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Saturday, May 21, 2016

An informal D500 Test



May 2016  Various Location as noted.

Three weeks ago I picked a new shiny Nikon D500. Alas it sat on the table for ten days while I recuperated from a nasty bout of flu. I did manage to pop out to Brydon Lagoon for a few hours albeit with a fever. It wasn't until the past two weeks that I have been using the camera in the field.
One thing I love is the ten frames a second motor drive without the need of a bulky battery pack. Every ounce counts when dragging around a long lens and tripod all day. The 152 focus point works amazing well. The large viewfinder gives a 100% view and the LCD panel is bright and now has a touch screen allowing a quick review and scrolling options. In Live View focus can be achieved by pressing the subject area on the screen. There are numerous buttons I haven't played with but most the menu is in the same place which should help Luddites like myself to get up to speed with all the new improvements. Check out Brad Hill to Thom and other sites for more technical details. I started off by putting camera on a lens and shooting without reading the manual. A few buttons have moved and joystick has been added to move the focus point around. The ISO button is now near the shutter release for a quick change of ISO if needed. 


Iona Sewage Lagoons

Dunlin with deformed beak.
Obviously the bird has managed to feed even though it seemed unable to close its beak fully.
Nikon birders have been waiting for the D500 a long, long time, six years to be exact. Most of us soldiered on with the trusty D300 and D300s or the D3s. Both 300 models did a wonderful job until it came to shooting above ISO 800 at which point it was useless. The D300s added two memory cards and video but no improvement in noise levels especially when shot early or late in the day when the light is best for bird photography. The D5 at $8000 is the best birding camera around while the D500 is ONLY $3000. Most of these shots are taken in very good light so a lot more testing is needed to see how the new camera will hold up when shot at 1600 or 3200 ISO. My very first bird photos back in the day were taken on Mitlenatch Island in 1984 with Kodachrome 64, so the idea of having such high ISO's available would have been unthinkable then.

Kildeer defending nest.
 Kildeer use the 'wounded' ploy to draw away predators from a nest. There were three eggs, one of which hatched the next day.
Lesser Yellowlegs
 Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs can be tough to tell apart especially when they are on their own, when seen together the size differences are obvious.
Pectoral Sandpiper
The pectoral is one sandpiper I can figure out, the distinctive beak, yellow legs and size are a dead giveaway. The least sandpiper is much smaller. 
Barn Swallow
Close but not quite but the D500 will eventually pay off when it come to photographing small birds on the wing. I am still experimenting with the single point, 153 wide area focus and the group area focus options. The auto focus is the best of any camera I have ever used and like any new piece of equipment it will take a while to fully understand its capabilities.
Osprey
Photographing larger birds with the D500 was no problem. Ninety-nine percent of the flight shots were in focus, only one shot was out of focus. The tricks is to be patient and wait until the bird hunted close enough so that minimal or no cropping was required. The picture above was taken from twice the distance as the one below. It doesn't matter what camera and lens combination you have. At one point the osprey dove for a fish so close that those with 800mm or 600mm didn't get a shot, but those with a 'lowly' 200mm-500mm and 80mm-400mm got stunning shots.

Osprey
The shot above is a full frame shot without any crop. 


Lonsdale Quay
Pigeon Guillimot
A big crop on this shot but it just managed to hold up. I couldn't have got this with the D7100.

                                               
Riefel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Marsh Wren

Red-winged Blackbird


Tyne head Regional Park
White-Crowned Sparrow.

Cloverdale /Private Residence

Black-headed Grosbeak


Barred Owl

Swainson's Thrush.

Rufous Hummingbird (male)
Burnaby Mountain
Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Piper Spit Burnaby Lake
Yellow-headed Blackbird
 So far I am not disappointed with my purchase but then I always tend to look on the bright side of life. Will the Nikon D500 make my photography simpler, more enjoyable, less intrusive ? I believe so and to that end I hope to lessen the amount of time thinking about camera gear and more time with the birds.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale
BC Canada





