Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Quesnel Birding

Quesnel British Columbia June 7-8 2017

My eventual destination Quesnel was an eight hour drive north from Vancouver. To break the journey  I stopped off at Williams Lake to rest, picnic and bird 

There were the usual suspects including the following

Finally it was time to leave for Quesnel where I was to meet up with other birders prior to the British Columbia Field Ornithologists (BCFO) AGM and conference in Tumbler Ridge. Two days of birding in Quesnel had been arranged with group leaders and local birding experts Adrian Leather and Brian Murlands. 
The Quesnel area has a good mix of birds and a variety of habitats to explore. We would not be disappointed. The itinerary included trips to the West Fraser Loop including visits to Soda Creek, Route 26 to Barkerville and Wells as well as the prolific bench lands on West Fraser Road.
Below are some of the birds to be found in the area. Our group, led by Brian Murlands ticked 116 species. 
Combined both groups spotted 129 species in two days. That's more than some of the five day BC Bird Breeding Atlas trips I had been on! 

We birded the road to Barkerville on Day 1 and Day 2 the West Fraser Rd which is across the river (see map) from Hwy 97 and south of Quesnel.

The first bird of the day was this merlin that was looking for an early morning breakfast.

Once some of us learnt to recognize the call of the American Redstart it was easy to locate them skulking in the bushes.

American Redstart.
The road to Barkerville offered up some choice birding locations. One of the best was the historic community of Stanley. It was here we found a good variety of flycatchers, thrushes, crossbills, grosbeaks and warblers. The highlight for many of us was the Tennessee Warbler which popped out of the shrubbery to give everyone a great look.

Tennessee Warbler. 

Another Stanley bird was the Swainson's Thrush which came out of the thick forest to see what all the fuss was about, namely 10 birders waddling around in gumboots and rain gear.

Swainson's Thrush


Photographing a bird in its habitat is usually no problem, most times the subject matter is so far way  that loads of background is inevitably included whether you want it or not.
Often the background is so cluttered with distractions that the resulting picture often ends up confusing to the viewer.
Perhaps this picture is a compromise and different enough from the close-up field guide pictures which most photographers are obsessed with. The snipe was a long way off so I had a chance to carefully plan the background by moving my original position. I'm not too sure if it works or not but as I have plenty of close-ups of Wilson's Snipe already I gave me the opportunity to try something different.
Wilson's Snipe and marshland.

The area around historic Stanley had numerous species of flycatcher including allow, alder and least.

As mentioned earlier, backgrounds are so important when photographing birds. There were other opportunities to photograph the species but I chose this one because of the dark background which I knew would set off the light coloured bird against the dark shadows in the background.

Least Flycatcher.

I really like the painterly quality of the image below. The pastel colours blend well with the bird's plumage.
A Song Sparrow carries an insect to the nest.

Northern Waterthrush
The road to Baskerville and Wells provided plenty of opportunity to photograph warblers including Blackpoll, Wilson's, Yellow, Tennessee and Northern Waterthrush.

Finally after ticking off over one hundred species and just as we were leaving for the day we bumped into Adrian Leather's group who had spotted a Spruce Grouse high up in a tree. The bird posed for us before moving to a better perch where it continued to feed on spruce buds about twenty metres from the ground.

Spruce Grouse.

This is what birders look like when they find a good bird. Some call it warbler neck others just get a pain in the neck.


Day 2

West Fraser Rd offers the opportunity for some great birding and exceptional scenery.

 Northern Mockingbird, a rarity for the area. 
One of the group (who wants to remain anonymous) spotted this Northern Mockingbird, a rarity for the area at the Dunn Levy Ranch, 5845 Soda Creek, MaCalister Rd, Mcleese Lake, BC.

Willow Flycatcher

The two days passed way too quickly. I plan to return to make some sound recordings as the West Fraser Road in particular is quiet.
 I would like to thank Brain and Adrian for hosting and herding the flock from place to place and to the BCFO who originally hatched the idea of two days birding prior to AGM and Conference.
Finally, I am already planning a return trip to the area later in the summer.
"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Really Good Chat

May31/2017 Bell Park, Brookswood Langley BC

Every once in a while a really good bird takes a wrong turn and lands close to home. Such was the case this week when Langley birder Cos van Wermeskerken found a Yellow-breasted Chat behind his home in Langley. He's one of the lucky ones whose property backs on to a municipal park. The Yellow-breasted chat is a very rare occurrence in the Lower Mainland and endangered in Canada where their numbers can be counted not in the thousands but in the hundreds. Their preferred wetland habitat has now been severely depleted. Normally the best place to see them in BC is the Okanagan Valley, especially Road 22 where some wetland habitat remains relatively untouched.

