Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chaplin Lake Saskatchewan Country Part 5

May 16 2015 Chaplin Lake Saskatchewan Overcast 12C

Saskatchewan's Chaplin Lake is on the TransCanadaHighway between Moose Jaw and Swift Current. On May 29 1997 Chaplin Lake along with nearby Old Wives, Frederick and Reed Lakes gained world-wide recognition as Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network sites.
During the month of May 50,000 Sanderling, 30,000 Baird's Sandpiper. As many as 100.000 shorebirds can be present during migration time.
The lake holds numerous species of waterfowl including the rare and endangered Piping Plover. The  grassland species including Sprague's Pipit and Chestnut-collared Longspur. Forster's Tern and Black-crowned Night Heron can be seen from the roadside.
The last time I was at the lake during the Victoria long weekend a few years back I had to take shelter for the afternoon site when a surprise and severe snow storm blanked the countryside.
This time it was heavily overcast as I made my way around the lake. The #58 road crosses the lake and allows close views of many species including Marbled Godwit, Willet and American Avocet. There is always the chance to spot a Piping Plover.
Piping Plover
The Canadian population of Piping Plover is thought to be around 400 pairs. Predation and climate change are the main concerns to the survival of the species.

A Male Gadwal wards off an American Advocet.

Chaplin Lake is a saline lake from which salt is extracted on an industrial scale. The above picture may look like snow but the white shoreline and water teems with brine shrimp which the birds, including ducks relish.

For more about
Marbled Godwit
Forster's Tern
American Avocet

As I travel across Saskatchewan I am beginning to see more of the new species for my 2015 Year list. Baltimore Orioles, Clay-coloured Sparrows, Brown Thrashers, and nesting Western Kingbirds . Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Chipping Sparrows, Wilson's Snipe, Swainson's Hawk and American Pelican
Had I been here two weeks earlier I may have seen Whooping Cranes as they flew past my brother-in laws farm. He tells me the Fall is the best time to see them in the Last Mountain Lake area.He also tells me that spring arrived two weeks earlier and that something is changing with the prairie ecosystem that is worrying to him.

Tomorrow I continue my exploration of Saskatchewan and enter Manitoba to bird the Winnipeg area, something I am looking forward to as there have been large numbers of warblers arriving after a severe snowstorm.

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

Birding Calgary Alberta 'Little Big Year' Part 3

May13 2015 Calgary/Frank Lake and the sloughs south of Calgary.
 Overcast Windy 12c

Black-necked Stilt with Marbled Godwit
This was my first time birding in the Calgary area and with the help of Calgary birder David Lilly
we were able top notch up nearly fifty species including a lifer, the White-faced Ibis. David tells me the ibis started to visit the area only in the past decade and have returned each year since. We photographed them at Frank's Lake but they can also be found in many roadside sloughs, especially on the quieter backroads. There are also numerous places on BC where the ibis can also be photographed, those locations are posted on vanbcbirds and other BC forums.

White-faced Ibis showing iridescent wings at Frank Lake

There were plenty of other species in the area including the Franklin's Gull which I had only ever seen once before at White Rock.

Franklin's Gull. Frank Lake

There was quite a wind all day and many of the birds were in the air going about their business albeit somewhat erratically or so it seemed. The wind kept the mosquitos away, except in one spot out of the wind where within seconds I was bitten.

Long-billed Curlew.


Marbled Godwit.

Swainson's Hawk.
Forster's Tern. Frank Lake
Spotted Sandpiper Roadside Slough.

Marsh Wren Frank Lake

Some of the more interesting birds seen on our day out including 21 new birds for my 2015 year list 

Wilson's Phalarope*
Mourning Dove*
Black-necked stilt*
Marbled Godwit*

Forster's Tern*

Common Tern*
Eared Grebe*
White-Faced Ibis*
Franklin's Gull*
American White Pelican*
Blue-winged Teal*
Ruddy Duck*
American Avocet*
Spotted Sandpiper*
Semi-Palmated Sandpiper*
Swainson's Hawk*
Bank Swallow*
Common Crackle*
Stilt Sandpiper*
Short-billed Dowitcher*

2015 year List (170 Canadian species to date)
* New year birds

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Catching Up

May 6 2015 Various Lower Mainland Locations Sunny and Warm

It has been a whirlwind of a week. I landed up in emergency Saturday morning after I fell and jammed my hand, hence the lack of blogging. I finally managed to drive again and spent a few hours out shooting both the lightweight Nikon P900 and the heavier Tamron 150mm-600mm. I still can't carry the Nikon 500mm, tripod and camera body.
Here are pix from these two systems and brief explanation to how they came about.
Brewer's Blackbird

