Northeast of Red Deer lies a gem of a bird and wildlife sanctuary whose mandate is education, conservation, scientific studies, and winter studies.  Ellis Bird Farm has been in operation since the mid-50’s and pioneered a natural habitat, a haven to Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds.   It’s a beautiful drive if you’re look for a day trip from Calgary – or even a partial one!  We combined a few stops, and took the backroads home – nearly deserted, and so much better than the highway!

The Welcome

Can’t say no to the goats (one of whom clearly deems the grass greener over the other side!)  There are chickens too.  My daughter is the animal whisperer of the family.  That said, all she needed was a handful of the green grass from the other side and she had best friends for life!


Stunning viewpoints are scattered throughout.  Thoughtfully provided platforms overlook tranquil ponds.  Flowers galore  attract butterflies and bees.  And pieces of history dot the landscape.

The Birds

Purple Martins are Canada’s largest Swallows.  Their blue-black colouration is stunning when it catches the light.  They nest in colonies, and ‘multi-roomed condominiums’ are their favourites.  Previously, I’d only seen them on the BC coast.  They arrive in mid-spring in Alberta, and Ellis Bird Farm is a key stop on their migration route.

Purple Martins love to eat the larger flying insects, like dragonflies, moths and can be seen skimming over the ponds snatching bugs out of the air.  Hungry beaks appear out of nesting box holes demanding all day dining!

If you look closely, there are wings of a dragonfly peeking out of her mouth.
Mama Mallard with young’uns.

How adorable are the little Tree Swallows waiting for their food.  That face!!  As an aside, these were all taken with my Tamron 150-600mm lens. So we were not close at all.  That said, the birds here are clearly used to people and aren’t phased at all by the proximity of nearby visitors.  (Visit one of my favourite sites to learn about Bird behaviour – and respectful human behaviour. It’s great for bird identification too.)


All Creatures Great & Small

Where there are ponds there are insects. Where there are flowers there are insects.  Where there are insects there are birds. So there is a great circle of life happening here!

Not sure if this pretty Red Admiral Butterfly evaded a few attempts at a drive by feeding, but it was looking a little battered!

This Azure Damselfly was sunning itself by the pond.

The Pale Swallowtail Butterfly stopped and briefly posed long enough for me to catch the shot!

And this cheeky little squirrel paused long enough to give me a “what anti-squirrel baffle are you talking about” look, and carried on raiding the birdfeeder!

The Flowers

Love these delicate Martagon Lilies.  I must find a spot for them in my own garden!

It’s Not Over Until You Pull Into the Driveway

Whenever I do a day trip, I try not to take a conventional route home.  Highways are great for getting from point A to B, but are usually filled with annoying drivers and monotony.  A backroad route – especially here in Alberta – is often nearly deserted.  So, after an amazing lunch at Tribe in Red Deer – what a delight – and a quick stop at a tack store, we headed off once more!

The canola fields had just started to pop.  The smoke haze from the BC fires was lighter than it had been in Calgary.  And an old barn I’d taken photos of a few years ago had begun its descent to ground level.

The rambunctious calves in the field behind us provided entertainment butting heads and shoulder wrestling.  Mama just looked at us with a “beam me up” expression.

The Grand Finale

The day trip was already a huge success.  But it wasn’t over.  We crested a hill, spotted a tranquil pond and there were two moose.  Anyone who knows me knows how elusive moose are to my camera.  But this couple stuck around long enough to grab a couple of shots before scarpering.

I also have these two to thank for preventing a speeding ticket.  I built up speed and crested the nearby hill which was artfully concealing an RCMP car in a driveway at the bottom.  (A bit dirty if you ask me, but we eluded capture!)  Perfect end to a perfect day!


All my images are available for purchase. These ones haven’t made it onto the Fine Art page of my website (although the moose will definitely end up in Wildlife), but if you see one you like, please reach out.




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