Sunday, April 13, 2014

Here Today/Gone Tomorrow

April 10 2014 Deltaport Way/Tsawwassen. B.C  Overcast and Sunny Breaks Temp 

Here Today/Gone Tomorrow 

The Change of Seasons

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichencis)
The fields and hedges from where these pictures were taken will soon be gone, soon to replaced by an enormous industrial complex. This country of Canada has always exploited resources and I suppose all this is just more"progress" We all live on what was once forest, swamp or grassland.
Less than a kilometre away a second coal port is planned. A kilometre east a shopping mall and a close by a subdivision is already taking shape. The outlook for areas bio-diversity is grim.
In the distance a flock of Eurasian and American Wigeon feed in a field, more than fifty percent is covered in fill. An old farmhouse with mature trees had its electricity supply cut as we photographed, so many dump trucks pass by us we can hardly hear the courtship songs of the Common Yellowthroat,  the House Finch and Savannah Sparrows. I tried to make some recordings but gave up. It was just too noisy.

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
A very distant shot of two House Finch. I watched them looking for a nest site.  The preferred location was a blackberry thicket on a piece of waste ground, a type of habitat often referred to as "unproductive" for agriculture but "ideal" for development. For the birds, a large part of the equation is missing.

Raptors Galore!
 Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
During the day, I saw two Cooper's darting in and out of hedgerows, flying low and fast and then perching on fence posts. The Deltaport area is rich in raptors year round. I just wonder for how long.
Older hedgerows hold more types of prey creating the perfect hunting ground for the Coopers Hawk.

Who's looking at who!

Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)
It has been quite a few years since a Prairie Falcon has been seen in the Lower Mainland. This bird spent most of the winter in Brunswick Point but has recently expanded its territory to the Deltaport area.
A Prairie Falcon prepares to land on a fence post. This shows the extended plumage of this immature raptor from the rear. 
Red-tailed Hawk( Buteo jamaicencis)
At one time this Red-tailed Hawk, a Bald Eagle, a Cooper's Hawk and the Prairie Falcon vied for same territory. As I watched these birds I wonder about the fate of Townsend's the voles now entombed under tonnes of fill. Where there used to be six large fields only two remain. It's hard to watch it happen, the richest agricultural land in Canada being paved over.

Midday: Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty

Brant (Branta bernicla)
There were upwards of two thousand Brant feeding off the ferry terminal most probably on herring spawn. Too far way to photograph but excellent views through a scope. Note the horned Grebe in the distance. 

Distant shot of Brant by the Taxi rest area.

After much stalking I was able to get within fifty metres off this wary Horned Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
There were at least five in the bay and reports of a dozen or so at Point Roberts.

A Male Great blue Heron (Ardea herodias) brings in a branch to add to the nest at the Tsawwassen Heronry.

Birds noted April 10 2014 

Eurasian Wigeon

American Wigeon

Prairie Falcon

Cooper's Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Bald Eagle 
Northern Harrier
Song and Savannah Sparrow
Common Yellowthroat
European Starling
Brewer's Blackbird
Brant (2000-3000 in one raft)
Common  Goldeneye
Canada Goose
Glaucous Wing Gull

Black Bellied Plover

Downy Woodpecker

American Robin

Great Blue Heron

Black Oystercatcher
Horned Grebe
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Loon
Northern Pintail
White-crowned Sparrow
European House Sparrow
Lesser Scaup
Northern Shoveler
Barn Swallow
Tree Swallow

If you have got this far in the blog I thank you for your patience. What started as a passing interest thirty years ago has become my passion. Birds and birding itself took second place to my career in as a community newspaper photographer. During that time I had the opportunity to photography a myriad of events even self assigning myself to photograph the Canucks, B.C. Lions, English Premier League Football, music legends like B.B. King, Leonard Cohen and best of all the Dalai Lama. The "Big Man" as he is affectionately called even came up to me in a press scrum and shook my hand. I have to say it was the highlight of my thirty year careers as a photojournalist. 
These days I find birding and bird photography the most rewarding for so many reasons I would need to write a book about it.
Much of my success I owe to the many birders who I have met since I started photographing birds seriously in April 2011, the fateful month the newspaper I worked for told my services were no longer needed. As it turned out the financial compensation softened the blow and changed my life for ever.
Today I couldn't be more happier walking around Brydon Lagoon with my Canon SX50HD point and shot or lugging around the "Big Gun"
Either way, birding has enriched my understanding of the natural world that surrounds me and us all. I couldn't think of anything I would be prefer to be doing with my life.