All three pictures were taken from my car on the same heap of manure pile at the side of 184 St and 8th Ave. The pungent smell was one thing, worst the wind was coming toward me filling my car with a pungent aroma, as soon as the flies started to arrive it was time to go. The things us birders have to put up with, if it isn't a sewage pond or garbage dump it's a manure pile!
It was also late in the morning the sun was high and the lighting dreadful but I was just happy to get out of my chair and get birding again after my minor mishap. I shot these with a beanbag to hold the camera and lens steady with the Tamron 150mm-600mm. 
I have had the lens a year now and I am still enjoying it mainly due to the opportunities it has given me to capture images I might not have been able to. However is you are using the Nikon 300mm F4 with a 1.4 or 1.7 converter much the same results can be achieved except for there is no VR. Nikon have just released a super sharp 300 F4 which has VR and can be paired with the above converters which may give sharper results, albeit at a cost. Saying that, check out my blog with the Lapland Longspurs a few weeks ago and you'll see the Tamron under good light is very capable and a less expensive solution.
For example I took the Tamron to the UK for a month in Jan 2015 (see Blog) and it worked fine, so much so that I never used the monopod I had packed.

Savannah Sparrow

Rufous Hummingbird Nikon P900 Brydon Lagoon

This blog should appear before the X country ramble, I just realized I had forgotten to post it.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale

X Canada 'Little Big Year' Part 1 and 2

May 11 2015 Salmon Arm Day 1 Sunny 12c

The first leg of my X country trip began May 12 in Cloverdale BC. Instead of birding the Okanagan I was anxious to get on with my journey so I headed straight for Salmon Arm, a six hour drive away where I would spent my first night. I arrived in the afternoon to a blustery day and lousy light. Next morning at the pier a single Dunlin fed on the foreshore while a Beaver dove down for plant material, only re-surfacing to chew on his meal.

Beaver feeding on tubers.
The morning light reflected off the the water made a fine backdrop for a Western Grebe. Last year when I visited the grebes were dancing and the water much higher due to the snow melt. This year the melt is yet to come and the dancing grounds were bone dry. Looking around I don't see much snow on the mountains and with the fire season around the corner I wonder if we are in for a very dry summer. Without the grebe dancing shots I decided to 'Monet' the bird, so colourful were the colours reflected in the water.

Western Grebe a la Monet
Next up was one of the nesting pair of Osprey that frequent the pier area. The pair have one chick which appears to be about the same size as the adults.

An Osprey scopes the water waiting for an unwary quarry.

It was time to move on and head over the Rocky Mountains, a true test of my underpowered VW Westfalia.

May 12 2015 Rocky Mountains Sunny 12c
Elk beside the road near Banff.

Climbing through the Rockies I decided to visit Lake Louise to do the tourist thing, as I have been there a number of times before I am not too sure why I wanted to see it again, maybe it would be different in springtime,. This time the lake was partially frozen. A Clarke's Nutcracker made most of the tourists picnic leftovers and the busload of Brits from Manchester stood open mouthed as they stared at the glacier and took their requisite photos. 

Sulphur Mountain 2451metres Banff .

The area where I will bird for the next two weeks before making my way to Winnipeg and beyond.

Some of the species found in the watershed flowing from the Rockies.
Clarke's Nutcracker shot with a 17mm-55mm at 50mm. I was shooting a scenic and left my telephoto in the van.

Lake Louise still partially frozen in mid May.

As I leave BC my 2015 BC year list is 155 Species. I will continue toad new species as I travel eastward for a Canada list.
"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Queen Elizabeth Park Fallout

April 26 2015 Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver BC Canada. Sunny and warm 16c

I had read about 'Fallouts' but had never actually witnessed the phenomenon. That changed Monday, what an unforgettable sight. Two years ago I watched birds arriving on the tip of Point Pelee but that was quite different to the scene at Queen Elizabeth Park. The highest point in Vancouver City, the former quarry and now a park resplendent in not only flowers, shrubs and ornamental trees but birdlife too. The park is an oasis of calm. I often see people just sitting, meditating or and doing nothing, an increasingly rare sight these days.

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
The Bushtits were extra busy collecting insects and caterpillars especially as the new influx of warblers seemed to transform the park in a veritable hive of activity.

The Hutton's was lifer for me. I had been searching for one on my last few visits to the park. I thought I could hear a vireo singing so I played a song for 30 secs and within moments this curious Hutton's came out to see what the bother was all about.
(fig1) Hutton's Vireo (Vireo atricapillus) 

The prolonged playing of calls at this time of year should be done with great caution so as not to bring attention to a bird's nest or its whereabouts. Crows and Sharp-shinned Hawks are always on the prowl for an easy meal.

