This afternoon, while at the river, I decided to stand still beside one tree for an hour and document what I saw. This was an amazing exercise as I was able to reflect on springtime at this location and what I have observed since the snow melted and things came to life.
Steven (my grandson) and I discovered a nest in this tree quite early in the spring. An adult Robin was seen nesting for a matter of weeks and next, we noticed an adult Cedar Waxwing, her banded eyes, popping up above the nest. Today, mother Robin was the first bird that I spotted in the tree.
One of her ‘fledged’ was redundantly chirping from a higher branch…so…in a matter of minutes…
I watched the adult deliver the goods and saw the youngster move from branch to branch, eventually leaving and finding rest in a neighbouring tree.
The Cedar Waxwings seem to have some investment in this tree…its location…its resources because they were agitated, but not dive-bombing, because I was there. I always think that photographs of Cedar Waxwings look ‘fixed’ or manipulated. These birds look so unreal. But, no, this is how they look and the experience of them in real time is even more fantastical. These are only three representative photographs.
The Grey Catbirds are still very skittish, but this batch seem to be getting to know the lady who stands around and really does no harm. I found that they were more courageous today, even doing their remarkable call that secures their name, in my presence.
I kept looking over my shoulder into the brush behind me because Yellow Warblers were playing couples chase games, weaving in and out regardless of the blustery wind. I haven’t had a clear photograph of a Yellow Warbler this year, so I was delighted when I turned back to the tree and saw this little guy fully present and almost looking at me. Quick! Snap!
A female Eastern Kingbird took time to land and say hello, and then in her typical style, she took off, circled, landed, took off, circled, landed. I saw a male a short while earlier, but won’t include him here because these were all visible in a single tree.
A quick photo after noticing a Least Flycatcher…of course she turned her back on me and disappeared into the wood immediately after this shot.
And what would one nesting tree be without a female Brown Headed Cowbird? I’m sure that at this time of year, she is ferrying about, taking note of what birds are feeding her progeny.
And finally, as I looked down at my feet, this Northern Flicker was happily consuming ants on the pathway.
I managed to garner a few more mosquito bites than usual, but I enjoyed standing still to observe what birds might visit a single ecosystem over time.
As I continued on my circle at the river, these were a couple of the sights I took in. Another magical afternoon! Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper balancing on fencing in a huge wind. I got some really comical photos in this series.
Another clutch of Mallards…
The two juvenile Bald Eagles were holding on for dear life as their nesting canopy was swinging in the wind. I didn’t see Mr. or Mrs.
Advice to my readers…sometimes, just sit/stand still. You will be amazed.
I am a single woman, in the last decades of my life, and sometimes I lay my head down on my pillow at the end of a busy day and wonder about being solitary in the world. My life plays through my mind like a thin thread of film, projected on the dark wall across from me. I am both in awe and fearful. My life, alone, is a peaceful one. Perhaps this is what was always meant to be. But that acceptance and peace does not necessarily keep me from looking at the connection that others have in their partnered lives.
Autumn often causes this rerun, the movie of over sixty autumns that I can remember. In every other autumn I would not have written the previous paragraph down, especially not in this format, perhaps in a private journal. But, now, how does it really matter?
I remember a moment in a single engine Cessna, somewhere over Wisconsin. We were flying north into Duluth when we got into difficulty and with time, our cloud ceiling was at 200 and then 100 and our pilot was requesting permission to land on a highway, the only visual reference we had. Knowing that there were towers in the area and knowing that our pilot only had visual rating was frightening. I clung to my then-partner’s hands, both of them. Averting the first option, the wings bowed deeply sideways into the white cloud as we banked to go south and out of the fog/cloud. When we came around, the tree tops were an arm’s length from the plane’s belly. I remember them as though it was yesterday. They were conifers. I kept saying, “The trees. The trees.” Not yelling and not particularly panicked. This was a nightmare. I had time to think, “I wonder how Mom and Dad will find me.” I let go of my partner’s hand. Instinctively I knew, ‘in the end I face this all alone.’
And I do.
