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Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Better Place To Be


Oct 29 2014 Ladner and Brunswick Point, Roberts Bank Nature Reserve Sunny 17c

For those who live in the British Columbia's Lower Mainland the autumn and winter can bring more than a few rainy days. As I write this journal October 30th it's pouring. It's not much fun birding in the rain so when the weather forecast called for sunny breaks I decided to visit Brunswick Point via Delta's Hornby Drive.
Most of the morning was spent scoping distant flocks, looking for signs of the Pacific Golden Plover  amongst a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers. The birds were huddled together taking cover from the strong winds coming off Boundary Bay.
Because of the high tide and the accompanying swells there was very little activity on the dyke so I made my way to Ladner, taking a circuitous route to see if I could spot any raptors. Sure enough I spotted a Merlin perched atop a bush. I barely had time to jump from the car and shoot a few handheld frames before the raptor swooped away from me and nailed a shorebird (Dunlin I think)
Juvenile Merlin (Falco mexicanus)
Shot from quite a distance this Merlin perches moments before making a kill.

If there were any artistic value of showing the results of the kill I would but it was gruesome. I'll leave it up to your imagination.

Next up was the Brunswick Point Tropical Kingbird that has been delighting birders and photographers with its acrobatic feeding displays. The bird which should be moving south is a rare visitor to the Vancouver area. The last sighting was two or three years ago in Delta.
This was my third visit to photograph the bird. For the first effort I took my Tamron 150mm-600mm but I found it a bit sluggish for the flight shots. To be fair I did have a few which were OK (See previous blogs for more flight shots)
This time I took my 500mm F4 and tripod and a Nikon D3s which shoots 8 frames a second and has a larger buffer for shooting raw files. Previously I used the D7100 which is a fine camera but painfully slow and has a very slow buffer hindering my ability to get more than the odd clear shot.
For better or worse here are some of the results, although not perfect they are an improvement over last week's efforts. It seems practice and patience are the only way to get better images. More about that in later blogs.
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

A distant shot of the Tropical Kingbird about to catch an insect. The bird fed incessantly from the time I arrived until I left.


More Tropical Kingbird shots:
I can see why they are called Tyrant flycatchers, that fearsome bill would fit right into a Game of Thrones episode.

Not to be cynical but this type of shot is often called a 'Bird on a Stick' shot.
However some birds look better on a stick than others!

I dislike some of the expressions birders use, the 'Bird on a Stick' is one, the other is 'Dirt Bird' No bird deserves that moniker. 
Anyway the shot above took a lot of patience, a kickback to when I use to be an angler, camping out all night out to catch enormous carp and tench. Catch and release of course!
I would have been happy with any shot if the bird was only around for a few hours but this guy has been here for two weeks and doesn't seem too perturbed by all the attention he/she is attracting.
To find the bird on a branch that didn't have a cluttered background took hours of waiting. I additionally bisected the frame at each corner by careful cropping in Lightroom© and have left a few branches in the bottom of the frame. I think they give the image a little more of a three dimensional effect. I could have Photo-shopped them out but I don't think it was necessary or ethical. I also placed the bird in the bottom left of the frame using the tried and trusted two-thirds rule.

As I was getting carried away with the kingbird and the warm weather I 'accidentally' took this picture below. Talk about a lucky shot, it is my first American Robin flight shot. Maybe that is something to practice on with the commoner birds..Hmmm!
Maybe i'll assign myself that little project and see what I can come up with.



American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
I like this shot and that is all that matters. I like the symmetry of the wings.
There were breaks in the action when the kingbird would simply take off to catch an insect hundreds of metres away. During one such interval a Northern Harrier flew by and I was able to get off two frames.

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Finally, when the day was coming an end a Robin perched in front of the kingbird. I thought the mixture of tones, colours and two species of birds, one common and the other a scarce vagrant an interesting juxtaposition. I quickly took two shots so that both birds would be in focus. The shot with the robin out of focus and kingbird in focus doesn't look right so i'll just remember that moment in my mind's eye and leave the memory there. The one below works better.



American Robin and Tropical Kingbird.

