Just a quick post as I’m moving out of my bird mode and in to my bush mode. I know that some of my readers can, off the top, relate with the title of this post.
Parenting is difficult!
I like to make observations of birds. I’m willing to patiently watch and be still. Like a prayer, this is what brings me a lot of peace these days. The practice of being still is something invaluable to a culture that values ‘busy’ so much.
These days, the old trees that grow and die at the edge of the river, are singing. There is life that emits from the boughs and trunks of trees. I don’t think a lot of people actually notice that. Even if you walk in your neighbourhood to the mailbox, lately, you will hear that the houses and trees of your own community are singing. The children need to be fed.
So, in looking up at one of the trees today, I observed a European Starling entering and exiting one of the big Elms growing at the river, over and over again. But, interestingly enough I saw her not only entering, with food, but exiting with poop. What? Really?
If you think about it, it makes sense. But, YUCK!! Can you imagine your growing family, shouting all day long from the inside of a crowded tree nest? Can you imagine that there is a lot of house keeping required of you, the adult? Wow!
This got me thinking about the intuitive selfless actions of parents for their offspring, it matters not the species.
At the House Wren nest, one adult remains very guarded of the nesting area while the other does the constant runs to try to silence the peeping worrying kids.
The Canada Geese lead goslings from one place to another, often tending other ‘people’s kids’, while a number of adults get a wee respite. This poor image does not even capture the wee buddies who spilled in off of that rocky shore shortly after the snapping of this photograph.
Vigilance is key during these days of raising young at the river. Magpies and Crows, Hawks of every variety, search the tall wood for untended nests. It is the way of nature. Keeping low to the earth and in the dried grasses of winter, the Mallards cast their eyes in the direction of the most subtle movements.
Mr. and Mrs. continue to work in tandem at the Bald Eagle Nest. The two youngsters continue to grow very quickly. Dad, of smaller stature seems to be doing more of the fishing and guarding from a distance than Mom. It was beautiful one day last week when the two of them took flight together, soaring on a perfect day, just above the nest.
I think in families sometimes, Moms and Dads find it hard to leave the kids alone for even the shortest while in order that they, too, can enjoy the world and its offerings.
I feel a bit of a cold coming on. Max and I just returned from the river and I’ve had two pieces of toast slathered with peanut butter and raspberry jam and I’m presently sipping my third and last cup of coffee.
Before heading to the studio, I want to write a brief post to acknowledge just how beautiful it was to visit the river, in the rain. Every day brings its shift in weather and atmosphere and every day brings to mind a different perspective, colour and life force. I am just so grateful.
At the prompting of my friend, Nina Weaver, I read, with great attention, the first chapter of John’s gospel and I felt, as I read, that I am getting stronger over these difficult days. Restorative yoga has been very beneficial to me, in the fact that daily, I am more conscious of breath…taking in healing and releasing suffering. It’s a bit of a daily prayer for me now. Life will always be different, without my brother’s booming voice being a part of it, but let’s face it, I carry him with me. And so, today, I will bring him with me, into the studio to paint.
Watching the birds at the pond and now the river, is such a part of my mental, emotional and spiritual health. I can not explain to my readers how entering into the watchfulness and presence of such vulnerable creatures is healing and even sustaining. Focus moves away from self and ego and returns to the other…and to what is necessary to wholeness and health. I am inspired every day.
Why did I decide to post today? Well, I gain much through the act of writing, the practice of writing. I don’t want to lose touch with that. It was very hard to be caring for brother at the same time as my computer sunk like a stone. Yes, I filled some journal pages and I wrote in the margins of my Bible, but writing didn’t feel as available through that period. Writing allows my heartache to tumble out, releasing a particular tension. I don’t want to take the purchase of a laptop for granted, just as I never want to take the act of painting for granted again.
First to come in the spring, were the Magpies. Then, the Canada Geese, the Mallards and the Common Goldeneyes. At the same time, before snow left, the Robin’s song could be heard. The House Sparrows gathered once again, in a flurry, at my back yard bird feeder. European Starlings, Common Mergansers, Red Necked Grebes and more. My friends at Frank Lake have photographed so many gorgeous birds. At my river, I don’t see the American Avocets or the Stilts. However, I have been amused and in love with interactions with these birds in the past. I am very much about staying close to home these days; my energy is still quite low and so, I certainly don’t look for places to go or things to do. The next few photographs represent a few of the birds I’ve enjoyed this spring and ones that have built up the life force within me.
You may wish to click on the image to enlarge. As well, here are two photographs of Mr. as he returned to the nest with a fish off of the Bow River. For those of you know me, I don’t know how to pan, so the fact that I managed even two poorly focused images of Mr. in flight, is quite an accomplishment. Have a beautiful day!
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.
Observed today….a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, not to be confused with the Lesser Scaups that I’ve seen during nesting season. Another first time identification for me.
Also, passing through, two very shy Hooded Mergansers (I may be incorrect on this identification) The males are very spectacularly coloured…these two are the cinnamon colour of the females or possibly juveniles…hard to get anywhere near this couple, especially with Max on umbilical. I would appreciate the help of others on this identification.
The following photograph gave me the most reference material I could capture…
There remains, a single Pied Billed Grebe…don’t know why this one hasn’t headed out. Very elusive and likes to go under at the first sight of me…I’m determined to get close enough to see the light in his eyeballs at some point.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
And 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…
Oops! We forgot a step!
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.”