For the Birds: April 23, 2017

I am becoming frustrated about birding photography because I am growing to recognize focused photographs and can easily determine that a lot of mine are not (focused, that is)!  At times, my equipment IS holding me back and I’ve decided that, given that I am highly enthusiastic about taking photos of bird species, likely my point and shoot Canon Powershot will not always feel adequate. Today, however, I’m going to post some of those poor quality photographs because, as I’ve said before, I’m trying to archive my sitings as my interest lies primarily with my observations and encounters and only as a sidebar, the photography.

I can not share with my readers what utter joy I have been having exploring this one pond ecosystem and it seems as though every season, I’m discovering more.  My eyes are wide open, that’s for sure!  Read Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear  and you will find me inside those pages!

The nesting platform that has been for four years, attended by a pair of Osprey, this year, has been occupied by a ‘sitting goose’.  Damn! How could this happen?  Surprisingly enough, I’ve witnessed it happen before at the more westerly platform location and watched as the Osprey family violently fought the goose away.   This year, the Sikome Osprey couple arrived just a week ago, to learn that it was impossible to inhabit their familiar platform with such a stubborn, however, unusual bird already well-moved-in. You know, dear readers, and I know that this is going to lead to a certain fate for the large numbers of goslings that will fall crashing to their deaths, not long after hatching.

However, Enmax, who DID respond to my call for help in very short order, was unable to reach the nesting bird in their long armed bucket yesterday, due to the changed drainage ditches and rock retaining systems that were constructed before fall of this past year.  They wrote to tell me that the Osprey would have to wait until the gosling hatching and then, mayhaps, they would reclaim the nest.  I just wondered, after this response, why they can not erect a new platform in the meantime…and so…more drama today!

As I drove to Frank’s Flats, Maxman in tow after Mass this morning, I noted that Mr. and Mrs. Osprey were sitting on two different light standards staring, with evil eyes, in the direction of the platform.  The goose sat, indifferent.  I sent off a post to social media once I arrived at the pond.

Returning home, the first stick was set down.

“Uh oh,” I thought to myself, “by end of day, this, a nest will be!”

Sure enough, after Pow Wow dancing class (you should try it!), I drove down to check on progress!  A full nest is well engaged on the top of the sign that appears east 22x just before the bridge.  This nest edges the bike path directly and has a view of a bustling and particularly noisy traffic area.  Oh dear!

Yes, I HAVE let Enmax know….but, what saddens me is that, at the destruction of this nest, the Osprey will have to sort out a new location…and there just isn’t one that makes any sense.  What makes sense is for Enmax to grow some determination, get that goose down, and let the Osprey nest.

I’ll keep you informed…and in the meantime…this is all for the birds!

People are now out and fishing on the river.

I watched as a Bald Eagle and the two Osprey did the work of negotiating their way around these wires that cross over the Bow River…in the name of advancement.

The Black-headed gulls have returned to the south…I noticed this first when I was in my neighbourhood park at dusk last evening and hundreds of them flew overhead…pure magic!

First time for everything…I watched Mr. mount Mrs.(not posted here)

At Frank’s Flats…the past couple of days…The male Loon appeared yesterday and fished the pond for the entire day.  Today, he was gone.

Since chopping down most of the trees and leaving this single deciduous tree just on the other side of the fence, the crows are at a loss for where to build new nests.  They gather together these days, in far larger groups than this…but, I’ve noticed a change in their activities.

 

Today’s Birds: April 10, 2017

Frank’s Flats 10:00 a.m.

Multiple Male Canvasbacks and 2 Females
The documentation isn’t great because I was such a great distance away.

These are fast swimmers and in their mating rituals, they do a lot of diving and showing off.  Shy birds, they, like the Mergansers, crossed the pond each time I came around to their side.  This is very annoying for me, and when I lose patience, I just put the camera down and watch.  I feel more excited to be closely observing and learning from these spring romancers.

I have been very interested in the mating rituals of the Mallards…just ‘ordinary’ ducks…but, I have developed quite a respect for the tremendous resilience and determination of the female Mallard.  I’m watching her more closely this spring, in terms of her attempts to hold off the aggressive drakes.  I caught a really lovely photograph today of one of these ladies.

©Kathleen Moors

Only the past two days, the songs of the Red Winged Blackbirds have returned to the pond and while I haven’t sighted any females yet, the males are calling in a very determined, if not impatient way.

