parkland roaming around where grassland meets the trees

The sunrise turned out to be just a brief bloom of salmon and peach and it only lasted for ten minutes or so, just enough time for a couple of pictures.

But as it faded as I rolled eastward, I looked at the clock on my dashboard. The bright slashes that formed the numbers read 6:32. For me to have experienced a similar sunrise back in June, I’d have had to have been on the road by four in the morning. Today, I’d left the house just before six.

I love those long summer days but there’s something to be said for an extra couple of hours of sleep, too.

I was headed nowhere in particular. The day before, a cold front had swept through accompanied by a blast of wind that had momentarily pushed the ever-present smoke out of our vicinity and leaving behind clear skies. I figured that the forest-fire haze, coming from the west as it has for the past two months, would re-obscure the mountains fairly quickly. So I decided to head east.

The colour of the sunrise had faded to a soft lemon-orange by the time I hit the Kneehill Creek valley but the mist hanging over the water was a soft blue. The air was calm and sounds carried from every direction. I could hear meadowlarks and screeching hawks, the roar of trucks on the highway and the rumble of a far-off train.

Geese were flying around, silhouettes against the sky, and I watched a momma mule deer and her two babies walk along the creek bank, their shapes softened by the mist. From a hilltop I could see cattle in a pasture lit by the first rays of the sun while the still-shadowed valley behind then still held the morning fog.

The sun was above the horizon by the time I hit Swalwell Dam and swathers were on their way to the fields to knock down more of the ripening crops. The dam’s waters still held tendrils of mist and ducks and coots swam along through the amber light. Launching my little copter for an overhead view - I actually did a bit of a selfie - I could see mist swirling and disappearing as a breeze started to pick up.

Dry Island Buffalo Jump looked spectacular in the morning light. I could see stands of aspens starting to take on their fall colours and glowing yellow among the silvers of the sagebrush against the backdrop of eroded cliffs. The buffalo berries were fat and ripe and the hawthorn berries a bright red. I watched a chipmunk snagging chokecherries from the top of a bush. Quick little guys, those chipmunks.

I found a trio of Swainson’s hawks riding the wind coming up the face of the cliffs, a parent and a pair of babies. Last year about this time I’d found a dozen or so turkey vultures doing the same thing. I’d hoped to see some today but no luck.

At least not until I’d headed into the rolling hills just to the north.

One of the reasons I like the countryside around here so much is that it’s right at the border between prairie and parkland. South from Dry Island it’s sage in the badlands and grass on the flats while just a few kilometres north it’s rolling hills and pothole sloughs surrounded by stands of aspen and balsam poplar. Trochu is prairie. Elnora, 30km north, is parkland.

And it was not far from Elnora that I saw the turkey vulture. It was sitting in the grass with a couple of crows when I spotted it, the group of them snacking on something I couldn’t see, and even though the vulture was as black as the crows, it stood out. Unlike most turkey vultures, it had a black head - immature, maybe? - and when it took off and spread those long-fingered wings, it flapped a few times and started to soar.

So harsh on the ground, so elegant in the air.

The ponds in this parkland border country usually hold onto their water better than their counterparts on the plains mostly because, I think, the hills hold groundwater better than the flats. But this dry summer has taken it’s toll and the ponds I’d visited here back in late July were mostly mud.

A few, though, were still wet and, along with an assortment of teal, gadwall and coots, they hosted bright green blooms of duckweed.

Duckweed is a tiny plant with pinhead-sized leaves that grows in profusion on most of the sloughs in the parkland country. It’s a pretty little plant that spends its summertime growing season just floating on the surface of its pond, soaking up the sun as its microscopic roots suck nutrients from the water. Ducks love it, bugs love it, I, as a photographer, love it.

It was a bit of a challenge to photograph, though, with the sun now mid-day high and the wind starting to pick up. I stopped at a larger pond to shoot as waves rippled the water and lifted the carpet of duckweed with them. From ground level, it was hard to see but sending my little copter up for an overhead view. it looked like someone was shaking out a green rug.

By now I’d wandered north of Elnora and on through Delburne. Lots of birds up this way, cormorants and ring-billed gulls in profusion on Delburne Lake, noisy geese everywhere. I haven’t been here often but I’ll bet it’s a major stopover for migratory birds. They ought to be coming this way soon.

I tuned back south again and stopped to check out the potholes and lakes around Lousana. The hills here are covered with aspens and I’m sure that in the next couple of weeks they’ll all be a yellow glow. I found a garter snake sunning on the road as flocks of geese flew overhead. A momma whitetail and a fawn bounced through a hayfield and disappeared into the trees.

Mid-afternoon now and the day had heated up considerably. The sky was nearly cloud-free, letting the sun pour down, while the wind from the south had gained strength. More like a day in July than one in September.

And the smoke had started to return.

The Red Deer River valley downstream from Dry Island was hazy to north and almost totally obscured looking south. Around Huxley, the fields trailed off toward a cream-coloured horizon. I watched pelicans feeding on a pond west of Linden, the sun bright on their white feathers but with a halo around the glowing orb in the sky.

Still, it had been a lovely day, going nowhere in particular.

And that’s always one of my favourite places to go.



Photographed with the Canon EOS M5, the Canon 7D Mark II, with the Canon 70-300, the Sigma 150-600C, the DJI Phantom 4 Pro and DJI Spark.

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