That first crack of Light,
the epitome of Grace.
That first crack of Light,
the epitome of Grace.
Half frozen or half melted? Not a trick question, or a philosophical pondering on half full or half empty. The answer is factual. By mid October, the lake was frozen already. But by the end of the month, it began to melt. So there you go, beauty in double measure, not half. As for the birds, they can handle both.
And on that half frozen, half melted lake I saw them. Thanks to some fellow birders alerting me. Who would have expected to see swans stopping by here? They must be migrating from the Tundra, flying south to the US. And we’re their midway rest stop. Just a few days of respite here in sunny (most of the time) Southern Alberta.
The following pics are from a long distance, so quite blurry. I think I saw a Trumpeter here with a juvenile. Ice on lake? No problem. It’s Nature’s dance floor. Let’s just call it a father-daughter dance here:
Here are several Tundra Swans, noting the yellow edge of the bill:
A couple of days later, I saw this solitary juvenile swan at the Pond some distance away from the lake. Not sure if it was lost. Even though just by itself, I could sense its calmness… eat some, swim some, preen some, always congenial, thoroughly enjoying the environs there. How do I know it’s a juvenile? From its greyish plumage, pink bill, and yellowish tan feet:
While I was taking its photos, I saw in a distance a group of large birds in the sky heading my way. What an opportune timing! I quickly snapped these shots as they flew over me. When I uploaded the pics, lo and behold, I saw they were Tundra Swans. This time quite clearly. The yellow patch by the edge of the bill is the distinct difference from the Trumpeter. And learned a new word to call them: a wedge of swans (in flight).
I don’t have a garden, so no canning of harvest for the winter. But these photos and sightings will be my canned treats for the frozen months ahead… yes, something like Proust’s madeleine dipped in tea.
Fall is migration season. The Pond is a stopover for avian migrants enroute to coastal NW United States, or further south to the Gulf Coast and even Mexico. This year, for some reasons, the traffic at the Pond and the adjacent lake is particularly busy, all to a birder’s delight.
October came in like a lion and out like a lamb. We had heavy snow by the middle of the month when the leaves had not all fallen off from the trees and the grass was still green. The lowest temperature reached was -18°C, that, my friend to the south, is 1°F. The water at the Pond was frozen by the third week. But after that premature winter, we were blessed with warmer days towards the end of the month, and even breaking a one day record high on Nov. 2, reaching 23°C, or 73°F.
But it’s not the temperature that interests me. What I find amazing is the variety of waterfowl converging here on their way to the south and the way they come together.
Here are some photos in the past couple of weeks. Mallards, Mergansers, and Ring-billed Gulls side by side. I think I heard Lady Merganser say: so what if my Lucille Ball hairstyle or its colour is different from yours, just let me be and swim to my heart’s delight. Whether you dip or dive for your food, these diverse avian species know how to get along and enjoy the warm sun, fresh air, and clear water:
What does it matter that a female Goldeneye is leading a flock of Buffleheads:
From the front of the line: Female Goldeneye, Male Buffleheads (wearing white hoodies), followed by two Female Buffleheads (white patch on cheek).
At a lake nearby, more migrants converged. It was a pool party of diversity: Canada Geese, Goldeneyes, Mallards, Coots, Gulls… those were just the ones I could see from afar. Only when there’s peaceful coexistence can they conserve energy for the long haul, and leisurely soak up the sun, preen their plumage, do yoga stretch, and of course, fuel up on nature’s buffet.
Thanks to other birders alerting me, that’s the first time I saw Swans here. From a far distance, I sighted several of them on the half frozen lake (or, half melting lake):
I can’t decide even after researching online whether they were Trumpeters or Tundra Swans as I was unable to see their bills from so far away, not even from the enlarged photo later. The two on the right in the picture above are juveniles as they’re greyish in colour. The one in the middle in the foreground standing on one leg is a Canada goose. Note the difference in size.
That day, I had my fill of avian sightings, albeit just watching from the shore far from the activity. The swans stood out in their sheer physical impression among all the ducks and geese, yet they were gentle and not bullies.
Maybe the migratory birds know that they’re only here temporarily, as they’re all in transit. As time is short and their presence ephemeral, might as well be at peace with each other and indulge in what they are given: Nature’s bounty, and enjoy their fill of common grace.
I went to the Inglewood Bird Scanctuary last weekend. The famous migratory visitors there are the Wood Ducks. They come every spring to breed, stay for the summer, and fly away in the fall. But strangely, you can’t always see them there. So it’s a delight just to catch one or two hanging out.
Last weekend, I was excited to find not just a couple but a flock of Wood Ducks there. That could well be my last glimpse of them before they take leave. How we need something beautiful to look at this fall. Like canning your summer harvest for winter enjoyment, the photos I take will be my winter treats.
See the fallen tree trunks in the centre of the water in the above photo? That’s their hub. See them? Here’s a closer look:
Some might just walk by and not give them a second look, just some ducks they might think. But in my limited birding experience, the Wood Duck is probably the most beautiful ducks I’ve seen.
