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All photographs by David Lilly

The Baby Stealer

I don't know if you have ever seen a cartoon of a Pelican flying away with a baby. They have been portrayed as such. 

The American Pelican is a beautiful bird. We are lucky in Calgary, Alberta to be able to see these birds all summer long.

They hang around the Bow River in Calgary.


Pelicans swim well with their strong legs and their webbed feet. They rub the backs of their heads on their preen glands to pick up an oily secretion, which they transfer to their plumage to waterproof it.[11] Holding their wings only loosely against their bodies, pelicans float with relatively little of their bodies below the water surface.[28] They dissipate excess heat by gular flutter – rippling the skin of the throat and pouch with the bill open to promote evaporative cooling.[12] They roost and loaf communally on beaches, sandbanks, and in shallow water.[12]

A fibrous layer deep in the breast muscles can hold the wings rigidly horizontal for gliding and soaring. Thus, they use thermals for soaring to heights of 3000 m (10,000 ft) or more,[57] combined both with gliding and with flapping flight in V formation, to commute distances up to 150 km (93 mi) to feeding areas.[11] Pelicans also fly low (or "skim") over stretches of water, using a phenomenon known as ground effect to reduce drag and increase lift. As the air flows between the wings and the water surface, it is compressed to a higher density and exerts a stronger upward force against the bird above.[58] Hence, substantial energy is saved while flying.[59]

Adult pelicans rely on visual displays and behaviour to communicate,[60] particularly using their wings and bills. Agonistic behaviour consists of thrusting and snapping at opponents with their bills, or lifting and waving their wings in a threatening manner.[61] Adult pelicans grunt when at the colony, but are generally silent elsewhere or outside breeding season.[28][62][63][64] Conversely, colonies are noisy, as chicks vocalise extensively.[60]

The American white pelican has increased in numbers,[51] with its population estimated at over 157,000 birds in 2005, becoming more numerous east of the continental divide, while declining in the west.[86] However, whether its numbers have been affected by exposure to pesticides is unclear, as it has also lost habitat through wetland drainage and competition with recreational use of lakes and rivers.[51]

Two Herrons

There are two Herrons I see on occasions in Alberta are the Great blue Herron and the Black-crown Night Herron. The Great blue Herron below is an adult whereas the Black-crowned Night Herron is a jevinile (probably a yearling). It takes approximatly three years for them to get their adult feathers. 

I would like to mention another Herron was photographed this year just east of Calgary. It was a Little Green Herron. They are not common with only a few seen in the past 50 years.

I see the two herrons around water, rivers, swamps and sloughs. Usually , I scare them before I see them, so as a bird photographer when walking beside water be ready.

To get a sharp photo of these birds is not difficult. Set you shutter to at least 1/2000sec with an appeture of F 5.6. I have my camera set on Auto ISO, so what ever shutter speed I choose the ISO compensates for in the exposure. You will need to be in Continous shooting mode.

Wings Up

A bird with its wings in the up position is always more interesting. In this case, the Wilson's Phalarope only has its wings up when it lands, or in a moment of excitement.

Anticipating the moment when this bird decided to have is wings up is not easy. As mentioned earlier when they come into land their wings will be in the upward position for a few seconds.

To capture those split-second moments as a bird photographer you will need a shutter speed of 2000sec or more. An F-stop of at least F5.6 for a little depth of field.


Wilson's phalarope is slightly larger than the red phalarope at about 23 cm (9.1 in) in length. It is a dainty shorebird with lobed toes and a straight fine black bill. The breeding female is predominantly grey and brown above, with white underparts, a reddish neck and reddish flank patches. The breeding male is a duller version of the female, with a brown back, and the reddish patches reduced or absent. In a study of breeding phalaropes in the province of Saskatchewan, Canada, females were found to average around 10% larger in standard measurements and to weigh around 30% more than the males. Females weighed from 68 to 79 g (2.4 to 2.8 oz), whereas males average 51.8 g (1.83 oz).[7]

Young birds are grey and brown above, with whitish underparts and a dark patch through the eye. In winter, the plumage is essentially grey above and white below, but the dark eyepatch is always present. The average longevity in the wild is 10 years.[8]