Friday, May 20, 2016

Bird of the Month/Black and White Hawk-Eagle


Some wonderful things have happened to me since I was smitten with the 'birding bug'. I had always noticed birds but had never considered myself a birder. Then about five years ago I was gifted with a very generous buyout from my employer. Thirty years of chasing ambulances, photographing the aftermath of drug wars, the odd Whitecap game, the annual Christmas bird count and the ever shrinking editorial content combined with the generosity of my employer meant the stars were aligned and a new adventure beckoned.
Around that time Al Grass gave me A Photographic Guide to Birds of Western North America. 
It was a godsend, I was still in the eighties when a spotted towhee was a rufous-sided towhee. There were others name changes to catch up on. The new book was full of beautiful bird images, most of which I never even knew existed, best of all many could be found within twenty minutes from my home.
Since then I have been to a place called Point Pelee, took the train to Churchill to photograph the spring migration and recently Mexico! Other birding adventures included looking for wheatears and red kites in the Welsh mountains, a trip to the UK's Farne Island to photograph Atlantic Puffins and tracked down a Dartford Warbler in Cheltenham. The latest overseas visit was a non-birding trip to Mexico where I was lucky enough to photograph over 80 species, one of which turned out to be somewhat of a celebrity.
Greg Homel a well known birder and guide saw my posting on e-bird and conformed I had photographed a black and white hawk-eagle, a first time record for Puerto Vallarta/Jalisco area. Here is what he wrote.
The bit about me being as good birder can be taken with a pinch of salt!

BIRD OF THE MONTH FOR APRIL 2016
by Greg R. Homel/
 WWW.BIRDINGINPUERTOVALLARTA.COM/ birdingadventures@mac.com
Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle Spizaetus melanoleucus 
NOTE: Photo(s) courtesy John Gordon

In recent years, an exponential influx of birding pioneers to and within the Vallarta region has really started to ramp up local knowledge of our ornithological richness. And the growing species list—which now numbers around 400—is impressive to say the least!
Sometimes it’s tempting to assume “everything” has been discovered by now.... But every once in a while a discovery is made that so knocks the socks off even the most avid birding pioneer, that other sightings pale by comparison. Such was the case for Canadian birder, John Gordon, who, on March 20, decided to take a bus from Old Town Vallarta to Vallarta Botanic Garden.
Luckily for the rest of us, Mr. Gordon—who is an excellent birder—made that fateful day trip. It was his first visit... and he made history! Among the birds John Gordon saw, photographed and posted on his blog, TheCanadianWarbler.blogspot, was a mysterious raptor flying directly over the garden “against the cobalt blue sky [in] a kettle of vultures and hawks!”
A week later, Mr. Gordon contacted me, asking for help identifying some of the species he photographed... possibly assuming the photos he provided were commonly-occurring species. Included in the impressive collection was an image that made my jaw drop: It was Jalisco’s only recorded Black-and-White Hawk-Eagle!



Black and White Hawk-Eagle


This Neotropical species ranges primarily in montane and lowland forests from southeastern Mexico through Central America to Amazonia and Argentina, with a small number inhabiting Oaxaca and Chiapas’ Sierra Madre del Sur in West Mexico. There are, however, occasional, disjunct (by more than 1000 kilometers) sightings in southern Nayarit.
In recent years two other hawk-eagle species—Ornate and Black—have been recorded in Cabo Corrientes’ wild interior, along with Double-toothed Kite. Combined with the presence of such keystone species as Hook-billed Kite, Military Macaw, Jaguar, Mexican Beaded Lizard and others, these sightings emphasize just how important Cabo Corrientes is to biodiversity in West Mexico!
Many recent sightings of significance are reported by first-time visitors like John Gordon. And some of the best sightings have occurred right here at Vallarta Botanic Garden! So keep your eyes and lenses pointed skyward, you may be the next to make such a discovery!



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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Princeton Weekend with Langley Field Naturalists



Friday to Sunday May 6th to 8th 
Princeton Two Night Trip
Leaders: Gareth Pugh and Ed and Cathy Lahaie.
It is alway exiting to visit another area of the province so when the opportunity arose to join the Langley Field Naturalists and the Vermillion Fork Field Naturalists in Princeton it was just too good a chance to pass up. The area has many lakes, wetlands, grasslands, moist and dry forests all of which are great habitats for a variety of birds that are not normally seen on the Coast.
Friday night began with a trip to Separation Lake where I am told over thirty species of birds were seen. This writer missed the trip but instead swung by August Lake where a herd of elk put an appearance, but alas no Williamson's Sapsucker.


Saturday saw our group joined again by our gracious hosts from the Vermillion Forks Field Naturalists. We then headed for a hike around picturesque Wolfe Lake. 