Winter is coming. A family of bald eagles has taught me much these past months but for several weeks, the juveniles have been distant, sent out of this territory to hunt, fish and find their own way. The female came to some demise and is now gone. The male has sheltered and fed the young. A new sub adult has made herself known and has done multiple demonstrations for the juveniles. She is a beautiful strong huntress. The male has been close to her, but it seems that they are always in some wild discussion, resistant and yet set on a path. Who knows what spring will bring. It was only in the first snowfall that the youngsters returned to their nesting territory, bleating to the cold wind, about their fears and their challenges. It was the day before yesterday’s snow that both the male and female arrived and consoled me with their familiar roosts in their favourite tree branches. These beautiful raptors act as a unit, but live deeply their singular lives…it is what they must do to survive and for the species to survive.
These photographs were taken over these few weeks of Autumn..in no particular order. They capture the prayers and the beauty and the journey of a single woman in a very beautiful world.
Autumn means chasing this guy around, trying to grab a focused photograph. Some people play football. This is my sport. I could spend hours listening for him and then high-tailing it to his next location. He plays catch-me-if-you-can and I can be heard in the woods, laughing out loud. If anyone else was around they would wonder. First, readers, take note of the Belted Kingfisher’s interesting sound.
Twice in the past two days, the Kingfisher has taken a place of importance, the high Y branch of the Bald Eagle family’s favourite tree. First time, both Juveniles went at him. I think that perhaps the Kingfisher was consuming a meal and the young eagles get pretty scrappy with the food of other river hunters. Next time, the Sub Adult flew in, I suppose just to claim her dominance.
My visuals are all very unfocused, but I’m logging these here as a part of my birder journals. This morning, in the fog, I also watched an Osprey dive, almost vertically, off of a tree and pounce upon a young Cormorant as he fished. Life on the river is a bit of a dog-eat-dog world. When I returned home, I saw that I got an unfocused capture of the Osprey leaving the tree.
The two juvenile Bald Eagles swooped into the scene, evicting the Kingfisher from prime territory.
He arrived at my side of the river, for only moments and I snapped this photograph, directly into the light.
Another visit to the river, and again, he chose prime branches. Are you kidding?
In she swooped…and look, where the little guy ended up!
This morning, in the fog.
Life carries on, in all forms, at the river, but very different from only weeks ago. The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are in greater numbers, as are the White Breasted Nuthatches. The Northern Flickers swoosh down and up onto the Elms. This afternoon, the subdued landscape was broken by a huge frenzy of vocalizations of coyotes on the island and the howls were returned in unison by the coyotes on this side of the river. It was absolutely magical!
Osprey taking a dive, not for a fish, but for the Cormorant catching the fish! (Horrible photo alert!)
Juvenile Cormorant. Doug Newman pointed out one time that some Cormorant species have bright blue eyes in this stage. This is the best that I’ve been able to capture that.
And, what exactly is this? Has this wee babe been abandoned by Mom? What is it?
The elegance of the young American Robins, at this time, fills my heart, whenever I see them.
This past week might have been impacted by bad-weather days, but nature continues to amaze me, regardless.
The female Mallard keeps her kids in line.
I will continue to attempt a good capture of the Belted Kingfisher during the coming week.
I enjoyed my river-walk with Max today. There were several baseball games going on while I was there, so there were more people at the Bow. (Pet Peeve = people who throw cigarette butts into the bush. Buddy, are you aware of the fires burning in B.C.?) I made no sightings of the Bald Eagles today, so they must have withdrawn into solitude elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed the nesting House Wrens as their wee ones have fledged and it’s like all of the dead fall becomes a home for the ‘chittering’ sounds. This morning, I focused on capturing them with my camera. I stood still and enjoyed every moment.
The most calming activities of my day are my walks with Max. I am either over at the wetlands drainage site that I named Frank’s Flats some years ago or at the Bow River. I used to diligently pick litter daily at Frank’s Flats…I guess I did that for six years. A man named Frank slept under the trees through summers there and I made a habit of chatting with him as I circled the pond. He would drink six beer in the time it would take me to pick a full bag of litter. He was one of about ten people who thanked me…but, he thanked me every day. He would also bag up his cans and I would collect those for coin. At some point he told me he had to head for Vancouver. He said the weather was more predictable there. I told him that I was going to name the pond and the area after him. And, I did.
