I just returned from the river and had five minutes alone with Mr…one other lady was walking into the park at that time and took out her phone to capture the magnificence. She had just happened to turn into the park and off of her usual walk, so it was fun, at a distance, to explain to her what was happening when he leapt from the perch and made his way to the ridge. It’s remarkable that this family of eagles follows the same course. While, again, the photos are not exceptionally clear, I was excited to see the male return to the nest where the female was sitting and then to see an egg roll (based on movement) and a shift change. What a stunningly beautiful time at the river.
Wouldn’t you love to live in one of those homes…or on a single floor…or in a single room of one of those homes and see nature every day all day long?
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.
The American White Pelicans have been exceptional in numbers this year and are stunning against the colour of the river.
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.
Wild Delphinium…there is just no way that I could capture the electric blue.
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.
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.
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.
Lots of Blackbird youngsters about…mostly continuing to cry out to mama for bugs and dragonflies.
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.
I call these Blue Bells, but don’t know their actual name. The flowers have been lovely in the wild, this year.
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?
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.
These sweet buy sometimes-annoying House Sparrows at my backyard bird feeder. When they’re young they are so darned funny.
White-breasted Nuthatch…so tricky to capture.
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…
And of course, there are a few families of Mallards nearby…on this particular day, sunning themselves. Mom was keeping an eye on me.
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.
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.
Adult male (Prairie)
Light blue-gray crown
Pale face with no distinct pattern
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.
This past winter was an unusual season, so mild that it was difficult to even classify it as winter. The plows came around once. We had two big dumps of snow. And, that was it. Spring came early, with many warm days in March. As a result, everything is dry.
At my kitchen window, in the neighbour’s vent, Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow have nested three times, all without success. On the first go, we had babies and Mom and Dad did a marvelous job feeding and protecting their wee ones and then all at once, one morning, there was silence. Given that the duct tape I had applied last season had fallen off (and I’m sort of glad it did because I always imagined my neighbour charging me for a repair), I believe that either a Crow or Magpie rampaged the nest. The sparrows tried two more times, but with no successful hatch. The nest is now abandoned, apart from the occasional visit from an adult. This has made me pretty disappointed because I enjoyed my daily observations of Sparrow behaviour, while I worked at my kitchen sink.
The Fort McMurray blaze happened and left the province in shock. To not mention this would just be wrong. The media images of the devastation and mass exodus from the city were terrifying. I think that this fire changed all of us in ways we could not imagine. Our hearts are still reaching out to those impacted most. In an economy that was already struggling with woes, this has contributed additional stress. My prayers continue to be for those impacted and for the fire fighters who continue to make efforts to quell this blaze. This image, from Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press.
A giant fireball is seen as a wild fire rips through the forest 16 km south of Fort McMurray, Alberta on highway 63 Saturday, May 7, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
There just isn’t a transition from that! As a result of the differing and dry climate, different insects are inhabiting our gardens. My asparagus failed to come up this year and very few Oriental poppies. My strawberry plants are weak, as are my lupines. I learned, one morning, while taking photographs that this is all due to the destruction of the Tarnished Plant Bug, last season and this. I’ve spent these months trying to ethically rid my garden of the ‘damned’ things. Sadly, this means I will likely be chasing them away to someone else’s garden. I am thinking it will take me a couple of seasons to build up my garden again and I’m anticipating more damage next summer, given that the bugs likely produced eggs before I got on to this. Gardening causes me to think about what it must mean to farm and to weigh my decisions around protecting beneficials such as bees and lady bugs.
Tarnished Plant Bug presence Noted!
Different birds have settled into the pond area at Frank’s Flats. It’s easy for me to notice because of my close relationship with this location the past five years.
Last year, at this time, I was watching the nesting practices of Osprey very closely.
In late April, this year, two nesting platforms maintained by Enmax were pulled down as a result of future infrastructure development on the Stoney Trail ring road and so things have changed. I can only keep track of a single platform from a huge distance. There is no access at this location on Sheriff King Road, for viewing. I think that the relocation happened just in the nick of time, however, so I am grateful for the efforts of Enmax. Presently, Mr. and Mrs. are watching over a couple of eggs, if not chicks by this time.
