Monday, September 1, 2014

August: Out with a Roar

Aug 29 2014 Reifel Migtatory Bird Sanctuary Delta B.C
If early August birding was somewhat slow the last few days of the month certainly made up for it. At Boundary Bay I was able to find small flock of Semipalted Sandpipers, a species I hadn't seen very often. As is often the case I spent an hour winning the trust of the birds only to have them spooked by an unleashed dog.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)
I found a small flock of Semipalmated Sandpiper mixed in with a few Western Sandpiper.
Note the shorter bill.

I only averaged of one outing a week but as August came to a close I did manage to include the Stilt Sandpipers and the Ruff or Reeve at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The Ruff was a 'Lifer' and only the second time I had seen Stilts in the Lower Mainland. I had previously seen them in Churchill, Manitoba where they were in full breeding plumage. For more on that trip see June 2013 blog.
There were also a number adult and juvenile Sora and Virginia Rail at Reifel which delighted many who had not seen the birds before. A small flock of transient Sandhill Cranes proved very popular with visitors, especially the photographers and out of town visitors.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis) at Reifiel

Sora (Porzana carolina)

There were four rails in the West Field, two Virginia and two Sora. Adults and juveniles of both species were evident. It was a quite a treat as the shy and secretive birds showed well as they fed along the pond edges.

Virginia Rail (Rallus limicola)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax)
The female Ruff (above) is referred to as a Reeve.


On the breeding ground the adult birds use Leks in a similar fashion the grouse family.
Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

The ponds at Reifel held both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs giving the opportunity to differentiate the two species.

Although my birding was somewhat curtailed I am lucky to have seen some excellent birds as well as meeting up with some fellow birders who I haven't seen for a while. Meanwhile I hope to keep up with the blog on a more regular basis once school is back, whenever that is!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon 

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Three Sandpiper Morning

Aug 1/14 White Rock Pier/Blackie Spit/Tsawwassen Ferry 

7a.m White Rock

Yesterday Raymond Ng and I waited an hour for the sun to rise on the White Rock beach. We were there to photograph a Willet. Neither of us had birded much in July so we were hopeful the photo shoot would be productive. The challenge is that in the early morning the Willet tends to hang out on the shaded part of the beach. After an hour of patiently waiting and just as the sun and Willet were in perfect alignment a beachcomber flushed the bird, leaving us with little to show for our efforts. You win some, you lose some and i'll leave out the expletives!
So the next day I decided to give it another try. I arrived to find the Willet closer to the pier and in the only shaft of early morning sunlight available. Again a walker disturbed the bird but by this time I already had a few shots in the bag.

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)
The Willet is one of the  larger members of the sandpiper family. It has a wingspan of 26 inches.

7.45 a.m Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach 

As I had time on my hands I decided to try for the Long-billed Curlew at nearby Blackie Spit. The tide was creeping in as I arrived. I spotted the bird resting on one leg which gave me the opportunity to approach while getting the sun at my back. After twenty minutes creeping across the sand and mud I was close enough for a few shots. I spent about twenty minutes photographing various poses, even one with a reflection, finally the bird walking away at its own pace. I backed off and we both went about our day.
Long-billed Curlew (Numenius americanus)

You your way, i'll go mine!
The Long-billed Curlew is a large sandpiper with a wing span of 35 inches. Listed as uncommon.

11.00 a.m Tsawwassen 

A business meeting at 9.30  meant I would loose the good light, so by the time I got to the ferry terminal the light was less than ideal. Backlight and shimmering heat of the rocks made photography a little challenging. However, I decided to try for a few shots to make it a three sandpiper day.
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
The quality and direction of light had by mid morning deteriorated so much that these two shots lack the quality and 'feel' of the Willet and Long-Billed Dowitcher photographed earlier in the morning. I'm sure a birder would be happy to see them but for the photographer these are just ID shots. The solution is to go again, much earlier and hope for the birds to co-operate.

