Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sharp-tailed sandpiper at Iona

Sept 22 2016 Iona Sewage Ponds Sunny 21c
Thanks to Tak Shibata for the lead on the sharp-tailed sandpiper and another tip of the hat to Wayne Weber who with his scope found the bird when it had been flushed by a northern harrier, his expertise enabled me to get this ID shot. Thanks to both birders for their help. The sharpie is a year bird for me.
I have included a pectoral sandpiper (background) for comparison purposes. This shot handheld with a D500 with the 200mm-500mm Nikon zoom from 75 metres. A long way off, but taking all things into consideration I am more than happy to post it here.

The Sharp-tailed sandpiper has a buffy breast, stouter beak and a pronounced reddish cap.
"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bird Eat Sleep and Bird

Sept 12 2016 Queen Elizabeth Park Vancouver BC Sunny 23c

Morning Session

I had the whole day to bird and bird I did. I began at Queen Elizabeth where twitchers were searching for a chestnut-sided Warbler, quite the rarity in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver. I dipped on that one but there were plenty of other birds to photograph including this bushtit. I like the clean background in this shot, nothing too distract from the bird itself.

The unmistakable sound of a red-breasted nuthatch drew my attention where not one but five nuthatches were playing follow the leader from one dead snag to another, perhaps it was a family group. In this image I couldn't control the background nor the angle, sometimes it's not possible but being aware of backgrounds, direction of light can help to make a picture better.
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Queen Elizabeth Park has thousands of plant species. Many attract insects which in turn attract gleaners like warblers and vireos. 
Note the clean background with minimal distractions. In this case the dappled background is created by the dark shadows of the forest. I waited for the bird to perch on the sun before pressing the shutter.
Warbling Vireo
Some birds like the black-headed grosbeak and western tanager (below) feed on the many kinds of fruit in the gardens. The migrating birds move through the park in waves and once a flock is found it just takes some patience and little luck to find some good light and approprite background.
Western Tanager
I waited for this tanager to move to a branch with a clean background and then to tilt its head so the sun created a catchlight in the eye.


Time to sit down, read the newpaper and have an afternoon siesta in the sun.

When I awoke it was time to head toward Boundary Bay. I don't really like to photographing between 11 am and 3 pm unless of course I am on holiday when anything goes.

Late Afternoon

 On the Flood Tide/Boundary Bay 104
Plovers can be skittish birds but being the only person around I took the opportunity to sneak up upon a flock of about twenty birds. The tide had begun to recede and the birds wouldn't be around much longer. I estimate it took me a full thirty minutes to approach the flock. By the time I took these pictures I was perhaps fifteen metres away. Some of the birds were so relaxed they were asleep.
I read recently that birds can control their sleep even when flying, allowing them to cover long distances over oceans and inhospitable terrain. Half the brain stays awake and when tired other side takes over allowing birds to sleep in flight. These plovers must have realized that I was not a threat. Eventually I was close enough to compose these shots, especially the third shot below where I have tried to incorporate some reflections.
Male and female black-bellied plovers.
In this frame I have left some space on the left for the birds to look into rather than fill the frame completely. I'm not too sure I like the birds touching the edge of the frame but I couldn't ask the birds to shuffle for me.

Adult non breeding and (left) juvenile black-bellied plovers.
In this frame I have used two birds creating a repetition of shapes.

In this composition I have framed the main subject on the left drawing the viewer in. At that point the eye automatically runs along the line of birds and them back to the closest bird. The process takes only a few moments. Due to the amount of images we are bombarded with the average time a person looks at an image is about three seconds. If you can hold a persons attention for more then you have been successful in your goal.Why does this work? In western society we read from left to right, most advertising uses the same ploy, it is easy on the eye, draws the viewer into the picture. If that succeeds in engaging the viewer then we as photographers have succeded in our goal.
However, a bigger question is, can I tell the difference between a western sandpiper and semi-palmated or an American golden plover and a black-bellied plover...for me that's a greater challenge!

American golden plover ( right) with black-bellied plovers.

