Roll on, Spring! – a birding photo essay

Gadwall taking off from a glass-like pond surface...

Gadwall taking off from a glass-like pond surface…

Roll on, spring!  This really is a great season for birding – lots of activity, especially in the courtship arena and all that entails – such as defending territory and chasing away rivals, through to courtship and nesting and, hopefully, the successful delivery and raising of offspring. And all of this makes for great photographic opportunities…A25K1356d&b-fb

I’ve spent a fair chunk of time this past month continuing to check out various ponds and sloughs around Calgary, and I’ve not been disappointed. At one particular pond I was entertained by the frenetic territorial actions of American Coots. An abundant bird locally & somewhat ‘unspectacular’ in terms of plumage and behavior (for the most part), I find most folks pay them little attention. However, with the use of fast, action-freezing shutter-speeds we can open a window on the daily life of these birds and show that they can be quite dramatic when they want to be. If you watch a pond in spring that has more than a couple of coots on it, you will frequently see bursts of actions as individual birds chase away other birds from their territory. To the human eye, you typically see a bit of splashing & scooting across the water that lasts maybe 1-2 seconds…but when you slow this down via fast shutter-speeds (1/3200th of a second or faster) and fast frame rates, you can really see some aggressive & dramatic actions being played out:A25K0976d&b-crop2-fb A25K0975d&b-v3-fb A25K0961-fb2 A25K0951-fb

And when the birds are not chasing each other or trying to court, they can present quite a peaceful scene….indeed, waterfowl on a still pond on wind-less days can present a very tranquil scene, as these Red-necked Grebe images attest to:A25K0669-crop-fb A25K0648-fb A25K0607-fb

Not to be outdone by their cousins, I find Horned Grebes to be quite a striking bird – especially with their vivid, scarlet eyes:A25K1502mask-fb A25K1374-fb A25K1309d-fb

The end result of all this spring ‘action’…in this case, some Mallard ducklings:A25K2675-fb A25K2492d&b-fb

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to check out the spring action taking place away from the water so I headed out towards the foothills and finally got some decent shots of Mountain Bluebirds (birds who are much more brightly coloured on sunny days, which I believe is to do with the structure of their feathers and how it affects light). I watched this pair for about an hour, and my favourite moment was when the female emerged from their nesting box and the male promptly brought her a juicy caterpillar – what a great husband!A25K0009v3-fb A25K9857-fb

Finally, I’d like to end this post with a quite different shot from those above and one that has been popular with viewers – a portrait of a male Merlin in it’s gorgeous blue-grey plumage:A25K9768-fb

(All shots taken with Canon 1Dx DSLR with Canon 600mm f4L IS II lens + Canon 1.4x III teleconverter)



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10 Responses to Roll on, Spring! – a birding photo essay

  1. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks Pierre and Andre!

  2. Diane says:

    Fabulous photos as usual, Tim!

  3. André Boivin says:

    Photos formidables !

  4. Spectacular photos!!! Keep on sharing these with us, please!

  5. Sharon says:

    Beautiful photographs!!

  6. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks, Tess! I have to agree with you – they are definitely entertainers :).

  7. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks Claudette!

  8. tess says:

    Wonderful photos. Every hear the term, crazy as a coot? It was often heard when someone did something silly. Since moving to Alberta I’ve gained the opportunity to watch these fowl in action and now fully realize how the term came about. These birds are crazy during mating season. Their butt in the air tail-spin courting is zany to watch and seeing those gangly long green legs with thick padded flappers are a hoot, not to mention how coots will run right over top of any duck that gets in their way. Hilarious and entertaining birds. Of all waterfowl they are the true entertainers.

  9. claudette godbout says:

    What wonderful photos !