One Tree: One Hour July 8, 2020

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.

Uh Oh: Bird Tales From the Vent

Just recently, I’ve been publicly shamed on social media for asking for photo credit and explaining my distaste for the blast of photographs being published on line of members of the public, hoarding or standing in long lines in store environments. Just my opinion, but these photographs fall into the same category as Wal-Mart shopper photos, babies having temper tantrum photos and Fat Lady photos. I just don’t get what the purpose is? Oh…I received the explanation that publishing the photo of a profiteer who was bragging about the resale potential of a cart load of thermometers had shifted the behaviour of the big box stores and convinced them to limit sales. (all myth and absolutely no idea WHO the person was and what the product was and what the motivation was) Bull Winkle Twinkle Fairy Dust! Are you kidding? Social media photographs do not convince companies such as Home Depot to change their policies? And as a follow-up, it’s interesting that Reddit has deleted the photograph, while the legacy of hateful comments remain spouting off about Capitalism and such. Haters need to hate.

I digress. Because I spoke out about the negativity of such content being shared over and over again in formats such as Reddit and Facebook, I was labeled a lunatic who takes pictures of baby deer and eagles and was reminded that I am dumber than door nails. Too bad. I look at the fact that this person didn’t read or take in my concerns or my views on this subject. He only saw his own perspective and then BLACK OUT….the thread disappeared and the big BLOCK happened. Wow! UH OH!!! I’m telling my readers, we are living in very troubled times. Kindness is required.

And…back to the ‘baby deer and eagle photos’. It is my choice to try to retain a positive expression of social media. If I get so rattled, in real time, about something political or what I view to be a social injustice, I might post, but you will notice those discussions/threads disappear off of my social media within days. I think that what the world needs at the best and the worst of times is positivity, enlightenment and gratitude. If readers/posters want to be miserable all of the time, it’s their prerogative. There is room in the world for all of us. Just don’t block me, shut me down, silence me when I wish to share an opinion along the way.

Check out ethical practice when it comes to posting photos, specifically to shame others.

On the subject of this post…another big UH OH! Some of you have followed Tales from the Vent over the past seven years. At my kitchen sink and window, I find myself in close proximity to my neighbour’s vent. Over the years, this has typically provided a nesting site for House Sparrows, but the past few years, there have been nest wars between Northern Flickers and House Sparrows. Well, look here, what was spotted this morning at the vent. OH NO! Pigeon poop potential! It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this season. I’ll keep you up to date!

Autumn Mash Up

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.

 

Junior

The first eaglet fledged five days ago.  I made no siting of him yesterday or the day before and no vocalizations, so I was growing worried that he had come to some demise.  Last night, it poured rain…it’s just been that sort of summer.  If I wasn’t going to get out to Ptarmigan Cirque this morning with my guests from Louisiana (Preston and Angela) due to severe thunder storms, then I was going to get them down to the Bow River to hopefully site Mr. and Mrs.

Initially, we spotted Dad on the horizontal branch on the dead tree across the way.   It was pretty obvious it had been a rough night.  I took my guests south on the river to see if Mama was on this side in her favourite hang out.

Along the way, I pointed out the American Pelicans and the spot where the juvenile Northern Flickers had been eagerly waiting to fledge.

No Mrs.  Hmmm….I thought to myself, “Where can she be?”

I talked to Preston and Angela about skat…pointing out the coyote poop and its contents.  By this time, we were soaked to the knees, although the rain had stopped and there was just a sprinkle.  The colour and texture of mammal skat is very much impacted by what they have available for food.  Just yesterday I found some skat that contained a lot of animal content, likely rabbit fur and the dark colouring was reflective of old blood.  To me, this didn’t look so much like the coyote poop I most often observe on my circle.

The skat pictured below contains more berry content and a different texture.  This is what I generally think of as coyote skat.  I’m pretty certain that yesterday’s sampling (if you do a search, this will be confirmed) was Bobcat skat.

(I’m off topic, right?)  It my readers are out in nature a lot, it is important to be able to recognize or identify these clues so that  you are somewhat aware of what animals you are sharing space with at the time.  This can contribute to your safety in certain situations.  But moving on.

