Posts tagged “American Avocet

Avocets at Frank Lake in May

I went to Frank Lake in early May.  A short drive east of High River, this is a wetland controlled by Ducks Unlimited Canada and is designated as an Important Bird Area.  The migratory and summer populations both have a large variety of bird species.  I enjoy photographing there – it’s a beautiful location on the prairies, has abundant wildlife and offers a wide area across three basins to explore.

American avocets are one of my favorite shorebirds.  On my last visit, I had great opportunities to photograph them from mid-afternoon through dusk.  These are a few of those images.  Thank you for having a look.

A short study of an old friend

I’m not sure if it’s the attractive color scheme, the way they move through water or something more ethereal that draws me to the avocet.  This is a bird that I am endlessly curious about and it steals time from other shorebirds whenever I cross ones path.  Last weekend at Frank Lake was no different.

Spring at this wetland just east of High River has a myriad of summer residents settling in and migrating travelers on their way north.  This visit along the shoreline counted ibis, night herons, cormorants, killdeer and more fly by as the evening shadows slowly grew.  I photographed many of them but none as often as the avocets.

Most of these were paired up and the couples swam together or high stepped in the shallows  near one another while they fished.  I saw two sets skirmish over territory briefly.  However most just ambled along undisturbed – company to one another and disinterested in much else.


Chasing away the competition

The American avocets were mostly paired up along the stretch of shoreline along Frank Lake when I went there last night.  Here one avocet chased off another couple while the mate.  Apparently defending territory they had claimed at some point.

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 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

American Avocets on Frank Lake

Avocet flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

The past weekend I was able to devote much of my time photographing along the grassy marshes that line the edges of Frank Lake near High River.  This lake is a major stopover in Alberta for migrating birds and I was there to check which birds might be there in early spring.  One of the open ponds was popular with a few different ducks which drew my attention.  I worked my way over near the water edge but then soon forgot about the ducks.

2013 © Christopher Martin

There were a few American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) fishing in the shallow water.  These shorebirds stole the show for me and I spent that evening and came back again on Sunday to enjoy watching and photographing them.

Marsh hunting - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Curious, beautiful and agile the Avocet is a great bird to photograph.  I had not been around them before so it was a lot of fun learning some of their habits.  I’m excited to get back down there as they start their courtships.

Avocet in the evening - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Mark Garbutt, a fellow photographer who I met on the weekend, said their dance is elaborate and wonderful to watch.  I hope to be able to see some of these performances in the next couple of weeks.

Water walker - 2013 © Christopher Martin