Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Road is How: images from a prairie road waiting for spring

Went for a short drive this morning down one of my favourite roads running east of the city. People who live on the road sometimes call it "Old 16" because it was at one time a main highway into the city, Highway 16, before the new 16 that is part of the Yellowhead highway in Central Saskatchewan.
the western termination of Old 16

The book I have been working on since the fall of 2011 is based on a three day walk down Old 16. For now at least, I am calling it The Road is How: Three Days Afoot through Nature, Eros, and Soul.* The title borrows from something Soren Kiekegaard once wrote about the road as a spiritual image.

This morning Old 16 was bathed in blue light reflected off far too much snow for April 14. The sun was only half-obscured by gauzy clouds and though the wind was cold, spring seemed at least a possibility.

Horned Larks help. They are the first breeding birds back from the south (the central U.S.). They chase each other and then land briefly in pairs, before taking off again on little courtship flights and what appears to be brief aerial battles thirty feet above the snowy fields.

like many grassland songbirds, the Horned Lark has long hind claws that help it to walk and stand rather than hop like a robin would

When I saw a bird sitting on the wire at first I thought it might be a meadowlark, but as I got close enough for a very distant telephoto shot (80 metres or so) I realized it was a Northern Shrike. The Northern Shrike, which winters down here and breeds in the far north of the province, shares with its endangered grassland relative, the Loggerhead Shrike, the habit of eating vertebrate prey. Shrikes are the only songbirds in fact who regularly prey on mice, amphibians and birds. The hooked bill visible in this image tells the story.

Another northern predator that depends on the prairie for its winter survival is the snowy owl. I flushed a perfectly white adult male off the side of the road, where he looked like any other chunk of snow piled up by the graders. Here he is in flight, first at a distance. . .

That is "Monica Farm" shown in this image. Here is a cropped version of the same photo:

After swooping over the road he headed north to land in a small bush about three hundred metres away (this image is about 150X so is even fuzzier than usual):

*HarperCollins will be publishing the new book by this time next year and my editor, Patrick Crean, is expected to get back to me with some editing thoughts very soon.

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