By the time we had done our circle and returned to the edge of the river, Mrs. was perched a short distance from Mr. but in an unusual spot for her…balancing on the top of one of the high branches of a tree across from us.  We watched both of them for some time and I was feeling very grateful that at the very least Preston was able to see the two adults that I blither on about constantly on social media.

The adults consistently stared downward and so Preston and I talked about what might have happened to the fledgling.  Given the silence, I believed that the youngster was at the very least injured, and at the worst, gone.  I got a big hug from Preston as we silently acknowledged that the first fledge had come to some sort of end and the adults were doing some grieving.   I took the lead as we carried on north along the very edge of the water.

As we came out of the tall grass and made our way onto the bike path, going south, I noticed through the trees that Mom was no longer there.  I shouted to the other two that I was going to walk ahead and go down to her roosting tree on our side to see if i could get them a better look.  As I came through the clearing and faced the water, my mouth must have fallen open as I saw the juvenile, with much grace and strength, fly directly for me….I shouted out, “He’s coming right into my arms!” And he alighted into a tree branch just above my head.

I was exuberant! (understatement)  Quickly, I readied my camera and started snapping.  Then, hurriedly, I surmised that he must have followed Mama and I shared that I was heading south on the river to see if I might see her in her favourite tree.  Dad remained aloof on the horizontal branch right across from us.

Before launching off, I quickly said to Preston, “I’m still not convinced that this is fledge #1…I will check the nest for Junior #2 once I’ve located Mom.

I rushed ahead and Preston and Angela followed, but when I got to the tree, no Mama.  From where I stood, Angela and Preston said, “Look.  Is that Mrs?”  I did a pivot and there in the tree neighbouring Junior, Mom sat and surveyed all.  Back we went.

At this point and after confirming that, indeed, Junior #2 was still  disgruntled and sitting on the nest across from us, in my private thoughts, I was thinking how grateful I was that we had such a private showing of these two raptors and that indeed, Junior #1 was safe.  I was also thinking how happy I was that we weren’t at Ptarmigan Cirque.

I was snapping photographs of the two when things became even more dramatic and Dad headed for his family.  Alighting shoulder to shoulder with the female, she became unbalanced and was knocked off, leaving Dad in her place.  She headed north over the water, a tad annoyed. (But that is me personifying the situation…AGAIN.)  The following photographs were taken by Preston or Angela.

Preston and Angela, with their phones at the ready, documented this bit of drama as I was just gawking at the goings-on, very much in disbelief.  What a wonderful experience.

After watching Dad track a fishing Osprey within his territory for some time, and after sharing our happiness with the experience, we headed home feeling pretty satisfied with our morning in nature.

At home, I whipped up some sausages, eggs and brown beans and toast and we shared in another coffee.  I’m so grateful that Junior is doing so well…thriving on the river.  I hope that they will make their way back to the island where their environment is less-traveled by human beings.  Some days I just feel that creation was made for my pleasure.  This was one of those days.

The great thing about having some one with you when you witness such as this, is that you can share in the joy.  I’m glad you were with me, Angela and Preston!  Oh!  And, Max!

 

For the Birds: Early Spring 2019

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!

 

Three Days at the Bow

For days now,  smoke has hung on the air, seeming to press in on me.  It is a difficult thing to take pause and contemplate the horrendous impact so many wildfires are having on people and their homes as well as wildlife and its various ecosystems.  The yellow cast of grey over every landscape is a constant reminder.  An absence of the mountains on my horizon to the west is disorienting. The burning sensation behind my nose and throat brings on headaches and a heavy feeling.  It is a difficult time for so many people north and south of the border, east and west.  This is a strange and other-worldly experience.

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At the river, the mornings are quiet, with far less activity and chatter from the birds.  I don’t know if other birder friends have found this, but the Red Winged Blackbirds, usually first to arrive in early spring, seem to have taken their offspring and skipped town.  I miss their calls, especially at the pond.

The Bald Eagle couple have been diligently observing the Juvenile as he/she figures out what it means to be strong and determined.  Mr. and Mrs. did an amazing job providing for two kids at the nest.  I will never know what came of the first fledge.

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When I walk the river’s edge early in the morning, the earth is spongy and feels as though it has breathed in moisture somehow, magically, through the night.  I no longer look down as I walk because every day for days I observed a snake silently slip into the brush as my foot fell onto the path.  I’d rather not see that anymore.  Of all of the amazing creatures there are to enjoy, I have not yet learned an appreciation for snakes.