When Carlo and I arrived at Bell Park we were greeted by the raucous call of the chat. We still hadn't seen it by the time we hooked up with Mike K and Raymond. They had already seen the bird high up in the trees and for fifteen minutes it continued to give us only slightest of glimpses.
Un-cropped image

Eventually we were joined by Quentin, Floyd, Peter and Brett. Floyd was the first to spot the bird which had now come down to eye level, we couldn't believe our luck, not only did the bird choose a number of photogenic backgrounds it sang as well. We all the chance of some great stills and some amazing video.

Yellow-breasted Chat

We couldn't believe our luck, as we left we all had the widest smiles. We left the bird to forage in peace. No doubt there will be a steady procession of birders arriving soon.

"It's never too late start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Langley Bird Brochure Published

Langley Field Naturalists bird brochure takes flight

Brochure features 54 birds that can be viewed in Langley, from owls to American Goldfinches
           Langley Times
        by Monique Tamminga
       All photos John Gordon

After lots of hard work, the Langley Field Naturalists are ready to launch a brand new bird brochure. The colourful brochure features images of 54 birds that can be viewed in our local surroundings.
From robins, owls and chickadees to hummingbirds and the American goldfinch, B.C. has many fine-feathered friends to see.
“It’s really exciting because the brochure features birds that you can find right here in Langley,” said LFN member Lilianne Fuller.
“We are putting the brochures in local schools first. 
“Why not start kids off early?

Nashville Warbler (Brydon Lagoon)

“Birding gets them outside in nature and becoming more aware of their surroundings. Birding can happen in nature and even from an apartment balcony.”
The brochure was made possible because of grants received from BC Nature, the BC Naturalists Foundation, the City of Langley and VanCity.
Though the brochure is appropriate for every age and expertise in birding, the club is focusing its efforts on Langley’s youth.
Because one of the grants was from the City of Langley, the Langley Field Naturalists are making the brochures available to Langley City’s elementary schools first

“Many young people are using every technological device available to further their understanding of birds.
“Many … are following through to university and studying the natural sciences,” said LFN member John Gordon, an avid birder and retired photojournalist whose blog can be found at
“I know several such young people; they never cease to amaze us. 
“They will be the guardians of the legacy left by those who fought so hard to preserve what’s left of natural spaces in the Lower Mainland. 
“Birding is a gateway hobby to a lifetime of learning, so if groups like the LFN can, through their Young Naturalists program, encourage youngsters to enjoy the outdoors, then that’s all good.”

                                Isabelle and Caroline Kovacs check out the new Langley bird guide.                        John Gordon Photo
As Gordon notes, “Birds are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. 
“When we see a 70 per cent decline in some species we also see a decline in insects like bees … that affects all of us.”
Birding is an ever increasingly popular hobby for all ages.
Many from LFN contributed photographs to the brochure, said Gordon.
In addition to distributing the brochure to schools, they will be made available at local libraries, recreation centres and at local community events. 
To request copies of the brochure, contact the club by email at or contact Lilianne Fuller at 604-533-0638.
Orange-crowned Warbler (Brydon Lagoon)
I have added my photos from Brydon Lagoon and trail system as the Langley Times just didn't have the space.

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Brydon Lagoon Location #2

 May 30/2017

Location #2

 Brydon Lagoon

 Langley City BC Canada

When on assignment for the Langley Times I would often visit Brydon Lagoon. Sometimes, when it was a slow news day I would go down just to get some cute shot for the front page. No editor I ever worked for could resist a cute photo of a duckling or gosling. 
On one such occasion it was for a story about the gate keepers of the pond, the people who made sure the old water treatment pond eventually became a wildlife reserve and not just another faceless subdivision.
People like Anthea Farr and Rhys Griffiths and other members of The Langley Field Naturalists.

I shot this image at Brydon so I could add copy and images later.

Not exactly a Pulitzer Prize winning shot but....

Below is the photo page that eventually ran in the Langley Times and Sideroads, a monthly magazine published by Black Press which often allowed me a free-reign to run nature stories.

**Notice how I left negative space to include a title or more pictures. Often it is best to shoot both vertical and horizontal images for publication.

