Swans on frozen lake

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.

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Related Posts:

Proust’s madeleine? Here it is.

One duck at a time

Two Trees Make a Forest: A Book Review

Parable of the Migratory Birds

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.

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Birding with Annie Dillard

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’:

Oriole

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:

RWBB

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:

Pelican in serenity

Just as I went closer, she flew away. It happens a lot of times when I try to take bird photos:

Pelican Flying Away

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:

Distant finding

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!

GB Fly away

GBH Fly 2

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.

 

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Spring Birding at the Pond

Here at the Pond, that is, the real, literal Pond, Spring is a busy time. I know, for some of you, Spring is so far behind as you’re deep into Summer already. I caught the following pics early this week while it was warm and sunny; yesterday was a downer, a chilly 5C (42F). But then the high came last night with the NBA game. We The North, Arti watches movies, birds, and basketball.

Now is a wonderful time to greet migrating friends coming back to nest.  Even if you’re just strolling in the woods near the Pond without intention to spot birds, you’re bound to see some beautiful creatures amidst the cacophony of chirps and songs. 

If you spot a furry ball like this up on a tree branch, don’t pass by without pausing:

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Wait a bit, and you’ll see what it really is. A baby owl preening:

Owlet waking up

A big yawn… nice, no teeth to brush:

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Here’s looking at you, kid.

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A ‘Where’s Waldo’ exercise: All in the family. Well, not all, some. How many owls can you see here:

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Alright, enough spotlight. Somewhere else, a Yellow Warbler is singing his heart out in the bright sunshine:

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And further away, silently perching on another tree, a Great Blue Heron. I seldom see one high up on a tree and not in the water. A bit blurry pic cause it’s so far away:

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With song birds, it’s ‘hear before you see’. By their calls, I know they’re around. Finding them is another matter. Taking a photo of them is a challenge. I can hear two Baltimore Orioles calling and responding to each other from two trees some distance apart, airmailing each other.

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Closer to the water, a Yellow-headed blackbird is posing for me:

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Enjoying a swim is Mr. Merganser:

Mr. Merganser

I always think of Lucille Ball whenever I see a female Merganser:

Lucille Ball.jpg

How’s your Spring exploration so far? Birds, wildlife, Nature finds?

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The Colours of Fall

About this time last year, I had a post entitled “Golden Fall”. Yes, the title says it all. We don’t have much reds in our fall, no maples, but we have foliage like gold.

Here are some photos I took after returning from Toronto a few days ago, just in time to witness the changing of the seasons and catch the last remaining songbirds before they fly south. This is ‘my Pond’, home at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

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An Orange-crowned Warbler in the golden foliage. It’s goodbye until next Spring, my avian friend:

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Here’s another one. Olive against red.

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A ‘Where’s Waldo’ puzzle for you:

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The White-breasted Nuthatch against a watercolour backdrop:

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Two-frame capture of a shy subject. See it in both?

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Home is where you know every path and turn, where to shoot with the sun at your back for the best light, and where to look for your friends whatever the season, to wave goodbye as they leave, and then welcome them back for another new lease.

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First Spring Visitors to the Pond

They brought me out of hibernation.

It’s been a long winter, not record temperatures, but record snow, all the way into March and April. The Pond started to melt just last week. Then they all came, so fast. I’m amazed at the varieties, some I haven’t seen before.

One evening last week:

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American White Pelicans in the evening light, welcome back!

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And then from a distance, some I wasn’t familiar with:

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A white hood, not a Bufflehead. The sun was setting quickly, and I must say goodbye, not for long though.

Went back next morning and saw them. I wouldn’t have known if not for another photographer who told me they were Hooded Mergansers, rare visitors to the Pond. Only the male is white-hooded. The female looks like the Common Merganser female which always reminds me of Lucille Ball for some reasons:

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The Great Blue Heron, frequent visitor to the Pond, a bit shy as I approached:

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The Lesser Scaup:

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Northern Shovelers playing catch:

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Just as I was leaving, I was stunned to see these beautiful creatures flying above. I wasn’t ready but still able to snap a couple of photos. Not until I went back home and did some search did I realize I’d just seen a ballet of Trumpeter Swans in the sky:

Trumpeter Swans.jpg

Swans 1

Don’t fly away, stop by the Pond next time!

 

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How Many Weeks Till Spring?

Who’s counting?

We’re having fun and really, enjoying ourselves.

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Indeed, considering the flooding problems some of you face south of the 49th, I’ve come to appreciate our snow, and the never-ending winter.

Here, makes me think of a Bruegel painting of winter scene, except replace the people with ducks and geese:

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Until then, we persevere.

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August at the Pond

Our summer is short. After a few weeks of record high temperatures, as August arrives, I can feel the cooler air creeping in.

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At the Pond, August brings a harvest of berries and edible delights for the birds:

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Here are some of the guests relishing Nature’s feast.

Forget about worms, these succulent fruits are tastier. The young Robin learns fast:

The Robin

The American Goldfinch, bending over forward:

Bend over forward

The Cedar Waxwing knows her etiquettes, always graceful and poised:

 

Wax Wing

 

Among them all, I must say my favourite is the Yellow Warbler. They are not fond of berries, but there are lots to eat around here. I’m most grateful for their taste. Here’s why: Mosquitoes eat me; warblers eat mosquitoes. Simple as that.

