Postcard from Oz – Nov 18-24

It had been 2.5 years since I last returned to the place where I grew up, Melbourne, Australia, so it was about time we visited family friends again and November is generally a great time of year to do so – not too hot, but definitely not cold. Amidst all the visiting, and an unfortunate bout of stomach flu (that hit every member of the family!), I was able to do a little bit of bird photography in my folks’ backyard, as well a ‘big day’ of birding with a great local birder & guide (Steve at www.themelbournebirder.com), followed by some coastal birding in Sorrento on Port Phillip Bay.

The higlight from the backyard were the Rainbow Lorikeets – a noisy bunch, but just about unbeatable for colourful plumage:

There were so many highlights on the ‘big day’, given that we visited multiple ecosystems from scrub to rainforest to coastal wetlands, but I was very pleased with  the fairy wrens, the wetland birds in flight and some nice close-ups of a Black-shouldered Kite, who had eluded us up until the very end of the day :

I know the birds I got to see were just the tip of the ice-berg, so I hope to be able to go back & check out some other ecosystems next time!

 

Carburn Park – 29 Sep 2012

I recently joined the ‘Friends of Fish Creek Park’ fall birding course with a view to socialising with folks with the same shared interest in nature, as well as get to know some new parks in & around Calgary.

This second trip was to Carburn Park, about 15 mins drive from home.

No new birds for me, but I was quite please to get some close-ups of the White-breasted Nuthatch as well as some gull flight shots & some nice colourful autumnal backgrounds.

Jean Lafitte Park, Louisana – 21 Sep 2012

At the end of a business trip to New Orleans, LA I had the good fortune to be able to take a day off at the end of the trip to explore the wonderful Jean Lafitte Historical Park & Nature Preserve about 45 minutes south of the ‘Big O’.

I was very impressed with the park as firstly, it is large, and secondly it has an extensice and well-maintained series of duckboard trails that take you right out into the swamp. And of course, there is a wide variety of wildlife although not quite as many birds as I was expecting.

I did not have nearly enough time in the park and would definitely return if I get the opportunity.

 

Confederation Park – 7 Sep 2012

A number of birders had been reporting quite a variety of warblers and sparrows migrating through Confederation Park in NW suburban Calgary. Less than 10 minutes from house, I decided to take a look for myself and was not disappointed.

The highlight was definitely a Magnolia Warbler which is both an attractive bird and a ‘lifer’ for me.

Little Bow PP, AB – 24-26 August 2012

Heading south-east to camp this time, we were once again by a lake of sorts – the Travers Reservoir near Champion, AB. After a delayed and disappointing start (someone stole our trailer hitch, despite it being in a ‘secure’ RV storage site!) it was just nice to reach our destination & be able to relax with no time for birding.

The following day, I took my son out in the stroller for our now standard early morning walk and not long into it a Great Horned Owl flew up & landed in the roadside tree just ahead of us. I was able to reel off a number of shots in the dawn light before we continued on back to cook a bacon & eggs breakfast. While cooking said meal on our bbq, I investigated a nearby unfamiliar bird call and was pleased to find a Baltimore Oriole in the trees around the adjacent trailer site.

Later in the morning we hit the beach, but it was a little cool for swimming & on the way back I noticed a flash of feathers up in the trees ahead & went off to investigate presuming it to be a hawk or similar. When I got to the spot, I Iooked for a few minutes until finally I saw this guy perfectly camouflaged on a tree branch & realised this was what I had seen!

This nighthawk sat on the branch for at least 6 hours throughout the day, and was completely unfazed by the oblivious half-dozen campers only 10 feet below. The main shot was a lucky one when he happened to stretch his wings & tail giving some nice views of his underside markings.

Returning to the beach in the early afternoon when the temperature had risen to a comfortable level, a fellow camper alerted us to the presence of a `family of owls` in the trees beside the beach. So, I went & took a look & sure enough there were at least two adult owls, those I could not find any owlets. Several Greater Yellow-legs were also patrolling the beach allowing some nice shots.

In the late afternoon while the kids had their nap, I had to go gas the car up in Vulcan & took the opportunity to do a little fencepost watching & was rewarded with some nice views of a male Merlin devouring a recent catch.

The next morning I went to check out the owls once again during our father-son stroll, and this time managed to find one of the elusive owlets peering out from behind a large branch. And on the way back, we came across a fairly active Brown Thrasher. No `life birds` on this particular weekend, but nonetheless a lot of fun & certainly my best GHO shots to date.