Photographed with a D300s, 500mm F4 and 1.4x converter.

It's never too late to start birding!

John Gordon

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Few Hours Birding/Thoughts on Composition

July 31/14 Boundary Bay 104 St Delta B.C. Temp Sunny 26c. 

There were two hours of daylight left and due to a heatwave here in BC the best place to be was outdoors. With this in mind I took off to Boundary Bay where a welcoming cool breeze accompanied the flood tide. Out in the bay perhaps a hundred Black-bellied Plover fed on the flood tide.

There were a few small flocks of Western Sandpipers, among them a mixture of juvenile and worn adults. There were also a few Killdeer foraging along the foreshore.

Western Sandpipers

Along the dyke were flocks of immature Red-winged Blackbirds. As I scoured the bay for shorebirds a chepd, chepd sound behind me caught my attention. A pair Common Yellowthroat fledglings were feeding on insects.

Vertical crop (Fig 1) Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)

Some Thoughts on composition:
I recently found a three catalogues of Robert Bateman's work at a SPCA thrift shop. Looking at his work he sometimes but not always has the subject looking out of or entering from the very edge of the frame, he often breaks every rule in the book, over and over again.
I just thought I would mention that because the more I concentrate on bird photography the more I want to explore the compositional elements that Bateman and others execute so brilliantly in their work.
I recently attended a talk by well known naturalist John Neville. John is blind and gave the presentation using braille and supplemented the presentation with the art of Robert Bateman.
Until that night I hadn't really taken a close look at Bateman's work. 

The three images of the Common Yellowthroat were all originally taken horizontally or in landscape format. The first (fig1)I have cropped the file vertically eliminating some unwanted foliage and making it suitable for the cover of magazine. I use this image only as an example, not that it would grace any magazine cover I know!
The second shot (fig 2) is horizontal with the subject in the two-thirds zone with lots of space for the subject to move into. This technique is used to draw the viewer into the picture. On average people spend about 3 seconds looking at images, images are everywhere, on our TV's, out smart phones. The idea is to draw the viewer in just a little longer, that is all we can ask.

Horizontal shot (Fig 2)

(Fig 3) below  is the most interesting for me. I would have never cropped the tail so close the edge of the frame but in Batemans's 'Peregrine Falcon and White throated Swift' painted in 1985 he used the same technique I have applied here, in his notes he explains his rationale.
"In the painting, I wanted to convey plummeting, unstable feeling. I deliberately made one of the peregrine's wings almost touch the edge of the frame so that the line of the frame adds force to the hawk's dive"
Does it work with my Yellowthroat ? I'm not sure but I will be applying some of Bateman's ideas to my photography to see how I might improve my own work. Another artists to check out is Canadian legend Freeman Patterson who compositional skills are second to none.
Fig 3

Last Shot of the Day
Northern Harrier/ Sweet Light

The 'sweet light' just before sunset lights up this Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Thanks for looking!

It's never too late to start birding!
John Gordon

Langley /Cloverdale

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sandpipers and Plovers

July 25 2014 Boundary Bay 104 St Delta B.C.

According to my diary entry of exactly one year ago I photographed an American Kestrel at the base of Delta's 104 St. If I was to go down to 104 St exactly a year later during a promising flood tide what might I find ?
The Delta Air Park parking lot at the base of 104 St is always worth a look. Sometimes a Merlin perches in the tall tree by the dyke entrance and who remembers the Tropical Kingbird that turned up a couple years ago and stayed for weeks. Hundreds of birders took part in the resulting "Twitch"
Anyway, the tide was to be around 13.4 ft which meant it would just reach up to the dyke. I arrived two hours early to search the bay for migrating shorebirds. I took a while but eventually after walking a kilometre across the bay (there were no other birders around) I managed to find what seemed the only flock on the beach. It took me an hour or so to approach what turned out to be a flock of forty Semipalmated Plovers.
It took a while to gain their confidence as they scurried along the mud and sand, busily feeding on whatever lurked or was stranded in the small tidal pools left over from the last high water.

