Birds in Flight

I can’t resist trying to take photographs of birds in flight. It is challenging, anticipating which way the bird will move, and simultaneously trying to ensure you have the correct focus, exposure, and shutter speed. Most pictures taken are failures, but if you take enough pictures, some are bound to turn out. Here are some of my favourites from the last few years.

Bald eagle
The critically endangered whooping crane. Photo taken in Indiana.
Peregrine falcon attacking an eagle. I was focusing on the eagle and didn’t realize that the falcon had photo-bombed my picture. Sometimes you are just lucky. Photo taken in Florida.
Snow geese lifting off from a pond in Indiana.
Bald eagles competing for the same roost. (Photo taken in BC).
Snowy owl taking flight. (Ontario)
Osprey, returning to the nest. (Ontario)
Bald eagles, in a mating ritual. (BC)
American white pelicans. (Florida)
Trumpeter swans. (BC)
Merlin, with a goldfinch.
Female belted kingfisher in flight. (BC)
Peregrine falcon

Views of the Canadian Rockies

In July, we enjoyed our favourite drive – the Ice Fields Highway between Banff and Jasper. With the good weather we had, it was spectacular. This has prompted me to put together a few of my favourite Canadian Rocky Mountain photos, taken over the last two years.

One of many “rocky” mountains, viewed from Waterfowl Lake area of Banff National Park. July 2021.
Bow River and Castle Mountain. July 2021
Moraine Lake sunrise. July 2021.
Moraine Lake. October 2019
Kananaskis rain squall. July 2021.
The Bow River in Banff. October 2019. (This is a colour photo!)
Hector Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Lake Louise. July 2021.
Kenny Lake. Mount Robson Provincial Park. July 2020.
Columbia Ice Field. Athabasca Glacier. Jasper NP. July 2020.
Mount Edith Cavell. Jasper NP. July 2020.
Mount Robson. Mount Robson Provincial Park. July 2020. This year it was obscured by smoke from the forest fires.
Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Glacier above Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.
Bow Lake. Banff NP. July 2021.

A Few Days in Wells Grey Provincial Park

At the end of our recent Rocky Mountain vacation, we spent two days in Wells Grey Provincial Park. For good reason, Wells Grey is called the park of waterfalls, with some 38 waterfalls registered. The largest is Helmcken Falls, and with the high water runoff caused by very warm temperatures, it was impressive. It is roughly four times the height of Niagara Falls. We saw a large number of spruce grouse, the relatively obscure three-toed woodpecker, and enjoyed a hike up to the Trophy Mountain Alpine Meadows (although we should have used more mosquito repellent!). It is certainly a park we plan to return to!

Helmcken Falls
Dawson Falls
Spruce grouse (male)
Spruce grouse fledgling
Western anemone, gone to seed.
Alpine lupin
Adult three-toed woodpecker feeding juvenileIt was fun to watch them climb the tree, hammering for insects. The juvenile did try, but still needed to be fed by its parent.
Spahats Creek Falls

A Return to the Growing Barred Owl Family

On my return this week, I was able to observe two busy parents feeding their growing brood of owlets. While I suspected there were three last week, I was able to confirm that indeed there are three. The owlets are growing quickly and acquiring their flying skills. They remain totally dependent on their parents for food, and are very noisy when they are hungry!

Mother, sharing with two of the owlets.
One of the owlets
Another owlet
Possibly the third owlet. While I could see them all at the same time, I could never capture more than two in a single photo. One was noticeably larger than the other two.
Father, feeding on what I think might be a small opossum. (At first I thought it was a muskrat. If anyone can tell, please let me know!)
Mother feeding one of the owlets
Father, preening after a bit meal.
Mother with two of the owlets
Mother feeding two owlets.

