Rob English took these photos north of the city in mid-August 2012. Black-crowned Night-Herons have arrived back in the Calgary area. Frank Lake is a good location to find them.
Digiscoping is the activity of combining a digital camera with a spotting scope to record images through the scope. Anyone who has ever looked through a good scope knows how impressive they are at turning distant specks that can’t be identified, even with binoculars, into sharply defined birds. The combination of big lenses and up to 60X magnification really brings faraway objects into close focus. Scopes are especially useful for waterfowl far out on lakes, and shorebirds on distant shorelines.
Today’s post features some wonderful photographs taken using digiscoping by local birder and photographer Daniel Arndt.
Digiscoping can be done with any point-and-shoot or SLR camera (or even a camera phone) coupled with any scope or binocular, but it can very tricky to get to good quality pictures by just holding the two together. Here is a White-crowned Sparrow I photographed in my yard this week, using my camera phone held up to my 8X42 binoculars:
It’s very hard to tell when you have the shot in focus. It’s even hard to get on the bird! You get a better shot with just a good camera:
The same bird, from the same distance, taken with an SLR and 400 mm lens. Note the leg band.
Here is another shot I took (in the winter) of a House Finch, using a point-and-shoot camera held up to my spotting scope.
However, the birds in these examples were only about twenty feet away. I could identify them with the naked eye. If you are dealing with distant waterfowl and shorebirds, the thing to do to get good photographs is to get an adapter that fixes your camera to the scope. Dan Arndt’s outfit, pictured below, consists of :
Pentax K-5 camera with T-mount adapter
Meade ETX-90EC 90mm Matsukov-Cassegrain Telescope
Meade #844 Advanced Field Tripod
Meade Electronic Focuser
Meade MT-64 Camera Adapter
Pentax 39892 Waterproof Remote Shutter Release
Here are some of the amazing photos Dan took this summer at Frank Lake using his digiscoping rig.
You can see all of Dan’s digiscoping pictures on his Flickr page here, and while you’re there, explore all of his other excellent photographs as well.
Posted by Bob Lefebvre
August means migration for many birds here in Calgary while others are having a second brood of young ones or are concentrating on raising their first brood. This month’s birds are:
1. Common Loon
Best known for its lonely echoing calls that are considered by most people to be heard in unspoiled wilderness. The Common Loon has a seemingly star-studded back, a white necklace and a bright red eye that stands out in the right light. The Common Loon can stay underwater for long periods, up to a minute while feeding and longer if the bird is escaping from danger. Common Loons inhabit clear, open lakes where there are few people and plenty of fish. They can be seen in the mountains, foothills, parkland and boreal forest but are few in the grasslands.
2. Western Meadowlark
A stocky bird with a grayish brown back and a yellow breast with a black V on the bib, the male Western Meadowlark delivers a rich melodious song from posts in the grasslands. The Meadowlark breeds where there is a thick growth of weeds and grasses, laying 3-7 white eggs. The male bird is beautiful and defends his territory with various displays. Look for the Meadowlark in grasslands around Calgary.
3. Yellow-headed Blackbird
Our third bird is the loud and noisy Yellow-headed Blackbird. The male is easily recognized by his bright yellow head and neck, black eye patch and white wing patch. the female is brown and mottled with a faint yellow head. The Yellow-headed Blackbird nests in the same marshes as Red-winged Blackbird and will displace the smaller Red-winged Blackbird from the prime nesting spots. The yellow-headed Blackbird is easy to see at Frank lake.
4. Black-crowned Night-Heron
A small stocky heron that at times appears to have no neck, the Black-crowned Night-Heron has a greenish black crown and long slender white head plumes. Most active at night, the Black-crowned Night-Heron was not observed in Alberta until 1958; it is now a local breeder. these herons colonize large bodies of water with dense emergent vegetation; I have seen them at Frank lake every time I have gone there during the spring and summer.
5. Peregrine Falcon
Our final bird this month is the speedy Peregrine falcon.One of the swiftest birds in the world when diving at prey, it can attain speeds of over 300km/h when diving. The adults are blue-grey above with barred underparts and a dark head with thick sideburns. One of the most widespread birds in the world, the name peregrine means ‘wanderer’ and the Peregrine falcon has one of the longest migrations of any North American bird. Look for this fast falcon nesting on the U of C campus and at shorebird concentration spots like Weed lake, where a Peregrine will hunt the migrating shorebirds.
These are our 5 birds for August, see which ones you can find! We will have our final must-see birds post on September 1.
Posted by Matthew Sim
Herons are elegant birds, wading through water with their long legs, waiting to plunge their beaks into the water to spear their next meal, be it a frog a mouse or a small fish. Yesterday, I visited Frank Lake, near High River, south of Calgary. While I was there, I saw several Black-crowned Night-Herons; a mostly nocturnal heron with relatively large eyes. The Black-crowned Night-Heron is a small, stocky bird with a greenish black crown and long, thin, white head plumes. A colonial species, the Night-Heron can be found roosting in trees near its hunting grounds during the daylight hours.
This immature Night-Heron has yet to grow the fancier plumage of the adult.
Unfortunately, we did not find a colony of roosting birds; we did however, find two birds together in the same small pond. What struck me the most was the herons’ bright red eyes. They certainly looked like they would be able to see in the dark!!!
An adult Black-crowned Night-Heron in search of lunch.
That beak and those claws are pretty intimidating; especially if you are on this guy’s menu!
Posted by Matthew Sim
Most birders in Calgary have seen Great Blue Herons along the city waterways or flying overhead as the birds come and go from their communal roosts. But many people are not aware that you can also see their smaller relative, the Black-crowned Night-heron, within the city limits.
These birds are not very common in this area. During the past five May Species Counts, between 6 and 21 Night-herons were counted, and that is within an 80 kilometre radius of the city centre. In the 2009 count, only 13 birds were seen, all of them in the prairie area and none within the city limits.
There may well be many more birds around than these numbers indicate, since Night-herons, as their name suggests, are mostly active at night. During the day they roost in trees, bushes, or reeds and can be difficult to see, despite standing about 64 cm (two feet) high.
These birds have an almost worldwide distribution and in this part of their range they are migratory. They arrive in the Calgary area during the second week of April.
The best place I know to see Black-crowned Night-herons within the city of Calgary is at a pond near Country Hills Boulevard and Deerfoot Trail in the Northeast. The pond lies in the southwest corner of that intersection. There is a gravel road (15 Street NE) that runs just west of the pond. You can park there and see the herons from the road, or walk down. I don’t recommend going near the pond until at least mid-July since American Avocets nest there and get quite agitated if you approach. We don’t want to scare them off.
I don’t know if the Night-herons breed near this pond. The earliest I have seen them there is the last week of June, so I suspect that they breed elsewhere and come to feed after the breeding season is over.
In 2008 I saw as many as seven birds there at once, including two juveniles. This year I have only seen adults.
Black-crowned Night-Herons have also been reported at the ponds near Airport Trail (96 Avenue) on the west side of Deerfoot Trail, which is about one kilometre south of the Country Hills Boulevard location. But it is very difficult to access that area safely. The best you can do is pull on to the shoulder of Deerfoot Trail to have a look.
If you know of any other reliable locations for these birds within the city limits, please post a comment.