Birdwatching can be a dangerous pastime

I’m always getting razzed about stopping on hikes to take a photo of a bird. My family groans when I grab my camera because they know: I stop for birds of any kind.

This bit me in the butt recently when I was driving back from Calgary (an hour east of Canmore). It was a beautiful day about 4:30 pm and I was overheating in my jean jacket, so decided to pull off the highway to take it off.

LINDA COTE-Swan &GoldeneyeThe next secondary road was a place I often pass, a lovely red barn and a pond. I pulled over, turned off the car, took off my jacket, and … was that a Trumpeter Swan next to the pond?

Without thinking, I grab my camera, and let the car door slam behind me. I got to the fence and clicked away, smiling to myself for spotting this amazing bird that migrates through the area.

Several clicks later, I went back to the car, and grabbed the handle to get back in the car. The door is locked! What the heck? My heart beats faster, but I try not to panic as I see my keys, phone, jacket and purse in the car. I try the handle again. Still locked (of course). I try every door, and the trunk. All locked. Crap.

I’ll save the long story, but our car remote had been acting up and so I found myself on a country road, not visible from the highway, without a coat or cell phone, in a short-sleeved shirt. A few moments of panic ensued as I tried to guess the distance to the far-off farms, and figure out how I would find a way to notify my family that I was stuck.

Luckily, before too long, a nice guy in a truck came by and pulled over when I started waving my arms. He gave me his cell, laughed and said he had done the same thing before. I phoned my husband (45 minutes away) and together we planned for him to borrow a truck and come to my rescue with our spare set of keys.

After a few moments of berating myself for being stupid for something that wasn’t really my fault — although I shouldn’t have left the keys in the car, the vehicle did not lock a half-hour before when I got out to fill the car with gas. The doors stayed open that time.

LINDA COTE-The PondI stopped hyperventilating knowing that my husband would be along in a while — certainly before the sun went down, and if I stayed on the north side of the car, I could feel warm(ish) in the late afternoon sun and stay out of the cold spring wind. Taking a deep, calming breath, I realized I had my camera. No cell phone, coat, food or water, but a camera was something at least. And, looking around, the view was pretty amazing.

LINDA COTE-Pond FeatureStanding beside my locked vehicle, with my heart rate slowing, I decided to look on the bright side. I realized I would be found, and I started to witness an amazing buzz of activity. I noticed something swimming in the pond, and a little sparrow flew up and landed on the fence across from me and began to sing!

LINDA COTE-Savannah Sparrow

The animal swimming back and forth between the pond shores — and at times there were two of them — certainly didn’t look like a beaver. I found out later it was a little muskrat in the pond! I’d never seen one!

LINDA COTE-Muskrat

LINDA COTE-Muskrat2

It took my husband about an hour-and-a-half to round up a car from my dad, drive my dad back home, get my son to his baseball practice, then get on the road and come to get me. In that time — though I have to admit to a few scary thoughts about whether or not they would be able to find me in this kind of out-of-the-way spot — I began to see what a gift it was to be plucked out of my busy life and forced to sit and watch a very incredible, abundant pond landscape come to life before my eyes.

I was able to record an incredible array of ducks and geese, hawks, crows and red-winged blackbirds. Here’s what I saw.

LINDA COTE-Savannah Sparrow

This Savannah Sparrow is fairly common in this area, but he is just so beautiful. He (and his friends) sang me little songs the whole time, and I was grateful for his company.

LINDA COTE-Trumpeter Swan

This is the dude I stopped for. I can forgive him because he was so much fun to watch. The Trumpeter Swan was near extinction in Alberta in the early 1900s, and although they are still listed as “at risk”, they’ve made a remarkable recovery in the province.

LINDA COTE-Trumpeter Swan2

Not sure if this swan had a nest nearby, but next photo shows several Canada Geese on the shore, Northern Shovelers mid-pond, and Redheads in the foreground. Lesser Scaup ducks were also hanging pretty close to shore. It’s definitely breeding season, and this pond looked like a grand place for nests.

