The Boy and Me: Nature-ing

*ALERT:  This post ended up much longer than I anticipated…but, beautiful places, so make sure that you scroll down to the photographs!

This summer, I stayed around town.  There are still so many places I haven’t been…and, there are also beautiful places that I want to return to again and again.  I know that there are a lot of people who put up their noses about Calgary.  But, for me, Calgary is home and the access we have to genuinely wonderful experiences is right at our fingertips, should we wish to partake.  Because of the circumstances of early summer, I had opportunity to do a little bit of exploring with my son.  Before they disappear into the dark hole that is my desktop photo archive, I’m going to bring these snippets up to the surface.  And then, I’m heading out to the pond with Max.

McKinnon Flats.

“Archaeologists of Lifeways of Canada Limited have been contracted by Alberta Culture and Tourism to find out about early settlement at McKinnon Flats.  They’re part of Culture and Tourism’s three-year Post-Flood Investigation Program, which was initiated to record the effects of the June 2013 southern Alberta flood on archaeological and palaeontological sites along rivers such as the Bow, Highwood, Sheep and Kananaskis.  As a result of the program, 100 new archaeological sites were identified and additional information was gathered at 87 sites that had been recorded prior to the flood.  Many of these sites were found eroding from the riverbanks, with some in need of investigation before they disappeared entirely.

The McKinnon Flats site is one of these locations. Although it had been previously recorded in 1971, no-one realized that it contained deeply buried cultural deposits.  As a result of the 2013 flood, however, a ten metre strip from the front of the site’s river terrace was removed, leaving a 400 metre exposure in the river bank that contained cultural evidence. This evidence included broken bison bone, large stone choppers and rock that had been heated and cracked in a fire. Among the eroding finds were the remains of a boiling pit that had probably been used to cook meat and process bone marrow in a skin-lined pit dug in the ground.  Evidence of the pit was found in the form of almost 100 heated “fire-broken” rocks that were eroding from one of the riverbank exposures. Between the time the pit was observed in 2014 and the site was excavated in 2016, however, all evidence has been completely eroded.”

It was at this location that my son and I did a beautiful-weather-day hike and shared in a Spoloumbo’s picnic sandwich on the river bank.  A spectacular day!

Frank Lake

Frank Lake is located in the foothills fescue prairie ecoregion. The lake is a hemi-marsh, which means it roughly has the same area of open water as there is emergent vegetation. Vegetation includes mostly hardstem bulrushsago pondweedRichardson’s pondweed, and northern waterfmilfoil. The lake and its surrounding upland areas attracts many species of birds. Waterfowl and shorebirds and other birds use the lake for staging during migration, and nesting. Some birds that can be seen here include: tundra swantrumpeter swanCanada goosenorthern pintailFranklin’s gullring-billed gullCalifornia gullcommon ternshort-eared owleared grebemarbled godwitlong-billed dowitcherblack-crowned night-heron, and black-necked stiltBirdwatching is a popular activity.

The drive to Frank Lake was very relaxing, as was the walk on well-worn pathways.  Along the way, we only met two other people, so it really did give me the sense of getting away from the city and relaxing into nature.  Highly recommend!  Not to be confused with my daily pond walking at Frank’s Flats.

Nose Hill Park

I really want to get out to hike all of the pathways from all directions to the top of Nose Hill Park.  It is such a spiritually charged place!  It’s always been on my bucket list, but, living in the deep south of the city, I had to drive there, with intention and finally it happened!

The Leighton Center...I always take friends and family here.  Most of all, because of the huge dramatic view.  I feel the best of everything that is foothills living, when I visit the Leighton Center.  On this visit, I enjoyed the appearance of several Mountain Blue Birds.  I felt really excited about that.  The smoke from the growing forest fires to the west began to cloak the mountains in the distance.

Ptarmigan Cirque

Pretty much an annual hike…breathtaking for its pretty immediate views…a place to take visitors to Calgary because of the expedient pleasure in the mountains, with very little exertion.

Custom Woolen Mills

On this particular day, I had convinced my young adult children to drive out to the Dancing Goats farm, just a short distance from the Woolen Mills.  I thought that we would be able to visit the goat farm, but, was mistaken.  In fact, the owners were in the city dropping off product to a number of retail locations.  I spoke with one of them on the telephone, from the small town of Acme.

Instead, we ended up taking country roads to go to the Custom Woolen Mills.  I was happy that Ruthie was in the gift shop, so I got a wee visit with her and had a chance to take my daughter and son into the mill.  I feel so connected to the place.  I love it more and more every time I make the drive.

