An in-flight snack

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5597

I found this Merlin feasting from a fence top perch near High River last weekend.  I watched him for a couple of minutes before a hauling truck passed by.  At that point, the noise and proximity disturbed this fellow and he took flight.  He shot upwards with a couple of fast wing beats and then surprised me with a hovering break to grab another bite.  It was likely a readjustment of the load but it was neat to watch.

A Merlin's dinner - © Christopher Martin-5572

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5595

With the prey in the right place, he then banked away over the prairie and settled in the grass a couple hundred metres away to finish his meal.

A Merlin's inflight meal - © Christopher Martin-5610-3

In the world Raven made

A conspiracy of ravens - © Christopher Martin-4170

The many are the one
Fly over the world you have made
Share your vision with those who will see
Fly where you will and we will know you are
In time we will understand more of what is
And we will change as you change
We will fly in our way as you fly in yours
You are and we will be

Summer residents at Frank Lake

Singing from the grasstops - © Christopher Martin-6632

Frank Lake is just east of High River in southern Alberta and is a great location for birding throughout the year.  In the summer, ibis, herons, avocets, blackbirds, ducks, pelicans and a menagerie of other avians congregate there for their summer residence.

A Black-crowned night heron stalks along a fencepost.

Black-crowned night heron at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7854

On a recent visit, I enjoyed watching and photographing a number of these birds.  The Black-crowned night heron above was of particular interest to me as it stalked along this fence above a stream where it emptied into the lake.

A shorebird at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-6819Summer among the reeds in Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-6593
Flight over Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7036

White pelicans at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7668

Avocet reflected in Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7175

Ibis at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-6637

American avocets at Frank Lake

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7726

Frank Lake, just east of High River, is a great refuge for birds during migrations.  It also serves as a summer home and breeding ground for many shorebirds and waterfowl.  The sandy flats, rocky outcrops, tall reedy marshes and open water appeal to a wide range of birds and provides nice habitat to raise their chicks in.

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7528

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7727

The American avocet (Recurvirostra americana) is a beautiful shorebird that summers in Frank Lake.  This is the northern end of their summer range – I’m glad they choose to come this far.  I have photographed them at the lake a few times before where they have been feeding in the muddy shallows and beaches.  On a trip there a couple of weeks ago, I was looking for some in flight images.  When I had walked down to the shore, all the birds were active.  I don’t think it was because of me or any raptors that had rustled everyone up.  It seemed like it was a sunny afternoon, lot’s of chicks were hungry and all of the birds were flying, swimming and running around.  It was a great scene with pelicans, stilts, geese, gulls and ducks all milling about.

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7485

And avocets!  I found two small groups of them along the shoreline.  One was a group of adults that generally left one another alone to forage for the tiny insects they favour.  The other was a pair with their brood of four chicks.

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7316

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7282

From the adult group, I was able to track a few fliers.  The family was a great bonus as I had not seen avocet babies before and I enjoyed watching them following their parents around.

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7561

Avocets at Frank Lake - © Christopher Martin-7694

Birding before dawn

Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4044
While waiting for sunrise when I was out on the prairie I stopped at a small roadside slough where there were a variety of shorebirds milling about.  One Avocet and two Black-necked stilts were curious about my nighttime activities and stayed close by.
Avocet in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4036It was too dark for the camera to expose the birds as they moved around so I used a flash set on low power to illuminate the Avocet swimming a few yards off the shoreline.  The stilt found that quite intriguing and circled me on land and in the air a couple of times before I carried on towards the eastern glow.
Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4074
Black-legged stilt in Nanton - © Christopher Martin-4053

A ruckus on the water

One angry goose - © Christopher Martin-8709

I went to Wild Rose Lake a few days ago to see what animals might be active early in the day before dawn.  I’m waiting for the loons to return to the lake so I visit regularly.  On this morning, a beaver and a muskrat were paddling along different parts of the shoreline and there were small bands of ducks nearer to the middle.  Thin bands of fog blew over the surface and I stopped to watch that dance for a while.  It was a tranquil scene supported by gentle calls from the birds including three Canada geese (Branta canadensis) that floated by.

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8629

And then, all hell broke out.  Apparently the geese were not three friends but one couple and a third wheel.  The boyfriend apparently had enough and changed his tone from soft quacking to loud, angry honking.  That happened right when he lunged at the other male and the two were in the equivalent of a back alley brawl – maybe a better description would be a pond pounding or a mid-lake mashup.  The beaks were the main duelling weapon but wings and bodies were used to attack and defend as well.  The main fight lasted less than a minute and then the chase began.

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8671
The male in the relationship trounced the other one and sent him scooting away.  The chastened goose started beaking off from a short distance away and that seemed to rile the champion up.  He then swam/flew to the instigator and nipped at him until he dove under the water.  Popping up several meters away, the cycle then repeated itself six or seven more times.  It was crazy to watch!

Geese fight - © Christopher Martin-8685

Geese flight - © Christopher Martin-8670

In the end, the lone goose ended up flying across the lake and the lovebirds continued their morning swim.

Canada goose portrait - © Christopher Martin-8726

Spring Robins

Spring Robin - © Christopher Martin-3454

Robins are heralds of spring where I live.  Our weather can be 20°C in the middle of winter or have a snowstorm in July so we have a lot of fits and starts between each season.  I know that winter has mostly retreated when the robins return to our backyard.  This one showed up with its partner about a week ago and I photographed him having a drink in the pond over the weekend.  It was a mild winter but I’m still very glad to be enjoying spring now.

Spring Robin - © Christopher Martin-3448-2

A Snowy Owl’s flight over the prairies

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1458

On the weekend I followed reports of Snowy owls northeast of Calgary near Irricana.  I left home early and arrived in the area just after sunrise.  I was lucky enough to spy the first Snowie of the day perched on a fence post glowing in the soft light.

Irricana Snowy Owl - © Christopher Martin-1415

The pure white owls were until quite recently thought to always be males.  That has been disproved leaving it hard to determine the gender from casual observation.  I will allow for the old convention though and refer to this one as a he.  The other four birds I photographed that morning were banded to varying degrees and I will refer to them as ladies in a future post.  It took only a few minutes before he launched and scouted low over the field for breakfast.  This was repeated a couple of times with each sortie ending with a return to the fence line.

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1457

On the last flight that I photographed of this owl, he flew away from the fence and landed in the middle of the field on a pipeline valve which allowed for an interesting backlit shot as he flared his wings to land.

Irricana Snowy Owls - © Christopher Martin-1474

Eagles in the Elk Valley

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0150

We were in Fernie a couple of weeks ago and on the drive home found a few Bald eagles who were flying around a carcass that had been pulled a few hundred meters off the highway.  They scattered when we first stopped but came circling back around the trees and back to the easy meal.  A nice break during the lean winter months.

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0157

Elk Eagle Valley - © Christopher Martin-0161


A Grouse in Kananaskis

Kananaskis Grouse - © Christopher Martin-0013

This bird was teasing seeds on the roadside in the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis.  It continued on as I got close to the ground and photographed it at eye level.


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