Beauty in a tangled mess of broken trunks and decaying wood makes me think of the Japanese notion of Wabi-sabi:
They like to gather on the branches, often just sleeping, preening, or sunbathing. So, it’s a real treat to see them swim out so I can take these photos. I can see how Monet would paint the scene if he were here:
Check out this slide show below:
Don’t know if I have the chance to see them again this fall, so I’ll just bid them adieu until next year. Don’t know much about anything these days, but I’ll take one duck at a time, and be glad to count my blessings, bird by bird.
This is a mixed bag, but with one thing in common. These are all unexpected encounters.
First off, there are lots of deer in our neck of the woods, white-tailed deer, albeit I usually come across adults or at least teenagers. Seldom do I see a young fawn, pure and fresh, like Bambi. He was scared to see me, of course, he was all alone.
For this little guy in the following pic, at first I thought it was a gopher but the shape was long and slender. When I uploaded the photo on my laptop did I realize it was a weasel. So, this is my first time seeing a summer weasel. Taking this snap shot is easy and fast, serendipitous. My winter weasel was totally different. I hid behind a tree in -20C temp. for over an hour. But well worth it. Here are the two seasonal coats:
And I caught sight of this tiny inch-long critter crossing the road. Yes, I give my neck full exercise when I walk, look up for birds and down for bugs. But what is this?
Here’s the head. The white spikes are like bristles of a bottle brush. Later I find its name to be Lophocampa maculata, a caterpillar that will turn into the Spotted Tussock Moth or Yellow-Spotted Tiger Moth. It was first described by American entomologist and botanist Thaddeus William Harris in 1841. I’ll just call it bristle head. No offence. Love the colours.
And finally, on a crazy, windy afternoon. I was walking by the river and it felt like a storm looming. Suddenly I was the spectator of a Merganser Race, the mood exhilarating. I can see what Wordsworth mean, ‘My heart leaps up.’
And sure enough, the gulls followed. All of a sudden, hundreds of them took to the sky, maybe a premonition of an imminent change in weather:
Serendipity. That’s one of my favourite words.
Whenever I go out birding, I’ve this expectant mindset: ‘Surprise me,’ or, ‘Make my day.’
Here’s one serendipitous find a few weeks ago. The Osprey family. I’ve since gone back to visit them many times and see their baby grow.
Papa watching over the family home:
Mama and baby in the nest. I’ve since learned that other than just the size or the plumage, I can tell the difference between an adult and a juvenile Osprey by the colour of their eyes. Mom’s are yellow, baby’s orange. You can’t see here in this small pic, but on my laptop they’re dramatic.
A nice spot to build a home, by the river:
Just a couple weeks later, baby has come out of the nest. Sunbathing with Mom. Baby’s the one closer to the nest. Yes, almost as tall as Mom.
And a few days later, trying his wings. Who taught Baby to fly? I never saw any training wheels. You might ask, how do you know it’s Baby and not Mom? The secret’s in the eyes.
Even blew a raspberry at me:
Kids these days, sure grow up fast.
One of my favourite poems is William Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud. Here’s the first stanza:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Last week, that’s what I did. I followed a trail I seldom took and let it lead me to serendipity, like sighting this bald eagle. I didn’t see any daffodils, but lots of wildflowers which I couldn’t name.
Many, many summers ago, I was pondering about which subject to major in for university. Botany came to mind, for I was fond of plants. At the end, I decided on studying humans instead, hence, remaining illiterate when it comes to flora of all kinds, especially their technical terms. I must say, though, as you may well know, humans are much harder to decipher. Knowing names is the easiest part.
Here are some of the wildflowers I saw. If you can help me name them, so much the better. But let’s start off with this one which I know, and that’s our Provincial Flower: The Wild Rose.
Are these some kind of wild daisies?
Love the colour of these delicate blue petals:
A kind of Goldenrod?
Fuchsia isn’t a favourite colour of mine, but it looks stunning for flowers. This one particularly stands out, for it’s almost 6 ft. high:
I’d to stretch my hands way up to take this closeup:
A similar kind that’s a bright bluish purple. I caught it just when an insect was heading straight to it:
That’s when I realized, surely, for me these might be objects of natural beauty, for many, they are food and sustenance. Like these bees feeding on nectar:
And of course, berries for the birds:
I’ll let Wordsworth have the last word. Just replace daffodils with any of the above…
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Try it, dancing on the couch.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
––– Mary Oliver
We know how hard it’s been these past few months for you humans. Not gathering together means no more communal bathing. That’s tough.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re very adaptable. We love congregating, but we’re also fine with just being with our significant other.
and practise yoga together:
You may think of us as flocks, but we enjoy being solitary as well. That’s when we gain clarity:
or being solitary together, gleaning collective insights through our silent vibes:
Guess by now, you’ve gotten used to social distancing. We do that all the time when flying, no fun being poked in the eye by a flapping wing. Social distancing is not a problem as long as you know there’s someone flying with you, only 6 ft. away:
Some of you are gifted with a beautiful voice, we know all that. So you got to belt out from your balcony, we from ours:
I’m glad you’re finally reopening. Just like us, you can come out to eat, drink, and be merry, instead of doing that in isolation. We can share the world with each other once again.
