Friday, August 26, 2016

Back to the World of Birding

Aug 25 2016. Iona Sewage Ponds Sunny 16-34c

It's been so hot and muggy in the Lower Mainland recently that waking at 5.30 a.m. to go birding has become a necessity with mid-day temperatures reaching the mid 30s it's hotter than Ho Chi Minh City!
When I arrived at Iona the sun was just peeking over the mountains. The sky was orange and the "sweet light" of morning illuminated the sky. A distinct aroma permeated the air. Regardless the birds seem to relish it all, especially the ducks and the shore birds which were finding plenty to pick at especially in the drained section that had recently been excavated. A few small puddles of water was all that remained and that is where the peeps were feeding.

At the waters edges I could just make out some shorebirds beginning to move around. I fired off a few shots at some of the sandpipers thinking they were all pectorals, later that night in Lightroom© one of the three birds was the buff-breasted sandpiper, the very bird I and others were there to observe. None of the shots were keepers. Soon the sun had begun to warm the air and a few other photographers had arrived. One of them Peter Z beckoned me over to where he had just re-located the buff-breasted that Tom Plath had found the day before. Apart from the aforementioned pectorals there were a few westerns, a single semi-palmated sandpaper, a small flock of least, Baird's and standing head and shoulder above them all was the buff-breasted. Often it would run after the smaller sandpipers  just to let them know who was boss.
Apparently not in the too distant past there would small flocks of buff-breasted pass through. It seems that their numbers like most of birds has declined and only two have been reported so far. The other being spotted Aug 26 in Boundary Bay.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
ISO 500
D500 Nikon 500mm F4 and 1.4 converter.
I have Photoshopped all the 'floaties' out of the picture for aesthetic reasons. 
As I haven't done too much photography lately I had completely forgot to check my ISO settings so the first shots I took were at ISO 2500. I should have known something was wonky when I had 1/2500 at F8 but I blithely carried on ignoring the camera settings. After a while it clicked (excuse the pun) that something wasn't quite right and I quickly changed it to my default bird setting of ISO 400 (actually 500 when I checked later)

Talk about bird brains. Reminds me of a shoot I screwed up years ago for the Langley Hospital. I had been hired to shoot the board of directors for a brochure. The executive would meet once a month and I was to take the group shot. I shot it with my Hasselblad CM and 40mm lens and portable studio. There was quite a set up. Later that night at home I went to take the 120 film out and to my horror the back wasn't loaded, fortunately they allowed me to re-shoot the following week. The moral of the story is similar to birding. The more you think you know the less you actually know.
ISO 2500
This is the shot I had forgotten to change the ISO. As it turns out only you and I know that!
ISO 500
At the buff-breasted twitch there were some heavy hitters from the birding world. I forgot about the stinky sewage ponds as they regaled birding adventures from Iceland, Madagascar, India, Ethiopia and elsewhere. . Funny how birds bring people together in the most unusual of places!

It was good to get back in the world of birding.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Birding the Pacific Marine Circle Route

Aug 2-5 2016 Victoria to Port Renfrew. Sunny 22c
The Pacific Marine Route.

The Tsawwassen ferry had just left the terminal when five pelagic cormorants flew by.
Several more could be seen flying toward the Delta Port Terminal where it appears some might be nesting. As we passed the gulf islands and headed toward Vancouver Island dozens of pigeon guillimots could be seen diving for fish. Glaucous-winged gulls and bald eagles wheeled overhead. Harbour seals lounged on the rocks. The early morning clouds were burning off and the sun warmed our faces. All was good with the world. No internet, no newspapers, only the ping of Mel's bird alerts would be allowed to disturb the peace and tranquility. 

First we visited friends in Victoria who we hadn't seen for years. We then made our way west to Whiffin Spit in Sooke where the dogs and piles of poop out numbered the birds, so much for it being one of the premier birding spots on southern Vancouver Island. Russell and Dick Cannings give ample warning about the Whiffin dogs in their excellent must have book.

We weren't too surprised, a shame really as I wanted a closer look at some sandpipers and a common merganser with young but dogs running loose on the beach makes for a frustrating birding experience, especially if you don't watch where you are walking! I suppose a 5 a.m start would be a better ploy next time.

French Beach

Our next stop was French Beach where a few passing sandpipers were feeding on the ebb tide. They looked hungry, some with plenty of rufous on the scapulars, others hardly any.

