Jan 31, 2018

While I did not get out often in January it proved to be a rewarding month photography-wise. Trips to both Gatineau Park in Québec and a long day-trip to Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario provided great bird phtography opportunities.

In particular, I was able to photograph both Wing-Winged and Red Crossbill finches. In both species their bills have evolved to a unique shape where the upper and lower bills are permanently crossed. This permits them to easily pry apart the scales of conifer cones, The birds then use their tongues to extract the seeds hidden inside. During years when mature cone crops are abundent both species can, at times, begin nesting in late December or early Janaury.


Snowy Owls returned to the Ottawa area as did other winter species. Another very exciting discovery was a small group of Short-Eared Owls that remained in an area of west Québec up river from Alymer, Québec for several weeks.

Short-eared Owls often begin hunting near dusk but ocassionally they do hunt in the daytime flying low over open fields. This group frequently began hunting in mid to late afternoon affording viewers excellent opportunities to see their hunting behaviour as they searched for mice in far fields. Several times I watched them as the hovered over the snow looking for the slightly movement. Suddenly one would dive down into ths snow to catch a meal.

If an owl caught a mouse it would often, like many raptors do, exhibit mantling behaviour. Mantling often involves hunching and spreading wings over a recent kill. They do this to protect their prey from other birds and predators who might possibly steal their food. The owl would often look around for a minute or so before taking off with its meal and flying to s perch where it could eat in peace.


While I have been fortunate enough to photograph most of the owl species that live in Ontario I had never before had so many great chances to observe and photograph the behaviour of Short-Eared Owls. Watching these wonderful aerial hunters when they were not harassed or otherwise interfered with during their normal hunting behaviour was a great treat.

You can view more of my winter images by clicking here.

Dec 31, 2017

November and December offered a variety of interesting subjects. Two unusual avian visitors entertained both birders and photographers for several weeks. A beautiful Black-throated Gray Warbler thrilled people for weeks in November and early December. Black-throated Grays are normally only found west of the Rocky Mountains so this individual was way off course for its fall migration. It was only the second time that this species had been seen in the greater Ottawa area. The second species was a Nashville Warbler. The Nashville Warbler is a much more regular visitor around Ottawa during spring and fall migrations but this late individual offered a bit of colour during a time that can normally be somewhat laking in colour and interest.

Other migrants included Sandhill Cranes, Golden-crowned Kinglets and several species of waterfowl. I like to compare Kinglets bouncing ping ping balls. These little insect eating birds seem to be oalmost constantly on the move hunting in the tree branches for food.

I was also fortunate enough to photograph a River Otter fishing for nearly an hour late one afternoon. Although it was fishing far off in the lake I managed to create a few interesting images.


In early December my wife and I travelled to the Kitchener and Hamilton areas of southern Ontario to visit family and to take in some of the interesting markets in those areas. We visited the St. Jacob's Fand Kitcherner markets and well as the annual Kitchener Kristkindl market. All of these markets offer great photo opportunities.


Before heading back home to Ottawa we made our first visit to the Toronto Zoo. I've seen some amazing images from some talented photographers created in a zoo or safari park setting. That being said it's not a style of photography that I am personally interested in doing very often. on that morning we were some of the first people through the gates that very cold morning. That gave us time to be able to spend a few quite minutes alone with 3 of the Panda Bears on loan from the People's Republic of China just as they were having their first bamboo meal of the day.

These interesting looking animals seem to be made for the camera. Despite having to shoot through glass I managed to create a few images that I was happy with. This particular shot I feel is my best from that visit.

You can view more of my late fall and early winter images by clicking here.

Oct 30, 2017

My September started off with a visit to MosaïCanada 150 in Gatineau, Québec as part of Canada's 150th birthday celebrations. MosaïCanada 150 was described as largest horticultural event in Canada. It featured phenomenal "living' sculptures constructed out of plants and flowers. These massive sculptures represented historical and cultural representations from all parts of Canada's provinces and territories

September also had an unusual increase in numbers of Painted Lady Butterflies across much of eastern and southern Ontario. Fortunately for me I was able to photograph a number of these beauties in my area before they moved on


September and October were also similar and yet different than the same time period in 2016. Both Green Herons and Great Egrets were again photographic subjects in Ottawa. On the other hand the wildlife like moose in Algonquin Provincial Park were less apparent. Part of the reason may have been the ongoing road construction along the highway 60 corridor through the park. Despite the lack of visible wildlife subjects during the day, I was able to make multiple short recordings of Eastern Wolves howling at night near our campground. It is amazing to hear these haunting sounds of the wild while sitting around your campfire.

You can hear a compilation audio of the wolves howling, with accompanying images taken in the park over several years, by clicking here.

We ended October with an evening trip to Upper Canada Village near Cornwall, Ontario. During the summer the village hires people to reenact life in Ontario from the late 1880s. We were there for their Halloween display called Pumpkin Inferno. While there I did create a few images of some of the old buildings. I will definitely be going back again in teh summer to see the reenactment activities.

