which, freed from its perch by the calm weather, landed on a pile of waterlogged wood less than a stone’s throw away. I hope to share some of those photographs soon.
Over the weekend I was in Vancouver for some photography work. With my friend Jack we visited the wonderful birds preparing for spring in the Lower Mainland. We spent time in the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary with Wood ducks and Sandhill cranes, the owls along Boundary Bay, Great blue herons (Ardea herodias) around the marinas and waterways in Ladner, and a few other great spots. Although I lived in Vancouver for university, I had not visited any of these locations for wildlife before. I was amazed by the birds and their numbers at almost every location. I am looking forward to sharing some of the images soon.
This Great blue heron was a highly proficient hunter and it collected fish steadily for the hour that we watched it from a bank in Ladner off of River Road. The heron moved along the shoreline as the tide was going out and kept up its hunting pace the whole time. Great opportunities to watch the heron’s behaviour and its technique. I learned a few tells of when it is readying to strike that yielded some really nice images. I’m having fun working through the collection.
This coyote found Jack and I as we wound upwards along the road up towards Lake Minnewanka. It trotted along in the trees and then cut down into the ditch and then took a few steps towards up the hill again before it stopped. It stared our way for a few seconds before backtracking a little bit and then crossing the road and going over the edge. Beautiful animals who are among nature’s most adaptable. I see them alone or in small packs in the mountains, on the prairie and throughout the Foothills and enjoy photographing them immensely.