It is pre-dawn as I make my way down to the water’s edge. The sky is painted in pink and orange tones, foreboding the coming of a new day. Scores of seagulls are flying upstream, announcing their presence with their shrill “hiia-hiia” as they pass by. In the distance ducks can be heard quacking.
A blue heron swoops in from behind me, turns and lands not twenty metres away and starts walking toward me. I freeze. “Can’t he see me?” I’m wearing a camouflage jacket and it is still quite dark. He keeps coming closer, keeping his eyes on the water. Now he found his spot not five metres from me. Suddenly he starts acting nervously. Having finally noticed me he takes off, disapproving of my presence with three loud, croaky calls of “ahhk-ahhk-ahhk”. He lands briefly across the river before taking off again and landing downstream. His dark silhouette stands out against the orange surroundings. The quiet hum of the auto-focus on my camera is followed by the clicking of the shutter as I squeeze off a few frames. It is light enough now. And most important: he is in most of them, completing the scene.
A lone harbour seal pokes his head cautiously through the water surface, scanning his surroundings carefully before slipping beneath the shallow waves of the river again, leaving nothing but a few fleeting ripples behind.
From across the river the eagles, masters of their domain, are stirring. Their haunting, nervous whistles announce their intentions. They are hungry and they will not be denied. Toll will have to be paid to keep the peace and it won’t be long now until they will demand it.
The faint honking of Canada geese can be heard in the distance. I can see them flying through the orange sky, a long chain of stretched out necks and flapping wings in an ever-changing formation.
The sun is now higher in the sky and the light has changed. It is time to leave. I struggle up the slippery slope to the paved walkway above to continue my walk. Everywhere I look there is something going on. Another blue heron is patiently looking for his first meal of the day in the tidal pond on the other side of the walkway, standing motionless in the water, ready to strike. I watch him for a while from the observation platform before moving on. Ducks are dabbling in the brackish water, dipping their heads in the water, tail up. When they finally notice me they slowly glide into deeper water.
Along the way I notice a spider web glistening in the low early morning sun light. It has long been abandoned by its owner, but clings to the bare, leafless branches of a blackberry bush with great tenacity. I have been looking for a shot like this for a while now. So I shoot a few frames. Hopefully they will turn out.
Further on along the way another observation platform invites another look around. I spot a kingfisher sitting on a piece of driftwood deposited a long time ago. He is looking for breakfast too. Kingfishers have eluded me for some time. A timid species, they don’t allow humans too close. Even with a long lens it is a difficult shot. And it is not light enough for the long lens anyway. So I keep going. My old friend, the blue heron, has moved to the south end of the tidal pool to look for food. Patiently waiting for a fish to swim by he pays no attention to me. A lone dog salmon, leftover from the last run, splashes around in the deep water of the tidal pond. Soon he will join the others, whose decaying carcasses litter the river bank. They have come full cycle, their life force spent. Other species will now feed on them, sustaining their lives.
Another spider web attracts my attention. This time the owner is home. Sitting in the centre of the web, the spider is waiting for a flying insect to get entangled in the intricate net.” This will make a cool shot!” I attach the long lens to my camera. Click, click, click. Zoom in and out. Different angles. “This is great! How about a macro shot, really close in?” I don’t have the proper equipment with me and I decide to come back tomorrow. Hopefully both the web and its owner will still be there.
“It is time to head back.” The heron has moved back to the north end of the tidal pond in search for food. The kingfisher is back on his perch, devouring a fish. Click, click, click. The shutter doesn’t get any rest soon.
Hoping to photograph some birds clinging to some cattails, I take another route back. It is a gravel path that follows the shoreline of the tidal pond. No luck today so I keep going past the scrubby looking oak trees to the main walkway. Across the river I spy my old friend, the eagle. He is eating now and peace is restored – for now. He will be hungry again soon and more tribute will have to be paid to live in his domain.
It is time now to head back to my car. Along the way I catch a glimpse of another blue heron. He is sitting on the dock of the marina, grooming himself. He slightly lifts his wing and using his long beak puts all the feathers in their place. An itch under his chin brings up one of his long legs. He scratches himself with the middle claw, his long neck and beak stretched out as far forward as he can. His head feathers are standing up. It must feel good. I keep watching until he is finished. Then I leave. My car is parked not far away.
I have been coming to this magical place for some time now and have never been disappointed. It is the Airpark in Courtenay on Vancouver Island. Depending on the season and the tide it is an ever-changing backdrop ready to be photographed time and time again.
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