Wolfe Lake

Wolfe Lake

Belted Kingfisher at Wolfe Lake

We walked around the lake a distance of about 5 kms. Among the species spotted were a pair of bald eagles, black-billed magpie, song sparrow, red-naped sapsuckers, warbling vireo, yellow-rumped warbler, common yellowthroat, Nashville warbler, belted kingfisher, American kestrel, Cooper's hawk, bufflehead, mew gull and spotted sandpiper. During lunch we watched a colony of Richardson's ground squirrels.


Langley Field Naturalists were hosted by the Vermillion Forks Field Naturalists both groups seen here just before setting off on a hike around the lake.

Nashville Warbler at Wolfe Lake.



Langley and Vermillion Field Naturalists walk around Wolfe Lake.

August Lake
Solitary Sandpiper
After lunch we headed to August Lake in search of the elusive Williamson's Sapsucker and even with the help of local experienced birders we dipped. We did with the help of Gareth's keen eye have great views of a solitary sandpiper. I managed to creep close enough for ID shot above.

Before supper we tried again at Ferguson Lake for a Williamson's Sapsucker at but again no luck, we did however spot a pair of ruddy duck, a turkey vulture, red-tailed hawk, mountain bluebird, vesper sparrow and a flock of Cassin's finch.

After supper we drove to Separation Lake. What a beautiful spot, open ranch lands surrounded by snow capped mountains, BEAUTIFUL BC!
The first sighting was a nesting Say's phoebe then a mountain bluebird followed in quick succession by a rufous hummingbird, vesper sparrow, northern harrier, rough-winged swallow, western meadowlark and spotted sandpiper.

Seperation Lake
Vesper Sparrow backlit and last shot of the day.
Next morning we visited our gracious hosts Ed and Cathy Lahaie who had a well stocked feeder at the bottom of the garden. A flock of Cassin's finch and evening grosbeak kept everyones camera busy.  For many the Cassin's were lifers.
Cassin's Finch
Evening Grosbeak (male)

Evening Grosbeak  (female)
Calliope Hummingbird
As an added bonus a beautiful Calliope hummer came to the bird feeder and that wasn't all!


A mountain chickadee had taken up in a nest box beside the garage. I only saw it once when came to the feeder for a brief moment.

Mountain Chickadee

We all left Princeton with a greater appreciation of the area and it's a good bet many of us will return whenever we want our fix of Interior birds and better its only three hours from Langley.

We stayed at Castle Rock campsite which is between Separation Lake and downtown Princeton. Below are a few of our fellow campers/neighbours.

Yellow-bellied Marmot

This one a different colour.
Al I know if that we had a great time, saw some amazing birds, saw and recorded 99 species and made some new friends. I'll be back for sure. Finally a big thanks to all those from both clubs whose hard work made the trip such a success.



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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Langley Field Naturalists Field Trips May/June


The Langley Field Naturalists (LFN) meet at 7.00 p.m. the third week of the month at the Langley Music School Sept through June. Each meeting features a speaker. Below is a list of field trips which are held throughout the Lower Mainland and beyond. To find out more about LFN new members always welcome.


                       Note: See my Princeton blog where we joined the Vermillion Forks Naturalist Group.

Saturday, May 21st
Iona Beach Regional Park & Sewage Lagoons - Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
Leader: Josh Inman
Time: Meet in the parking lot at 9:00 am Iona Park
Join the Langley Field Naturalists and expert birder Josh Inman while we explore this amazingly rich and varied bird life area. We will welcome back the Yellow-headed Blackbirds & Purple Martins who return to nest each spring in the ponds and on the Fraser River. One year we counted 61 species of birds!
Phone: 604-532-0455 for info or to let us know to expect you.

Tuesday, May 31st
Grant Narrows Provincial Park/Addington Marsh Wildlife Management Area.
Leader: John Gordon
Time:  9:00 am at Grant Narrows Provincial Park parking lot.
Join our leader John and the Langley Field Naturalists as we look for nesting Ospreys and perhaps Sandhill Cranes. This large dyke/marsh area, with several viewing towers, is a major migration route for bird life and has the largest tidal lake in the world. It also has a great variety of bird life making it very popular with bird watchers. Please note there is a charge for parking.
Phone: 604-533-7171 for info or to let us know to expect you.

Pix from last years walk.






