Today’s Birds: April 10, 2017

Frank’s Flats 10:00 a.m.

Multiple Male Canvasbacks and 2 Females
The documentation isn’t great because I was such a great distance away.

These are fast swimmers and in their mating rituals, they do a lot of diving and showing off.  Shy birds, they, like the Mergansers, crossed the pond each time I came around to their side.  This is very annoying for me, and when I lose patience, I just put the camera down and watch.  I feel more excited to be closely observing and learning from these spring romancers.

I have been very interested in the mating rituals of the Mallards…just ‘ordinary’ ducks…but, I have developed quite a respect for the tremendous resilience and determination of the female Mallard.  I’m watching her more closely this spring, in terms of her attempts to hold off the aggressive drakes.  I caught a really lovely photograph today of one of these ladies.

©Kathleen Moors

Only the past two days, the songs of the Red Winged Blackbirds have returned to the pond and while I haven’t sighted any females yet, the males are calling in a very determined, if not impatient way.

It seems that as large groups of birds are sighted, with the disruptive activities around the extension of Stoney Trail, the waterbirds, for the most part, are moving on.  The Goldeneyes were here in large numbers, as were the Common Mergansers, but today, they seemed to be replaced by the Lesser Scaups and the Canvasbacks.  The Geese look hunkered down for the long haul, although on the south side of the fence, I fear they are bound to lose their youngsters this year.  The Mallards are also nesting in the tall grass along the slopes to the pond…but they will also be in harm’s way, either through the marauding populations of displaced coyotes or the extensive and dismissive nature of human activity.

Magpies are watching on from the cheap seats.

I hope to get some good photographs of the Lesser Scaups this year, but they did manage to avoid my efforts last year.  We’ll see.  I love their powder blue beaks and the lovely patterning on their backs.  Their eyes are the most luminous gold colour.  They are just lovely to watch.  Also, shy.

Mrs. Feeding Her Little Guys

Early morning was magical.  Max and I took a stroll of the neighbourhood…checked out the recent blooms and took our time honouring the beauty of the quiet and the light spilling over everything.  The magpie babes are growing in independence, three of them at one point, lined up on a garden fence squawking at us.  Even as we stood still, they stared us down and in tandem, belted out their annoyance with us.  Their tail feathers are growing longer.

At our own nest, the first siting of at least two young ones.  They bopped their heads out of the nest to meet the offerings of Mrs.  She astutely pushed them deeper into the nest again and again.

A cat was sitting boldly on our front door step, but Max quickly took care of that.  The neighbourhood is alive with energy, struggle and beauty.  Life is a marvelous thing.

(by 2 in the afternoon, I had seen a line up of two fledglings being fed by both Mr. & Mrs, but only caught two at any time in photographs)P1170606

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June 23, 2014: In the Backyard Garden

Looking out the kitchen window, I was witness to a full force magpie attack on the nest of Mr. & Mrs. a few moments ago…ran out to grab the hose, but the predator shot out as soon as I appeared on scene.  Mr. & Mrs. were strategically squawking from the eaves trough across from the nest.  I sat on the front step and watched the entire drama until Mr. tentatively entered to check on the little guys.  It seems all is well because the babes began to shout for snacks shortly after.  I can just imagine the horror of a magpie’s beak pressing in from the outside world.  As I sat, I noticed the magpie’s babe, bopping along on a neighbour’s lawn; the cat from across the street, belly low to the ground, stalking it.  Great patterned fans opened up and the mama, with loud assault-call, swooped down and then up into the safety of a tree branch, dive-bombing the cat over and over again.  Hmmm…tough life out there for the world of birds.

In the garden today…the first Oriental Poppy blooms.  I spot asparagus, finally, sprouting from seed.  The carrots appear and lots of radishes.  The lettuce is looking healthy.  A beautiful afternoon for a little gardening.

Asparagus

Asparagus

Radish

Radish

More Radish Seed Tape...Like it!

More Radish Seed Tape…Like it!

Carrots

Carrots

Yummers!  Lettuce

Yummers! Lettuce

Peonies in full bloom now.

Peonies in full bloom now.

Columbine

Columbine

Poppies begin.

Poppies begin.

Magpie Fledgling

While walking Max the other evening, I had a chance to watch three magpie fledglings hang out on a big tree branch, with Mr. and Mrs. squawking enthusiastically in a neighbouring tree.  Today, I happened by one of the three and watched the poor guy thump into the sides of houses, grasp desperately at a down spout, waddle, in a daze, across a busy street and finally come to rest on a doorstep, seeming to ask if he might enter for a refreshment.  Mr. and Mrs. dive-bombed over and over again, encouraging the poor guy to get some altitude before the feral cats happened upon this lost pup and tried to send this amateur photographer to vamoose!

I followed the little guy (notice the length of its tail feathers) while it bopped from a door step to a bike, into a potted floral arrangement and then, finally, into a tree.

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Mr. and Mrs. yapped loudly from the tree…the best they can do for flying lessons.

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P1170124 P1170125 P1170127 P1170129Mom and Dad became far less dramatic and there was a communal sigh of relief as the fledgling made it into the lower branches of a tree.

I know.  Many of you think that magpies are a pain in the butt.  They are, after all, cruel and greedy and very tricky.  I enjoyed reading this description of the symbolic meanings of the magpie.

Since my first years of making my nest on the University of Lethbridge campus and living in residence edging on the coulees, I’ve developed a love for the magpies.  Perched in the dry towering trees along the Oldman River, their brilliant plumage was dazzling blue in the sunshine.  They were always companions on long walks in and out of town.  They are, in some way, a part of who I’ve become.

