Buzzin’ B.C. – 11-13 May

After seeing a May hummingbird photography course at the Bull River Guest Ranch in British Columbia advertised in one of my photography magazines back in January but unable to attend, my wife & I decided we should try for a long weekend family vacation at the same ranch & perhaps get some hummingbird photography in if (a) we had time, and (b) the birds had actually arrived (the advertised course did not start until a week later). After a 4-hour drive from Calgary we arrived at the ranch & within minutes it was quickly apparent there were many hummers about. In fact, in preparation for the upcoming course the Ranch owners had put out at least 10 feeders and the hummers (50+) were drawn like magnets! The owners also mentioned the hummers had only turned up in the last week so this, coupled with the beautiful weather (it snowed the day before we arrived), showed that our luck was really in!

Over the course of the weekend I was able to get in an hour here & there to go shooting and was quite pleased that there were many of the colourful male Calliope and Rufous Hummingbirds which I had never seen before; in fact the males outnumbered the females by 10:1. And the great thing about male hummers is they are very territorial and will continually return to the same roosts (usually at the top of a small tree to afford a good view of their patch), which is heaven for a photographer as you can simply locate them, set yourself up in a good position and know that they will be back again and again.

While my main focus was hummers, some other highlights included a Red-Naped Sapsucker (right outside our cabin), multiple Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Audubon sub-species), nuthatches, Turkey Vultures, Bald Eagles, and a Pileated Woodpecker. All told a great weekend, and I highly recommend the Ranch as a getaway for young families: the location is very picturesque, there is a petting zoo, hiking trails, accommodation & on-site dining is great and the owners very hospitable.

 

Inglewood warblers – 11 May

I’d taken the day off work today to make it a long weekend for our pending vacation to Cranbrook BC, but thought I’d take a real quick run down to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary to see if I could find the Yellow-Rumped Warblers that had been reported. I gather they are fairly common in spring as they migrate through, but I have not seen many and they are quite a colourful species. Five minutes in I came across 3 or 4 warblers working their way through some scrub and after a minute or two standing relatively still I was able to get some nice close-ups of both the male & female.

With my ‘mission’ accomplished, anything else for the remaining 20 minutes I had was a bonus and I was pleased to see (albeit out of photo range) a male Hooded Merganser in a quiet backwater, nor was I able to get decent shots of some sparrows…they seemed to take flight at the mere sight of me. Not to worry, it had been a good morning & I had lots more to look forward to over the next few days in BC.

Frank Lake – 29 April

With the a forecast of showers to commence later in the day, I made sure I headed off early this morning to beat the predicted weather. Today’s location was Frank Lake, a wetland birding preserve just east of High River & about 45 minutes from Calgary. On arrival, local conditions were windy and even the swallows had decided to stay put on the fence wire! At the main gate I was happy to see my first Western Meadowlark belting out a song, but unfortunately I couldn’t get a sharp shot. I parked at the main basin which has a permanent bird hide around which a Horned Grebe was paddling about completely oblivious to my presence only 10 feet away…proof the hide works!

Further out were Western Grebes and Eared Grebes but beyond decent photo range. I then took a quick stroll along the water line and took a few shots of the many Red-Winged and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds amongst the reeds, both of which are very common (you will see them in just about every roadside slough right now), but nonetheless quite striking to look at.

In the water were many, many ducks including Ruddy Ducks (new for me), the skittish white-faced ibis which I have yet to get a decent photo of, plus some terns overhead. After nearly an hour I was starting to get cold and decided to depart, content that I had some decent photos. I look forward to returning later in the year, especially when the insects come to life…except for the mosquitoes which nearly drove me insane last May!

Back to Grand Valley Rd – 6 May

Once again I headed out to Cochrane and was soon rewarded by the sight of several female Mountain Bluebirds busy gathering dry grass to line their nest in one of the many nesting boxes on the farm fences. They seemed to be battling with Tree Swallows for housing rights and I did notice one swallow enter what turned out to be an occupied box, then get chased out by an unimpressed Bluebird!

Entering the forested area along the road, I encountered a small flock of Gray Jays looking for grubs in roadside scrub at the spot where I had seen the Great Gray Owl a few weeks prior.

Less than a kilometer further on a pair of Mountain Bluebirds perched in a fallen tree quite close to the road and I was able to get a nice shot of the male.

Once again I made the return leg via backroads and was pleased to see my first White-Crowned Sparrows, in the same tangle of bushy trees I’d sighted American Tree Sparrows on my last trip…must be ideal conditions for this species. This sparrow distinguishes it self from others by its bright orange beak and striking black and white crown.

Overall, another satisfying trip with 2 new ‘life birds’ plus some good Bluebird images.

 

 

 

 

 

Langdon re-visited – 28 April

After the successful trip last week, I decided to try my luck again in Langdon. After dropping my ever-understanding wife & the kids off at my brother-in-law’s house in Langdon at 9am, I headed out for an ‘hour of power’ to see what I could see in 60 minutes. I was barely 500m out of the main Langdon township when I spied a Red-Tailed Hawk atop a telephone pole, followed by some American Avocets sweeping a slough just below.

I thought a return visit to Weed Lake was worth a try, but I was disappointed to find that the eastern viewpoint was inaccessible as the access road had been understandably closed as it had turned to a muddy quagmire with the persistent rain during the week. A little dismayed, I headed east about 20km and then worked my way gradually back to Langdon via the back roads. I was pleased to be able to capture my first shots of a Savannah Sparrow, which should become fairly abundant as spring progresses. Likewise, I saw (& heard – they are noisy!) multiple flocks of Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds which have also returned with the spring.

Then, as I approached the outskirts of Langdon I noticed an unfamiliar bird-shape in a roadside copse of trees, which when I got of my car and investigated turned out to be a Townsend’s Solitaire (another first for me) and he appeared unruffled by both myself and the camera flash (after my learnings from the previous week I remembered this time to use fill-flash when the sun is at the subject’s back, as was the case here). I define a successful trip as one where I get a good, sharp shot and/or I see a species I haven’t seen before, so this was successful on both counts :).

Notice the two sparkles in the eye? Big one is the sun, the other my fill-flash.

.

Langdon & area – 22 April

Tundra Swan

Langdon is a town about 20 minutes east of downtown Calgary. As I took the Langdon exit off the TransCanada Hwy, I took a quick look at the small lake immediately adjacent and noticed a lot of waterfowl so I drove down the township road that runs along the lakeside and was please to see several white Tundra Swans – another first for me. There were also many ducks (gadwalls, pintails, shovellers, etc) and as well as several pairs of Avocets and Black-Necked Stilts, plus some Yellowlegs combing the shoreline.

A 5 minute-drive later I arrived at the southern viewpoint of Weed Lake (just outside Langdon on Glenmore Trail). Not a lot to photograph, so I thought I’d try my luck at the eastern viewpoint around the corner and had more success spotting several Killdeer quite close (another personal first), as well as more swans.

Northern Harrier

As I made my way slowly along the range road leading back to the TransCanada, two raptors flew by quite closely and I was able to get some quick shots of the one which stayed around for a little bit. As it was grey in colour I initially took it to be a Merlin, but later confirmed (via my new Sibley’s bird guide) it to be an adult male Northern Harrier. Harriers I have seen in the past have been rufous brown in colour, so this was new for me.

A fine Swainson's Hawk just asking to be photographed

Finally, about 50 meters from getting back on to the highway for the journey home I saw a fine Swainson’s Hawk perched on the fenceline of the road & I was able to get a few close-ups before he took off. Unfortunately the sun was directly behind the hawk, putting him shadow…need to remember to use fill-flash next time I encounter this!