Western Sandpiper feeding at French Beach Provincial Park.
The sandpipers must have been hungry as they tolerated a steady stream of holidaymakers and a few off-leash dogs. To be fair most people, did leash their animals. Most park visitors were completely unaware of the peeps until made aware of their presence at which time they stood transfixed at the little bird's antics as the birds dodged the pounding waves.


French Beach Provincial Park

 bald eagle

American robin

 red crossbill
 chestnut backed chickadee
 north-western crows
 western sandpiper
Gulls ???
 Pacific wrens with 2 young
 Brown creeper
 Varied thrush

Jordan River

Heeman's gull
A second or probably third year bird was mingled in with a flock of California Gulls. 

Turkey vultures were a common sight along the Pacific Marine Coastal Route.

   Jordan River

 California gulls

Non breeding Heeman's gull

 Turkey vulture
Harlequin duck
 Common loon

Next day we camped a few miles down the coast at China Beach Provincial Park. The beach is one km from the campsite and the steep walk down offered the usual forest birds, most of which were way up in the thick canopy.

Someone has to do it!
China Beach Provincial Park is clean and quiet, the park's dense forest yields the usual forest birds. A nearby beach offers the chance of shore birds and ducks. Bald eagles can be seen scavenging along the coastline.
Western Sandpiper feeding at China Beach Provincial Park.

 The Sandpipers were feeding on many kinds of invertebrates including sand shrimps.

China Beach

Western sandpiper
Hermit thrush
Red crossbill
Cedar Waxwing
 Brown creeper
Wilson's warbler 
 Hairy woodpecker
 Northwestern crow

Port Renfrew

Recreational smelt fishermen are closely watched by a flock of California Gulls. I really couldn't tell if they were Calornian/Western X or not.
Nikon P7100.

Nikon P7100
The fish are fried and eaten whole, a delicacy i'm told!

California Gulls.
Pacheedaht White Sand Beach. Nikon P7100
The Pacheedaht campsite is run by the local indian band with sites near the beach as well as along the river. The beach front can be windy and is most popular camping spot. Book ahead if you want one of those sites. We arrived late and took a riverside site that gave us views of the tide changes, the herons, gulls and about 28 common merganser feeding in a mass frenzy, obviously this years hatch. We also were visited by many of the woodland birds which were foraging along the riparian area close to the river. The beach sites lacked the same variety of habitat but are better suited for the children, if you happen to have some in tow.

There were a good variety of birds feeding along the riverbank especially the kingfishers. The woods had a good selection of birds. The campground has everything except as stands it, feels dirty and disorganized. Why not have designated fire pits for example. Our campsite had five fire areas of scorched grass where previous occupants had made fires, little things like that would make the whole experience so much better for the camper and the environment.

Port Renfrew/San Juan

 Black swift
 Belted kingfisher
 Red crossbill
 Great blue heron
 American robin
 Bald eagle
 California gulls
 Rufous hummingbird
 Brown-headed cowbird
 Least sandpiper 
 Willow flycatcher
Hermit thrush.
 White-crowned sparrow
White-winged scoter
 Yellow-rumped warbler
 Western sandpipers
Stella's jay
Wilson's warbler
 Common merganser
 Bonaparte gull
 Canada geese
 Song sparrow

 Cedar waxwing

San Juan River looking toward Port Renfrew. Nikon P7100

Least sandpiper.
    At our campsite we had a steady parade of visitors including this willow flycatcher below.

Willow flycatcher.

Botanical Beach

The main attraction out of Port Renfrew is Botanical Beach. A perfect location for all members the family, a place to study intertidal pools and the marine life. Make sure to study the tide tables so as to arrive at low tide. Watch out for rogue waves as they pound the shore, they can be dangerous. The few birds present on  our visit included a flock harlequin ducks, a great blue heron, a pair of bald eagles and a sandpiper which may have been a wandering tatler but it was spooked by another tourist before I had a chance to get a good view. But it is not the birds that are the attraction but the weathered sandstone and creatures in the tidal pools.

Sandstone is weathered by the action of the waves and wind creating a myriad of interesting shapes. Nikon P7100

For more see

Botanical Beach
I know I should have used a polarizing filter to cut down the glare on the water but these days I use a point and shoot for everything except birds. Nikon P7100.