 (fig 2) Hutton's Vireo
In photo composition and in the West we read from left to right so we are programmed in a way to look at images that way. In the above picture (fig 2) the bird is looking from right to left. The first Hutton's (fig1) the birds is looking from left to right.
Which of the two Hutton Vireos images do you think is easier on your eye. Please let me know.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)
Such an accommodating bird, the Orange Crowned Warbler seems more comfortable with human activity than many of the other warblers except perhaps the Yellow-rumped. Orange-crowned Warblers nest in the Lower Mainland and beyond and are one of the true harbingers of springtime.
Townsend's Warbler
Use selective focus (above) when you can't get a clear view of the subject. This was common problem during the QE warbler fallout as many of the birds fed under the canopy of the trees. The technique is not always successful but worth the effort. When shooting through the leaves use a wide open aperture like F4 or F5.6 which still enables a shot to be taken like the one above. One advantage is that it often shows more of the environment as photographers often zoom in too close loosing all sense of place. I'm an expert at that!
Later and this is where the thinking cap comes in, a photograph hopefully contains some behavioural traits, what a radical concept that is! Perhaps a bird eating, diving, soaring, or mating. Sometimes an incredible image might show 90 environment and 10 percent bird. Of course this takes an even amount skill, time, patience and quite a bit of luck.

Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi)

Note the ragged leaves of the cherry tree where a green caterpillar hatch made a perfect hunting ground for the flock of warblers travelling through the park.

Female Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Audubon)
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is one of the most common warblers seen in the Lower Mainland, some overwinter here. They have the ability to change their diet from insects to seeds as the seasons change.

Yellow-Dumped Warbler (Myrtle)

Other birds noted were the Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Solitaire, Wilson's Warbler, Nashville Warbler and Warbling Vireo, all were busily feeding after their long journey.
Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Odds and Sods/April Birding

April has been a bit of a whirlwind so getting down to some birding and blogging has been difficult. Needless to say I have been around and about visiting Boundary Bay, Iona, Burnaby Mountain, Brydon Lagoon, Maplewood Flats and Squamish Estuary. The last two produced no photographs but not every outing produces, besides I was doing babysitting duty close to the latter, a good excuse to bird further afield.

First up is a shot from a week or two ago. I had hoped to photograph owls at dusk but it became too dark. On the way back to the car I saw this Great Blue Heron hunting in a ditch. It was quite dark but the soft light sky reflecting onto the water made for the perfect silhouette. At least I had something to show for my efforts.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)


A few days later I visited Iona Sewage Treatment plant. Only birders would willingly spent hours scouring the stinky ponds for a rare sandpiper or duck. The odours are soon forgotten when a Wilson's Snipe is spotted then a Least Sandpiper.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolour)

                                                     A Tree Swallow takes a break from hunting insects. 


One of the most difficult sandpipers to differentiate are the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Seen together there are obvious differences but separately confusion can arise.

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

A pair of Lesser Yellowlegs.

The Lesser Yellowlegs (foreground) is easily differentiated from the larger Greater Yellowlegs when seen together.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Getting Soaked/Grant Narrows Walk

April 24 2015 Grant Narrows. Rain and More Rain 10c

The road to Grant Narrows and Catbird Slough
A very wet Sandhill Crane at Catbird Slough.
Finally the crane (Grus canadenis) flew off 

We made our way along the trail to the first lookout. Because of the wind, few birds were showing. The most evident species were the Rufous Hummingbirds. All went well until the surrounding mountains began to disappear behind huge rain cloud. The sky looked ominous so we thought it prudent to take shelter. We waited for the rain to abate but it never did. Not the greatest for birding but we did see a Merlin hunting, tree swallows swooping for insects and an amazing duel between an Osprey and a Bald Eagle, the latter making the fish hawk drop its catch. It rained so much I couldn't get out my Tamron for fear of drowning it so I took a very quick took a shot with my new 'pocket' camera, the P900. The Varied Thrush shot below is the result.

Female Varied Thrush (Ixoreus navies) shot with Nikon P900
All others Tamron 150mm-600mm

Species Count
White crowned Sparrow     Red winged Blackbird     Varied Thrush     Spotted Towhee     Rufus Hummingbird 

Tree Swallow     Common Yellow-Throat    Song Sparrow    Purple Finch     Black-capped Chickadee     Flycatcher ?

Bewick's Wren {HEARD ONLY}    Dark-eyed Junco      Green Winged Teal     Bald Eagle     American Wigeon     Merlin    

Ruby -crowned Kinglet     Osprey     Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon) Scaup     Norther Flicker     Anna's Hummingbird

Fox Sparrow     Sandhill Crane     Canada Goose     American Robin    Cooper Hawk    Great Blue Heron    Mallard

White-crowned Sparrow      Orange crowed Warbler Greater Yellowlegs

Despite the torrential rain and the ensuing cold everyone seemed to have a good time proving that a little rain never deters "Wet Coasters" from enjoying our birding.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada