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.

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.

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

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

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Female Mallard in a Magpie nest…

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

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Heavenly observations at many different spots along the river.

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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.

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Saturday May 5, 2018

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

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Savannah Sparrow…a different song…just so lovely!

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

What Comes to Mind at the River

Reading and then meeting Kyo MacLear affirmed, for me, everything that’s been formulating inside me the past several years…about birding, art, nature and life.  Many things have formed me into this person who shows up at the Bow River around 10 on a winter’s morning, taking pause above the river and observing wildlife.

My friends and family wonder and ask…mostly not asking anymore, “What are you painting?  Why don’t you paint?”  and at those questions, I can only sit with who I am and be grateful for the grace of anything and everything that led me to this place where I find myself.  As I drove up from the parking spot this morning, I just kept saying, aloud, “I love my life. I love my life.”

I will paint again.  But, the truth is…painting was a lot about ego.  It was a lot about around-the-clock commitment.  It was about trying to balance full time work, raising children and keeping it all together.  My stomach sometimes hurt as deadlines for shows approached.  I was terrified in front of blank canvases.  I couldn’t assert myself with dealers, set boundaries or say what I needed.  I didn’t have money to buy those outfits that seem to be required if you are an artist, especially a female artist. Painting had lost its magic and so, when I paint again, it will be profound because it will be for all the right reasons, not for all the wrong reasons.

Doris McCarthy said, “Paint every day.”  I think more about her as days go by, without painting, than anyone.  She explained how those muscles work.  She explained how time also rushes by. Doris was my friend and she gave me a lot of strength. I think about Doris when I know that I will physically paint again.

Now…did the painting really stop?  I argue, “No”.  I have been intensely researching my next body of work for years now…having painted about 15 panels related to a Covenant series, I then began to connect again with the landscape.  It just happened.  It happened at the reading of two poems, the first,  The Wolf Between the Trees by George Bowering.  I used his poem, with permission, embedded in the poem along with a cup full of ash…remains of personal papers I had burned in the studio.  This is the painting…

Wolf

 

and secondly, a tribute poem written by Paulette Dube for the Caribou.  I’m including her words, here.  I hope you will read them.

In the new days, magic was on the surface of things, the shine of it all, quick and bright and fast as new rivers.

 Now Rivers winds Under Earth, has to be convinced, to play her deep song, entreated , to show herself.

 The Celts call these « thin places », where the other side is so close, the veil shivers your arms as you reach through.

 The First People travelled (sic) these sacred pieces of earth, to think on things in the presence of Creator.

 I know them as mountains.  I see them with my spirit eyes, walk them with blood and bone legs.  They teach, as clear as bird song or scolding squirrel lesson, bracing as clean water through moss.

 This alpine terrain is grey onion paper, thin as ash.  Feet must be wide to avoid lace-like flower and moss, spider web and lichen.        Be mindful.

 The Creator’s ear is earth as we do not see it.  Make joyous noise if you want to be herd.  Get yourself a song and string from bone to bone, a home of light and wind.

 She moves.  She feels her calf, inside, taking nourishment from her own bones and teeth.  The calf moves (as my son once did)  deep in the dreaming place.  The cow’s thickening body keeps the Small one warm, keeps him from hunger, keeps her     moving.

 Born where the dark forest gives way to lake, loon’s perfect call – silver sharp tremolo – traces the surface of this morning sky :  clear as mountain water scythes the earth.

 Loon calls from the lake face, that voice – shapes my form-    coming through the trees.

 The land reacts to our presence when we belong

 Noise of a sow grizzly and her two cubs.  To each a place, to each, a means of prayer and play.  To each, the necessary silence.

 Sacred whorl of grey and brown, blow open the gate.  Allow a wild glimpse of self.

 When you descend to leaf litter, feathered legs and all, you are an angel – touching Earth.

 The engine that is me, hears the song that is you…

 …coming together is a song I cannot bear for long.  Satiated by my own irregular rythmes.

 Promises shape who we are, what we will become –

we pray.

 His brow is unfurrowed.  Streamlined, he walks the wind, easily.

 Healing is water over stones, wind over grass, gaits – fearless.

Feral hearts wander – oblivious to fences of human design.

 Survival embodies existence but – does not define it.

 He moves through sunlight to scrub, deliberate – elemental – muscle.

 Hummingbird hears colour – Coyote knows crack in a leaf is direction – Bear walks trail made of wind.

 If Humans could once again divine the essential – would we find home ?

 A candle in a church is a thing of beauty – a flame in the wilderness is a miracle.

 Find something big to pit against – to throw loneliness into –  Amid bone, snow and stone –   caribou.  The precious, the delicate of design – we live here.

 Fire and earth – water and air – there is no room for anger.