Good birding
John Gordon

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Odds and Sods

End of Mar/Beginning of April.
It has been a while since my last post. It's not that I haven't been birding but after all the excitement with the Gyrfalcon and Prairie Falcon things have been a little quieter. I now know why many Lower Mainland birders take off to warmer climes during the latter part of March.

While the birding has been somewhat slow the grand plan was to visit a few new locations or at least check a few spots that I perhaps had only previously given a cursory glance. Ambleside Park was one of those.
Ambleside (foreground) and Stanley Park and the Lions Gate Bridge from Cypress.

Mar 12 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
Birding with Langara Photography class and former Vancouver Sun/Province photographer Les Bazso. We had a great time especially as Canon and Nikon kindly shipped out all kinds of exotic lenses from Toronto for the students to try. There were plenty of 600 F4's and 500 F4's. We were lucky enough to find a Great-horned Owl for the students as well as the usual suspects. The assignment was to not only get close-ups but also show the birds habitat. The students were able to observe and document nest building activities as well some pairing and breeding behaviour.

Langara Students with an exotic array of lenses.

This Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) proved popular with the students.

My first stop on Mar 24th was Maplewoods but after walking the entire trail system I left without taking a single picture and decided to move on.
Then it was on to Lonsdale Quay where a number of Pigeon Gillemot are nesting at the harbour. 
At least the day wouldn't be a total bust. I hadn't set eyes on a Guillemot since a visit to Mitlenatch Island in 1984 so I was pleased to get these new shots. A flight shot is always a bonus.
Pigeon Guillemot (Cepphus columba)

March 25 
I gave a presentation to the Langley Heritage Society titled "Birding in the Lower Mainland" About thirty attended at the historic Milner Church.

March 26 
I presented Flower Photography at Fraser Valley Regional Library in Hope. As I was in the area anyway I decided to investigate the Hope Airport.  A number of Turkey Vultures used thermals to float above the airfield. I couldn't find the Say's Phoebe or very much else. A few ponds above the town held Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup. Very few other birds could be heard or seen.

March 30 Brydon Lagoon.
The Green Heron had moved on but there were plenty of birds including Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup, Double Crested Cormorants, American Coots, Canvasback, Hooded Merganser, a pair of Bushtits at the nest and Song Sparrow.
Green Heron (Butorides virescens)
Brydon Lagoon
Note the curved beak.
This is taken with a proper DSLR while the other Green Heron shots in previous blogs were taken with the Canon SX50HS

March 31 Burnaby Mountain.
Only a few Red-breasted Nuthatches and perhaps 75-100 American Robin.
Later in the day I dropped Piper Spit at Burnaby Lake as there is always some action. The splendid Wood Ducks were pairing up, a flock Long Billed Dowitcher flew around only to eventually land feet from a surprised group of out of town photographers. A Sandhill Crane stayed for a few minutes before flying off to Deer Lake. I missed the shot as I was talking to another photographer.

                                                                         Wood Duck (Aix Sponsa)
The Wood Duck is easily photographed at Piper Spit as are the Long-billed Dowitchers and other sometimes wary birds.

If that wasn't enough birding I decided to drop by Centennial Beach on my way home. Hundreds of Glaucous-winged Gulls were bathing in a freshwater pool. Accompanying them were numerous Ring-billed and Bonaparte's. A pair of Northern Harrier hunted in the inner fields while a northern Flicker cold be seen entering a nest hole by the swamp. A flock of House finch, their red heads contrasting against the blue sky was a beautiful sight. 
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
I really like the expression and the tilt of the head.

April 7 2014 Chelem Trail, Squamish Estuary
The last stop on this somewhat disjointed ramble was up to Squamish Estuary to take my son and grandson birding. Birding with a youngster poses some unique challenges but to see him point out "birdies" for me was truly magical. I look forward to more outings with him.
The Squamish Estuary was one heavily industrialized and with the threat of an LNG project the fate of the wildlife in the area is once again up in the air.

