One of my favourite activities in summer is to go trailer camping with my family in the provincial parks of southern Alberta. The reason I enjoy it so much is that it combines a lot of things I like to do: spend time with my family, relax, and get outdoors and indulge in my bird photography hobby. Typically, we head anywhere within about 3 hours’ driving time of Calgary (where we live) and that allows us to visit quite a variety of environments from lakes, to mountains to prairies and so I get to see a nice variety of bird life.
Our most recent trip was 4 days in July down at beautiful Beauvais Provincial Park in south-eastern Alberta, not far from the Montana border. The park consists of a lake, popular for fishing, nestled between foothills with lots of hiking trails. From a birding perspective, I was very pleased with the variety of species with probably the highlight being the pair of ospreys that have set up a nest right next to the lake boat launch which allowed great viewing of these master-fishers as they went about hunting, feeding their chicks and maintaining their enormous nest (which must have been here for generations based on its size)!
My typical camping photography routine consists of heading out not long after sunrise and wandering about for an hour or so with my camera while it’s still quiet and most of my fellow campers have yet to emerge.
On sunny days, the light is great (low angle, so less shadows) at this time and many birds are active before settling down later in the day as the park activity increases. During the day, I spend most of my time on family activities, but wheel out the camera again in the late afternoon when the sun is getting lower in case anything makes an appearance.
This year I acquired a kayak with the intent of getting closer to some of the lake birds that do not come close to shore. Of the four times I have taken my boat out, I have been most successful on lakes where there is a lot of human activity which I put down to the birds simply being accustomed to humans in their proximity.
Where there is little human/boating activity, I have found the birds to be quite wary and I will not pursue them if it is clear they are not comfortable with my presence (e.g. the bird heads in the opposite direction as you approach). One bird that I was able to photograph with pleasing results was the Red-necked Grebe.
There was a family of grebes at the park and it was great to be able to shoot them in their natural environment as they went about their daily business preening, fishing and interracting.
A first for me was even seeing one fly – I’ve never seen any grebe do that before! From a practical perspective, my kayak photography is restricted to my back-up camera (Canon Rebel XSi DSLR) and my 100-400mm lens. These are light enough to manage, and a lot less expensive to replace than my normal gear (Canon 1dx and 600mm prime lens) in the event of an aquatic mishap! I also keep the neck strap on at all times. Calm conditions are key as well as anything more than light winds create waves that make it difficult to focus & increase the likelihood of getting your gear wet & potentially damaged.
While we are now more than half way through this 2013 summer, I still have a few more camping trips planned before the season is over & look forward to even more photo opportunities before the time comes to winterize ! I look forward to sharing some of these on a later blog. Cheers, Tim.