LINDA COTE-Ducks and Geese

LINDA COTE-Barrow's Goldeneye

These are Barrow’s Goldeneyes that like to hang out in the western part of the province, preferring the mountainous areas.

LINDA COTE-Blue-Winged tealThe Blue-Winged teal also made an appearance. At first I thought they were mallards, but a closer look proved their coloring is quite different.

LINDA COTE-Red-Winged Blackbird

LINDA COTE-Red-Winged Blackbird2

The distinctive call of the Red-winged Blackbird is hard to miss on the prairies. But, I have had a really hard time finding them to photograph. Not this day. Several kept me company over the time I waited.

LINDA COTE-Crow

Then came the crows. I always love seeing these birds with their acrobatic flight.

LINDA COTE-Swainson's Hawk

Close to the time I was thinking my husband would be along soon, a couple of Swainson’s Hawks flew overhead, effortlessly drifting higher and higher on the thermals. Although these look like many of the hawks around here, you can identify the Swainson’s Hawk by the fact that their flight feathers are darker than their wing lining.

I couldn’t help thinking that all of us race past this little pond that’s visible from the highway with no idea that it teems with life. It is a sanctuary for many different types of wildlife existing right next to the TransCanada Highway. How few times we stop to admire these little pockets of wonder right under our nose.

LINDA COTE-Foothills and Mtn

Right before my husband showed up, I marveled at the sight across the road from me. The sun was beginning its descent and the foothills that connect the prairies and the mountains that are my home fused into an incredible scene. Despite the initial scare of being locked out of my car, I had a pretty breath-taking hour-and-a-half to myself. Only I certainly wasn’t alone. I said a silent thank you to the birds, ducks and other wildlife that had no idea that they were shoring me up with their presence.

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16 responses to “Birdwatching can be a dangerous pastime

  1. Linda – this was THE best entry ever! Here’s a read: “Creative is a Verb”, by Patti Digh. If you’ve not read it, find a copy and read the chapter titled: “Drive an Airstream trailer”. (Read the whole book of course, when you have time to sit with a book and a cup of coffee). I’ll leave you with a quote from a challenge that Mrs. Digh presents at the end of the chapter: “Writer Anton Chekhov said, ‘I have the feeling that I’ve seen everything, but failed to notice the elephants.’ Look around you. What have you failed to notice before right now? Write about it, describe it.”

    • Thanks so much Rob! I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. And, that read sounds amazing. I will make sure to get it and especially read that chapter!

  2. Woa. Linda. What a scary thing to happen, but it turned into Serendipity. I love all your photos. Canada geese are the only familiar ones on this side of the pond. Your muskrat is cute too. Glad you weren’t stuck for longer but thank you for sharing. It’s a story in the making??

    • Thanks Maggie! Even as I was standing there, I was thinking: “Well, it could be worse. It could be winter!” It all turned out fine, and I got a lot of photos. That’s always a consolation. Lol.

  3. Oh Linda what an ordeal…I have done this a few times myself too including locking myself out of the house in the middle of the night…all alone having to smash a window to get back in. You definetely got stuck at a more beautiful spot;0) Photos are great, they must be a good inspiration for your art. Glad you are safe! xo Johanna

    • Oh Johanna! THAT would be scary!! It’s so funny, when I told my mom about the car incident she said, “You could have found a rock and smashed a window!” That never occurred to me! Haha. I think there is definitely some inspiration in some of those photos. Thanks for reading!

    • Thanks Sophie! One of those silly things, for sure. Sometimes a pause is all we need. Although, maybe I will go back and stop on purpose next time!

  4. Great story, glad it ended well! And just so you know, I suffer from the same “disease” (or wonderful passtime, depending on your perspective)… My daughter asked me the other day: “Why do you always bring your camera with you?” 🙂

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