Chelem Trail signage.

The Stawamus Chief from the East Field.

Audubon's Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

A checklist of birds can be found at the visitor centre and a map makes the location an easy place to find. Drive to the end of Training Dyke which is parallel to the Squamish River.
Signage provides a history of the area as well as the birds that can be found at different time of the year.

There were quite a number of paired off Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye on the Squamish River. On the East field the highlight was a pair of American Kestrel as well numerous Rufous Hummingbird.

More information

Good Birding
John Gordon

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Spring Break Birding

Spring Break Birding. Mar 2014 Mostly Sunny

Friday Mar 21/2014 Vancouver/New Brighton Park
A Gyfalcon (Falco rusticolus) with a pigeon tucked away under its wings flies away after a successful hunting expedition.
I have a number of shots of the bird flying against a blue sky and several with the bird hunting but this is the first with prey. The white background is the Viterra Granary. The Gyrfalcons and the pigeons natural colours makes for a pleasing monochromatic image.

Richmond Nature Park Hummingbird Feeder Station
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
There are two hummingbird feeders at Richmond Nature Park. There are also many photographers, too many at times, so after a few shots I went off to a nearby bird feeder area where there were some beautiful House Finches, some with orange tones. 

 Richmond Nature Park
House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
Before pressing the shutter I chose area where there would be a clean backdrop. Soon enough a finch landed near the feeder and with the sky as a background created this pleasant colour co-ordinated image. The branches create a frame within frame, another compositional tool the keep the viewer interested.  

Mar 21 Green Heron shots with the SX50 HS at Brydon Pond. 
I try to go for a quick walk everyday so I usually pack a point and shoot. I'm glad I did.

Adult Green Heron (Butorsides virescens)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Further Adventures Canon SX50HS Brydon Lagoon

Brydon Lagoon Wednesday Mar 19 2014

Brydon Lagoon
The Canon SX50 HS super zoom is perfect for scenics having a 24mm wide angle lens

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
Even though the camera is quite good for taking long distance shots of birds (below) it can also capture close-ups like the Bushtit seen here. Although the ratio of decent shots is lower than a proper DSLR set-up the whole purpose for me is to be able to go for a power walk with just the SX50HS and a pair of binoculars. All these shots were taken while I sat on a park bench and listened to the birds singing. Slowly the more timid birds like the Canvasback below drifted in closer to me. Both shots below was taken with the zoom at 1200mm. The Bushtit at about 20 feet and the Canvasback at approximately 100 feet.

Female Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs to get the best out of the CanonSX50HS for birding set the camera to Scene Mode and choose the High Speed Burst HQ. It can be accessed through the Function Set button. It shoots 10 frames a second at Full Res, don't ask me how it works but it does. The Bushtit above is one of five shots I had to choose from, the other four frames had no birds at all. Anyway, readers have told me that they have bought the camera and enjoy it immensely.

Good Birding 
John Gordon 

A Windy Day/Change of Seasons

Mar 17 2014 Ladner Harbour Park/Brunswick Point Sunny

Monday was just one of those days. For most of the day the wind was so strong that our avian friends were nowhere to be seen.
The only way around the dilemma was to head for an area protected from the gusts of wind coming off the ocean. So it was off to Harbour Park in Ladner. Twelve months ago I photographed a White-throated Sparrow at the car park but today it was eerily quiet.

Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Ladner Harbour Park 
 Sure enough my hunch was correct, the first bird to show was an Anna's Hummingbird. Then a few Chickadees and Bushtits flitted around but not much else.

A quick look around the parking lot turned up a pair of Brown Creepers, one of which kept still just long enough for a few frames.
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
Ladner Harbour Park
A flock of Dunlin paint the sky at Boundary Bay. As many as 50,000 spent the winter here.

The migration across Canada has begun. Many birds in British Columbia are already on the move. The return of the Rufous Hummingbird, Tree and Violet-Green Swallows and others signal the change of seasons. Soon the warblers will be here on masse, the Long-eared Owls long gone. The cycle of Nature continues.

