Birds

Red-naped Sapsucker in Bragg Creek

 

Red-naped Sapsucker - 2014 © Christopher Martin

It always exciting when I come across a new creature for the first time.  On the weekend, while photographing two beautiful owls, I had my first encounter with a Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis).  I’m used to seeing Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers frequently around Bragg Creek but the distinctive red patches sent me looking through my bird book to identify this new (to me) species.  We are on the northwest edge of their summer range but they are apparently quite conspicuous so I must have missed them previously.

Scratch - 2014 © Christopher Martin

(Please click on any image if you would like to view a higher resolution version in a new window)

When one of the owls flew to a fence post near a stand of trees, it disturbed this small woodpecker.  The little bird started chittering away and ended up flying out of the tree above the owl and landing on a post in front of me.  He settled down and took a minute to scratch the feathers on his nape before heading across the meadow.  It didn’t bother the owl in the least but I really enjoyed the short visit.

Red-naped Sapsucker - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 


Full extension

A Red-tailed Hawk launches off a post on the prairie west of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

When this Red-tailed hawk launched off the post I had been watching him on for a few minutes, I was really impressed by the power and balance displayed.   He flew closer and then went to the ground after circling back towards the fenceline.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t an attacking dive only an uninspired landing in the tall grass.

ed-tailed flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens: 1/2000 second at f/4 on ISO 800

 

 


Relaxing in the sunshine

Canada Goose on Wild Rose Lake - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) surveys the lake from a one-legged position on the water of Wild Rose in Bragg Creek, Alberta, Canada.  Before taking up this spot, I watched it walk out on the patch of dirt towards the water – it looked like it was checking out its own reflection when it got to the lake’s slightly abstract mirror.

Canada Goose reflected - 2014 © Christopher Martin

 


Water skimming Tree Swallow

Water skimming Tree Swallow - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I was on the edge of the lake at Wild Rose a week ago watching the three loons who were diving in and swimming on the water.  A few different times a small flight of swallows deftly skimmed the water nearby while searching for low flying and water-walking insects to pick off.  These Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) are swift, acrobatic fliers so trying to catch a sharp image is a fun challenge.  This little one had just hit the water but missed the little creature and was just pulling up when I caught up to him.


Canada Geese in Flight

Canada goose in flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) are busy looking for good nesting spots in the Elk Valley and I enjoyed watching them flying along the river when I was in Fernie during Easter.  In urban areas, they border on being a nuisance in many people’s mind, I don’t see them that way.

In the mist - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII and 300mm lens: 1/1000 second at f/5.6 on ISO 3200

Particularly when they are in flight in a wilderness setting, I find them to be a wonderful animal to watch.  The variation in the weather on the morning I spent photographing along the Elk River didn’t hurt the imagery at all.

Up high - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

Air traffic - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 500

There was fog and light rain in the morning which burned off early leaving sharp light and blue skies.  The forest along the river provided a beautiful backdrop as well.  I had fun with all of it.

Forest flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1600 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250

2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII and 300mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1250 second at f/5.6 on ISO 1250


Spring with Robins in Fernie

Perched amid the tangled branches - 2014 © Christopher Martin(click on the image to open a page with a higher resolution version)

Although Fernie is in the heart of the Rockies, it is deeper into spring than Calgary so the visit there over the Easter weekend was great.  Robins have always been a sure sign of spring for me and I found a few hunting in a field during the rain.  This one was particularly beautiful as it chirped away from its perch in a tree by the Elk River.

Over the shoulder - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Elk River Heron

Elk River Heron flight - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

The Elk River runs through a southeastern region of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.  Where the river spills out of the mountains into the Elk Valley, it widens and attracts an abundance of fish which in turn draws eagles, osprey and herons.  On our recent trip to Fernie I enjoyed several walks along the river and was able to watch all of these birds on separate encounters.  On the first evening my nephew Austin and I were out for a walk and watched a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) flying low along the river and land at a shallow stretch.

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

There was enough light that it worked out well to photograph him flying by and landing.

 Along the banks - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

He landed nearby but spooked when we walked a bit closer so we headed home.  It was the right call not only for the bird but the rain increased from the drizzle to a downpour which we were happy to miss.

Heron landing - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2500 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

Thanks Austin – it was fun to be out birding with you!

Elk River Heron - 2014 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII and 500mm f/4 lens: 1/2000 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800


Nesting owls near High River

Great Horned Owl - 2014 © Christopher Martin

A nest east of High River that I have watched for a few years is home to a new brood of Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) owlets again this spring.  I went on a backroad tour last weekend and when I saw the nest occupied I set up the long lens and watched the owl as it dozed.  I watched her shift her weight around a few times and hoped that there were nestlings who might want to peek out from under their feathery blanket.  It didn’t take too long for one and then two of these babies to have a look around.

2014 © Christopher Martin

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Owl and owlets - 2014 © Christopher Martin

On this latest visit, a fellow admirer told me that the nest has been used to raise owlets annually for over forty years.  I love that and it makes sense as the nest is in a great location with access to fields, shade, protection and seemingly all of the things that make for a good home.

Owl on guard - 2014 © Christopher Martin
A couple more photographs from the visit.

Fluffing up - 2014 © Christopher Martin

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A little peckish are we? - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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Aware of what's around - 2014 © Christopher Martin


A pigeon on the prairie

High River Pigeon - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/3200 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800

I spent an afternoon on the prairie east of High River, birds are stocking up in the fields as they head north.  Swans, Pintails, Geese and a number of Bald Eagles were active in the sky.  At one grain bin where I saw a Kestrel streaking by, this pigeon proved less elusive.  Curiosity drew it out for a couple of quick looks.  In the direct sunlight I liked the iridescent purple on the throat.

Peeking Pigeon - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1600 seconds at f/4 on ISO 800


A Gila Woodpecker in Los Cabos

2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 70-200 lens and 1.4x extender at 280mm: 1/5000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

When my wife and I went to Cabo San Lucas last December I was lucky to find this Gila Woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis) in a stand of cacti during a morning walk.  I had noticed the hole in this cactus and was looking on when this one flew in.  It poked its head out a couple of times before heading off again.  I carried on and saw it flying around a couple more times when I came back that way near the end of my stroll.


Elbow Falls Dipper

American Dipper - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I went up to Elbow Falls last weekend for the sunrise but I stayed for the American Dippers (Cinclus mexicanus).

Winter Dipper - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DII + 70-200mm lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/8 on ISO 1000

I love watching these aquatically adept birds stalking, diving and swimming in the middle of the rapids.  On the last visit to the waterfall, there were three Dippers flitting about moving between the bottom of the waterfall and the rocks at the top.

Patience - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 4000

An uphill battle - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Splashing around - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2500

They chased each other down river a couple of times but spent most of their time fishing alone.  On a quiet morning in Kananaskis, it was nice to spend my time watching them.

Dipper Portraiture - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Let's have a look - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600


Great Blue Heron at Red Rock Crossing

Great Blue Heron in the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin
The Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias) I see are usually wading in the water or flying above it. When I was in Sedona I went down to Red Rock Crossing and was surprised to catch sight of one not by Oak Creek but in a field of tall grass a couple of hundred meters away from the water.

Heron under the red rocks - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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Down in the grass - 2014 © Christopher Martin
The bird was walking on a path leading up towards a ridge but lingered fairly close which allowed me to change lenses for a couple of different looks.  I really love these birds and it was a treat to see one in an unusual environment.

Walking away - 2014 © Christopher Martin
I noticed some crimson flecks on its bill and when I left the bird and went back towards Oak Creek, I figured out why the Heron stayed nearby.  I realized I had interrupted its dinner.  I left the area and returned to the edge of the clearing an hour later to find it had left but not before returning to finish the meal.


Night Herons in Arizona

Out of the shadows - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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Among the tangles - 2014 © Christopher Martin

When we were in Sedona a couple of weeks ago, I drove to the Page Springs Sanctuary in search of birds to photograph.  Arizona is the winter home to many species that summer in Canada and I enjoyed seeing a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons (Nycticorax nycticorax) during my visit to the river near the springs.

Heron's yawn - 2014 © Christopher Martin
It was mid-morning and they were not active.  They were perched over the river deep in the tangled branches of the huge trees.  This yawn was the most action that I saw while I watched them.  Didn’t bother me, they were great to see resting in this quiet forest.

Perched in shadow - 2014 © Christopher Martin
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A red eye in the trees - 2014 © Christopher Martin


Winter Hummingbirds

Anna's Hummingbird - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5D Mark III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

… Not in Alberta though.  Bobbi and I were in Sedona, Arizona last week and we learned that there was one species of Hummingbird that stays in the area through the winter.  In the spring and summer, there can be up to 14 different types of Hummingbirds there but only the Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna) will spend the full year.

Touchdown - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5D Mark III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I went to the Red Rock State Park where I had been told a couple of these birds had staked out the feeder put out by the park staff as their territory.  Tucked off to the side of the visitor center, they have a sheltered garden with native trees surrounding a few benches and various bird feeders catering to those who overwinter nearby.  The Hummingbird feeder is in a slightly unusual position beside an exit door and close to the large bay windows of smoked glass.  I suppose it allows people to stand close to the window on the inside and watch these speedy fellows at close range.  I liked the clean background afforded by the opaque window so it suited my purposes.