That space and the river have provided me with a great deal of solace. I’ve done some grieving and a lot of growing. Ideas, images and poetry have surfaced in these places. Many walks have been shared with friends and family. I’ve watched these places change and sometimes, in good ways and not-so-good ways. Because of walks at the pond, I purchased my first really nice camera, a Canon Powershot. I began to notice the birds and vegetation. Some time late last year, I picked up and read the book, Birds Art Life: a Year of Observation by Kyo McClear. I realized that she had written about my own journey and my own experiences, somehow.
Once I had the camera, I captured images of birds and vegetation, as well as learned to identify these varieties. It has given me immense pleasure and creates a form of meditation for my daily life.
This past while I’ve been in awe of the nesting behaviours of the adults, as well as the dedicated effort that is made once the eggs have hatched and there are so many little mouths to feed. The predatory activity is also huge and so there are a lot of lessons to be learned regarding the survival of the fittest. It is sad to see such effort exerted in protection of the young when in the end, a quick visit from a Crow, Magpie, Bald Eagle, Merlin or Osprey can end it all in a flash. One grows in acceptance as one considers the way that nature provides and one species feeds upon another. Everything is interconnected. Life is both brutal and beautiful.
I’ve captured a few little photographs the past couple of weeks…going to post them here. However, if you have the opportunity to visit Alberta Birds or Birds Calgary, please do! The photography is beyond anything you could imagine. I love being a part of this group of people, regularly making observations, whether that is in a back yard or by the water.
Savannah Sparrows…a great program on CBC a few weeks ago caused me to feel even more enamored by these lovely little birds on a CBC program.
The American White Pelicans have been exceptional in numbers this year and are stunning against the colour of the river.
The red on the male Red Winged Backgrounds is far more subtle now than in mating season. They continue to play an important role in protecting their little ones, but most of the feeding seems to be taken care of by the mamas.
Wild Delphinium…there is just no way that I could capture the electric blue.
An unlikely duo on July 25. I looked through my archives and have a series of this Swainson’s Hawk casting dirty looks at this enthusiastic male Red Winged Blackbird. It’s interesting how, for every raptor out there, there are a whole crew of Magpies or Crows or Blackbirds looking for easy pick’ns.
Cedar Waxwings showing really brave behaviour around me…coming quite close at a point, although the camera wasn’t ready at the most remarkable times. I think that I figured out why they were less shy than usual…I’m pretty sure in this set, I captured more than a few fledglings.
I saw four Black Crowned Night Herons…most avoiding me and flying from one end of the pond to the next, but managed to see this one adult sit quite patiently in the midst of all of the earth moving and noise. It seemed like a huge visual dichotomy.
Lots of Blackbird youngsters about…mostly continuing to cry out to mama for bugs and dragonflies.
Spotted Sandpiper…very distinctive and high pitched call. It seems like this guy was hanging about for almost three weeks. I spotted him again this morning.
I call these Blue Bells, but don’t know their actual name. The flowers have been lovely in the wild, this year.
The Bald Eagle family continues to provide much viewing pleasure. I’ve captured some nice photographs from this side of the river, but, for the most part I love spending the hours just watching them. I’ve only spotted one fledgling, although I watched two eaglets at the nest for a couple of months. I’m hoping that one has not come to some demise. Perhaps other observers know?
Since fledging, the little Wrens have caused me great delight. When I step into their little part of the world, their chittering raises up in unison. There’s just no missing them. However, they are so darned tiny, it isn’t easy to capture them.
These sweet buy sometimes-annoying House Sparrows at my backyard bird feeder. When they’re young they are so darned funny.
White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.
Here’s the wee guy again…vocalizing to Mom and Dad who are trying to ignore the noise from a tree near-by. My friend, Doug Newman has captured some amazing close ups of Mom and Dad…
And of course, there are a few families of Mallards nearby…on this particular day, sunning themselves. Mom was keeping an eye on me.
I’ve got some others to add to my portfolio, but, HEH! A former student of mine and his wife are preparing me an Italian dinner, so I need to blow this pop stand. I’m glad I got a good start on this. July has been amazing for the watching.