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My Retirement Series painted by my dear friend, Bob Melville. One painting for each of the last ten months of my career.

I will photograph other pieces in my magpie collection and get them posted here.

There are other people as obsessed with watching birds as I am!  Look at this footage!

Visiting Al Gerritsen

This afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting Al Gerritsen’s woodwork shop.  I commissioned him to carve me a magpie, to add to my collection.  It was such an enjoyable visit and I felt in awe of his humility and his great talent, both.  The smell of his shop brought me very close to the young child, Jesus…and what it must have been like growing up with a father who was a carpenter.  It was fun to see Al’s nativity under his front yard tree.  I am blessed that Fred and Catherine shared theirs with me.

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Today I learned that Al was a Franciscan during the 1950s and 1960s.  I also learned that he apprenticed with John Nugent in Lumsden, Saskatchewan.  After Vatican II, Al was one of the artists who helped develop the liturgical spaces within churches, turning those altars around to face the people and creating visual art works that spoke of the connection between the Creator and his people.

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John Nugent, Lumsden, making final inspection of a chalice, 1959. On the bench is one of his wood carvings, entitled “Mother and Child.”
Saskatchewan Archives Board

Here, find a slide show of some of what I noticed and heard stories about in the studio.  Magic!

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Knots in Trees

Magpie Nest

 They take flight
from the top of the golden hill,
this, after
squawking (a hard word to spell)
in the tree.

Their wings, spread
like Japanese fans
with clear contrasting
white and black and iridescent (also difficult)
colour carefully designed.
Feathers overlapping exquisitely.

The birds disappear after
riding easily on the perfect
still air,
over the ridge,
toward the river.

I look at the knot of branches
and I’m amazed
that nature chose
to speak to me.

today.

Front Yard Visitors

Flea Bag

 

Now that the sparrows are actively feeding at the tube feeder at the front, there are other visitors.  This squirrel will be a ‘regular’ as he/she was here yesterday and then again this morning.  Good to note that he can’t access seed directly from the tube feeder, but waits for bits to be scattered on the ground!  With the squirrel, seems to come a magpie.  So on-and-off again yesterday, there was some squawking given by that big guy.

Image by Chris Bates

Most wonderful for me this morning was the visit from a small woodpecker.  The image above was taken by Chris Bates and this is what my little guy looked like. I’ve accessed my birder book and I’m still a bit uncertain, but I’m thinking he was a Downy Woodpecker, small, with black and white markings and a flash of red on his head.  He stayed for almost fifteen minutes, but because I wasn’t prepared for him, I likely didn’t make note of the necessary details to make an accurate identification. Awesome to have new visitors!

No getting rid of this guy! He's a lifer.

Pheasants on the Golf Course

Ok, so, I’ve actually heard people say, “Bloggers have nothing to say!”  Cough!  Sputter!  How dare you??!

I just got home from my river-walk with Max.  It was pure magic!  Yes, the sky IS grey and there IS a constant drizzle! My eye glasses begged for a wipe…but, I just pushed them lower and lower on my nose!  As you likely know, Calgary is infamous for its zillion-and-one golf courses.  I’m letting you know right now, I don’t golf and I have several environmental and OTHER reasons for why I cringe at each siting of another golf course being developed by our river.  But, I know…I know…some of the people I know, absolutely love to golf!  They live and breath golf…they travel for golf…they book days off for golf…they date golfers…talk golf…drink at golf clubs…so, far be it for me to say ANYTHING negative about golf courses!  So…I’ll move on to my blog.

I want to write about the pheasants on the golf course, as well as make other observations of our time down by the river this evening. First of all, the Bow River is at least ten feet up from where it was last week.  We were walking on river rock last week and Max, the border collie, was neck-deep, chasing sticks.  Tonight, as I struck a path through the wild rose bushes and tall grass, Max eagerly took a nose dive off of the bank, anticipating, I’m sure, his hunt for the perfect stick.  Instead, he lifted off of the bank and landed in fast-moving river water.  He did a quick about face, bounding up the river bank and charging about like a kook.  It was so funny that I let out a belly laugh.

It was interesting watching the birds this evening.  With the huge mosquito population this season, the birds, like dive-bombers, were swooshing down just above the water surface, feeding steadily and in huge number.  I took Max down to the foot bridge and watched the birds for a long time from the half way point on the bridge. 

I don’t know how those geese protect their babies!  Two pair of geese were VERY busy coralling their family of countless babes, attempting to keep them tucked in to the wee eddies, but dealing constantly with the rushing water and the apparent contradictory spirits/choices of the young ones.  In the end, the two families separated, clamouring onto the grassy bank.  Amazing how one family headed one direction and the other, in another. How do those downy babes know their own parents?  AWESOME!

A beautiful male pheasant let out his call, again and again for the duration of my walk.  I stopped and watched him a couple of the times along the way.  Two magpies swooped again and again in the pheasant’s territory and I knew that the brightly-coloured male was likely defending a nest.  I marvel at the challenges for wildlife and know that in the end, it is all really a matter of which BEAST is stronger.  So much of what I observed today was about instinct.  It was just so fantastic to be party to a taste of it.

Finally, there were several pheasants on the golf course!  I can not tell you how comical this was, given the particular way that pheasants move or ‘make tracks’.  They were evidently feeding, and in this situation on wide open MOWED greens, I’m certain that they became immediately, more vulnerable.  All of the colours were such a contrast and the time that I spent watching seemed so surreal.  Nothing about what I saw, the dance of these birds, made sense.  Ours is a remarkable world!