Hovering around - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5D Mark III + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/800th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I believe there were two individuals that I saw but they never appeared at the same time so it could have been one, two or more as I’m not familiar with this species and could easily mistake the unique number observed.  Regardless, I was entranced by their iridescent feathers, the speed and precision of these birds as I always am with Hummingbirds.  It will be several months until they return to my home so it was a treat to spend some time with them last week.

Incoming - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5D Mark III + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/3200th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200


Prairie Falcon over… the prairies

Prairie Falcon in golden light - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

When I was waiting for my new owl friends to provide a beautiful through-the-window moment, my tripod and I were set up out the open on the snow-covered field that surrounds the barn.  I was not expecting any other wildlife to swing by given my foreign presence but this Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) must have taken pity on me.

Falcon's downstroke -2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

More likely, it was scanning the ground for dinner and the sun’s low altitude in the evening kept it from looking in my direction until it was pretty close.  I was happy to see this hunter though as the light was beautiful and the bird even more so.

Silo flight - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/6400 of a second at f/4 on ISO 200

It was a very pleasant surprise when I ran across another one of these beautiful birds (maybe the same one) when I returned to that same area a couple of days later.  Well we didn’t really run into each other – I was driving and the bird was flying around a grain silo.  It circled around me twice which gave me a moment to get out of my car and track it a bit easier.


Enjoying winter with the chickadees

Black-capped Chickadee in sunlight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

After a nice break over Christmas where I was outside playing with my kids and walking along the river, I’m enjoying winter now.  Following one of the cold snaps, the chickadees that visit our backyard seemed happy to be flying around in the -5°C weather after -30°C the day before.  They were flitting back and forth between the feeder and the tree beside our second floor deck which allowed me to practice capturing their launches off of the evergreen branches.

Chickadee flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin
The mid-flight images were not successful in the least (not shown – nothing worthwhile…) but I’m trying different strategies as me and auto focus are not quick enough to track their small bodies in their darting, quick flight movements.  For now, I was happy to spend some time with these little birds in my backyard while the sun drifted in and out of the clouds.

Wings up - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

One-eyed Chickadee - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Flight preparation - 2013 © Christopher Martin


On the rocks with a Brown Pelican

Brown Pelican Launch - © Christopher Martin-5810

Brown Pelicans are frequent fliers just above the waves all around Los Cabos.  I love watching them glide and I had a special encounter one morning when we were staying near Cabo San Lucas in December.  Just before sunrise down on the beach near Punta Cabeza De Ballena, east of Cabo, when one landed on rocks near the shore close to me.  This pelican came in when it was still pretty dark but there was enough light to make the landing a good photo opportunity.

Pre-dawn flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin-Landing run - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the two images above, I brought out some detail by bringing up the shadows in post.  Below, I went the other way and deepened the shadows to create a solid silhouette of the pelican.

2013 © Christopher Martin

This fellow flew off before the sun came up.  I had hoped he would stay as the sun was at an angle where the sun would be backlighting the feathers which I thought would look beautiful.

Pre-dawn launch - 2013 © Christopher MartinEven though he left a bit early for me, it was great when it flew close to the waves in between the rocks and the crests of the waves as it passed me by.

Brown Pelican's sea flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

As the sun came up so too did the tide.  The waves were breaking around the rocks where the pelican had rested which looked beautiful.  I was really happy when another pelican came in and landed very close to the original one’s spot.  With the sun and sea spray, it was a great scene to photograph.  The first image in this set was from this point in the morning.

Brown Pelican in black and white - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Brown Pelican observations- © Christopher Martin-Air drying - 2013 © Christopher Martin-
Brown Pelican Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The second pelican stayed for a little while and then took off allowing for a nice launch photograph and then headed over the waves in the opposite direction from the first pelican.

Water flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 


A Curious Cormorant

Shakin' - 2013 © Christopher Martin
When we were in Cabo San Lucas in early December, I saw many cormorants flying past our beach.  They fly low and fast with little deviation from a straight line past the shore.  The odd one would dive under to fish but our location did not seem to be a great spot for a meal.  One morning, I was watching for Brown Pelicans, who will occasionally land quite close by, when a juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) popped up on a rocky shelf about 30 meters away.

Jumpin' up - 2013 © Christopher Martin
It looked at me for a second, started shaking off the water and then set to preening its feathers.  I was thrilled to see one of these birds closeup.  From afar, they appear to be completely black.  With this opportunity, I was able to see the different shading in the feathers and the lighter shading around the face.

2013 © Christopher Martin

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Shakin' all over - 2013 © Christopher Martin

That was interesting for me but the location made the images even better than the close proximity.  It had chosen a dynamic spot where the waves were breaking close behind it, one even crashed right on the bird.  The water droplets from the cormorant’s shaking, the sea spray and warm morning sunlight as well as some nice looks from my new friend made for a really great encounter.