Mr. or Mrs. showed up right on time this year, overlooking the pond south of 22X and exactly where the platforms were located last year. I’m not certain if this is one of the siblings born last season or if it is one of the adults, but I am really happy that we have this presence.
No place to go, the Osprey began building on the tops of the power poles. This photo was taken once all nesting materials had been removed, demonstrating the adult Osprey’s determination to set up camp. I quickly contacted Enmax via Twitter and from there, same-day action ensued and a new location was selected for the erection of the platform. Disappointed, I knew that I wouldn’t, with my Canon Power Shot, be able to monitor the nest this season.
From a distance, I saw that the very next day, male and female had established a home, with an abundance of nesting materials. It was a thrill to see.
I have visited a few times, just to make certain that the beautiful raptors have had a successful experience. Only a week ago, I checked in. Mr. is attentive as Mrs. sits patiently. These two are slightly behind the other nest I watch, nearing the edge of the Bow River at Sikome Lake, but they look like they are managing.
Birds have been plentiful at the pond and I’ve nudged up closer than in the past. Sometimes I imagine the birds saying, “Oh, it’s just her again!” I still haven’t made the capture of a male or female Shoveler and that disappoints, given that they attended the pond in large numbers this year. Because they are so skittish, I also haven’t a focused photo of either variety of Grebe, although I’ve captured some great out-of-focus drama! Below, see some of my collection of species this year. I am thrilled with the closeness I have developed with nature and seeming, all because I am present for a walk each day, since October 13, in order to take a single photograph of a bush on Instagram. I have been blessed!
The garden has not disappointed and continues to give me a quiet place to sip my coffee in the warm morning sun. I’ve always received peace in flowers and green. This was a very early photograph…I can’t believe how things have changed and I’ll have to get out there again to snap a photograph or two.
My Auntie Ruth turned 90, as did the Queen of England. This meant a trip to Raymond and it meant a 200.00 speeding ticket! It was a beautiful reunion of family!
I’m very interested in learning the traditions and practice of Indigenous dance. Jess has been so helpful in this regard and is a very inspiring teacher as well as practitioner. I hope to continue with this study more consistently throughout this coming year. I met Jess through Eileen since we were all in attendance to the Juno Awards event that featured Indigenous Nominees and included a power house performance by Buffy Sainte-Marie.
I hope that if you or your children are interested, you might contact me for information as the camps and study continue throughout the summer. Such a positive and physical experience! SîpihkopiwâyisîsJess McMann-Sparvier is a powerful spokesperson for her cultural traditions and is inclusive, finding the narratives so important to share. She is rooted in history and is constantly doing research. She combines her delight for music, dance, tradition and teaching and is just one of those people you must meet and spend time with!
While I may not be athletic, I find this circle of beautiful people to have a very positive impact on me and the dance forms, a definite wake-up-call to my muscles!
May and June have been full and richly lived…home repairs, teaching, paint, writing, family history. I can’t ever imagine life not being beautiful. I am filled up as I look at what has passed this last month and a half.
One gets used to multiple horizon lines, gazing out to that distant line to the west, where the sky reaches down behind the mountains like a silken blanket. There are the foothills, layers of cityscape, residential sprawls, the river and everything else that seems to tuck up close. Autumn’s landscape often seems endless and forever-deep.
All of that can change. With the change of weather and atmosphere, perspective shifts. This morning when Max and I headed out for Frank’s Flats, it seemed the world was two-dimensional. White crystals in the air, mixed with foggy patches and a sky that was a warm white…all of this spilled over and covered those horizon lines that define and create depth. Driving, I became mostly captivated by a sense of texture and acutely aware of how close everything was to me. As I moved into the landscape, it seemed as though I was being swallowed up.
Out on the slopes, my perspective of things opened up again. While very small, in comparison to the larger landscape, this part of the world was like coming home and my breathing opened up. Max bounded down to the frozen pond with the same enthusiasm that I felt. Above us, flock after flock of geese called out to the cold air, arriving and then disappearing to the west and to the south. I was reminded again of Stanley Kunitz’s poem, End of Summer. It has been, for years, my September poem in the classroom. I miss some things about having my own classes.
I relished the time with Max in this earthy, frozen, sleeping landscape. I felt inspired to write a children’s story about how every winter, somehow the pond becomes spotted with heavy round rocks. I created a character who systematically places them there on the ice. Each spring the pond becomes more and more shallow until all at once, there is no pond water left, but a huge field of rounded stones.