We really enjoyed the Pacific Marine circle Route concluding the mini tour by going through Lake Cowichan to Duncan and then Nanaimo. We did the whole thing from Cloverdale and back on half a tank of gas or about 400 kms. 

The route offers many different types of habitats that change with the seasons so going back in the autumn might not be such a bad idea as inclement weather might push in a few pelagic and others birds into the Juan de Fuca Strait.

All pix Nikon D500 200mm-500mm F5.6 handheld unless noted.

Until next time.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Some random thoughts about being published.

Mar 2016

During the period 1983-2011 when I worked as a community newspaper photographer I published thousands of photographs. No big deal, it was my job. Give or take a few thousand, I estimate over twenty-five thousand images. I still have all the tear-sheets... I know, I know, if I ever downsize I'll be having one heck of a bonfire but that's another story altogether. Looking back, some of those early shots were horrendous. Come to think of it some of my recent pix (the ones you don't see) aren't that hot either!
During those first months freelancing with a  Pentax K1000, 28mm f2.8, 50mm F2 and Takumar 135 F2.5 I was flying by the seat of my pants. My first editor Bill Mathis saw something and he encouraged me, teaching me how to edit my work. Bill used to take a thick red china marker and circle the contact sheet with the shots he wanted for publication, I didn't question him, that's how I learned.
I have photographed a variety of subjects since then including my favourite shoot, the Dalai Lama. I even got to meet him and shake his hand. David Bowie at the Commodore with Tin Machine and BB King to Premiership football (soccer) and of course the Canucks. However, bird photography is like starting all over again. Unlike a hockey game or a concert where the lighting is consistent or a stage play where the actors are rooted to a certain area birds have no such parameters. Birds usually see you before you see them and are long gone by the time you get there. With a little skill and lots of good luck the photographer can come away with an awe inspiring shot that is pleasant to the eye,  even if no one ever sees it except for friends and family.

Published in the Langley Times.
Albino starling
Captive bird at Monica's Wildlife Shelter Surrey BC.
Back in the day when editorial and advertising content was 50/50 there was plenty of space in publications for photographs and photo essays and room for a staff photographer. These days ads take up 75-80% leaving little room for creativity. My job as staff photographer came to an end as soon as management gave everyone point and shoots. After 28 years in the newspaper business it was time to move on. So you might ask, why am I burdening you with all this useless information! Simply, it's the joy of seeing my humble efforts in print again. It still elicits the same excitement as it did back on February 1983 when my first ever picture was published in the Campbell River Courier/Upper Islander.
As a staff photographer out on assignment five days a week I would often came across some unusual birds. One time it was an albino starling at Monica's Wildlife Refuge in Surrey. Another time a white crow in the community of Otter in East Langley. In Fort Langley I photographed a Spotted Owl, part of the captive program which continues to this day. The picture below is of a black-necked stilt in White Rock.
Floyd Cherak and Peter Zadoronzny first spotted the area rarity just south of the White Rock pier but nobody thought of sending a pic to the local newspaper.

Published Peace Arch News

Some weeks, along with my usual editorial, lifestyle and sports pics I might have a page of bird photographs from the Christmas bird count or perhaps I'd photograph an eagle which the editor liked enough to put on the front page. Three times I visited Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park on assignment. Once with Chief Harry Assu from Cape Mudge (it was his fishing boat on the back of the old ten dollar bill) during the trip he showed me where his people had for centuries collected eggs from the glaucous-winged gull colony. The chief also showed me where gatherers from Cape Mudge village had strung nets to catch pigeon guillemot, harvested camas and collected yellow cedar off the beaches for carving. The subsequent story and page of pictures appeared in the Campbell River and Comox newspapers. I later expanded it for a magazine article for Birder's World and Pentax magazine. Some of those pictures are on

During the early eighties Trumpeter Swans were just making a big comeback after relentless hunting and lead shot poisoning, that story ran in the Victoria Times Colonist. Still, I never considered myself a birder, the concept never crossed my mind, all I knew was that birds attracted me more than any other subject matter.
Northwestern crow siblings couldn't be more different.

The question which never got answered is what happens to the white crow. Apparently the parents had white offspring in previous years so one would think that there would be several white crows in the vicinity but I have returned numerous times and found none. I wonder if they gradually turn dark?

