Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK)

"Where to Bird in the Lower Mainland"

Kwantlen Polytechnic University College
Langley Campus
10am-11.30 am
March 27 2017 

A few months ago I was invited to put on a presentation at the Langley campus of Kwantlen University in Langley. The talk is part of the Third Age of Learning program (TALK)

The talk which includes a fast moving slide presentation may be of interest to those just beginning to start birding as well as those interested in learning more about some the many great birding locations in the Lower Mainland. Non birders most welcome.

Third Age Learning Kwantlen provides those 50 and over with creative and stimulating educational activities.
More details here

Grant Narrows lookout over the Pitt River and marshlands.

Sooty Grouse Cypress Mountain.

If you are interested, a link and registration is at the bottom of the page.


Serpentine Fen Surrey.

Long-eared owl Boundary Bay.

Ruddy Turnstone/White Rock March.

Kwantlen Birding Talk/registration

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

Free Nature Walk Mar 25/17

Saturday March 25th
Little Campbell River 
Time 9:00 am at Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, 1284 - 184th Street, Surrey
Leader: Al Grass 
Walk the interpretive trails with Al, along the Little Campbell River, to look for the plants and shrubs as they sprout new vegetation and flowers and look for any early bird migrants. While it might be early spring it can still be a little cool, so please dress warmly and wear proper foot wear.  There will be a guided tour of the hatchery following the walk.  Meet at 9:00 am – please park by the Hall which is in the upper parking lot.   Phone 604-538-8774 for information and to let us know to expect you.

House finch.

Please Note: anyone wishing to carpool should phone in to make arrangements beforehand, otherwise please meet at the designated meeting place.  Please call to let the leader know to expect you. The walks are generally about two to three hours long and are open to all Naturalist Clubs & members of the public (adults & children, but no pets please). Please dress for the weather and bring water, binoculars and a snack.  Note these walks are weather dependent so if the weather is bad and no calls are received then the leader will not show up.

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

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Say Twitching

March 18 2017 Sea Island, Richmond BC British Columbia Canada

twitcher |ˈtwiCHər

a person or thing that twitches.• Brit. informal a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.                                                      *****

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and I'm in the dentist's chair. The last thing on my mind is birding. Halfway through the procedure I get a text. Being an important bird alert my dentist allows me to check the posting. The message is sweet and short, Say's phoebe Sea Island.
 Finally the drilling and filling are completed and I can make plans. The phone quacks again, this time fellow birder and neighbour Carlo is wondering if I can chase the phoebe. Why not, it's pouring rain but who cares, a Say's phoebe is a very good bird for Vancouver. By the time we reached Richmond the rain had stopped, there was even a thin ribbon of blue sky over Vancouver. Things were looking up.
We arrived at the YVR to find no one around but were soon joined by a number of Lower Mainland Twitchers: The chase was on. It wasn't long before the collective group numbered a dozen. We made our way along the perimeter fence with planes landing and taking off in the distance. A few of our more experienced group had already spotted the phoebe with their scopes.

Say's phoebe with VYR airport in the background.

We were all treated to some excellent views gradually getting closer and closer until everyone had had a good look. The listers were soon gone once they had seen the bird, another tick, a big smile and for them onto the next bird. Some of us remained while more birders arrived. I asked everyone if they had had a good enough look before I closed in a little closer for the shot below.

Say's phoebe sitting on a piece of re-bar eyeing any movement in the undergrowth.
Not only did out collective effort find one phoebe but soon a second was spotted. The two birds used the airport fence and some low lying rebar posts to catch insects and in one case a large grub which the bird beat to a pulp before swallowing.
Both phoebe's seemed to be doing just fine despite the cold weather and blowing wind, a testament to the hardiness of these dainty migrating flycatchers. 

To obtain the correct exposure against the grey sky I overexposed one stop, the same would apply when shooting in snowy conditions. A good example would be a ptarmigan against a snow bank. This is a situation where manual settings are the best method to obtain the best exposure. 

As we left a Kildeer did the wounded wing routine leading us away from the nest below. I didn't want to stress the bird by photographing it so we quickly left. As I looked over my shoulder the killdeer had already scurried back to her nest to keep the eggs warm.

Carlo wanted to see the cliff swallow at Iona so we made our way arriving at the sewage treatment plant where several hundred lesser snow geese were feeding on the lawns of the facility. Two of the geese were the dark morph variety. We never saw the cliff swallow but the geese were a good way to end the day.

Snow Goose Dark morph.
Carlo who has a wealth of birding knowledge explained that the dark morph's are normally found on the central flyways breeding in the arctic and Alaska while most of the snow geese found in BC migrate to and from the Wrangle Island in Russia.

Despite the bitter cold weather it feels that the migration is about to begin in earnest, let's hope that's the case.

 Note: So as not to miss any rare bird postings I have set my phone to a Quacking sound. Funnily enough my better half has taken to shouting out, "RARE BIRD, RARE BIRD" whenever she hears the text.

