Sunday, April 12, 2009

Spring Migration

It was one of those mornings with mist and wisps of fog that lay towards the eastern horizon, lingering like the last spirits of the night, reluctant to admit that dawn was giving way to the morning sun. As the sun rose, the full moon was setting over the Alberta Rockies visible in the morning light on the western horizon. That reminded me that I had arrived home from a day out in the rockies searching for that most elusive of species, the Alberta Grizzly having just left his den, but I do not have the ending to that chapter yet, so I will save the tale for another time. However, after recharging my batteries,I was ready for another day, but on this day I would head south and east of Calgary out on to the plains. I love rising in the early morning darkness before dawn breaks. There are fewer distractions occurring in the early morning with fewer events taking place that might be distracting. It’s quieter, and besides, you get to watch the sun rise while everyone else sleeps. I realized that I was running somewhat behind as I hurtled east on Highway 1 towards Chestermere where I would make a quick stop at Tim's for a coffee to go. The dawn was breaking faster than I had anticipated and with sunrise due at 6:45, that would happen in 5 minutes no matter what. I decided to make the best of it and pulled to a stop on a side road that would take me through Langdon. With my camera ready, I relaxed in the warmth of my truck while keeping a eye on the eastern horizon. Through the open window, I heard my first Meadowlark of the season singing his song in the early morning light. The first bird song that I learned to recognize as I was growing up on the prairies of southern Sakatchewan was that of the western meadowlark. There, as here, spotting a meadowlark sitting on a fence post, head thrown back in jubilant song, was one of the rites of spring. I was able to search him out after the sun rose and got my first meadowlark photo of the season. With the sun climbing in the eastern sky, I made a number of stops in the beautiful morning light for photo-ops that presented themselves to me. On several occasions, Tundra Swans flew overhead and I was thrilled to hear their song as they looked for fields to set down in and feed on grain left over from last falls harvest. The migration of the tundra swans to their summer nesting grounds, is one of the most distinctive phenomena to grace the skies over Alberta at this time of the spring. The slender and straight-necked tundra swans are wonderful to watch. Their wing strokes are knife-like and powerful, their white feathers flash in dazzling contrast to the fields and dead grasses left behind by the winter snows. They entertain each other by forming clarinet ensembles… a chorus of reedy, piping voices – an orchestra of spring. Oh, did I tell you how much I admire swans. As I drove south on Highway 24 in the early morning light, I would spot various flocks of Tundra Swans in flight, but was not having much success finding swans feeding in the fields that I found myself driving through south of Mossleigh. Coming up on Highway 23, I decided that it was not going to happen, and I turned west towards High River, where I would have coffee with the guy's from the Foothills Amateur Radio group. Upon making the turn west, I had only proceeded a few kilometers west when I hit the motherlode. On the south side of the road in a stubble field, more that a 1000 tundras were feeding along with a mixture of snow geese and various species of ducks. After firing off a few insurance shots, I decided to turn down a trail that bordered the field, getting me in close to the main body of the tundras. I was fortunate to be able to position my truck so that the sun was to my back, with the feeding swans, snow geese, and ducks nicely lit by the morning sun. I sat and watched the flocks through my binoculars, mesmerized by the sound of feeding birds drifting through my open window, it was wonderful. I had finally decided to get back on the road, if I was going to make it in to High River for coffee with the guys, when the snow geese decided to lift off and head out. That was cool also.

No comments yet