It seems that as large groups of birds are sighted, with the disruptive activities around the extension of Stoney Trail, the waterbirds, for the most part, are moving on.  The Goldeneyes were here in large numbers, as were the Common Mergansers, but today, they seemed to be replaced by the Lesser Scaups and the Canvasbacks.  The Geese look hunkered down for the long haul, although on the south side of the fence, I fear they are bound to lose their youngsters this year.  The Mallards are also nesting in the tall grass along the slopes to the pond…but they will also be in harm’s way, either through the marauding populations of displaced coyotes or the extensive and dismissive nature of human activity.

Magpies are watching on from the cheap seats.

I hope to get some good photographs of the Lesser Scaups this year, but they did manage to avoid my efforts last year.  We’ll see.  I love their powder blue beaks and the lovely patterning on their backs.  Their eyes are the most luminous gold colour.  They are just lovely to watch.  Also, shy.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear

I was down at Shelf Life books, listening to a wonderful double book launch by  German Rodrigues and J. Pablo Ortiz.  It was a very unique evening of spanish language literature, celebrating the launch of German Rodriguez’s The Time Between His Eyes (El tiempo entre sus ojos) and J. Pablo Ortiz’s Open Sea (De mar abierto). It was an excellent event and I was happy to reconnect with Pablo and to hang with his partner and my longtime friend, Brian. After the reading, I set about looking for the book, Birds Art Life because I had heard an interview about it and knew that it would affirm my experience of the pond, the discovery of birds and the resulting experience of art-making.

It was a bit of a search, but before I left, a copy of the book fell into my hands.

Very linear in my approach to books, I finished the McCullers title, before snapping up this beautiful object of my obsession.

I rushed through my earlier two reviews, books I’ve read in the past month, so that I could get to this recommendation, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear.  In this book, I found something kindred to everything I have become in retirement and in the past six years of loving a single ecosystem, a pond environment within the boundaries of the City of Calgary.

I kept putting the book down, and lifting off of the sofa or my bed or the bench out in the back yard, in order to pace and whoot and say, out loud, “YES!”  Since reading The Diviners so many years ago, I have not had such physical reactions to what I am reading.

Here is an extract from the book that speaks of my philosophy and experience, very clearly.

I discovered, through the book, that my ‘SPARK’ bird, was a sparrow, more precise, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow, some eight years ago.  Hardly romantic or colourful, strange that my true attraction to birds was discovered looking out from my kitchen window, across at the open vent of my neighbour’s kitchen…several nesting seasons…widowing…lost youngsters…and determination through all sorts of weather conditions.  I began to watch. I took out the camera, for the first time, to take photographs of sparrows.

Kath's Canon Male Sparrow Emptying Nest July 7 2015 006

From that kitchen place, my exploring began at a pond environment that I call Frank’s Flats, named after a homeless man who most evenings, watched me gather up litter into a bag a day for several years.  He drank six beer in the time it took me to fill a bag with plastics, straws, newspaper flyers and other human garbage.  He chatted with me, thanked me and visited at the end of most evenings, as I put my collection into the bin, near his viewing spot.

I think that the first time I really noticed the birds, I was drawn to the red winged black birds because of their determined mating calls.

Facebook 40 Male Blackbird

My experience of the pond has, since discovering birds, coyotes and little field mice, become magical.  The lessons I have learned about compassion, care, art and writing, have been many and profound.  I am so grateful for the number of stories and discoveries that come my way because I am always looking for the little miracles.

Kath's Canon, September 22, 2015 early aft Frank's Flats Heron 038

Facebook 7 Black Capped Night Heron

Kath's Canon September 2, 2015 Osprey, Franks, Stinky Max 062Kath's Canon August 29, 2015 Osprey, Hawk, Kingfisher 141

If you are looking for a way to deepen your experience of life and living, pick up this book.  It is a treasure and my new favourite!  It contains countless references to other writers, thinkers and artists…book titles…and the author’s connections with her own story.  I hope that my readers will discover urban nature and hold on to the power of that experience.

Today at the pond…

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Killdeer Protective Behaviour

I am so amazed by what I learn on a daily basis because I show up at a single pond every day, no matter the weather.  Today I had opportunity to witness this little beauty being protective of her eggs.  I keep Max on leash on every walk these days because it is a very precarious time for all of the birds in this ecosystem.  Max is very co-operative and sits silently whenever I am observing or snapping photographs.  The only time he becomes super alert is when we are close to coyotes and deer.  His ears point and he stairs in the direction of the smell/movement.

