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.
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.
With another snack in her belly, she retreated to the trees and I left her shortly after taking this last picture.
On my frequent drives in search of snowy owls this winter, I often see coyotes. I admire how these creatures thrive during the winter and enjoy being able to watch them hunt mice across the fields. Here are a couple from the past month or so.
And a few more where individuals were going here and there across the prairies.
The snowy owls will soon start to head north so I’m trying to get out to photograph them as much as my time will allow before they go. I found this owl just after sunrise and when she looked backwards at me, her wide eyes caught the sunlight beautifully. I will miss these gorgeous birds when they return to their summer breeding grounds on the arctic tundra.