It always exciting when I come across a new creature for the first time. On the weekend, while photographing two beautiful owls, I had my first encounter with a Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis). I’m used to seeing Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers frequently around Bragg Creek but the distinctive red patches sent me looking through my bird book to identify this new (to me) species. We are on the northwest edge of their summer range but they are apparently quite conspicuous so I must have missed them previously.
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When one of the owls flew to a fence post near a stand of trees, it disturbed this small woodpecker. The little bird started chittering away and ended up flying out of the tree above the owl and landing on a post in front of me. He settled down and took a minute to scratch the feathers on his nape before heading across the meadow. It didn’t bother the owl in the least but I really enjoyed the short visit.
When this Red-tailed hawk launched off the post I had been watching him on for a few minutes, I was really impressed by the power and balance displayed. He flew closer and then went to the ground after circling back towards the fenceline. Unfortunately, it wasn’t an attacking dive only an uninspired landing in the tall grass.
A Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) surveys the lake from a one-legged position on the water of Wild Rose in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada. Before taking up this spot, I watched it walk out on the patch of dirt towards the water – it looked like it was checking out its own reflection when it got to the lake’s slightly abstract mirror.
I was on the edge of the lake at Wild Rose a week ago watching the three loons who were diving in and swimming on the water. A few different times a small flight of swallows deftly skimmed the water nearby while searching for low flying and water-walking insects to pick off. These Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are swift, acrobatic fliers so trying to catch a sharp image is a fun challenge. This little one had just hit the water but missed the little creature and was just pulling up when I caught up to him.
Although Fernie is in the heart of the Rockies, it is deeper into spring than Calgary so the visit there over the Easter weekend was great. Robins have always been a sure sign of spring for me and I found a few hunting in a field during the rain. This one was particularly beautiful as it chirped away from its perch in a tree by the Elk River.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
The Elk River runs through a southeastern region of British Columbia’s Kootenay region. Where the river spills out of the mountains into the Elk Valley, it widens and attracts an abundance of fish which in turn draws eagles, osprey and herons. On our recent trip to Fernie I enjoyed several walks along the river and was able to watch all of these birds on separate encounters. On the first evening my nephew Austin and I were out for a walk and watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying low along the river and land at a shallow stretch.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
There was enough light that it worked out well to photograph him flying by and landing.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
He landed nearby but spooked when we walked a bit closer so we headed home. It was the right call not only for the bird but the rain increased from the drizzle to a downpour which we were happy to miss.
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2500 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
Thanks Austin – it was fun to be out birding with you!
Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2000 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800
A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring. I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed. I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket. It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.
On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years. I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.
I spent an afternoon on the prairie east of High River, birds are stocking up in the fields as they head north. Swans, Pintails, Geese and a number of Bald Eagles were active in the sky. At one grain bin where I saw a Kestrel streaking by, this pigeon proved less elusive. Curiosity drew it out for a couple of quick looks. In the direct sunlight I liked the iridescent purple on the throat.
When my wife and I went to Cabo San Lucas last December I was lucky to find this Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) in a stand of cacti during a morning walk. I had noticed the hole in this cactus and was looking on when this one flew in. It poked its head out a couple of times before heading off again. I carried on and saw it flying around a couple more times when I came back that way near the end of my stroll.
I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend for the sunrise but I stayed for the American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus).
I love watching these aquatically adept birds stalking, diving and swimming in the middle of the rapids. On the last visit to the waterfall, there were three Dippers flitting about moving between the bottom of the waterfall and the rocks at the top.
They chased each other down river a couple of times but spent most of their time fishing alone. On a quiet morning in Kananaskis, it was nice to spend my time watching them.
The Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) I see are usually wading in the water or flying above it. When I was in Sedona I went down to Red Rock Crossing and was surprised to catch sight of one not by Oak Creek but in a field of tall grass a couple of hundred meters away from the water.
The bird was walking on a path leading up towards a ridge but lingered fairly close which allowed me to change lenses for a couple of different looks. I really love these birds and it was a treat to see one in an unusual environment.
I noticed some crimson flecks on its bill and when I left the bird and went back towards Oak Creek, I figured out why the Heron stayed nearby. I realized I had interrupted its dinner. I left the area and returned to the edge of the clearing an hour later to find it had left but not before returning to finish the meal.
When we were in Sedona a couple of weeks ago, I drove to the Page Springs Sanctuary in search of birds to photograph. Arizona is the winter home to many species that summer in Canada and I enjoyed seeing a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) during my visit to the river near the springs.
