Monday, 29 May 2017

Bird Photography Time

      Spring time in Alberta is always a welcome relief from long cold winters. Ice and snow disappears, daylight hours overpower dreary darkness, leaves flush and birds arrive from extended winter holidays. Geese are generally the first to advertise their arrival with loud honking and beating wings. Before dawn, I am awakened by an amorous robin trilling promises of love, devotion and fat worms to all sweethearts who can hear. In the nearby pond I can hear frogs cricking, red-necked grebes chortling and mallard drakes quacking their best pick-up lines to seemingly deaf hens. The real call of spring for me is the red-winged blackbirds territorial declaration overpowering the muttering of black American coots.
Red-winged Blackbird

     While out walking, I enjoy watching the interesting lives of the familiar residents and am thrilled when I get to see some new visitors. My faithful Leupold binoculars help with the details and nuances of bird identity but my memory is not always good enough to transfer to a guide book, so I try to get photos for ID clarification. I have found this endeavour to be very challenging and a way to add interest to a nice walk wherever I am that day. There are birds to be found on every trail and even if walking for a short distance, I can find interesting birds to watch. The everyday lives of even the most common birds is a fascinating study of lives, not unlike our own, only at high speed.
     Mates choose nesting sites with all the care that we do. They want the best neighbourhood, closest to good food, away from potential danger and a safe place for the kids to play and forage. No human family is as protective as mother goose and gander. Watch the grebes as the busily fish and forage for their new chicks and mate while she sits on her nest. With a quick call, the parents change places, allowing the brooder to groom, preen and forage. Never are the little grebes far from watchful parents.Mallard hens monitor their clutches as the ducklings paddle furiously to keep up while learning to catch their dinners.
     It amazes me how quickly the young birds change. We must not forget that they have to be big and strong enough to migrate south within about four months or less. Everyday the geese change from cute, yellow down to greenish-grey pin-feathers to the magnificence of adult plumage. Each bird has their own unique colouring, reasons unknown and cute/ugly to anyone but their mothers.
Doting Mother Goose

     While out bird watching or photographing their lives, we must be mindful and respectful to them.
It is not cool to disrupt their lifestyle as every waking moment in summertime is devoted to growing strong enough to migrate and to surviving a constant threat from predators. Baby birds are favourite food to many predators such as eagles and hawks, fish, mink and otters, magpies and ravens or crows. If photographers find a nest and spend too much time there, predators will also find it and eat the contents. If we flush the guarding parents they may abandon their clutch to try another place or time. Every time the birds are frightened away they are using fat reserves required later in the season or they are prevented from foraging to build up those reserves.
Preening Pelican

     We have to take care of ourselves too. Nobody wants to get mugged by an irate goose as they are very powerful and fearless. Watch the body language of the birds to see their reactions to your presence. If you are in a city park, you will be able to get closer than if you are on a wild lake. Wear comfortable clothing of muted colours and move slowly. Sit down to enjoy the ambiance of the place and you will find that wildlife will calm down and carry on with their normal activities. Nothing likes to be stalked. They see us as predators stalking for food that they do not want to become.
     There are many websites that help and guide us to ethical bird watching and photography.
     Get out and enjoy our natural world. Take your kids and teach them as well as the birds in front of you are teaching their broods.

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