Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Birding Peace River

June 11-13 Dawson Creek and 
Fort St John Area. 
British Columbia

The Peace River region is somewhere I had always wanted to visit. Situated in the northern part of British Columbia, the Peace is a three thousand kilometre round trip journey from Vancouver.
Three days of hard core birding were slated for June 11-13 following the BCFO convention in Tumbler Ridge.

Twenty birders were split into 2 groups. Mark Phinney and Brian Paterson were group leaders.
Based in Dawson Creek and led by Brian our group visited numerous birding hotspots including Swan Lake, Road 201 and McQueens's Slough. Day 2 saw us visit Fort St John where we birded Beaton Park and Boundary Lake, Watson Slough as well as spots in-between.

Here are some of the results:

White-breasted Nuthatch
Like the Blue Jay below this bird came to the bird feeder at Mark Phinney's home where the group were treated to freshly baked cookies. How's that for service! 
A very wet Blue Jay at Mark Phinney's feeder. 
Rose-breasted grosbeak.
Many of these birds were singing from distant tree tops.

 Below is an interesting view of a Western Tanager as seen through what would be the equivalent of 12x bins. Later in the trip I was able to get tanager close-ups when photographing on my own.

Western Tanager

Common Grackle.
CA-BC-4909-4927 Old Hart Hwy (55.7388,-120.5445), Peace River, British Columbia, CA

Jun 11, 2017 3:51 PM - 4:06 PM

Protocol: Stationary

11 species

Hairy Woodpecker  1

Blue Jay  1

Black-capped Chickadee  1

White-breasted Nuthatch  1

Dark-eyed Junco  2

Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2
Red-winged Blackbird  3
Common Grackle  5
Purple Finch  3
Pine Siskin  1
Evening Grosbeak  2

Eastern Kingbird

CA-BC-Peace River D (55.7084,-120.4761), Peace River, British Columbia, CA

Jun 11, 2017 5:48 PM - 5:53 PM

Protocol: Stationary

4 species

Olive-sided Flycatcher  1

Eastern Kingbird  1

Le Conte's Sparrow  1

Savannah Sparrow  1
Le Conte's Sparrow
The Le Conte's Sparrow was a target bird for many in the group and thanks to our group leaders everyone had great views. These birds prefer undisturbed wet fields. On reflection I would have preferred to have photographed the bird from more of a side angle but I didn't want to risk flushing it before everyone had had a good view. Thanks to Brian Paterson for getting us on the bird.

Solitary Sandpiper.
The numerous beaver ponds throughout the area attract waterfowl and birds like the Solitary Sandpiper which uses abandoned songbird nests in which to lay their eggs and raise their young.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Some of the best information I came away with from the group leaders was how to "read" the forest floor. While some birds might require the forest covered in wildflowers (vireos and warbles) other birds like the Ovenbird prefer open forest floor with little foliage. Knowledge like this helps the birder zone in on target species.
Swainson's Thrush

Eastern Phoebe
This bird was nesting as many phoebe's do inside a farm building. It has just caught a skipper type butterfly.

Some birds we saw:
Thanks to George Clulow for keeping the count.

Beatton Provincial Park, Peace River, British Columbia, CA
Jun 12, 2017 6:48 AM - 8:58 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.66 kilometer(s)
27 species

Osprey  1
Bald Eagle  1
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  4
Olive-sided Flycatcher  2
Least Flycatcher  15
Philadelphia Vireo  1
Warbling Vireo  3
Red-eyed Vireo  2
American Crow  1
Common Raven  1
Black-capped Chickadee  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  1
Winter Wren  1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Swainson's Thrush  7
American Robin  3
Cedar Waxwing  1
Ovenbird  3
Black-and-white Warbler  2
American Redstart  6
Yellow Warbler  5
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Canada Warbler  3
White-throated Sparrow  4
Western Tanager  1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  4
To be cont.. 

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

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Birding Tumbler Ridge

June 10 2017 Tumbler Ridge Brassey Creek BC.

Birding with birders can be a most interesting experience. Normally I photograph on my own or car-pool with another photographer. We might spend a morning or sometimes all day stalking one species. Sometimes we come up blank, other days we capture something that makes the outing really worthwhile.

