Saturday, July 28, 2018


Female Baltimore Oriole - July 22nd
This summer has been a bit different for Rob and I, all thanks to my Fitbit. We normally don't stray too far from home during the summer months. We've always been quite content to enjoy our weekends in the backyard, and all the beauty and wildlife that it gives us. But I don't get many steps sitting on my butt in a lawn chair all day.

I started wearing a Fitbit two years ago as part of my health care plan for my knee and to aid in weight-loss. Keeping track of my daily/weekly steps really does help keep me motivated. My Fitbit week starts on Sundays. I really like to get my week off to a good start, and aim to get my 10K steps on Sunday, hence the beginning of the Sunday summer walks.

It's really been a win-win for both of us. Those Sunday walks aid in my self care plan, but they are also very enjoyable for us both. We go with no expectations of sightings and enjoy everything we happen to see, even if Rob isn't always able to catch a picture of it.

Please enjoy a few photos from last Sunday's walk.
Viceroy Butterfly
Eastern Kingbird
Big yellow fuzzy caterpillar! 
Real name - American Dagger Caterpillar Moth
And I shouldn't of picked him up, those black tufts can leave stinging welts! Oops!

American Robin
Grove Snails enjoying a pile of coyote poop. 
We came across this tiny American Toad toad on the pathway.  
He could of sat on a dime!  
If anyone could ID this for us, please leave a comment. We'd greatly appreciate it.

"Powedered Dancer" Damselflies copulating. 
 Powered Dancer Damselfly
Song Sparrow after a bath.
  Our Sunday walks have turned into a mini BioBlitz!

Friday, July 13, 2018


Male Yellow-headed Blackbird
My recent trip to Alberta was not a birding trip, as I was there to spend 10 days with my brother and his family and to celebrate the high school graduation of my oldest niece, Ashlee.

I had never visited them in the summer months before and it quickly became apparent to me that there were many birds to see at this time of year. I was taking daily walks and decided to do something I don't normally do, keep a species list while I was there. I was actually quite surprised at how many species I was seeing on my walks, but their subdivision is quite close to the Sheep River and that probably played a huge part in the species I was seeing on an almost daily basis. It was a joy to see flocks of Franklin's Gulls fly over every morning. Seeing a lifer bird on a morning stroll is quite nice.

My big "bird nerd" moment happened the evening of July 4th. It was my last free evening there, and my sister-in-law, Sandy, insisted on taking me to Frank Lake, a place I had mentioned earlier in the week as being recommended to me on the Alberta Birding Page on Facebook. It was about a 30 minute drive from where they lived. My youngest niece Tayler wanted to go too, so off we went. 

While we were driving there I spotted a male Yellow-headed Blackbird sitting on a fence post and literally gasped out loud, "Oh my god, I just saw a Yellow-headed Blackbird!". This was a lifer for me, and I wasn't expecting to see one.

We were having a hard time finding the location, and I was ready to give up, after all, seeing the Yellow-headed Blackbird was a lifer for me, so I was already thrilled. But they would not give up, so we pulled over and Tayler got busy on her phone and found directions. As we were following the new route we could see a large body of water ahead, and Sandy said, I wonder if that's it, and it was.

As we were driving in, my birding senses went into over drive. I saw a flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds before I was even out of the van. When we parked and got out I was in awe. I have never seen so many birds or birds species in one place before. There were hundreds of birds if not more, I was overwhelmed. Everywhere I turned I was seeing a species I hadn't seen before (American Avocets) or witnessing something I had never seen, like an Eared Grebe feeding young. And the chatter of the birds! What a glorious sound track! I got a little too excited upon spotting a Ruddy Duck, and was "Shhh'ed" by a photographer. After I mentally pushed her in the pond I had a lovely visit, though I kept wishing Rob had of been with me. There were less than 10 people there, and the other birders I chatted too were very friendly. We stayed for about an hour, even my non-birder sister-in-law was impressed.

I only had an older power-shot camera with me, and I'm not a photographer, but I did take some pictures, here are the best ones.  Click on the photos to enlarge them.

American Avocets and a Dowitcher
I like the refection in this shot even though you can't see the bill.
Eared Grebe with young close behind.

There they go.....
Ruddy Duck....look at that bill!!!
Though not a lifer, I was over excited about seeing this bird in breeding plumage.
He's so handsome!
Female Yellow-headed Blackbird.
The stunning male Yellow-headed Blackbird.
American Coot with young crossing the path and a male Yellow-heading Blackbird.
Part of the Frank Lake area near High River, Alberta.  
I took the above picture as we were leaving. Even though you can't see them, there are probably a few hundred birds in the shot, most of them shorebirds. I am so grateful that Sandy insisted on taking me there and Tayler for finding the directions to get us there. It was a very memorable evening, and I can't wait to return to the area next year with Rob.