Recently, I’ve been feeling as though nature is brutal! I heard yesterday that our weather hasn’t been like this since 1940. I’m not going to research to see if this is fact, but, I would have no difficulty believing it is true. Weather impacts my feelings about almost everything. Since the light has changed, it has given hope of spring and certainly makes the day feel more beautiful…but this cold! And the snow! YIKES!
At the river, I’m wondering about the natural cycles of all of these returning birds…how they will possibly sustain their populations, given this week’s temperatures of -14 and more snow and more snow. The habitat just doesn’t seem to be available for nesting. What are the pregnant does to do? The coyotes that have begun to den? So…every evening and morning, as I walk at the Bow River, I contemplate nature and its ability to rise above such brutality. When I return home, I have heat and electricity and unlike some countries and continents, I am not in fear (at the moment) of the flood, or horrid drought and raging fires. I am so blessed. I am safe.
I’m discovering wildlife in unusual places. Geese are nesting, only meters away from Deerfoot Trail and a huge distance from the river. I noticed them yesterday, huddled together, where the tall grasses emerge out of the cold snow. This afternoon, no fewer than thirty American Wigeons were voraciously struggling for sustenance well above the river and in close proximity to human activity. This was a first for me.
The most remarkable thing, however, was to see at least five Mountain Bluebirds, flitting about in a mating dance and feeding on berries that remained clinging sadly to a winter shrub…
This sighting was a deeply personal experience for me…I felt as though these lovely birds were placed into this settling, just for me. In fact, I tried waving down some other hikers to point them out and they waved and moved on, not taking a moment’s notice. Have I lost it completely? (I’d like to thank Doug Newman for letting me know that they were hanging about…this was my first encounter and I was thrilled to learn that they are absolutely NOT shy. Their antics were more than entertaining!)
I wrote about the Crucifixion a little bit on Friday morning…I look at this post as being about Resurrection. The males were more than impressing the two females present…such charmers. I am grateful for those species that will find renewal over the coming months. We must be ever-vigilant in our care of our world, for the people living in it, and for these sentient beings that share the planet with us. Probably more bluebird photographs than any of you might wish to see…but, I am experiencing such joy that I have no choice but to include them here.
I captured a female (much more shy) only twice, both times out of focus. She was stunning in her beauty.
On April 3, I returned and captured Mrs. Happy 51st birthday to my sister, Valerie Jean.
Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life. Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.
My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting? Why don’t you paint?” and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself. As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”
I will paint again. But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego. It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment. It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together. My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached. I was terrified in front of blank canvases. I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed. I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.
Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.” I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone. She explained how those muscles work. She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.
Now…did the painting really stop? I argue, “No”. I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape. It just happened. It happened at the reading of two poems, the first, The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering. I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio. This is the painting…
and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou. I’m including her words, here. I hope you will read them.
In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.
Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.
The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.
The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.
I know them as mountains. I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs. They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.
This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash. Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen. Be mindful.
The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it. Make joyous noise if you want to be herd. Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.
She moves. She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth. The calf moves (as my son once did) deep in the dreaming place. The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her moving.
Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky : clear as mountain water scythes the earth.
Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form- coming through the trees.
The land reacts to our presence when we belong
Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs. To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play. To each, the necessary silence.
Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate. Allow a wild glimpse of self.
When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.
The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…
…coming together is a song I cannot bear for long. Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.
Promises shape who we are, what we will become –
His brow is unfurrowed. Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.
Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.
Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.
Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.
He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.
Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.
If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?
A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.
Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into – Amid bone, snow and stone – caribou. The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.
Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.
Memories permit us to speak of things –
our heart tends to in the night.
The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below. The words to the poem are written into the painting. It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.
So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter. It might take a lifetime to make sense of it. I don’t know. But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK! I write!
Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting, has made for this wondrous life of mine. It’s taken me out into the landscape. It’s caused me to notice more. It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer, Jack Breakfast.
And this morning, I met Doug Newman. It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man. The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river. There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone. Max and I headed out.
This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.
I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.
From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…
While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens. I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs. I saw him pan as geese took flight. I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time. Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.
It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds. We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments. It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day. It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement. He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.