A call to the newspaper reader provided me with this opportunity

One week I might have a photo page of scarecrows, another wildflowers but birds were my favourite subject matter. My images appeared mostly on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland. Some were published internationally, I even had one picture in the National Enquirer. That picture was taken in Williams Park in Langley where a pig had unearthed a two-thousand year old native indian ceremonial bowl, it was the type of photo the sensationalist publication loved. PIG UNEARTHS SACRED BOWL! That one shot was worth a weeks newspaper salary.

This winter I phoned my local newspaper in Cloverdale and asked if they knew birders were flying in from across North America to see a rare bird. They were very interested and in the next issue Voila!

The Siberian Accentor twitch provided me the opportunity to have my picture published in the community newspaper. It took four visits and twenty-two hours of waiting to get the shot.

Same pic but this went out to birders!

Right up to the very last issue I worked on in April 2011 the excitement of opening the latest issue never failed to excite me. Recently I had a few more images published and the excitement of seeing them in print still remains. Here is another recent tear-sheet.

This shot being published came about by accident. I had submitted a few pictures to BC Nature for another feature and within hours the editor asked me if they could use it on the front page. 

Recently I and a number of other photographers have had images published in the Atlas of Breeding Birds of British Columbia 

and the just published Birder's Guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
ISBN 978-1-55017-747-3

Personally I can't see the point of keeping images hidden away on hard drives so to see them out there gracing the pages of newspapers, magazines, books and websites completes the whole process that may have begun months or years earlier by a lake, grassland or mountainside. Enough writing, I can hear a black-headed grosbeak singing. 

More about the Black and White Hawk Eagle

Since I began this blog a few more of my pix have been published in 
A Complete Guide 
of British Columbia and
 the Pacific Northwest.

Barn Owl hunting over the fields of Boundary Bay.


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Management takes no responsibility for bad grammar. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Monck Provincial Park/Nicola Lake

 July 20 2016 Monck Provincial Park, Nicola Lake Nr Merritt BC. Sunny 31c
We, the wife and I found Monck Provincial Park by accident. Motoring along the 5A to Kamloops with no particular place to go and no plan we decided to follow a sign toward the Monck Provincial Park. Located on the south-eastern shore of Nicola Lake the park sits on a volcanic rock cliff and protects a pristine ponderosa pine and bunchgrass ecosystem. There are 120 campsites, most of which are close to the water, more importantly AND if I had taken to the time to check eBird beforehand, an excellent spot for birding.
We rolled into the campground sans a reservation and found at nice site overlooking the lake. After the three hour drive from the Fraser Valley it was time to have a well deserved cold beer. No sooner had I settled down with a good book when a few hundred feet away I spotted an osprey coming toward me. By the time I had my camera ready it had landed in a tree near our site. Moments later I see yet another osprey coming into sight, this time with a large fish. According to the brochure we were given there are twenty-six species of fish in the lake but it sure looked like the osprey was carrying a trout. One beer later I set off to see what I could hear coming from the wooded cliff face. I was surprised to find three osprey nests within a short distance of each other and three sets of adults bringing fish to their eager young, most of which were already taking their first tentative flights from the nest.

I climbed up the hill from my campsite to get a little better view and found two more nests.
The ponderosa forest was alive with the sound of Western wood-pewee and Cassin's finch.

This Osprey spotted me and circled around the nest until I hid behind a tree. Then and only then did it land and feed its offspring.

An osprey glides toward the nest with a sizeable trout. Note the dorsal fin or perhaps it's Kokanee, a type of landlocked salmon.

Another cagey bird checking me out.

Back at the campsite I settled down to eat. A few bites into the meal the silence was interrupted by not one, not two but four merlin screeching around our heads, an acrobatic display of some beauty.
I missed the shot of course but no sooner had I finished the meal than it was time to follow the merlins which could be heard down by the lake. The two youngsters squeaking incessantly while the parents hunted sat patiently in a snag awaiting their return

Any thoughts whether this Merlin is from the Taiga or Black race?

A pair of Juvenile Merlin waiting for their next meal.

The vocalization of the merlin is a ki ki ki ki ki.

I am not too sure what rodent this merlin has caught but the tail doesn't look like a tree striped chipmunk, the most common rodents the park.
Three-striped chipmunk.

