Monday, April 21, 2014

The Royal Forest of Dean

Robin (Erithachus rubella)
Britain's most familiar bird, the Robin can be seen year round in the UK.
April 18 2014 The Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire UK Sunny
I emigrated to Canada on 1978, actually I went over for "a visit" and never returned except to visit my family who still live near St Briavels and Brockweir.
Most of my early trips back would find me fishing at Lydbrook for chub or searching out tench and carp but over the years I found bird watching a far more enjoyable way to enjoy nature. I can't remember seeing any birds while I sat and waited for a bite, I just wasn't aware of them.
My first years in Canada were spent establishing myself and after loosing my $5 Instamatic camera I received a Pentax K1000 and a 50 mm lens for Christmas. I photographed a few birds here and there and became a newspaper photographer. I covered all sorts of events in my thirty year career and after retiring from the press in April 2011 I began photographing birds. When I come over to the UK I try to take advantage of all the wonderful birding here. A couple of years ago I visited the Farne Islands and last year the Highlands of Scotland.
After Slimbridge, my sights were set on the Forest of Dean and will be going to the Newport Wetlands when I have a chance. Other locations I hope to visit are Frampton and Nagshead.
Before I left Vancouver I put out a few "feelers" to see whether any birders would like to go out together. I received a reply from Ruardean and Cheltenham club birder Tim Fletcher who led me on a trail through the recently cleared area around Woorgreens near the Speech House. We had been on the trail only a few minutes when he spotted a pair of Siskins. I "phissed" them in and one posed for me in the brilliant morning sun.
Siskin (Carduelis spinus)
Found across Europe and winters toward the Mediterranean.

Tim and I then left the wooded trail and entered the open heath where the gorse with its yellow flowers and heather make the perfect open habitat for a plethora of bird species, dragonflies, amphibians and reptiles including the adder.
We were surrounded by birds, many were in pairs. The first was a Tree Pipit which came out to see what we were up to. Thank goodness Tim knows his British birds and birdsong.
Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
This species likes open heath and migrates to Africa for the winter.
Next up were a pair of Jays, Tree Creeper, Wren, Robin, Greylag Goose flying overhead, Buzzard, a distant Common Redstart,  a Blackcap, then a Willow Warbler and Song Thrush. The Cuckoo was calling and three Fallow Deer wandered by but took off before I could get my camera on them. It was too early for the dragonflies but a series of shallow ponds have been created on the heath and soon they should be emerging.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos)
This bird was one of a pair that were thrashing around in the undergrowth doing what birds do when it obliged me by popping up onto a branch about twenty feet away.
Widespread across Britain and Europe the Song Thrush migrates south during the winter.

A very distant record shot of Willow Warbler (Phyllosopus Trochhilus)
The Willow Warbler can be found near open heath or near new plantations. It breeds across Europe and winters in Africa.
Then it was to Woorgrens Lake where we watched Little Grebe feeding and other common waterfowl. The next stop was Cannop Ponds but it was teeming by Easter holidaymakers enjoying the sun.
However the bird feeder was producing, A Marsh, Long-tailed, Blue, Great and Coal Tit, Chaffinch, Dunnock and Nuthatch came for seed. The Mandarin Ducks were nowhere to be seen but a Cormorant stood guard near the pathway. Tim told me there have been some "good birds" seen at Cannop over the years.

Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Found across Europe and migrates south toward North Africa.

Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus)

The Forest of Dean is somewhere I plan to return to after my trip to Lincolnshire where I am told the birding can be quite good at this time of year, funny coincidence that!

Good Birding 

John Gordon

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Slimbridge Wetland Centre UK

         April 17 2014 Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Nr Bristol and Gloucester UK Sunny
The 800 acre Ramsar site attracts a diverse range of birds that winter and summer there. There are ponds, fields, hedgerows and shoreline. Here the Skylark can be found on undisturbed grassland and during migration the Severn Estuary acts as a funnel attracting a myriad of species to Gloucestershire and the surrounding counties.

A full description of the site can be found at

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
This is one of my favourite UK birds. The goldfinch was brought to dangerously low numbers at the end of the last century  by extensive trapping for the cage bird trade.
In 1860 132,000 were trapped near Worthing in Sussex. A flock is referred to as "charms" of Goldfinch. They can be found feeding on the heads of thistles is similar fashion to the American Goldfinch. UK Populations can be either sedentary or migratory.
This picture was taken at the Slimbridge car park while I waited  and waited for the centre to open at the outrageously late 9.30 a.m.

