Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Welcome Incursion

As I'm pretty sure I mentioned in a previous post, during my last trip down to Calgary I picked up a new camera so hopefully we will now see some improvements in picture quality.  It's much easier to do some posts about my birding excursions when I have a half-decent camera to use.  (I've actually started to give some thought to starting another blog devoted just to birding, but we shall see.)  

Ironically, now that I have a new camera I haven't really been able to use it all that much, partly because we are seriously lacking in sunlight here with the sun setting just before 4pm and partly because of work.  I now leave for work in the dark and return home in the dark.  The other big complication (until this afternoon really) has been that there really hasn't been anything of interest poking about.  I'm used to filling up my backyard feeders about once a week but I haven't had to do that for a couple of weeks now and all I've seen around date house lately are the ubiquitous ravens and magpies.  

Fortune, however, smiled on me this afternoon as I was hit with a rather large incursion of waxwings.  My ash trees didn't really grow that many berries this year so I'm not sure how long they will be able to attract large flocks, making today's "invasion" all that more welcome.  

For about 20 minutes, there must have been between 80 to 100 waxwings in the front yard and while I wanted to get a wide shot of them I was too nervous about startling them away.  While they are one of my favourite winter birds, they are also notoriously skittish.  If you're looking for displays of territoriality and dominance amongst a flock of waxwings, you'll be sorely disappointing.  They all just get along swimmingly.

I had a fantastic vantage point from a couple of second floor windows so I was able to get set up and sneak in a few shots without freaking them out too much.  Given the overcast skies and that the sky will soon begin to darken AND the fact that I am hardly a professional photographer, some of my shots turned out not too badly.  Certainly they are a big step up from what I was able to manage in the past.  Anyhow, here are the best of the bunch.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Evening Down by the Bow

By the time I reached Prince's Island Park, the last place I wanted to get to before my weekend concert, the light was really starting to fade on me.  Again, I didn't see anything new but it gave me a chance to have some camera fun and grab a few close ups.  I had no shortage of willing subjects.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Urban Wildlife

After visiting the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary I headed to an urban park closer to the downtown.  I didn't expect to see much in terms of birds (and I didn't) but it gave me an opportunity to play around with my camera and see a bit of wildlife I don't usually see close up.

There actually IS a common merganser swimming around out there.

Friendly neighbourhood squirrel.

These little guys were all over the place.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


After a series of delays, many of which brought on by the May fire, I was finally able to get down to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary in Calgary this past weekend.  This place had long been on my radar. and while I doubted I would see anything new for my year list at least I got there, which was just fine with me.  While it was quite overcast, it didn't rain and the temperature was a balmy 12C so I wasn't about to complain.

I should add as well that I was using a new camera I had picked up that morning (waiting for the battery to charge in my hotel room was the longest 2 hours in my life).  I brought an old zoom lens with me to make sure it would fit the new camera which it did but it made for a few challenges since I wasn't used to it.  The lighting also wasn't the greatest but at least I had an opportunity to see the place and 'm sure I'll have plenty of time to learn all my camera's bells and whistles so it was a start.

Below is Colonel Walker House, the original home named after a former NWMP office and rancher whose property later became the sanctuary.

The next couple shots are along the bank of the Bow River which forms part of the eastern boundary. Apart from the traffic on the nearby Deerfoot Trail, the place was great urban respite and for the next hour I had the place pretty much to myself.

No beavers but I did eventually glimpse a few common mergansers off in the distance.

One things I had hoped to see were wood ducks, which had been introduced in to the sanctuary.  They would have made a nice last addition to my year list.  Alas, it wasn't to be though there were plenty of other things to see that day.

It's a bit dark but I did manage to get a half decent shot of a mallard as it swam by.

Lots of deadfall around, no doubt due to the 2013 flooding.

A curious chickadee obliged my by sitting still long enough for a decent shot.

And to round things off, a hairy woodpecker.

Monday, November 14, 2016


If I could only get to one concert this season it would have to be this past Saturday evening's concert with the Calgary Philharmonic.  Featuring Beethoven's Piano Concerto #4 and the Mozart Requiem, I truly would have walked to Calgary if I had to.  Fortunately, Greyhound took me instead.  I spent a couple of nights in the city so that I would be well-rested and focused.  I also used mu time to pick up a very nice new camera and do some bird-watching but I'll get to that in a future post.

My only fear with this concert is that I've heard both works so many times I thought I might be disappointed simply because I have a very clear idea in my mind of what I like.  I first heard the Mozart Requiem back in my early teens and having played piano growing up, I've known this particular Beethoven piano concerto for probably just as long, if not longer.  Suffice it to say, I was very impressed.

Most Mozart music seems rather happy and cheerful, because it does tend to be happy and cheerful for the most part.  The Requiem comes as a bit of a shock, darker and more foreboding.  Like the Piano Concerto #20, the Requiem is also in the key of D minor, and it uses a lot of older forms, the fugue in particular, hearkening back in time to something Bach was a master at, rather than looking forward to, say, Beethoven.  Call me stuck in the 18th century, but I've always loved fugues.  I really have no idea why.  I just love how a composer and take 3 or 4 different lines of music and fit them together in such a way as to make them harmonious rather than just a mess of sound.  All this to say that the Kyrie, which was written in fugal form, was absolutely brilliant.  As an aside, I went to university with the CPO's choir master Timothy Shantz, and he did an outstanding job with the choir. Altogether, this was a little darker-sounding piece than what I was used to hearing at a slightly faster tempo and it just worked for me.  

Coming just a day after Remembrance Day, this piece seemed a very appropriate choice and I must say hats off to the CPO for having a number of military and first responders in uniform as guests of the orchestra.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

6 Months

It's hard to believe that six months have now passed since the day I was forced to leave work, my house and then my community due to a raging wildfire that has since been dubbed The Beast.  Almost exactly six months ago to the minute I was sitting in my tenant's truck outside the recreation centre in Anzac still trying to wrap my brain around what was happening before slowly drifting off to sleep.  I had no idea if my house was still standing and no idea that it would be thirty-three days before I would be able to make my way home.  I also had no idea that within 24 hours I would be evacuated yet again, fleeing down Highway 881 to Conklin, where I spent a second night sleeping in a truck before finally making it to Lac La Biche.

Today was actually very much like May 3 in some respects for me.  Like that fateful day, today was also a work day.  Work was actually shut down today as well, although this shut down only lasted a couple hours and was caused by a solid bout of freezing rain rather than a fire.  Other than this though, my experiences today diverge wildly from that day 6 months ago.  I got to go home on my work bus and catch a little sleep rather than in a panic in a taxi.  I get to sleep in my own bed tonight rather than a truck and the cat, I'm sure, is much more content curled up beside me than crammed in to a cat carrier.  Three days after the evacuation I had had plans to see the Calgary Philharmonic.  Tonight I booked a ticket to see them again and I rest assured that this time I won't have my plans interrupted by a major civil emergency.  Life is certainly much more stable than on that day six months ago and I'm profoundly grateful. 

My area of the city has been pretty much back to normal for some time now though other areas still have a long road ahead of them.  Within the past couple of weeks the sole house in my neighbourhood that was engulfed by The Beast has been levelled and a new home is quickly taking form.  Now that all the leaves have fallen, it can be hard on some days to even see  any damage in the forest around my neighbourhood, at least from a distance.  

This city had already been reeling from the effects of the oil crash and several rounds of layoffs before the Beast roared in to town.  I count myself fortunate to have made it thus far with only a few small bumps and no major concerns to have to deal with.  Six months.....it's been quite the journey since that day.