Belted Kingfisher

Autumn means chasing this guy around, trying to grab a focused photograph.  Some people play football.  This is my sport.  I could spend hours listening for him and then high-tailing it to his next location.  He plays catch-me-if-you-can and I can be heard in the woods, laughing out loud.  If anyone else was around they would wonder.  First, readers, take note of the Belted Kingfisher’s interesting sound.

Twice in the past two days, the Kingfisher has taken a place of importance, the high Y branch of the Bald Eagle family’s favourite tree.  First time, both Juveniles went at him.  I think that perhaps the Kingfisher was consuming a meal and the young eagles get pretty scrappy with the food of other river hunters.  Next time, the Sub Adult flew in, I suppose just to claim her dominance.

My visuals are all very unfocused, but I’m logging these here as a part of my birder journals.  This morning, in the fog, I also watched an Osprey dive, almost vertically, off of a tree and pounce upon a young Cormorant as he fished.  Life on the river is a bit of a dog-eat-dog world.  When I returned home, I saw that I got an unfocused capture of the Osprey leaving the tree.

The two juvenile Bald Eagles swooped into the scene, evicting the Kingfisher from prime territory.

He arrived at my side of the river, for only moments and I snapped this photograph, directly into the light.

Another visit to the river, and again, he chose prime branches.  Are you kidding?

In she swooped…and look, where the little guy ended up!

This morning, in the fog.

Life carries on, in all forms, at the river, but very different from only weeks ago.  The Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers are in greater numbers, as are the White Breasted Nuthatches.  The Northern Flickers swoosh down and up onto the Elms.  This afternoon, the subdued landscape was broken by a huge frenzy of vocalizations of coyotes on the island and the howls were returned in unison by the coyotes on this side of the river.  It was absolutely magical!

Osprey taking a dive, not for a fish, but for the Cormorant catching the fish! (Horrible photo alert!)

Juvenile Cormorant.  Doug Newman pointed out one time that some Cormorant species have bright blue eyes in this stage.  This is the best that I’ve been able to capture that.

And, what exactly is this?  Has this wee babe been abandoned by Mom?  What is it?

The elegance of the young American Robins, at this time, fills my heart, whenever I see them.

This past week might have been impacted by bad-weather days, but nature continues to amaze me, regardless.

The female Mallard keeps her kids in line.

I will continue to attempt a good capture of the Belted Kingfisher during the coming week.

Days on the River

Early mornings on the river now reveal just how circular my own journey is and how natural death is to life. All life blooms, but also fades.  In youth, I ran toward the next Christmas and to the next Halloween and to the next grade and the next teacher and to a boyfriend and to a husband. Never would I suffer divorce. Never, in my imagination, would my mother die.  My brother would not die.  My life long friends would remain at my side always. The abundance of living well, seemed endless.

In reality, the magic that perches at the edge of the river demonstrates again and again that life transforms.  I look down at my own hands at this keyboard this morning and see this transformation in my self. I have no choice but to accept it, while at the same time, I have the opportunity to create magic in others and to watch life unfold in my children and in my grandson.  I also have the choice to embrace the beauty of another fading summer.

My circular walks at the river have healed me throughout this lush green often-wet summer.  I have watched closely as the adult Bald Eagles tended two eggs at their nest, saw them through the biting cold of spring when at last those eggs hatched and almost two months later two beautiful fledglings found their place in a brutal world.

Having watched this mating pair over several seasons, it was sad to watch the disappearance of Mrs., a week after the second youngster fledged.  She was such an inspiring raptor and was vigilant with the two young eagles, demonstrating fiercely, the skills that were intuitive and essential for their start in life.  She may have been evicted or killed and within days, a sub adult began to dominate the territory, eventually captivating Mr. who diligently fed and raised up his two progeny.

These days those same juveniles soar high above me, carving huge circles into a deep blue sky, utterly celebrating what it means to be Bald Eagles.  I sometimes find myself weeping at the enormous beauty of this passage of time as manifested in one little family at the river.

I no longer hear the sounds of the Red-Winged Blackbirds.  Theirs is the first song of spring.  And now, they are gone.  Where only a month ago the Yellow Warblers’ very particular song filled the woods, there is only the occasional flash of bright yellow in the low brush.  Mating and fledging behind them now, where do they disappear?  The sounds of geese returns after a month of silence.  The adult Mallards begin to separate from the juveniles now, after so many weeks of being alert and startling so easily.  The American Pelicans no longer rest in great numbers in the quiet eddies of the Bow.  The changes happen in subtle ways.  One beauty is replaced by another.

Now, the Cedar Waxwing juveniles are practicing flight in great numbers and every evening they are making loops out over the water and back, out and back, lighting in bare branches.  Adults remain vigilant.  Yellow Rumped Warblers have increased in numbers, likely just passing through, and Downy Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Northern Flickers take up residence.  Many of them will winter here.

Wild Asters are in bloom for a second time and the Thistles are in seed.  Small water bugs fly thick and hover above the racing water.  The fish jump. Conversations with the fishermen include stories of Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout and Pike.  They pull out their phones and scroll through their photographs, proudly telling me their fishing narratives.  They  humour me with observations of the eagles.

The native grasses are now beyond my shoulders and the closeness creates that feeling of being watched, a mystical feeling of not being alone.  Sometimes, I look to the left and deer are perfectly still and their eyes meet mine.  Their eyes are pools of dark liquid, staring.  They do not move. We are captivated by one another.  If I move at all they flinch or huff and spook into the trees. The coyotes sulk into the tall growth and disappear.  It is in this stillness where I discover life, abundantly.  I look up and a juvenile eagle is peering at me.  The Grey Catbirds, now gone, would remain absolutely still as I slipped by.  The Eastern Kingbirds, showmen as they are, perform their antics with seemingly no fear.  Their numbers are also dwindling at the river’s edge.

