Trip Report

Post-Covid as we are (the country, more or less, and us, certainly), our usual May/June Western swing (not to be confused with Western Swing) has been reinstated this year. That means stops for me in Calgary, and in Edmonton and environs, and a taste of places that will always be home at some level, whether I ever live there again or not.

Picking up the various threads of my life is different this time and yet also like every other time: A remembrance of what was, a celebration of what is, and an anticipation of what is yet to be.


On days ranging from decent (sunny but windy) to truly awful for late May (overcast and blustery winds reminiscent of sleet in November), I wandered a bit. On the awful days, truly only a bit. (Cold. Wind.)

Calgary’s compact downtown and adjacent river offer numerous vistas and perspectives, all worth exploring. Next time, for example, I want a step ladder to try different angles/elevations for the right-hand shot. And I want a warmer and bluer-sky day, which I’m just mentioning now.

In passing, the City also offered old and new versions of mind-and-or-mood-altering substances, none of which are recommended to be combined with ladders, step or otherwise.

Edmonton & Environs

Edmonton was sunny and windy but never felt as if sleet were imminent. That encouraged me to drive out to Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park.

Pro tip: Unless you want a seemingly endless (Turn left, turn left, turn left, turn left. Repeat.) and ultimately fruitless tour of Alberta’s range roads, get driving directions from the website, not from Google, which has some weird location information in its database for this location. Or Google “Lois Hole boardwalk” not the park itself.

Having visited the boardwalk last September in a sleeveless top, shin-length leggings, cute little sweater, and sandals while everyone else had broken out the ski jackets, tuques/toques/touques, and gloves, I went prepared this time with many layers, most of which were not needed. This seems often to be the way it is with preparation.

But my mind was soon not on what I was wearing or carrying. In contrast to the slim pickings last fall, this visit was a natural bonanza.

In the field beside the parking lot there was one coyote, padding along with his eyes closed or mostly so, I swear. Maybe he left his sunny-day glasses in his other coat?

Is he just squinting or are his eyes *completely* shut? Perhaps he’s visualizing his next pounce, as the golfers and curlers do with their next shot.

When I got to the boardwalk over the swamp, one muskrat appeared and then disappeared too fast for an artistic portrait.

A great blue heron took off just before I got to the viewing platform: I snapped a shot without much hope.

Tens of black terns swoop-chased airborne insects above the swamp (presumably successfully), changing direction too quickly for any portrait. I snapped a few tens of shots, trying just to keep these acrobatic aerialists in the frame, and got one shot at quite a distance.

The one in the water is the muskrat.

There were the unmistakable and unforgettable male red-winged blackbirds all over the place, and presumably corresponding numbers of the much-less-obvious females.

The one on the upper left is the female.

There were birds I may well have seen before but forgotten: a blue-winged teal and a gray catbird.

The one on the right is the mysteriously named gray catbird.

There were two kinds of swallows: barn and tree.

The one on the right is the tree swallow.

And the highlight of my day? Another look at a spectacular bird I’d only seen once or twice before and that in Arizona, despite it being common in Alberta during the breeding season: the yellow-headed blackbird. As near as I could tell this was a single individual going back and forth from the boardwalk to dried bulrushes about 30 or 40 yards away (a nesting area?), well out of my range at maximum zoom.

I’m not sure if destiny is all (as Uhtred, son of Uhtred, avers), but patience is close to all for bird photography. What isn’t patience is luck. If someone else hadn’t scattered that popping corn there, this guy might never even have poked his head up out of the swamp.

The one.


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15 Responses to Trip Report

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Say hello to Calgary and Edmonton for me, Isabel.
    With special focus on the airport in Calgary. I spent almost 2 weeks in that airport one day this past December.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Yes, time spent in airports is time we’ll never get back. Not my favourite.

  2. Jim Taylor says:

    Tom: In the intro to one of his songs, about a nowhere town, Harry Chapin says, “I spent a week there one afternoon.”
    Isabel: Do you feel a compulsion to visit places you once lived? Or is it about visiting family and/or old friends? I ask because I felt a *compulsion* to visit India after my father died, and currently I’m feeling something similar about going back to northern B.C. and Highway 16 — except that I don’t know why.

    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – It’s about visiting family & friends more than a place-compulsion. I’ve lost touch with folks I knew in Saskatoon and never go there. But maybe the best way to get rid of a compulsion is like temptation – give in to it.

  3. Excellent photos of lots of birds! For me, birds always seem to be “over there”, although I do not carry the equipment to improve my photos as I could. I soothe myself with the idea that my photos show the context. Ha! I am particularly envious of the Red-winged Blackbird, because a couple of weeks ago they would not come close to where we were walking. (Wonder why – a gaggle of chatting friends making too much noise?) I didn’t know about the Yellow-headed Blackbird. Maybe I will carry popcorn in my pocket when walking.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – I keep forgetting to carry sunflowers seeds, which the birds are also fond of. In a refuge near Vancouver the red-winged blackbirds are so habituated to human presence that they will eat out of your hand. But at a reserve near us in Ottawa and a pond near where we stay in Calgary they are too skittish to photograph. As I said, luck matters!

  4. Nice collection of Calgary sightings and Edmonton area birds. Never saw a yellow-headed blackbird when I lived out there, but did see them when I lived in Winnipeg. Wish we had them here.
    Who would feed popcorn kernels to birds, and what bird would eat them? (Besides I guess a YHBB)

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – I love them – striking birds with a lovely bell-like call. I don’t know about the popping corn – sunflower seeds seem like a more likely bet to me.

  5. Carla says:

    That boardwalk was one of Colton’s and my favourite places to wander when we lived in Cardiff!! Great photos Isabel!!!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Carla – 🙂 Glad to bring back good memories. And thanks! I was glad we had full sun.

  6. Alison says:

    Love how birds that are native to your own area are not as exciting as those you see when travelling. Example, I was THRILLED to see a Cardinal while in Ottawa! You probably see them as often as I see YellowHeaded.blackbirds ( which is daily) Keeping track of birds while we’re travelling-most thrilling Sandhill crane -most species in one spot -Colonsay Saskatchewan ( at least 15) Love your photos! I just look and listen.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – 🙂 I know what you mean. No bird is honoured in its own backyard, or something like that. We see and hear cardinals frequently in Ottawa, but I’m not quite blase about them. Not yet, at least. Where did you see sandhill cranes?

  7. Mary Gibson says:

    Great bird pictures (again) Isabel.

    I watched ‘The Last Kingdom’ with Cathal, thinking to finally see MY ancestors (Vikings) given their due. When the hero’s father gets a Viking sword through the back of this head in the first 5 minutes I thought….”maybe not”.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Mary – Many thanks. The Last Kingdom has more than its share of gore, for sure, but is good TV for all that. I find myself averting my eyes . . .

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