Visiting the Canadian Rockies

Last week we took a short vacation, our first family skiing trip to the Rocky Mountains — known for some of the best downhill skiing in the world. We stayed at Hidden Ridge Resort just outside Banff. It was a real treat because skiing is such great fun and the setting is so incredibly beautiful.

I was also excited about the photography opportunities and birding. There were a few species I was hoping to see and add to my Life List: Mountain Chickadee, Boreal Chickadee, Clark’s Nutcracker, American Dipper, Stellar’s Jay, Northern Pygmy Owl (a slim chance for this species, but worth a try), and American Three-toed Woodpecker.

The first two days in the mountains, my brothers and I skied all day at Sunshine Village, a 20 minute drive from Banff. As we drove to Sunshine on the first morning, I was looking at the scenery and as we turned onto the Sunshine EXIT, there was a Northern Pygmy Owl sitting at the top of a tree! I saw it for only a few seconds but long enough to ID it. It was one of the first birds of the trip and certainly a special one.


Taken with my iPhone 6

I had only my iPhone when we were skiing and to the chagrin of my brothers would stop and get a few shots of the mountains on the way down the runs,


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6

The mountains are breathtaking and the skiing was terrific. From one of the chairlifts, I saw my second lifer of the trip — Clark’s Nutcrackers below us in the spruce trees.

The second day of skiing I saw Mountain Chickadees and White-winged Crossbills on the mountains,


Taken with my iPhone 6

The final two days I went birding instead of skiing. My parents and I dropped my brothers off at Lake Louise and then drove to the Chateau Lake Louise. The last time we were in the mountains and visited the lake, I was 18 months old, so I don’t remember anything.

We pulled into the parking lot at the hotel and immediately saw Clark’s Nutcrackers at very close range,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 1000, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

They sit on parked vehicles hoping to get a meal from the visitors,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

It was an overcast day, but the snow and vistas were lovely. It’s truly a winter wonderland,


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6


Taken with my iPhone 6

My parents and I walked quite a ways down the lake, this is a view of the Chateau from the sleigh ride path,


Taken with my iPhone 6

The heavy snow blankets everything,


Taken with my iPhone 6

I believe this is black tree lichen growing on the branches,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

Back near the Chateau, Clark’s Nutcrackers were everywhere,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

I had to back up to get the whole Nutcracker in the frame, because they get so close,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/640, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

There were also Grey Jays which weren’t as curious as the Nutcrackers and stayed at the top of the spruce trees,


Nikon D610, handheld, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 320, Nikkor 200-500mm, natural light

An inukshuk made of snow outside the Chateau,


Taken with my iPhone 6

We took a swing through the Chateau were we stayed 17 years ago. My dad remembered that I called the mounted Caribou on the wall “bearabou” at the time.


Taken with my iPhone 6

Stay tuned for more posts and photos about my adventures in the Rockies! 

Photo Essay: A Snowy Owl

I had a chance to practice with my early Christmas present, a new Nikon 200-500mm lens, f/5.6, last Saturday. My subject was a beautiful male Snowy Owl just north of our farm, who was very accommodating and great for practice. Because the owl is so white, and the sky was very light too, I was really working on getting a good exposure.

The owl wasn’t too keen on looking straight at me, so I have only one photo of him looking directly at me. In all the others, he’s looking ahead or looking away.



This photo is a little underexposed for my liking,DSC_0971

Because Snowy Owls are quite common in southern areas again this fall/winter, here are some tips from the Black Swamp Bird Observatory in Ohio and Kaufman Field Guides for observing or photographing Snowy Owls:


Foxy Wednesday

I saw this Red Fox a few days ago, on April 5th when I drove to our farmyard to do the 4pm calving check. The fox didn’t move as I watched it. I went back for the 6pm and the 9pm checks and the fox was still sleeping in the same spot. I was very surprised that it didn’t run away. Red Foxes are hard to see in our area, many people don’t like having them around and shoot them, so foxes try to stay out of sight.

As long as the fox stays away from our chickens we don’t mind having such a beautiful animal around.



Birds in Winter

Unlike last year, it has been snowing almost every day since the middle of October and there will definitely be a white Christmas this year, barring any sudden heat wave. Last year’s Christmas was brown, which was disappointing and not very Christmassy .

I haven’t been birding as much as I’d like (in part because it’s safer not to go out in November during hunting season), but I’m enjoying the birds at my feeders. A few weeks ago a male Downy Woodpecker started coming to the feeders, a flock of about 10 Black-capped Chickadees visit regularly everyday, and one House Sparrow comes too. I’m still waiting for the redpolls, but they usually come in January.

Our local Christmas Bird Count is on Saturday and I hope to see some good species just as my team did last year. If you haven’t signed up for a Christmas Bird Count in your area yet, you should! It’s lots of fun, and you are contributing to science.

Downy Woodpecker in my grandparents’ yard,



Red-breasted Nuthatch at my grandparents’,



A Common Redpoll at my grandparents’ yard,


This last picture is probably one of the worst photos I’ve ever taken. I don’t have very good luck when it comes to seeing and photographing owls, so I thought I would post it anyway.

A Short-eared Owl,


Winter has arrived

The first snow of the season fell yesterday, we didn’t get very much but more snow will come shortly.  I went out this morning to look for some birds and to check the ice on our slough to see if the ice was good for skating. I didn’t see many birds but the ones I saw were quite nice. At the start of the walk I saw a Bald Eagle (I saw one yesterday too), five Horned Larks, and a flock of about 100 Snow Buntings.

Early morning,

A Chickadee at my new feeder,

Our dog Lady came with me,

A deer bed,

Coyote tracks on the ice,

Northern Harrier,

Snowshoeing and sleigh rides

Every February our naturalist society holds a day of snowshoeing and sleigh rides followed by a potluck.

We had a beautiful day for it last Saturday with a sleigh ride to our destination. Then we snowshoed the rest of the way. As we were trudging (!) though the woods a snowshoe hare lept out of the trees, ran a ways, then stood very still as we watched it. We also identified some tracks, from white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, and weasel. After the walk there was a wonderful potluck supper with roast beef with hot apple cider. I made devilled eggs and chocolate cake.  We were all so happy that while we were eating supper that the sun was still shining at 6 pm, which means that the days are getting longer and Spring must be around the corner.

At the start of the snowshoeing,

The snowshoe hare stood motionless as we watched it,

We believe these are vole tracks,

A faraway expanse of snow on the lake,

Coming back for supper with the sleigh and its team of beautiful horses,