But huh… keep your distance please. We’re bathing.
What I find walking in the woods can be redundant and mundane, that goes for my photos too. But looking up into the trees can be therapeutic psychologically, especially these days, not to mention beneficial for the neck muscles.
Mundane or unusual, here are some sightings during my walks in the past weeks.
You see them everywhere, their by-products littering your grounds. But the Canada Geese in my neck of the woods don’t gather at the Pond or on the ground, but high up on trees. I think they nest there too:
Here’s one taking the abode of a previous tenant, the owl family. How do their young come down from so high up? They’ll have to learn to fly first, just like other birds, another birder said when I asked. Or, the mother could carry them on their wings, my imagination added.
A Robin, never too common for me, especially when I capture a handsome one:
One time, I saw this ball from afar:
Walked closer and found this. Do porcupines nest on trees too, or just for naps? Or, is it something else? The next day I went back to look for it and it was gone.
Mundane or unusual, my curiosity is piqued walking the same paths year after year. This curious Yellow Warbler well represents my feelings:
Here’s another curious one:
In a previous post about the Yellow-rumped Warblers, I’d noted that the white-throated one is called the Myrtle Warbler of the East and far north, and the yellow-throated one the Audubon’s Warbler from the West. Just curious, what do you call this one with both white and yellow on the throat:
Curiosity in the mundane. Maybe that could get me out of bed on those days when I get too used to that stay home mandate.
To avoid the crowds these days, I take late evening strolls. I’ve a painter friend who likes to look at clouds, which prompted me to notice them more intentionally. Last evening, I saw the clouds change from a placid white to orange to dramatic red.
Here’s the sequence, just within 20 minutes before sunset at 9:30 pm. Yes, wait till June and we get light till ten. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I just used my cell phone. For authenticity, I’ve kept these photos in their original form.
I’ll begin with this view from the escarpment high up, the same spot I saw my moose/elk neighbour:
After a few minutes, the clouds began to change to a golden hue:
Then into a Turner painting:
From golden to pinkish delight, marshmallows in the sky:
And in another part, the scene was more dramatic with a streak of lava splitting through:
Here are the panoramic takes of the lava in the sky:
Red sky? Or red clouds and blue sky? No matter, with scenes like these, words became unimportant. But words did come up in my mind… Red sky at night, birder’s delight. I knew what tomorrow would be good for.
This is not merely wishful thinking.
I read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek years ago. At this moment in time, with the pandemic and disruptions, it seems like what she describes in her book is a piece of Arcadia, a setting in a totally bygone era, idyllic, clean and pristine, and also something I’ve long swept to the back of my mind. Just this week, I’ve the chance to listen to the audio version of the book, read by the marvellous Tavia Gilbert, a very ‘Dillardy’ voice. Her narration prompted me to dig out my copy of Tinker Creek.
This time, Dillard’s nature writing meant much more to me. When I first read it years ago, I wasn’t a birder, couldn’t even ID a chickadee. Now, though still with minimal knowledge, at least I know what bird it is she’s describing.
It’s her chapter entitled “Seeing” that grabs me most. Her words I must quote directly:
Unfortunately, nature is very much a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t affair… the brightest oriole fades into leaves. These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration; they say of nature that it conceals with a grand nonchalance, and they say of vision that it is a deliberate gift…
I know how hard it is to capture an oriole before it ‘fades into leaves’:
For nature does reveal as well as conceal: Now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do. For a week last September migrating red-winged blackbirds were feeding heavily down by the creek at the back of the house. One day I went out to investigate the racket; I walked up to a tree, an Osage orange, and a hundred birds flew away. They simply materialized out of the tree. I saw a tree, then a whisk of color, then a tree again. I walked closer and another hundred blackbirds took flight. Not a branch, not a twig budged…
Even though I haven’t seen an Osage orange before, I know exactly what Dillard means by hundreds of blackbirds taking flight from one single tree. I’ve seen not blackbirds, but waxwings or starlings like that. As for our blackbirds, they usually gather at the Pond, solitary among cattails, seldom in flocks of hundreds:
How I get what she means by nature reveals as well as conceals. Just a few days ago, I had both of these experiences.
I saw a pelican swimming peacefully on the Pond:
Just as I went closer, she flew away. It happens a lot of times when I try to take bird photos:
And conversely, I also have a now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do moment. Walking in the woods, I suddenly caught sight of something in a distance, a ghostlike appearance:
As I waded around fallen trunks and leaves to get closer to investigate, hopefully to get to the front to take a picture, I lost sight of it. Then suddenly, something huge close by me flew away. It was right beside me!
It was a Great Blue Heron. I’d never seen it in the woods perching on a tree, only by the water. Just as I didn’t expect it, I saw it, and just as I realized what it was, it disappeared.
Now-you-don’t-see-it, now-you-do, now-you-don’t again. “These disappearances stun me into stillness and concentration,” Dillard writes. Too mundane to even mention? Far from it. “The grand nonchalance” of nature keeps us in a place of humility and evokes our need for sharper senses.
Yes, a better camera.