American golden plover in the forground looks daintier, note the long wingtips. Behind are two black-bellied plovers that have a larger beak and look plumper.

Until next time, good birding.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Flickr Up and flying....Again!

Sept 8 2016

Due to a glitch in "The Cloud" my original Flickr account has been deleted. Five years of uploads are gone. Too bad as I was really enjoying following a number of talented photographers from both BC and the UK. Trying to get things sorted with a corporate giant like Yahoo has proven frustrating so I am starting again and uploading some 2016 images to re-boot the process. If and when it rains I will put up a few more of my favourites. I like Flickr as I think images appear to be sharper on the Flickr platform. Loosing those I was following is a real drag, hopefully I can catch up with you all soon to see what you have been up to. I will continue ramblings on the Blogger platform and continue to re-populate flickr, albeit the images may not be in chronological order.
Here is the new site and some recent images from Brydon Lagoon.
Purple finch.

Great horned Owl photographed Sept 13 2016 Brydon Lagoon forest.


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Art of Disguise

 Sept 9 2016 Boundary Bay Delta BC Sunny  21c

In one of my earliest blogs I recalled a visit to Boundary Bay. I was just starting to bird and didn't have a clue about what I was supposed to be looking for. I had been told that there were plenty of birds to photograph. Armed with my camera and a cheap pair of bins I searched for the slightest movement. Apart from a few sparrows, sea gulls and a few eagles I didn't see a thing.

A few days ago with thousands of hours of birding under my belt I went out to the very same location. As I looked out at the bay there were very few birds to be seen and even those were too far away and hard to ID. Instead of leaving I sat on the foreshore and waited. At first there seemed to be very little activity but slowly and surely I began to spot some movement. Not more than fifteen metres in front of me and  perhaps quiet oblivious of my presence were several pectoral and Baird's sandpipers. They had been hunkered down due to the presense of a peregrine falcon on a hunting expedition. The danger having passed the birds began to feed again and then and only then did the foreshore give up its secrets. Soon I was joined by a flock of American pipits and some least sandpipers took the place of the pectorals. I had let the birds come to me rather than the other way around.

The Art of Disguise.

Hard to spot at first, a pair of pectoral sandpipers feeding on the forshore of Boundary Bay are all but invisble to the untrained eye.

Keeping a lookout.

       A pectoral sandpiper watches as a pergrine falcon flies overhead.

Danger over

Once the danger has passed the pectoral continues to feed before continuing on its epic migration.

Soon several species of the sandpipers materialized from what at first appeared nothing but baked seaweed strewn muddy bay.

Bairds's sandpiper.

Some other birds on their way south.
Least Sandpiper.
Baird's Sandpiper
In my next adventure I'm off to to Vancouver to visit Queen Elizabeth Park, the City of Vancouver's highest point and an old quarry site. During the spring and autumn warblers and other passerines stop off on their migration and you never know quite what you'll find among the resident species either.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Boundary Bay Bird Bonanza

Aug 30 2016  2106 Boundary Bay, Delta British Columbia. Sun/clouds 19c

Yesterday's birding had been magical. The confluence of an evening tide, some fine late summer weather and the chance of more good birds would draw me back to the mudflats of Boundary Bay.

 This time I had the opportunity to catch up with a flock of Baird's Sandpipers (see below) 
Many sandpipers, including Baird's, least, pectoral buff-breasted and western can often be found along the high tide line. On the ebb tide they continue to feed in the pools left by the receding water, hunkering down when predators like the peregrine falcon are on the prowl. Generally the best time to go looking is early morning before too many people are around or during the afternoon or high evening tides. Higher water pushes flocks closer to land. August through October is the best time for shorebirds although spring and winter can be productive for overwintering dunlin, marbled goodwill and occasional long-billed curlew.

Baird's Sandpiper. Note the blackish legs.
Every year I have to delve back into the bird books to remind myself about the subtle differences between the many sandpipers species. I had totally forgotten that the Baird's have black legs.