Once, the stillness was broken by the loud slap of a beaver in the quiet eddy to the south.  Another time, with my back to the water, I heard a powerful bang and quickly pivoted around to see an Osprey lift up and out of the water, huge fish clutched in its talons.  The sounds at the river are mesmerizing…and now, with the tall grasses turning gold, those sounds can be very soft and comforting.

 

Tansy is changing from brilliant yellow to brown.  Leaves drift silently to the ground from the highest canopy.  I am in awe that summer is at an end.

Over the coming weeks, the Bald Eagles will eek out their place on the river.  Mr. will no longer provide the two youngsters with food.  He will evict them and they will begin their struggle to survive through another bitterly cold winter.  I don’t have any idea how to end this post because life at the river has no real end.  It is a place of beginnings.

I know this.  I know that we must challenge everything in the world that does not steward the land and the earth and the air.  Life is a brutal thing.  Death is brutal.  We must protect the little ones.  We must leave my grandson this beauty…I can not imagine him not knowing what a world of abundance we were given.

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!

 

Download

It has been a cool and wet few days in Calgary, even to the point where we received a skiff of snow in September!  I was cautioned that I had no room remaining on my cell phone, so yesterday I downloaded from my album onto my desktop hard drive.  The thing about downloaded photographs is that I was, once again, reminded that life has sped by, filled to the brim, even in the most simple or dark circumstances.  There is so much that I haven’t written about or recorded.

I’ve read several books since spring and would really like to update my reviews, even if they are sparse.  So, that will likely still happen.  But, for today, I feel my thoughts are incredibly influenced by the book I am presently reading, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  It is my new favourite book.  I am profoundly moved by it and I’m hanging on every word.

As a result of this reading, I want to post a few photographs from recent walks at the Bow River.  Yesterday, Max and I headed out in the rain.

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When the earth is wet, there is such a rich and beautiful aroma that surrounds me while passing through the woods and beside the river.  I am at a loss for words to describe this because any description would not do the experience justice.  Also, there is a hush, apart from the drops of rain coming down from the tree canopy…it is a mystical silence…peaceful, even though I know that the entire landscape is vibrating with life in hiding.

Yesterday, stepping about in tall overgrowth, Max and I took pause…listened.  I heard a hollow clomping sound on round river stone, just to our right.  Uncertain, we remained still.  I held my breath and listened.  Max was alert.  I was alert.  A few more steps.  Stop.  A few more. Stop.  When once we began again, with a great explosion, a young deer sprung out and wildly flew deep into the trees.  Max erupted into a fit of barking and it felt like everything around us woke up!

I watched the juvenile Bald Eagle, an Osprey, a Hawk, Cormorants and Pelicans all struggle to find sustenance.  It was so amazing to watch the dynamic and to appreciate the effort involved.  At a point, the Bald Eagle, displaying his remarkable wingspan, swooped down upon an American Pelican.  He is not yet adept at his hunting and is frequently cutting corners by having others do his work for him.  Similarly, he dove into a gathering of Cormorants, investigating the possibility that there might be food among the opportunists.

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The Osprey, tucked secretly in the dark shadows of trees, swooped out aggressively, in order to give chase to the Hawk…crying out desperately as he flew so fast that I couldn’t identify him.  He had shared the east side of the river with me for a while, tearing into the hedges and thick shrubs and sage, likely in pursuit of rabbits and other small animals.  There was never a chance to get a good photograph.

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The Bald Eagle juvenile was looking intently from his low perch,  at these Killdeer…there were scores of them across the river from me.  If you’ve heard a single Killdeer, you may understand why the Bald Eagle is drawn to a location where twenty…maybe thirty…are calling out.

Can you spot two in the photograph below?

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Can you spot the Osprey here?

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I have watched the eagles for a little over a year now…given Michael’s prompting to leave the pond during the rip and tear of the Southwest Ring Road development.  I am so grateful for the life I have been able to observe at this location and for the healing experience this daily walk has begun in me.  As I write this post, I am feeling very blessed for a whole lot of reasons.  I hope that if my readers feel sometimes that life, like a sweater, is unraveling, one source of divine life and love can be found in an intimate relationship with nature.  I know that it’s helped me.  Here are a few other moments with the raptors this year.

 

 

I have been blessed by my walks at the river this weekend…I keep saying to myself, through winter, I don’t want to forget the purple.  I don’t want to forget the gold and red.  I will carry it with me.

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This Spring’s Spark Bird

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

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

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

Merlin

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

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

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

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

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

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Show Grade Twos a Nest, And They’ll Draw It!

Teachers, when you have that short bit of time to observe a Live Eagle Cam with your class, log into one of these two spots and have your students make observations, write about the eagle behaviours, draw them, paint them…it’s so beautiful to watch!

Either today or tomorrow or the day after that, the eggs should hatch at Duke Farms.

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/eagle-cam

OR

Decorah…at…

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/eagle-cam

The weather today has been quite lovely at Duke Farms in Virginia.

Eagle March 23, 2016

Horrible weather…sleet…rain…slush and wind in Decorah.

Rain and Snow on Decorah

Grade twos made amazing observations of the eagles, rubbing off their chalk every time Mom changed her posture in the nest and began to sketch again.  After the sketching practice, the students added their colour with different media.

Thank you for your class, Elisa!