Birds

Mallards in motion

As spring takes hold, you can find ducks busy wherever there is water.  Whether it is at a lake still mostly covered with ice or a pond that is not much more than a puddle in a field, a male and female pair are often there paddling, wading, fishing or cleaning.  I found this couple in a shallow depression where snow melt had collected.  The light was warm gold and I thought they looked absolutely beautiful.

As I slowed down, I flushed them into the air.  I was disappointed in myself as I’d prefer to wait until they chose to fly on their own accord.  Still, it was a transitory location for them and one that was close to the roadside so I didn’t carry too much concern away with me after watching them launch and head away.


Swans into the air

I was excited to find tundra swans on a small pond west of Mossleigh last weekend.  The bird migrations north are underway and these are among the most elegant of the travelers.  As sunset approached, small bevies of swans took flight so I had several opportunities to photograph their takeoffs where they run along the water as they gather speed before lifting into the air.  On one of these launches, I dropped the shutter speed to 1/20th of a second and panned with a pair in order to blur the background and their wings.  I find swans in motion to be beautiful and I always think of ballet choreography when I watch them.

 


Signs of spring: mountain bluebirds

Less than a couple of weeks ago, it was close to -30ºC and there was a thick layer of snow across the prairies.  A couple of days ago it was just above 0ºC with only small patches of snow left on the fields near Mossleigh.  I spent the afternoon on the backroads to see what I could find.  Snowy owls were nowhere that I could see so I suspect the majority have now headed north.  Wedges of Canada geese flew overhead steadily as the sun began to sink lower.  These were joined by the occasional small bevy of swans which were great to see and I will share some of those pictures soon.
Early in the afternoon a blur of blue zipped past where I was photographing a stormy cloudscene to the east.  A mountain bluebird landed on a barbed wire fence a few metres away and quickly flitted around the posts and in the tall grass for a few seconds.  This male was joined by two others and two females and they flew off across the road and quickly out of sight across a field.  These birds are usually early spring migrants so I took it a definitive sign that winter’s grip is releasing now.

Wildlife during a winter blizzard

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The snow started to fly on Friday and has kept falling through the weekend.  And, it’s cold!  I went touring west of Bragg Creek yesterday but saw very little – even when the sun came out for a couple of hours.  Today was a different story and I saw a couple of moose, some white-tailed deer and a small banditry of chickadees.

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Moose love the cold so I hoped to see them in one of their regular haunts.  I found this young bull grazing in the bushes.

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These chickadees, mostly black-capped with a couple of boreals, flitted around a fence line that’s long been fighting to hold back the bushes behind.  I’ve always liked watching these little birds – they move very quickly so it’s a nice challenge to photograph them.

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A Snowy owl hunting on a rise

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The Snowy owl that I had photographed the previous week, I found again last Sunday.  This time she was on a snow-covered rise ~50 metres from the fence line.  It was much warmer than the week before and the sun was out so it was quite a pleasant visit.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6232

The owl perched taking in a complete view of her surroundings – me included.  The wind was gusting ahead of a chinook that was arching across the prairies so she crouched low whenever it picked up.

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In between one of the wind blasts, she caught sight or sound of something to her left and glided towards a broken post.  She hovered for a moment and then dropped to the ground.

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6315

A Snowy owl on the Albertan prairie © Christopher Martin-6320

She grabbed something and quickly swallowed it.  She landed a little further behind the rise and in line with the post so I missed a clear line on the hunt’s conclusion.

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She soon returned to scanning the field.

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And I found another sight line.

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A Steller’s Jay in Lake Louise

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On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water.  This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are  present across North America.

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I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year.  That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet.  Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.

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A Pileated evening in Bragg Creek

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About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek.  The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.

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Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.

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After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust.  Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.

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Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards.  He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.

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An owl on the other side

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On the other side of the road, this Great gray owl continued hunting after it flew across.  She left the open forest for the denser evergreens on the southern approach which provided a completely different look from the images that I shared yesterday.

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She flew between a couple of posts before gliding between a couple of trees.  I was lucky to be in position for some great opportunities.

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The owl flew into the middle of this large tree, beside the trunk, and I thought she might choose to rest there for a while.  She did for a few minutes, but soon grew restless and began scanning the ground for activity.  She turned around, saw something and then shot out of the tree.  I lost sight of her almost right away but heard a lot of squawking and commotion before things went quiet again.  I assume the owl struck successfully but did not go into the woods to check – either way the cycle of hunter and hunted continued with one coming out successfully.

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In the presence of greatness

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A couple of weeks ago snow had fallen overnight and I went into Bragg Creek to see what I might be able to photograph in this prelude to winter.  I was thrilled when I spied this Great gray owl flying along an old fence line.  She looked amazing against the lightly blanketed grass and trees.  Her colouring made her appear as a piece of the forest in motion.

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This owl has a well-defined hunting ground that I’m familiar with.  That said, I hadn’t seen her in over a month until the week before this encounter.  That time it was dusk and my camera and I both had trouble focusing as she flew past.  She stared at me for several wing beats which looked fantastic.  However the images were soft and I came away disappointed for missing some great shots.  Persistence paid off, as it often does given enough of it, and she was even more engaging this time around.

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Keeping an eye on my whereabouts was a minor distraction to her hunting and she made three separate attacks over the half hour that I watched her.  One was successful and a fourth, when she disappeared into the deeper woods, seemed successful given what I could hear.

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She hunted on the north side of the gravel road for most of the time I was there.  This forest is open with relatively wide spacing between the mostly Aspen trees and tall grass filling in between.  On the south side, the forest is dominated by evergreens and is much denser.  I will share some more images of this owl from the other side tomorrow.

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A heron fishing in silhouette

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Walking back from the birds along the shoreline of the Bow River, I drew a line along the ponds in the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.  The daylight was failing and the paths were in deep shadow.  The water reflected the southern sky where there were breaks in the surrounding forest.  In one of these bright patches, was a welcome surprise, there stood a Great blue heron, his profile silhouetted and motionless at first.

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The bird then moved slowly in the shallows and I loved watching as the hunter stalked the fish below.

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Within a couple of minutes, a strike came.  The water was pitch black to me but that did not help this fish.  The heron lifted its head out of the water with a very nice sized dinner I would imagine.

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Once finished, the heron continued to ply its trade, looking to have seconds.

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A Cormorant in motion on the Bow

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I spent an evening on the Bow River at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the weekend.  It was a beautiful day, warmly lit in golden light, and I had a great time photographing the birds well into dusk.  Among the birds nearby were a few Double-crested cormorants fishing and flying around.  I photographed as they flew or swam by.  They are exceptionally fast birds and they often fly just above the water at speed which is exciting to watch.  After the sunlight had left the river, I caught sight of one of these cormorants moving upriver.  Darkness was starting to settle in so I dragged my shutter in order to use the lack of light to pan with the bird as it passed me.  I used a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second and it worked out pretty well.


Eagles flying at the Mount Lorette Ponds

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This year I have photographed a pair of Bald eagles who nested at the Mount Lorette Ponds.  These small lakes in Kananaskis are stocked with Rainbow trout most years so these eagles have obviously found an excellent location to summer.  On this morning in mid-August the day took a little while to warm up which saw both birds perch in the trees nearby.  I waited for a couple of hours for a fish catching run with no luck.

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The luck I did have was watching these two beautiful animals as they surveyed their land below.  One eagle was more active early and flew to different trees a few times before disappearing into the forest above the water.  I hiked around for a bit before returning and finding one over the water again while the other perched on the edge of that forest.

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