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Fight or flight?

On a snowy day in early April these two geese charged each other repeatedly as I watched them on the edge of the ice at Wild Rose Lake.  Here the one Canada goose looks bemused by this emphatic display.

The Palouse Falls into dusk

(Please click on the image to open a higher resolution version)

This waterfall is a very worthwhile detour from the centre of the rolling fields.  I’ve visited this park twice during my first visit to the Palouse area.  The canyon the water has carved out is beautiful and its sharp edges contrast well with the endless swirl of the foam around the pool below the falls.  A great place to spend a lot of time watching the day go by.

Palouse – first impression

I’m visiting the Palouse for the first time over the weekend.  The spring landscape in the early light this morning presented many of the hues in the Easter color palette.  As for first impressions, this is truly beautiful country and it is a fantastic place to explore.  There is much more to say, but the sun is shining and there are many more Easter eggs to find in these hills.

Robins in Tillebrook

A visit east included a short visit to the Tillebrook Provincial Park.  A few American robins were hunting the trees for winter berries.  The branches split up the sunlight and shadows into shafts and streaks that the birds danced through.

An American dipper in the cold mist

The quick stab of wintry weather last weekend reminded me of a visit to the Vermilion Lakes in January.  It was cold, -25°C cold, but this American dipper flitted around the pond with the energy typical of this species.

This was a welcome distraction from my wait for daybreak, still 15 minutes away, so I switched to a telephoto lens and photographed the comings and goings for a little while.  Hot springs seep out of the hillside and run into the pond which keeps sections ice-free throughout the winter and creates the hazy mist that rolls in slow motion waves across the water.  It was a beautiful spot to be on a frigid morning – even when my fingers might argue it was not worth it, I believe it was.

An eagle in the trees

A couple of weeks ago, a raven’s cawing drew my attention to a small line of trees near the Springbank airport.  The raven’s dark shape was fluttering something and when I got a little closer I could see this bald eagle.  It was lunchtime and the eagle was not interested in sharing.  The raven soon took off and left the eagle to finish the prairie dog just caught in the surrounding fields. The eagle gave a few hard stares to the occasional magpie that came by but for the most part lunch went uninterrupted.

 

 

Great horned owls

The prairies around High River are dotted with small stands of trees.  These islands on the grasslands are usually home for a good number of birds.  Last weekend, I visited a long running favorite stand of mine where a pair of great horned owls have raised chicks for 30+ years I have been told.

The morning I arrived, the female was in the nest – presumably the eggs are incubating now.  The male was perched nearby and over the course of an hour he made two sorties to other trees and grabbed one field mouse along the way.

Other than that little bit of action, there was a lot of dozing in the nest and a few very slow blinks by the male too.  He kept his eyes on the magpies that came nearby now and then as well as anything else that flew or drove by.  But it was generally a fairly quiet morning – I think they were both resting up before the chicks are born.  When that happens the activity level necessarily picks up considerably.

A spring aurora on the prairie

A red alert from the Aurora Watch website late on the 27th prompted me to head north in search of the Northern Lights.  I traveled around for a while on either side of midnight – the sky was clear but the lights were very soft.  Eventually the sky’s glow began to build and I stopped on Jumping Pound Road south of Cochrane to watch the Aurora Borealis as it rose up.   There was a great arch that developed and sprites pulled away at different times throughout the show.

 

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.

On the hunt with a great gray owl

A couple of weeks ago I took a break from the snowy owls on the prairie and visited some of my great gray owl haunts near my home.  I had not seen a gray for several weeks so it was a fishing expedition at best with limited expectation.  I was excited when I found this owl perched over the snow.  It wasn’t too long before she dove into the snow and quickly swallowed some kind of mouse or vole. Her back was to me when she landed so I didn’t get a good look at her snack.  She flew up into a bare tree and continued surveying the small meadow.

She decided pretty quickly that wasn’t the spot for her and she flew into the evergreens after only a couple of minutes.

She landed and then dozed for close to half an hour from a good spot in the trees overlooking another small patch of snow.

I put on my snow boots and took an indirect path to a little hill opposite her new perch.  Her eyes watched me a little bit but the lids shut once I sat down on a log.  I was happy to wait and see if she would continue hunting after her rest.

When she did start looking around again, she seemed keen to resume and I was in a great position for her next dive which happened right away.

With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.

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