Hungry Red Robin

Hungry Red Robin

For all the hunting and digging that Robin’s do, it’s not all that often that you find one with a meal in its beak. I saw this one hopping along the grass and it was really just instinct that made me swing my camera around to take a couple of snaps. I didn’t even realize what I had until I was looking at the images on my computer later. That looks like a really tasty treat it has in its mouth!

Red-shafted Northern Flicker hunting for bugs

Red-Shafted Northern Flickr

I’ve seen Northern Flicker’s on the ground before, but they usually don’t allow people to get very close. I would never describe these woodpeckers as shy, as they do tend to allow a close approach when they are perched in a tree, but if you walk towards them while they are on the ground they tend to take off pretty quickly. So I was very pleasantly surprised when this one allowed me to walk up to within about 15 feet of it while it continued to hunt for bugs in the ground. You can see the dirt all over its beak from where it was stabbing it into the ground in search of food.

Bird Photography with my Dad

I’m visiting with my family in Kelowna for a week and while I’m here I want to get in a few photography outings with my Dad. The weather here is at least 3 weeks further into the spring that it is at home in Calgary, and the migrating birds are much more plentiful. I read several reports on that lots of waterfowl have been seen at Robert Lake recently, including sightings of over 600 Northern Pintails.

We made plans to be at the lake shortly after sunrise in order to be there in time to make some nice images in the soft morning light. Unfortunately when we arrived we found that the lake was practically deserted. Other than a few geese the only birds we saw were a few Red-winged Blackbirds near the parking lot. We watched them for a few minutes before moving on.

Male Red-winged Blackbird at Robert Lake in Kelowna

We decided to make our way over to the Kelowna Airport which is a known hotspot for Hawks, Eagles, and Owls. Instead of driving directly there we took a meandering route through the scenic countryside. The Kelowna area is littered with Orchards and other beautiful agricultural property which is home to many species of birds and animals. Without really even looking for them we managed to find plenty of California Quail, Blackbirds, and Northern Flickers. While we were stopped to watch a large covey of Quail, we could hear the very distinctive call of a Pheasant down the road and it was being repeatedly answered by another bird in the woods behind us. We slowly made our way towards the sound and quickly found it near the side of the road. It launched and flew off to the edge of the adjacent orchard, and I only managed to make a few images from the truck. Dad was driving and didn’t get out in time before it wandered into the trees…

Ring-necked Pheasant

We continued on towards the airport and had a very cool visit with a Yellow-bellied Marmot. While we were driving I looked over into a farmyard and saw several large furry critters scurrying off of a woodpile beside the road. Although most of them disappeared, we found this animal sunning itself on the woodpile.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

The Marmot was actually very close to a tall wooden fence beside the road and I was able to shoot through a crack in the fence to make some close-up portraits.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

There are Hawks all over the place near the Kelowna Airport. We were actually watching a Red-tailed Hawk that landed on a power pole beside this Rough-legged Hawk. I have always found Red-tails to be very skittish and this one was no exception. It launched as soon as we got close. The Roughie didn’t seem to mind us very much and it sat on the pole until we got quite close. It eventually launched as well, but it just did a slow fly-by past us before landing on the next power pole up the road.

Rough-legged Hawk

We continued on our way looking for Hawks. Although there were lots of them, none were really close enough to make good images of. I was quite surprised to find a pair of Great Blue Herons in a farm field. I’ve never seen them in that sort of environment and in my experience they are more likely to be in a swamp or a slough than in a wide open field. Dad tells me that he sees them in a nearby field all the time so I’m sure it must be quite common. One of the birds flew off almost immediately after we stopped but the other one ignored us and continued to hunt in the field. I’m not sure what it was hunting but I saw it stab its beak into the ground several times.

Great Blue Heron hunting in a farm field

Huge thanks to my Dad for being a great companion, and especially for driving the truck while I got all the great shots!

Bill Phillips

Northern Hawk Owl

Every once in awhile the local birding community goes crazy about a special visitor to the area. Recently reports have been coming in daily about a trio of Northern Hawk Owls living north of Cochrane. I was was lucky enough to see two of the three birds today.

Although not endangered, these birds are considered to be rare in the Calgary area. For there to be three of them located in such close proximity is very exciting. Reports of these birds have been popping up on Alberta Bird since before Christmas and I was eager to see if I could find them. Fortunately these particular owls have been staying in the same spot for a long time, and they don’t seem to care that they are being watched by a lot of people. One of them actually flew onto a tree only a few feet away from me several times.

Northern Hawk Owl perching in a tree

This particular bird has a regular behavioral pattern in which it perches in a high tree (or power pole) while preening; every so often it will fly down to a lower tree overlooking the adjacent farm field, and then patiently search the field for a meal. When it finds something it swoops down low over the grass and strikes from behind. Sometimes it eats the meal right there on the ground, while other times it flies off with it to enjoy it from a higher vantage point.

Northern Hawk Owl in Flight

The nearby fields appear to be abundantly stocked with prey and these birds make many such trips throughout the day. I stayed to watch one of the birds for quite a long time and it was very exciting to be able to observe it so closely. I managed to make a few good sequences of images of it hunting, and I’ve put together a slideshow of one of these sequences…

When this sort of excitement crops up there is always the inevitable talk about the ethics of human interaction with wildlife. In this particular instance there have been huge numbers of people traveling down the same road eager to see and photograph such beautiful birds. Some people would say that this is very stressful to the bird and that it can really disrupt their lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned that these birds don’t seem to care very much about the people that are visiting them, and my personal belief is that birds and animals are generally very good at letting humans know when they are being bothered. In fact they usually do so very quickly

As an aside, I have to say I don’t support feeding wild birds or animals just to get a better picture. There have been some reports that people have been baiting these birds (with pet store mice for example) to do just that. I certainly didn’t see it happening while I was watching the owls, and I would even go so far as to say that it would be completely unnecessary in this case. The adjacent field appears to be teeming with mice and these birds have been on a very steady diet of fresh food. Having said that, it happens all the time, and not just by photographers. But that’s a topic for another post