Posts tagged “birds

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


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


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


An abandoned barn for owls

Reserved observation - 2014 © Christopher Martin

I went out on the prairie a couple of times on the weekend.  I was looking for owls.  On the “hope to see” list were Great Horned, Snowy and Short-eared.  I went to the back roads around Frank Lake.  I encountered a couple of Snowies but it was too dark to photograph them.  I returned to both locations in better light a couple of times but unsurprisingly they had both moved on.  Nice to know they were around though.  Short-eared proved elusive and I did not see any ears, short or otherwise.

Barn sentinel - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/640 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I did find a great old barn set off in a remote spot with a couple of grain silos on the first evening.  That scene was great on its own but the Great Horned Owl I saw perched in a window.  The window frame was weathered with peeling red paint so character was not in short supply.  The owl was shy once I stopped my car and it hopped inside the barn to perch on a beam.   I set up a ways back from a west-facing window at the other end of the barn in the hopes that the owl might fly through it as dusk approached and it went out to start hunting.

Framed - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4X extender: 1/320 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

A chilly wait through the golden light had no results and when the owl did head out, it flew through the eastern window.  While I waited, a long lens and high ISO allowed for a couple of nice shadow dominated images.  I left the owl the first night with it perched on a fencepost near the barn.  When I returned home and looked at the images, I was surprised to see a second owl buried in the shadows inside the barn.  It had been invisible to my eyes but had just barely resolved on the highest ISO images.

I returned two days later before dawn and saw the pair of owls working out of the same eastern window.  I set up on the same western window and could see them through main entrance as the sun rose.  Their activity wound down as the day wrestled with the night and soon they were perched on the same beams as before.

In shadows - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/80 of a second at f/4 on ISO 2000

This time, I took a wide path around the side of the barn and was able to photograph each owl on their respective beams through the eastern window (per the image at the top of this post and directly below).

In the barn - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4 extender: 1/100 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

I returned to my original spot and as I came around the barn saw that one of the owls had flown up to the top of a silo.  It was perched there scanning the fields.  I guess it wanted one last snack before its nap.

Up on a grain silo - 2014 © Christopher MartinCanon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens and 1.4 extender: 1/1000 of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

It stayed up there for ten minutes and then flew along the fence-line, dropped on a fence post for a minute and then glided over the patchwork of snow and grass to a mound of earth a few hundred meters away.

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

I waited a while longer to see if the owl would come back or its mate would head out.  Neither happened and I packed up as the owl inside the barn dropped off to sleep.

I’ll head back to see about that window again in a couple of weeks.  Maybe they’ll give me an opportunity then.  It was great to see these beautiful birds either way.  They have amazing faces and I really enjoyed studying them for a couple of hours.


2013 Favourite Wildlife Photographs

The tail-end of lunch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“The Tail-End of Lunch” from the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Provincial Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens:  1/1250 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1250

Last year was a good year for wildlife.  I had some really great encounters with animals in Brackendale, Cabo San Lucas and the Khutzeymateen on British Columbia’s west coast.  Closer to home, I enjoyed a lot of time on the Prairies and in the mountains photographing .  These hikes and drives were rewarded with nice images of birds, bears and a moose that made it into this collection.

If you are interested in the list of 32 selected photographs, please CLICK THIS LINK to open the gallery’s webpage.  Continue reading below if you want to know a bit more about my goals in 2013 and how they are evolving for the new year.

"Wapiti Water Shake" in the Banff National Park
“Wapiti Water Shake” in the Banff National Park
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/640 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Black Water Launch” from the Khutzeymateen Inlet on northern British Columbia’s west coast
Canon 5DIII + 500mm lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

When reviewing my wildlife images from 2012 last January, I said my goals for 2013 would be the same.  At that time, I said my goals were to improve my approaches to wildlife (to minimize disruption and increase the chance to observe natural behaviour), improve my technique (better sharpness and quicker response to animal movement) and create images that tell a more complete story about the animals (more engaging and interesting).  I did work on those throughout the year and I can see improvements in my imagery as a result.

