I see shorebirds in the sloughs to the east of Calgary all the time. There are a huge variety of species that pass through the area, but most of them are common and repeatable. Some are a little less common and it’s always very interesting for me to try to figure out exactly what they are. I am definitely a photographer before a birder, but I definitely have a bug in me for birds and I always get excited to find a species I’ve never seen before. This is the only Western Willet I’ve ever seen and I was fortunate that it let me get very close and watch it for a long time! In fact I eventually had to leave and it stayed right there the whole time while I was packing up my gear and when I walked back to my truck.
This is the first Muskrat I’ve come across this spring. It had a mouthful of some building material that it carried right past me and took into latest construction project. These animals are plentiful in the Calgary area and in summer they can often be found sitting on the edge of a slough eating. They are quick to spook though so you need to approach slowly if you want to get close.
Muskrats and Beavers are often confused for each other by the casual observer. Although they are related, and very similar in appearance, there are two major differences that can be used to distinguish between them.
The first difference is the overall size; muskrats are very small and typically only reach the 2 to 4 pound range (1 to 2 kg) while Beavers are much larger and are more typically in the 30 to 90 pound range (14 to 40 kg).
While this massive size difference should be enough to tell the animals apart, the second difference is equally distinctive. While Beavers are well known for having a flattened tail, Muskrats also have flat tails, only theirs are flattened vertically instead of horizontally. To the common observer the Muskrat appears to have a typical round tail as you can normally only see a small part of the tail sticking out of the water while the rat swims.
It’s been a long winter and after many months of snow and dull grey skies I was really starting to get tired of making images that were largely monochrome. I’m not saying I was only shooting black and white, because I really don’t do much of that, but there have been a lot of images that were largely 1 or 2 colors (often including white and brown), and even those were relatively dull and muted. Or at least it seems that way now that I’m thinking back on it.
But now that spring is finally here there are many new and interesting subjects showing up every day. We still haven’t seen many new spring flowers, but everything is starting to green up and it won’t be long before there are colorful leaves and flowers everywhere!
One common subject that I’ve been seeing every day lately are Yellow-headed Blackbirds. These vibrant birds are both beautiful and interesting to watch. Like their Red-winged cousins they are very curious and usually willing to pose for a portrait while they check you out in return. Mostly I’m just grateful to have colorful subjects readily available once again!
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!
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.
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.
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.
Here are a couple more images of the Avocet from above. I’m looking forward to lots more shorebird action over the coming weeks!