Tag Archive | Frank Lake

Travel Tuesday: The Road Less Travelled at Frank Lake – Part 1

As you no doubt have realized by now, not only do I love shorebirds, but I also love Frank Lake. Today’s post is here to highlight not only the photos that I’ve taken at Frank Lake already this year, but also some areas that may be a little bit less familiar to the visitors to the Ducks Unlimited Protected Wetland just 50km SE of Calgary.

 

Frank Lake

Frank Lake

Of course everyone knows what great shots you can get just sitting at the established viewing blind, or on the mudflats around the parking loop at the end of the road at the main basin. For instance, Ruddy Ducks, Eared Grebes, and even Western Grebes can be regularly seen within a few meters of the main blind.

Western Grebe and young Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm 1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

Western Grebe and young
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1250sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 640

eared grebe

Eared Grebe
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/8.0, ISO 800

female Ruddy

female Ruddy Duck
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500@500mm
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

There are a couple of other places along the main access road that are good for shorebirds, Common Yellowthroat, White-faced Ibis, and even Black-crowned Night Herons. The first, labelled (1) on the map, is just east of the water inflow canal. The nutrients in the water provide a huge volume of nutrients in suspension to feed insects, plants, algae, and even shorebirds who eat small particulate food. Here are a few of the species that can often be found at this location in the summer.

Long-billed Dowitchers Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

Long-billed Dowitchers
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

 

Common Yellowthroat Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

Common Yellowthroat
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/500sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 500

American Avocets Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter 1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

American Avocets
Frank Lake – September 12, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 + Tamron 1.4x Teleconverter
1/1000sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 400

 

Wilson's Snipe Frank Lake - September 12, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Wilson’s Snipe
Frank Lake – August 23, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

 

Great Blue Heron Frank Lake - August 23, 2013 Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500 1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

Great Blue Heron
Frank Lake – August 23, 2013
Pentax K-5 + Sigma 150-500
1/640sec., ƒ/6.3, ISO 800

These are just a few of the areas off the beaten path at Frank Lake. With waterfowl hunting season opening on September 8, and the main gate being locked, there are a few other access points at Frank Lake that might be a bit better for drive-up birding. Check in next week for part 2 of this series on Frank Lake!

Frank Lake Ibis Colony Destroyed?

Guest Post by Greg Wagner

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt

White-faced Ibis by Dan Arndt

Ducks Unlimited developed the Frank Lake project under the North American Waterfowl Management Plan which is a tripartite initiative between Canada, the United States and Mexico aimed at conserving migratory birds across the continent. The Plan’s goal is to return waterfowl populations to 1970s levels through the protection of upland and wetland habitat.

This has certainly been achieved at Frank Lake where upland habitats have been secured and are managed for nesting waterfowl and other birds, and where wetland habitat has been created and protected through the establishment of dams and the addition of tertiary treated effluent from the Town of High River and Cargill. It is also one of the few large wetlands with large cattail and/or bulrush beds in southern Alberta and attracts a number of breeding bird species that are dependent on these habitats including White-faced Ibis, Black-crowned Night Heron, Franklin’s Gull, Forester’s Tern, Western Grebe and Eared Grebe. Many of these species are listed as sensitive under the General Status of Alberta Wildlife Species, largely because of the scarcity of large wetlands with emergent vegetation.

Because of its conservation importance, Frank Lake has also been identified as an Important Bird Area  and as an Environmentally Significant Area within the Municipal District of Foothills.

Frank Lake is also a popular area for hunting, birding, wildlife photography, dog walking and hunting dog trials. Ducks Unlimited has also established an educational program at the lake, which had initially been offered to students in Calgary schools, but which is now being offered to rural schools in the area. It truly is the goose that laid the golden egg.  If people show some respect for the area and following a few basic rules (eg., dogs on leash during the nesting period from 1 April to 1 July) it should remain as an area that can serve as a significant wildlife conservation area, and at the same time be enjoyed by a number of different user groups.

The best known and most heavily used site on the lake is the observation blind on Basin 1 in the northwest corner of the lake. It is located within an extensive bulrush marsh and provides excellent viewing opportunities of Eared Grebe, Coots, Ruddy Ducks, Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens. Looking out to the east you can count dozens if not hundreds of White-faced Ibis. During the spring, the calls of Franklin’s Gulls are deafening. This reed bed supports the largest breeding population of emergent dependent birds on the lake, and in the province.

