Griffiths Woods Park – 27 May

Managed to duck out for 2 hours to visit GW Park for the first time after seeing a good recent report on the AlbertaBird  website. I arrived at 10am and the place seemed very popular with joggers and dog-walkers, so I was a bit dismayed that I might not see much. Normally I try to arrive by 8am or earlier before the ‘general public’ arrive and the birds hide away. However, when I got off the paved path I was soon by myself and was very much cheered up when a Boreal Chickadee (another lifer) appeared out of the pines only a couple of meters away allowing some nice close-ups. The overcast sky was a bonus as it really saturated the colours. In comparison to the much more common Black-capped Chickadee (that frequent my backyard), the Boreal has much more rufous-brown colours that I personally find more appealing.

Near the creek I came across some Yellow Warblers and Clay-coloured Sparrows, as well as some Spotted Sandpipers on the shoreline.

On the way back, just 10 meters from the car park I came across a pair of White-throated Sparrows (another lifer!) foraging in the brush and again, one decided to sit & pose quite close for a little while. So after a subdued start, I was soon able to count this as another successful outing.

 

Brief bit o’ birding in Okotoks – 26 May

Unfortunately, our new trailer we had ordered was not ready in time to go camping this weekend with my brother-in-law & his family, so instead we just went & visited them for the afternoon at the Nature’s Hideaway RV park just near Okotoks. I managed to duck out with my camera for about 40 minutes and was able to get a few shots of some of the local birdlife including some Cedar Waxwings, Pine Siskins and my first Eastern and Western Kingbirds of the season, albeit too far distant for a good shot.

There were hundreds of Tree Swallows darting up & down the river that runs by the park, so it was good to practice my high-speed panning but I will need to put in a bit more yet to get decent results! Highlight of the day for me though was capturing a female Yellow Warbler in a nice pose at close range.

Friday feathers – 25 May

Iridescence in the feathers shows up in the morning light

Given it’s only a 15 minute ride from my work downtown, I decided to head off early and do a quick visit to IBS before heading to work. It was about 7:30am and seemed to be just me in the area and I was able to do a quick circuit and see a few new ‘life birds’ such as the Common Grackle and what I believe was a Swainson’s Thrush.

Note the leg band - I wonder what his story is?

Also of note was a colourful – and raucous – Baltimore Oriole was up high in the trees, and I was able to get some of my closest shots of the handsome male Hooded Merganser, although the sun was unfortunately not in my favour. Then after work I decided to take a quick walk around Chevron Lake which is just 5 minutes from my work. I chalked up another lifer – the Gray Catbird – who was singing away heartily. However, the highlight was very much a good clear view & shot of the male Yellow Warbler – a bird that is skittish & ever on the move. Definitely a nice way to start & finish the end of the working week :).

Cross Conservation Area – 20 May

One of my favourite places to visit is the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area near Spruce Meadows which was a former working farm that was donated by the owners to be turned over to a nature preserve. The area is sprawling and I have only ever done one trail (Aspen Trail), but I’ve never been disappointed with the abundant wildflowers and bug life in summer. However, this was the first time I’d gone with birds as the primary target as a specific species at that – the Long-Eared Owl – which had been reported there in recent weeks. Well, it was too early for bugs, but there a number of birds but mainly heard & not seen, except for a lone Tennessee Warbler which I eventually located hidden in the treetops.

However I was very pleased when at the end of the Aspen Trail a Great Gray Owl flew out of the forest and perched at the edge of the clearing allowing us both to check each other out. My previous encounter with GGOs showed them to be rather unconcerned with human presence and this one was no exception as I was able to get within several meters as ‘he’ went about his business – intently observing the ground for prey and letting out the occasional low ‘hoot’. All up, a nice surprise and satisfying end to the trip.

 

Victoria Day Long Weekend – 18-20 May

I spent about 2.5 hours of Saturday morning scouting out Lawrey Gardens and the Douglas Fir Trail, about 10 minutes cycling time from my house. I saw Yellow Warblers for the first time, but was unable to get a nice close-up after quite some trying. Happily, I got some nice shots of another ‘lifer’, the less-than-flatteringly-named, Least Flycatcher.

With the overcast light being helpful for shooting birds with sharply contrasting colours, I thought I would try my luck and see if one of the local pair of nesting Ospreys was at their usual perch overlooking the Bow River on the opposite (south) side from their nesting platform, and sure enough there ‘ he’ was.

The Sunday was sunny & the whole family went for a walk in Confederation Park. After straggling behind the family most of the way (as I stopped to take shots) I finally caught up & my wife said she saw a “big bird” fly into the tree above. Expecting to see a magpie, upon investigating I was very pleasantly surprised  to find the bird was actually a Cooper’s Hawk next to what looked like its nest.

Later in the afternoon while the kids napped, I headed down to the Weaselhead for a quick wander. There were lots of Clay-Coloured Sparrows, Yellow Warblers (which get no easier to photograph), plus some American Goldfinches and Blue Jays. I was also pleased to see the re-appearance of various insects (flies, butterflies, etc) including my first dragonfly of the year!

 

 

Buzzin’ B.C. – 11-13 May

After seeing a May hummingbird photography course at the Bull River Guest Ranch in British Columbia advertised in one of my photography magazines back in January but unable to attend, my wife & I decided we should try for a long weekend family vacation at the same ranch & perhaps get some hummingbird photography in if (a) we had time, and (b) the birds had actually arrived (the advertised course did not start until a week later). After a 4-hour drive from Calgary we arrived at the ranch & within minutes it was quickly apparent there were many hummers about. In fact, in preparation for the upcoming course the Ranch owners had put out at least 10 feeders and the hummers (50+) were drawn like magnets! The owners also mentioned the hummers had only turned up in the last week so this, coupled with the beautiful weather (it snowed the day before we arrived), showed that our luck was really in!