I've travelled around the world, visited some iconic places, met some amazing people and photographed a wide variety of creatures but honestly, it would be very hard to beat this particular day in the Lower Mainland. 



"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale




Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Boundary Bay Birding

Oct 27/2014 Boundary Bay 64th Ave. Cloudy and sunny breaks.

Afternoon session 1-4.30 p.m.

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
A common bird at feeders and at fruit trees during the Fall and winter.



The light was fading and even at 1000 ISO the shutter speed was too low to stop the movements of this tiny kinglet. I used a Better Beamer flash diffuser on a Nikon SB800 flash. The flash head was set at 50mm on my 500mm lens with 1.4 converter. The flash was dialled in at -1/3.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)


Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)
As with the previous shots of the kinglet a little flash brightened up the scene while creating a catchlight in the eye of his dainty warbler.




 The Northern Shrike (Lanius excubiter)
Sometimes referred to as the "Butcher Bird" this juvenile Northern Shrike was hunting the small birds I was photographing. The white background is the out of focus greenhouses at the end of 64th Ave.


It was almost dark when I left for home, a few drops of rain had begun to fall, the remnants of a tropical storm way out in the Pacific was about to batter the BC coastline. Driving home there were Red-tailed Hawks hunting, Snow and Cackling Geese preparing for the deluge while the recently flooded cranberry fields held hundreds of Mallard.
By the time I arrived home it was dark, the wind was whipping up the red and yellow maple leaves in the driveway. It was time for a nice cuppa, a comfy armchair and a good book.  C'est la vie!


"It's never to late to start birding"



John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale




















Monday, October 27, 2014

Two in One Week, Leucistic That Is!

Oct 27 2014 Brookswood Langley. Francis' Back Yard Overcast

Morning Session 10-11 A.M.
It has been quite a week for Leucistic birds. The Eurasian Collared Dove last week in Delta and now a Black-capped Chickadee. All thanks to a tip from Francis, a fellow member of the Langley Field Naturalists who alerted me to the bird coming to her feeder. I was able to photograph this beautiful chickadee with hot coffee in one hand and the other on the shutter button. Did I mention Francis bakes awesome homemade cookies! Thanks Francis for the bird, the hospitality and the cookies.
See the previous blog for a link to Leucism in birds.


Leucistic Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

The back view shows off the beautiful plumage of this unusual bird.

In the afternoon I spent an hour at the Richmond Nature Park (more bird feeder shots) followed by a  few hours at Delta's 68th Ave. Please check the next blog which i'll post later.


I don't know where all the hours go when I bird. Time seems to take on a quality all of its own. Time is neither long or short, only the changing position of the sun (when it peeps from behind the Pacific North-West clouds) gives away that the day is quietly fading away. A reminder to return home and reflect on a day well spent.

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale



Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Mixed Bag

112 St and Hornby Drive Delta B.C. Overcast 13c
The escapee budgerigar is still flying with a mixed flock of Brewer's Blackbirds and Starlings. It has been there all summer after 'flying the coop' in Ladner. A few weeks back the owners contacted me via vanbcbirds asking me about the bird's location. Good luck catching it!  I am told the bird could still survive our harsh winters as long as it can find grain and seeds. A nearby barn which houses livestock should provide shelter and food. No picture this time but as I was watching the bird in flight a Leucistic Eurasian Collared Dove landed on a wire a few feet away.
Leucistic Eurasian collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
A nice blue sky would have improved this image but until then this adds to my collection of leucistic species. So far I have photographed leucistic:
Mallard, Canada Goose, American Crow, White-crowned Sparrow, Steller's Jay, Starling and Red-winged Blackbird.
More about Leucism

The dove wasn't the only reason I was at the corner of 112th. Thanks to a tip from friend and fellow birder Gareth Pugh I was able to photograph a flock of Snow Geese that contained a family of the  dark morph variation.
They were quite far away but I did manage a few pix.
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
The dark morph adult is on the left and two juveniles are on the right. 

Both variations for comparison. 

Spooked by an eagle the trick was to locate the dark morph's out of a flock of 400 as they flew across the cornfields.