You can view more of my fall 2017 images by clicking here.

Aug 31, 2017

The summer of 2017 saw us traveling around Ontario and enjoying it's many sights and celebrations' I photographed both Yellow and Showy Lady Slipper wild orchids in eastern Ontarioa. We camp along the Ottawa river in Voyageur Provincial Park and traveled to southern Ontario to see the Tall Ships in Hamilton and watch Canada Day Fireworks from a boat beneath Niagara Falls. While in Hamilton I took a short morning trip to see a Dicksissel (see image), a bird most commonly breeds in midwestern North America. This year however a number of these birds arrived in southern Ontario and even bred in several locations. Seeing this bird added another species to my life list.

In June we attended the Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival in Ottawa. It is always a great opportunity to watch talented indigenous dancers compete in their incredible regalia.

I also traveled back to New Brunswick with our son to spend a few days with my father, my 2 brothers and a brother-in-law. We were at my brother's salmon camp on the southwest Miramichi River. The area is well known for great salmon fly-fishing but dry weather kept migrating salmon scarce. It was still a very enjoyable time none the less.

To more images from the summer of 2017 please click here.

May 31, 2017

"Spring Migration 2017!"

I again was fortunate to spend 2 weeks in southern Ontario during the 2017 spring bird migration. As in 2014, the bulk of my time was spent in Point Pelee National Park, Wheatley and Rondeau Provincial Parks and surrounding areas. This time however I also had the opportunity to spend several days at Long Point and the nearby locations for the first time. Both Point Pelee and Long Point offered some great sightings of birds, animals, plants and scenery. As usual the park staff, Friends of Point Pelee volunteers, birders and photographers at Point Pelee were all wonderful and very helpful. Their enthusiasm for nature, particularly birds, was infectious!

I was better prepared this time when visiting Point Pelee for the Festival of Birds 2017 Edition. As a photographer, you often use long lenses, tripods and other heavy camera equipment, so it's not as easy to 'chase' rare bird sightings. I decided to spend more time trying to create better images of whatever bird species I encountered. With very few exceptions I stuck with my plan and it worked out very well for me. I got some lovely images of a number of species that I had seen in 2014 particularly the stunning Prothonotary Warbler (below). In addition I saw several new life list species including the Kirkland's and Gold-Winged Warblers, Yellow-Throated Vireo and the Eastern Fox Snake.


The areas around Long Point had their own rewards. I got my first images of a female Eastern Towhee, saw my first Sandhill Crane colt albeit from a great distance. I also discovered the largest collection of White Trilliums (below) that I had ever seen while visiting Backus Woods.


I also visited the Long Point Bird Observatory and its Old Cut Research Station. The station is open the the public and you can observe bird banding first hand as the workers examine, band and record information each bird caught in their mist nets. If you are in the area during spring or fall migration, it's certainly worthwhile to visit the station

You can view more of my Spring Migration 2017 images by clicking here.

Apr 30, 2017

March and April are challenging times for nature photography around Ottawa. The daylight is still short, although getting longer, and snow continues to linger. It is still cold most days and a long way from when wild flowers will start blooming. Days often seem grey and gloomy. That being said there are still opportunities to capture nice images. Waterfowl often have begun their northward migration and stop where there is open water and places like farm fields to forage in.

I was able to create images of a number of species of ducks and geese including: Snow and Canada geese, Bufflehead, Ring-Necked and Lesser Scaup ducks. Some of the early migrating sparrow species put in an appearance as well. White-Throated, Song and White-Crowned Sparrows all visited our yard and feeders. I captured images of Northern Flickers, one of our woodpecker species, and some of our overwintering species such as White-Breasted Nuthatches and Northern Cardinals along some of Ottawa`s many nature areas. The first male Red-Winged Blackbirds arrived in April. The males arrive ahead of the females so that they can stake out the best territories to defend and, hopefully, attract a mate.

I also created some images of red squirrels and very cute kid goats at a farm. The later will help expand my farm animal collection


You can view more of my March and April 2017 images by clicking here.

Feb 28, 2017

Well the winter of 2016-2017 has been highly variable weatherwise. We have had plenty of snow and cold temperatures alternating with thawing periods. On this last day of February the large quantity of snow around the region seems to be receding quickly. That being said this is still Canada and we could easily see another big winter storm or two before spring arrives in ernest.

Following our great fall trip to Algonquin Park I was a bit slow getting out to do some local photography. Once I did winter birds and landscapes seemed to be my best photographic subjects as you will see in my latest collection of images. Although I had hoped to see and photograph some winter finches such as Pine Grosbeaks, I had more success with owls including Snowy, Barred and Great Gray Owls. The beautiful Great Gray Owls and Snowies do not show up around Ottawa each winter but rather during 'irruption' years when the numbers of their normal prey species (voles and lemmings) are reduced further north. We had a few Snowy Owls for most of the winter and some Great Grays started appearing around the region in the past few weeks. I hope to be able to create a few more images of Great Grays before they return to their boreal forest home further north.