Over the course of the weekend I was able to get in an hour here & there to go shooting and was quite pleased that there were many of the colourful male Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds which I had never seen before; in fact the males outnumbered the females by 10:1. And the great thing about male hummers is they are very territorial and will continually return to the same roosts (usually at the top of a small tree to afford a good view of their patch), which is heaven for a photographer as you can simply locate them, set yourself up in a good position and know that they will be back again and again.

While my main focus was hummers, some other highlights included a Red-Naped Sapsucker (right outside our cabin), multiple Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Audubon sub-species), nuthatches, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and a Pileated Woodpecker. All told a great weekend, and I highly recommend the Ranch as a getaway for young families: the location is very picturesque, there is a petting zoo, hiking trails, accommodation & on-site dining is great and the owners very hospitable.

 

Inglewood warblers – 11 May

I’d taken the day off work today to make it a long weekend for our pending vacation to Cranbrook BC, but thought I’d take a real quick run down to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to see if I could find the Yellow-Rumped Warblers that had been reported. I gather they are fairly common in spring as they migrate through, but I have not seen many and they are quite a colourful species. Five minutes in I came across 3 or 4 warblers working their way through some scrub and after a minute or two standing relatively still I was able to get some nice close-ups of both the male & female.

With my ‘mission’ accomplished, anything else for the remaining 20 minutes I had was a bonus and I was pleased to see (albeit out of photo range) a male Hooded Merganser in a quiet backwater, nor was I able to get decent shots of some sparrows…they seemed to take flight at the mere sight of me. Not to worry, it had been a good morning & I had lots more to look forward to over the next few days in BC.

Frank Lake – 29 April

With the a forecast of showers to commence later in the day, I made sure I headed off early this morning to beat the predicted weather. Today’s location was Frank Lake, a wetland birding preserve just east of High River & about 45 minutes from Calgary. On arrival, local conditions were windy and even the swallows had decided to stay put on the fence wire! At the main gate I was happy to see my first Western Meadowlark belting out a song, but unfortunately I couldn’t get a sharp shot. I parked at the main basin which has a permanent bird hide around which a Horned Grebe was paddling about completely oblivious to my presence only 10 feet away…proof the hide works!

Further out were Western Grebes and Eared Grebes but beyond decent photo range. I then took a quick stroll along the water line and took a few shots of the many Red-Winged and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds amongst the reeds, both of which are very common (you will see them in just about every roadside slough right now), but nonetheless quite striking to look at.

In the water were many, many ducks including Ruddy Ducks (new for me), the skittish white-faced ibis which I have yet to get a decent photo of, plus some terns overhead. After nearly an hour I was starting to get cold and decided to depart, content that I had some decent photos. I look forward to returning later in the year, especially when the insects come to life…except for the mosquitoes which nearly drove me insane last May!

Back to Grand Valley Rd – 6 May

Once again I headed out to Cochrane and was soon rewarded by the sight of several female Mountain Bluebirds busy gathering dry grass to line their nest in one of the many nesting boxes on the farm fences. They seemed to be battling with Tree Swallows for housing rights and I did notice one swallow enter what turned out to be an occupied box, then get chased out by an unimpressed Bluebird!

Entering the forested area along the road, I encountered a small flock of Gray Jays looking for grubs in roadside scrub at the spot where I had seen the Great Gray Owl a few weeks prior.

Less than a kilometer further on a pair of Mountain Bluebirds perched in a fallen tree quite close to the road and I was able to get a nice shot of the male.

Once again I made the return leg via backroads and was pleased to see my first White-Crowned Sparrows, in the same tangle of bushy trees I’d sighted American Tree Sparrows on my last trip…must be ideal conditions for this species. This sparrow distinguishes it self from others by its bright orange beak and striking black and white crown.

Overall, another satisfying trip with 2 new ‘life birds’ plus some good Bluebird images.

 

 

 

 

 

Langdon re-visited – 28 April

After the successful trip last week, I decided to try my luck again in Langdon. After dropping my ever-understanding wife & the kids off at my brother-in-law’s house in Langdon at 9am, I headed out for an ‘hour of power’ to see what I could see in 60 minutes. I was barely 500m out of the main Langdon township when I spied a Red-Tailed Hawk atop a telephone pole, followed by some American Avocets sweeping a slough just below.

I thought a return visit to Weed Lake was worth a try, but I was disappointed to find that the eastern viewpoint was inaccessible as the access road had been understandably closed as it had turned to a muddy quagmire with the persistent rain during the week. A little dismayed, I headed east about 20km and then worked my way gradually back to Langdon via the back roads. I was pleased to be able to capture my first shots of a Savannah Sparrow, which should become fairly abundant as spring progresses. Likewise, I saw (& heard – they are noisy!) multiple flocks of Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds which have also returned with the spring.

Then, as I approached the outskirts of Langdon I noticed an unfamiliar bird-shape in a roadside copse of trees, which when I got of my car and investigated turned out to be a Townsend’s Solitaire (another first for me) and he appeared unruffled by both myself and the camera flash (after my learnings from the previous week I remembered this time to use fill-flash when the sun is at the subject’s back, as was the case here). I define a successful trip as one where I get a good, sharp shot and/or I see a species I haven’t seen before, so this was successful on both counts :).

Notice the two sparkles in the eye? Big one is the sun, the other my fill-flash.

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