Visiting the Barred Owl Family

This week, I returned to the “special place for owls” a couple of times. I was not surprised that I was unable to locate the great-horned owls, as the owlets had fledged. I hoped however to find that the barred owlets had fledged and would be “findable”. Indeed they had fledged, and I was able to find two owlets, although I was only able to take photos of one of them, as the other was very high up in a tree and concealed by branches and leaves. When they first fledge, the owlets climb, and are well watched over by their parents. So finding the owlets, depended on finding the parents, and that can prove to be a bit of a challenge. By the end of the week, the parents and owlets were all very high in the canopy. It is my hope that I will be able to encounter them closer to the ground as they start to practice flight, and hunting, over the next month or so. It is possible there is a third owlet, but I have not yet discovered it.

Finding the barred owl parents now, is proving to be a bit of a challenge!
I was thrilled to find this “fuzzball” looking at me, largely unobscured by branches.
Mother was very close by, as was father.
Mother spent a lot of time preening her owlet, which I think had just fledged within a day or two of this photo being taken.
I was able to watch the parents then preening each other.
The owls are very much on guard and I saw them react quickly to the presence of jays and other birds.
With growing owlets to feed, a lot of time is spent hunting.

A Special Place for Owls!

I very much like to see and photograph owls! So do a lot of other people. As a result, far too many owls are disturbed by people, and to avoid harming the owls or to ensure they are not bothered unduly, locations are not posted or communicated by those who are conscientious and wish to protect these magnificent birds. That makes it a real challenge for a newcomer to a region to find owls. I have been fortunate this year however in finding one quiet location, in which there are two owl nests about 500 metres apart. One of the nests is a great horned owl’s nest, the other is a barred owl’s nest. In this secluded area, I have been able to observe the parents (by sight and sound), see the great horned owlets fledge and now await the fledging of the barred owlets. While the great horned owl nest is wide and open (in this case, very high up in a tree), the barred owl nest is in a hollow in a tree, also very high up. I cannot actually say I have seen the nest, but by watching the owls, I know where it is. The following photos record some of my observations.

Great horned owl, on the nest. The little bit of white fuzz to the left of the owl, is the first sign I saw of the owlets. There were two.
Fledged great horned owlet. This owlet, was still on the tree where the nest was. Its sibling had moved on to another tree. They were being carefully watched by the parents.
Great horned owl watching over the fledged owlets. While watching, I saw a raven, eagle and turkey vulture come into the vicinity of the owls.
The more adventurous of the owlets, near the tree that had the nest. It is incredible how quickly these owlets grow! A day or so after this photo was taken the owls “disappeared”. Although they are undoubtedly in the area, the forest is so dense, the trees so tall, and the area is bounded by private property and a large creek, making them very difficult if not impossible to locate. Unlike the barred owl, the great horned owl is much quieter in the daytime.
Barred owl. This one I believe is the male. He was very visible in the vicinity of the nest, and I often heard him calling to his partner, who often responded with a muffled reply. I concluded that the partner was on the nest, located in a hollow. Over several days, the reply always came from a certain tall tree with lots of snags.
This owl, the male, never seemed bothered by my presence, and spent a lot of time observing me, always drifting off to sleep.
In the last couple of weeks, I have seen both the male and female owl, sometimes together, sometimes hunting. I believe that the eggs have hatched and the owls will soon fledge. Both owls are certainly spending more time out of the nest and considerable time hunting. On three occasions, we have found the owls as a result of alarm calls from robins.
The female barred owl with a bird it subsequently took to the nest. (It is very difficult to tell the female from the male, except when you see them together. The female is larger.)
It was special to see the owls groom each other, all the while aware of my presence.
Mother, on guard, watching the nest. Hopefully I will be able to watch the fledged barred owlets in the next week or two.

World Migratory Bird Day

Today is World Migratory Bird Day, a day to recognize the billions of birds that migrate seasonally. Facing ever increasing hazards due to loss of habitat, climate change and toxins, it is important to recognize that migrating species are exposed to risks in each of the many environments they must navigate as part of their life cycle. It is for this reason, that conservation must be coordinated internationally. The following photos illustrate a few of the migrating species, that add so much wonder and beauty to our world.