He sat nicely as I watched this happening.  I am so in awe of nature and the strength of tiny creatures in the face of huge predators and insurmountable odds.

I’ll never be in that class of photographers where I am selling my images, but as a matter of respect, if you wish to use them for teaching and explaining, please credit me the documentation.  Thanks.

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Pairing

There is so much beauty in nature and while I know that these warm and melting days of spring will likely be interspersed with the return of snow, for now, it is such a treasure to notice the birds pairing.  Instinctively, they begin their nesting rituals, all for the protection of fragile eggs.  I am amazed by it all.  I am grateful.

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The Melt

For three days, Calgary has enjoyed beautiful temperatures.  It has been a long winter…lots of snow and bitter cold.  In fact, this has been such a melt that on many intersections throughout the city, the drainage doesn’t seem to be sufficient or blocked, to the detriment to some homes.

Mike Drew of the Calgary Sun captured this image of a residence in Sunnyside.

Photo Credit: Mike Drew, Calgary Sun QMI

Photo Credit: Mike Drew, Calgary Sun QMI

In the morning, Max-walking is dangerous, given that this water freezes up and leaves the sidewalks, virtual skating rinks.

Apart from these symptoms of changing weather, there are some beautiful moments in nature.  We just got home from our daily walk about Frank’s Flats and it is absolutely breath taking.  Lately, I’ve noticed magpies flying with pieces of nesting material dangling haphazardly from their beaks as they instinctively prepare their nests.

I’m a huge fan of Duke Farm’s Live Eagle Cam.  It was an awesome thing, this year, to witness the laying of three eggs.  The notations from the site are as follows and a still photo I just saved a moment ago.  I encourage my birder-readers to follow the progress of this family.  What magic to witness male and female trading off places in the nest and sharing the responsibilities for the eggs.  The history of Duke Farms can be read here.

Eagle March 10 2014And for those who think that watching an eagle on a nest is the same as watching paint dry, be advised that last year, this particular event was caught on live cam…

Update 2/24/2014A 3rd egg was laid on 2/23/2014 in the afternoon.  Thanks you viewers for your valuable observations throughout the nesting season.

Update 2/20/2014
A 2nd egg was laid the afternoon of 2/20/2014.

Update 2/18/2014
An egg was laid in the afternoon of 2/17/2014*. Snow in the nest should begin to dissipate as temps rise during the day over the next few days. The cam will remain zoomed close in on the nest bowl to aid in detection of additional eggs.

Update 1/14/2014
Soft grasses are being deposited in the nest bowl to act as cushioning and insulation, these signs are usually a prelude to egg laying behavior.

So, today…teaching grade one…while I was tempted to make art around St. Patrick’s Day, our Lenten Journey, the Stations of the Cross or Penguins!!!  I ended up following my own muse, the nesting birds.  And the children did NOT disappoint.

Where’s our teacher?  Are you our teacher? Yeah! We get to paint!

Off with the coats there, buddies!  On with the shoes!

Who is the engine? Who is the caboose?  The caboose isn’t here!  Oh, no!  Pick a caboose, will you and take this attendance down, please.

Announcements. O’ Canada. Prayer.

I saw a magpie carrying a great big branch while it was flying the other day!

IT WAS BUILDING A NEST!

It’s so warm and the snow is melting.

IT’S GOING TO LAY A EGG!

A nest is like a bowl…do you remember what horizontal means?

WIDE!! (I notice, with this response, that the grade ones have been measuring things…they have a whole new vocabulary!)

Do you remember what vertical means?  You’re right! Up and down!

Today you may choose to build a nest on vertical sky OR horizontal sky…whatever you wish.  Remember that the nest will fall out if there are not enough branches.  I’ll show you a bowl shape in some branches. (I demonstrate a BIG drawing on a vertical piece and then on a horizontal piece of blue construction paper).  Three branches will work…or four…or five.  The nest (to repeat) looks like a bowl.

Grab your chalk…you can do your sketch now.  As I’m stirring up some earth tones of paint at the paint center I ask the children if they remember the THREE steps to painting…

DIP! STROKE!

Oops!  We forgot a step!

WIPE!! 

Yes…please wipe your extra paint off of your brushes.