However there is no mistaking the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. They seem to have a certain regal elegance about them. Less frenetic than most sandpipers, they appear more composed, more graceful.
Most of all they are a beautiful bird and quite rare with only a handful visiting our region each year. To see a small flock of four individuals is a very special treat.
I wanted to re-shoot the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in better light and came up with these two images. 

A  buff-breasted looks around just as a flock of sanderling flew over. There were four of the birds in a small area just east of 104.
(Below) This shot below is a too little tight in the frame for my satisfaction. The bird, perhaps unaware of my presence came so close to me that I couldn't back-off. Ideally it is better to leave a little more space for the subject to move into or even try to include a bit more of the environment. If I hadn't had my 1.4x converter on my 500mm lens I could have included more background.
Pectoral Sandpiper. Note the yellow legs.

The Ruff again but from a lower angle than yesterday where there was just too much clutter in the background.

A savannah sparrow came to check me out while I was photographing the sandpipers.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

It was another splendid day in paradise and it wasn't just the birds. I bumped into a number of birding acquaintances as well as a number of young birders like Logan and Liron whose knowledge and enthusiasm for birding is incredibly inspiring. Thanks to Logan who pointed out the pectoral and Liron for biking up and down the dyke with the latest birding news. I saw Birdergirl Mel who was with Cole and some other young birders, her encouragement for young birders deserves plenty of kudos. Then there was a young family who when shown the sandpipers were so engrossed that they decided to go and buy a camera and return the next day. Then there was a good friend and mentor, he of Welsh extraction, who came down and saw two lifers and to the many others I stopped and talked with. Actually when I think about it I spent more time chatting than actual photography but that's what makes being part of the birding community so rewarding, that and the fresh air!

Until next time.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"A Whole Lot of Sandpipers Going On"

Aug 29 2016 Boundary Bay between 96 and 104 street. 20c Sun and clouds.

Last week I went to Boundary Bay and never took a single shot. Yesterday was far different, some might say the stars were in alignment. I was of the best days birding I have ever experienced on the bay and believe me there have been quite few.
Way out on the mud flats several thousand black-bellied plovers, western sandpipers, sanderlings and a few dunlin were making their way up the beach on the flood tide.


Black-bellied plover and dunlin.

Red knot hiding among the black-bellied plovers.

One bird, a red knot stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. There were two red knot I could see as well as three short-billed dowitchers and a marbled godwit. The latter too far way even for a record shot. I didn't want to push my luck as a large female peregrine falcon was patrolling the foreshore and any sudden movements would have sent the flock skyward.
Short-billed dowitcher.

The tide was coming in and while the plovers sought cover and safety a little further offshore many of the sandpipers hung close to the dyke where feed was plentiful.
As luck would have it I bumped into Roger Foxall, an excellent birder. I was able to point out the red knot for him which turned out to be a year bird for both of us. He helped me ID the short-billed dowitcher and explained the plumage difference between long and short-billed. 
A fuzzy shot ID showing the ruff in flight with the white U on the upper tail coverts.
Roger went his way and I began looking for the buff-breasted sandpiper that had been seen the day before. Not long after Roger called me over to look at the juvenile ruff he had spotted. I had difficulty finding it among the flock but finally managed a flight shot. The ruff is a very rare bird in these parts with only one or two seen each year. Soon however it had flown off into the distance.

As luck would have it the bird had flown back from the pilings to the foot of 104 where a number of us were able to photograph the bird again.
Juvenile ruff.

A pectoral sandpiper and the larger ruff.

On most days a ruff or even the red knot would have been a good day but then the word came that three buff-breasted sandpipers were just a few hundred metres further along the dyke you know Christmas had arrived early.

  Lord of the flies
I like this shot,  it reminds me of all the flies I had to contend with as I lay in the soggy seaweed.

Buff-breasted sandpiper.

There were three different buff-breasted sandpipers, something of a rarity to see a flock these days.

Pectoral sandpiper.
It was a perfect evening on the bay with a fantastic selection of birds to photograph and observe. Perhaps i'll see you all down there tonight for a repeat performance                     

                                                                See list of birds for the day

"It's never too late to stop birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

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