After a day that started with snowfall, the clouds cleared in the evening. Desiree and I headed south to Frank Lake to see what birds were staging around the shoreline. With the unusual dip in temperature, I was unsure which birds may have jumpstarted their migrations and which would still be there. We were treated to a large squadron of white pelicans which were the main focus of our bird watching and photography. The sun fell under the clouds an hour before dusk and the light was incredible right through to sunset. Aside from the pelicans, we had several species of seagulls, great blue herons, cormorants, hawks, coots, ducks and shorebirds that came by. And, a number of Black-crowned Night-Herons too. Surprisingly to me, most of those were juveniles. Which Desiree was able to identify as Night-Herons. Which was great as I thought they were an egret or another type of heron. The young look very different from the adults in this species of heron! This photo caught the heron flying into the warm sunlight and I was lucky to have it catch the eye.
A quiet moment watching a lone loon between his dives under the water.
A tree swallow on barbed wire south of Cochrane.
I love Canada jays. They go by a couple of names (well I guess we like to call them by a few names) – I like Whiskey Jack and Canada jay more than gray jay but those are just my own preferences. Some people see them as mischievous camp robbers. I don’t. For me, they exemplify companionship as I always flitting around in pairs. I found this one in a tree and waited until it flew off towards the call of its partner.
The squirrels continue to race around the trees in our backyard. Social distancing and self isolation obviously have no meaning for them. Still, I did identify with this one for a minute when it perched alone. Soon it resumed scrambling up the trunks and leaping across branches. It drew a little closer to the balcony in short order.
On a solo outing to some remote roads, I found a gorgeous great gray owl perched on a telephone pole in warm afternoon sunshine.
A short wait ended with the bird gliding into the forest. It found a perch there and moved to two other ones before flying to a knot of trees close by.
She scanned the sky occasionally, watched the ground steadily but did not find a target on or under the snow. One launch had the owl drop onto a pile of deadfall. I caught a nice launch off of a tree trunk and followed the bird up to her next perch.
Soon she flew across the nearby meadow and landed in a lone evergreen. She flew along a frozen creek to a slender tee – a winter’s skeleton – that bowed under her weight.
And then she flew west, further afield, and well beyond my shooting range with the gear I have.
A small slough west of Calgary is a little gem for birds from spring until fall and one I like to visit now and then. Last August I was surprised to find a few night herons perched among the long grass surrounding the water. I had not seen them frequent this location previously so it was a pleasure to watch them for about a half an hour.
It was early evening, around 6pm, warm with only a rustle of wind – just enough to keep the mosquitoes away. One heron found the conditions favorable and flew overhead at one point.
The herons were more active on the far side of pond. However one bird was stationed closer to me and I kept my long lens trained on that one for the most part. Eventually that paid off when a farm truck rumbled by on the gravel road behind me and set the heron to flight. The launch yielded my favourite photographs – I am a sucker for images that capture motion and power – but I was spoiled across the whole time I was there.
As cool as that visual could have been, self isolation would frown on people congregating in our backyard. Instead, a flock of 60 or more Bohemian waxwings flew into the trees behind our home in the morning. They nibbled at the trees, and the odd chunk of snow hanging in the branches. Flitting around the forest edge, I enjoyed their industry for half an hour as the morning sun shone over the hills. These are a favourite backyard bird for me. They don’t come around my home often but it is magic when they do.
The home isolation as the world buckles down is hard. We are very fortunate to live in a forest so the time at home affords the opportunity to watch the trees and the wildlife that lives in it. These blue jays come by a couple of times a day. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more from my backyard for a while to come. Be safe, be isolated and find hope.
Whitehorse is home to bald eagles among many other birds – large and otherwise. We found them on several occasions during our visit there last summer. This one landed in these twisted branches and I was able to play with her framed by them.
We found this red fox near our B&B when we were there in August last summer. The foxes in Whitehorse are not too hard to find but at 10:30pm, we weren’t expecting to see one in the gloom. But this one stood out against the bright green lawn of a home that edged on to the forest.
I found this great horned owl on December 20th. She was perched a couple of meters off the ground in a stand of trees along the edge of a farm east of Langdon on Alberta’s prairie. It was just before noon and the day was cool but not frigid. The warm sun was lovely as I walked from the range road to a position with a better view of the owl. I was excited to photograph the bird – especially once I had the sunlight at my back and I could catch the glow of the golden eyes.
She watched the ground intently at times and tracked any ravens that flew overhead. I settled in on a mound and waited for the bird to launch. Despite a couple of shakes and repositions early on, the bird didn’t fly then and soon the eyes were shutting for increasingly long intervals.
For four hours I waited before the owl jumped into the air. I was in a great position but was chagrined when she flew away from me. Hope returned when she alighted on a branch 20 meters away and turned back towards me. A few minutes along and the excitement returned. This time the flight path was towards me and she flew beside me on her way to another line of trees towering over a snow-covered field. This time afforded me a great angle on the owl.
I enjoy the backroads on the prairies. This afternoon I found a pair of ravens perched on the peak of this weathered homestead east of Dalemead. When they flew I tried to compose their flight against the field and the house.
It was a great spring to spend lot of time with these majestic owls. For many years there have been several pairs of great gray owls that I’ve been able to photograph hunting and resting on perches in and around forests near my home. I’ve never taken it for granted. Happily the great spring has continued into summer. Here are a few of my favorites from July so far.
I went to Frank Lake in early May. A short drive east of High River, this is a wetland controlled by Ducks Unlimited Canada and is designated as an Important Bird Area. The migratory and summer populations both have a large variety of bird species. I enjoy photographing there – it’s a beautiful location on the prairies, has abundant wildlife and offers a wide area across three basins to explore.
American avocets are one of my favorite shorebirds. On my last visit, I had great opportunities to photograph them from mid-afternoon through dusk. These are a few of those images. Thank you for having a look.
‘This great gray owl was sheltering in the branch of a leafy tree when I first found him east of Kananaskis. The rain was pouring and he was smart to avoid the brunt of it. I was less so and got soaked. Eventually the sun came out and the forest brightened. The owl began hunting and grabbed two field mice over a half an hour. In this image he had alighted from a fencepost and was heading back into the forest.
I’m enjoying day with my kids. I hope all the fathers who love, support and try their best to understand theirs are enjoying the same today.
I had a great day with the mothers in my life. I hope you have enjoyed the same, great memories or are the recipient of a lot of heartfelt thank you. You have the privilege to have such influence over your (and personally, on my) children. It is lucky for them it is so very well placed. Happy Mother’s Day.
Spring has returned the robins the fields and forests around Bragg Creek. I found this one stirring up the leaves below these trees. She darted between the trunks and then flew up into the branches. The diffused background from a narrow depth of field reminded me of a watercolor painting. The monochromatic palette in the bark and dull yellow grass both warmed a little with the morning sun. Her orange belly was a welcome splash of bright color.
Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away. It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays). There was enough light for one more encounter.
The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow. Then heard or saw something and shot upwards. He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.
With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.
Flying to a new perch after several minutes. From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.
The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.