Bird Photography Hot Spot Weed Lake Alberta

Dr. Robert Berdan
August 14, 2011

When I was a kid I used to get really excited about getting up early in the morning and going fishing. I don't do much fishing anymore, but I still get the same excitement when I am heading out to take photographs. Today, I was up at 4:30 am waiting for a buddy to drop by (Brett Auger) and head out to Weed lake to take some pictures of birds. I hadn't been to Weed lake before, but news from some of my other friends suggested that it was a hot spot for photographing shore birds. Weed lake is about 12 Km east of Calgary and about 1 Km east of Langdon, Alberta. After breakfast at Macdonald's at 5:30 am, we headed over to the lake by driving east down Country Hills Blvd.. It took about 45 minutes and along the way we stopped to catch the sunrise at 6:20 am before turning south on highway 9 (see below).

sunrise over the prairie by Robert Berdan ©

Sunrise from Country Hills Blvd. and Highway 9, AB 300 mm F2.8, 1\5000 sec, ISO 320, Nikon D300 and Tripod.

It was looking like a good start to the day, until my friend dropped his 24-70 mm Zoom lens on the pavement and dented it. I know what it feels like to drop a lens on pavement - it starts with a sick feeling in your stomach as you bend over to pick up the lens and inspect if for damage. The damage appeared to be cosmetic, but he will have do some tests to be sure. These type of accidents can happen to anyone - it seems to happen to me about once every 10 years.

We turned south on Highway 9 and crossed the main highway 1A out of Calgary and came to Langdon. We turned east on Township road 234 and could see lots of water about 1 Km ahead. We also saw lots and lots of shore birds. We pulled into the Ducks unlimited drive (only room for 2 vehicles) and saw Dave Lilly already shooting away.

Weed lake parking

Parking space for Weed Lake - there is room for two or three cars only - the highway bisects Weed Lake

I pulled out my 300 mm F2.8 lens and 1.5 X teleconverter and tripod and crossed the road and started taking pictures. There were American Avocets, Solitary Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Sora all within a short distance of the road and they weren't too skittish either. The sun was still low in the sky and cast a warm orange glow over the lake and marsh resulting in some nice colours and reflections from the birds.

American Avocet and Fish by Robert Berdan ©

American Avocet (300 mm F2.8 + 1.5X teleconverter = 500 mm Focal length, F4.8, ISO 320, 1\500 sec. Nikon D300, Tripod.

Greater Yellowlegs by Robert Berdan ©

Greater Yellowlegs - 500 mm F4.8, ISO 800, 1\4000 sec., Nikon D300, Tripod

Juvinile Soras by Robert Berdan ©

Juvenile Soras - photographed from the highway 500 mm. F7.1 , 1\320 sec, ISO 800, on camera fill Flash, Nikon D300, Tripod

For most shorebirds you need to bring along a telephoto lens. A 70-200 mm with teleconverter is a good starting point, but a longer lens is better. With a long lens a good support, whether it is a monopod or tripod is also often essential to get sharp pictures. Because I was able to get fairly close within 20 feet (~4 meters) I decided to try my on camera flash. The flash isn't powerful, but when you boost the ISO speed it can be used to fill in the shadows and put a small highlight in the eye. The birds didn't seem to notice, but shooting with your flash does prevent you from shooting a burst of shots.

Young American Avocet by Robert Berdan ©

Young American Avocet. I usually try to include their reflection in the water. 500 mm F4.8, 1\1000 sec., ISO 800,
Nikon D300, Tripod.

After about an hour we drove further east and then head up a dirt road - Range Rd. 270 and then turned west again on 234A and parked next to the lake and walked in closer. We still had the sun to our backs, but there was no highway traffic to deal with.
We saw a variety of shorebirds, Marbled Godwits, Sandpipers, Willets, Black-necked stilts, Cormorants, Blue winged teal and a marsh hawk. It's a great place to practice photographing birds in flight as many of the birds circle overhead or fly in and land. From the shore we photographed for about another hour (see different bird species below).

Northern Harrier - Marsh Hawk by Robert Berdan ©

Northern Harrier (Marsh Hawk) 500 mm F7.1, ISO 800, 1\2000 sec, Handheld, Nikon D300.

Caspian Tern by Robert Berdan ©

Common Tern 500 mm F7.1, 1\2500 sec., ISO 800, Nikon D300, Handheld.

Marbled Godwit in flight by Robert Berdan ©

Marbled Godwit about to land. 500 mm F4.8, 1\6400 sec., ISO 800 Handheld, Nikon D300 camera.

Marbled Godwit by Robert Berdan ©

Marbled Godwit 500 mm F4.8, 1\6400 sec., ISO 800, Nikon D300 and Tripod.

Sandpiper by Robert Berdan ©

Solitary Sandpiper, 500 mm F4.8, ISO 320, 1\320 sec., Tripod.

We had been talking about the possibility of finding an American Bittern, a relatively rare bird. Chance favours the prepared and sure enough we saw an American Bittern land nearby.- about 60 meters away. Not particularly close, but close enough that we could get a few pictures of the bird wading with our 500 mm lenses. Dave Lilly generously allowed me to take a few shots through his longer 500 mm lens with 1.4X teleconverter (700 mm plus 1.5X from using Nikon D300 camera - see below). I started to photograph the Bittern and my compact flash card indicated full. I scampered back to my vehicle to get another card - lesson learned - always carry extra cards with you. I didn't expect to fill up a 16 GB card this particular morning, but with the beautiful light and abundance of birds it didn't take me long.

Immature black-crowned night-heron by Robert Berdan ©

Immature black-crowned night-heron. 700 mm (500 mm + 1.4X teleconverter) F5.6, 1\2000 sec.,
ISO 400, Nikon 300 on Tripod.

Weed Lake by Robert Berdan ©

View of Weed Lake looking West and the numerous shore birds.

Marbled Godwits by Robert Berdan

Pair of Marbled Godwits

Amercian Avocet by Robert Berdan

American Avocet - Nikon D300 F6.3 (500 mm), ISO 800, 1\6400 sec.

Red-tailed Hawk by Robert Berdan

Red-tailed Hawk -Nikon D300, 300 mm F2.8, ISO 400, 1\6400 sec

Greater Yellowlegs by Robert Berdan ©

Greater Yellowlegs Nikon D300 500 mm (300 + 1.4 X), F4.8, ISO 800, 1\800 sec.

Once the Bittern flew off we headed back to Langdon and stopped in for a refreshing drink and coffee at one of the local shops on the main street. There is a gas station at the corner and several shops where you can buy refreshments. Weed lake is an excellent spot to view and photograph a variety of shore birds and it won't be my last trip to this location. I have to thank my friend Dave Lilly (The Canadian Bird Photographer) for bringing this hot spot to my attention. RB

Map to Langdon and Weed Lake, AB

Location of Langdon and Weed Lake - X marks where the photos above were taken from,

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