In the past photographers have been observed wading through the reed bed near the blind and trying to get close to the reed bed and nesting area of White-faced Ibis on a crudely constructed raft. These individuals cause untold damage to the birds nesting in these areas, in violation of the federal Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. I few weeks back I raised my concerns with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer.

Making a hasty retreat.

Making a hasty retreat.

Unfortunately, last weekend I encountered two individuals (a man with graying hair and a women with long blonde hair) marching through the reed beds north of the blind, cameras and long lenses in hand and pulling an inner tube with camouflage material wrapped around it. They were right in the area where the Ibis and Night Herons nest. About 25 Black-crowned Night Herons were flying around the reeds at the time.

I yelled at them to get out of there and that they were destroying nests in violation of the Alberta Wildlife Act. I also phoned Report a Poacher 1-800-642-3800 and ended up speaking with the local Fish and Wildlife Officer I had met with a few weeks back. I indicated what these two people were doing and that they were disturbing nesting birds in violation of the Migratory Bird Convention Act and the Alberta Wildlife Act. He asked me to record their license plate number. I also took some photos of them in the reeds.

After about twenty minutes they came out ashore and had the pleasure of some lively conversation and in your face time with yours truly. They indicated that they were long-time birders and were doing nothing to disturb the birds. I have left the matter in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Officer. But I wonder, do these two pick up a couple of six packs of mice from their local pet store anytime the go out looking for owls?

Last spring, I watched the Franklin’s Gull return to Frank Lake and begin nesting over most of May. Unfortunately, I was away for most of June. When I got back, I visited another large reed bed marsh supporting a large Franklin’s Gull breeding colony. The place was deafening with adult birds circling overhead, and recently fledged young everywhere.

Their vehicle

Their vehicle

Frank Lake was much different. I only saw a flock of 20 birds heading to the lake from nearby fields. No adult birds circling over the reed beds and no recently fledged young. There was zero nest success. I wondered at the time what had happen, and probably will never know. I thought it was probably something environmental, a quick increase in lake levels following a major rainfall event. But now, I wonder if it may simply have been caused by photographers traipsing through the bulrushes.

Frank Lake has become widely known as being the home to White-faced Ibis. I fear the breeding colony, or at least the major colony of the lake, has been destroyed. So if someone is out at Frank Lake and wants to know why there aren’t so many Franklin’s Gulls around the blind, or where all the Ibis have gone. maybe this post provides an answer.

—————————

Posted by Pat Bumstead:

We know Frank Lake is a very popular birding destination for many of our readers. Put the Report A Poacher number 1-800-642-3800 in your cellphone. If you see idiot photographers endangering the birds for the sake of a picture, make note of the following and give them a call:

  • Date, time and location of offense
  • License plate number of vehicle
  • Vehicle description, including any identifying features, dents, stickers, etc.
  • Description of person(s) involved
  • Description of evidence at the scene, or evidence of the crime that the violators took with them
  • Details of the violation

Most of our Canadian bird species are in serious trouble throughout their ranges. Bird watchers are the ones out in the field, and can cover far more territory than Fish & Wildlife officers. If you see someone wading through nest sites, baiting owls, stealing eggs from a nest or anything else that threatens the birds, speak up for them! If we don’t, there might not be any birds to watch.

Wednesday Wings – Short-eared Owls

Posted by Dan Arndt

Last Saturday evening I made a quick trip to Frank Lake and managed to find a pair of Short-eared Owls displaying and posing in the late day sun.

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl in flight

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

female Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl

male Short-eared Owl calling in flight

male Short-eared Owl calling in flight

Father’s Day at Frank Lake

Posted by Matthew Sim

Last Sunday, my family decided to spend some time at Frank Lake for Father’s Day.  This birding hotspot has featured in many of our posts before but even so, one can never tire of visiting the lake. During every season, something of interest can be seen there and Father’s Day was no exception. As we parked the car and headed down to the blind, we were astonished by the multitude of winged creatures around us; Common Terns, American Coots, Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Ruddy Ducks and Wilson’s Phalaropes were among the birds we saw.

Forster’s Terns appeared to be nesting in the reeds near the blind and many were fishing in the waters all around us.

Forster’s Tern

While walking along the boardwalk, we stopped to admire this Muskrat munching on a reed just feet away from us.

We thought we were seeing some great things, which we were, but when we got to the blind, we saw something that was truly amazing.

Nature’s taxi

There were several families of Eared Grebes hanging out around the blind; the mothers playing taxi to their young chicks while the fathers dove and swam about, gathering food for the young.

Occasionally, the mothers would shake the chicks off their backs; either tired of carrying their young charges or attempting to get them practicing swimming.