A Bald Eagle's winter flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin
“Winter Flight” along the Squamish River in Brackendale in British Columbia
Canon 5DIII + 300mm f/4 lens: 1/1600 of a second at f/4 on ISO 800

Increasingly I am also trying to bring more artistry into my wildlife compositions.  Overall, I have been happy with the results of that effort.  I’m excited about this new year.  Drawing more creativity and beauty into the photographs I make is the path I will stay on for now.  With our children growing up and more willing to occasionally head out early and stay late, I am really looking forward to enjoying more and more of these encounters with my wife and our son and daughter.  That is the most important goal for me in 2014.

Shadow Pelican - 2013 © Christopher Martin“Shadow Pelican” before dawn in Los Cabos, Mexico
Canon 5DIII + 500mm f/4 lens: 1/8000 of a second at f/4 on ISO 3200


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

 


Eagle Skirmishes

Eagle Skirmish - 2013 © Christopher Martin

An eagle enjoying a feast is not often left alone for too long in Brackendale.  Finished spawning, the salmon drift downriver listlessly and eventually die naturally or with the assistance of the scavengers along the rivers.  The effort is in pulling the fish out of the water.  When that is done, competition often arrives to stake a claim.  Skirmishes, jousting and all out fights can breakout before one eagle is chased off.

Lox for breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinThis eagle was unchallenged as we floated past but it kept its head on a swivel wary of potential thieves.

Guarding breakfast - 2013 © Christopher MartinIn another spot, there were a lot of fish along the rocks and a lot of eagles vying for them.

Salmon wars - offense and defense _2013 © Christopher Martin-

Eagle ballet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Occasionally, as in the photograph below, an equilibrium of sorts will be found where a few eagles will take turns on a fish with little aggression.

Salmon Potluck - 2013 © Christopher MartinHowever, one eagle soon came screaming in and upset the delicate balance.

The disruptor arrives - 2013 © Christopher MartinThere are many gulls that wait for opportunities to grab bits out of the water.  When eagles aren’t around, they have similar battles over prime spots.

Seagull skirmishes - 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.


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.

 


An Evening Grosbeak in the snow

Winter snack - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Chickadees, Bluejays and Nuthatches in our backyard stay year round.  For some of the other birds, the heavy snowstorm on Sunday and the cold temperatures left behind have prompted discussion about overwintering or heading for the south.  This Evening Grosbeak seemed to be weighing his options as he nibbled on twigs while perched in the bushes above the pond.

Cracking twigs - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With the cold and the snow, I will not blame him if he takes flight soon.

Grosbeak's crown - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Eagles in the Khutzeymateen

Vertical aspirations - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Grizzly bears are the kings of the Khutzeymateen’s wildlife.  In the air, the eagles hold a similar position among the birds along the ten mile inlet.  Most were Bald eagles but a few Golden eagles were also in residence to enjoy the salmon runs that were in full swing.

A golden perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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In the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Constant adversaries on the prairies, eagles and ravens, were occasionally found chasing one or the other around the towering pines.

Catch me if you can - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Often adolescents were dining on the fish in the creeks alongside the seagulls.  That may have been much less trouble than jousting with their elders for the prime fishing locations at the mouth of the estuary.

An avian beachgoer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Beach picking - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the heavy rain would roll down the valley, most of the eagles would weather it in the open on a raised perch of one type or another.  They probably don’t care too much about it but on the first two days where there were few breaks in the downpour, I thought there must be at least a few that hunted around for shelter.  I didn’t find them but the exposed raptors provided a good subject when the bears were not to be found.

Waiting out the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When the rain did stop, the wings were unfolded to air dry and the daily activities resumed.

Drying out after the rain - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Aerial curiosity - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Photographing the eagles throughout the trip into the Khutzeymateen was one of the collective highlights.  I’m fortunate to see them occasionally on the prairies but it was a real pleasure to be able to watch them along the coastline and up in the tops of the rainforest.

Eagles in the rainforest - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Seagulls in the Khutzeymateen

Khutzeymateen gull in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Though named for its bears, the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary shelters a great variety of other wildlife as well.  Seagulls abound in the inlet with several different species mixing in with any one of the flocks.

