Sunday, August 26, 2012

Loon photography; slightly tricky!

Photographing loons can be rather tricky; you have to properly expose the black, whites and keep that stunning red eye lit up and not dark in the shadows. Positioning is very important, if you could keep yourself in between the sun and the loons with your back to the sun, most of the shots would come out okay. Though it didn't help when the loons drifted by the raft on the wrong side!

I also found keeping the camera steady to be a challenge. I tried to bring a tripod on the raft however that didn't work to well so I had to content myself with resting the camera on top of the life jacket all minors were supposed to be wearing (oops!) on the side of the raft. Though they can be difficult to expose they are very interesting to photograph and they seem to be rather curious too, often if I let myself drift in the lake, they would come within feet of me. I found this to be rather important too as I didn't want to disturb them so I would always try to let them come to me instead of me going to them. Here are a few of my better shots from the trip.
Canon Rebel XSi;  Manual exposure,  1/500sec., f6.3, ISO 400 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Another important factor is timing, just a split second later and I might have missed the water droplet in the photo above, that's why it helps to have high speed bursts!

More photos to come soon!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Loons at Kikomun Creek P.P.

The main highlight for me of my family's annual camping trip to southeastern B.C. is spending hours out on the lake in a raft photographing the Common Loons that call this place home each year.

Here is just a sample of the posts to come on the loons.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Slowing Down... or Speeding up?

So its been a while since I've mentioned my mini Big Year at all but here we go.

Since leaving for Canada in June, I was at 249 species and prospects of getting to 500 were looking very slim. However, driving home from the airport that night, I added a new species immediately, Great Horned Owl, which had managed to evade me for half the year.

The next week went by very quickly and I added another 21 more western and northern species that I had not had a chance to see up until then. A couple more trips throughout the area surrounding Calgary, Alberta in June saw me get 31 new species for the month. In July, I mopped up a few more species such as Mountain Bluebird and Prairie Falcon before being invited to Waterton N.P. but some birding friends. Here I added a great 14 new species.

August saw me go shorebirding with another birding friend where we found Baird's Sandpiper and an interesting sighting of a Partridge. I was looking through the rearview mirror when I saw the bird scampering across the road, I turned quickly to make sure I was actually seeing it with my own eyes and just caught another glimpse of it before it disappeared into the tall grass. This was my 300th species. A camping trip to southeastern British Columbia saw me catch up on a few species and I got to 305 species, though I managed to miss Red-naped Sapsucker and its unlikely I will find one this year.

Migration in Calgary and area saw me find three new species, two of which were lifers. The 3 species were Ovenbird, Connecticut Warbler (lifer), and Cordilleran Flycatcher (lifer) out in the foothills.

For mammals I did quite well, more than doubling my total of 16 to get to 33. Some very good species there and a couple of mammal lifers as well!

This summer got me back on track for 500 and it should be an exciting finish to the year. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kikomun Creek Provincial Park

Last week, I went on a camping trip with family to southeastern British Columbia, more specifically Kikomun Creek Provincial Park. This was our third year there and I love going back for the amazing opportunities to photography a family of loons as each year they call the lake home. You know the park is going to be good when you haven't even finished setting up the tent and a White-tailed Deer and her young fawn wander past your campsite.

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/200sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm

Canon Rebel XSi,  Aperture Value, 1/125 sec., f7.1, ISO 800 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 289mm

Sunday, August 5, 2012


Keeping it simple- here's a photo of a Belted Kingfisher from the Weaselhead Natural area taken last week.

Friday, August 3, 2012

One special moment with the hunter

While out on an early morning excursion to the Weaselhead Natural area, I came across this fellow hunting. I was standing silently on a dirt path when there was a huge commotion and not 20 feet away, a Snowshoe Hare burst out of the woods and sprinted away as fast as it could. Seconds later, this Coyote emerged from the woods in hot pursuit of the Hare. He only stopped for one intimate moment when he looked me straight in the eye before turning and chasing after the hare. Didn't see them again.