Saturday, June 4th,
Glen Valley Bird Count

Friday, June 10th
Skagit Valley Provincial Park
Leaders:  Al & Jude Grass
Time:  8:45 at the junction of the Hope Flood Road and Silver Skagit Road (take exit #168 from Highway 1 East).
Come join Al and Jude as they take us to the Skagit Valley. Birds and wildflowers should be at their best including the beautiful pink Rhododendron which should be in bloom. This is a full day trip, so please bring lunch, snacks, water, (sunscreen and bug repellent) and a variety of clothing and footwear for the weather.
Note: please make sure you have enough gas as it is 130 km round trip to Ross Lake and back to the highway.
Phone: 604-538-8774 for info or to let us know to expect you.
Wednesday, June 15th


Wednesday, June 15th
Campbell Valley Regional Park
Leader: Viveka Ohman
Time:  9:00 am at 8th Avenue parking lot across from the Nature House.
This is our "welcome back" for our annual "yellow-themed" Warbler and other summer birds with expert birder Viveka. We will be looking for Yellow Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s Warbler, Western Tanagers, Black-headed Grosbeaks and many more. We will walk the Ravine Trail first, then return through the meadow past the farm house across from the Nature House and  head north on the central main trail. Following I Km we will turn left on the Vine Maple Trail and end up at the 16th avenue parking lot. From here we walk east on the Little River Loop trail towards the Listening Bridge where we will have a water break and listen for more birds. Then we head south and return to the 8th avenue parking lot via the main central trail. Walking distance is approx. 5km so please wear appropriate footwear.
We plan to eat lunch in the park in the gazebo by the pond afterwards.
Phone: 604-534-3401 for more info or to let us know to expect you.

June 17th to 19th
Manning Bird Blitz

Tuesday, June 28th
Coquitlam Dykes
Leader: Larry Cowan
Time:  8:30 am in the parking area at Victoria and Cedar Drives in Port Coquitlam
Our half day bird walk will be at DeBoville Slough/Minnekhada RP. In June you can expect Green Heron, Sandhill Crane, warblers, vireos and a multitude of waterfowl species. We will position an appropriate number of vehicles in the Minnekhada parking lot off Quarry Rd. for our return trip.
Phone: 604-307-0931 or e-mail lawrencecowan@shaw.ca for more info or to let us know to expect you.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Atlas of Breeding Bird of British Columbia Published

May 10/2015
This morning I and many others received a long-awaited announcement. Finally after years of hard work the Atlas of Breeding Birds of British Columbia is published. I was fortunate to be asked to contribute some images and even took part in some of the surveys in the Chilcotins. I am sure it will be a great asset to the birding community.


Posted by: Catherine Jardine
Bird Studies Canada
Delta, BC

We are delighted to announce the completion of the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, Canada’s first online bird atlas!  We believe it is the most sophisticated bird atlas anywhere on the web, and the only bilingual, web-published atlas.  Please take a moment to explore it at http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca 
Special thanks go to the 30 authors, 20 editors, 45 coordinators, 1,300 dedicated field volunteers, 40 photographers and 150 generous partners and supporters.

More than 1,500 high quality maps and graphs depict precisely where each species occurs, how common they are, and the types of landscapes they choose to breed in.  Packed with innovative, user-friendly features, this entirely free new resource is designed for almost everyone, whether you are an environmental professional, a bird watcher, a nature lover, a guide-outfitter, a researcher, an educator or a student. There is a short site tour on the homepage, and those interested can register for free webinars hosted by Bird Studies Canada starting this June.

With 630,000 records of 320 species, it is now THE go to source of bird information for environmental assessments and is being used widely to inform purchase and management priorities for both conservation and industrially managed lands.  The dataset is ideally suited to academic research and has already been widely applied at undergraduate to post-doctoral levels.

We strongly encourage you to use this new resource in your line of work, and consult it before making field trips for work or pleasure.  This handy site tour will help you get started http://www.birdatlas.bc.ca/site-tour/
Several areas of the province remain poorly known, like the far northwest, where the bird community is similar to the Alaskan Arctic.  Remember that you can use eBird http://www.ebird.ca to enter data from previously non surveyed or under-surveyed regions.  

We hope you enjoy this new resource. 

Sincerely, 
The British Columbia Breeding Bird Atlas partners (Bird Studies Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, the BC Ministry of Environment, BC Nature, the BC Field Ornithologists, the Pacific Wildlife Foundation, and Louisiana Pacific Canada Ltd.).



Below I have included some of my images and links used in the atlas and a brief description how they came into being.


