The spring migration started weeks ago on the prairies for the ducks, geese, and swans, but the shorebirds have been taking their time getting here. I did catch a glimpse of a solitary Kildeer on the shore of a slough last week, but that’s been the only one so far.
Well, everything changed this week and the shorebird migration is now in full swing. The early arrivals are definitely here and I saw dozens of Kildeer today and quite a few American Avocets as well. I haven’t seen any Black-necked Stilts or Yellowlegs yet, but I’ve seen several reports that they have also arrived. The next couple of weeks will be very exciting to watch as the next waves of birds arrive!
I saw this Avocet standing in a slough but unfortunately I was on the wrong side of the pond to get the best light. There was a parking area at the North end of the water and I was able to slowly walk around to the west side of the slough to get the late afternoon light shining on the face of the bird. I wasn’t careful or quiet enough while walking around and I managed to flush most of the ducks on the pond, but the Avocet (which was already flying before I even started walking) came in across the water and landed close in front of me. The pond was almost completely still and the glassy water was stirred up only by the movement of the Avocet as it walked around and I was able to make some really nice reflection images.
American Avocet walking in a slough
While I was laying on the edge of the slough watching the Avocet a flock of about 6 Kildeer also flew in and landed close to me. Most of them immediately launched again, but this one didn’t notice that I was there and stayed close while I made several images.
Kildeer standing on the shore of a slough
I also saw my first Red-winged Blackbird of the season this week and I had a good chance to make a few portraits this afternoon.
Red-winged Blackbird perched on a Cattail
Here are a couple more images of the Avocet from above. I’m looking forward to lots more shorebird action over the coming weeks!
These beautiful birds pass through the prairies during their spring migration to their breeding grounds in the far north. They are one of my favorite birds to look at, but unfortunately they don’t seem to like me very much. This image shows the typical reaction that I get whenever I come across them. Actually I don’t think it’s just me; they really seem to be very skittish and they tend to spook very easily. And I also happen to really like this painterly image of a Pintail in flight. The golden evening light on the slough grasses in the background really make it pop!
Here are a couple of images of Pintails swimming in a slough. This was one of the very few occasions that I’ve been able to make nice images Pintails when they weren’t flying away from me!
I was out for an early trip to Frank Lake to make images of birds during the spring migration and found this wonderful pastoral scene just before the sun rose. I love the solitary tree in the middle of the field silhouetted against the rising sun.
Panoramic Silhouette of a Solitary Tree against the Sunrise
It was a very calm and beautiful morning at the lake and there many landscape and close-up photo opportunities. These picturesque grasses jutting out of the calm and glassy smooth water were plentiful, and I could have spent the entire morning shooting similar images.
Marsh grasses mirrored in the glassy calm water
Frank Lank is a naturalized wetland that was saved by Ducks Unlimited Canada. It is now listed as an Important Birding Area (IBA), one of almost 600 such sites in Canada. IBA’s are sites “providing essential habitat for one or more species of breeding or non-breeding birds. These sites may contain threatened species, endemic species, species representative of a biome, or highly exceptional concentrations of birds”. At various times through the year Frank Lake is home to almost every wetland bird that you might see anywhere else in Alberta, and some that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else in Canada. It also has a large population of grassland birds as well.
I found lots of birds at the lake, but they weren’t very cooperative for photography. In fact there were more birds than I have ever seen there at one time. We are currently in the early stages of the spring migration and there were literally thousands of birds at the lake. This really is a great time of year to be a birder since so many of the ponds and sloughs are frozen over, water birds are forced to congregate in the few wet places that are already open. Frank Lake has several large areas of open water, but for the most part it is still frozen and so the birds at the lake were all massed together in those open areas.
There were many different species that will only be here for a few days or weeks before they continue their journey north. They really haven’t become accustomed to people watching them yet, and as a result I wasn’t able to get very close without flushing them away. I wasn’t able to make any of the really great portraits or close-up images that I had hoped to make; however, there were lots of birds flying around and so I spent lots of time making flight shots.
Bird flight photography can be difficult at the best of times. I was there quite early in the morning which meant that the light levels were pretty low. This makes for slow shutter speeds and lots of blurry images. I did end up with a few good pictures that I was happy with, but I also had to delete lots. This pair of Canada Geese circled low over me several times before landing on the lake. While Canada Geese are certainly here year round, there are a great many more here now than at any other time of year. Many of them are nesting already and clearly plan to stay.
Canada Geese in flight
Northern Shovelers are also very common at this time of year and they will likely be one of the last of the migrating ducks to disappear. Even they will only be easily found for a few weeks, so I was happy to make a couple of nice images. Once the ice has melted from the majority of the ponds and sloughs the birds that stay in Southern Alberta will become very sparse as they spread out across the prairies.
Northern Shoveler in flight
Goldeneyes are also year-round residents in the Calgary area, but there are many more here now than in the rest of the year. These birds are extremely fast fliers and it is very difficult to make sharp images of them in flight.
Common Goldeneye in flight
I didn’t have nearly the success I had hoped for with the birds, but I did find a large colony of very cooperative gophers. These little critters are actually called Richardson’s Ground Squirrels, but most people around Alberta refer to them as gophers (or sometime Prairie Dogs, but that’s definitely a different animal). Generally considered to be pests, especially by farmers because of the holes and tunnels that they dig wherever they live, they are also very cute. While not exactly friendly, they are very curious and as a result they end up being quite photogenic.
Richardson's Ground Squirrel at Frank Lake
On my way back to the city I stopped several times to make images of the abundant pastoral scenery. I have lots of images like these in my portfolio, but I’m always drawn back to scenes like these and I can’t help myself when I see them…