And the birds! Snowy owls, rough-legged hawks, redpolls, crossbills and grosbeaks are still down here on their winter break from the Arctic. Mountain bluebirds, yellow-rumped warblers, tree swallows, meadowlarks and many more small songbirds have returned from their sojourn in the south, as have the ducks, hawks and herons. Seeing a snowy owl and a Swainson's hawk on the same day is a very cool birding experience!
Demands of everyday life have sadly curtailed our birding time lately, which is doubly painful when I read the local bird reports and can't get out to have a look. One weekend in mid-month however, we decided to give ourselves a break, and took a quick bird drive on one of my favorite routes.
I like this particular drive because of the contrasts. Driving through the foothills where crocuses were popping up, we were accompanied for the first part of the trip by the snow-covered Rocky Mountains on our left.
Turning north, ranch fields predominate and we attracted the attention of the local wildlife.
Another sharp left turn, and wham, you're in the boreal forest.
As a birder, this drive requires a constant resetting of the bird-mode sensor in the brain, jumping from foothills species to grassland species to forest birds. And then you have to reverse the whole process on the way back.
As we turned off the main highway, we began to notice the hawks. Soon we started saying there's another one, and another one, and one over there...
Rough-legged hawks were everywhere. They were sitting on fence posts.
Perched on top of trees.
Stealing the shot from a robin - I only took one photo of the non-raptor bird before I dropped the camera to pick up the binos and ID the hawk.
We were out there almost three hours, and counted 31 Rough-legged Hawks. I suspect we managed to hit a day when large numbers of them were migrating north. We also identified 8 Red-tailed hawks, and I could still see airborn hawks when I closed my eyes that night.
As well as the hawks, this is owl country. Down this path, across the flat space, nestled in the trees on the other side, I’m told there is a Northern Hawk Owl nest.
We hadn't gotten very far when I began to wonder if we were walking on frozen muskeg, as there were ice cracking sounds coming from beneath our feet. Having grown up in the boreal forest, I have a very healthy respect for these soggy water bodies that have a layer of soil on top. People and animals can get trapped and die in muskeg. I mentally weighed my options of seeing a hawk owl again vs walking across semi-frozen muskeg. The owl lost.
How a local birder found that nest earlier in the month is a mystery, but you can see his wonderful photos on the Birds Calgary blog.
As we were hawk-counting our way back home, we came across this totally unconcerned fellow sitting on a pole right beside the road. He was far more interested in the dead rabbit in the ditch than the mere human taking his (her?) picture, and was still there when we left, resuming our counting.
Yep, this is still one of my favourite bird drives!