You never know what’s around you!

Being a successful bird photographer means using your ears just as much as your eyes. Maybe even more so. And I don’t just mean in the very literal sense of following a particular bird’s call to that particular bird. Sure, that’s a big part of it. But more often than not it’s about understanding behaviour and that the sounds of common birds may lead you to something even better!

Here in Edmonton, magpies, blue jays and crows usually kick up a huge fuss, often together, when a bird of prey is present. Listening for and observing this behaviour time and again has led me to some wonderful moments with peregrine falcons, merlins and a variety of owls, including a very rare long-eared owl.

But the corvids aren’t the only ones who loudly object to the presence of these birds. Smaller birds like chickadees and nuthatches will also get quite wound up and make a racket but because their calls aren’t quite as, shall we say, intense as the corvids, they may go a little more unnoticed.

Earlier this week Kwinn and I were out for a leisurely stroll, enjoying the unseasonably warm winter afternoon along our favourite nature trail when I heard the frenetic sounds of a group of both red and white breasted nuthatches and some chickadees. I listened for a while to see if it was short-lived or not. And they just kept going. So I decided it was worth investigating. When I arrived to the spot, the nuthatches were bouncing here, there and everywhere. So I started to look closely to see if anything was setting them off. Hmmm. Nope. Not seeing anything too obvious. Wait! What’s that? Ah, it’s a Townsend solitaire! A slightly uncommon bird but surely not what was causing the commotion. Still, I happily snapped a few photos of it in the beautiful afternoon light. I’d only ever seen one before and my pics from that encounter weren’t that great.

I continued to observe while still keeping one eye on my old pup (who happily sniffs around with great patience while I’m in “bird mode.”) Not seeing anything I turned to look for Kwinn again and out of the corner of my eye, right where I’d been looking in the middle of some spruce bows, was movement. Small, brown movement with white spots! And there it was. The source of the ruckus: a tiny northern saw-whet owl. No bigger than the size of the phone I typed this on, this adorable and voracious little hunter was snoozing in the sun, just as cute as could be.

I slowly and carefully repositioned myself so as not to disturb it too much, found my composition and fired away, waiting for just the right moments and expressions. After fifteen minutes or so, I thanked my new friend for its time and headed back home, feeling pretty grateful for the moment.

These five pics above feature four different species of birds, all taken in virtually the same tree at the same time. Nature is amazing.

If you’re interested in prints of any of the above images, please send an email to indicating the name of the blog post and image that you’re interested in.