Photographed at the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve in Chilliwack. The best time is before the cottonwood trees have too much foliage. You'll need a long lens but the action continues all day with the males acrobatic displays being particularly photogenic. While you are there watch out for the resident bobcat and soaring bald eagles




Raymond Ng and I scouted Sumas Prairie for hours/days/weeks looking for signs of a golden eagle. Eventually Raymond spotted one in a tall cottonwood. We couldn't get a clear shot so we asked the landowner if we could approach with the sun on our backs. As Raymond angled for a closer shot I stayed back as I had a 500 mm lens with a 1.4 converter on a 12 megapixel Nikon D300s. Suddenly the bird took off and I rattled off 6 shots of which five were in perfect focus. I had never seen a Golden Eagle before. Those moments are indelibly etched in my mind, one of my favourite birding moments all thanks to my birding buddy Raymond!


I was taking part in a bird studies count in the Chilcotins. It had been a good morning of birding and it was after breakfast when I saw a pair of Evening Grosbeak at a bird feeder. The female was actively showing off to a nearby male. They mated soon after.

Western Scrub Jay
I had been photographing the Maple Ridge western scrub jays and had mentioned to a homeowner the rarity of the birds when he mentioned they had bred the previous year but a racoon had raided the nest. Imagine my surprise when a year later when the phone rang to tell me that there were two fledglings in his back yard. I didn't realizeit  at the time but it was the first record of a breeding pair in BC.

One of the first birds I photographed in Langley. I noticed it when I visited a greenhouse and saw the bird perched on a rusting car. I sat and watched it for a few minutes and I noticed it used the same route to bring food to three fledglings.

I had to drive up to the Okanagan for the Clay-coloured. I remember seeing the bird and in the background a Mountain Bluebird. It was birding heaven.

I owe this shot to Russell Cannings. I was photographing Calliope Hummingbirds near Road22 when he casually mentioned a spot nearby where I might find a Yellow-breasted Chat. Soon after I was looking at the bird, another lifer and all thanks to the generous sharing of information. Thanks Russell, you have been a great inspiration as have many in the birding community, too many to mention here.

This was another marathon photo session spanning two weeks at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. The Swamp Sparrow is a notoriously shy and it took numerous visits to get this shot.

This photograph was taken on Boundary Bay just east of 72nd in a cold winters day. I had made six or seven visits to finally secure a clear shot that I was happy with.

Finally I am happy my images can be put to good use other than tucked away on a hard drive. I would also like to thank all those who reported birds on vanbcbirds, the authors of the Okanagan Birding Guide, the Langley Field Naturalists and the many birders who I have met and have in turn learnt so much from.



"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Monday, April 18, 2016

Rose-ringed or Ring-necked Parakeets



April 14 2016 Walton-on-Thames Surrey UK

I left Gloucestershire (pronounced Glostershire) for Surrey and made my way to the upscale town of Walton-on-Thames. Walton is south of Heathrow airport and within commuting distance of London and home to some pricey real estate. $500,000 might get you a 2 bed apartment and for a cool million a semi-detached home could be yours. Most detached homes are in the $2-7 million range and it gets more expensive downstream the nearer one gets to the capital. However the upside is that the River Thames runs through it and there is an abundance of green space, riverside pubs and for the adventurous Canal Narrow boats. to rent. 
Note* I don't have any affiliation with aforementioned link. From London a network of canals spread across the UK, a narrow boat is one of the best ways to experience the UK.


Walton-on-Thames.
During the 19th century the population of great-crested grebe, the largest of the grebe family dropped to 42 pairs, partially due to the trade of their head plumes. Recently five thousand pairs have been recorded during annual UK bird counts. I saw just one pair and single bird along the river.

Great-crested Grebe
Indeed there were more Egyptian geese than grebes, Originally introduced from Africa in the17th century but nowhere as common as the parakeet. The Egyptian goose related to ducks more than geese, breeds in tree holes and in old crow nests.
Egyptian Goose and goslings

Long-tailed tit.
                                                                                 *****


One of the most unusual inhabitants of the town and for that matter the whole region and increasingly the whole of the UK is the rose-ringed parakeet. Originating from S. Asia and Africa the species now numbers into the tens of thousands.

