Although Nuthatches are very common in Calgary I really haven’t encountered very many of them. They are very interesting birds that are known for their unique ability to face head-down while climbing. Most other birds use their tails to assist with balance while climbing, but nuthatches use only their legs and claws. They can often be seen walking straight down the trunk of a tree. This behavior seems very odd when you first recognize what they are doing, and only becomes more odd as you realize that very few birds do it.
We went for a walk at Carburn Park to look for Chickadees. There are lots of these inquisitive little birds in the park and they are always happy to stop in to say hello when we go for a visit. They are also very used to people bringing bird seed for them, and they will quickly hop onto your hand if you hold it up for them to perch on. Of course they will also disappear just as quickly if they discover that you didn’t bring any treats for them!
I’m happy to have Blackbirds back in the area because they are always very curious and fun to watch. They sing all the time and are never too shy to pose for the camera! I was out looking for Yellow-headed Blackbirds when I saw this one perching on a post beside a slough. I actually found lots of Yellow-headed birds, but didn’t manage to make any great images. I’m very happy with what I got from this Red-winged beauty instead!
I took a trip Southwest of Calgary in search of Mountain Bluebirds as they are very common in that part of the city. I really enjoy making images of Bluebirds because they are very curious and they allow their visitors a very close approach. It helps that they are such bright and vibrantly colored birds that they are generally pretty easy to find.
The main reason I decided on this adventure on this particular day was because it was one of those hazy, gray, high overcast days where it’s really bright out, but you never actually see the sun. It was the perfect kind of day to make images of birds on or near the ground, and in particular for brightly colored birds like Bluebirds. And conversely it would have been a pretty bad day for making scenic landscape images or images of birds in flight (or even perched high in a tree) against a white background. I had heard many reports that the Bluebirds were already back in the area, so I packed up and headed out to a favorite location that I visited several times last year.
I found several pairs of bluebirds within minutes of my arrival in the area and I had several opportunities to make good images of both males and females. As is typical for many species of birds, male bluebirds are much brighter and more vibrant than the females.
Even though I found my intended target right away, my success didn’t last long and I found only a few more Bluebirds during the rest of the trip. I found one final pair just as I had decided to head for home.
I had a bit of a surprise when I found a Greater Yellowlegs in the glassy waters of a slough. This is another species that I had heard were back in the area, but this was the first that I’ve seen this season. They are very commonly found throughout the region later in the season, but there aren’t many around this early in the spring migration. This one posed very nicely for me and I made some of the best images I have of these elegant birds.
I saw several herds of Mule Deer in the farm fields while I was searching for Bluebirds. Mulies seem to be more common to the west of the city than to the east, and I haven’t been able to get this close to them very often. I have lots of images of White-tailed Deer, which thrive in the flat praire farmland to the east of the city, but I don’t have very many of Mule Deer. This solitary deer had become separated from a fairly large herd of animals that were further off in the same field. The rest of the deer wandered away when I stopped to watch, but this one kept eating and only occasionally looked up at me.
After the rest of the herd had crossed the road and disappeared into the brush, this one also decided that it should be on its way. I was lucky enough to make some very cool images of it jumping the fences on both sides of the road. All in all it was a great day to be outside!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…