Symmetry - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Water launch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

With the salmon running up the creeks to spawn, the bears would go into the forest where the water is shallow for easy hunting.  When a bear is feeding upstream, seagulls soon arrive at the river mouth and wait for the scraps.

A sentry for scraps - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Waiting for the bears to feast - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Bears are pretty messy when they are feasting on salmon so a lot of bits float down.  The birds hang in the air and perch along the banks watching for the bright red meat in the water.

A morsel of salmon caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The aerial acrobatics as they angle for position, dive for scraps, hold their territory and generally heckle one another are a lot of fun to watch.  The small streams keep the birds packed into a little area which allows for great photography as they fly in the same locations repeatedly.  Even with big lenses, it is relatively easy to track them as they fly up and down, back and forth.

Aerial surveillance - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the sail out of the inlet, a few seagulls were using a stick of driftwood as there base of operations.  I don’t know if they were on a break from the salmon or if the insects along the surface were more enticing.

Adrift in the inlet - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

Whether on the rivers or out on the open water, I enjoyed photographing these birds throughout my time in the Khutzeymateen.


Robins in the bath

One eye open - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The American robins (Turdus migratorius) which have lived in the trees behind our house for through the warm months have a habit of bathing in our little pond regularly.

Prepping for bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

In the summer, they seem to prefer washing up in the morning whereas in the cooler days of spring and now in autumn, they visit in closer to noon.  The other day the pond seemed more like an airport as there were eight Robins along with several Black-capped chickadees and a Northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) flying around.

A Northern Flicker resting in the backyard - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I find Flickers to be particularly handsome birds so I’ve included one here (a bit against the grain of the post).

Waiting in turn - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was great fun and I felt like they were wringing the most out of one of the remaining relatively warm days.

Bath time - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Their enthusiasm when splashing water around with their wings is a great photography subject and high shutter speeds can freeze the action at interesting moments.

Flying drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I expect they will be leaving soon and will return next year as the harbingers of spring in late May a couple of weeks before spring has subdued winter.


Great Blue Heron Reflected

A Heron's flight reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I went to the small lake in Wild Rose on the weekend to see whether the cooler weather of the past week had scared off the pair of Great Blue Herons who summer there.  The shoreline was empty and I thought the lake had been left by these large birds until next year.  I turned my attention to the small island in the middle of the lake.  Under a stand of mixed trees at the far end one heron was standing a few metres back from the water’s edge.

Wild Rose High Four - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It stared my way for a few minutes and then resumed its previous activity – perched on one leg, standing motionless except for the occasional pull at a stray feather or similar grooming habit.  When a noise drew its attention it would stare for a bit and then continue.  I loved the colours in the bushes along the shoreline and their soft reflections.  I hoped to see the heron fly low against this backdrop so I waited.  And waited.

Great Blue Heron reflected - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Somewhere close to an hour later it finally stretched out its wings, stepped close to the water and took to the air.  It was worth the wait.  Flying low, the feet dragged in the water a couple of times as it crossed the lake.  I love watching Great Blue Herons fly, their wings are so large that it seems like they are barely putting in any effort when they fly yet they move at a good pace.

Slicing the surface - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The heron checked its flight as it arrived on the other side and started walking along the shallows.  I watched it stalk fish for a while and then I headed home to warm up.  I think it will be heading south soon.

Checked flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Fishing in the shallows - 2013 © Christopher Martin


An eagle’s easy meal

Fast food carryout - © Christopher Martin

I was out on the ocean with my friend Jeff yesterday.  We are heading into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary this morning for four days on a boat where we will be looking for the wild bears that own this remote inlet on British Columbia’s Pacific coast.  That’s today but yesterday we were out whale watching leaving from Prince Rupert and cruising the coastline in search of humpbacks.  On the return, there were a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) attracted by fishing scraps thrown overboard in the channel.

Target practice - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I saw it as a rare easy meal for these beautiful creatures.  Seemed like good target practice as well.  They circled around a couple of times for the chunks of fish, chasing off a large raft of gulls that seemed to materialize out of thin air.

Waterbound - 2013 © Christopher Martin

More to come in a few days when I get back.