Rose-ringed or Ring-necked Parakeet.
It seems so odd to be looking at a robin or a blue tit one moment and then watching a flock or twenty or more parakeets darting across the sky the next. You can hear them before you see them and it seems almost every willow tree along the river has a nesting pair. The colourful and exotic looking birds find the British climate just right, so much so that they have become a pest. Farmers are beginning to tire of them, in some fruit growing areas large flocks descend on orchards and strip the crop bare in one sitting. Not only that, in some locations thousands roost in the same trees every night, homeowners describe the squawking noise they make as a 'dreadful din'  One roost at a nearby rugby club in Esher contains up to 7000 birds each night. Cavity nesting birds like woodpeckers are losing out too.



Greater Spotted Woodpecker
Cavity nesting species like the greater spotted woodpecker have suffered most from the parakeet population explosion.

Yesterday, my first day after my tiring journey saw me up bright and early. Luckily for me the local park is just behind my son's home. First sighting was a greater spotted woodpecker gouging out a nest site in a maple tree. There were very few birds around and no warblers anywhere just a smattering of jays, magpies, wood pigeons, heron, jackdaws, wrens, chiffchaff, dunnock, long-tailed, blue and great  tits but little else. As full list is at the end of the blog. I find it surprising considering the time of year, the amount of insect life and the budding trees. However, there were plenty of parakeets to keep me interested. Whoever released the first pair into the wild could have never realized the far reaching effect the birds would have on indigenous species. They have even out nested the starlings and that's no mean feat.

A female parakeet exits a nest site while the male surveys his domain from above.  

As I was setting up to photograph a woodpecker an elderly gentleman approached me and related a story about the 1951 movie African Queen starring Humphrey Bogart. Sorry to spoil the illusion but the river scenes were shot not in Africa but on the Thames at nearby Shepparton Studios. After the movie was wrapped-up, some bright spark decided it was a good idea to release six pairs of parakeets into the wild.
Even so, as far back as the nineteenth century parakeets were documented wild in London but never to the numbers now encountered. Lately parakeets have been spotted as far north as Edinburgh Scotland. Stories about the birds abound, even guitarist icon Jimi Hendrix got into the act and is reported to have released several parakeets into wild, he must have been stoned!

                                           Noisy-parakeets-drive-away-native-birds.html



A lucky shot.

As I walked along the banks of the Thames it is clear that birds have left their mark on local culture (see below) the other pub is if course, yes you guessed it...The Swan.



Even the local pub has got in on the act.




Below is a link to blog about London's parakeets by somebody who can actually articulate their thoughts rather than one who wishes they could!






                                                                 

Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, England, GB
Apr 17, 2016 8:00 AM - 10:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 kilometer(s)
37 species


Graylag Goose  12
Canada Goose  4
Mute Swan  34
Egyptian Goose  4     5 gosling
Mandarin Duck  1
Gadwall  2
Mallard  12
Great Crested Grebe  3
Great Cormorant  1
Gray Heron  1
Common Buzzard  1
Eurasian Coot  5
Black-headed Gull  6
Herring Gull  1
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  5
Common Wood-Pigeon  22
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Great Spotted Woodpecker  1     Building nest hole over 3 day period
Rose-ringed Parakeet  13
Eurasian Jay  3
Eurasian Magpie  6
Rook  22
Carrion Crow  1
Common Raven  1
Barn Swallow  1
Eurasian Blue Tit  4
Great Tit  6
Long-tailed Tit  4
Eurasian Wren  3
Common Chiffchaff  1
Eurasian Blackcap  3
European Robin  4
Eurasian Blackbird  4
Song Thrush  2
Dunnock  1
Common Chaffinch  3
European Goldfinch  3











John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale
BC Canada

Birding the Vale of Ewyas

Birding April 11 2016 Llanthony Priory and Gospel Pass, The Black Mountains, Gwent, Wales


This map shows the the location of the priory.
         I left Tintern at 7.00 am passed through Raglan and made my way to Abergavenny. A few miles along the Hereford Road I turned off the duel carriageway and toward Llanthony. Just like the Scottish Highlands the narrow country roads meant backing up to let other vehicles pass. I arrived an hour later to find the priory deserted. The sun was beginning to warm the air and the jackdaws already busy collecting twigs and other materials to build nests. There seemed to be nest building activity in every nook and cranny.

A Jackdaw sits outside its nest at the old priory.

Llanthony Priory
The Augustinian priory was founded in the 12th Century. It was completed around 1230 and was closed three hundred years later by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. Later a house and now a hotel was built amongst the ruins where monks once lived and worshipped. At the top left of the frame you can spot the modern hotel structure. The commonest residents these days apart from the tourists are the white wagtails, jackdaws, wood pigeons, goldfinch and house sparrows.