The Finished Product

The finished product made in ©InDesign and ©Photoshop

In those days I saw many species of birds at Brydon but I never gave a thought to their names or how they played an important role in the bio-diversity of the park.

The more I visited the more I learnt about the birds of Brydon. Not only is there a pond and  floodplain but several wooded areas and a salmon bearing creek. Coyotes, Beaver, Northern River Otter and Muskrat all make their homes there and can occasionally be seen early in the mornings.


I sometimes go for a walk and leave my DSLR at home. Instead I take my Nikon 24mm-2000mm P900 bridge camera just in case I find something interesting. A few days ago I was on my last circuit of the pond before making my way home when a Green Heron perched about fifty metres in front of me. It was getting dark so I set the camera on aperture priority and hoped that the bird wouldn't move too much. I shot it handheld at 2000mm. I squeezed the camera tightly, held my breath and pressed the shutter. Bingo!

Green Heron

Sometimes it feels good not to be laden down with ANY gear when all I really want to do is spend some time with the birds. I always feel a little 'naked' without some kind of recording device so I carry a 8 megapixel iPhone 5s in my pocket ...just in case. The phone comes in very useful for sound recording and the odd scenic that I include in my side presentations. 


The image below was taken moments later during the last light of the day. Unlike the picture above this one has a more an artistic feel to it, at least that's my humble opinion!
I pressed the shutter when the bird was motionless. I have at least twenty other images in which the heron was moving and all have motion blur.

The background is the sky's reflection while the other shot of the heron has trees reflected in the water.


Sometimes human intervention is needed to find birds at Brydon. One such day was May 19 when local birded Sue Dietlein (Coastal Observer) spotted a Lark Sparrow. The Lark Sparrow is more often associated with a drier climate.
I went down to Brydon in fading light with high hopes and managed to get this shot. Rather than crop too tightly I tried to leave a little of the dry grassy area the bird favoured, the same type of habitat it is normally found. I have seen the species in the Okanagan and at Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta but never in the Lower Mainland.

Lark Sparrow.

One of the keys to enjoying the birding experience is getting out in the field. I go most mornings before appointments and other commitments, sometimes I'll go for an hour in the evening.
One morning I went down at 7 a.m and was one of only two people at the pond. Nothing too much was stirring just a few Common Yellowthroats and Orange-crowned Warblers. Barn, Tree and Northern-rough-wing perched above me resting waiting for the sun to warm the air.

While a bald eagle swooped over the pond it sent every duck and duckling scurrying for shelter. A Green Heron also took flight,. The Bald Eagle re-appeared but this time a with an Osprey in tow, a bird I had never seen at Brydon although another birder told me they appear every June for a few days. There lies the crux of the matter, to see good birds and lots of them, a person has to be in the field. 
Parting Shot


Brydon Lagoon is very near to my home I walk the trails most days for exercise and mental health. I spend time listening to birds, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells. 

Anyway next time you're in Langley, check out the Brydon Lagoon you won't be disappointed.

John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Skagit Valley Bird Blitz/NikonD500/Nikon 200-500

May 12-14 Skagit Valley Bird Blitz.

Skagit Valley Provincial Park.

The birds and birding has been non-stop since the weather brought in waves of migrating birds last week. There is no better place to experience the phenomenon than the Skagit Valley. Only 150kms east of Vancouver, the Skagit Valley it located south of Hope in the North Cascade Mountain Range.
An official bird checklist is available from park wardens and there are excellent campsites along the road to Ross Lake that lies on the Canada/USA border.
Here are some images from the weekend which was attended by about 30 birders and run by the Hope Mountain Centre. To see more of their excellent offerings including the upcoming Manning Park Bird Blitz event click below.

Here is another upcoming event with Al and Jude Grass

here are my pictures taken with the Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm5.6 zoom.
The images are in no particular order. I missed the Lewis Woodpecker and the Western Bluebird but one can't be everywhere. Most of these birds were taken close to the campsite at Ross Lake while others were taken during the numerous walks where we did point counts. I can't quite remember but I think we saw close to ninety species over the weekend.

American Goldfinch at the picnic area at International Point day use area.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

I wan't expecting American Pipits but I found two where the Skagit River enters Ross Lake.