I also met the Artist in Residency…an amazing artist and knitter…I’ll just have to go back into my writing and figure out her name.

 

It appears that I had some amazing experiences this past summer, most of them shared with Cayley and James.  I realize that in this process of “Falling Out of Order”, there was an awful lot going on.  But, for this lovely Thanksgiving afternoon, and with a pond walk and a large plate of turkey leftovers under my belt, I realize that it is time that I settle down to mark some narrative writings by grade four and five students.

Whenever I go through the process of archiving the experiences I enjoy in surrounding areas of Calgary, I realize how blessed I am. Yes.  It’s possible to travel the world over.  But, sometime it’s a blessing to realize what treasures lie very close to you, treasures to be uncovered.  Today, I feel grateful.

Today’s Birds: May 13, 2017

I should be out gardening.  I am typically well ahead of the neighbours, but with owwies in the elbow this year, I’m lagging.  That doesn’t stop me from feeling fired up, however, as I listen to the sound of the neighbouring trimmers, lawnmowers and the stchhhh stchhhh of their sprinklers.

It’s pretty nice getting outside for long hikes, without the lawn work, I’ve got to say.

Here are today’s birds…all at Frank’s Flats.  I continue to hope that the pond on the other side of the chain link fence isn’t drained until the fledge happens.  We’ve a lot of nesting water birds at the moment.  We have one widowed Goose (female, I think), as well as a widowed Mallard (male).  They were hanging out together for quite a bit today. However, as I snapped a photograph, the Mallard flew out of frame.

No smiling at the pond these days!  If I smiled, I would eat my weight in bugs.  Must be the reason for the excitement on the water.  The gulls, laughing in a wild frenzy, are annoying the other birds.  The Yellow-headed Blackbirds seem to be pecking away in the huge batch of blooming dandelions.

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Giving me the Stare Down!

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Female Blackbird

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Female Blackbird

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Black Headed Gull

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More than a few…and Noisy!

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One of the Male Grebes Having a Float

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Overseeing his possibilities.

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Female Blackbirds checking out the Men. So many visible, while for weeks, the men were out there doing the soft shoe on the cat tails on their own.

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Cranky Pants

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Widowed Two Weeks Ago

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This must be my O’ Canada Photograph

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Looking Up

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Chain Link Fence and Wigeon

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Gadwells and Gull

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Savannah Sparrow

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird Giving a Shout

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One Photograph was edited today. Guess which one? (Not this one)

Today’s Birds: May 4, 2017

Over the past two days, ‘they’ve’ been draining the water from one of the smaller wetlands that neighbours the pond at Frank’s Flats.  I’ve been holding a bit of a grudge, given that, of course, multiple families of geese and waterfowl have already done their romancing and settled in.  Changes will be even more dramatic when the 22X (Stoney Trail) expansion requires ‘them’ to interfere with the wetlands on the west side of Macleod Trail.  I know. I know.  This infringement upon wildlife and plant life is a constant struggle as human beings lay down more and more pavement, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t cause a person grief as they are witness to the process.  Where are the advocates for wild life and who is listening?  I sometimes wonder.

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I met ‘a guy’ in one of those bright orange vests.  Don’t ask me his position.  It was a complicated title.  I just nodded.  He seemed interested that I pick litter and that I know anything at all about the wetlands.  He participates in the annual river clean up.  hmmm

He was out on that fine day, checking that everything was staked out and assured me that the remaining large trees would be coming down, but that on the first rip down, because of a specific time line and government regulations, as well as the distance from wetlands, they were required to leave the big ones for the sake of the ecosystem and the nesting birds.  I explained that the magpies and crows….murders of them…were so distraught that for days they gathered in a single tree, yelling at the land.  And yes…I did cry over the crows.

Due to the construction of a heavy duty drainage system last season, Enmax has not been able to properly maintain/facilitate the Osprey Platform on the Sikome Lake side.  As a result Mother Goose has been there for almost five weeks.  I’m thinking the goslings will either starve or fall off the platform.  In the meantime two pair of Osprey have had to take up residence on top of sign platforms both directions on the loud and dangerous roadway.   I don’t know how they will all manage.

Follow Up to This: The Fish Creek Conservation Officer returned my call,  inquiring about this.  I was assured of a couple of things.  First, it is offence to mess with wildlife in any form, in its natural circumstance in a Provincial Park.  Second, if a bird is nesting ANYWHERE, then this is natural to that bird.  This gentleman had a very calm voice and was telling me the facts.  At this point, I need to grow in acceptance of some of these circumstances where I make observations of birds/animals.