Breaking surf - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

In the surf - 2013 © Christopher MartinThis fellow preened again for a few minutes after this and a couple of other waves crashed.  Then it flew off the rock down to the water.  I left it swimming and diving for fish.
Into the air and back to the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin-

Ocean swimming - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Birds from a visit to the George C. Reifel Sanctuary

Heron at Reifel - 2013 © Christopher Martin - 68547I went to the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary on Sunday.  I was hoping to see Saw-Whet Owls but with the cold snap that hit Vancouver and the Lower Mainland a few days before, I was told they had disappeared.  Hardier birds were hanging around the snowy pathways so I wasn’t disappointed with the visit.   This Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) was hunting in the shallows near a blind and wandered very close.
Sandhill Squawk - © Christopher Martin-71887A Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) squawks to its family nearby.
Sandhill Exhalation - 2013 © Christopher MartinThe same bird exhales a puff of warm air.

Pileated Woodpecker - © Christopher Martin-70987A Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) drums on an old tree for insects.A male Mallard's iridescent cap - 2013 © Christopher MartinA Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) swims between the ice chunks in a brackish pond.
Trouble doubled - 2013 © Christopher MartinTwo female Mallards waddle down the pathway.
Wood duck perch - 2013 © Christopher MartinA pair of Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) share a perch over the water.
Crane Flight - 2013 © Christopher MartinA small flight of Sandhill Cranes transit between ponds at the sanctuary.


Pelican Landing

Dawn landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The colors in the sky at dawn have been fantastic during our visit to Los Cabos this week.  The wildlife has been even more enjoyable.  Brown Pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis) have been a favourite bird of mine to photograph since I first saw them here in Cabo san Lucas a couple of years ago.  On the prairies, we have White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos) that will hang out on larger ponds for the summer but for some reason they don’t cast the same spell on me that their multi-coloured cousins do.  I had a great encounter with a pair of pelicans a couple of mornings ago.  This image was of the first one maneuvering in to land on a half-submerged rock pile just before sunrise.  The other pelican joined a little while later.  Probably once I get home, I’ll have more to share from these two.


Winter’s raptor

Prairie hunter - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) have arrived along the prairies with winter back.  Along with Snowy owls, they will dominate the skies until well into spring.

Launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
I was excited to see Snowies a couple of times in the morning last weekend but they were less enthused to see me and flew away before I could stop.  This hawk was much more tolerant, I was able to photograph it for half an hour as it perched and flew along the fence line.

Rough command - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Backyard Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800

We have several woodpeckers who use our backyard as their home base.  There are a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and up to five Hairy Woodpeckers that hammer the tree trunks throughout the day.  A couple of days ago, this male, denoted by the red stripe, Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus) was working away at this jagged tree top and was unconcerned about being photographed.

Tongue flick - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/1000 of a second at f/8 on ISO 800

Their tongues are really long but, unlike a dog’s tongue on a hot day, are not long in sight.  It was a nice bit of luck to get a couple of images with the tongue visible.  Above, his tongue was pretty close to full extension.  Well suited to catching insects hiding under the bark and in the crevices.

Looking around - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/8000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1250

He worked his way up the tree (though it looks more like a branch) and having exhausted the supply of critters that suited his palate, he flew on to one of the larger aspens across the yard.  I liked this crouching pose I caught just before he launched.

Departing now - 2013 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 IS lens: 1/2500 of a second at f/5 on ISO 800


Migrating through the Rockies

Rocky migration - 2013 © Christopher Martin

A skein of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) broke from the standard V formation as they navigated through the Bow Valley corridor.  It may have been wind shear out of the mountains that pushed the birds around but as I watched them rise over a forested hill and bank around a massive peak, I had a notion they were playing as they flew along.  Very likely just my imagination having a bit of a run but I enjoyed watching the constantly changing pattern created by their silhouettes against the Banff National Park’s early winter landscape.


Winter residents: Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees

Black-capped Perched - 2013 © Christopher Martin

(click on any image to open a page with a larger version)

A Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) watches one of the bird feeders from a perch in the boughs of one of the evergreens in the backyard.  The Chickadees are particularly curious and when I’m out on the deck photographing they flyby to see what’s going on.  Following the storm, the next day was beautiful and the birds flew in close when I went outside for a little while.  While the lone Grosbeak was aloof, the smaller birds were chattering nearby and landing in the branches a few feet away.

Flitting in the trees - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Here a Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli) flits around in the same tree scavenging for edible bits.  Note the white stripe above the eye that distinguishes them from their Black-capped cousins.

Tricky snacking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

While the little birds are still finding seeds and other things to eat in the forest, winter is at the doorstep so I returned our bird feeders to service a few days before the snow flew.  I wanted to let the resident Nuthatches and Chickadees return to the winter feeding pattern before the weather threw them a winter curveball.  Within a day there were a couple of birds who found the feeders and by the storm we were happy to see much of the congregation flying around the backyard again.

 


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