Semipalmated Plover (charadrius semipalmatus)

Eventually I managed to get these shots. The plover below has captured what I think is a ragworm, note the pincers at the head. These worms were found at the edge of the water pools and appeared to be about thirty percent of the plover's catch.

Semipalmated Plover with ragworm.

As I photographed the flock I couldn't miss the affect passing light aircraft. Each time the plovers noticed the shadow and sound of a plane overhead they would in unison stop feeding, crouch down and essentially disappear from view.
                                                        ****                        ****

As the plovers approached closer and closer my prone position became more and more uncomfortable, afraid to move so as not to spook the birds. Suddenly something frightened the flock and off they flew, finally giving me the chance to move my legs.

With the tide coming in the flock flew back to the same spot but this time they had brought about one hundred Western Sandpipers with them.
Watching them scurry across the sand, busily feeding on sand flies was an incredible sight. Their bright rufous upper scapulars shone in the late afternoon sun. It was a magical moment in a magical place.

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri) in a mixed flock of Semipalmated Plover.

Western Sandpiper showing rufous colouring on the head and scapulars.

It was good to get back to some birding after all the other events that had sidelined me recently. The previous day I had joined Gareth Pugh and others for a weekly visit (meet every Thursday 1 p.m at the pier) to Blackie Spit. Highlights amongst the 35 species noted included a fledgling Spotted Sandpiper (below) and a Western Tanager.

Juvenile Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)
All images D300s Nikon 500mm F4 with 1.4x converter except the Spotted Sandpiper which was the Tamron 150mm-600mm handheld from about 100 feet away.

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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Chilcotin Plateau: Birding with Birders

June 19-25 2014 Puntzi Lake and Vicinity. The Chilcotin Plateau, Central BC

It's an eight hour drive from Cloverdale to Williams Lake and onward to the Chilcotin Plateau. I joined six members of the Langley and South Surrey Field Naturalists for the our annual week long visit to the Chilcotins. On the three previous visits we recorded bird sightings for the BC Bird Atlassing program which has now been concluded and is currently being compiled for publication. This year however we would submit our findings to eBird.
Our first stop for lunch was a fruitful one with sightings of a Wilson's Phalarope and American Wigeon in a small pond near Chasm/Green Lake. By the time we arrived in Williams Lake we were already up to thirty-five species for the day.
As we left Williams Lake heading west we climbed up onto the Chilcotin Plateau where we encountered our first good numbers of Mountain Bluebird and Meadowlark. It was a further 168 kms to Puntzi Lake where we would be based for next six nights.

I brought along the Tamron 150mm-600mm and Nikon D7100 as we would be hiking or driving in cramped quarters with no room for a big lens and tripod. I needed a light rig to take some quick snap shots like the Ruffed Grouse below or in the case of the Townsend's Solitaire after a walk up a fairly steep incline where a heavy lens and tripod would have slowed down the group. I still brought a tripod for those times when I went out on my own. As far as I recollect I shot all these images handheld unless specified in the accompanying cutline.

                                                                             Ruffed Grouse (Bonasa umbellus)
We were in the lodge's driveway on our way out when we spotted this grouse. Her chicks are hiding in the grass.

After checking into our cabins we went for a walk to stretch our legs, it had been a long but eventful drive. Behind the lodge was a steep hillside, predominately pine forest with a few aspens scattered here and there. The forest was slow to reveal its secrets but as soon as we stopped talking and listened a Townsend's Solitaire song could be heard from high up in the canopy.  At first I didn't recognize the song so I played the call and the bird suddenly showed itself, even though binoculars were needed to identify it.

Townsend's Solitaire (Myadetes townsendi)
Shot from two hundred metres away with the Tamron 150mm-600mm, handheld VR enabled.