Warbler

Warbler 1

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What more, it’s no simple feat to sing with a mosquito in your mouth:

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In a few weeks, the Warblers will be gone, and I’ll be capturing scenes of Autumn. Yes, that soon. But for now, I’ll feast on summer sights. So, eat to your heart’s content, my Warbler friend.

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10 Years

WordPress tells me I’ve been blogging for 10 years now. It’s been a life-changing decade. From a film lover writing reviews just for personal journalling, I’ve developed into writing to share. Hundreds of movies later, I’m now an Arts and Film Writer for Asian American Press. In recent years, I started covering Film Festivals; my appreciation for cinema art and independent films from all over the world had grown deeper.

Books, I’ve read a few, but then again, too few to mention. My TBR piles is expanding much faster than I can tackle. To manage them, I use the simplest method: deleting them from my memory. Many I’ve bought from the annual Book Sale (several posts), but I’ve since donated them back. There’s one on my Goodreads ‘currently reading’ shelf for years now which I don’t want to give up just yet, and that’s Proust’s In Search of Lost Time Vol. 3, The Guermantes Way.  Some day.

Other than books, movies, and my special interest in the transposition of one into the other, I’ve also become an avid birder. Arti of Ripple Effects has turned into a nature paparazzo. I’d thought of starting another blog just for nature photography but thought, hey, everyone needs a respite even from books and films. The Pond is open to all to throw in their two pebbles, make some ripples while enjoying a piece of natural beauty.

WordPress tells me in the side bar that I have 6,843 followers. Simply amazing, considering the number of comments I receive in each post. No matter, commenting isn’t a requirement when you visit the Pond. I’m just glad to know you’ve enjoyed your stay, even if it’s a short minute or two. And to all visitors and followers, a hearty thank-you. You’ve made my presence in the blogosphere meaningful.

To celebrate 10 years, to say goodbye to Spring (already) and welcome Summer, I’ll leave you with a few photos I’ve taken in the past few days.

The forest by the Pond:

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They may be the most common bird, but every Robin is a welcome sight against the blue sky:

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The well-groomed and handsome Cedar Waxwing, always camera ready:

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True to their name, the Yellow-headed Blackbird on a cattail:

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The female Red-Winged Blackbird. Nature endows with different features:

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Up in the sky, an Osprey is busy transporting his building materials:

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And a touring group of Pelicans, looking for my Air BnB?

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More to come.

 

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Saturday Snapshot September 24: Cootes Paradise Marsh

So this is what a film buff and birder did at TIFF… she took a day off from films and headed out to Nature.

The Cootes Paradise Marsh Nature Sanctuary in Burlington’s Royal Botanical Gardens is about a 45-minute drive southwest of Toronto. Hiking the trails there was total relief from pounding the pavement between TIFF venues. I immersed in the silence of the Nature Sanctuary, with bird calls and sounds of crickets replacing the hustle and bustle of downtown traffic.

First off, there were many birds, but mostly Chickadees. The Bluejay I see often in Alberta, but not among maple leaves:

bluejay-in-maple-leaves

 

Indeed, the leaves are so different from what I’m used to seeing. Like these here. Never seen leaves wearing sunglasses before:

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Seldom see frogs on my path either. Nearly stepped on this little guy:

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Or a mushroom this fancy:

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I just love how well planned these trails are, so considerate in their design:

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See the upper left corner of the above picture… A colony of cormorants:

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As I came close to the edge of the water, I felt like I’d gone inside a corn maze:

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The observation tower at the end offered a panoramic view of the marsh, but not my camera though. So here they are in different frames:

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It’s here that I had my first sighting of the Great Egret:

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And a Mute Swan with her young, which were brownish but almost as large as the adult:

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As I made my way back I walked through fields of goldenrods, that was quite a sight:

goldenrods

 

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

Saturday Snapshot Aug. 27: Synchronized Swimming, Team Pelican

I don’t have to wait four years for another Olympics. A couple of days ago I caught sight of these Nature’s Athletes. From afar I could tell they were members of Team Pelican.

The Pelicans are a gregarious lot, their talents innate, every move graceful. They display their elegant team work in Nature’s open arena, effortless, in sync with each other. Here they are, full of bubbly camaraderie:

Comaraderie (2)

Remember a previous post where I saw them in the air, like squadrons of fighter jets; in the water, they form a tight-knit configuration as well. With that formation, they cooperate to surround fish in the water, scooping them into their pouches:

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What a beautiful idea: communal feeding. What you see here are snapshots. What I remember is a long video. I must have been there watching and snapping away for over a half hour:

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Elegant synchronized swimmers in perfect harmony. Kudos to their Coach.

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Look at their sheer size in comparison to the gull behind them.

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Sometimes you can get tangled up with minor mishaps. Wait up, guys, I’m a little stuck here:

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No worries. We’re Team Pelican. All for one and one for all; our bills as swords to pledge.

Bills as swords

 

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

 

Saturday Snapshot July 23: Traffic Jam

I know my Air B&B (note the purposely altered name) is popular, with free meals, a pool, and all the natural amenities, but I’d never expected an aerial traffic jam with everyone arriving at the same time.

At first they looked like confetti in the sky from afar. Without a wide-angle lens I could only capture a section. Just imagine multiples of these:

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With no reservations, I wasn’t expecting them or knew who they were. But I could tell they weren’t gulls. As they came closer, they turned into squadrons of fighter planes:

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By now, I could see clearly – American White Pelicans, interestingly, converging from opposite directions:

Closer still

No reservations? No problem. Welcome you all!

Welcome

Just make sure you leave a good review. And please make reservation next time.

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.