A few of Frank Lake’s Avocets

Wave runner - 2013 © Christopher Martin-9644

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2500th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I have fallen in love with American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) this year.  These birds are beautiful and I enjoy watching them high step in the shallow water as they fish for insects and small crustaceans.  Following the floods, which devastated nearby High River, I went down to Frank Lake – curious to learn how the wildlife that summers there had fared.  I was very happy to see masses of birds in their respective nesting areas and flying overhead.  I can’t say the lake wasn’t impacted but its residents appeared to be doing well.

Water drops - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/3200th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

I found a small colony of Avocets dispersed over a couple of hundred metres of shoreline west of the viewing blind on the lake.  They were fishing close to the sand and within a couple of minutes of my arrival had drifted quite close apparently unconcerned with my presence.   I settled in and spent most of the next hour following their activity on the water.

Curious? - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Seeing them fight over fishing territory is exciting as well.  When one of the Avocets drifted past an invisible line, its neighbour would race across the water to confront the offender.  It occurred only a couple of times while I watched them but the flurry of activity had my camera clicking and my attention captured.  Usually one ends up running away but on one occasion the defender felt the need to take to the air and truly chase the other one away.  Below, the chaser is falling back to the water while the other Avocet carried on several metres further along.

The end of a territorial dispute - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/500th of a second at f/11 on ISO 1600

The landing was nice as it banked slightly just above the water which created the opportunity for a dynamic image.

Reching for the landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/320th of a second at f/11 on ISO 1600

Most of the time was spent watching the repetition of their stalk, pause, dip, sweep and catch cycle.

Water rolls - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/4000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

It seemed to go by quickly as enjoyable things often do.

Caught - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2500th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600


Mornings with loons

A Loon's stretch 2013 © Christopher Martin-0305

The small lake surrounded by the Wild Rose Estates west of Bragg Creek is a very nice place to watch wildlife.  I often find Great Blue Herons, eagles, geese and osprey plying their various trades in or around the water.  One of my favourite visitors to the pond are Common Loons (Gavia immer).  Occasionally I will see up to four of them swimming and diving.  However, it is usually one couple who comes back in the spring, who then disappear for a couple of months and then return in late summer for a while before migrating on.  They do not nest on this lake so I assume they disappear while they are nesting and raising chicks.  When they return, that is when I usually see three or four loons together.  The fishing at Wild Rose must be worthwhile.

On the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin-0307


A Warbler in the Weaselhead

Yellow Warbler - 2013 © Christopher Martin

About a half an hour after watching the Goldeneyes on the Elbow River at the Weaselhead delta, I had trekked along a path overhung with very wet branches.  I was soaked through but heard some bird chatter in a clearing.  And soon caught sight of a pair of Yellow Warblers (Dendroica petechia) flitting through the trees.  The male was reclusive, staying hidden inside the bushes, but the female was a little less so.

Wily Weaselhead Warbler - 2013 © Christopher Martin

She moved fast and often but seemed a little bit curious which afforded a couple of opportunities.  It proved to be a challenge to pick her out cleanly against the foliage even with the bright yellow colouring.  But I thought she was beautiful so I watched her for another half an hour before continuing onwards to the edge of the Glenmore Reservoir.

Yellow Warbler in the brambles - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Goldeneyes at Weaselhead

Three Common Goldeneyes - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I walked around Calgary’s Weaselhead Natural Environment Park this morning.  The park is where the Elbow River spreads out across the flats into a delta threaded with smaller streams that drain into the Glenmore Reservoir.  At the first bridge I crossed over, I noticed several female Common Goldeneyes (Bucephala clangula) floating around.  I watched them flying up to this nesting box gone slightly askew.  It seemed they may have enjoyed the view from this spot .

Leaving Peru - 2013 © Christopher Martin

When one would fly away it wouldn’t take long before a new duck stopped in.  It seemed like I could hear murmurings about possession being 9/10ths of the law.  However determination won a little longer rest on the perch for one of the Goldeneyes.  She held her ground, flapped the wings and the would-be usurper flew back down to the river.

Playing queen of the perch - 2013 © Christopher Martin

These three ladies threw some interesting looks at me, each other and across the river.