The advantages of joining a birding group are many. The first is you'll see a lot more species, sometimes over a hundred species in a single day. A group led by an experienced leader with local knowledge is the key to finding difficult species. Our group leader in Tumbler Ridge was renowned birder Mark Phinney. His specialized knowledge led us to a number eastern species not normally found in BC. A second group was led by Brian Paterson, another excellent birder. Brian would eventually lead the post extension trip I was to join but that's another story.

We had two mornings of birding before the business part of British Columbia Federation of Ornithologists (BCFO) annual conference. There were a number of trips arranged and I chose the Brassey Creek option. Brassey creek is a forty minute drive north off Tumbler Ridge. When we arrived it looked just like any other areas we had just driven by. Obviously Mark had scouted out the location and was able to pinpoint a number of species before many of us could even see them. Our first stop was a gravel pit where we soon found several Wilson's Snipe, Lincoln's Sparrows and a Townsend's Solitaire.

Townsend's Solitaire.

It was at Brassey Creek Rd that many of us got our first lifer of the trip. Mark took us into the forest of aspen and fir, the understory he explained would be ideal for vireos and warblers.
Soon enough Mark has us on a Philadelphia Vireo, a lifer for me and many in the party.

Philadelphia Vireo.

The more time we spent in the forest the more birds we found. Don't even mention the mosquitos which were soon forgotten when a Black and White Warbler gave us fleeting views before disappearing off into the canopy. 

Black and White Warbler.

Another bird we saw from a distance was the blue-heard Vireo, not a lifer for me but a BC bird all the same. If I was to return to the area I think a week or two earlier when there would be less foliage.

Blue-Headed Vireo.

Thanks to Mark our group was now getting some really good birds. As you can imagine a group of ten can make quite a lot of noise. It always amazes me how when arriving on location birders are great slammers of car doors. I also wonder why some birders don white shirts and hats and bright red anoraks. Don't me wrong I know how ridiculous some photographers can look dressed up in camo but white!


A long distance shot the Ovenbird, another of those eastern species found in Peace River region and nowhere else in BC. Possibly because of the size of the group we were never able to get very close to any of the birds which was fine with me and everyone seemed to be more than happy as long as they had a good views. 

Tennessee Warbler.
Once I have photographed a species a few times I start looking for opportunities that display different  behavoir patterns like this Tennessee Warbler gleaning a caterpillar. 

This bird is obviously distracted by a dozen sets of eyes, it remained long enough for a few frames.

White-throated Sparrow.
The blue skies and warmth of Saturday were replaced by torrential rain Sunday. Despite that we still went out but the inclement meant the birding wasn't as good but that's how it goes sometimes.
Overall the convention was a great success, great company, and new contacts made, two lifers in the bag and the added excitement of leaving for Dawson Creek for four more days of hardcore birding.
A birder's dream!

Below are a some of the Tumbler Ridge sightings.

Fish Creek Community Forest, Peace River, British Columbia, CA

Jun 12, 2017 9:46 AM - 10:51 AM

Protocol: Traveling
1.88 kilometer(s)
19 species (+1 other taxa)

Canada Goose  1

Hairy Woodpecker  1
Olive-sided Flycatcher  3
Western Wood-Pewee  2
Blue-headed Vireo  1
Warbling Vireo  2
Red-breasted Nuthatch  2
Brown Creeper  1
Golden-crowned Kinglet  2
Ruby-crowned Kinglet  1
Swainson's Thrush  5
American Robin  4
Cedar Waxwing  1
Ovenbird  1
Yellow-rumped Warbler  4
Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)  2
Dark-eyed Junco  5
Lincoln's Sparrow  1
Western Tanager  2
Brown-headed Cowbird  1


Swan Lake, Tupper--Road 201 south, Peace River, British Columbia, CA
Jun 13, 2017 6:39 AM - 9:12 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.4 kilometer(s)
18 species