A pair of white wagtails take a break from their courtship display. The female bird appeared to be larger than its male counterpart.
I left the priority and continued past sheep farms and woodland. As I climbed the hills the roads narrowed and the potholes deepened.

My destination is on the other side of this hill. Although the village goes by its Welsh name note the bi-lingual signs.

The village of Capel-y-finn with its four small cottages even had its own red phone box, how quaint is that! Cel coverage is non-existent. The climb onward began to get steeper, the green fields were replaced by bracken ferns and gorse. 
As I climbed higher I finally arrived at a spot where I had been told I might find a wheatear or if very lucky even a ring ouzel, both birds would be lifers and target birds for the day. There might even be a chance of a red kite but I didn't want to push my luck. Three lifers from the Welsh hills would really make my day.
I was advised to check out the boulders for wheatear.
I stopped the car, got out, zipped up my anorak, raised my bins and scoured the scree laden hillside. At first I could hear but not see any birds. Finally after trudging up the hill for a closer view I spotted a movement on a rock, a female wheatear, my first lifer since arriving in the UK. I never did get too near to any of the birds even with the Nikon 200mm-500mm. I was happy enough just watch their antics as they hawked insect after insect from the air.
Wheatear (male)
One of the world's great migrants.
The entire population winters in tropical Africa but breeds in Alaska, Greenland, right across Europe and Asia 
About half an hour into my climb to photograph the wheatears I realized my trouser pocket, where I normally keep the car keys was wide open. Normally I make sure it's secured. Next came an awful sinking feeling as I thrust my hand into my pocket, there was nothing. I wondered if I had left them on the dash of the car or worse had they fallen out of my pocket as I clambered over rocks and boulders. Could I jump start an automatic? How would I get home? How far is the nearest farmhouse or was this a dress rehearsal for an another episode of An Idiot Abroad!
I took a deep breath and as any good birder would do continued birding. An hour later I had arrived back at the car and as I opened the door there were the keys, still in the ignition. Phew, another crisis adverted!

Not the type of place to loose a set of car keys.
As I sat in the car I can't tell you how relieved I was, so much so that I almost missed the sudden appearance of a red kite soaring over the bluff. As I grabbed my camera, my cheese sandwich which I had just began to eat fell from my hands between the handbrake and seat. To make things worse the camera strap got wrapped around the gear shifter, despite it all I managed to fire off this distant ID shot. A second lifer for the day and a most welcome sight after the stressful episode with the keys.

A view of a hunting red kite shot from the car.
Persecuted to near extinction in the 19th century there are now two thousand pair of red kite across the UK.


Meadow Pipit I think? 
Back in the car I finished off my sandwich and Jaffa cakes when I notice a movement in the short grass. I knew it's a pipit but which one. Later I photographed another pipit in a tree and counted it as a tree pipit but the one (above) has much more yellow. Below is the other bird for comparison but colouration could just be a trick of the morning light. I think they probably both are meadow pipits? Is there anyone out there who like to correct me if I am wrong!


Tree Pipit further along the road.

I continued along to the highest point called Gospel Pass where a few scraggly trees held a small flock of chaffinch and highland cattle grazed amongst the sheep. While admiring the view and the sunshine, a rare commodity in April a movement on the hillside caught my attention. At first I though it was a carrion crow but as I clambered up the hillside for closer view I realized it was a ring ouzel, the third lifer of the day. I couldn't get nearer than fifty metres before it took off. The ring ouzel is the mountain version of a blackbird which breeds on moorland and steep-sided valleys. The white band on the chest is a giveaway for ID purposes. Too bad I could get a clearer shot, the best time is when the birds arrive or depart on migration when they can be found almost anywhere and are more approachable. Check local birding forums for locations. On the mountainside the birds are cautious to the extreme. 

Ring Ouzel.

As I clambered down to the car I came across another mountain bird, the stonechat, its names derived from the sound it makes which is similar to two stones being hit together

Stonechat
It was almost noon and I had achieved my goal and seen all three 'target' birds plus a few others as an added bonus. It was time to go home. The mountains and valleys that had been shrouded in fog earlier in the morning were now bathed in sunshine. I think i'll stop off in Raglan for some fish and chips doused in copies amount of salt and malt vinegar!

Until the next time

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale
BC Canada