Canon 7d;  Manual exposure, 1/160 sec., f6.3, ISO 640 with Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3 @ 500mm.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Scientific names of birds

Recently, some birding friends and I were in the mountains listening to the strange song of the Varied Thrush. While its song may not always be described as beautiful, its plumage is definitely gorgeous and we thought its name did not do justice to its beauty. One topic brought us onto the next and soon we were discussing Latin names. While many birders tend to overlook the scientific names of birds, these titles can be quite interesting though I know I certainly had trouble digesting all the taxonomy and etymology! If you enjoy wrapping your heads around this, read on! If you're like me though, it may seem simply too much!

I was looking in the Federation of Alberta Naturalists 'Field Guide to Alberta Birds' (1998) when I noticed that the authors had the etymology (study of the origin of names) of the birds scientific names translated. However, before we get to etymology, let's look at taxonomy (the classification of species).

All birds are in the Animal Kingdom (Animalia), the Chordata Phylum (with a backbone), and the Class Aves (birds). This is where the similarities stop though and the birds separate into their respective Orders such as Falconiformes (hawks and eagles) and Passeriformes (Passerines). Then, species are divided down into Families for example Parulidae (Wood-Warblers.) After the Families come the subdivisions of Genus and Species. These last two are used in the bird's scientific name as binomial nomenclature, which describes the species of living organism. For example, a Red-breasted Nuthatch is Sitta canadensis. The word 'Sitta' is the nuthatches genus and 'candensis' is the name that specifically describes the Red-breasted Nuthatch. With the name Sitta canadensis, scientists everywhere know that you are talking about the Red-breasted Nuthatch. This is where the classification of species ends and we can look at the origin of the species' binomial nomenclature and the etymology of the name.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Etymology, the origin of words can be fascinating. I found that some of the scientific names of birds were quite interesting, for example the Red-necked Grebe. This grebe's genus name is Podiceps which is Latin and means "rump foot", referring to the posterior position of the grebe's feet. Its species name, grisegena, is also Latin and can be translated to "gray cheek". Thus when we look at the whole scientific name and try to make sense of it, we might come out with something like "gray-cheeked rump foot", which in itself, can be quite descriptive of the Red-necked Grebe.

Here are a few more bird names and their meanings.

Black-crowned Night Heron- Nycticorax nycticorax- nyctos: "night" and corax: "a crow". Basically, a night crow!
Gadwall- Anas strepera- Anas: "a duck" and strepera: "noisy". A noisy duck? Names like this really make me look at the species again as I never really thought of the Gadwall as a noisy duck.
Barrow's Goldeneye- Bucephala islandica- Bous: "bull", kephale: "head" and islandica: "of Iceland". Giving us... "Bull-head of Iceland". Interesting.
Bald Eagle- Haliaeetus leucocephalus- halos: "the sea", aetos: "eagle", leucocephalus- leukos: "white" and cephalus: "head". White-headed Sea Eagle sounds descriptive!
Least Sandpiper- Calidris minutilla- Calidris: " a gray speckled sandpiper", minutilla: "very small". Very small gray speckled sandpiper is right- these guys only weigh 24 grams.
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher- Empidonax flaviventris- Empidonax: "King of the gnats", flaviventris: "yellow-bellied". What a name! Yellow-bellied King of the gnats!
Tennessee Warbler- Vermivora peregrina- Vermivora- vermis: "worm", voro: "eater", peregrina: "to wander". Wandering worm-eater perhaps?
Lark Sparrow- Chondestes grammacus- Chondestes: "grain eater", grammacus: "striped". Striped grain eater.

Lots of cool names in this book to look at though I must admit that some don't seem to make much sense. I also find that I learn a lot about species when I know their Latin names as then it might tell me more, for example how Gadwall's Latin name means noisy duck. Then you've got the neat names such as Empidonax meaning 'King of the gnats'! Very interesting and worthwhile to know the scientific names!