Elsewhere in the forest Northern Flickers were feeding young, Chipping Sparrows flitted from branch to branch and brownish coloured mosquitos made their unwelcome presence known. There was fresh bear scat which is when I realized I had left the bear spray back at the cabin. Duh!

Red-naped Sapsucker nests were found in this Aspen grove.

 Puntzi Lake Area.

Below is a very vocal Merlin photographed one morning before breakfast. It had a nest nearby and made its presence known with a series of loud raucous calls. For obvious reasons hardly any others birds were to found in the vicinity.
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
I used a tripod for this shot.
In the grounds of the Kokanee Lodge Resort we found Mountain Chickadees, Chipping Sparrows, Warbling Vireo, Orange-crowned Warblers, Western Tanagers and Ruffed Grouse. Red-Naped Sapsuckers were plentiful everywhere as were numerous species of flycatchers. Spotted Sandpipers worked the shoreline and the wailing of Common Loons could be heard across the lake. Barn, Tree and Cliff Swallows were everywhere, under eaves, in nest boxes and in barns. A Northern Rough -winged Swallow colony was spotted beside the road near Redstone where we had a brief glimpse of a Black Bear and later a Mule Deer.

Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucrphala islandica)

Back at the lodge a small flock of Barrow's Goldeneye flew around our heads looking for a nest box or tree cavity.

A scruffy and worn looking Mountain Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

 Puntzi Marsh
Day two was spent exploring the area around the lodge. A small pond set aside by Ducks Unlimited provided great views of Ring-necked Ducks, Spotted Sandpipers and American White Pelicans flying overhead as well incredible views of Puntzi Lake.
As we explored back roads we passed through several cattle ranches where we found Vesper and Savannah Sparrows, Northern Flicker and Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
It was between the farms, the groves of pine, aspen and open clearings that we saw our first Common Nighthawks. I didn't realize  they fed in the middle of the day. On one occasion we climbed a hill where the added height gave us the opportunity to spot Black Swifts feeding alongside Cliff Swallows. We lunched at the end of Puntzi Lake where Spotted Sandpipers and Kildeer protecting their nests with their 'broken wing' routine. Returning to our vehicles we noticed a Golden Eagle circling on thermals, a 'Lifer' for some on the trip, then a Red-nape Sapsucker flew into a tree beside us to gather insects from a series of sap holes. It took thirty minutes to travel thirty metres as we then encountered two more species of flycatchers. An Osprey flew toward Puntzi Lake and as we returned for supper a Ruffed Grouse held up traffic while giving us great views of its raised crest.

Puntzi Lake 
The next day we spent the morning on the east side of Puntzi Lake. Our target bird was the Three-toed Woodpecker. One of our party, Alice spotted the elusive woodpecker first and therefore bragging rights goes to Alice. A brief glimpse of a Black-backed Woodpecker was also a treat, but far elusive for a photo. No tick for me, I need a better look or even better a decent photo.

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

As we left I managed to call in a Western Tanager which was nesting nearby and then a bird caught my eye, it was unmistakably an Olive-sided Flycatcher.

Olive-sided Flycatcher on the nest.

We enjoyed our lunch under blue skies at nearby Puntzi Marsh where our first sighting was a Vesper Sparrow. Thankfully the breeze kept the mosquitos at bay.
The ephemeral marsh had been receding from perhaps a few hundreds of hectares to less than thirty. It has been a dry year with many of the feeder creeks running dry. Just one deep pond remained, it was occupied by a pair of Northern Shoveler. As we walked around a Mountain Bluebird perched on a log, a Kildeer performed the 'Broken wing' trick and a Greater Yellowlegs flew noisily around despite our group being several hundred metres away from its nest.

Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)

 Central Chilcotin/Tatlayoko Lake/Skinner's Meadow
Another morning began as every morning did, with sunshine. We headed south to Tatla Lake and the Tatlayoko Lake Bird Observatory. The fields were alive with Tree and Barn Swallows as well as Savannah Sparrows and Mountain Bluebird. Check out their website if you want to take part in banding program. We then visited Eagle Lake where we saw only one Arctic Tern and a few American White Pelican, on a previous visit a few years ago there were many more terns but nothing can be guaranteed when birding. We were granted permission to visit Skinner's Meadow which is under the control of the Nature Conservancy of Canada.
As we ate our lunch, surrounded by spectacular meadows and snow covered mountains Vesper, Song and Savannah Sparrows could be seen gathering insects and feeding young. Brown-headed Cowbirds were always lurking around to swoop in and lay their eggs. A number of Sora could be heard and we had a very good sighting of a Virginia Rail. Beside the pond a Red-naped Sapsuckers chicks could be heard chirping inside an aspen tree so we backed off and waited until the parent arrived to feed the young. It wouldn't be far off if I said the most common bird on the trip was the Red-naped Sapsucker, they were everywhere we went.

Skinner's Meadows (above) is natural grassland that the first settlers in the Chilcotins recognized as excellent grazing land. Unfortunately only 2% of the grasslands remnants remain, most of it in Canada and Mongolia. Thanks to contributors to organizations like the Nature Conservancy/Nature Trust and others important areas like this are protected with the aim of creating safe corridors for the creatures who have relied on them for many millennia.

Red-naped Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus nuchalis)

Another day began with the short drive to the Ducks Unlimited property just a few miles from the lodge.
It didn't take long for the lakes to reveal their secrets as a pair of Black Tern flew by, albeit quite a distance away for pictures. Again there were Sora, along with Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Tree, Barn and Cliff Swallows. In the hedgerows and on the edges of the wet areas Willow Flycatchers, Cedar Waxwings, Western Tanager added to our ever growing list of species.
Further along the road we visited the Nature Trust's Chilkanto Wildlife viewing area. Amazing scenery and habitat and an old homestead now turned over to the birds and other critters.
We stopped for lunch and rested in the shade of an old farmhouse. There were barn and tree swallows in the air. Some of the birds seemed rather large for swallows, a quick viewing revealed they were Common Nighthawks feeding over the ponds on a recent Mayfly hatch. 

Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor)

Walking closer to the lake we passed a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Cedar Waxwing and amongst the nighthawks were an equal number of Black Terns, also feasting on the hatch. 

Black Tern (Chlidoonias niger)

As the trip was coming to an end we decided to go back along South Puntzi Rd to see if we could relocate the Three-toed Woodpecker, alas there were none but we did spot more flycatchers which provided lots of discussion and puzzlement. We used playback to distinguish species. We also watched a Yellow-rumped Warbler feeding a fledged Brown-headed Cowbird but a picture was impossible due the blocking foliage. Our second stop on day 6 was the road leading to Pyper Lake. Like all the locations they are short distances off Hwy 20.

Distant ID shot of an Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi) showing white belly, throat and white patch.
We had seen many flycatchers including Eastern Kingbird, Willow, Olive-sided, Western Wood-PeeWee, Pacific-slope, Alder, Hammond's and now Pyper Road provided us with a Gray Flycatcher, a lifer for most of us. 
The day ended at a road called Chilanko Loop where within minutes we were watching a Northern Waterthrush feeding along the water's edge. I have one fuzzy shot of the bird with two caddis and a  stickleback in its beak. A fish eating warbler, who knew!
Around the bridge where we also spotted Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Yellow Warbler, and even more Red-naped Sapsuckers.

Last Day: Scout Island Nature Reserve.
We left for Williams Lake at and stopped off at Scout Island as is tradition with our group.
First up were Yellow Warblers and Willow Flycatchers and out in the bay Caspian Terns could be heard long before being seen. As we made our way back to the car we spotted a pair of Red-necked Grebe floated in a backwater, the male bringing food to the young perched on the back of the female, something I had never witnessed.

