Posted by Dan Arndt
Last Saturday evening I made a quick trip to Frank Lake and managed to find a pair of Short-eared Owls displaying and posing in the late day sun.
Posted by Matthew Sim
Last Sunday, my family decided to spend some time at Frank Lake for Father’s Day. This birding hotspot has featured in many of our posts before but even so, one can never tire of visiting the lake. During every season, something of interest can be seen there and Father’s Day was no exception. As we parked the car and headed down to the blind, we were astonished by the multitude of winged creatures around us; Common Terns, American Coots, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes were among the birds we saw.
Forster’s Terns appeared to be nesting in the reeds near the blind and many were fishing in the waters all around us.
While walking along the boardwalk, we stopped to admire this Muskrat munching on a reed just feet away from us.
We thought we were seeing some great things, which we were, but when we got to the blind, we saw something that was truly amazing.
There were several families of Eared Grebes hanging out around the blind; the mothers playing taxi to their young chicks while the fathers dove and swam about, gathering food for the young.
Occasionally, the mothers would shake the chicks off their backs; either tired of carrying their young charges or attempting to get them practicing swimming.
While we were watching the grebes, activity went on as always with the other birds and there were many White-faced Ibises flying by us.
Eventually, we had to leave, though it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the blind. Good birds were still to be seen on the way out though as we spotted a singing LeConte’s Sparrow by the parking area near the blind, the Trumpeter Swan near the sewage outfall who has been there for some time, at least 3 pairs of American Avocets by the sewage outfall and a singing Western Meadowlark perched on a fencepost.
If you can, I would really recommend getting out to Frank Lake soon as the birds are simply amazing right now.
Digiscoping is the activity of combining a digital camera with a spotting scope to record images through the scope. Anyone who has ever looked through a good scope knows how impressive they are at turning distant specks that can’t be identified, even with binoculars, into sharply defined birds. The combination of big lenses and up to 60X magnification really brings faraway objects into close focus. Scopes are especially useful for waterfowl far out on lakes, and shorebirds on distant shorelines.
Today’s post features some wonderful photographs taken using digiscoping by local birder and photographer Daniel Arndt.
Digiscoping can be done with any point-and-shoot or SLR camera (or even a camera phone) coupled with any scope or binocular, but it can very tricky to get to good quality pictures by just holding the two together. Here is a White-crowned Sparrow I photographed in my yard this week, using my camera phone held up to my 8X42 binoculars:
It’s very hard to tell when you have the shot in focus. It’s even hard to get on the bird! You get a better shot with just a good camera:
The same bird, from the same distance, taken with an SLR and 400 mm lens. Note the leg band.
Here is another shot I took (in the winter) of a House Finch, using a point-and-shoot camera held up to my spotting scope.
However, the birds in these examples were only about twenty feet away. I could identify them with the naked eye. If you are dealing with distant waterfowl and shorebirds, the thing to do to get good photographs is to get an adapter that fixes your camera to the scope. Dan Arndt’s outfit, pictured below, consists of :
Pentax K-5 camera with T-mount adapter
Meade ETX-90EC 90mm Matsukov-Cassegrain Telescope
Meade #844 Advanced Field Tripod
Meade Electronic Focuser
Meade MT-64 Camera Adapter
Pentax 39892 Waterproof Remote Shutter Release
Here are some of the amazing photos Dan took this summer at Frank Lake using his digiscoping rig.
You can see all of Dan’s digiscoping pictures on his Flickr page here, and while you’re there, explore all of his other excellent photographs as well.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
The boy paused to make some adjustments to his gear before moving the long black object that was glinting in the sunlight up to his eye. He slowly, carefully took aim, lining up his target into the right position, not wanting to miss this golden opportunity. Not this time. He paused another moment before finally taking the shot. Snap! The boy looked down at his camera screen, pleased with the result. He rapidly took some more shots before quietly leaving the way he came.
Sunday afternoon, my dad and I headed out to Frank Lake, eager to see some young birds starting to emerge. As we were leaving this birding hotspot, we passed a small marsh beside the road; a fence running along the edge of the water. “Stop!” I suddenly exclaimed. We turned the car around when the traffic had died down and found a quiet place to park. On a fencepost, I had seen a Wilson’s Snipe, a long-billed shorebird often seen in and around wetlands. We hopped out of the car, listening to the music of the wetland around us; boreal chorus frogs, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds and coots, all adding to the cacophony of sounds around us.
We slowly and cautiously made our way closer and closer to the snipe, not wanting to scare it . We had never been quite so close to a snipe before and we approached to within a couple of meters of the bird before stopping. We admired and observed this well-marked little bird, delighted to have such a close encounter.
After doing some research on this remarkable little bird, I found that its long bill is really quite amazing. The bill of the Wilson’s Snipe is flexible and the tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill. Sensory pits at the tip of the bill act a little bit like sonar, allowing the snipe to feel its prey (small invertebrates) deep in the mud.
Posted by Matthew Sim
Herons are elegant birds, wading through water with their long legs, waiting to plunge their beaks into the water to spear their next meal, be it a frog a mouse or a small fish. Yesterday, I visited Frank Lake, near High River, south of Calgary. While I was there, I saw several Black-crowned Night-Herons; a mostly nocturnal heron with relatively large eyes. The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a small, stocky bird with a greenish black crown and long, thin, white head plumes. A colonial species, the Night-Heron can be found roosting in trees near its hunting grounds during the daylight hours.
This immature Night-Heron has yet to grow the fancier plumage of the adult.
Unfortunately, we did not find a colony of roosting birds; we did however, find two birds together in the same small pond. What struck me the most was the herons’ bright red eyes. They certainly looked like they would be able to see in the dark!!!
An adult Black-crowned Night-Heron in search of lunch.
That beak and those claws are pretty intimidating; especially if you are on this guy’s menu!
Posted by Matthew Sim
Last week I took the short drive out to Frank Lake, east of High River (see the directions under the “Birding Resources” tab above). I was hoping to see some of the many Short-eared Owls that are often seen there at dusk, and I had about two hours before that to scope out the lake for waterfowl and other birds. This is a very productive wetland, and I managed to see 24 species of birds, 13 of which were new ones for the year for me.
The water level is very high this year. As you can see, the path to the observation blind was flooded. There was also still quite a bit of ice on the lake, but much of Basin 1 was open.
By far the most common bird there was the Franklin’s Gull. Frank Lake is home to perhaps the largest breeding colony of these gulls in the world, with up to 55,000 pairs. They build floating nests in the cattails, and if the water levels remain this high they may not be able to breed here successfully.
There were other gulls as well. This one, which I believe is a California Gull, was having eggs for dinner.
The gull took the egg onto the roof of the blind, and although it almost rolled off at one point, he finally did manage to eat it.
I had good views of Eared Grebes and Ring-necked Ducks…
But the highlight was when a flock of four White-faced Ibises flew in. I had never seen this large, beautiful bird before. It has dark, glossy, chestnut and bronze colouration, a long decurved bill, and of course a white face.
The four flew on, but a little later another flock of twelve Ibises arrived…
They landed on the island…
And virtually disappeared in the grass…
At dusk, I started to drive back out on the dirt access road, but I didn’t get far, since I brake for Short-eared Owls…
This owl was right next to the road, so it flew before I could get very close. However, I saw another one hunting a little farther down the road…
All in all, a great evening of birding topped off by a fine southern Alberta sunset.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre