Birds

American robin in a watercolor

 

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.


The final hunt after an evening with a great gray

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.


Continuing on with an evening owl

Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next.  Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.

A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field.  That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.

Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl.  This one gliding between branches.  These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.

The sun fell quickly.  The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge.  The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away.  His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.

 

There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field.  That was too far away to photograph.  And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me.  That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.


A crow’s silhouette

 

Raven's silhouette - © Christopher Martin-8363-2

Crows, like ravens, are known as clever birds but I think their beauty is under appreciated.  The iridescent purples and blues that can shimmer out of their black feathers are wonderful.  A couple of weeks ago, I watched a few crows flush off a fence near Cochrane.  I tracked this one and got lucky with this shot.  I loved the shape of the silhouette and how a tiny bit of that iridescence can be seen on one wing.


A snowy glance

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9302

There is something magical when you lock eyes, however briefly, with a wild animal in their environment.  Last weekend this snowy owl favored me with a long glance as it flew over the prairies.  Here is the little story behind this image.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9139

I was driving the country roads east of Calgary and spied this owl on the top of a small hill a fair distance from the road.  The image above was taken with a big telephoto (500mm) so the bird was likely a kilometer away.  Distance can be a bit tricky on the prairie so I may be a bit off but it was too far away for any of the shots that I was looking for.  I left the car and slowly trudged up said hill on a parallel line from the owl.  I don’t like to spook animals so slowness is key when approaching and lot’s of stops to watch closely for signs of pressure in the bird.  After 45 minutes I was about 60 meters away, the owl continued to scan the fields from the high ground and I settled into the snow.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9189

The sun shone, the owl dozed a bit between scans and I had an internal dialogue about the sanity of sitting on a bare hilltop on a cold day.  It had warmed up compared to earlier in the morning when I photographed a prairie falcon a few kilometers away but a steady breeze kept things chilly.  None of that really mattered though, I was happy to be sharing time with the owl.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9280

Another 15 minutes passed and then so did a couple of ravens.  As they flew overhead the owl tracked them closely.  That seemed to stir her energy up and shortly after they passed she ruffled up her feathers, stamped a little bit and then took flight.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9297

She flew eastward into the sun which lit her beautifully.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9300-4Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9303.jpgFavoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9301-3.jpg

After a couple of wingbeats she looked my way and then stared at me for a couple more.  Was it curiosity, an acknowledgement of the encounter, her saying goodbye?  Probably not any of those but it was powerful, and as I said before, magical.

Favoured by a snowy glance - © Christopher Martin-9305-2


A raptor perched on an old house.

I had a beautiful encounter with a snowy owl on a barren hilltop near Namaka on Family Day.  That was preceded by a mutual fascination that this juvenile prairie falcon and I shared for a long-abandoned house on the prairies.

I was driving the backroads after sunrise primarily to look for snowies.  I like these drives on the winter prairie as the views are expansive and I always hope to see something unexpected.  I had not visited this worn out farmstead before and I stopped to have a look.  It was -27°C so I was content to take a couple of pictures out of the rolled down window – until I spied the falcon perched on the peak of the roof.  Then I got out and walked slowly closer.

After 15 minutes, I was set up beside one of the sheds a little ways off from the main house.  The falcon watched me approach but was more interested in scanning the field to the east.  I kept my lens trained on the roof for a few more minutes until the bird launched.

It flew over the field and out of my view.  I trudged back – it always seems farther and colder when returning from an encounter than it was getting there.  My hands were happy to get out of the wind and I was happy to have some nice images of this beautiful, hardy bird.


Bald eagle in Bragg

Found a bald eagle in a branch above a couple of ravens that were on the ground.  There must have been something that they were fighting over with the eagle for breakfast.  When the raptor launched it angled away from me but I had a good side shot for a second.


Happy holidays!

I hope you are enjoying time doing what you enjoy with those you love. We had an energetic start to the day with a dog’s temporary escape to visit the neighborhood, cleaning up from Santa’s whirlwind visit and enjoying the general madness. That’s given way to a relaxed afternoon with a gentle snowfall helping to set a calmer tone.

This white-winged crossbill was one of a mixed flock of finches, chickadees and nuthatches that I found hunting for seeds in a stretch of forest west of Bragg Creek yesterday. It was another energetic group and, looking back, seemed to be a little foreshadowing for this morning’s chaos. Looking forward, their community, cooperation and tolerance are some positive things to bring forward.


Hawk flight

A hawk launches out over the prairies.  Photographed in late August last summer.


Dippers and their questionable behavior

Not bad behavior, just one that I don’t pretend to understand.  When I was last at Elbow Falls, I photographed two American dippers as they flew, dove and splashed around the fast-moving water.  Along the way, one of the birds flew to an overhang beside the edge of the waterfall, and then slid on the ice before finding purchase in the snow.

It paused for a moment and then flew at the waterfall!

The bird flapped its wings to hover for several seconds only a few inches from the water where it fell over the edge.  I don’t know if it was looking for insects behind the water – surely not in the water itself!  Likely it was something else, maybe even simple curiosity or just because it could do it.  It was unusual and really fantastic to watch.


Dippers at Elbow Falls


American dippers are year round residents below the Elbow Falls.  When I was there before sunrise, I could hear an occasional chitter from one pair as they flew up and downstream.  As the day brightened I saw them a couple of times while I was photographing the landscape around the waterfall.

I shifted my attention to them and had two lengthy sessions photographing them.  The first began when I was taking the last couple of shots above the falls and noticed one dipper fishing in the small rapids there.  The bird splashed here and there, submerged in the flowing water and managed to hunt down a good number of insects in there.  After several minutes, breakfast concluded and the bird flew down the river and quickly went out of sight.

An hour’s wait separated me form the second encounter.  Eventually one of the dippers flew by and landed at rapids upstream from the falls.  That was too far for any reasonably interesting photographs but a second dipper followed only a little while later.  This one returned to pools above the waterfall which I have enjoyed watching them at often.  When the bird alighted in the water this time, I laid down on the snow to get close to eye level with the little bird.  I was well rewarded as it soon chose to ignore me and walked close by.


Harvest ravens

Late October provided a window of warm weather that gave farmers the opportunity to finish their harvesting.  Driving near the Springbank Airport, I saw the dust plume generated by a combine on one field and went to have a look.  Often, birds and coyotes can be drawn in looking for any dazed or dead rodents resulting from the harvester passing over their burrows.  These ravens were four of a much larger group that were following behind the tractor.  I watched these ones as they hopped and flapped around, cawing at one another while searching for food.