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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Birding Boundary Bay

Jan 21-25 2015 72nd Ave Boundary Bay, Delta BC.  Sunny/Variable cloudst 7c

Who would have thought that one of the most majestic of all birds would take up winter residence in the Lower Mainland's Boundary Bay. Birders normally get just a fleeting glance. This bird is different, it has stayed around for weeks and is easily observed from a number of accessible vantage points.


Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

With a wingspan of 80-90 inches or over two metres, the Golden Eagle will hunt over a vast area. The 72nd Ave bird has been seen to fly away until it disappears far into the distance, only to re-appear a few minutes later. It has been seen heading toward Blackie Spit, Point Roberts and River Road. Some birds have been documented to fly as much as twenty five miles to hunt. The Delta bird tends to stay close to a plentiful supply of ducks on 72nd Ave. Watching it boss around the Bald Eagles is quite interesting.

Unlike the beleaguered Long-eared Owl which seeks a quiet place to roost during the day, the Golden Eagle hunts and roosts well away from people. 
This is my third attempt to photograph it and I am beginning to get a better angle each time and perhaps with a little more perseverance and luck I might get a sharper image without having to crop so much. This is one time when a D800 with its 36.3 million pixel count would have allowed me a finer shot. However, I won't be loosing any sleep over it. Anyway, time to leave the eagle and look for some sparrows.


                                                                                 ***

A little way along the dyke a small flock of American Tree Sparrows were feeding in the bushes and shrubs. There were some stunted alders and Paper Birch as well Himalayan Blackberries for the birds to feed and find shelter from marauding Northern Harriers. 

American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea)

The tree sparrows were feeding on the seeds, the long catkin is from a Paper Birch. I may be wrong with my plants, so if anyone can correct me please feel free to shame online or have me sent to a Russian Gulag.


The American Tree Sparrows were soon joined by four Lincoln Sparrows, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, numerous Black-capped Chickadees and a curious Marsh Wren.
By the end of the afternoon and with the sun sliding below Point Roberts it was time to head home.

The day added three new species to my 2015 Canadian list which now stand at 83 species. It's my very first list, one photographer I know quite well rolled his eyes when he heard I was listing. I had a good chuckle with him, something about being addicted to birding! Ask me my total species and I couldn't tell you. I'l let you know at the end of the year when I have finished my cross Canada trek.
Boundary Bay in winter is home to 50,000 Dunlin, numerous species of sandpipers and thousands of waterfowl. Northern Pintail, Mallard, American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal being present in large numbers.

Same shot cropped to give a closer view of Dunlin and black-belied Plovers.


"It's never to late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale









Friday, January 23, 2015

No Magic at Owl Twitches

Jan 20 2015 Chilliwack Sunny 7c

The recent activity/controversy surrounding the chasing of Northern Pygmy Owls in Chilliwack has really got me thinking. I was an angler most of my life, first in the UK and then in Canada. I fished for recreation and later to feed my family as we drove from the Canada's East Coast. Finally we settled on Vancouver Island. I continued to fish until about a decade ago when loutish riverbank behaviour signalled a time to leave the sport I dearly loved. I saw birding as an alternative way to get outdoors enjoys the countryside and leave gentler human footprint.
I don't want to come off as being holier than thou but I didn't really like what I saw at the Northern Pygmy Owl twitch in Chilliwack recently.
I first visited ten days ago with fellow photographer Raymond Ng, we never did find the owls but we lucked out when we happened upon a flock of over one hundred Evening Grosbeak.
My second visit was with with photographer Peter, birder Floyd and 'Birder Girl' Mel. We stayed on the logging road overlooking the the clearcut where the birds sometimes feed. After two hours of waiting two owls arrived and about a dozen of us photographed and observed them hunting. They were very close. It was a sublime, watching the tiny owls flying along the roadside hunting voles at close range..just brilliant!
During breaks in the action there was the usual banter about adventures and sightings. All good fun and to top it all off the sun was shining, it was warm and everyone got some great pictures. For many the owl were a lifer. It was a great days birding.

Ptarmigan can be found around the snow line but you'll need to hike up. The owls hunt the open cut blocks and cache their prey in the forest below. We saw one owl catch a vole then fly into the woods and come out moments later to continue hunting.
On my third visit I returned to find perhaps twenty photographers and a lesser number of birders. The word had now got out to a wider audience.
This time the owls were being pursued by a small group of photographers with their long lens. Most kept to the road but one photographer in particular would try to get closer and closer until the bird would fly off to another perch. He continued to rush the bird, banging his silver video tripod into the bush, we could hear it from a hundred metres away. Like lemmings another photographer followed and the same happened perhaps over a dozen times until the bird flew off in the forest. They continued to pursue it, finally giving up when the bird had enough and gave them the slip.
Meanwhile my guests who had driven me up there with their three year old grandaughter waited patiently for the bird to come up to the main logging road so they could see it. Meanwhile we enjoyed the sunshine peeking through the clouds and the ravens flying overhead.

