Friday, March 23, 2018

Winter Birdwatching, Weaselhead Park

Is it spring? One can never be too sure in Canadaland! It's hard to believe that a few weeks ago my friend Pam and I joined a few other birdwatchers at Weaselhead Park in Calgary on the snowiest day of the month. It figured that the weather would turn so severely after some lovely, melty, blue sky days just when I planned to go birdwatching with my friend. She's been enjoying weekend birdwatching trips and I have been so envious of her photographs! With a winter storm warning covering the Southern half of Alberta, it would be too easy to bail, but I felt determined. I spent my youth living farther North than here. Somehow I managed to live, work and play for many years without calling in a snow day or hiding beneath the covers. Adventure doesn't come knocking on your front door, hoping that you will answer, after all. Click on the birdie to see all the photos.
Black-capped chickadee

Sometimes, adventure requires you to get up at crazy o'clock. I sprang out of bed at 5 on the dot after having a dream that it was 8 and I missed my ride. After grimly shovelling the sidewalk, I layered up - underneath my older, longer winter coat I wore wool socks, leggings, yoga pants, jeans, two toques, two scarves and double mitts. I borrowed a 200-700mm zoom lens and doubler from work, but ultimately left the doubler at home. I took an extra, less powerful zoom lens, but it could have stayed home as well since it impossible to switch them out with all the snow. Once my camera bag was on my back, I could barely get it off.

We carpooled to the Weaselhead Park in Southwest Calgary after a slightly hairy car ride on the Deerfoot. It was dark and the roads were mushy. It was make your own lane after the snow plows took a crack at it. The sky was purple by the time we reached the parking lot and we were soon joined by a few others birders. The purpose of the trip was to watch hundreds of magpies leave their roosts at sunrise. Unfortunately, sunrise was a little overcast, and by the time the sky changed colour again, only a few dozen had flown over the bluff where we were standing. Some even flew back!

We followed our very knowledgeable and friendly guide from the bluff, down a hill, into a valley, across a bridge until we came to a smaller wood bridge. My phone recorded 6km of walking, although Google Maps seems to think it was 2. The snow was a blessing as it covered all the ice on the pathway and my new Yaktrax crampons made it easy to avoid a fall. It didn't take us long at all to see birds once we went away from the much windier bluff. It was noticeably warmer. We saw black capped chickadees, a boreal chickadee, blue jays, magpies, red polls, grosbeaks, ravens, Northern flickers, downy woodpeckers, hairy woodpeckers and a nuthatch. There was a red squirrel scooting about in the trees, but he didn't come close.

Winter photography was...challenging to say the least. It was physically demanding even though I was up to the task. I only had a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and somehow didn't go all hangry :-D Operating the zoom lens with my gloves on was difficult (took them off for a few minutes...big mistake!). The auto focus on my camera was working hard. I nudged the wrong setting on the wheel too and I'm not sure how many photos were affected. All in all I took about 300 photos and marked 52 as total duds due to blurriness. I had to correct for luminance and colour noise. On the upside, the flat lighting made it possible to be artistic with the photographs.

We saw some human wildlife including joggers and cross-country skiers who weren't about to let the weather control their lives. I'm so glad I went - easily the best part was spending two hours talking with other birders in a Timmy's! I was physically exhausted but emotionally ecstatic after such a great outing - maybe it was the lack of sleep - but the downside was a huge surge of energy in the afternoon and a hunger for calories. I really could have used a steak or something :-)