It seems longer than a month ago when Kian and I went to the Columbia Valley in British Columbia for the Labour Day long weekend.
(please click any image to see a higher resolution version)
We had a great time skateboarding in Invermere, touring around Fairmont and even did a little swimming which was unreasonably cold for the late summer.
Photography wasn’t the focus of our trip but, unsurprisingly, I fit a little in here and there. Easily the best of these was our walk along the narrow channel of the Columbia River where it meets the northern tip of Windermere Lake. We found five kingfishers chattering, flying and occasionally diving along the water.
This juvenile alighted on the pillar near us as we were watching another one flying on the far side of the river. He stayed for several minutes. Drawing a flyby from one kingfisher but mostly left alone to scout for dinner before the sun set.
Wood ducks are one of my favorite species of waterfowl (side note: that is a weird word!) I love the plumage of both genders. To me, they are among the most beautiful birds. Beyond that, I like watching them paddling around, chasing one another and most of all splashing during their cleaning routine.
Last weekend I spent a couple of hours watching them carry on about their day. Every now and then, one would separate from the raft of ducks, presumably to get some space, before dunking their head under the water several times, shaking the water off, flapping wings, rising out of the water and then repeating it for as long as they saw fit. I didn’t tire of watching the water drops fly!
I’m heading down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to see which migrating as well as resident birds are around on a wet, cool afternoon. Kezia and I were down there together last weekend and found some wood ducks, a variety of gulls, one heron and a good number of Canada geese. This one was paddling on one of the ponds near the river. Kez and I both like the serene aspects of this scene.
As farmers harvest their crops, hawks enjoy using the hay bales to scout for field mice. This rough-legged hawk stared at me from her perch for a moment before returning her attention to the field.
During the warmer months, there are a number of great blue herons that settle around the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. A couple of weeks ago, I was on the shore of the second lake watching daybreak over a smoke-filled Bow Valley.
Looking across the lake, I saw ten herons spread out across a marshy spot a couple of hundred meters away. They were a bit too far away to observe them closely but I liked watching them as they hunted, interacted with one another and preened their feathers.
An eagle flew overhead which sent all of the herons into the air. In twos and threes they sped away while the eagle stayed on a straight line towards the first lake. Within 15 minutes a couple of the herons returned. Shortly after that three others alighted in the shallows of another marshy area.
There was a trail that angled towards that spot so I hoisted the big lens and tripod and wandered down. The path died out, overgrown by tall grass, but not before leaving me less than 50 meters from the closest of the three herons there. I set up and then enjoyed an hour watching these birds doing their thing.
This August, I’ve taken a couple of afternoon drives along Grand Valley Road north of Cochrane. The rolling hills and farmland is beautiful and is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife. I have been missing great gray owls so that was my specific draw to the area. I was fortunate on both occasions to find them; three on the first trip and one on the second outing.
This one I watched in the forest from a gravel road. She perched on a few different branches over a half an hour before diving down into the grass. She caught and quickly swallowed something – my view obscured by the grass and the trees but likely a vole or some type of field mouse.
The solitary owl from my most recent drive was perched in a more open area. I was able to string together a nice flight sequence when he launched after a few minutes of watching him.
I spent Sunday morning watching a great blue heron hunting for fish in the shallows of a small lake near Bragg Creek. Early on it was just above freezing which led to mist rising off, and swirling across, the water. The heron was on the far side when I first spotted him so I took turns watching the weather and the fishing.
The day slowly warmed up a little as did the heron to me. I stayed put in my lawn chair and around 10:30, he crossed the lake landing about 60 meters away from me.
Herons are excellent hunters and this fellow caught fish steadily while walking in the shallows.
One more flight a little while later put him back on the far side but still quite close.
He continued hunting along the shoreline there for another 45 minutes.
Towards noon, I wanted to get home and when he flew back towards the first location I’d found him, I thought that was a sign that our encounter was completed for the day.
Not quite Icarus, but after this owl had descended into the grass after a rodent of some type, she flew up and into a shaft of early sunlight that had pierced deep into the forest.
A great gray owl was hunting across a meadow near Kananaskis Country earlier in the week. I watched her across the field for a while before she flew to the forest edge and landed in a tree branch a couple of meters off the ground. Eventually she launched and dove after something in the tall grass.
That proved to be unsuccessful. And the owl flew across the hillside into a stand of trees to the north. I was able to watch her work between a couple of different perches until she found one in the sunlight.
The warmth in the sun may have been part of the reason she stayed there for a few minutes.
When she moved on, she flew low over the wet grass, then climbed into the trees and disappeared.
I found a Swainson’s hawk south of Cochrane last week. When the bird eventually pushed off from this tangle of branches I took a couple of photographs with the wings at full extension.
This blackbird’s flight from earlier this morning was an interesting one. He crouched low on the branch for a few seconds, longer than I was expecting, before it launched. When he did, there were a couple of quick wing beats before diving out of sight into the brambles.
Most weekends in the first couple of months of the year I spent driving the country roads east of Calgary in search of snowy owls. I had a number of great encounters this year amid some frigid temperatures and heavy snowfalls. The last of these visits was in early March.
I found this owl perched on a fence post in the middle of a field on a beautiful sunny morning east of Delacour. I waited for quite a while before the owl chose to fly. When she did, she caught the wind and rose upwards quickly before she looked my way and banked above me. She crossed the field and dove into the snow by another fence line. She was too far to see clearly what she caught but she finished it quickly and then flew off out of sight.
Some people continued to find snowies into April but I have been drawn to the mountains and the waterways running out of them for the last few weeks so I will look forward to next winter when I hope to find these beautiful birds again. For now, I am enjoying the arrival of spring as I’m sure they are too as they return to their summer range north of the Arctic Circle.