In addition to owls, some of my other subjects included several of our songbirds the remain with us throughout our long winter period. Blue Jays, Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Breasted Nuthatches and Tree Sparrows are all beautiful birds in their own right.


While I like creating close-up and portrait images of my subjects I believe that capturing my subjects exhibiting natural behaviours or interacting with each other can offer the viewer some interesting insights into how these birds and animals live. In the image above you can see a Raven harassing a Snowy Owl that was trying to rest on a rock pile in a farm field. Ravens, American Crows and many other bird species sometimes harass owls, hawks and other birds of prey when they find them in the hope that they will be driven off. This does occur at times but in this instance the Snowy Owl held its ground and just looked up at the Raven. It also stayed put when four American Crows arrived immediately after the Raven. Many birders and photographers have found resting birds of prey through the inadvertent help of other birds swarming the predator.

You can view more of my winter 2016-2017 images by clicking here.

Oct 30, 2016

September and October were both very good months for creating new images this year. Early in September wading birds such as Great Blue and Green Herons and Great Egrets offered many photo opportunities in the west end of Ottawa.

We returned to camp again in Algonquin Provincial Park for 10 days in late September and early October. I was hoping to see moose during the rut (mating season). The moose rut in Algonquin generally begins in last September or early October and lasts approximately 2 weeks. Last year we stayed in the park around the same dates but, despite daily outings, I didn't see a single moose. What a difference a year made. This fall I was extremely successful. In total I saw and photographed 7 moose: 2 Bulls, 3 cows and 3 calves! The most exciting time was when a big bull met up with a cow and her calf. The bull 'tested' her readiness to mate by laying his chin on her rump. She wasn't quite ready but seeing this interesting behavioural interaction was a first for me.

As always there were many other fascinating things to photograph in the park including: birds, plants, mushrooms and fall scenery. I have received an incredible about of positive feedback on the image below which I call "Mist over Costello Creek". It was created by merging three identical images (with different exposures) to cover the bright, medium and dark areas of the image, something a camera sensor, no matter how good, cannot capture in a single image.


We capped off the wonderful trip to Algonquin by watching a young Peregrine Falcon locked in a life and death struggle with a juvenile gull. It had captured the gull in mid air just above the highway as we were driving past. Experienced Peregrines can normally deliver a stunning or killing blow when they make they diving attack but the young bird did not do that. As a result the two birds "wrestled" for nearly 10 minutes before the Peregrine suddenly, and unexpectedly, broke off its attack. The gull did not look as if it would survive. Nature can be harsh sometimes but it was a very rare event to witness and it's always best not to interfere.

You can view more of my fall 2016 images by clicking here.

Aug 31, 2016

During July and August we took a 5 week trip back to New Brunswick to camp and to visit family and friends. To break up the long drive hauling our trailer we stopped for a couple of days in Rivière-Du-Loup, Québec located on the south shore of the St. Lawrence Estuary. The estuary is one of the great places on Canada's east coast to view many species of whales and sea birds during the summer. This is particularly true where the Saguenay River empties into the St. Lawrence. The area is part of Parks Canada's Saguenay St. Lawrence Marine Park. The park and surrounding region has the most southernly resident poulation of Beluga whales anywhere and we were fortunately enough to see several of these small, white, toothed whales during our whale watching cruise there.

From there we travelled to Charlotte County, New Brunswick and camped in St. Andrews and on Grand Manan Island. We had lived in St. Andrews twice, many years ago, so it is always a treat to go back to re-explore the area.

After Charlotte County we visited family and then moved onto Fundy National Park on the Bay of Fundy, near Alma, New Brunswick. I explored the park and nearby St Mary's Point. St. Mary's is within the Shepody National Wildlife Area and part of a larger Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve for the Semipalmated Sandpiper. This species, along with many other shorebirds, use the area as an important feeding and resting place suring sring and fall migrations. Up to 85% of the world's population of this species stops here. To see tens of thousands of these small birds flying by, or landing on the beach (see photo above) en masse is an incredible sight.

Such large numbers of birds attract birds of prey looking for a meal. I saw both a Merlin and a Peregrine Falcon flying over the beach hoping to catch an unlucky migrant. The sight of a predator puts the birds up into the air and they fly in tight formation by the thousands, looking like swirling smoke from a distance, as they try to confuse the hunters. One can experince the same spectacle at Johnson's Mills which is several kilometres away, as the birds fly. This location is closer to Dorchester and Sackville New Brunswick. I visited both beaches during the trip.

I also visited the Sackville Waterfowl Park in the heart of Sackville, New Brunswick. It is a wonderful place to take walks along meandering boardwalks above the marsh and observe waterfowl and shorebirds. It was my first time there but I would love to visit again especially in the spring breeding season.

To more images from our summer 2016 trip please click here.

All photographs are copyright of Stephen J Stephen.

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