Common  Raven
Back down in the clearcut most of the photographers kept to the roadway respecting the owls hunting territory but yet again a few of the clueless began leaving the road and walking into the brush to get closer looks. By now any unsuspecting vole would have long fled. I thought to myself don't they know the owls hunt by surprising their prey! Anyway it was almost sunset and three hours later when most everyone had left for the day that an owl visited us on the upper logging road. The 'sweet light' had just made an appearance and we were blessed to have the owl all to ourselves.
The three year old finally got to see her owl and it wasn't long before we were back on the road and the munchkin was tucked into her car seat and fast asleep. On the way home I began wondering whether some of the magic had gone out the days birding.
                                                                               
  ****

 On Long-eared Owls

There has also been a heated discussion on vanbcbirds about the Long-eared Owls on Boundary Bay and people getting too close. That discussion has been going on as long as I have birded.
My suggestion is that if someone finds an owl share the information carefully and refrain from posting a exact location online. There is a certain amount of ego involved in posting great images and sharing them, I have done it myself in this blog, on my website and on social media but in the end we should stand back and do what is best for the birds.
Anyway that's my rant for the day.



For a discussion on owls see below.





                 More on the Boundary Bay Long-eared Owls 
by
 Guy L.Monty

It should also be kept in mind that flushing is only one aspect of this. Other potential issues include roost abandonment, predator detection, and disturbance.



Owls are more prone to roost abandonment than are most other species. In essence, when they perceive that they have been detected by a potential threat, they may decide to search out another roost site when they become active again, even if flushing does not take place. Searching for an alternative roost site can be costly energetically and result in less favorable roost sites being chosen in areas with little natural habitat remaining.



Predators, be they avian or mammalian (this includes other humans), pay attention to what humans are doing. Day roosting owls are preyed upon by Peregrines, raccoons, etc. They are also in danger of being injured by humans who for some reason enjoy throwing rocks, shooting paint balls, BB guns, etc at birds. Showing inordinate interest in owls in a public place very definitely raises the risk that the bird may later be at risk from humans who would likely otherwise not have detected them, and there is the potential for predators to detect the owl.



Negative disturbance without flushing is a reality that very definitely exists, but is extremely difficult to quantify. It would seem to be the number one issue to be aware of when dealing with owls in an urban environment. It is apparent from reading these posts that some believe that if they do not flush a bird, they have done no harm. This isn't always true. Not biologically true. Not ethically true. Not legally true. Disturbance is disturbance. I have noted the great number of photos of Long-eared Owls from Boundary Bay with their eyes open staring at the photographer, posted around websites in BC this winter. Its difficult to claim that you haven't disturbed a bird if it is awake and paying attention to you during a period in which it should be sleeping.  As I stated previously, negative disturbance is very hard to quantify. However, cumulative disturbance becomes fairly obvious, when groups of people are pointing anything at a day roosting owl, and doing their utmost to make sure the bird opens its eyes and looks at them. While one person causing a five minute disturbance might not be a problem, 25 people each causing a 5 minute disturbance might be. A near continual presence by interested humans all day every day, can be a disaster for a creature in need of rest. I cannot stress enough how important context is when dealing with disturbance. The actions of a single human in a wilderness setting, are never the concern that one persons actions are in an urban environment.



I am in no way pointing fingers at any person or group with this post. I am merely providing scientifically sound information which people may not have considered. I hope that everyone keeps the health and "happiness" of birds in the forefront of every interaction they have with birds, wherever they are. And if you are in an area of dense human habitation, please keep in mind that your actions are magnified greatly by the actions of your peers.



all the best,



Guy L. Monty

Nanoose bay, Vancouver Island, BC



Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium gnome)


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Langley/Cloverdale










Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Few Hours at Boundary Bay

Jan 19 2014 72nd Ave Boundary Bay Sunny 11c

I spent the morning and early afternoon conducting a one on one photography course in White Rock. It was gratifying to see someone find their creative side and begin to explore the possibilities that digital photography can offer. 
There were still a few hours of daylight left so I headed down to nearby 72nd Ave to see the Golden Eagle. I needed it for my year list which now stands at 81 species for 2015. To keep things simple I'm only counting birds within Canada. I've even acquired a scope which I put into good use yesterday to get close up views of the Golden Eagle at sunset. I've even started scoping flock of gulls, slowly but surely I have been completely sucked into the birding bug!
Watching such a magnificent bird through a quality scope was magical. Free of the restraints of camera and lens, the experience was quite different from what I am used to. I could study the golden nape, the intricate feathers, and chattering call, the sheer power and mystical quality of the bird was jaw dropping. I tried unsuccessfully to digicope, looking at the results i'll need a lot, lot more practice.
Red-tailed Hawk 
Meanwhile while waiting for the 'Sweet Light' this light phase Red-tailed Hawk flew reasonably close. I took my Tamron 150mm-600mm so I could handhold and give my tennis elbow injury a rest. My doctor told me not to carry a big lens and tripod for six more weeks. Who would have thought i'd get injured photographing birds!
Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos)

