Last weekend there was a massive storm in the sky on Saturday night. Not the thunder and lightning kind – though there was a very energetic rain shower around 2am – rather a geomagnetic storm. With that came bright auroras which rippled and shot for several hours. The rain actually woke me up and when I looked outside, I could see the Northern Lights between gaps in the clearing clouds.
I picked up some gear and headed outside right away. Living near Bragg Creek we have dark skies except for the glow from Calgary to the east so it was easy to see the show right from my deck. When I walked over to the banks of the Elbow River, it coincided with an intense burst that lasted for almost twenty minutes. I woke my daughter up later when I went back home and we were able to catch another smaller outburst – her first in real-time. Easily the best part of a great night.
I spent the first half of the weekend in the Rocky Mountains of western Alberta and loved every minute. An amazing display of the Aurora Borealis over Lake Minnewanka and the first Grizzly bears that I’ve seen this year were among several highlights from the trip. In this image, clouds cleared out of the valleys just after sunrise in Kananaskis. I was continually reminded how beautiful this part of the world is.
Near Priddis, on my way to photograph at Frank Lake, I found a bald eagle perched in this interesting tree. I waited for a few minutes before the bird took flight. For me this image is a subtle allegory for choosing to fly above chaos – I like that!
I’m not sure if it’s the attractive color scheme, the way they move through water or something more ethereal that draws me to the avocet. This is a bird that I am endlessly curious about and it steals time from other shorebirds whenever I cross ones path. Last weekend at Frank Lake was no different.
Spring at this wetland just east of High River has a myriad of summer residents settling in and migrating travelers on their way north. This visit along the shoreline counted ibis, night herons, cormorants, killdeer and more fly by as the evening shadows slowly grew. I photographed many of them but none as often as the avocets.
Most of these were paired up and the couples swam together or high stepped in the shallows near one another while they fished. I saw two sets skirmish over territory briefly. However most just ambled along undisturbed – company to one another and disinterested in much else.
The American avocets were mostly paired up along the stretch of shoreline along Frank Lake when I went there last night. Here one avocet chased off another couple while the mate. Apparently defending territory they had claimed at some point.
A few weeks ago, there were several bald eagles hunting for prairie dogs in the fields west of the Springbank Airport. I’m not sure if these rodents were just coming out of their holes, the eagles were migrating through or something else was behind this congregation. No matter why, the eagles were making hunting runs on the far side of one field at one point in the afternoon. One of these saw one eagle fly back towards where I was standing. That provided a great opportunity for a few in flight shots.
This eagle flew past me and far beyond before landing so I did not take any photographs of the meal. If you are interested, I have posted here previously of another eagle from the same day that I found eating from a perch in a tree. I realize that may be unappealing – but some people are interested. Either way, here are a couple more of this eagle as it passed overhead.
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.
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.
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 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.