In late June I took a drive northwest of Calgary to see a pair of Sandhill Cranes that were reportedly nesting along the shore of a large pond (or small lake, if you prefer). I’d never really visited this particular area before, despite it being close to Grand Valley Road (the Great Grey Owl hub of southern Alberta). The area known as Winchell Lake is actually a series of superb little foothills lakes nestled in a valley between two large foothills. It’s home to a number of foothills and boreal specialists, including of course the Great Grey, Great Horned, and Barred Owls, Boreal Chickadees, White-winged and Red Crossbills, Spruce and Ruffed Grouse, but also home to Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Baltimore Orioles, and even some great mammals, including a small colony of Swift Foxes, Elk, White-tailed and Mule Deer, Moose, Mountain Lions, and the odd Black Bear from time to time.
The birds I had gone up to see were a pair of Sandhill Cranes reportedly nesting there, but what I found was so much more surprising that it completely overshadowed finding the cranes.
At first I thought that I was lucky enough to spot a single Northern Pygmy-Owl roosting high in a spruce tree.
I decided it would be worthwhile to try to get a better angle on the bird, and began climbing the hillside opposite the tree, until I came up just slightly below parallel with the owl. It has just turned around, and both the angle and the positioning of the bird were perfect to make it look exactly as nature intended… like it had a second pair of eyes in the back of its head.
After a few minutes, it turned and flew off up the hill, where one of my compatriots found the bird again… or so we thought.
Further up the hill we went, back onto the main road, where we saw not one, not two, but three owls at once. Two nearly adult plumage young, and one parent owl. Only one young owl stuck around while we snapped away with the cameras, but the continual begging calls and hoots from all three of them kept us more than satisfied with the remaining subjects.
It was a great way to finally actually see a bird that I’ve heard so many times before, and with young, too!