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Raptor migration through Edmonton river valley

Coopers Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Today, after a cou­ple days of bad weath­er, I went for a walk at the Strath­cona Sci­ence Park, a provin­cial park on the east­ern edge of Edmon­ton (fol­low 17th street north from base­line road (101 ave)). The ear­ly autumn colours were start­ing to come out, but most strik­ing was the num­ber of rap­tors mov­ing through the riv­er val­ley. Dur­ing my rel­a­tive­ly short walk, I saw a pair of Swainson’s Hawks, sev­er­al Red-tailed Hawks, a Bald Eagle perched in a snag, and a Cooper’s Hawk hunt­ing Yel­low-rumped War­blers in the shrubs along the riv­er bank.

I didn’t get any pho­tographs of the birds I saw today, so I thought I’d share this one—a Cooper’s Hawk that I caught while work­ing as a bird ban­der at the Beaver­hill Bird Obser­va­to­ry in Tofield. As you may judge from the pho­to, he was none too hap­py about the sit­u­a­tion, but I real­ly enjoyed get­ting a close-up look at one of these ter­rif­ic birds.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler in Banff

A male Audubons Warbler watches for flying insects from his perch on a freshly budding willow sapling overhanging a small creek in Banff National Park, Alberta.

Yel­low-rumped War­bler on bud­ding wil­low

I don’t nor­mal­ly pho­to­graph much wildlife (I don’t have the long lens­es and patience usu­al­ly required), but I couldn’t resist this lit­tle bird (a Yel­low-rumped (or Audubon’s) War­bler) that I watched feed­ing along a small moun­tain stream for near­ly a half hour. It was very ear­ly in the sea­son and there had been a lit­tle snow overnight so the air was cool and damp, and the insects this bird was after were mov­ing real­ly slow­ly. He would perch on these wil­low saplings over the creek, turn­ing his head to watch and then dart out to grab his meal from the air or the under­side of a new leaf. It was a lot of fun to watch, and—employing the time hon­oured, fine-art, “shot­gun” approach to composition—I filled up a good por­tion of my mem­o­ry card try­ing to get just the right shot.

I know this pho­to­graph breaks a cou­ple “gold­en rules” of composition—you’re not sup­posed to cen­tre your sub­ject (rule of thirds) or have the sub­ject look­ing out of (rather than into) the frame. But I think it works this way (I even cropped in a lit­tle from a more “tra­di­tion­al­ly” framed shot). I think the shad­owed area in the top-left bal­ances the light, emp­ty area at the bot­tom, and for me, the bird’s out-of-frame gaze gives a bit of the feel­ing that he’s just about to leave the frame him­self (which in fact he did). Let me know what you think—just click below to add your thoughts. Thanks!

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Magpie tracks in fresh snow

The imprint of a magpies wing and tail are left behind in fresh snow

Mag­pie wing­print

After a cou­ple cen­time­ters of fresh, pow­dery snow, I went for a walk at the Strath­cona Sci­ence Park along the North Saskatchewan Riv­er. In one area there were near­ly a dozen spots where a mag­pie had dropped into the snow, leav­ing these beau­ti­ful impres­sions of its wing tips and long tail—thrown into beau­ti­ful detail by the low angle of the sun these days. I couldn’t tell what it was after under the snow, and I didn’t see any oth­er mag­pie tracks out­side of this one small area. If you have ever seen some­thing sim­i­lar, I’d love to hear you think this bird might have been up to.

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Chickadees taking flight

A Black-capped Chickadee takes flight from a bare winter perch

Chick­adee wings I

Chick­adee wings II

I have been set­tling into a new rou­tine, hav­ing start­ed a new work con­tract in the new year, and part of this rou­tine often includes walk­ing through Edmonton’s beau­ti­ful White­mud Ravine dur­ing my lunch break. The chick­adees in this park have become accus­tomed to humans, and will come in close to see if you’ve brought them any­thing. I couldn’t resist tak­ing a cou­ple pho­tos of them, and the ones I liked best were always just before they took off. I set a high enough shut­ter speed to catch the details of their feath­ers, and hoped for the best. When­ev­er I tried to catch one as it took off, I got a pic­ture of a bare branch—I was too slow. By the time I could react, the bird was gone. I had to watch through the viewfind­er and wait until I thought the bird was going to jump. Let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m shoot­ing dig­i­tal…

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Grouse tracks

Fresh Ruffed Grouse footprints in deep snow at Ministik Lake Game Bird Sanctuary

Grouse tracks in fresh snow

I was sent a pho­to recent­ly of an uniden­ti­fied bird out at Elk Island Nation­al Park that turned out to be a Ruffed Grouse. The same day I had been out tak­ing pho­tographs at Min­is­tik Lake Game Bird Sanc­tu­ary, which is just south of Elk Island, and had come across a fair num­ber of grouse tracks in the dust­ing of fresh snow that had fall­en overnight (this pho­to was tak­en at Min­is­tik, but a cou­ple years ago). The tracks are quite dis­tinc­tive with the wide snow­shoe-like toes, and it’s inter­est­ing to see where the birds come and go. Keep an eye out for these next time you’re in the fresh snow.

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Goldeneye flock flying over river

This past year I upgrad­ed my cam­era to the Canon 5DmkII, it’s a ter­rif­ic cam­era that I’m very hap­py with, and one of the neat tricks it does is shoot high def­i­n­i­tion video. I don’t shoot too much video—I’m a stills pho­tog­ra­ph­er at heart, regard­less of what the cam­era can do—but it is fun to try once in a while.

I took this short video this past week dur­ing the cold snap—it shows a small flock of Com­mon Gold­en­eye (Bucepha­la clan­gu­la) ducks swim­ming in the riv­er then tak­ing off and fly­ing, land­ing again a ways upriv­er. The ducks dive briefly under the water sur­face a cou­ple of times before flying—my best guess is that they’re “de-icing” their wings (it was about -35° C that morn­ing).

You can push the fullscreen but­ton (four out­ward arrows at the bot­tom-right of the video) to view it larg­er, or fol­low the link to watch a high-def­i­n­i­tion ver­sion at vimeo.com.

Portrait of a Ruffed Grouse

Ruffed grouse portrait

Ruffed grouse por­trait

I don’t make many wildlife pho­tographs, but this one I couldn’t pass up. I took this pho­to while work­ing at the Beaver­hill Bird Obser­va­tory near Tofield. I must admit that while this is a wild Ruffed Grouse, he wasn’t par­tic­u­larly free at the time of this pho­to. One of the things that I love about band­ing birds is get­ting to see them so close. At this range, even the drabbest spar­rows (and grouse) are full of sub­tle detail, pat­tern and colour. I like how this pho­to cap­tures some of those close-up details that are nor­mally missed at reg­u­lar grouse-view­ing dis­tances. It was a treat to catch this bird, and I’m glad to have this pho­to as a reminder.

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