Saturday, 2 April 2011

Owls and Pintails at Frank Lake

On Friday, I took advantage of a March break day off and headed out to Frank Lake, just east of High River to catch sunrise and hopefully some of the reported Short-Eared Owls.  Despite the struggle to haul myself out of bed, I'm confident I made the right choice based on the 15-20cm of snow I'm looking at out of the window as I write this post!  And besides, sunrises are pretty spectacular...

Sunrise, Frank Lake, AB
I started out at the south-east access point to the lake (Marked as "A" on the Google Map below).  The track was flooded past the last farmhouse so I walked a short way on foot.  Thousands of Northern Pintail were congregated in the ponds on either side of the road.  They were taking off in huge flocks, circling around and landing in neighbouring fields.  Their flight is quite elegant with their narrow pointed wings and when small groups flew past it was possible to hear the flight feathers of individual ducks cutting through the air.

View Frank Lake Birding in a larger map
There had been no owls in sight on the way to the lake so I was thrilled when I turned around to head back to the car and saw a Short-eared Owl take off from a utility pole and glide across the field, circling once before disappearing over a low ridge.  Moments later a pair of Gray Partridge flushed from the field beside the road, landed a few hundred yards away, and then did a poor job of trying to be inconspicuous with a red-orange face among the yellow stubble.
Gray Partridge, Perdix perdix
After this excitement it was time to move on to the other side of the lake.  Enroute ("B" on the map), this Rough-legged Hawk caught my eye and seemed quite happy to finish his meal while I pulled over and set-up to try digiscoping.  As you can see, holding my point-and-shoot up to the eyepiece is not working all that well - results are comparable to shooting with my 300mm lens on my SLR and then cropping down to the 1600mm equivalent magnification of the scope.  It's okay for a stop-gap measure and I'll look into a proper bracket in the future.
Rough-legged Hawk, Buteo lagopus
Further down the road (C and D) on the map there were several more small sloughs that afforded close-up views of more Pintails and a pair of Tundra Swans.
Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
Northern Pintail in flight
Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
Arriving at main Frank Lake access, I parked at the gate and walked down the track.  An American Tree Sparrow popped into view in the grass, gave a couple of short songs then vanished into the tussocks of grass.  Much of the lake was frozen but the open water on the south side of the track contained a great variety of waterfowl species including Canada Goose, Mallards, and Common Goldeneye with a seriously skewed sex ratio that was leading to the few females being swarmed by frantically head-bobbing males.  There was also a lonely looking Bufflehead among a few RedheadsCanvasbacks and Scaup spp.  Seeing these last three together, at times literally in the same field of view through the scope, was a great help in sorting out their identification.

On the way out, I bumped into another member of the Albertabird community.  We traded notes and he put me on to a Great Horned Owl nest.  For obvious reasons, I didn't want to walk away from the car for photos but admiring the pair, one on the nest and one in nearby tree was a fantastic way to cap off the day.

No comments:

Post a Comment