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

The icing on the cake was the last shot of the day before leaving for the Lower Mainland. As we left  our trip leader Gareth Pugh noticed a Northern Waterthrush feeding in the shallows close to the bridge linking the islands. With my camera batteries almost depleted I managed to squeeze off a few final frames before heading back to the car and Vancouver.

Northern Waterthrush (Seiurus noveboracensis)

So there it is, we ticked off 113 species, had a wonderful time in some glorious countryside and for myself I added Black Swift, Ruffed Grouse, Gray and Olive-sided Flycatchers to my life list.

It's never to late to start birding

John Gordon

I have tried hard to make this account as readable as possible but as I have explained before, management takes no responsibility for any grammatical errors. However positive feedback is welcome!

All Images and Text ©2014 John Gordon Photography

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

First Confirmed Breeding Western Scrub-Jays In B.C/Canada.

June 18 2014 Corner of York and 119th Ave Maple Ridge, BC Canada

After first consulting one of Canada's best birders I have been told that these pictures constitute the first record of Western Scrub-Jays successfully breeding in BC.

A pair of Western Scrub-Jays have successfully fledged two young in Maple Ridge. The pair nested in 2013 but lost their young to predators when their nest was built too near to the ground. After overwintering in Maple Ridge they built a new nest in a taller cedar hedge and despite a large number of black squirrels and crows the young have survived. The fledgling seem to be strong and robust albeit a little skittish. The parents have moved them about a hundred metres from the original nest to a holly bush which itself is in a stand of dense evergreen. The birds are in a private garden but do come out to the road where they can be viewed sitting on branches and telephone wires. Meanwhile adult birds periodically return with peanuts, which the adult birds have stashed away in a monkey puzzle tree across the road.

Western Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
An adult feeds one of the two young with a peanut.
I have been told by the property owner that all other birds have been chased away from the garden since the fledglings and adults moved in yesterday.

*A juvenile Western Scrub-Jay looks out toward the street. Behind me would be the Monkey Puzzle tree where the adults could be seen retrieving peanuts. Tamron 150mm-600mm handheld at 600mm D7100 VR enabled. 

Two juvenile Western Scrub-Jay wait for the adults to appear with  food, mostly peanuts.

Technical details:
I used the Tamron 150mm-600mm and D7100 for picture #2, #1 and #3  are on the 500mm F4 and D3s. Pictures 1 and 3 were in the deep shade on (auto ISO 2000) while the other was taken from the road in full diffused light at 1000 ISO. Any remember Kodak 64 and 200, haven't things changed for the better?
Why two cameras? I set one up for the holly bush shots while I wandered around handholding the Tamron which resulted in the extra shots including pic #2 and some of the bird in the monkey puzzle tree.

Stay tuned as I do not have any more details but have been told it is a good 'find' and possibly the first confirmed breeding Western Scrub-Jays in B.C. Cool Eh!

Birding and the World Cup can co-exist, who knew!

John Gordon

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Manning Park /End of Road Trip

June 5 2015 Manning Park B.C. Sunny
The last stop of call  before returning to Vancouver was to try out a bit of high elevation birding at the Manning Park lookout. The 8 km paved switchback road climbs through a number of promising birding venues as well as the chance of spotting critters including Black Bear, Mule Deer and Yellow-bellied Marmots. The road to the alpine area was still closed due to heavy snow.

Looking toward the USA from the Manning Park lookout.

Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi)

*Yellow-bellied Marmot (Marmota flaviventris)
*Common Raven (Corvus corax)

I was surprised to find that Ravens are classified as uncommon but I had tried for a while to get a decent shot and the lookout at Manning Park proved the perfect opportunity. The Raven is a large bird with a wingspan of almost five feet or 1.5 metres.

So there it is, a road trip that started on Tuesday June 3 at 4.30 a.m and ended June 5 at 10 a.m
A trip that covered 1448 kms and about 30 hours of actual birding.

*Tamron 150mm-600mm

It's never too late to start birding!
John Gordon