A small slough west of Calgary is a little gem for birds from spring until fall and one I like to visit now and then. Last August I was surprised to find a few night herons perched among the long grass surrounding the water. I had not seen them frequent this location previously so it was a pleasure to watch them for about a half an hour.
It was early evening, around 6pm, warm with only a rustle of wind – just enough to keep the mosquitoes away. One heron found the conditions favorable and flew overhead at one point.
The herons were more active on the far side of pond. However one bird was stationed closer to me and I kept my long lens trained on that one for the most part. Eventually that paid off when a farm truck rumbled by on the gravel road behind me and set the heron to flight. The launch yielded my favourite photographs – I am a sucker for images that capture motion and power – but I was spoiled across the whole time I was there.
As cool as that visual could have been, self isolation would frown on people congregating in our backyard. Instead, a flock of 60 or more Bohemian waxwings flew into the trees behind our home in the morning. They nibbled at the trees, and the odd chunk of snow hanging in the branches. Flitting around the forest edge, I enjoyed their industry for half an hour as the morning sun shone over the hills. These are a favourite backyard bird for me. They don’t come around my home often but it is magic when they do.
The home isolation as the world buckles down is hard. We are very fortunate to live in a forest so the time at home affords the opportunity to watch the trees and the wildlife that lives in it. These blue jays come by a couple of times a day. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more from my backyard for a while to come. Be safe, be isolated and find hope.
I enjoy the backroads on the prairies. This afternoon I found a pair of ravens perched on the peak of this weathered homestead east of Dalemead. When they flew I tried to compose their flight against the field and the house.
I went to Frank Lake in early May. A short drive east of High River, this is a wetland controlled by Ducks Unlimited Canada and is designated as an Important Bird Area. The migratory and summer populations both have a large variety of bird species. I enjoy photographing there – it’s a beautiful location on the prairies, has abundant wildlife and offers a wide area across three basins to explore.
American avocets are one of my favorite shorebirds. On my last visit, I had great opportunities to photograph them from mid-afternoon through dusk. These are a few of those images. Thank you for having a look.
Spring has returned the robins the fields and forests around Bragg Creek. I found this one stirring up the leaves below these trees. She darted between the trunks and then flew up into the branches. The diffused background from a narrow depth of field reminded me of a watercolor painting. The monochromatic palette in the bark and dull yellow grass both warmed a little with the morning sun. Her orange belly was a welcome splash of bright color.
Watching from the branches, the owl dove after the sunlight had slipped away. It had already been a great day of owls (long-eared, short-eared, snowy and great grays). There was enough light for one more encounter.
The bird missed on the first plunge into the snow. Then heard or saw something and shot upwards. He flew away from me and quickly dove back to the ground.
With the second strike successful, he swallowed the prey and then returned to the trees.
Flying to a new perch after several minutes. From there it alternated between watching the field across the road and the fence line directly below.
The light faded quickly and my fingers were happy when I returned to the vehicle.
Flying on from the beam, this great gray owl continued moving from one perch to the next. Eventually it flew over my head and landed on the top of a tree still in the sunshine.
A couple of minutes, the portrait below and then it flew to a higher point overlooking another field. That seemed a good point to leave her to her own purposes.
Almost immediately afterwards, we saw a second owl. This one gliding between branches. These trees were still in the sunlight and its warm tone wrapped around the bird as it flew.
The sun fell quickly. The light and shadow drawing lines and space across the forest’s west-facing edge. The owl weaved between those and the tree branches a couple of times before the daylight slipped away. His eyes catching the light at some angles and hiding in the shadow at others.
There was a third owl that made a couple of sorties into a nearby field. That was too far away to photograph. And I was happy to stay with the owl in front of me. That led soon to a pair of dives into the snow.
A day with an owl encounter is wonderful. In late February some friends and I had a four owl day. Short-eared and snowy owls on the prairie in the morning. Long-eared, short-eared and great gray owls in the foothills later that afternoon. The short-eared were the first owls found. After daybreak this owl flew along a weathered fence line hunting.
In the afternoon, a long-eared owl hunting was preceded by a short-eared flying overhead and hunting in an adjacent field. All of these were at an extended range and in sharp light. Both leaving room for improvements in the end result but it was great to observe these beautiful birds in different landscapes and learn a bit more about them.
I had a beautiful encounter with a snowy owl on a barren hilltop near Namaka on Family Day. That was preceded by a mutual fascination that this juvenile prairie falcon and I shared for a long-abandoned house on the prairies.
I was driving the backroads after sunrise primarily to look for snowies. I like these drives on the winter prairie as the views are expansive and I always hope to see something unexpected. I had not visited this worn out farmstead before and I stopped to have a look. It was -27°C so I was content to take a couple of pictures out of the rolled down window – until I spied the falcon perched on the peak of the roof. Then I got out and walked slowly closer.
After 15 minutes, I was set up beside one of the sheds a little ways off from the main house. The falcon watched me approach but was more interested in scanning the field to the east. I kept my lens trained on the roof for a few more minutes until the bird launched.