Short-eared Owl (asio flammeus)
Brunswick Point
I have been trying to compose pictures showing more of a bird's surroundings. I haven't been too successful so far. In this picture I have tried to create a composition with the owl acting as a visual cue (diagonal line) leading to the bottom right of the frame and back again to the owl.

Good Birding
John Gordon

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Four Birders/ One Show/ Five Bucks

 Here it is, better late than never.

Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus) Blackie Spit

Red-tailed Hawk Feedback

Tagged Red-tailed Hawk N2

Thanks everyone for enlightening me about the tagged Red-tailed Hawk. Here is Gary Searing's response posted with his permission. I know some of you registered some concern about the size of the tag but I believe it provides important information as laid out below.  Also check the footnote here and reader feedback from the previous posting.

Hi John

Thank you for reporting your sighting of N2. This is great information.    
I tagged her as an After Third Year bird at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) on 5 September 2013 and released her the next day  in Chilliwack, BC as part of a program to prevent raptors from being struck by aircraft. Yours is the first sighting of this bird since that date. Let me provide you with some information on the program so you understand a bit more why we are doing this:    
YVR began a program of trapping and removing Red-tailed Hawks and Rough-legged Hawks in October 2010 in order to prevent them from being struck by aircraft primarily to improve air safety, but also as a raptor conservation tool. Each year the airport has a large number of transient raptors that winter at YVR as well as resident adults and local-raised young birds. Based on information from SeaTac International Airport in Washington, we expect that adult residents are least likely to be involved in collisions with aircraft, but a significant number of young birds and transient birds are struck each year. Therefore, we are attempting to remove those birds from the airport environs by capturing them and releasing them just beyond Chilliwack where there is ample habitat and a reasonable likelihood that they will not return to YVR. I view this not only as an air safety program, but also as a raptor conservation program because, if successful, we may prevent the deaths of a dozen or more birds each year. We expanded the program this fall to all raptors (including owls). To date we have captured and relocated over 225 birds. Most of them were relocated to Chilliwack.     

We are wing-tagging Red-tailed Hawks because we need to know who our resident birds are and are co-operating in a joint program with Seatac and Portland International airports all of whom are wing tagging airport Red-tailed Hawks (using different colours for the tag material). Not only is this program contributing to air safety, we are already learning a great deal about our wintering raptors and hope to learn much more as the years pass. To date we have captured about 100 Red-tailed Hawks of which less than a third, mostly resident adult birds or  long-term wintering residents, have returned to the airport. Less than 20% of the very hazardous juvenile birds have returned. Several of our birds have been seen in Washington State and as far south as Oregon and we have had a few birds from Washington State come to YVR. We have had one sighting of a tagged Red-tailed Hawk near Kamloops. In addition we have captured 10 Rough-legged Hawks of which 2 returned to YVR, 2 Snowy Owls (1 returned), over 70 Barn Owls (only a few have returned), and smaller numbers of Great Horned Owls, American Kestrels, Peregrine Falcons, Coopers Hawks, Sharp-shinned Hawks and Merlins a few of which have returned to YVR. Raptors are one of the major strike risks at YVR and we believe that we are mitigating that risk significantly through the capture and relocation of raptors.    

It is through the sightings of many interested persons such as yourself that we are able to collect the essential information on bird movements and distribution and learn how well the measures we are using to manage wildlife at the airport and elsewhere are working.       

Thank you for your cooperation and your interest. Feel free to contact me for more information or with any sighting information.




Hi John

Go ahead and post away - the more the word spreads the better since I rely on sightings for my data.
Yes, the tags are relatively large, but this dramatically increases the flightability of the tags and hence the number of re-sightings of each bird. My colleague and I have been using this type of tag for more than a decade with many hundreds of birds tagged. There is absolutely no impairment of flight or other behaviour. Tagged birds that return to the airport resume their territorial behaviour, breed and successfully raise young. If the tags had a negative affect in any way, we would not use them since one of the reasons we are doing the program is for the safety of the birds (as well as air safety).



Gary F. Searing, M.Sc.      
Wildlife Hazard Biologist
Airport Wildlife Management International
Executive Director
Bird Strike Association of Canada

9655 Ardmore Drive
North Saanich, British Columbia
Canada V8L 5H5

Office/Home: 250.656.1889
Cell: 250.857.5133
Skype: gfsearing