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker  2
Western Wood-Pewee  1
Least Flycatcher  6
Philadelphia Vireo  2
Warbling Vireo  7
Red-eyed Vireo  1
Swainson's Thrush  3
American Robin  2
Tennessee Warbler  1
Mourning Warbler  3
American Redstart  8
Yellow Warbler  7
Blackpoll Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  1
Canada Warbler  3
Fox Sparrow  5
White-throated Sparrow  5
Rose-breasted Grosbeak  2

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Quesnel Birding

Quesnel British Columbia June 7-8 2017

My eventual destination Quesnel was an eight hour drive north from Vancouver. To break the journey  I stopped off at Williams Lake to rest, picnic and bird 

There were the usual suspects including the following

Finally it was time to leave for Quesnel where I was to meet up with other birders prior to the British Columbia Field Ornithologists (BCFO) AGM and conference in Tumbler Ridge. Two days of birding in Quesnel had been arranged with group leaders and local birding experts Adrian Leather and Brian Murlands. 
The Quesnel area has a good mix of birds and a variety of habitats to explore. We would not be disappointed. The itinerary included trips to the West Fraser Loop including visits to Soda Creek, Route 26 to Barkerville and Wells as well as the prolific bench lands on West Fraser Road.
Below are some of the birds to be found in the area. Our group, led by Brian Murlands ticked 116 species. 
Combined both groups spotted 129 species in two days. That's more than some of the five day BC Bird Breeding Atlas trips I had been on! 

We birded the road to Barkerville on Day 1 and Day 2 the West Fraser Rd which is across the river (see map) from Hwy 97 and south of Quesnel.

The first bird of the day was this merlin that was looking for an early morning breakfast.

Once some of us learnt to recognize the call of the American Redstart it was easy to locate them skulking in the bushes.

American Redstart.
The road to Barkerville offered up some choice birding locations. One of the best was the historic community of Stanley. It was here we found a good variety of flycatchers, thrushes, crossbills, grosbeaks and warblers. The highlight for many of us was the Tennessee Warbler which popped out of the shrubbery to give everyone a great look.

Tennessee Warbler. 

Another Stanley bird was the Swainson's Thrush which came out of the thick forest to see what all the fuss was about, namely 10 birders waddling around in gumboots and rain gear.

Swainson's Thrush


Photographing a bird in its habitat is usually no problem, most times the subject matter is so far way  that loads of background is inevitably included whether you want it or not.
Often the background is so cluttered with distractions that the resulting picture often ends up confusing to the viewer.
Perhaps this picture is a compromise and different enough from the close-up field guide pictures which most photographers are obsessed with. The snipe was a long way off so I had a chance to carefully plan the background by moving my original position. I'm not too sure if it works or not but as I have plenty of close-ups of Wilson's Snipe already I gave me the opportunity to try something different.
Wilson's Snipe and marshland.

The area around historic Stanley had numerous species of flycatcher including allow, alder and least.

As mentioned earlier, backgrounds are so important when photographing birds. There were other opportunities to photograph the species but I chose this one because of the dark background which I knew would set off the light coloured bird against the dark shadows in the background.

Least Flycatcher.

I really like the painterly quality of the image below. The pastel colours blend well with the bird's plumage.
A Song Sparrow carries an insect to the nest.

Northern Waterthrush
The road to Baskerville and Wells provided plenty of opportunity to photograph warblers including Blackpoll, Wilson's, Yellow, Tennessee and Northern Waterthrush.

Finally after ticking off over one hundred species and just as we were leaving for the day we bumped into Adrian Leather's group who had spotted a Spruce Grouse high up in a tree. The bird posed for us before moving to a better perch where it continued to feed on spruce buds about twenty metres from the ground.

Spruce Grouse.

This is what birders look like when they find a good bird. Some call it warbler neck others just get a pain in the neck.


Day 2

West Fraser Rd offers the opportunity for some great birding and exceptional scenery.

 Northern Mockingbird, a rarity for the area. 
One of the group (who wants to remain anonymous) spotted this Northern Mockingbird, a rarity for the area at the Dunn Levy Ranch, 5845 Soda Creek, MaCalister Rd, Mcleese Lake, BC.