 Memories permit us to speak of things –

our heart tends to in the night.

The resulting painting, upon hearing this poem is posted below.  The words to the poem are written into the painting.  It was at this punctuation mark in my life, at this painting and the other, that I realized my painting would always be about ‘place’.

Caribou 3

So, as an artist, what I’ve been doing ever since is sorting that out….the surface, the paint, collage, text, subject matter.  It might take a lifetime to make sense of it.  I don’t know.  But, in the meantime, I am energized and interested and creative and LOOK!  I write!

Everything I’ve been doing, in the sorting,  has made for this wondrous life of mine.  It’s taken me out into the landscape.  It’s caused me to notice more.  It’s manufactured poems, paintings, photographs and connected me with videographer, Liam of Beam Media and the photographer,  Jack Breakfast.

And this morning, I met Doug Newman.  It was after two cups of coffee at home and after two posts about books that I have read that I headed out into the cold with Max man.  The roads were bad, so I decided to get us down to a parking lot that edges the Bow River and to explore the first wintry day on the river.  There was only one other car in the lot…a man speaking on his telephone.  Max and I headed out.

This is what I wrote once back inside the car…and after snapping four photos on my cell phone…and after turning up the heat and settling in with CKUA.

I didn’t bring a camera with me, but hiked the edge of the Bow River this morning. I watched a Bald Eagle fish, its wings, so powerful. Three times, it landed on tree tops to the left of me, by 200 meters. The geese, exhausted and resting, lifted off of the dark water, along with the cacophony of gulls each time the eagle dove toward the water. Two deer swam, gracefully, from this side and shook off like wet dogs, once arriving on the shore across from me. A perfect morning.

From an interview with Kyo MacLear, writer of Birds, Art, Life… this…

Q: In the book there’s a list, the “Pantheon of Smallness,” in which you compare items such as blackbirds and Rembrandt’s etching. Equating the arts with nature was deliberate, no?

A: It was. It was also a bit playful. I wanted the readers to come in and fill in their own ideas. The Pantheon of Smallness was a way of thinking about smallness differently. Sometimes we make small things, sometimes there are small bird songs, but it can have an enormous impact. Sometimes you have to whisper to be heard. Our culture is very much one of “bigging it up,” always upping the noise level in order to produce a louder signal. What you see in the bird world is sometimes that the smallest tweet can actually pierce through the cacophony in a different way. That became a metaphor for thinking about art. Emily Dickinson did quite miniature work that had a very profound, almost epic, impact, culturally speaking.

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While typing that paragraph, I saw the gentleman leave his car, carrying a camera and sporting a huge lens.  I watched, discreetly, as he took photographs.  I saw him pan as geese took flight.  I saw him quietly observe for quite a long time.  Finally, as he turned to get back into his vehicle, I rolled down my window and we began to chat.

It turns out that Doug also posts photographs to Alberta Birds.  We introduced ourselves to one another and I began to ask him questions about photography, equipment and we shared some of our ‘bird’ moments.  It is such a pleasure to discover another birder along the quiet pathways of my every day.  It was nice to experience his enthusiasm and his excitement.  He opened up his photograph of a goose taking flight and I was in awe of the detail and the strength captured in that single image.

I love my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing Through: Frank’s Flats

…not to be confused with Frank Lake.

Observed today….a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, not to be confused with the Lesser Scaups that I’ve seen during nesting season. Another first time identification for me.

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Also, passing through, two very shy Hooded Mergansers (I may be incorrect on this identification)  The males are very spectacularly coloured…these two are the cinnamon colour of the females or possibly juveniles…hard to get anywhere near this couple, especially with Max on umbilical.  I would appreciate the help of others on this identification.

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The following photograph gave me the most reference material I could capture…

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There remains, a single Pied Billed Grebe…don’t know why this one hasn’t headed out.  Very elusive and likes to go under at the first sight of me…I’m determined to get close enough to see the light in his eyeballs at some point.

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Anomaly at Frank’s Flats

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I shouldn’t always apologize for my photographs.  I’m not in the business of circling a single pond for the possibility of becoming a photographer, but I would like it if the images were focused.  I am walking daily, however, in order to document what I feel, see, hear and experience.  I am there to learn and to discover through all of my observations.

Well, today, I saw one single male Northern Pintail duck on the pond.  While a very common bird, I have never seen one and I’m always excited to spot a new species. I find it funny that I’ve observed such a variety this autumn and usually solitary male birds.  Please enjoy the link to the Northern Pintail that I have provided.  It doesn’t get much better than Audubon!

Just after snapping these two photographs, a train thundered to the west of me.  The Pintail took off, circled the pond and then headed south across the debacle that is the South West Ring Road, likely to the larger water body to the south.  Grateful for this siting.