I just liked the backlight on this foliage as we searched the forest for warblers.
(Silvertip campground)

Black-throated Gray Warblers were way, way  up in the canopy, even so the 200mm-500mm did a great job.
(Silvertip campground)

Group leader Denis Knopp found this Calliope Hummingbird at Whitworth Meadow on Saturday
I went the next day and found the same bird along with a few rufous hummingbirds and a Townsend's Solitaire.
Rufous Hummingbird.
(Whitworth Meadow)
Townsend's Solitaire
 (Whitworth Meadow)

Yellow-pine or Townsend's Chipmunk at Silvertip Campground. I think the stronger contrast of the striping on the face makes it the former. Any thoughts?

(Silvertip campground)

Columbia Ground Squirrel.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Douglas Squirrel.
(Silvertip campground)

Fungi, where's Al Grass when you need him?
(Skagit Valley Trail)

Gray Jay collecting food for nearby nestlings.
(Skagit Valley Trail)

Hammond's Flycatcher.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Calypso Orchid..I think?
(Skagit Valley trail)

Purple Finch.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Female Red Crossbill.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Red-breasted Sapsucker.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Turkey Vulture.
The early morning sun creates a nice contrast in the wings of the bird.
(Ross Lake picnic area)

Female Varied Thrush or juvenile but isn't it way too early?
(Skagit Valley Trail)

Western Meadowlark (Ross Lake picnic area)

Western Tanager.(Ross Lake picnic area)

I hope you have enjoyed these images. Thanks for looking.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Pelagic Birding

May 5-9 2017 Tofino and Ucluelet, 

The chance to visit the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve was eagerly anticipated. The weather is always a concern at Long Beach but we lucked out and had three days of sun. We camped out in our VW Westfalia at the Ucluelet Campground. The site has excellent harbour views, immaculate facilities and decent birds including Orange-crowned, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Hermit Thrush. 

I just love this Parks Canada graphic ©Park Canada

Prior to the WildResearch's pelagic we visited Tofino where the beaches held small flocks of Whimbrel and Western Sandpipers. It was the weekend of the Shorebird Festival so there were plenty of birders around. Unfortunately we missed the workshops which was a shame but there is always next year. Here are some pix with the Nikon P900 bridge camera which I use to bring in distant subjects, shoot scenics on the run and shoot 1080p video.

P900 at 24mm
Can you see the Whimbrel?

P900 at 2000mm
The 24mm-2000mm did a fine job of picking out the Whimbrel at 200 metres.
I shoot the P900 hand held except for the when I shoot video.

The P900 does not replace a DSLR but I was the only one on the beach who got these decent ID shots. I think the camera is the perfect companion for the birder who wants to make record shots and who doesn't want to be burdened down with lots of heavy gear.

Another P900 from 200 metres.
Just another fun shot when I didn't want to haul out my DSLR.

The image isn't that sharp but a tourist thought it was a killdeer, I was happy to provide photographic evidence to the contrary. 

 The Pelagic

We left Ucluelet 7.a.m

The dead calm conditions would probably mean less birds but we had no control over the weather.

A list of the birds we saw are described in the WildResearch newsletter is pasted from their newsletter at the end of this blog.
 I used the Nikon D500 and the excellent 200mm-500mm F5.6 zoom which I have no hesitation in saying is one of their very best Nikon camera/lenses combos.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar (Pacific light morph)

 I really like this shot of the Pink-footed Shearwater as it skims close to the waves. Sometimes the bird would disappear behind a wave and then suddenly re-appear. My favourite shot from the trip.
Pink-footed Shearwater.

     We had a brief look at three Humpback Whales but being a bird tour we were on another mission.
Humpback Whale

(Below) I just managed to catch this Pomarine Jaeger as it flew over my shoulder. The light/sky background is a huge distraction but it's included nevertheless.

Pomarine Jaeger (light-morph breeding adult)
California Sea Lions.
Note how high some have climbed up on the buoy to sun themselves or perhaps evade Killer Whales!

The Nikon 200mm-500mm combined with the Nikon D500 is the perfect wildlife camera/set-up especially on a boat where the use of tripod is not possible.
(Below) we also saw numerous Pacific Loons migrating up the coast and not just from the pelagic tour boat. In Ucluelet we saw many pass the area known as the Amphitheatre. The rocky area and lighthouse provided us good views of Black Turnstones and Black Oystercatchers.
Pacific Loon photographed from the boat.

Another bird that I overlooked by me was the Sooty Shearwater, it just doesn't have the appeal of say an albatross and regrettably I only have a few shots to choose from but maybe if there is another trip in September I can concentrate more on the photography and a little less daydreaming.