When perspectives shift, we create and think creatively.
I arrived to teach social studies a full hour early this afternoon, so I signed in and then headed for Fish Creek Park to the east. It was interesting being on the west side of the Bow River. My perspective and experience of the river is typically from the east side. While the air was biting by this time, I was in heaven. I felt alone. But, it wasn’t so.
There at the base of the ancient river elms, were three men, filming hair brushes. Yes. You read that correctly.
I carried on walking north along the river, for quite some time and then thought it best to head back.
Returning to my waiting car, I had opportunity to speak with one of the three men, a crew member for Bruce McCullock’s new work, Young Drunk Punk. I deliberately took time to look at his props. We spoke, as we walked along, about our own father’s hair brushes and the lasting scent of Brylcreem. We talked about black pocket combs and all of the nostalgia associated with these objects. I explained that from a distance I had imagined that the three of them were releasing a beaver and photographing the event. When we parted, one of us said, “Go home and check your hair brushes.” The other said, “Beware of the beaver.” How fun was that? What perspective we gain by putting ourselves into the world and making observations. One never knows.
After 59 years of life, I decide to write about the seasons. In doing so, I face the inevitable possibility that this post will be passed by for the seeming cliche of the colours, sounds and weather of it. Do human beings ever get tired of the seasons? The rituals and festivals that each season offers?
I spend a lot of time making observations of a single pond, the flats and the slopes that move onto those flats. It’s not a large space in area, but it is just perfect for getting up close and noticing the life of it. Given the blessing of this repetitive experience, I am able to see the changes in the wildlife, water fowl, the plant life and the water. The weather imposes its own impact on everything on the space, including my choice of dress, footwear and feeling about it.
With years passing, I’ve got to admit that a person DOES slow down and notice more and mayhaps appreciate the ‘beauty in the simple things’.
I remember requiring my students to keep ‘magic’ journals and it was evident that some of them despised the activity, maybe all of them despised the activity…but I told them to hold on to those journals…shove them in a drawer somewhere…pull them out years later and treasure them. I held onto any pages that some left behind as they bounced out the classroom, tearing toward summer vacation with wild abandon. They wrote about the ‘stuff of life’…times that REALLY mattered.
Just like a friend can not insist and succeed at having their buddy quit smoking, there is no way that an adult can convince youth to slow down and take things in. (in truth, there is no way that an adult can convince other adults to slow down) Life seems to be a rush. Life seems to be about accomplishing more, making more, getting rich, becoming powerful, accumulating wealth and consuming. This is all an illusion. STOP. Literally, smell the flowers. If you STOP long enough to complete that gesture, the time it takes to smell a flower, you will have had time enough to utter, “A Huh” or to connect with something that truly counts…a connection with a memory or a connection with gratitude.
Taking pause is a gift.
I’m including a couple of photographs of the pond at Frank’s Flats that capture the seasons. If I gaze out my kitchen window, I observe the very same story at a single sparrow’s nest. In fact, just before the cold weather blew in for 2014, a male and female fledgling returned to their nest, Mr. and Mrs. long gone. One does not have to travel far, in order to watch the seasons change. This post is written as a dedication to my Uncle Bob, my father’s young brother who ,yesterday, passed from this earthly life, grew wings, and journeyed into the beauty of forever. May his soul rest perpetually, in peace.
I encourage my readers to find one place and return to it again and again. Here you will find time to meditate/pray and to connect with what is really essential to a healthy spirit, body and life.
Circle by Harry Chapin
“All my life’s a circle;
Sunrise and sundown;
Moon rolls thru the nighttime;
Till the daybreak comes around.
All my life’s a circle;
But I can’t tell you why;
Season’s spinning round again;
The years keep rollin’ by.
It seems like I’ve been here before;
I can’t remember when;
But I have this funny feeling;
That we’ll all be together again.
No straight lines make up my life;
And all my roads have bends;
There’s no clear-cut beginnings;
And so far no dead-ends.
I found you a thousand times;
I guess you done the same;
But then we lose each other;
It’s like a children’s game;
As I find you here again;
A thought runs through my mind;
Our love is like a circle;
Let’s go ’round one more time.