While we were watching the grebes, activity went on as always with the other birds and there were many White-faced Ibises flying by us.

Eventually, we had to leave, though it was quite hard to tear ourselves away from the blind. Good birds were still to be seen on the way out though as we spotted a singing LeConte’s Sparrow by the parking area near the blind, the Trumpeter Swan near the sewage outfall who has been there for some time, at least 3 pairs of American Avocets by the sewage outfall and a singing Western Meadowlark perched on a fencepost.

Western Meadowlark

If you can, I would really recommend getting out to Frank Lake soon as the birds are simply amazing right now.

Digiscoping

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.

Eared Grebe and juvenile, by Dan 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

Photo by Dan Arndt

Here are some of the amazing photos Dan took this summer at Frank Lake using his digiscoping rig.

White-faced Ibis with juvenile, and American Golden-Plover, by Dan Arndt

Lesser Yellowlegs by Dan Arndt

American Avocet by Dan Arndt

Black Tern by Dan Arndt

Black-crowned Night-Herons by Dan Arndt

American Golden-Plovers by Dan Arndt

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

Sniping a Snipe

The boy paused to make some adjustments to his gear before moving the long black object that was glinting in the sunlight up to his eye. He slowly, carefully took aim, lining up his target into the right position, not wanting to miss this golden opportunity. Not this time. He paused another moment before finally taking the shot. Snap! The boy looked down at his camera screen, pleased with the result. He rapidly took some more shots before quietly leaving the way he came.

Sunday afternoon, my dad and I headed out to Frank Lake, eager to see some young birds starting to emerge. As we were leaving this birding hotspot, we passed a small marsh beside the road; a fence running along the edge of the water. “Stop!” I suddenly exclaimed. We turned the car around when the traffic had died down and found a quiet place to park. On a fencepost, I had seen a Wilson’s Snipe,  a long-billed shorebird often seen in and around wetlands. We hopped out of the car, listening to the music of the wetland around us; boreal chorus frogs, yellow-headed blackbirds, red-winged blackbirds and coots, all adding to the cacophony of sounds around us.

We slowly and cautiously made our way closer and closer to the snipe, not wanting to scare it . We had never been quite so close to a snipe before and we approached to within a couple of meters of the bird before stopping. We admired and observed this well-marked little bird, delighted to have such a close encounter.

After doing some research on this  remarkable little bird, I found that its long bill is really quite amazing. The bill of the Wilson’s Snipe is flexible and the tips can be opened and closed with no movement at the base of the bill. Sensory pits at the tip of the bill act a little bit like sonar, allowing the snipe to feel its prey (small invertebrates) deep in the mud.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Bird Profile: Black-crowned Night-Heron

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

Bountiful Birding at Frank Lake

Last week I took the short drive out to Frank Lake, east of High River (see the directions under the “Birding Resources” tab above).  I was hoping to see some of the many Short-eared Owls that are often seen there at dusk, and I had about two hours before that to scope out the lake for waterfowl and other birds.  This is a very productive wetland, and I managed to see 24 species of birds, 13 of which were new ones for the year for me.

The water level is very high this year.  As you can see, the path to the observation blind was flooded.  There was also still quite a bit of ice on the lake, but much of Basin 1 was open.

By far the most common bird there was the Franklin’s Gull.  Frank Lake is home to perhaps the largest breeding colony of these gulls in the world, with up to 55,000 pairs.  They build floating nests in the cattails, and if the water levels remain this high they may not be able to breed here successfully.

There were other gulls as well.  This one, which I believe is a California Gull, was having eggs for dinner.

The gull took the egg onto the roof of the blind, and although it almost rolled off at one point, he finally did manage to eat it.

I had good views of Eared Grebes and Ring-necked Ducks…

But the highlight was when a flock of four White-faced Ibises flew in.  I had never seen this large, beautiful bird before.  It has dark, glossy, chestnut and bronze colouration, a long decurved bill, and of course a white face.

(Click on photos to enlarge them.)

The four flew on, but a little later another flock of twelve Ibises arrived…

They landed on the island…

And virtually disappeared in the grass…

(Cinnamon Teal in the foreground.)

At dusk, I started to drive back out on the dirt access road, but I didn’t get far, since I brake for Short-eared Owls…

This owl was right next to the road, so it flew before I could get very close.  However,  I saw another one hunting a little farther down the road…

All in all, a great evening of birding topped off by a fine southern Alberta sunset.

Posted by Bob Lefebvre