It was mid-morning and they were not active. They were perched over the river deep in the tangled branches of the huge trees. This yawn was the most action that I saw while I watched them. Didn’t bother me, they were great to see resting in this quiet forest.
… Not in Alberta though. Bobbi and I were in Sedona, Arizona last week and we learned that there was one species of Hummingbird that stays in the area through the winter. In the spring and summer, there can be up to 14 different types of Hummingbirds there but only the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) will spend the full year.
I went to the Red Rock State Park where I had been told a couple of these birds had staked out the feeder put out by the park staff as their territory. Tucked off to the side of the visitor center, they have a sheltered garden with native trees surrounding a few benches and various bird feeders catering to those who overwinter nearby. The Hummingbird feeder is in a slightly unusual position beside an exit door and close to the large bay windows of smoked glass. I suppose it allows people to stand close to the window on the inside and watch these speedy fellows at close range. I liked the clean background afforded by the opaque window so it suited my purposes.
I believe there were two individuals that I saw but they never appeared at the same time so it could have been one, two or more as I’m not familiar with this species and could easily mistake the unique number observed. Regardless, I was entranced by their iridescent feathers, the speed and precision of these birds as I always am with Hummingbirds. It will be several months until they return to my home so it was a treat to spend some time with them last week.
After a nice break over Christmas where I was outside playing with my kids and walking along the river, I’m enjoying winter now. Following one of the cold snaps, the chickadees that visit our backyard seemed happy to be flying around in the -5°C weather after -30°C the day before. They were flitting back and forth between the feeder and the tree beside our second floor deck which allowed me to practice capturing their launches off of the evergreen branches.
The mid-flight images were not successful in the least (not shown – nothing worthwhile…) but I’m trying different strategies as me and auto focus are not quick enough to track their small bodies in their darting, quick flight movements. For now, I was happy to spend some time with these little birds in my backyard while the sun drifted in and out of the clouds.
Brown Pelicans are frequent fliers just above the waves all around Los Cabos. I love watching them glide and I had a special encounter one morning when we were staying near Cabo San Lucas in December. Just before sunrise down on the beach near Punta Cabeza De Ballena, east of Cabo, when one landed on rocks near the shore close to me. This pelican came in when it was still pretty dark but there was enough light to make the landing a good photo opportunity.
In the two images above, I brought out some detail by bringing up the shadows in post. Below, I went the other way and deepened the shadows to create a solid silhouette of the pelican.
This fellow flew off before the sun came up. I had hoped he would stay as the sun was at an angle where the sun would be backlighting the feathers which I thought would look beautiful.
As the sun came up so too did the tide. The waves were breaking around the rocks where the pelican had rested which looked beautiful. I was really happy when another pelican came in and landed very close to the original one’s spot. With the sun and sea spray, it was a great scene to photograph. The first image in this set was from this point in the morning.
The second pelican stayed for a little while and then took off allowing for a nice launch photograph and then headed over the waves in the opposite direction from the first pelican.
When we were in Cabo San Lucas in early December, I saw many cormorants flying past our beach. They fly low and fast with little deviation from a straight line past the shore. The odd one would dive under to fish but our location did not seem to be a great spot for a meal. One morning, I was watching for Brown Pelicans, who will occasionally land quite close by, when a juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) popped up on a rocky shelf about 30 meters away.
It looked at me for a second, started shaking off the water and then set to preening its feathers. I was thrilled to see one of these birds closeup. From afar, they appear to be completely black. With this opportunity, I was able to see the different shading in the feathers and the lighter shading around the face.
That was interesting for me but the location made the images even better than the close proximity. It had chosen a dynamic spot where the waves were breaking close behind it, one even crashed right on the bird. The water droplets from the cormorant’s shaking, the sea spray and warm morning sunlight as well as some nice looks from my new friend made for a really great encounter.
I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Sunday. I was hoping to see Saw-Whet Owls but with the cold snap that hit Vancouver and the Lower Mainland a few days before, I was told they had disappeared. Hardier birds were hanging around the snowy pathways so I wasn’t disappointed with the visit. This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was hunting in the shallows near a blind and wandered very close.
A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) squawks to its family nearby.
The same bird exhales a puff of warm air.
A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) drums on an old tree for insects.A Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) swims between the ice chunks in a brackish pond.
Two female Mallards waddle down the pathway.
A pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) share a perch over the water.
A small flight of Sandhill Cranes transit between ponds at the sanctuary.
We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base. There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day. A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.
Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight. It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible. Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension. Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.
He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard. I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.
A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor. It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along. Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.
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A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard. The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on. Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while. While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.
Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits. Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.
While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew. I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball. Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.