 

Gull Lake – 15 August 2012

This week I had a work ‘team-building’ day at a cottage in idyllic Gull Lake belonging to one of my work colleagues, Trevor. Trevor is an adept hunter and outdoorsman with a shared interest in nature, and he kindly offered to take me out the following day with him as he scouted some hunting spots in preparation for the upcoming hunting season. In the area we explored on this day, Trevor had mentioned that in a wooded area several years ago he had come across an abandoned farmhouse that was occupied by several porcupines and I said I would be very keen to see a porcupine, never having seen this mammal before. So, less than 5 minutes into our hike, we came across the dilapidated structure & after working our way, very quietly, through the surrounding shrubs and trees that were slowly but surely consuming the farmhouse we entered via the front door and lo and behold there was a great big porcupine – Trevor had delivered!  Apparently porcupines are well aware of their formidable quill defence and are relatively unafraid of larger mammals such as us, and this guy was no exception being quite content to let us photograph (with flash, as it was extremely dark in the house) him for a few minutes.

After successfully bagging our main goal for the day, everything else was a bonus from here on in. Some of the additional highlights later on the hike included some very plentiful and colourful butterflies and dragonflies, numerous frogs, and one particular bird ‘hotspot’ where there were multiple flycatchers, warblers, chickadees and even a grosbeak (lifer for me).

After 4 hours or so of hiking through fields and forest we did finally see a White-tailed Deer, so Trevor knows that there should be some game when he returns. The final entertaining end to the day came when we were crossing the final field when the occupants, a herd of cattle, showed more than a passing curiosity in our presence and chased us up & over the barbed wire fenceline! A big thanks to Trevor for a great day out & I look forward to any future such opportunities during the upcoming hunting season.

Taken on the lakeshore prior to the hike

 

 

Grand Valley Rd – June 21, 2012

Took a quick spin around one of my favourite (& most reliable) birding locations and to be honest there was not a lot of avian subjects that I could find. However, my trip was saved by the appearance of a Great Gray Owl just past the Bates J Ranch. I had severe back-lighting, but I think the shots came out ok. My goal now is to get some in-flight shots which will require some skill and a lot of luck, I feel!

Boulton Creek PP, Kananaskis, AB – 15-17 June, 2012

Off camping again, this time in the foothills and lakes of Kananaskis. While the weather did not cooperate as much as we would have liked (when it wasn’t windy it was raining), there were still some photographic highlights. A family walk down to the mouth of Boulton Creek where it flows into Kananaskis Lake yielded a very photogenic Wilson’s Warbler (lifer) who was happy to let me get very close to the willow shrub he called home.

A bike ride down to the same spot in the afternoon led to no new birds, but instead a close encounter with a young bull moose who was feeding very close to the car park and soon drew a sizeable crowd of tourists. Once again I was happy to have the zoom so as to allow me to shoot from a safe distance. Richardson’s Ground Squirrels were ever-present as well.

Our campsite also had some treats in the form of the delicate Calypso Orchid, as well as some scarlet & black ladybug-like beetles (which my daughter alerted me to!).

A Shame the weather was not better as I’m sure the wind kept a lot of the birds hunkered down out of sight. Still, I can’t complain about the shots I did get.

 

Inverlake Rd, Chestermere, AB – 9 June, 2012

Having read interesting reports of this area, I spent an hour rolling up & down the backroads scanning the fence lines around Inverlake Rd in Chestermere, AB.

Quite pleased with the variety of birdlife on offer (Upland Sandpiper, Mourning Doves, etc) and happy to get some improved Savannah Sparrow shots.

I also saw my first Wilson’s Snipe atop a fence-pole which I must admit looks somewhat odd when it’s a shore-bird type species.

 

Dinosaur Provincial Park, AB – 1-3 June, 2012

This weekend was our first, of what will hopefully be many, family camping trips in our new trailer. Due to shoddy service work on our car (which, ironically, we had had done to prevent issues while camping!) we had to get our vehicle repaired just before we headed out and so 170km-east-of-Calgary-later we arrived late on Fri at 8:30pm and pretty much went to bed as soon as we were set up. However, the next morning it was clear that the campsite & surrounds was full of birds including Brewer’s Blackbirds (lifer), Eastern Kingbirds, Western Meadowlarks, Bank Swallows (lifer) and I was pleased to find Lark Sparrows (lifer) foraging in the vacant trailer spot opposite ours.

An hour walk with the family on one of the nearby loop trails yielded some more ‘lifers’ for me including the Common Yellow-throat (who was too far out to shoot) and several Brown Thrashers which I did manage to capture in between swatting mosquitoes.

Hammering away on the stop sign

Later at the camp playground with the kids I found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker hammering a stop sign pole, whilst multiple Least Flycatchers flew amongst the surrounding trees.  The following day I went on a solo hike out the back of the campground, but saw very little in the way of avian life save for some distant American Goldfinches and Yellow-throats.

The highlight of the hike turned out to be a Prairie Rattlesnake that was basking in the middle of the trail I was on and who saw me before I saw him…I only became alerted his presence by the famous, and somewhat chilling, rattle!  All things considered, a great start to the camping season and I look forward to more photography opportunities as we head to all points of the compass this summer!