Did you know the birdwatching accounts for somewhere in the realm of 13% of total annual tourism in Alberta? We're also fortunate in this area to have a wide variety of environments to attract unique species. With all the lakes and sloughs around, waterfowl has been migrating back over the past few weeks, and warm temperatures have been tempting prey like gophers to emerge - handy lunch for large birds. Songbirds are certainly no stranger to our region, and there's even been some rare guests making a visit this year.
Recently, I went out with my friend and fellow photographer, Laurie, to some of her local haunts in search of the elusive bald eagle. She's been photographing these fantastic birds for months now, and I wanted to see one in the wild around the Brooks area.
The first thing you need to know about Laurie is she is an amazing wildlife, landscape, and aurora borealis photographer. She's someone who knows the area very well and has the utmost respect for locations.
And I'm pretty sure she's got the vision of the eagles we were looking for. While we were driving, Laurie was able to pick out particular bird species, sometimes just by the way they would fly, but usually because she could see them far better than I could!
We did find a Golden Eagle near the Rolling Hills Reservoir; a juvenile according to Laurie. It was an exciting find, and her images were stunning as always! I had a huge handicap as the longest lens I own maxes out at 200mm. Luckily, I brought along a 2x teleconverter, but still wasn't able to come close to what Laurie's 600mm lens could capture. For wildlife photography - especially birds - a huge zoom is key. I always tell people who ask "why kind of gear should I buy?" to invest heavily on glass, and not to worry too much about the latest and greatest body.
An oddity (as I mentioned before about the songbirds) came upon us in the Tilley area. I have never observed a bluebird in this area before - in fact, the closest was during a visit to Reesor Ranch in the kinda nearby Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park. Laurie, of course, was the first to pick out the distinctive blue colour as we slowly drove down the road. To our surprise, this bluebird was not alone. A decent sized group of them must have stopped by during migration - made for some fantastic images! I'm certain by now, they've all left the area, but it was incredible to see the vibrance of the bluebirds flying in a group.
Alas, we never did come across the Bald Eagle that began the entire journey. However, we did get to see many species that regularly call the County of Newell "home," and had a great visit.
Coming up during the May long weekend is the annual bird count in our region, which usually hits places like Kinbrook Provincial Park, Lake Newell, and the Tilley area. The Grasslands Naturalists have put together an amazing book (including detailed maps) called the Birding Trails of Southeastern Alberta, which is available online. However, if you do have the chance to grab a hard copy, proceeds do help the organization. If you are planning a visit to Southeast Alberta, this guide is a valuable resource. Also, try to connect with the Grasslands Naturalists - they are a group of well-informed, amazing people that are a wealth of information.