Below is my species list, I'm only listing what I know 100% I saw. I probably have another dozen or so species that I wasn't sure of, Next time I go back, I'll have a proper guide, and Rob to take the photos. Birds in bold were lifers for me. (Lifers = first time seeing a bird species)

1. American Avocet
2. White Pelican
3. Franklin's Gull
4. Great Blue Heron
5. Double Crested Cormorant
6. Rock Pigeon
7. Swainson's Hawk
8. Tree Swallow
9. Eastern Kingbird
10. Raven
11. Red-winged Blackbird
12. Cedar Waxwing
13. Chickadee
14. House Sparrow
15. House Finch
16. American Goldfinch
17. Mallard Duck
18. Brown-headed Cowbird
19. Northern Flicker
20. Song Sparrow.
21. Common Goldeneye
22. House Wren
23. Chipping Sparrow
24. Eastern Kingfisher
25. Yellow Warbler
26. Downy Woodpecker
27. Mourning Dove
28. Western Wood Pewee 
29. Black-billed Magpie
30. Pine Siskin
31. Barn Swallow
32. European Starling
33. American Crow
34. Ring-billed Gull
35. Eared Grebe
36. Blue-winged teal
37. American Coot
38. Killdeer
39. Black Tern
40. Common Tern
41. Yellow-headed Blackbird
42. Clay-colored Sparrow
43. American Robin
44. Common Grackle
45. California Gull

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Finding my inner "cowgirl". 
I recently returned home from a 10 day trip to Okotoks, Alberta to celebrate the high school graduation of my oldest niece, Ashlee. I arrived the morning of June 27th and flew back to Toronto the afternoon of July 6th. Her graduation was June 29th, with a dinner banquet a week later.

It had been a while since I had such a long visit with my brother and his family, and it was nice to get loads of time with my nieces. The visit was a nice blend of a few touristy things, family time and the celebration of the graduate.

My nieces are a blend of my my brother and his wife, but I like to think I see a little of me in them both too. Ashlee and I have a mutual love of all things Harry Potter, reading and books in general really, and we both like to write.  She also likes to cook and try new recipes. I even rejoined the world of  'Pinterest" so I could start following her recipe board. Tayler is becoming quite the music fan, and I would be lying if I didn't say I was impressed with the variety of tunes on her phone, which she hooks up to whatever vehicle we happen to be in. She shut me right up when I said she probably didn't have any "good" music on it, and with a few clicks, the sounds of AC/DC's Dirty Deeds were blaring through the speakers. She listens to everything; rap, country, rock, 80's metal, the year it was released or the genre is not an issue with her, if she likes it, she likes it, and I love that! She's also a fellow foodie, who enjoys baking. I hope she comes to visit when she's 16, like her sister did. We would have a blast trying some Toronto restaurants.

I'm totally getting off topic, but even though they live thousands of miles away in Alberta, they take up a huge part of my heart. But back to my trip. I decided to do this blog a little different. I am going to post a few of my favorite pics from my trip, and then put a blurb about it below.

I love this pic. When I think of Ashlee's grad photos years from now, these are the photos that will come to my mind first. Dress rehearsal for the ceremony was on June 28th. She brought her robe home, and we both had the idea of getting some "Harry Potter" inspired pics. So on went her Gryffindor Scarf and out came the wand. "Accio, high school diploma!" 

June 29th, Graduation Day. We were asked not to take pictures during the ceremony, as they had a professional photographer and it was being recorded. But how I could I not snap this moment?! (Her Mom did too) Congratulations Ashlee! 

It was a long, and sometimes emotionally draining day, but we went out to the Olive Garden for a celebration dinner. We had a leisurely paced, delicious meal that allowed us to blow off some steam.  Sandy and I were both taking pics at the same time, and my flash didn't go off, but I still love this pic. I love how proud my brother is of his girls, and he should be. They are not only intelligent, they are kind. 

 Jeff had to work on Saturday, so us girls went to the Saskatoon Berry Farm. I had read about it online and wanted to visit, and Sandy had never been. I liked how it was decorated like an old western town. Gifts, home decor, fresh vegetables, baked goods, an onsite restaurant and ice-cream shoppe. Whats not to like?!     

I thoroughly enjoyed my slice of Saskatoon Berry Pie, while the girls enjoyed ice-cream. I'm still kinda regretting not buying a whole pie.

July 4th was "road trip" day. Both Jeff and Sandy had to work, so the girls and I hit the road. Ashlee wanted to take me to the "foothills" to look for Mountain Bluebirds. We started with brunch in Turner Valley at the "The Chuckwagon Cafe". This restaurant was featured on the Food Channel's "You Gotta Eat Here". Jeff was pretty envious that he didn't get to join us, as they had drove by many times but hadn't gone in to eat yet. I had the "Flat Iron Steak Eggs Benedict". If you are in the area, it's true, you gotta eat there!   

Though we never did spot any Mountain Bluebirds, and we did try to find some, the scenery was breathtaking. My big "birding moment" happened later that evening, but deserves a blog of it's own, so back to the road trip.

The drive was beautiful, and though I didn't take any pictures of them, I saw more cattle during that drive! They were all along the road, crossing the road, sleeping by the get the idea! After a stop in the small town of Black Diamond for ice cream we made our back to the "Big Rock" just a short drive from their house. It's a glacier that made it's way there from Banff. I'm a bad tourist, I was more interested in the all the gophers running around. Didn't manage to get a picture of them either!

I know Ashlee was disappointed that she didn't find any Mountain Bluebirds for me, but it was nice to just spend the time with them both.

July 5th was banquet day, and Ashlee and I went and had our hair done in the morning. If was fun for me to do such a "girlie" thing with her.

This isn't just a picture, it's a "moment" captured. It is minutes before her parents were about to drive her to the pre-party, and to take a limo to the banquet with her friends. Her Mom and I were snapping photos. This isn't a posed photo, this is her trying to recompose herself after laughing quite heartily at something I said. I was lucky enough to capture the moment on camera.

It was a great trip! I fretted a bit about being away so long, but it was fine. I'm glad I stayed for both graduation events. It was special to me to be a part of it all with them, and I hope to do it again in five years when it's Tayler's turn.