Next morning before we left I took a quick walk down to the beach where I found a fledgling spotted sandpaper and nearby the adult.
Fledgling spotted sandpiper. Note the lack of spots.

"The parent" keeps one eye on the photographer and the other on the chick.

Leaving the beach toward the wooded area I hear more osprey and perhaps by the noise coming from the trees even more nests. Could there have been five or more nests in this one campground alone?

In the amongst the ponderosa there were some female finches but it wasn't until I came across this colourful Cassin's that I could positively identify the birds in question.

Cassin's finch.
Before leaving there was time to walk back to the Westfalia and from nowhere a Clarks's nutcracker took flight from the trees around the campsite. We camped at the lower numbered sites 5 through 12 but anywhere could provide good birding.
Clarke's Nutcracker.
We were at the site less than eighteen hours and soon we were off to Douglas Ranch, a half million acres of open grassland, lakes and mixed forest. We saw plenty of birds, stunning scenery and met a number of friendly people. We'll be going back in the next spring to do some proper birding.

"It's never late to start birding"

John Gordon

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Meanwhile: Some Bits and Bobs from the Birding World

Late June/Early July 2016

I'm back in Canada. I managed to find time for a few hours birding over the last two weeks, mostly to clear my thoughts and move on with life. It's good to be home.

I spent a day a few days near Walton-on-Thames where I was kindly shown around a few of the local reservoirs and gravel pits. I had a fleeting glance of a hobby and good views of a common whitethroat, both lifers.

Common Whitethroat (sylvia communis)
A summer visitor to Britain and Europe and winters in the southern Sahara.
The common whitethroat is one of the fourteen species of warbler that breed in the UK

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)
A sparrow of heath , fields and moorland

A cool story!

July 16/17 2016 Back home on my local patch Brydon Lagoon

Juvenile Green Heron.

Common Yellowthroat carrying food to the nest.

Anna's Hummingbird nest building in July.

Brydon Lagoon Langley, Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, CA

Jul 13, 2016 7:00 AM - 9:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 kilometer(s)
Comments:     Includes wooded area
22 species

Canada Goose  40
Mallard  26
Green Heron  1
Bald Eagle  1
Anna's Hummingbird  1
Rufous Hummingbird  4
Belted Kingfisher  1
Hairy Woodpecker  1
Northern Flicker  2
Willow Flycatcher  2
Violet-green Swallow  4
Black-capped Chickadee  12
Bushtit  6
Bewick's Wren  2
Swainson's Thrush  3
American Robin  4
Common Yellowthroat  8     Numerous breeding pairs in the wetland area.
Song Sparrow  2
Spotted Towhee  2
Black-headed Grosbeak  1
Red-winged Blackbird  12
House Sparrow  14

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Staying closer to home, catching up on the garden which is beginning to look beautiful. Put in a rockery, planted some new perennials and enjoying the BBQ.

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Species re-discovered

I haven't done much birding lately. I have had a couple of lifers while in the UK. A common whitethroat near Walton-on Thames and tonight a yellowhammer at Tidenham Chase in Gloucestershire. 
Meanwhile here is a good news story.


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Birds and Fish

Join us this Sunday to learn about forage fish or for morning birding!

Sunday, June 26, 9am-4pm
Forage Fish Spawning Workshop
9am-1pm Classroom session st Beecher Place (12160 Beecher Street)
1:30pm-4pm Practical session on Crescent Beach

The purpose of this workshop is to train and develop teams to survey beaches around Boundary Bay for forage fish eggs. Forage fish are important prey species and fuel the coastal marine food chain.

Sea Watch Society Executive Director and Scientist, Ramona de Graaf, will be leading this technical workshop. Ramona is a marine biologist and oversees the province-wide research program to document and protect beach-spawning forage fish habitat.

No experience required, minimum volunteer commitment is two surveys over the next year.

To sign-up email Sarah at

Sunday, June 26, 9-11am
Birds on the Bay Morning Birding at the Little Campbell Hatchery

Walk with Lynn & Ron through the forest trails by the Little Campbell River. Look high in the trees, down through the shrubs, and along the river in search of wildlife - including a pair of barred owls with their chicks! 

Meet at the Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, 1284 184th St. Dress for the weather. Binoculars available to borrow if you don't have your own.

Check our website calendar for other upcoming events and activities.