Backyard Birding Is For Everyone
I can still hear the screaming sirens of the merlins, the clucking of the cormorants and the take-off squawk of the great blue herons. That was backyard birding this summer and it was always entertaining. Often the entertainment was from a particular perch that was favoured by most flying visitors from songbirds to birds of prey.
Backyard birds as entertainment? They can actually compete with any social media feed, preoccupying you mindlessly, if you just take the time to tune them in. Behind a pair of binoculars you will become immersed in colour, song and behaviour, forgetting that to-do list made moments before. All you have to do is hold your position and take it all in. They will fly into your live feed without prediction or warning sometimes. A drop-in visit last Monday will not guarantee the same bird this week but another may be in the same place. Some are more predictable than others but you can always reap rewards with the usual suspects. They will flit and flutter, scratch and twitch, those fickle feathered friends.
Birds are always on the lookout for their many enemies, eagle eyed or four footed, even the two footed ones. As long as they feel safe from their many predators they may fan their feathers and show off their plumage or spurt out a territorial or mating song. So, if you have a happy place where birds feel safe, and it is in the open where you can keep your eye out for them you will have many hours of happy viewing from your own backyard perch.
For more on birds and birding, see also:
All Creatures Great and Small
at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park
We know who the great creatures are at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park. Bucks accompanied by does and even fawns, the occasional coyote. And, flying by, the big birds, hawks, owls and osprey. But what about the far more secretive yet abundant small ones? A diverse group of songbirds make their home at the park in the summer. They migrate up from southern climes to breed and feed off insects and other northern hemisphere delicacies.
In Alberta, Clay-coloured Sparrows’ most common occurrence is in the prairies and parklands, not treed areas. A walk along a park trail can have them flitting out of the grasses every hundred feet. Listen for the insect-like buzzy calls of the male Clay-colored Sparrows from May through July. They can be distinguished from some other sparrows commonly found at Glenbow, the Vesper and Savannah, by their relatively unstriped buff breast. They search out insects in the shrubbery and seeds in the grass. Nesting habitat is typically a shrubby area with wild grass, situating the nest on the ground or in a low shrub above ground. They build open cup nests out of grass, weeds and twigs, lining it with rootlets, fine grass, and hair. This is another reason to keep dogs on leash in the park to avoid disturbing these or any wildlife shelter.
Spring after spring, Mountain Bluebirds return to nest boxes placed at strategic locations in the park. They can arrive in Alberta as early as March while fall migration for many migratory birds is an extended affair from mid-August to late October. Bluebirds can’t resist the open country with occasional trees for shelter offered at the park.
As members of the Thrush Family (such as American Robins) they feed mainly on insects, spiders or other invertebrates, which they glean from short ground vegetation. Nest boxes are paired, with Tree Swallows often taking one box, and the bluebird occupying the other. The former seeks out insects flying high and the Bluebird will not compete with its ground watch. Unlike other Bluebirds, they often hunt by hovering, obviously inspecting the ground below for any potential food item. The striking turquoise blue is unmatched against the prairie setting.
The next time you see an insect at the park think of the food source and protection it is offering our beloved small avian creatures.
For these and other nature sightings at Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, see also:
Black and White Winter
Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park, Alberta
Monochrome and a nature park do not always dance together. But sometimes the palette begs it. Take black and white Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park (west of Calgary, Alberta), toss in a fresh dusting of snowfall and the prairie paradise is dressed in it’s grey scale finest. There are trails to discover so don your booties and venture into the black and white world of western Canada’s best.
Meditate on your surroundings and drink in the cold season’s best. Lily Loop will not disappoint as the poplar boughs bend to frame your route. While heading down the drifting path, other sets of eyes may be on you so pay attention if only for the pleasure of sighting wildlife curious about you. It is not every day you are so popular. Moose would be rare in these parts but Mule Deer or White-tails often venture to the edge of a human encounter. And coyotes are always watching.
Fence lines defining natures’ borderless panorama. Meandering trails lure your athletic prowess with deer springing across the landscape, anywhere and everywhere, and spooky poplars with fingers grabbing the sky. And possibly you. All awaits your inquisitive wonder.
Mind the slippery ramble back up the hill to wind up your adventure. All roads lead up at Glenbow park. Before departure, be sure to amble your eyes west, drink in the Rocky Mountains creeping up behind the foothills vista. Can you imagine all of this in monochrome, a black and white Glenbow?
For more on Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park in winter, see also:
Yukon Sled Dogs Up Close and Friendly
Dense Sled Dog Living
“The sled dogs are all friendly”, the towering, young Swiss staff member offered with utmost confidence.
Our field of view is a foreground of vigilant sled dogs against a snow dusted mountain backdrop. An atypical yard for dogs, well over 120 in number, all within mere inches of each other by chain. That is dense dog living. Close quarters communing. Considering the famed strong-willed personalities of sled dogs, it sounds and looks like a canine war zone. And this man is telling me that every one of them is friendly with such resolve that a challenge to test his proclamation is on.
Surprisingly, harmony, more or less, prevails over the dog yard. Only a few are curled inside their just big enough dog houses, heads protruding, keeping a wary eye on potential action. Alert to any sign of potential action, poised to spring, if only to the end of their chain tethers. Almost as intimidating is the vocalization of barking, whining and howling. Then, as if the choirmaster has motioned silence, the chorus subsides with a few off-key renditions. Most dogs are sitting on their homes, pacing their allotted space, or making deep circles around their allotment. All are ready for any indication that action in the form of running, chasing, or exercise in general, is about to happen. It is the calm before the hiatus, an opportune time to get to know these indefatigable canines.
After a month of Yukon rain the muddy mire that the dogs are living in gleams with stickiness. “Some may jump up on you” he cautiously warns. Images of gooey, sticky, brown muck pawing all over me clouded my dog loving brain. Momentarily the conflict is overcome. If that is all I have to fear then life is good as they say. Bracing for the inevitable gritty encounters, the only way to experience gregarious personalities of Yukon sled dogs is to embrace it up close. Even if it involves a face freckled with mud splatters.
For more on dogs and the Yukon, see also: