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.

IMG_3964IMG_4060IMG_4061IMG_3981

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.

IMG_3934IMG_3942

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.

img_3972.jpg

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.

IMG_4107IMG_4105IMG_4078IMG_4103IMG_4114IMG_4125

American White Pelicans.

IMG_3959

Eastern Kingbird.

IMG_3998

Osprey against smoke.

IMG_3993

Juvenile House Wrens actively chittering for food.

IMG_4021IMG_4022IMG_4036IMG_4038

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.

IMG_4014

Yellow Warbler and Cedar Waxwing.

IMG_4046

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

IMG_3979IMG_4067

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.

IMG_3969IMG_3970IMG_3973IMG_4005

 

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.

IMG_3278IMG_3280IMG_3285IMG_3287IMG_3293IMG_3301IMG_3306IMG_3308IMG_3318

 

 

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.

IMG_2200IMG_2211

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

IMG_2217IMG_2259IMG_2263

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.

IMG_2273

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

IMG_2252

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.

IMG_2612IMG_2620

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.

IMG_2705IMG_2677IMG_2659IMG_2640IMG_2630IMG_2645IMG_2649

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.

IMG_2626

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

IMG_2635

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.

IMG_2773

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

IMG_2730

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?

IMG_2732IMG_2736

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.

IMG_2747IMG_2748IMG_2750

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

IMG_2559IMG_2543IMG_2542IMG_2541

White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.

IMG_2827IMG_2825

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…

IMG_2814IMG_2802

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

IMG_2790

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

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

IMG_8312

Song Sparrow

IMG_8330

Mr.

IMG_8338

Male and Female Mallard…loved the colours here.

IMG_8348

IMG_8382

Watched this chump cool off in shallow water.  Robin

May 25th Uploads

IMG_8488

Female Red Winged Blackbird

IMG_8435

Male Red Winged Blackbird

IMG_8413

IMG_8406

Savannah Sparrow

May 26th Uploads

IMG_8619

IMG_8618

Yellow Warbler Bow River’s Edge

IMG_8612

Song Sparrow

IMG_8539

Bow River Rising…Many upset Canada Goose couples

IMG_8529

Is this a female Brown-headed Cowbird?

IMG_8524

Dunno?

May 27th Downloads

IMG_8653

IMG_8640

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

For the Birds! First Week of May 2018.

As I scroll ,daily, through the profoundly detailed images and exquisite moments photographed by my friends in Alberta Birds, I feel modesty take hold while I peruse my own captures of the week.  However, for my own enjoyment, I’m going to contain some of my own favourite bird memories in this single post, so that I don’t lose sight of the wonderful visual memories of this past week.  Since Venting! Again!  neither sparrows nor flickers have settled in.  Honestly, I have not seen a single appearance of either.  What??

So…I’ve focused my attentions to my little place at the Bow River and also, a stop at the Frank’s Flats to see who has come to town after a horrendous amount of development along the Southwest Ring Road/Stoney Trail.

Monday April 30, 2018

The spectacular thing about Monday was watching the mating rituals of two lovely geese in a quiet wetlands spot down near the river.  Dipping their heads and long necks into the water over and over again, the movements looked like a ballet, when finally Mr. mounted Mrs., her head fully submerging into the water and bearing his full weight on her back.  Once finished, only moments later, they continued in a choreographed ritual of arching and extending necks, until finally they swam to the shore where they continued preening like a couple of lovesick mates.

Tuesday May 1, 2018

A year of watching Bald Eagles and their behaviours from a distance…learning all of the time.

Wednesday May 2, 2018

Song Sparrow doing the splits and filling the world with a lovely song.

Northern Flicker at Bow River’s edge.

Mourning Dove

Thursday May 3, 2018

I saw my grandson and my daughter.  I am so blessed by them. Three nesting couples of Red Necked Grebes are back.

IMG_7399IMG_7349

The Red Winged Blackbird males are very visible at both the river and the pond…it’s good to hear their songs again.

IMG_7385IMG_7342

This year I’ve especially enjoyed the Song Sparrow’s melodic string of notes…overpowers everything for me.

IMG_7283

IMG_7334

Female Mallard in a Magpie nest…

IMG_7309IMG_7304

Tree Swallows have been very entertaining.  Love watching their antics as they weave in and out of the tall trees.

IMG_7315

Heavenly observations at many different spots along the river.

IMG_7293IMG_7291IMG_7290

img_7322.jpg

Friday May 4, 2018

A late evening walk at the river after a day of exploring space with Grade six students.  I live a beautiful life.  Sometimes I forget that and think that it is an ordinary life.  When I see the archive set down, I feel differently.

img_7422.jpgIMG_7440IMG_7445

Saturday May 5, 2018

IMG_7499

A bush that I photographed every day for almost a year…just checking in.

IMG_7501

Savannah Sparrow…a different song…just so lovely!

IMG_7486IMG_7490IMG_7495IMG_7491

Always looking at these guys…waiting for the females to return.  They typically arrive two weeks after the males.  This year is so much later than last, as I look at 2017 archives.

IMG_7471IMG_7502

Not certain what these are…a type of Merganser yet to be identified.

IMG_7509

And the Red Necked Grebes were out on a bit of a flotilla on yesterday!  It’s been an awesome week with the birds!

IMG_7479

Post Script: No sooner had I finished this post…closed it down…put the memory card back in the camera…got up to start tidying for the day and Max went crazy over the voice of the Northern Flicker!  Sure enough, when I stepped up to the kitchen window…there he was! He’s been rat a tat tatting inside the vent ever since.

IMG_7567

Mr. & Mrs. 2018

These two have moved in…activities to watch from my kitchen window.  I’ve followed the activities of this nest for ten years now.

Mr. & Mrs. 2018

A few notable moments at this nest…

Mr. & Mrs. 2012

Mr. & Mrs. 2014

Mr. & Mrs. 2015

I find this particular vent a tad precarious…it’s a bit stressful to watch…Ma and Pa don’t know that the crows and magpies create a clamour at some point and the little guys will toddle out that door, sometimes, before they’re really cooked.  Here’s hoping that it’s a positive outcome this year.  The neighbours seem to be completely unaware of adventures in nature being a stone’s throw from their own kitchen window.