Hawrelak Park is the place to be for those who live in Edmonton, AB, if you like to photograph birds. They are accustomed to being around humans. In fact, they’re used to regularly interacting with humans, particularly when it comes to getting fed. It’s not uncommon for Canada geese to shake you down for a piece of bread in the same manner that Tony Soprano’s crew extorts protection money from merchants on their turf. (“That’s a real nice knee you got there, be a shame if someone’s beak got buried in it.”)
This is a problem. Wildlife shouldn’t be this friendly with people or so aggressive about seeking out food from them. Especially unhealthy food that is not part of their natural diet. It’s great for photographers, but very bad for the animals themselves.
I must say that this is not an issue here in Strathmore, AB. All of the birds in town are very cautious around people and you can definitely tell that the locals aren’t feeding them. This is fantastic in that it indicates the townfolk are very familiar with the core principals of conservationism when it comes to local wildlife.
The downside is that the birds here are absolute @#$%ing bastards to try and photograph. The pelicans in particular can smell a telephoto lens from a kilometer away. I mean that literally. Said pelicans like to hang out in the larger, northmost pond at Gray Park.
I made at least fifty (FIFTY!) circuits of the above body of water on foot before I was blessed with a single crappy image of pelicans. There was one day I circled the pond nearly three times trying to get a decent image. If I was on the east side, they moved west. If I was south they scooted north. I’m still trying to get a shot of just one pelican on its own that will fill the frame, but I’m doubting it will happen this season given how things have gone so far.
Previous to the telephoto shot, the best I was able to manage was cheating by flying my photography drone up close enough to the feathery buggers to get an image, but not so close I stressed them out. They generally ignore the drone as to them it’s simply a different, very noisy bird. Something people shaped comes into sight and they are gone.
It’s not just the pelicans. The ducks are beyond skittish. Ninety-five percent of my duck pictures are of duck bootay because I get their backsides while they quickly swim away from me. It’s amazing how fast they can move — the little buggers can and will run on top of water when a lens is whipped out. I probably shot over a thousand frames to get maybe five usable images…
And the geese. Oh my God, the geese. I’ve never understood why they’re considered Canadian. They’re loud, they’re rude, and boy howdy are they aggressive. That’s classic American behaviour. I do understand why they’re called cobra chickens. They both hiss and strike if you get too close to a gosling.
I think the low point was when I got pecked on the head a couple of times by a red-winged black bird. I’m assuming I got too close to a hidden nest. In my own defense I’d like to say that I only took a shortcut off the walking path because I was trying to get home before an approaching storm opened up on me.
The American Avocets, Blue Herons, Yellow-capped Blackbirds, and Horned Owls? Skittish, skittish, skittish, and skittish. I wound up having to cheat by buying a much more powerful lens – the Sigma 150 – 600mm with a 1.4x teleconverter giving me 840mm of reach. It helped some.
I heard through the grapevine that I dodged a bullet with the owl (in the carousel slideshow above). They gave me some stinkeye, but they didn’t come after me. Apparently one poor person’s small, rat-like dog wasn’t so lucky as one of the owls attacked it at Kinsmen Park, downtown. That’s the rumour as it circulated – I don’t know for certain that this actually happened (Facebook, right?). Walking a pet the size of a snack past a large owl is rather dumb, by the way.
I have only had a single bird shot that was a gimme this year. It was two flickers doing a mating dance on the tree branch immediately outside my living room window. I even had a camera handy so wham, bam, thank you ma’am. This is what happens when you’re too horny to pay attention to your surroundings.
In any case, I tip my hat to the denizens of Strathmore for getting it right when it comes to good conservation practices that protect wildlife. It’s especially impressive that the wildlife here are not trained to seek out food from humans. I just wish that this didn’t result in making the local bird population absolutely miserable to photograph.