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Birds, in training, are practicing skills of flight.  For days, the Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings and Wrens had taken to the higher canopy.  But, since the smoke, they’ve been found in the lower branches, especially in the evenings.

Juvenile and Adult Cedar Waxwings.

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American White Pelicans.

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Eastern Kingbird.

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Osprey against smoke.

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Juvenile House Wrens actively chittering for food.

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Sometimes, when I get home and download my photographs…I see things I hadn’t noticed while snapping.  The following two unfocused photographs speak to those surprises.

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Yellow Warbler and Cedar Waxwing.

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Berries and berry pickers have been in evidence at the river’s edge.

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It has been a most amazing experience to watch the progression of life and death and life and death on the river, even through the brutal winter.  The wildfires remind us how tenuous life is for all.  The leaves, now turning gradually and the plants-gone-to-seed remind us of how quickly everything changes.

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House Wrens

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.

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For the Birds

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.

A 2016 brief about the Sparrow.

and also, an article titled Different kind of tweet: Study says oilpatch causes sparrows to sing a new song.

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The American White Pelicans have been exceptional in numbers this year and are stunning against the colour of the river.

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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.

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Wild Delphinium…there is just no way that I could capture the electric blue.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lots of Blackbird youngsters about…mostly continuing to cry out to mama for bugs and dragonflies.

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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.

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I call these Blue Bells, but don’t know their actual name.  The flowers have been lovely in the wild, this year.

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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?

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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.

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These sweet buy sometimes-annoying House Sparrows at my backyard bird feeder.  When they’re young they are so darned funny.

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White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.

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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…

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And of course, there are a few families of Mallards nearby…on this particular day, sunning themselves.  Mom was keeping an eye on me.

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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.

 

 

Venting!

So…earlier posts in the season demonstrated an all-out war between House Sparrows and Northern Flickers, as they fought for dibs on a vent across from my kitchen window.  In the end, the vent remained abandoned for the first round of nesting and egg-laying.  Well, not to be discouraged, look what’s happened.  Strange thing is, this morning two separate males were helping this young lady out.  I recognize the one male as the ‘old guy’ who was widowed earlier this year and the other as being the Casanova (thin, young and with a smoothed back feather style) that I observed when the male Northern Flicker showed up. This is a new female to this location. Don’t know what’s to come of all of it, but I plan on reading about the potential of such scenarios in nature.

Enjoy the slide show…this is a brief collection…two days out of four and a trip every 30 seconds or so, unloading grasses and nesting materials!  Such industry!

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For The Birds: May 19 – 27, 2018

I was down in southern Alberta for the long weekend and basically just sighted a lot of Mourning Doves and heard a lot of Mourning Doves.  For a good part of the weekend, it rained.  It was cozy inside with my auntie.  Walking the dog…early morning and in the quiet of evening, I loved the light and quiet of small town Magrath.

Back here at home, I’ve made visits to Frank’s Flats (the pond) and to the Bow River every day.  I guess I’ve got some questions about some of the birds I’ve spotted.

High School biology students have been down at the edge of the pond, collecting leeches again.  I’ve spoken to one of the Biology teachers…again mentioning that it isn’t the greatest of times for such activities, given that we have four Red Necked Grebe nests and a Black Crowned Heron nest, as well as countless other nests that are active.  She told me that this year they made certain that they told the kids to protect and watch for bird nests.  However, the way in which they were gallumphing about, the Red Winged Black birds were truly freaking.  Damage done.

I’ll post some of my photos…some not very focused, but, keep in mind that I am a bird enthusiast…not so much a photographer.

May 23rd Uploads

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Song Sparrow

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Mr.

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Male and Female Mallard…loved the colours here.

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Watched this chump cool off in shallow water.  Robin

May 25th Uploads

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Female Red Winged Blackbird

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Male Red Winged Blackbird

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Savannah Sparrow

May 26th Uploads

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Yellow Warbler Bow River’s Edge

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Song Sparrow

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Bow River Rising…Many upset Canada Goose couples

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Is this a female Brown-headed Cowbird?

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Dunno?

May 27th Downloads

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Mr. and Mrs. enjoying a Sunday morning over the river.