Nature will have to take it’s course.

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I know that for the entire extent of the Stoney Trail’s development, wildlife, wetlands and trees/natural plants have been impacted.  I know that I need to accept ‘progress’ here and in our beautiful park lands, including the Bow Valley Parkway.  It’s just that I don’t think the general population receives all of the information as some of these projects go ahead at warp speed and gather a momentum that becomes destructive and insensitive to a wilderness/natural environment that we, as citizens of Alberta, generally, treasure.

Maybe this is a cliche, but our human population needs to slow down.  Not good for economic climate? Tourism? Well…things to think about.

Today’s pelican…a senior, just like me.  On its own, but it took flight, just after this photo was taken…something about Max, I think.

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My friend, Julie, let me in on the very public location where Mrs. Great Horned Owl and her offspring are hanging out these days.  These owlets will likely fledge within the next week.  In the meantime, Max and I took pause, some distance away and watched.  Of course, I cried.  I was in awe that edging on a bike path, a mama could tend to her babes…so vulnerable, so strong, so absolutely magical.  We need to realize that the species we share this planet with require our advocacy.  We need to stop…and watch, learn and cherish.  This is my plea as I write tonight.

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Species that I have observed in the path of Stoney Trail development, presently.  The mammals; coyotes and deer, have already vacated the paths I take.

  1. Canada Geese
  2. Mallards
  3. Osprey
  4. Black-capped Night-heron
  5. Goldeneye
  6. Redheads
  7. 5 nesting pair of Grebes
  8. Common Mergansers
  9. Common Raven
  10. Red Winged Blackbirds
  11. American Wigeons
  12. Buffleheads
  13. Frogs like no other year

Yesterday’s Birds: April 28, 2017

Calgary weather has been less than cooperative, this past week, for anyone trying to grab a photograph of birds.  Rain and snow and biting wind. What happens with grey skies and water and birds?  Everything becomes soft-edged.  New birds making their appearances:  Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Night Heron, Eared Grebe, several more pairs of Red-necked Grebes, many Red-Winged Blackbirds, Wigeons, many more Redheads, Lesser Scaups and Coots.  The pond is alive with activity.  The Common Mergansers feel the most regal and demanding of attention.

It amazes me that in a single pond ecosystem, over six years, I’ve learned and experienced so much!

Yesterday, after teaching grade twos for the day, Max and I enjoyed short breaks in the clouds and hope for a blue sky today.  At one point, a very cold wind and system blew in, but left just as quickly.  I was finally able to get close to a focused image of the Grebe.

But first, the reading of some Eric Carle.  We read the lovely book, A Very Tiny Seed…but, I spoke to the students about my memories of A Very Hungry Caterpillar.  (same story, really) A book about how one transforms, changes, grows…

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The birds…

I chose to photograph the female goose who has settled into a particularly public place because she was so different, from the back,  from the male and looks as though she’s ready to burst!  I continue to make efforts to get closer to the Buffleheads, Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers, but they are all camera shy.

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 12, 2017

My favourite image captured today was a simple one of three geese.  They seemed to be suspended or floating on perfectly calm pond water.  Obviously just as curious about me, we spent about five minutes exchanging gazes, alternating with times looking at the environment that surrounded us.

I spent a great deal of time enjoying the antics of the Goldeneyes, also, but, at their preferred distance from me, very little again, in the way of successful capture.

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Likely 50 male Goldeneyes at Frank’s Flats today and a continued effort at capturing their ridiculous courting rituals.

I think this little girl is a female Wigeon.  (Thank you, Miles…I’ve had a ‘real birder’ let me know that this is, in fact, a Gadwell.) I had seen a male at the pond on April 11.Today, I also spotted a single male Bufflehead.  He was unobtrusively wandering through the Goldeneye chaos.

A very fuzzy image to document his presence…

Today’s Birds: April 11, 2017

Frank’s Flats 10:00 am

No fewer than thirty male Goldeneyes today and not a single good photograph! Regardless, it was a wonderful experience watching them dance around the few females (not an accurate count because there were also a large number of Common Mergansers in the mix).

There were more male Lesser Scaups today, but I could only identify two females.  Also, more Redheads.  It was a great morning at Frank’s Flats, with the water looking mercurial due to the atmosphere of soft cloud over sun.  For some reason the mud was stirred up along the water’s edge, sort of a strange phenomena.  Geese followed me for the entire circumference of the pond, like a flotilla of approval.  “Just thought we’d keep our eye on you.”