This looks like a second year bird as it flies into a favoured perch, a Lombardi Popular tree. It spends its day hunting ducks, harassing Bald Eagles and delighting scores of photographers who if they stay any longer will have to change their postal code.



Yarrow and sunset.
The sun sets over the horizon after another perfect day in paradise.

"It's never too late to start birding"


John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale


Friday, January 16, 2015

Four Days/One Blog

Jan 12-14 2014 

Day 1. 112th and  Hornby Drive Delta.  Foggy 6c.

It wasn't the best of weather but I had the next three days free. What's a person to do? Suddenly my bird brain hatched a cunning plan, why not go birding!
First stop was nearby 112th and Hornby Drive. I am not too sure what it is about this location but there always seems to be something interesting. Last year I photographed an escapee budgerigar flying with a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. There is a very photogenic resident leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove. It has been hanging around for months and much photographed. This is my second attempt to get a portrait, at least there is some contrast to play with this time, in my previous shot the bird was on a wire against a grey sky.

Leucistic Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
Another reason to visit the farm at the corner of 112th was the report by Melissa and Liron (two of the best young birders this side of the Rockies) of a hybrid White and Golden-crowned Sparrow. A real oddity. Although I saw the bird briefly I was unable to snag a pic. Next time perhaps, I did however get to see the Rusty Blackbird for my 70th species of the year.

Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus)
Rusty Blackbird (centre) feeds amongst a mix of Brewer's, Red-winged Blackbirds and European House Sparrows
I spent the rest of the day photographing Yellow-rumped Warblers and a flock of six American Tree Sparrows.


Day 2 Alaksan and Reifel: Foggy, Overcast and Sunny Breaks

Another foggy day, it was grey and the light was flat. I hadn't walked very far when a small flock of sparrows flashed by. One of them was whiter than the rest and a dead give-away, it was the Harris's Sparrow, a bird that has attracted many photographers, myself included. I hadn't yet managed a shot of the bird on a branch, all my shots were of the bird feeding on the ground. This time I managed a different pose.

Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

Finally the sun came out so I made my way to nearby Alaksen National Wildlife Area
At the parking lot I heard a bird calling from the bushes, it turned out to be a Bewick's Wren.

Bewick's Wren (Thryomaners bewickii)
 The sun had begun to peek through the fog bathing the bird in afternoon sun. Finally it came out of the thickets to continue feeding before a passing car scared it away.



Hermit Thrush (Catharus guttatus)
On the way out I photographed this Hermit Thrush from the car window.
I had two more species to add to my year list. The fog by this time had enveloped what little sun there had been. Time to head home.


Day 3 Jan 14 2015 Elk View Rd Chilliwack. Sunny 8c.


It was my second attempt to find the Northern Pygmy Owl but with the help of Mel, Peter and Floyd we were successful. Not only did we find the owl we found two. One male and one female. We weren't alone, there was a mini twitch going on as the news spread and the bird's location spread across the interweb. The birds for their part seemed completely unperturbed by the whole circus going on around them.



I composed this shot in the camera. With a little cropping I bisected the frames to aid the composition.
Careful consideration went into the background. Even with lots of forethought I still wasn't able to frame a shot with owls and forest that made any sense. Either the owl was way too small so I went for this composition as my favourite of this series.

This quick snap shot (1 of 3 frames) picture taken with a $300 Canon SX50HS.
All others taken with slightly more expensive Nikon 500mm F4!
The blown out details I think has a lot to do with the file processing.

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnome)
The Pacific race of the Northern Pygmy Owl are more reddish than
their interior cousins. I used backlighting and exposed for the bird.


Disclaimer: All owl pictures taken from the road. No birds were pushed, coralled or harassed. While it might be important to get a good photo, please let these birds feed in peace. Trampling over their hunting territory not only disrupts their feeding regime but scares away prey. The owls rely on unsuspecting voles and other creatures so when a dozen or so photographers are clambering through brush up to their waists just get a little nearer it makes the owls life that much more difficult.

Remember it was a birder who first let us know about these beautiful birds, he was there this week and wishing he had kept the location secret. Most probably there are many other birds out there that the finder(s) won't want to share and for good reasons.




