The Aurora Borealis lit up for a couple of hours last night so Jack and I were out until 5 AM watching the ribbons stripe the night sky. There were few clouds and it turned out to be a very enjoyable performance.
A Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) rests between calls in a bramble of willow catkins.
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.
From a small pond in Granville Island where a light rain was falling. The circular ripples created by the raindrops hitting the water distorted the reflections of trees above.
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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 woke to a grey morning on the Pacific earlier this week. As the sun rose, its light diffused across the dull silver clouds and carried on to the waves rolling in. In these images I stretched some of these waves out with longer exposures (1/30 to 1/2 seconds) and swung the camera around a bit just to play with the idea a bit more.
Amid the abstract work, a few seals skimmed by. One of these glided inside a wave as it rolled into shore – which was fantastic to watch. I hope to share images from those encounters as well as a few with Brown pelicans from the same morning soon.
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.
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.
A few echos of the blizzard from last week blew through since then. More opportunities to photograph winter storms and with the image above I wanted to show the chaotic aspect often seen when the wind blows and the snow flies. Click on the image to open a page with a higher resolution version.
A heavy blizzard blew through southern Alberta on Sunday. The snow fell throughout the day with the wind keeping pace alongside. The trees on the edge of Kananaskis Country caught pieces of the storm and twirled the snow around the branches in the evergreens.
Following a beautiful sunrise down on the Vermilion Lakes, my friend and I drove up towards Lake Minnewanka to see if there was any wildlife that wanted to be seen.
We spied this bull elk along the edge of the canal where the lake drains out grazing on the patches of snow-free grass.
He spent a little time in the water and the climbed out and moved towards us along the tree line. I loved the way the reflection cast by the elk and the trees onto the water shimmered and blurred.
Just after walking behind the stand of trees that hung over the water, the elk walked into the trees to graze. Returning to the car, we found the elk had moved to the edge of the trees by the road and that allowed us to watch him stripping bark of fallen tree branches.
Our family went for a drive along the Grand Valley Road northwest of Cochrane a few days ago in search of raptors of any description. This road is nice drive that is rarely busy and can often yield sightings of owls, hawks or eagles. In a hilly farmland area we noticed a number of ravens circling around a stand of trees in a field a couple of hundred metres off the road. When we pulled over to see what the focus of their attention was two coyotes bolted out from under a large cedar and sprinted across the open into the thicker forest on the far side of the field. Looking back to the spot where they started running we could see a carcass that had been mostly picked clean of what, judging by one of the horns that was sticking up, appeared to be a bison. As it was on farm land it seems likely there were bison being raised here but there were no other farm animals within sight to confirm that theory. With coyotes, ravens, magpies and probably a number of other predators drawn to this unfortunate beast, its herd was likely as far away from this spot as the fences would allow. So, we were watching the ravens which were squawking and pestering the smaller birds picking at the scraps when Bobbi noticed a Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) approaching from down the valley.
We already had the long lenses out so we were able to photograph the bird as it flew overhead towards the other birds. Two ravens also saw the eagle inbound and flew up to harass this new attendee. The three looped around the trees for a minute before the eagle landed in one of the high branches and the black birds returned to ground.
During this chase, the overcast skies took on a more threatening tone and soon a soft snowfall turned into a blizzard. I thought the Golden eagle would wait out the height of the storm from the perch so I kept looking around to see if the coyotes, or anything else, came back.
Out of the sheets of snow a Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) swooped in and took up a spot on a tree near to the Golden. This had turned out to be a great encounter and when a couple more Bald eagles flew in and around over the next half an hour, it continued to get better and better. The snow did finally ease up and there were opportunities for nice flight images.
The lighter skies appeared to spur one of the Bald eagles to say goodbye to a raven it had been sharing a tree with across the field and glide over to the bison skeleton.
This eagle brought a good amount of conviction to its scavenging intent and it chased off all of the passerine that had been crowding on the ground.
When we moved on, this eagle was alone on the ground having successfully landed and taken ownership of what remained.
The Golden eagle had disappeared and two Bald eagles were perched where they could keep an eye on the bones. The collection of black birds were scattered in singles and small groups around the scene though none strayed close to the eagle holding dominion on the ground. The last wildlife we saw as we drove away were the coyotes trotting along the hill towards the farm-house keeping their distance while still keeping an eye on the bison.
