By the time we found this great gray owl in the late afternoon, it had already been a wonderful day of owls. This grey was the first of three that flew and hunted on the edge of the forest through into night. The waning sunshine offered a little warmth against cold and perhaps encouraged the owls to come out of the trees to hunt. Sometimes an owl is found only by slowly studying woods or fields. This one was much easier – perched on a sign post.
A truck drove by and the owl took flight. The bird crossed over a fence and drifted over the field beyond. Angling up on an instant, she quickly down towards the snow.
I missed catching a sharp shot of her crashing into the field. She, however, did not miss. He talons pinned a field mouse of some type under the snow. She transferred that to her beak after a few shuffles and disturbances. And then flew up to finish off the meal on a fence post.
From there the owl flew over the field again. This time alighting on the metal beam of a piece of farm machinery. From sign to beam was only six minutes. Luckily there was a bit more with this owl and then more through sunset with two other owls.
In one of the canals east of Dalemead I found this snowy owl. It was on the right of way road above the watercourse beside the long grass. I walked down the road a little closer and settled into the snow at an angle I could photograph the bird with the sun lighting her front. I had hopes of the owl flying in my general direction when she chose to continue hunting.
A bit of time passed with her sweeping the landscape and reacting whenever a new sound was heard or bit of motion was seen. The temperature was much warmer than the rest of February had been so it was a rather pleasant wait. Eventually she started to get more active, preening and shaking out her feathers. When she jumped off of the snow, she stayed low for a few wingbeats.
Then she banked and passed in front of me. That was wonderful and on the outer edge of what I was hoping for.
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.
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.
Through the winter, there are chickadees that hang out in my backyard. On Sunday afternoon, I found a few of them pecking seeds out of the fresh snow below the feeder.
I took a few minutes to photograph them when the sun had dropped low enough to backlight them and the speckles of snow their pecking threw into the air.
A boreal chickadee came at the last and flitted about for a few seconds before flying off in a spray of glistening snow.
There are a couple of great blue herons near Exshaw, east of Canmore. In late April, before the greening up in the grass and the trees, I found this stark and beautiful scene with one of them pausing within it for a moment.
I found a pair of common loons on the third Vermilion Lake in the Banff National Park on the weekend. They were diving and skimming the water surface for food, enjoying the sunshine and paddling close to each other at different points.
The sunlight caught the iridescence in their feathers. It is beautiful when the red eyes glow and the silky greens shimmer along their necks.
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 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.
I spent a morning on the prairies between Irricana and Langdon this weekend. I met up with my good friend, and fellow photographer, Jeff Rhude in Delacour and continued east from there to see what we could find. We were looking for owls and an hour before sunrise, we made out three individuals perched in different locations. It was much too dark to photograph with any reasonable expectation of making a good image. To us, their presence boded well for later, when the day was much brighter. A glowing sunrise welcomed the day and after photographing that for a little bit, we began combing the fields and fence posts for snowy owls. The ones seen in the pre-dawn gloom were nowhere to be found but several kilometres away we did find this one standing on the snow in a field.
The snowy took flight and let the wind push her eastward, across the road in front of us, until she landed on a fence post. She did not stay there long before diving into the snow on the far side of a frozen pond. That was a bit too far to see if she caught something but it looked like she did.
Soon after she jumped off the snow again and flew low over the ground before rising up enough to clear the fenceline.
That flight took her up to the gate of a compressor station. We photographed her for another three hours afterwards. I’ll cover that in my next post.
On a snowy morning in Lake Louise, I found this Steller’s Jay up in the trees looking for breakfast along a trail that wound away from the water. This one displayed the white markings around the eye which distinguish the Rocky Mountain subspecies from the other fifteen that are present across North America.
I did not expect to see this type of bird there at this time of the year. That said, they are regular denizens of parks, public areas and other places where trees and people happen to meet. Some will migrate but it is irregular and, with the mild start to winter this year, it is not surprising that this one, and likely a few more, have chosen to stay in the area.
It was May of this year when I saw my first Barred owl in Bragg Creek. I’ve lived here for ten years and spent a lot of time in the forests so it was a real thrill to find a new (to me) species in the area. In late October, another one was waiting for me as I was walking in the woods along the edge of Kananaskis Country. This time, the owl watched me intently for a few seconds, scanned the ground for prey for a few more and then repeated that for a couple of minutes while I watched and snapped a few images. Eventually the owl flew a short distance away but they blend into this type of forest so well that I lost sight with the next glide that followed. A beautiful creature.
About a month ago, I was looking for one of the Great gray owls I sometimes find along the backroads in Bragg Creek. The owl was nowhere to be found, but I did find a shock of red amidst the autumn yellows turned gold in the late afternoon.
Descending from the trees, he landed in a long abandoned pile of cut wood and set to pecking and probing for insects.
After a few minutes, he moved to a stump that was disintegrating into sawdust. Snow was hidden from the sun in the depression he was hammering and a few crystals stuck to his beak.
Whether it was a full belly, boredom or the evening’s fast approach, he jumped up on to a tree and circled the trunk while moving upwards. He pecked here and there but soon took flight through the forest and out of sight.
I spent an evening on the Bow River at the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary on the weekend. It was a beautiful day, warmly lit in golden light, and I had a great time photographing the birds well into dusk. Among the birds nearby were a few Double-crested cormorants fishing and flying around. I photographed as they flew or swam by. They are exceptionally fast birds and they often fly just above the water at speed which is exciting to watch. After the sunlight had left the river, I caught sight of one of these cormorants moving upriver. Darkness was starting to settle in so I dragged my shutter in order to use the lack of light to pan with the bird as it passed me. I used a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second and it worked out pretty well.