Posts tagged “Frank Lake

Canada geese skirmishing on Frank Lake

The tall grass near the bird blind on Frank Lake is nesting ground for Canada geese, ibis, yellow-headed blackbirds, herons and more.  At dusk the cacophony rising up from these residents can be surprisingly loud.  There are birds chasing one another, others returning with material for their nest, food for their chicks as well as occasional territorial spats.  It’s an incredible spot to set up near the trails and watch life on a marsh.  On a visit there in early May the weather was warm and the sunlight before dusk was incredible.

Throughout the evening, the Canada geese were active with a couple being particularly feisty.  That presented some new image opportunities that I had not yet photographed which is always exciting for me.

When the sun set, the activity level along the shoreline rose noticeably.  All manner of birds flew overhead and low along the water.  Some of the geese moved their skirmishing to the small pond directly in front of me.  I didn’t move around and they seemed oblivious, or at least undistracted, by me – which was perfect.  I stayed until it was dark and loved every minute.




 


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.


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


White-faced Ibis on the prairies

White-faced Ibis in flight - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/8000th of a second at f/4.0 on ISO 800

After spending time with the Avocets on the northwest corner of Frank Lake, I turned my attention skyward and watched for the White-faced Ibis (Plegadis chihi) who fly between the spots they like to fish and their nests in the tall reeds near the viewing cabin.  The feathers on both sides of their wings shimmer when caught by sunlight and they have the long, down-curved bills inherent to the Ibis family of birds.  I find them to be as beautiful as they are striking and unusual.

Iridescent Ibis - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/4000th of a second at f/5.6 on ISO 2500

I had only seen them from a distance previously as their nests are far from the shoreline that is accessible (I’ve heard of some people stalking through the reeds towards these nests but that’s nothing I’m interested in doing given the potential for damage and disruption) and they were staying close to them on my last visit.  This time around, there were several of these iridescent birds in flight overhead at any given moment.

Silhouetted Ibis - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/6400th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 3200

I set up near a small pond separated from the lake by reeds and grasses and had great opportunities to photograph these birds flying.  In addition to being along the flight path of the Ibis, Double-crested Cormorants and Black-crowned Night-Herons were frequently seen highlight species.

Night-rider - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens: 1/8000th of a second at f/4 on ISO 1600

I saw a few Ibis carrying grasses and reeds as they flew towards the nesting area.  Presumably, constant maintenance is required to keep the nest in good repair.  I photographed one of these deliveries when the Ibis below flew relatively close by.

A silhouetted courier - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/2000th of a second at f/6.3 on ISO 2500

After hanging out by the pond for a half an hour, a couple of shorebirds landed in the shallow water nearby.  They flitted about and were joined by a few others at one point.  The evening light was beautiful and I was very happy to have these little fellows to photograph against the bold patterns created by the stalks along the far side of the pond.  About an hour later, I was really excited when two Ibis flew in and landed.

Foraging Ibis - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/250th of a second at f/8 on ISO 3200

They set to fishing right away and ended up staying for only five minutes or so.  I’m not sure if they didn’t notice me when they flew in and when they did they took off.  Or, they just decided to fish elsewhere.  Whatever the case, it was really great to see them in another part of their environment.

Ibis on the marsh - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Canon 5DIII camera with a Canon 500mm lens + 1.4X extender: 1/1000th of a second at f/11 on ISO 3200

The little shorebirds came out from the reeds they had slipped into when the much larger Ibis came in.  I spent the rest of the daylight photographing them, particularly the Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) below, as they carried out their hunting duties before night took over.

Killdeer - 2013 © Christopher Martin

 

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


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


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

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

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

Diving down - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Dive reflection - 2013 © Christopher Martin

Patterns in the water - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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.


Black-necked Stilts at Frank Lake

Marsh glider - 2013 © Christopher Martin
When I first went down to Frank Lake a couple of weekends ago, the American Avocets were the only shorebirds in the small marsh next to the large blind along the water.  When I returned at the end of that weekend, there were a couple of Black-necked Stilts (Himantopus mexicanus) that had joined the good times fishing in the shallows.
An evening stroll through the marsh - 2013 © Christopher Martin
The two seemed like a couple as they never strayed to far from one another.  The females can be distinguished by brown-tinged upper parts, whereas the males are a solid black.  The difference was not easily seen but I think I could identify one male and one female.
Spring pairing - 2013 © Christopher Martin
These are cool little birds.  Striking in appearance and very interesting to watch as they stalk around a marsh.  I’m excited to find out whether chicks will be following these two around soon.
Abbey Road - 2013 © Christopher Martin
Stilt landing - 2013 © Christopher Martin

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