Sooty Shearwater.

 WildResearch's 2017 Pelagic Seabird Birding Fundraiser - Update
Dan Froehlich

Last week WildResearch’s Pelagic Fundraiser once again took to the margins of the continent to explore offshore birdlife.  Sixty-four birders convened at 7am at the Ucluelet’s tiny harbour to board the M.V. Frances Barkley, our excursion boat for the day.  Already in the harbour, clearing skies, mild temperatures, and slack winds made our spirits soar in anticipation of a good day on the water.

Before we even boarded, a group of young birders from BCFO quickly zeroed in on a weird gull off to the side—as did their sharp eyes on all the birds we encountered for the duration of the trip.  It was such a pleasure having them aboard!  The gull defied easy identification: the bicolored bill and pale features suggested some Glaucous Gull heritage, but the petite head features and smallish size suggested Herring or Thayer’s parentage—a gull potpourri!

We soon got going, quickly passing out of the harbor with a few ducks and cormorants and across the inshore bar with its yaw and pitch—turns out these were the biggest waves we encountered all day!  We picked up the first seabirds, Murres and Loons (Pic. 1) and a passel of Brandt’s cormorants—likely locally breeders.  Before long everyone started noticing small groups of tiny pale birds, bobbing on the water, flitting by the bow, the stern, and off in the distance.  We found ourselves amid a migration of Phalaropes, those red-neck Poseidon sprites that breed in the high Arctic only to forsake land for the rest of the year and scud across the oceans of the world in patterns that still elude science.  By the end of the day we tallied over 550 passing the boat.  After hours examining these groups for red-bellied birds, eventually some sharp eyes spotted a pair of spectacular Red Phalaropes zipping by the boat as well, showing off their distinctive all-red body plumage, visible even in flight.

Other seabirds showed up soon as well, the first Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Sooty Shearwaters that attended us all day long, each of them showing a gap of missing feathers as they started in on their annual flight feather molt.  Farther out, we encountered a handful of Pink-footed Shearwaters (Pic. 2).  Regular chumming of baitfish leftovers from a fish-processing plant garnered us a regular entourage of our genetic slop of Glaucous-winged, Western & mixed gulls, as well as a surprising number of Herring Gulls, joined far offshore by California Gull and briefly by a classy breeding-plumage Bonaparte’s Gull that gave up after being displaced repeatedly by the larger gulls.  Several groups of Sabine’s Gulls passed the boat but, as is typical, wouldn’t be distracted by the offal off the ship. 

Marine highlights were the two Pomarine Jaegers that paused briefly by the boat, displaying their curiously curved tail feathers to advantage (Pic. 3).  Finally, toward the end of the boat trip, already close to the near-shore swells, Liam Singh, one of the BCFO youth birders, got on a fast-moving shearwater near the boat as it passed off the stern and zoomed on out of sight.  He managed to snap some stunning photos of a Manx Shearwater, an abundant species of the North Atlantic but a mysterious species in the North Pacific with only about 50 records off Vancouver Island (Pic 4).  Increasing records in coastal Washington waters suggest that the species has started breeding on offshore islands—with May records so close to shore off Vancouver Island, who knows, perhaps they’re taking up breeding in BC as well!

By the time of our return, the waters were truly placid, the skies bright—I don’t think anyone “lost their lunch!”  The still winds, though, may have nixed our chances for albatross—their sternum with only a modest keel limits effective flapping to create lift, meaning they require a stiff breeze to get aloft!  In any case, visibility was excellent for the birds we did see, making for a memorable excursion.  Thanks to all who participated and to all the sharp eyes that spiced up the trip with excellent finds (Pic 5)
Many people are to thank for making the Pelagic Trip a success. Big thanks to Renae Mackas and Myles Lamont for organizing the trip logistics, and to previous trip organizers Paul Levesque and Christine Rock for passing on all their helpful tips and advice for planning. More big thanks Dan Froehlich and Ilya Povalyaev for spotting and calling out birds, Azim Shariff for chumming in the birds, Angela Bond and Anna Szeitz for helping keep everyone happy on board, and the Captain and Crew of the MV Francis Barkley, for keeping us safe and going the extra mile to help us spot great seabirds. Thanks also to everyone that participated in WildResearch’s Spring 2017 Pelagic Trip fundraiser. We look forward to seeing you all on our next pelagic trip!

"It's never to late to go Pelagic birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada