What's buzzin Hive!
Here we are with summer almost officially here, garden is growing, we started harvesting and eating some of our crops (that's for another post tho) and best of all, the peep-peeps are hatched! YAY. Every year, with eyes glued to social media waiting to see pictures from a more southern near-by city of Calgary to announce the little wonders, Edmonton is never too far behind, maybe another week or so. With all that covid stuff and being forced to be anti-social (all our favorite parks were closed for much of the last 3 months), it's easy to forget how to live so we are on a mission to reconnect with our local wilderness now that everything is slowly opening in a phased roll-out. Park areas and National parks opened back up on June 1st, time to get back to something almost normal just in time for wild babies of all kinds.
Today we plan on visiting our favorite local spot, Elk Island and the resident bison but up until now we have only been to our usual park down the street chasing peeps. For a few years now, a mother grebe and her mate had established a nest and I was on the look out for their mini but somehow I always missed it. They are vulnerable to other bigger birds that like to make a lunch of her eggs and some got stolen last year and had to start all over again. Not this year, this mama is growing wiser and stood guard of her nest and all her eggs intact! She nest in the water near the shore of the pond where it is easy access to photographers with the proper gear, as always I use my 300 mm lens so that I can still keep my distance and offer the privacy they prefer being a bit of a shy species.
As always, she laid 3 eggs, 2 of them are hatched, makes me wonder if the third will even hatch at all but time will tell. I arrived to my spot just in time to have the photo session I had been waiting for 3 years to get and it was something special to me. I took my usual spot via a short made-up trail thru the bushes and just sat and observed. She has become quite comfortable with my presence allowing me to get right to the shore much closer than she used to. I almost didn't see the babies until dad came along with a minnow and suddenly two little stripped red beaked heads came poking out of mom's feathers for the loot. With all the geese, she keeps a close guard on her young as they can get aggressive for no reason at all other than they can. Until they are big enough, she keeps them safe in her plumage.
The father will be doing much of the feeding and the teaching for the young as the mother guards the nest and her last egg but she does take a break from her guarding duties for a family swim. She is very protective of her young, as soon as she sees a threat, she orders them back under her wings for safety until she deems appropriate for them to go back to learning and playing. They are still very young and vulnerable but have been given more liberties than a few days prior, they grow up fast. Just a few days before they remained sheltered at all times, during swimming, they remained safe on her back as she takes them on a tour around their home. Like any other kids, they want to explore but mother grebe is very loud and vocal when they step out of line and go too far and orders their return. I sat there silently with the company of another unknown photographer eager for the same show I coveted for what must have been an hour or two just watching nature unfold before my eyes, what a wonderful thing. I feel fortunate that she has become that comfortable with me, if she felt I was a threat, she never would have let them come out like she did, as I mentioned, red necked grebes are generally a bit on the shy side.
We spend most of the afternoon at the park, over 4 hours and got a little sun kissed, perhaps more bordering on sunburned but it was worth it just for this experience. We did our usual walk around the main ponds looking for more babies and we were not disappointed as we met a few mother geese along the way sheltering their very young goslings under her wing but they are bigger and more powerful than their grebe neighbors therefore not quite as strict with protection once she deems us as "safe". They are old and big enough to swim and play in the common human areas for some nice close-ups from trusted visitors. Sunflower seeds generally buys a bit of trust...and a following. In the picture below, they appear to be communicating with each other, total yellow cuteness!
I was a bit disappointed at the number of gosling this year, I only spotted about 30 something so far, last year there were over a hundred. I counted one mother with over 40 in tow during prior years. It's common for a mother goose to adopt the goslings of delinquent mothers and make them her own resulting in large families. Maybe some are still hiding because they are too young yet. The part that breaks my heart, wildlife officers control the population by painting oil on some of the eggs to suffocate them and prevent all of them from hatching because of overcrowding since they have no predators at this park. I hate this practice but I also understand as they have to stock the ponds with fish for them to feed and if there are too many birds, they will not be enough food for everyone.
The park has several ponds part of our city's water management system and storm overflow drains into the ponds where the water gets filters creating different eco-systems for different species of waterfowls. Not usual residents but a frequent visitor are the pelicans especially when the ponds are freshly restocked. I mostly only see then in early evening, welcomed by some but not by all. Just as we were walking by, a pelican came for a meal, got to close the a red-winged back bird nest. Despite their size, they can get quite aggressive to intruders and harassed the pelican until it eventually gave up and flew away. In the meantime I got quite the show. Unfortunately, the sun was just in the wrong place causing too much reflection in the water for quality pictures but I did get a few action shots. It appeared like the pelican was trying to catch the black bird in is pouch without success. As entertaining as it was, it was short lived and we continued on our way to the dog park.
Red-winged black birds nest in the cattails that surround the pond making it hard to find their nest so I have never found one and don't really go looking due to their aggressive nature. If you ever notice one endlessly flying at your head in a "dive-bomb" fashion, you are too close to their hidden nest and best walk away. Any other time they are actually quite friendly and love to sing us a beautiful song. They seem to love attention and the camera and often find myself with a following all around the pond making sure they are noticed for a friendly photo-op. The males are mostly black with a bright orange stripe on each wing as the name suggest and females are brown with a light orange stripe. Generally spotted in pairs, the mother is the hunter/food gatherer for the family while the father defends the nest and can often be seen perched on the cattails with dragonflies or worms in her mouth before she heads back to the nest being careful not to give away it's location to potential predators that may want to cause harm to their young including humans.
I did spot a mother duck with a half dozen in tow but she was too far from the shore for adequate pictures, they seemed very small, perhaps the early birds and more will be floating about closer to shore in the near future, just not today. In the meantime, I did get the opportunity to sit by a pair feasting on aquatic plants near the shore and just observed. Must have been some feast because they didn't mind my presence as they moved towards me, actually rare behavior for ducks being more timid to humans than their geese friends. The aquatic plants are some of the most nutritious foods around that will help fatten up for their long journey south in the near future. Like many other birds, the male has all the colors and the females are mostly brown with just a few colors.
The first 2 pictures I'm not sure of the species, the next two are mallards one male and one female and the last duck picture is a pair of golden eye ducks. I know you expect me to probably go dark for a while after this, I will be going to Elk Island later today but I may not have time to prepare all the photos and a post for you before I leave for Kananaskis. Our work is a bit on a standstill for now due to covid stuff but will resume in the near future until the end of the year. I'm not sure how much mountain time we will have this summer. Lucky for us, the nature of our work connects us with many others from other locations and I was fortunate to meet a friend a few years back that live in Kananaskis county so despite the lack of work and lack of funds, we will be able to enjoy another mountain getaway at low cost before slaving away for the rest of the summer/fall season. My friend and his friend are hikers as well and will be guiding us to their favorite hidden secrets and waterfalls. In a few weeks, I should have some cool mountain posts for you after we get back. Until then, take care, stay safe & healthy and enjoy your summer like a boss!
Cheers my friends! X🐞X
All images were taken with Nikon d7000 and Nikkor 70-300mm lens.
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