The students use the paint station with finesse, two hands on buckets…walking…taking turns.  Let’s use the darkest brown for the inside of the nest.  It will show that it is deep and dark…a good place to sleep.  OF COURSE WE CAN PAINT LEAVES!  I quickly mix up five different greens. Trading off begins and the paintings are set aside to dry.

We go to the reading corner to share in the rhyming poem, Five Little Penguins…yes, readers, you’ve got it…same as the Five Little Monkeys!  We talk about visits to the Calgary Zoo.

After recess and recess snacks, we add our nesting materials into the mix…talk about birds collecting strings and grass…and talk about how penguins nest.  We talk about how the Dad sits on the egg while Mama goes to eat fish…and how Mama sits on the egg while Dad goes to eat fish.  We cut and paste and then add in the birds.  BEAUTIFUL!  Let’s set them aside so that the glue can dry.  Hailey says out loud, as she’s placing her nest gently on the corner, “I love mine.”  I think to myself, “This is what’s really important.”

Printing…letter w!  Here we go!

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One Voice

Trying to Find My Bird Movie 129I spent four weeks tracking a warbler every morning and afternoon…trying to get close enough to identify the little guy.  And for all of that time, he rarely stopped singing.  When I return home, I will publish the song archive that I collected and perhaps one of you will help me to identify him. For all of those days, this small bird distracted me from a sad heart and filled the empty space once filled with my mother’s laughter, with a song.

Because I was so intent to listen to this single bird voice, I could hear the voices of others; chickadees, cardinals, blue jays and black birds, voices woven through the old Belleville trees. The transforming landscape, full bloom of maple, elm and willow, caused the red flash of cardinal to stand out against countless shades of green.  But more magnificent for me, each morning when the dew was still wet on the grass, was the little bird perched on the highest single finger of a blue spruce tree, seeking a mate…no answer to its determined voice.

Stalking Birds with Color Camera by Arthur A. Allen

Ok…so, this is my new most favourite birding book on the planet!  I have read many and own several, but this is absolutely the best!  First of all, the TITLE!  Isn’t the title awesome? I purchased this book in a bulk pile, along with several other real treasures, for $1.69. Here’s the dust cover.

There is a name plate in the front cover of this specific book and It was once owned by Grace Buzik in NW Calgary and was published in 1963 by the National Geographic Society.  Here’s a photograph of Author Allen, stalking birds near Ithaca, New York.  His very first article appeared in a National Geographic magazine in 1934.  There is such humour and honesty in this particular book that, already, I have learned a whole number of things about the birds that appear daily at my feeder.

Just recently we have experienced the end of a particular species of Giant Galapagos Island Tortoise. Lonesome George has spent the last number of years alone, with some years accompanied by two females of a closely related species, but on June 24, Lonesome George was found dead by his keepers, somewhere near his watering hole.  As I peruse this birding book, I marvel at the people (scientists, journalists and photographers) who have dedicated their lives to documenting and studying a whole number of species because in that way, we retain a treasured experience/story, as the human collective.  Contemporary photographer, Brian Skerry, is presently one of my favourites. He has provided captivating images for the National Geographic for years and recently published the book, Ocean Soul.  He is very generous, in that, he truly values education and the welfare of all life and his documentation is used to sustain a whole number of troubled species.  He has offered me permission to use his photographs as references for some of my drawings/paintings of cetaceans.  For this, I am truly grateful.

Back to Arthur Allen…and this photograph was taken by Robert B. Goodman of the National Geographic Society, 1963.

The captions hold such magic…for every coloured photograph, the author creates a bit of humour and then goes on to share the science.  Here’s an example.

“Good-bye, Daddy – Hurry Back”
The brilliant male Scarlet Tanager has just fed his youngsters, and now, while they look after him hopefully, starts his search for the second course of a meal that lasts all day.  Well camouflaged, the young resemble their mother rather than their dazzling dad.  In October the birds will fly to Colombia or Bolivia to spend the winter.

The reader can not help but be entertained by this book, featuring 494 illustrations, 385 of them in full natural colour.  A rich and fascinating find!

I had thought that starlings had moved into the neighbourhood, but since checking references and descriptions in this book, I now know that I’ve got a couple of Bronzed Grackles (a common crow blackbird) as well as the every-now-and-then appearance of a Cowbird, with its brown head.  Needless to say, I’m going to have some fun times, sitting back with my morning coffee, reading these brief and entertaining narratives.  The idea of ‘stalking’ birds makes me smile!