A cadre of Goldeneyes - 2013 © Christopher Martin


A Ruddy Duck Outing

Ruddy Duck - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/2500 second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

The Ruddy Duck is an odd creature.  Blue bill, white cheeks, russet toned back feathers with liberal sections of black and motley brown.  I find them to be a beautiful bird but I wouldn’t take issue with someone who felt differently.

Duck flap - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/1600 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Ruddy flaps - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/2500 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Along with photographing Yellow-winged Blackbirds and Eared Grebes during my last visit to Frank Lake, there were several Ruddy Ducks that swam nearby and were caught within my viewfinder.

Bill cleaning - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/2000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

The males were more prevalent, swimming in the open away from the reeds.  I’m not sure whether the females were shy or, more likely, staying close to their nests.  A few did pass by, this one came right in front of the blind providing a nice opportunity for me.

A female Ruddy Duck paddling by - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/1250 second at f/6.3 on ISO 800

The males came and went, chasing each other occasionally but mostly just skimming their bills along the water catching insects.

Water chase - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/5000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Splash attack - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/5000 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

These ducks are known for their spiky tail which they often hold straight up when on display.  They seem very formal, almost like a soldier in uniform and at attention, when they do.

Spiky tail on display - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/3200 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600

Very cool birds.  I’m hoping to see their ducklings on my next visit to the Frank Lake Conservation Area.

A bubbly greeting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with Canon 500mm f/4 lens and a 1.4x extender: 1/3200 second at f/6.3 on ISO 1600


The emperors of the marsh

Yellow-headed Blackbird in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) is a beautiful marsh dweller.  It also rules many of the prairie marshes it inhabits with an iron fist (or claw, as the case may be).  With smaller birds, like its cousin the Red-winged Blackbird, it will chase them off hounding them well past the edge of its nesting territory in the reeds.  Members of the heron family, gulls and coots will predate the nests and with these creatures the Yellow-heads will defend against very aggressively.

Marsh oration - 2013 © Christopher Martin

On the day I was at Frank Lake most of their activity was spent calling to one another and holding boundaries with other Yellow-headed neighbours.

Neighbourly visit - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A balanced landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I think the females are on the nests now as I only saw males flying around.  The babies may have hatched already but if so, I would have expected to see some hungry predators.  The males defending their nests can be very dramatic but I was happy to not see any of these would-be egg thieves around.  They will come at some point so it was nice to see the Blackbirds having respite during a warm afternoon.  I enjoyed photographing them flying around and perching with great balance on the reeds waving around in the breeze.

An intent examination - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A balancing act - 2013 © Christopher Martin -

Call from the post - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The nests are built over deeper water which helps keep curious creatures (animal and human) away.  I have seen the occasional person wading into reeds, presumably to look for nests and more reclusive birds, however the potential for disturbance is enormous and I am not comfortable with seeking out the next great photograph that way.  It is a personal choice but if you go in, learn all you can about the birds residing there beforehand so that you don’t inadvertently cause a nest to be abandoned, trampled or exposed to predators that come along afterwards.  I didn’t see any signs of people tramping through the large marsh around the Ducks Unlimited blind at the lake so I’m hopeful it will stay undisturbed through the nesting season.

An evening flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin


Eared Grebes at Frank Lake

Eared Grebe - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Eared Grebes are a very cool bird.  They look fantastic (especially the red eyes), are great divers and really show their personalities.  I watched a group of eight that swam alone and in pairs on the marsh.

It takes two - 2013 © Christopher Martin

There were a couple of characters who squawked or bickered a little but mostly they all meandered around grabbing insects off the water, diving for things under it and paddling around.

Squawk box - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Diving down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Dive reflection - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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Patterns in the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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A stare down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

I was watching these birds from the Ducks Unlimited blind on Frank Lake.  They swam within a few yards many times and gave me a wonderful opportunity to observe them in good detail for over three hours.

Over the shoulder - 2013 © Christopher Martin

It was a beautiful afternoon on the water and along with the Eared Grebes, I watched Western Grebes, Black-crowned Night Herons, White-faced Ibis, American Avocets, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Canada Geese.  It was a great afternoon on a beautiful Prairie lake.


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