Willow Flycatcher

The two days passed way too quickly. I plan to return to make some sound recordings as the West Fraser Road in particular is quiet.
 I would like to thank Brain and Adrian for hosting and herding the flock from place to place and to the BCFO who originally hatched the idea of two days birding prior to AGM and Conference.
Finally, I am already planning a return trip to the area later in the summer.
"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Really Good Chat

May31/2017 Bell Park, Brookswood Langley BC

Every once in a while a really good bird takes a wrong turn and lands close to home. Such was the case this week when Langley birder Cos van Wermeskerken found a Yellow-breasted Chat behind his home in Langley. He's one of the lucky ones whose property backs on to a municipal park. The Yellow-breasted chat is a very rare occurrence in the Lower Mainland and endangered in Canada where their numbers can be counted not in the thousands but in the hundreds. Their preferred wetland habitat has now been severely depleted. Normally the best place to see them in BC is the Okanagan Valley, especially Road 22 where some wetland habitat remains relatively untouched.

When Carlo and I arrived at Bell Park we were greeted by the raucous call of the chat. We still hadn't seen it by the time we hooked up with Mike K and Raymond. They had already seen the bird high up in the trees and for fifteen minutes it continued to give us only slightest of glimpses.
Un-cropped image

Eventually we were joined by Quentin, Floyd, Peter and Brett. Floyd was the first to spot the bird which had now come down to eye level, we couldn't believe our luck, not only did the bird choose a number of photogenic backgrounds it sang as well. We all the chance of some great stills and some amazing video.

Yellow-breasted Chat

We couldn't believe our luck, as we left we all had the widest smiles. We left the bird to forage in peace. No doubt there will be a steady procession of birders arriving soon.

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Langley Bird Brochure Published

Langley Field Naturalists bird brochure takes flight

Brochure features 54 birds that can be viewed in Langley, from owls to American Goldfinches
           Langley Times
        by Monique Tamminga
       All photos John Gordon

After lots of hard work, the Langley Field Naturalists are ready to launch a brand new bird brochure. The colourful brochure features images of 54 birds that can be viewed in our local surroundings.
From robins, owls and chickadees to hummingbirds and the American goldfinch, B.C. has many fine-feathered friends to see.
“It’s really exciting because the brochure features birds that you can find right here in Langley,” said LFN member Lilianne Fuller.
“We are putting the brochures in local schools first. 
“Why not start kids off early?

Nashville Warbler (Brydon Lagoon)

“Birding gets them outside in nature and becoming more aware of their surroundings. Birding can happen in nature and even from an apartment balcony.”
The brochure was made possible because of grants received from BC Nature, the BC Naturalists Foundation, the City of Langley and VanCity.
Though the brochure is appropriate for every age and expertise in birding, the club is focusing its efforts on Langley’s youth.
Because one of the grants was from the City of Langley, the Langley Field Naturalists are making the brochures available to Langley City’s elementary schools first

“Many young people are using every technological device available to further their understanding of birds.
“Many … are following through to university and studying the natural sciences,” said LFN member John Gordon, an avid birder and retired photojournalist whose blog can be found at
“I know several such young people; they never cease to amaze us. 
“They will be the guardians of the legacy left by those who fought so hard to preserve what’s left of natural spaces in the Lower Mainland. 
“Birding is a gateway hobby to a lifetime of learning, so if groups like the LFN can, through their Young Naturalists program, encourage youngsters to enjoy the outdoors, then that’s all good.”

                                Isabelle and Caroline Kovacs check out the new Langley bird guide.                        John Gordon Photo
As Gordon notes, “Birds are the proverbial canary in the coal mine. 
“When we see a 70 per cent decline in some species we also see a decline in insects like bees … that affects all of us.”
Birding is an ever increasingly popular hobby for all ages.
Many from LFN contributed photographs to the brochure, said Gordon.
In addition to distributing the brochure to schools, they will be made available at local libraries, recreation centres and at local community events. 
To request copies of the brochure, contact the club by email at or contact Lilianne Fuller at 604-533-0638.
Orange-crowned Warbler (Brydon Lagoon)
I have added my photos from Brydon Lagoon and trail system as the Langley Times just didn't have the space.

