Friday, February 13, 2015

Amateur Radio and Snowy Owls

With the breaking dawn shaping up nicely as I made my way east through the Wintering Hills of eastern Alberta, I decided to pull over for a bit as I was further down the road than I wanted to be once the sun rose.
The wind farm that I came up on seemed like the perfect place to pull over and maybe shoot a photo or two while waiting for the light breaking nicely on the horizon.
I also checked on band conditions for 17 meters as I was hoping to find the conditions to my liking to make a few contacts while going down the road.
For the moment there wasn't anything happening, but I expected that to change with the arrival of sunrise.
Surprisingly when I stepped out of my mobile to shoot a photo that included several wind turbines in the frame, I realized the turbine blades were stopped as there wasn't enough wind to spool the blades up.
Now if there is something that includes a propeller up front, and that is whether it is an airplane or a wind turbine, I want the blades turning, as there is nothing worse that a stopped propeller on a airplane winging its way through the air, or a wind turbine with no action happening.
It gives the airplane the appearance of falling out of the sky, and the wind turbine becomes a big paper weight with no motion up front.
Someone must have been listening to my grumbling about no wind to turn the turbine blades, because suddenly I felt a breath of wind and slowly the turbines around me begin to come to life with the blades slowly beginning to turn and picking up speed as the wind increased.
With the light now adequate for the my quest on this morning, I placed my camera and tripod in the truck and moved on down the road once more.
There was a band of clouds on the eastern horizon that would not allow for the spectacular sunrise that I was hoping for, but I could tell by the motion of the clouds, that within a hour or so after sunrise the sun would make its appearance.
One of the main reasons that I had driven out this way was to see if I could scare up any Snowy Owls.
At this time of the year here in southern Alberta, you will find Snowy Owls that migrate from the Arctic when conditions make it to difficult for them to find prey to hunt in their Arctic homes.
So depending on the severity of the winter, the Owls begin showing up in southern Alberta sometime around Christmas or before.

I had been meaning to get out this way earlier in the year, but a number of reasons stopped this from happening until today.
As I drove I now had good light for shooting photos of Snowy Owls, but I wasn't having any luck finding them.
Wait...what was that crossing the road up ahead, well it wasn't a Snowy Owl, maybe a skunk, nope it was a porcupine, and I as I came up on it hurrying into the ditch, I could tell this porcupine wasn't pleased with being caught out in the open by yours truly.
With my camera and long lens as not to have to get to close, as I did not want to stress out this porcupine, I used a fence post to steady my camera and lens.
Several times the porcupine stopped to look back to see what I was up to, and I made the most of these opportunity's to capture images.

Conditions were still not great as the light was still on the dark side, but it made no never mind as I cranked up the ISO on my camera to 3200 and that took care of any issues I may have had with too slow a shutter speed. You gotta love digital cameras, as I remember a time when I may not have got the photos I wanted while shooting with film.
Leaving the porky to waddling away across the snow blown landscape I headed further east.
As soon as I had got back in to my mobile I could hear the sound of 17 meters coming to life on my Kenwood TS-480HX HF rig.
Spinning the VFO on my radio I zeroed in on my first contact of the day, that being Larry WA2ALY located in Paramus, New Jersey about 10 miles out of New York city, who heard me on my first call.
Larry and I chatted back and forth for a while with 59 signals given out on both ends.
After signing with Larry, I then heard Roland W8UPS calling CQ and soon was talking to Roland located near Melstrand Michigan.
Roland was an interesting guy to talk to as we found that he and I have a lot in common knowing our way around a machine shop and what not.
Once I reached the badlands located along the Red Deer river, I worked my way down through the breaks stopping on one occasion to photograph a small bunch of Mule deer does feeding on the steep slopes in the early morning sun now peeking through the clouds that were rapidly dispersing.
I also stopped and with my camera in hand I hiked up through a coulee that held a interesting looking formation of hoodoos.

Now I have to tell you that I have a passion for shooting photos in and around prairie badlands, probably because I grew up in what is now Grasslands National park located in southern Saskatchewan.
I have fond memories of the times I spent hiking with friends throughout the badlands located there. That also reminds me that I want to make the trek down to Grasslands this summer to photograph some of the wildlife that resides there as well as the very cool landscape.
After capturing the photos that I wanted, I once more headed out making my way across a very cool girder bridge that looks like it has been the way of passage across the Red Deer river for a long time as it is a one lane bridge and nearly a hundred meters in length.
After crossing the river, and once more looking for contacts on 17 meters, I tuned in to a pile up on 18.144.5 MHz where everyone was calling trying to make contact with Slavko S57DX located in Slovenia.
After calling Slavko a half dozen times, I finally busted through the pileup and managed to make contact and receiving a 57 report from him on the signal from my mobile.
On this day I was running my homebrewed 17 meter monobander  on the back of my mobile with one of my high performance coils that I had with me, along with several others that I had in my bag of tricks if the going got tough on the bands and I needed to step up my game.
I had no sooner hung up the mic and eureka I struck pay dirt, yep I had a male Snowy perched on a fencepost just up ahead and to my right.
Now having shot a lot of photos of Snowy Owls, there is a certain strategy to getting them stay put while you capture their image.
In this case because he was on my right side, and as I slowed he didn't seem to concerned by my presence on this backroad.
I decided to drive past him hoping he would stay put until I could then pull over and exit my truck with my camera and get a shot of him over the rear cargo bay.
So once I stopped I stepped out of the truck and peeked over the box where he perched about 20 meters from my location. I fired off several photos and thinking that it was time to step it up, I planned on approaching him till he flew the perch so to speak.
Well wouldn't you know it, after not seeing another vehicle for hours, a pickup comes over the rise behind me and the Snowy Owl feeling outnumbered did a 360 degree turn and flew off.
Snowy's normally won't fly far once they take fight and this one was no different, but he was now perched about a 100 meters away and to far for my lens.
Moving on I had travelled no further than a kilometer when I spotted a female Snowy perched on a TransAlta utility pole once more on my right side of the road.
She didn't mind me stopping directly opposite her location and stepping out to shoot her photograph through the open door.
In the end the two Snowy's that I found while meandering the backroads of eastern Alberta were both within a kilometer of each other.
You may be interested to know that Snowy Owls return to the same location from year to year, and they may be found hunting over their same territory that they defend from other Snowy Owls.
So with the sun high in the sky and a rumbling in my stomach, I decided to call it done and headed out in search of a café for lunch.
All in all I had a great day with good company on the radio, and great photo opportunities, as I wandered the eastern Alberta backroads.
You gotta love it.

Note...all photos expand

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