Even though it was lousy light for photography, the birder in me enjoyed the entire experience. Back home in front of a warm fire I reflected on another day well spent.



"Its never too late to start  birding"

John Gordon
Langley  Cloverdale



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ignoring the Weather Forecast Pays Off!




Oct 20 2014 Boundary Bay/Blackie Spit. Overcast with sunny breaks
It was supposed to be pouring rain all day!
Sanderling (Calidris alba)
I arrived at the base of Delta's 112 St flood tide. Out in the bay thousands of Northern Pintail, Mallard and American Wigeon were feeding. Keeping them company were hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers, a single American Golden Plover, numerous Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings and perhaps two thousand Dunlin.
As the tide rushed in something spooked the flock, most of the sandpipers and plovers flew off. I knew it was time to leave when a beachcomber and dog arrived on the scene. I decided to visit nearby Crescent Beach and Blackie Spit which is a only a ten minute drive away. I had heard there was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper among the peeps.

A flock of Dunlin and a few Black-bellied Plover are spooked by a Bald Eagle but soon come back to rest.


As the tide rose a dozen Greater Yellowlegs and about 30 Least Sandpipers began to feed quite close to the pathway that leads out to the end of the spit. American and Eurasian Wigeon (possibly hybrids) joined the sandpipers to feed on the submerged grasses.

Dunlin and Least Sandpipers flock together.
Note some of the birds have yellow legs, they are the Least Sandpiper our smallest sandpiper. There is one at the top of the frame as well as a few others.


Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
From a distance I thought I had found the Sharp-tailed but as it immersed into the open the speckled breast gave it away as being a pec. Better luck next time.

Marbled Godwit in flight. I'm not too sure what the other bird is, perhaps a Dunlin?

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
All in all it was a great day outdoors and had I listened to the weatherman I would have stayed home and missed out on a glorious afternoon. It was just one of those quiet days out in nature, hardly a thought to bother me, oblivious of everything except the birds. Life can be sweet at times!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Tropical Kingbird at Brunswick Point

Oct 19 2014 Brunswick Point Cloudy with sunny outbreaks.

I had intended to spend the morning watching the Man City game on the telly. Outside the grey morning was turning into a beautiful sunny Fall afternoon so I decided to make my way to Brunswick Point. My birding buddy Raymond had texted me to say the flycatcher was still around. When I arrived there were already a number of birders and interested bystanders watching in fascination. The brilliantly coloured Tropical Kingbird was very active catching one insect after another. The clouds were clearing and patches of blue sky were appearing.
I decided to give it an hour of two to see if I could get some flight shots as well some perched shots with a decent backgrounds.


For the first hour the bird made a few forays to feed but always landed deep into foliage making photography difficult. It looked like that was going to be all until a Merlin flew by and scared it off. The colourful bird then flew along the dyke trail. Handholding my Tamron 150mm-600mm I was able to pick off a few shots as the bird bopped around the shrubs and bushes.

Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)


Finally the bird began to feed again, hawking insects in the brisk wind. I have included a few shots of the bird feeding although they are technically flawed they do show something that is difficult to observe in the field.
 Even with a high shutter speed freezing the action is difficult. These cropped pictures shot in manual mode to make sure I had decent exposure for cropping.




Anyway, I did get to see my game and also have a fantastic few hours outdoors before returning to the 'Man Cave' for the Arsenal v Hull game. By then it had become cloudy again and a contented feeling that the day had been very, very well spent.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale





White Rock Sandpipers

Oct 15 2014 White Rock BC Overcast and Showers
Rain or shine Wednesday was the only day I could go to White Rock to see whether I could find the Marbled Godwit that had been reported the day before.
Sure enough it had joined the resident Willet and Kildeer that commonly feed alongside the White Rock foreshore. The birds are easy to find, just make your way to the large Rock just south of the pier.
The challenge was to capture both birds in one frame. Here are the results before backing off and leaving the birds to feed.
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) in the foreground and Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

The two sandpipers feed among Canada Geese and Mallards.



"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Langley/Cloverdale