Day 4 Jan 16/14 Blackie Spit Sunny (it was forecast to rain ) and 12c

I hadn't meant to go birding today but I was conducting a one on one photography class at Blackie Spit. During the session this Ruby-crowned Kinglet popped into a tree beside me. It was hawking insects. I used my Tamron 150mm-600mm with the lightweight Nikon D7100.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)


All the other pictures were taken with the Nikon 500mm F4 with the D7100 or D3s.


It was a full week and a welcome break from the hectic pace of the 'real world' I'm sure after a few days rest it will be time to head out again, until then..it's never too late to start birding!

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale





Saturday, January 10, 2015

One Hundred Plus

Jan 9 2015 Eagle View Rd, Chiliwack Fraser Valley BC

A flock of approximately one hundred Evening Grosbeaks feeding beside a busy country road. It was a most unexpected and welcome find.


A female Evening Grosbeak feeds on the road. There appeared to be many more males than females.

It was by far the largest congregation of the colourful and North America's largest finch I have ever seen, a real treat to witness. The flock was quite high up and far away but periodically thirty birds or so birds would fly down to the roadside to feed. No sooner had they arrived a passing car would scatter the flock back to the overhanging alders.
Male Evening Grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
I worked hard in composing this shot. The alder catkins on the left of the image fill the frame without touching the edges, the background could be darker but I had no control of that. The bird's head is between two branches, one in the foreground and the other out of focus and behind. I achieved this by simply moving the camera a few inches to the left.
At first we thought they were picking up grit but looking at the files back home some of the birds appear to have been feeding on some type of long-legged beetle/cricket type insect. It was warm enough for a hatch as could be seen by the amount of insects in the air, a by-product perhaps of the recent inversion that had cloaked the Lower Mainland.

Female Evening Grosbeak
The flock continued to feed, only flying off when a passing vehicle came past. How there weren't any avian causalities I will never know.


"It's never to late to start birding"

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale

Friday, January 9, 2015

Burnaby Mountain Grosbeaks

Jan 8 2015 Burnaby Mountain Sunny 6c

As mentioned in my last blog I was so carried away with composing clean uncluttered images of the colourful male Pine Grosbeaks I totally forgot the female of the species.
Ironically, ignoring the female species is something my wife kindly reminds me of when I return from one of my extended birding trips!
With the Lower Mainland fogged in I decided to return to Burnaby Mountain where at least there would be blue skies, sun and warmth.
When I arrived I was lucky enough to find the grosbeaks feeding on cherry buds. The Rose Garden was almost deserted, except for one young birder sketching and enjoying the tranquility. An hour later a dozen photographers and birders were on the scene by which time the birder/artist had long departed!
The Pine Grosbeaks are easy to find near the Horizons Restaurant and seemed to have no fear of humans, just respect their space and they'll reward you with excellent views.


Male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)
This one came down to drink and take in grit and water at the Rose Garden. 
When I returned home I found I had shot 267 files, I quickly edited it down to 57. There were issues including distracting backgrounds, branches behind the bird's head or too bright a sky or out of focus foliage. Even though I tried not to press the shutter until I had a clearly composed shot, emotions took over and I landed up with 210 useless shots which have now been dispatched to the trash.



Some thoughts on Composition
When I started photographing birds a record shot was mandatory, later as I learnt a little more about bird lore, a close-up shot would be the goal. None of those early images show any kind of habitat and if they did it was as a second thought. These days I am trying to include more habitat within the frame as well as a clean background. Not as easy as it sounds. I have tried hard to compose better images with this second round of Pine Grosbeak images.


Female Pine Grosbeak in an "active pose" in my opinion a step up from the 'bird on the stick' pose.
There is tension in the bird's pose

First year male showing rump and uppertail coverts.

Female Pine Grosbeak.
Like the picture below I looked for a clean background amongst the tangle of branches the cherry trees provided. The hope is to separate the bird from the background allowing the viewer to enjoys the bird's physical characteristics.

                                                             
Male Pine Grosbeak.
In this composition above I tried to combine the simplicity of primary reds and blues. I waited for the bird to move along the branch until it entered a space, creating a frame within a frame. Note the foreground and background branch. A touch of blue sky and the pinkish red plumage compliment each other. This was one of five shots before the bird flew off. The open beak with cherry bud capped off the composition. 



So what make a good image ?
1. Impact: Does the image have wow factor, does it evoke some emotional connection?
2. Story-telling: Does the image tell you anything about the subject.
3. Technical stuff : Exposure, Composition.
and
of course

sense of humour!

See Ya!



It's never too late to start birding

John Gordon
Langley/Cloverdale