It flew over the field and out of my view. I trudged back – it always seems farther and colder when returning from an encounter than it was getting there. My hands were happy to get out of the wind and I was happy to have some nice images of this beautiful, hardy bird.
Late October provided a window of warm weather that gave farmers the opportunity to finish their harvesting. Driving near the Springbank Airport, I saw the dust plume generated by a combine on one field and went to have a look. Often, birds and coyotes can be drawn in looking for any dazed or dead rodents resulting from the harvester passing over their burrows. These ravens were four of a much larger group that were following behind the tractor. I watched these ones as they hopped and flapped around, cawing at one another while searching for food.
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 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.
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.
A pair of mountain bluebirds were flitting around a bird house west of Calgary a few days ago. They caught my eye when I was driving past the farmland on the way to my daughter’s dance studio. I stopped for a few minutes, watching as they appeared to be moving into their summer home.
Last week one of the snowstorms that came through Calgary picked up intensity after dark. I was staying downtown near the Bow River and watched as the increasing snowfall was illuminated by the city lights above one of the bridges crossing the water. A silhouette sped in front of a light at one moment and then a dozen more did the same the next.
A colony of gulls threw waves of their silhouettes into the storm circling low over the water and then above the lights for several minutes before they appeared to settle down.
I don’t know if it was the weather, disturbance by a someone or something or members returning to congregate for the night but they were excited for a short while. I loved the grainy sky created by the snow and the shape of these dark blurs as they flew into and out of the light.
It took a little longer to find time to complete my review of my wildlife images this year. Due largely to general busyness and some measure of procrastination. So I appreciated the irony that one of the areas I have put a lot of thought into, and work to improve, is patience. Looking back, this focus on waiting is helping me to get closer to the wildlife imagery that I want to be creating. Waiting for the animals, waiting on their schedule for something to happen, can be a challenge – sometimes, like in the cold, a significant one. I’m happy that I laid down on the snow, crouched in marshes, hiked into valleys and froze my fingers to find those opportunities and try to do something with them.
The 2017 gallery can be viewed at this link or by clicking on any of the pictures in this post.
A comparison with my 2016 wildlife gallery suggests some subtle changes. I see exploration into some ideas, blurs for one, that is interesting. I’ve been trying to bring more imagination into my wildlife images. Lot’s more to work on there.
Comparing years past with the last one, I like the direction and that stirs up the motivation coals. The latter always being a good thing, I think.
It has been a couple of years since I went to Cabo San Lucas. Thinking about an image for Flashback Friday, one from a spectacular sunrise there came to mind. The fiery sky had me thinking about where to set up for a landscape shot when I saw a brief of brown pelicans flying low over the water. I switched to my camera with a telephoto lens attached and watched as they rose off the water. This let their silhouettes contrast sharply from the background. That got me excited and I squeezed off a couple of photos before they dropped down again and continued southwards.
If you are interested in seeing a few more images like this one, here is another photo from the same flight which I posted that morning in December 2014. And, another post where one pelican flew very close to me a couple of days later and I isolated the lone bird against the sky and the rising sun.
A few minutes later, I returned to landscape hunting and was not disappointed in any way with what nature laid out before me.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked with a friend down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary. Canada geese were massed along the Bow River in and around the cold water. Flights of these birds came in and out all morning.
I dragged the shutter and panned with the birds as they flew past to create blur and lend motion to the images.
A very enjoyable couple of hours went by and then my friend had to leave. I elected to stay and walked down the iced over path that parallels the Bow along the eastern edge of the bird sanctuary.
A young stag trotted along the rocky beach right in front of me at one point. He stopped for a few seconds out of mild curiosity before skipping around the corner and quickly going out of sight.
An immature bald eagle alighted in a tree across the water a few hundred meters away. It was watching the geese that congregated near the water intently. After half an hour it launched into the air, crossed the river and flew directly overhead. I love eagles so this was a highlight of the morning for me despite the somewhat harsh lighting.
The day was close to noon by then and I headed towards the ponds. A couple of magpies were making a terrific racket which drew my attention. Looking in the dense stand of trees I spied a great horned owl calmly perched a couple of meters off the ground. She stayed mostly oblivious to the angry birds and they soon moved on. I returned to check on the owl a couple of times in the afternoon but she was napping for the most part so I didn’t photograph much. It was unseasonably warm so I enjoyed spending time with the owl with no expectation for more.
This past summer I spent a lot of time at the Vermilion Lakes in Banff National Park. I was drawn there by a pair of common loons who nested on the third lake this year. This photograph was from May 27th at 5:41 am on a morning when I was alone with the loons and their beautiful, haunting calls to one another. After diving, they preen their feathers and eventually lean back, unfold their wings and vigorously flap them to shed water. This process always fascinates me and I love the way the still images look. It starts slowly, with the bird shifting their weight and then stretching out the wings while raising their bodies off the water. The flapping then starts and builds to a crescendo with the loon’s head pointing straight up, wings blurring furiously and water drops spraying off in all directions. And then it ends with the bird dropping back into the water and carrying on preening, diving or paddling along. The whole cycle lasting roughly 3-5 seconds. The image below is that peak in the cycle where it seems the bird itself might fly apart.