Scarlet tanager. Taken at Point Pelee (ON). Point Pelee is one of the most incredible locations in North America to see migrating song birds, in May
Townsend’s warbler. Taken in the rain forest of the Fraser Valley (BC).
Magnolia warbler, taken in Southern Ontario.
Bobolink. This bird migrates on a very tightly defined schedule from Paraguay and Argentina to Canada and the Northern Plains of the United States. I have seen these birds in Kentucky (they pass through in the first week of May), Ontario and in BC.
Dickcissel. Photo taken in Kentucky. An occasional visitor to southern parts of Canada.
Mountain bluebird. Taken in the Fraser Valley.
Yellow-headed blackbird. Taken in South Central BC.
Lazuli bunting. Taken in South Central BC.
Indigo bunting. Taken in Kentucky.
Snow geese. They winter in Southern Canada and in the United States. This photo was taken near Henderson Kentucky. They spend their summers in the Arctic. The ones seen in BC in the winter migrate from Siberia, while the ones seen in Eastern Canada and Kentucky spend their breeding season in Arctic Canada.
Whooping crane. Certainly one of the most endangered of North America’s migrating species. Photo taken in Indiana.

Earth Day 2021

It is not my nature to express opinions of a political nature, but on Earth Day, I believe there are things to say that go beyond politics. So much that we take for granted, is threatened. Climate change is real and has been accelerating. We have entered a time period where biodiversity is severely threatened and species are disappearing at an alarming rate. World wildlife populations have been reduced by about 50% in the last 40 years. We are on the brink of the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. Are we taking notice? Political pronouncements of the last week have been encouraging. However, recent history has seen that similar announcements made in the past have not resulted in any significant change in behaviour. Will it be different this time?

Rhinoceros, in South Africa. Kruger National Park. Several sub-species have become extinct in the last few years. This is a very threatened species.
Whooping crane. Photo taken in Indiana. On the brink of extinction. In the west, populations have increased somewhat. In the east, the number of whooping cranes in the wild is less than 100. Despite being protected, the biggest loss is from shooting.
Ice melting on the Columbia Icefield. The retreat of this glacier is dramatic and is marked on a year by year basis. Even more dramatic is the retreat we witnessed at Bear Glacier on the BC / Alaska border which we first visited in the early 1980’s.
Even bees are threatened by the use of neonicotinoid fungicides, now banned in much of the world.
The woodland caribou (this photo was taken in Newfoundland), is in serious decline throughout most of its range.
Some 40 years ago, international cooperation reduced acid rain dramatically. At the time, it was seen as the most important environmental problem. This has been important for preservation of temperate hardwood forests. The photo above is of maple flowers from the broad-leaved maple.

February – a good month to be out and about!

It is far too easy in February to complain about the restrictions that the pandemic brings and to complain about cold or wet weather! The reality for me is that February has been a very good month for walks, hikes, birdwatching and enjoying nature. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty around us. Here are a few of the highlights.

Northern harrier male, with Cascade Mountains in the background.
Long-eared owl
Mount Cheam
Harrison Lake
Spirit Trail, Harrison Hot Springs
Yellow-billed loon
Sumas Mountain, after fresh snow
Tree, cut down by a beaver
Song sparrow
Alder buds
Licorice fern

More Snow Geese!

I have been able to see snow geese on many occasions. However this weekend, I had my first opportunity get really close to a flock of snow geese; so close in fact that they were mere feet away. That gave me a very different perspective!

In the Vancouver region, virtually all of the snow geese are “white phase”. This contrasts with Kentucky where we used to live, where about half were “blue phase”. I managed to find one “blue phase snow goose” this weekend.

In the following photo taken in Kentucky, you can see that the proportion of dark or “blue phase” is large.

I always enjoy seeing snow geese in flight, particularly with Grouse Mountain as a backdrop.

Watching the Snow Geese

I am informed that there are not generally large numbers of snow geese in the Fraser Valley. This winter has been different, and yesterday we were treated to the spectacle of thousands of snow geese lifting off, and then returning to the same field to land. It was awesome! The sight was matched by the sound of thousands of pairs of wings flapping and of the geese calling. How the geese can do this without colliding is mind-boggling!