To visit, the closest local airport is Bristol but both Heathrow or Gatwick 9 are only two hours away. The site is similar to Vancouver's Reifel but in addition has a captive bird area where one can see such rarities as the Redhead Duck, Smew and Chilean Flamingos. Outside of that enclosure are a variety of habitats that contain the wild birds such as the Avocet, Common Eurasian Crane and Little Egret.
As I arrived I quickly let behind the "exotics" and headed for the South lake where I found the Cranes that have now returned to the UK after 400 years of absence. A pair were nesting in the middle of the lake. A pair of Greylag Geese were defending their territory while three Shelduck rested on the mudflats. Three 'Lifers" in five minutes can't be bad but more was to come. A fellow birdwatcher pointed out a Sandpiper then an Oystercatcher.
Eurasian Common Crane. (Wild Birds)
These cranes were re-located to the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury, they have however returned to Slimbridge. I saw eight or nine cranes during the day. Note the radio transmitters on the legs to monitor their locations. As I have just arrived in the Uk I will have to do some more research but their return to the Severn Estuary has been a major success story.
The cranes were absent from the UK for nearly 400 years before a small population re-colonized the Norfolk Broads in 1979. A breeding program is bringing these birds back from the brink.
A Little Egret forages in the Slimbridge wetlands. 

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
The Little Egret  can be found in estuaries on the English south and east coast
and winters in the Mediterranean. Recently the bird is spreading its range to the west coast of the U.K.

Common Sandpiper (Tringa hypoleucos)
This head-bobbing sandpiper, about the size of a Starling breeds in Europe, Asia, winters
 in Africa and even Australia.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
The Black-tailed Godwit uses Britain as a staging post on their spring and autumn migrations. They can often be seen with Knot and Oystercatchers. They nest and breed in northern Russian and Scandanavia.

A very distant shot of an Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)
The last UK breeding colony of Avocets at Salthouse in Norfolk was wiped out
in 1825.
The feathers were use for fishing flies, their eggs to bake cakes. They returned to the east coast of the UK just after the the Second World War probably dislodged by wartime bombing in Holland. By 1957 a 100 pairs were breeding in East Anglia. The birds now breed down the east coast of England, Slimbridge and elsewhere.

A Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) being chased by a Crane.

The Tufted Duck (aytthya fuligula) is a common bird in the UK. Most birds winter south of their
breeding range, some reaching as far north as Africa and Asia.

Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
A secretive warbler that nests by mid-April and stays in the UK until the autumn. Found in the South, South-west, East and Wales.

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)
A common summer visitor to the UK. The Cuckoo finds the Sedge Warbler one of the more accessible victims in the same manner as the Brown-headed Cowbird. It winters in marshy regions of tropical Africa.

This Great Tit (Parus major) was feeding on seeds in the same reed bed as the warblers above.
They are sometimes referred to as the 'gardeners friend" as they eat thousands of caterpillars and insects.
In the afternoon I found a bird feeding station and was able to get a few close-ups of some common birds.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)
The Reed Bunting feeds mainly off marsh plants, including snail, beetles, caterpillars and insects. 

Green Finch (Carduelischloris)
This beautiful bird is widespread in the UK except the Shetlands.

The Rook is a very common bird at Slimbridge and the UK. At the house I am saying at in the Wye Valley there are two pairs nesting in the chimneys. They are a very social bird and use the same nest every year. Rooks from coldest parts of Europe migrate to the Mediterranean.
Wood-Pigeon Columba palumbus
The British farmers greatest enemy. The Wood-pigeon  feeds on newly sown seed and ripening grain. Despite being shot at the bird has adapted itself to gardens and parks. It is the largest  of the UK's pigeons and doves.

The first day of my UK birding trip began with a 5 a.m start at Slimbridge. After leaving the sights and sounds of Vancouver it took me a little while to find my feet .With all the new birds to be ticked off it was a perfect way to shake off the jet lag. Eventually, I ended the day 14 hours later with 20"Lifers" and a total of 36 Species.

Greylag Goose
Eurasian Common Crane
Common Sandpiper
Barnacle Goose
Lesser Black-headed Gull
Black-tailed Godwit
Little Egret
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Reed Bunting


My next post will be from the Royal Forest of Dean with Ruardean birder Tim Fletcher, until then,

Good Birding

John Gordon 

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)