First siting of a Coot for the season and an enjoyable time watching trees full of Common Starlings.

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Max and I begin every morning, stopping to watch the nesting Merlins.  Today, this guy was enjoying watching me.

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The courting action for the Red Winged Blackbirds is in full swing!

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This was a beauty.

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Stick?  Max’s ACL has healed adequately enough, I let him go for a bit of a run on the flats and leash him up once we are edging the pond so as not to disturb the nesting birds.

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Starlings wrapped around tree branches, everywhere.  Once and awhile they would lift off…amazing stuff, this nature-thing!

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Wanted to pick up on some markings.  This wasn’t a bad zoom.

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Not perfectly focused, but the camouflaging on the Northern Flicker is so amazing…had to post.

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There’s a single Wigeon in this picture.  Can you spot it?  I’m so sad that I didn’t get some comical shots of the Goldeneyes today.

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Still trying for a clear photo of the Scaups.

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Two gents with their lady-friend….three more males were just out of this frame.

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I think it snowed a bit last night…would that have caused this weird phenomena?

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Redheads romancing.  Lovely birds and a little less wary of me.

Courting

It’s spring and the water at Frank’s Flats is only, today, beginning to open up.  So, it was no surprise that three couples were there to greet me and Max-man…all three on the same section of open pond; Common Goldeneye male and female, Mallard male and female and Canadian Goose, male and female.  I managed to get a few good photographs and had opportunity to watch Mr. and Mrs. goose participate in their courting dance.  Quite spectacular, but in some ways, frightening.

First…the Goldeneye twosome.

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And next, the geese and their special dance.

The two arrived and did a mirroring activity, scooping the neck down and up, beak into the water and then out, over and over again.

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Then, in unison…notice how their beaks are turned toward one another.

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Then, as if from no where, this happened!

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Mrs. is fully submerged here.

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He begins to move on…

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And he makes quite a scene about being happy and proud and ‘all that’…

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I guess she feels pretty grateful, also.

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Rituals at the pond never cease to amaze me.  By observation, I learn so much.  Last year, one of the nesting geese at Frank’s Flats became widowed and it was so heart breaking to watch.  The widow did not stop looking for its mate for over a month and mournfully journeyed the circle of the pond every single evening, returning again and again to their chosen nest site.

If one looks closely, even the water bugs, although their life cycle is very short, are multiplying on warm days and in sunshine.  I took these photos on March 31.  Every rounded rock exposed along the pond’s edge was a wellspring of activity.  Today, April 1, the stones were absolutely clear, with no signs of yesterday’s chaos.

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This Spring’s Spark Bird

Every year, I become more intrigued with the act of watching birds.  The book, Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear put some of that into perspective for me…in fact, when I poured over the pages, it was the first time that I could really connect with why I am so driven to investigate Frank’s Flats; the wildlife, landscape, atmospheric changes and ecosystems.

I think that Maclear proposes that there is a single spark bird that draws the everyday person into the act of bird watching.  However, for me, it seems that every year, in springtime, I am renewed to the experience by a particular bird.

This year, that bird is this one, a Merlin.  And…I could be wrong in my identification and challenge my readers to look at its markings and confirm with me if I am mistaken or correct.  About three years ago, in my neighbourhood park, I noticed a nesting couple and likely heard them first.  They have a very particular high pitched call.

Merlin

Adult male (Prairie)
  • Light blue-gray crown
  • Pale face with no distinct pattern
  • Streaked breast
  • Dark eye with pale eyebrow
  • Prairie subspecies occurs in Great Plains states and southern Canada

This year, I’ve been close enough to the nesting pair to have received a bit of an annoyed reaction.  They are very defensive birds and protective during the nesting period.  As I’ve discovered on line, their talons and beaks provide for some very nasty feeding frenzies on pigeons, sparrows, mice and I’m guessing that they could do a mean attack on young children or dogs if they felt challenged.

So, for now, I’ll watch from a distance.  They are just beautiful!

Usually, one remains in a sparse deciduous tree or atop a power pole some distance from the nest, while the other stays tucked into the evergreen tree, a nest that was stolen from a mating magpie pair three seasons ago.

Recent photographs have helped me to make some distinctions in the small raptor, however, I’m still learning.  I got some good shots of the nesting adult yesterday.  I invite any feedback about these or other raptors as I expand my knowledge.

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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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