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

Brydon Lagoon Location #2

 May 30/2017

Location #2

 Brydon Lagoon

 Langley City BC Canada

When on assignment for the Langley Times I would often visit Brydon Lagoon. Sometimes, when it was a slow news day I would go down just to get some cute shot for the front page. No editor I ever worked for could resist a cute photo of a duckling or gosling. 
On one such occasion it was for a story about the gate keepers of the pond, the people who made sure the old water treatment pond eventually became a wildlife reserve and not just another faceless subdivision.
People like Anthea Farr and Rhys Griffiths and other members of The Langley Field Naturalists.

I shot this image at Brydon so I could add copy and images later.

Not exactly a Pulitzer Prize winning shot but....

Below is the photo page that eventually ran in the Langley Times and Sideroads, a monthly magazine published by Black Press which often allowed me a free-reign to run nature stories.

**Notice how I left negative space to include a title or more pictures. Often it is best to shoot both vertical and horizontal images for publication.

The Finished Product

The finished product made in ©InDesign and ©Photoshop

In those days I saw many species of birds at Brydon but I never gave a thought to their names or how they played an important role in the bio-diversity of the park.

The more I visited the more I learnt about the birds of Brydon. Not only is there a pond and  floodplain but several wooded areas and a salmon bearing creek. Coyotes, Beaver, Northern River Otter and Muskrat all make their homes there and can occasionally be seen early in the mornings.


I sometimes go for a walk and leave my DSLR at home. Instead I take my Nikon 24mm-2000mm P900 bridge camera just in case I find something interesting. A few days ago I was on my last circuit of the pond before making my way home when a Green Heron perched about fifty metres in front of me. It was getting dark so I set the camera on aperture priority and hoped that the bird wouldn't move too much. I shot it handheld at 2000mm. I squeezed the camera tightly, held my breath and pressed the shutter. Bingo!

Green Heron

Sometimes it feels good not to be laden down with ANY gear when all I really want to do is spend some time with the birds. I always feel a little 'naked' without some kind of recording device so I carry a 8 megapixel iPhone 5s in my pocket ...just in case. The phone comes in very useful for sound recording and the odd scenic that I include in my side presentations. 


The image below was taken moments later during the last light of the day. Unlike the picture above this one has a more an artistic feel to it, at least that's my humble opinion!
I pressed the shutter when the bird was motionless. I have at least twenty other images in which the heron was moving and all have motion blur.

The background is the sky's reflection while the other shot of the heron has trees reflected in the water.


Sometimes human intervention is needed to find birds at Brydon. One such day was May 19 when local birded Sue Dietlein (Coastal Observer) spotted a Lark Sparrow. The Lark Sparrow is more often associated with a drier climate.
I went down to Brydon in fading light with high hopes and managed to get this shot. Rather than crop too tightly I tried to leave a little of the dry grassy area the bird favoured, the same type of habitat it is normally found. I have seen the species in the Okanagan and at Dinosaur Provincial Park in Alberta but never in the Lower Mainland.

Lark Sparrow.

One of the keys to enjoying the birding experience is getting out in the field. I go most mornings before appointments and other commitments, sometimes I'll go for an hour in the evening.
One morning I went down at 7 a.m and was one of only two people at the pond. Nothing too much was stirring just a few Common Yellowthroats and Orange-crowned Warblers. Barn, Tree and Northern-rough-wing perched above me resting waiting for the sun to warm the air.

While a bald eagle swooped over the pond it sent every duck and duckling scurrying for shelter. A Green Heron also took flight,. The Bald Eagle re-appeared but this time a with an Osprey in tow, a bird I had never seen at Brydon although another birder told me they appear every June for a few days. There lies the crux of the matter, to see good birds and lots of them, a person has to be in the field. 
Parting Shot


Brydon Lagoon is very near to my home I walk the trails most days for exercise and mental health. I spend time listening to birds, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells. 

Anyway next time you're in Langley, check out the Brydon Lagoon you won't be disappointed.

John Gordon
BC Canada