Shorebirding – A Week at Weed Lake (Part 1)

A25K2327d&b2I started birding and bird photography in earnest in early 2012, and each subsequent year I’ve made mental notes to check out certain places at certain times to try and see certain migrants that might be passing through southern Alberta. Up until this year, one glaring omission from my photo archives has been the shorebird family, in particular sandpipers.

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

Stilt Sandpipers feeding on a calm morning

So I was determined to make an extra effort in 2014 to see & photograph as many ‘peeps’ as possible. After abysmal results in spring (either through ‘life commitments’, weather, or other something else), I happily did a lot better on the fall migration as the birds headed south and stopped over at Weed Lake, just east of Calgary. Indeed, all of the photos below were taken at this birding mecca in the last weekend in July and first weekend in August.

Looking out over Weed Lake - this kind of vista makes a shorebirder drool!

Looking out over Weed Lake – this kind of vista makes a shorebirder drool!

Some of my most enjoyable moments from the shorebirding experience came from photographing a number of ‘life birds’, as well as the excitement of going through all my shots at the end of the shoot and learning to ID them all and finding little gems that I’d missed whilst busily shooting away.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper - a fairly common 'peep', but a lifer for me in 2014

A Semipalmated Sandpiper – a fairly common ‘peep’, but a lifer for me in 2014

And after selecting a nice spot on the shoreline & laying down with the sun at my back, it was exciting to wait and see what variety of birds would come by. By finding a well-covered spot I found almost all birds were oblivious to my presence (my technique also worked on fellow birders as on several occasions I could see and hear other photographers and birders wandering around me with no idea I was there!).

Early morning at Weed Lake...waiting, like these Pectoral Sandpipers, for the sun to rise.

Early morning at Weed Lake…waiting, like these Pectoral Sandpipers, for the sun to rise.

Pectoral Sandpiper3

A Pectoral Sandpiper combing the mudflats.

Pectoral Sandpiper4

Pectoral Sandpiper – the same bird as above chirping away…I had no idea they had a flexible upper beak!

Other highlights included the time I had hundreds of phalaropes chasing down sandflies in front of me…

Wilson's Phalaropes vigorously pursuing individual sand flies amongst the swarms on the mudflats.

Wilson’s Phalaropes vigorously pursuing individual sand flies amongst the swarms on the mudflats.

Another Wilson's Phalarope just about to catch a sand fly.

Another Wilson’s Phalarope just about to catch a sand fly.

 

…and when Spotted Sandpipers would come sprinting by only a few feet away stopping intermittently to bob their tails up and down…

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

An immature Spotted Sandpiper.

And for comparison, an adult Spotted Sandpiper sprinting toward me.

And for comparison, an adult Spotted Sandpiper sprinting toward me.

…and before I knew it a mixed flock of Pectoral, Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers would land close by and start foraging.

One of a pair of Solitary Sandpipers that fed for a few minutes in front of my position.

One of a pair of Solitary Sandpipers that fed for a few minutes in front of my position.

Solitary Sandpiper portrait - on quite a number of occasion the birds came so close I couldn't focus!

Solitary Sandpiper portrait – on quite a number of occasion the birds came so close I couldn’t focus!

All these highlights more than made up for the less fun parts of shorebirding – namely having to crawl over some ‘questionable’ shoreline areas (Weed Lake used to receive the treated sewage from the local town of Langdon!), the very variable summer weather that would go from bright sunlight to overcast to even thunderstorms!

Sandpiper (immature) - in sunny light

Sandpiper (immature) – in sunny light

A Semipalmated Sandpiper in bright light - contrast this with earlier Semipalmated when the conditions were dull and cloudy.

A Semipalmated Sandpiper in bright light – contrast this with earlier Semipalmated when the conditions were dull and cloudy.

Wilson's Phalarope - doing a post-preen stretch.

Wilson’s Phalarope – doing a post-preen stretch.

Another ‘fun’ moments was while I was lying on my belly one morning and I had a vole duck into my coat pocket! Mind you, it could be a lot worse if I was down south – no snakes, venomous spiders or alligators to worry about in Alberta!

A Baird's Sandpiper - another lifebird. And I used to think all peeps looked the same...shame on me :)

A Baird’s Sandpiper – another lifebird. And I used to think all peeps looked the same…shame on me 🙂

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

A young Wilson's Phalarope

A young Wilson’s Phalarope

A Stilt Sandpiper - cal, wind-free mornings like this are great for shooting & also relaxing

A Stilt Sandpiper – calm, wind-free mornings like this are great for shooting & also relaxing

As you can tell, for this month’s blog I’ve focused on my target birds – the sandpiper family. However, for my next monthy blog, I’ll share my other shorebird images (avocets, stilts, plovers, etc) and talk more about the techniques and gear I use to get these shots and provide a few tips based on my experiences to date.

And last but not least, except in name, the cute little Least Sandpiper.

And last but not least, except in name, the cute little Least Sandpiper.

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10 Responses to Shorebirding – A Week at Weed Lake (Part 1)

  1. Erika says:

    I used to hate shorebirds because they, like cats, keep their names a secret. But your images changed my mind. Great work!

  2. Tim Hopwood says:

    Hey Sam – I suspect the reason we didn’t run into each other was because I didn’t visit the main (south) entrance off Glenmore Trail; the reason being that the parking lot (all two spaces!) was full every time I went so I had to go to the other entrances (east & west). Cheers, Tim.

  3. Tim Hopwood says:

    Hey & thanks, Jim. The bird is an American Avocet. I’ll be posting some close-ups of avocets along with stilts and plovers next month.

  4. Sam NA says:

    Fantastic series Timmy. I am wondering how did I we not happen to bump into each other as I visited weed lake regularly those weekends
    Sameer

  5. Jim chobotuk says:

    What is the distinctive large shorebird with the two brown stripes in the the third photo, the group shot? Loved the photos!

  6. Tim Hopwood says:

    Thanks Duane – glad you like them!

  7. Duane says:

    Nice work Tim 🙂

  8. mark garbutt says:

    some really nice work Tim .

  9. mark garbutt says:

    some really nice work Tim