Visual Narrative #027-Grassland Birds

VN #027: Grassland Birds
Posted May 19, 2024


Grassland Birds

At this time of year, the grasslands ecosystem wakes up, and birdsong fills the air.

During the three years I photographed the grasslands for my book, Spirit in the Grass: the Cariboo Chilcotin’s Forgotten Landscape, I learned how much and how quickly the diverse grassland ecosystem would change. I could never say to myself, “oh, I’ll get a better bird image next year”, because every bird sighting was a moment to relish; a moment of beauty never to be repeated.

Birds are what made the grasslands so special to me. Their songs represented the true spirit of the grasslands. To photograph them in this vast open landscape, however, was a challenge.

During the book project, Rita and I had a small gathering at our Gallery to bring local folks up-to-date. After the slide show presentation, a gentleman named Shayne Middleton, approached me and very kindly suggested I should probably acquire a telephoto lens for my bird photography.  As I could not afford such a lens at that time, he said he was prepared to help; he would buy a 500mm lens for himself, and he would lend it to me whenever I needed it for my project.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Over the years, Shayne and I have become very close friends, and he has accompanied me on many photography outings. He is technically and artistically talented and his photographic insights have been deeply valued over the years.  All the bird images that you see in this posting (as well as in the grasslands book) are a direct result of his generosity.

A true sign of renewed life in the grasslands is the song of a Western Meadowlark talking to its mate through the spring air.

Over a period of months, I heard and then noticed a meadowlark which would often perch on a small fir tree around sunset. One evening, I camouflaged myself as best I could, set up my tripod, and waited for sunset. Miraculously, the meadowlark returned and faced me in the evening light, and then began to sing its quintessential call of the grasslands.


This killdeer sat on her eggs, nestled on bare ground near a small lake. Once while photographing, she drew a predator away from her eggs by feigning a broken wing. Although she was very aware of me, she appeared peaceful and content.

Marsh Wren

I found marsh wrens extremely challenging to photograph as they preferred to flitter low down amidst the tangle of bulrush stalks. Occasionally they would rise to the top of a cattail and belt out their chattering trills. Their movements intrigued me.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain bluebirds were easier to photograph; I would often stand innocuously in an aspen copse near a fence with a birdbox. Before entering the birdbox to feed its young, it would land on the fence and peruse the surroundings. This behavior provided me with an ideal opportunity to make imagery.

Brewers blackbird

I happened to be photographing the landscape with my 500mm lens when a Brewer’s Blackbird flew into a neighbouring patch of sagebrush. By the intensity of its eyes, I knew I had never seen a brewer’s blackbird before; nor have I seen one since.

A Great Gray Owl

I love owls. The silence of their movements and their ability to swivel their heads three-quarters of a full circle, has always amazed me. The concentric circles of their large facial disk are very efficient at gathering sound; they can locate voles under deep snow or even under a shallow layer of soil.

The Cariboo Chilcotin grasslands are one of the ecological wonders of the world. They contain one of the only remaining intact bluebunch wheatgrass grasslands in North America, and the world’s only porcupinegrass-needlegrass community. Sandhill cranes, one of the two oldest bird species on the planet, also reside here.

It has never been my ambition to be a bird photographer, but the grasslands book project certainly drew me to them. I have learned much from them ever since.



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