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.
Almost two months ago, I came across a great gray owl that was surveying a bog from the top of a weathered fence post. I watched him for a few minutes as he looked around. Then the big, yellow eyes watched me for a few seconds before the wings stretched out and he flew up the hill towards me. These owls move quickly when they choose to so I was reacting not thinking when he took to the air. I was happy to have a few shots of that approach.
I thought he would fly by, but another post a couple of meters away from me was his destination. He looked around for half a minute, then stared at me while launching into the air again. This time he passed close by, crossed the path and then flew to a broken tree branch in the forest.
It was early evening and seemed to be supper time as he dove into the tall grass a couple of minutes later. That yielded a vole or some kind of field mouse. I couldn’t tell as he swallowed it while on the ground and mostly out of sight.
Reappearing after a short while, he ascended to another branch briefly and then flew deeper 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.
This great gray owl was hunting across a field when I was out photographing. I set up my camera and watched her glide low over the grass scouting for movement. She caught a mouse and ate it before crossing the field, landing on a fence post close by.
She worked along the fence line for a little bit before returning her attention to the seemingly more productive ground she had started the morning at. I waited for a couple of minutes, watching while she made short flights and dives.
Inevitably she added to her breakfast count and then returned in my direction. This time to a weathered wood fence which was directly in front of me. She flew from fence, to the red pipe and to the fence again in quick succession.
That gave me the opportunity to photograph her in flight up close which was a wonderful gift from this beautiful owl. Before long she launched once more, crossed the field into the sunshine and landed in a tree on the edge of the forest.
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.
I like photographing birds – no surprise to those who follow this blog. I’m not a birder with a long list of life birds but I really enjoy watching almost every bird I see, particularly when they are in motion. Several days ago at Carburn Park the sky was overcast, snow fell and wind out of the north had a bit of a bite to it. A great day to watch and photograph along the Bow River.
At one bend there was a small colony of California gulls. A few flew off in the time I watched them. Although these gulls are common around Calgary’s rivers through the winter, and can be easily found at any time, I had fun watching these ones fly by.
Great blue herons are a favourite bird of mine. I was very happy when I spotted this one fishing along the Madison River in Yellowstone National Park when I was there a few weeks ago. I found a little shoulder off the road where I could park my car and I walked back to the small bridge I had just crossed.
The heron was stalking through the grass in the water, noted my presence with a slight turn of its head, and then continued. A few minutes, three strikes and two fish later, it had moved closer and was now directly across the water from me.
Whether it was momentarily full, spooked by a particular vehicle crossing the bridge or just tired of me watching, it jumped into the air after ducking under the logs in front of it in the picture above.
I was in a great position to watch the strong wingbeats lift the heron. I was already feeling lucky for first finding it along this beautiful river bend and then getting to photograph it fishing. When it took flight and then banked overhead, I was able to get several nice flight shots and I felt my luck had doubled down on its own accord – and won!
This Great gray owl was hunting for field mice in West Bragg yesterday. It dove a few times, easily punching through the thin covering of snow left by Friday’s snowstorm. I watched it fly between fence posts before it flew up to this branch. It turned out to be a good vantage point as it caught a mouse on its next dive.
I do want to also wish everyone a Happy Easter! I hope everyone enjoys time with family and friends over the weekend. We started the morning with a fun hunt with yarn that led the kids to their respective jackpots. While we were outside, I looked for our resident rabbit but he was nowhere to be found – so no Easter Bunny photographs this year!