On Golden Pond

Silhouette of Redhead Ducks at Carburn Park

The light at sunset can be truly magical at times. I had been walking around the pond at Carburn Park, following a pair of Redheads, when the sun began to approach the horizon. As it did the reflections off the pond became more and more golden orange, and I knew I would have a great opportunity to make some silhouette images. I literally ran around the pond to get to the right spot and had more than a few people laughing at me as I ran past with all my gear. As it turned out it was harder to get the birds in the right position than it was to get myself to the right side of the lake. I eventually got it right and had plenty of time to spare!

Silhouette of a Canada Goose at Carburn Park

Hooded Mergansers at Carburn Park

Hooded Mergansers at Carburn Park

I was out for a walk at Carburn Park and was very surprised to see a pair of Hooded Mergansers. I stopped to watch and found several more amongst the mass of birds swimming in the lake. These birds are very rare for Calgary and they really only stop here during the spring and fall migration, so it was pretty cool to see them today!

Eared Grebe at Frank Lake

Eared Grebe on Blue Water

I had a chance to make a quick trip to Frank Lake the other day. I didn’t have high expectations as the good light had already passed and I didn’t have time for the patience normally required to make good images at a place like Frank Lake. I was happily surprised to find the lake teeming with activity and I spent a much longer time at the main blind than I normally do. There were Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Common Terns, and Franklin’s Gulls flying all over the place. There were also a few Ruddy Ducks and White-Faced Ibis’ in the pools near the blind, and literally too many other birds to count (or identify) off in the distance. I found this very accommodating Grebe near the blind. It swam by several times and circled around while giving my some great photo opportunities. I really love going to Frank Lake and only wish I had more opportunities to make the trip…

Northern Pintails in a Slough

Painterly image of a Northern Pintail in Flight

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!

Northern Pintails swimming in a Slough

Northern Pintail swimming in a Slough

Early Morning at Frank Lake

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.

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…

Grain Bins and a Blue Sky

Farmland in the Spring