I’ve spent a lot of time this winter driving the township and range roads which divide the prairie up into a grid work of crisscrossing dirt roads. The primary goal has been to photograph Snowy owls during their winter stay here but I’m always happy to see bald eagles when I happen across them. These were two separate encounters. Above, the eagle was flying low over the fields west of Calgary and I parked at a driveway in time to photograph the bird flying past. In the photograph below, the eagle was perched in this tall tree near Gleichen east of Calgary for ten minutes while I watched before it launched and headed out over the fields.
Dawn at the second Vermilion Lake was beautiful with some lovely colour in the sky around Mount Rundle early in the sunrise. As the sun climbed, I moved into the contrasts and this one worked well in black and white.
The sunset in West Bragg Creek was beautiful last night. The warm sunlight alternating with the long shadows striped the land and looked great in every direction. However it was the same light caught in the clouds above that stole the show.
Actually the Red squirrels that I was photographing a couple of different times over the weekend weren’t getting up to too much trouble so the title is a little bit misleading. However, when I watch them tearing up and down trees, leaping between branches, grabbing seeds, etc. they seem mischievous. We had one, in the image below, that found a way into our attic from the outside last year, that crossed from mischief into nuisance but a live trap and rodent proofing measures allowed us to remove it and for it to return to the backyard
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This same squirrel is drawn to the bird feeders I have put out over the years. It successfully pilfered from or destroyed each of them! That has been stopped with the current, rather ugly, feeder which the squirrel can neither knock down nor draw seeds from. Some of the birds that visit, nuthatches in particular, are very picky about the seeds they eat so many seeds drop to the ground which birds and squirrels alike enjoy snacking on.
Nevertheless the squirrel still takes a crack at this feeder every couple of days as seen above. Below, he is perched on the top of the metalwork that holds the feeder as well as flowers in the summer.
Even with seeds scattered on the deck, when I observe the squirrels eating they prefer stripping cones from the tall conifers they run around in all day to get at the seeds within. We seem to have an equilibrium with the squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, birds and voles in the backyard. May it continue to last.
It was a sunny morning today so I spent some time photographing the Black-capped chickadees that live in our backyard. There are several of them that share the bird seed we put out with a large flock of Common redpolls and a few Red-breasted nuthatch through the winter.
As from a couple of weeks ago with their redpoll cousins, the chickadees were elusive to capture nicely in flight. But it was a very nice time with my backyard neighbours.
A couple from the morning.
I like my backyard, it’s a cool place.
When I was on a catamaran sailing along the Na Pali Coast we had a close encounter with a small pod of dolphins where they swam alongside for several minutes. I loved watching the deceptive power in their movements. The cat was under full sail and the dolphins seemed to expend little effort to speed past the bow and slip in and out of the waves.
On the return trip to the harbour, close to the first visit, a couple more dolphins (different I think as they seemed to be gray coloured versus the blue bodies of the first ones – although that could be a change in the light) came by and this time had a couple of humpback whales with them. The dolphins get very excited when the whales return for the winter and the two species are often found playing together and generally hanging out together until the whales head off around the globe again. The whales did not make any spectacular breaches but I felt no disappointment as just seeing them in their waters was magical.
The common redpolls (Carduelis flammea) are, as the name implies, common across Canada’s lower latitudes in the winter. However, they are new to my backyard. We have had scores of Black-capped chickadees since we put out a winter bird feeder several years ago but not redpolls. This year, there is a flock of about ten that spend much of the day in the trees behind our house flitting back and forth to the feeder. They are joined now and then by a larger mob of about thirty more redpolls. All of them seem to play nice with the incumbent chickadees so they have been a great, and colourful, addition to the forest that edges my backyard.
The morning I spent with them this weekend was cold so all of the birds were eating a lot and flying around. My fingers didn’t like the -20˚C but it was a lot of fun standing in the middle of activity.
I set up early so the light was decidedly bluish. When it came up, the sun went in and out of the clouds so I had a lot of different moods to work with. It was a very fun morning at home.