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.
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.
My children reminded me last night that today is the vernal equinox which marks the first day of spring. It has been a severe winter here in southern Alberta so it is a little hard to believe spring could be arriving soon. Last Sunday I was photographing at Carburn Park – one of Calgary’s beautiful parks along the Bow River – photographing ducks, geese and gulls along the water.
Snow fell through the day, wind blew in from the north and clouds slid low over the city. I enjoyed the inclement weather for its photographic potential but I had no thoughts of spring as I went along for a few hours.
When I spied an American robin among the rocky shoreline, I have to admit I was surprised. It looked and felt like winter – particularly on this day – but robins are wonderful harbingers of spring and I happily welcomed their presence as a sign of that change. I dropped down to the ground and soon found that robin and seven others flitting about the rocks. They know more than I do about season change or else they wouldn’t be here. I hope you enjoy a beautiful spring!
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.
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.
Sandhill crane couples dance with each other. I found this pair in a field west of Bragg Creek and was lucky to be able to watch them.
A few Canada geese watched the dance as well. They seemed to watch with little interest. Far less than me.
I found grizzly bear #139 between the Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes last weekend. He has a history of being in the news over the past couple of year (not a problem bear just one that people find with relative frequency so there are a fair number of images and articles on him). This time, he was strolling between the forest and the Kananaskis Lake road, grazing on the buffalo berries that are ripe and delicious (for the bears at least – they are too tart for my taste when they first ripen).
I left the bear after alerting one of the rangers to his presence as he was moving closer to a campground. I went for a walk along the shoreline a few kilometres away and returned past the spot an hour later. The bear had crossed the road by then and was grazing on the high side of the hill.
He has been referred to as scrawny in the past so it was good to see him looking healthy and devouring berries. He’s a beautiful bear – especially when he flashes that wonderful smile (please allow for a bit of anthropomorphization. I truly believe animals have personalities and emotions). I hope to cross paths with him again for years to come.
Last weekend I came across this grizzly bear late in the day along the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40). He first came out of the forest on the high side of the hill and traveled through this patch of fireweed before slipping back into the woods.
He was in the trees briefly before continuing down the hill and coming to the road.
Meeting the pavement, he crossed straightaway – which is always a bit of uncertainty given the wildcard of a speeding vehicle. However this time the four vehicles nearby were all pulled over and no other traffic came so he had no issues.
Dark clouds rolled in and he disappeared down the bank so that ended the short visit. I headed up to Highwood Pass and watched the weather scrape over the mountains for a bit. Note: that is a great place to enjoy watching the land – the elevation, jagged peaks, often fast-moving clouds and ever-changing weather combine endlessly. When I drove back down, I found the bear further up the road in hillside of brambles feasting on buffalo berries. Failing light and falling rain softened the scene and made finding the bear and getting sharp images a challenge but I was grateful for another short visit with this beautiful bruin.
Returning from a sunrise shoot atop the rock pile that gives Moraine Lake its name, I found a beautiful black bear grazing on berries. The patch was close to the road connecting Moraine Lake with the Lake Louise area which meant a bear jam started to build right away. I didn’t stay for long, just grabbed a couple of shots out the window from the other side of the road. Great to see the berries coming in, they are a critical source of calories for the bears in the Banff National Park.
A family of belted kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) live and fish around a small lake west of Bragg Creek in Alberta, Canada. They are tricky to photograph but a lot of fun to try. Over a couple of hours there were a few close flybys. Some I missed completely, they are very fast and can change direction instantly. But there were a few that got closer to what I have in my head. I’ll be back soon!