Tag Archive | wetland

Sniping a Snipe

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

Bountiful Birding at Frank Lake

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.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

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…

(Cinnamon Teal in the foreground.)

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