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Birding Around Vancouver

Feb 1-28 2017 Various Locations, Lower Mainland

Following my return from Mexico I was raring to get out and tackle some 'real' winter birding, the kind where three layers of clothing and a toque are needed to keep warm. That said, it was nice to bird all day without having to worry about sunburn and de-hydration. Soon however the novelty soon wore off when I lost all feelings in my toes. I had thoughts of fleeing back to Mexico but that's another story.

Anna's Hummingbird

The first thing I did was to bird a few of my favourite spots close to home. Both Stokes Pit and Brydon Lagoon are nearby.
Pileated Woodpecker/Cloverdale


A few days later I decided to go out Brunswick Point with a Birding Pal from France. We had never met. Adam works for Air France and had a few days to bird between flights. I picked him up at the Skytrain and spent a few hours at Iona then Reifel so he could pick-up some easy lifers including ring-necked duck, bufflehead and black-crowned-night heron.

Ring-necked duck
Often mis-identified as a ring-billed duck it's not until one gets a real good look at the ring around the neck, as seen here in this close-up that the correct moniker become apparent. Maybe it's age but I have to admit falling into the trap of misnaming this one on more than one occasion.

I wanted to show Adam at least one owl so when we dipped at Reifel we headed to Brunswick Point for short-eared owls.

We weren't prepared for what we were about to witness. We were both shocked to see so many photographers, ten at one point trampling over the marsh, some dressed like they were on a military manoeuvre. The behavoir upset us so much we sat by the second bench and shook our heads in disbelief. 
Most of the marsh is soggy but there are prime areas which are higher and dryer, prime Townsend's vole habitat, the main prey for the owls. Of course those were the exact spots the photographers chose to stand so as not to get their feet wet. We both got some nice shots of a northern shrike before we left. 

Northern Shrike at Brunswick Point

Adam has kindly invited me to check out his patch in France the next time I am in Europe. I have used the Birding Pal network quite a few times, especially on my cross Canada trip in 2015. Thanks to fellow birding pals I might have missed a Le Conte's sparrow in Winnipeg, a field sparrow and Eastern towhee in Ottawa and black ducks in New Brunswick. I also used Birding Pal on a recent trip to the UK where in Surrey, a suburb of Greater London I spent a morning photographing chiffchafs and swifts

My next outing was to Pitt Meadows in search of raptors. First up was the light morphed-tailed hawk but alas no picture.

Finally after driving around trying for a 'five falcon day' Raymond and I came across a stunning prairie falcon. Note the how full the bird's crop is, it had just fed on a duck. We left to look for other falcons but there were none to be found but we did come across two Harlans's red-tailed hawk.

Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon prepares to take-off for the hunt.

Despite the cold weather there seems to be quite a few Anna's hummingbirds around our feeders. How they survived the four weeks of sub-zero temperatures an avian miracle.

Anna's Hummingbird.


I arrived at a well known owl hotspot surprised to find myself the only one there.  I took advantage by finding a spot a few feet from the dyke, taking great care not to encroach on the foreshore area where the owls feed. Rather than standing I simply sat beside a small bush and waited. I didn't have to wait very long. Obviously the owls couldn't see me or perhaps weren't bothered by my presence. After about ten minutes an owl landed on a post about ten metres away. It gave me a scowl and then another owl landed a few metres away on another post. I felt they were checking me out. My low profile seemed to be the key. I am certain that had I been standing up these intimate type of shots would not have happened. At least that's what I believe.

Short-eared owl

  1. The above shot is taken with the sun over my shoulder whereas the shot below is backlit with sun at a 45 degree angle to my position. It's best to shoot the backlit shot on manual and open up a stop while the first shot could be shot on aperture priority or manual. 

Backlight shot.

Short-eared owl.

Birds have safety zones so by making oneself as inconspicuous as possible greatly increases the chance of acquiring a shot like the one above. Instead of standing I simply sat on a log and let the birds go about their business. I can't remember exactly how long I took to acquire these images but less than an hour.
Before I left three black-capped chickadees landed next to me. They were so close that a photo was not possible. I watched one of the birds unfurl a bud, leaf by leaf, just like peeling a banana, finally extracting a juicy bug. What a way to end the day!

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mexico: The Last Three Days

Cerros de Guaybitos. Punta Raza and Chula Vista.

Jan 28 2017 Cerros de Guayabitos 6.30 a.m.-11am
Sadly our little sojourn in Mexico was coming to an end.

There were just a few mornings left of the trip so I decided to take full advantage by rising early and making my way to a hillside trail behind our hotel.
I took this picture from the lookout before sunrise.

One bird I had been photographing without much success was the blue bunting. They can be very sculky and difficult to photograph. When one landed about twenty feet in from of me I finally I had my shot.

Blue Bunting (endemic)


Jan 29 2017 Punta Raza 7.38a.m.-11.38
Next morning bright and early I met Canadian 'Snowbirds' and part-time Los Ayala residents Ed, Kevin and Myrna. The trail to Punta Raza is accessed through a hole in the fence. It's probably best to go with someone who knows the trail system before going on your own as it would be easy to get lost. We walked uphill through a jungle of mixed hardwoods, thorn trees, palm, coconut and banana trees. A few orchids and tillandsia (air plants) were blooming high up on overhanging boughs. I was puzzled by all the holes in the forest floor, even though we were nowhere near the ocean turns out they were the lair of land crabs.

 The trails have been kept open by a number of Canadians, including one elderly gentleman from Saskatoon who spends part of his four months holiday escaping the bitter prairie weather and expending the trail system for others to enjoy.
Exiting the forest we began to see some good birds including northern mockingbird, rufous-bellied chachalacha, four species of flycatcher and a rose-throated becard.
According to Ed who knows the area well the farmland we were passing through was under several feet of water this time last year.

Thick-billed Kingbird
Tropical parula.
Brown-crested flycatcher.

Jan 29, 2017 7:38 AM - 10:38 AM

Protocol: Traveling

7.6 kilometer(s)
60 species

Gadwall  2

Blue-winged Teal  22

Rufous-bellied Chachalaca  3
Blue-footed Booby  5
Neotropic Cormorant  3
Brown Pelican  10
Great Blue Heron  2
Snowy Egret  2
Little Blue Heron  1
Tricolored Heron  3
Black Vulture  19
Turkey Vulture  10
Osprey  1
Great Black Hawk  1
Gray Hawk  1
Zone-tailed Hawk  1
Black-necked Stilt  1
Killdeer  3
Spotted Sandpiper  2
Inca Dove  3
Common Ground-Dove  2
Ruddy Ground-Dove  2
White-winged Dove  4
Groove-billed Ani  12
Squirrel Cuckoo  2
Cinnamon Hummingbird  1
Belted Kingfisher  1
Green Kingfisher  2
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker  8
Mexican Parrotlet  5
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper  1
Pacific-slope Flycatcher  6
Dusky-capped Flycatcher  1
Ash-throated Flycatcher  1
Brown-crested Flycatcher  2
Great Kiskadee  8
Social Flycatcher  4
Tropical Kingbird  12
Thick-billed Kingbird  3
Masked Tityra  2
Rose-throated Becard  3
Plumbeous Vireo  1
Warbling Vireo  6
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  22
Happy Wren  1
Sinaloa Wren  3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  12
Rufous-backed Robin  4
Northern Mockingbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  6
Nashville Warbler  7
Common Yellowthroat  2
Tropical Parula  4
Yellow Warbler  2
Black-throated Gray Warbler  4
Wilson's Warbler  3
Yellow-breasted Chat  1
Stripe-headed Sparrow  3
Streak-backed Oriole  3
Yellow-winged Cacique  2


Jan 30 2017 Chula Vista and area "Last Day in Mexico" 7a.m-12 noon

Today would be my second visit to Chula Vista and the last day of birding. Would there be any surprises? We, that is Monica Nugent, Ed Jordan, Kevin and Myrna Field, Gareth Pugh and myself all squeezed into a taxi and left for our destination about ten kilometres south of Rincon de Guayabitos. Chula Vista is popular with local bird guides for obvious reasons. Last time we had 102 species in three hours.

Our first stop was, a large the pond quickly produced northern jacana, anhinga, stork, least grebe and more listed at the end of this blog.

Sinaloa Wren


Chula Vista farmer.

Passing through a plantation blue-black grassquit, vermillion flycatcher, Sinoloa wren, northern mockingbird, white-winged dove were added to our list.

Our walk took us through a long stretch of road bordered on both sides by corn and pineapple fields. Small waterways held egrets, white ibis and more storks.

Wood stork.

Laughing falcon.
We heard the laughing falcon from a kilometre off before it flew in front of us and landed in a nearby tree.
Snail kite.
A snail kite came out of nowhere its gaze downwards, looking for its main food, the apple snail. For this reason, it is considered a molluscivore. (Wikipedia)

 Apple snail.

White kite.

More about the 

Roseate spoonbill.

Our walk was as eventful as the last time with the snail kite, white kite and fulvous whistling-duck being lifers.

Chula Vista Pond, Nayarit, MX

Jan 31, 2017 7:08 AM - 9:48 AM

Protocol: Traveling

4.3 kilometer(s)
69 species

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck  22
Fulvous Whistling-Duck  8

Least Grebe  1
Wood Stork  1
Magnificent Frigatebird  12
Neotropic Cormorant  11
Double-crested Cormorant  1
Anhinga  5
Great Blue Heron  1
Great Egret  2
Little Blue Heron  1
Cattle Egret  3
Green Heron  1
Turkey Vulture  10
White-tailed Kite  1
Snail Kite  2
Harris's Hawk  1
Gray Hawk  2
Purple Gallinule  1
Killdeer  4
Northern Jacana  5
Wilson's Snipe  5
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Inca Dove  2
Common Ground-Dove  2
Ruddy Ground-Dove  7
White-tipped Dove  1
White-winged Dove  2
Groove-billed Ani  4
Cinnamon Hummingbird  1
Green Kingfisher  1
Golden-cheeked Woodpecker  5
Crested Caracara  2
Laughing Falcon  1
American Kestrel  2
Merlin  1
Mexican Parrotlet  7
Ivory-billed Woodcreeper  1
White-throated Flycatcher  1
Vermilion Flycatcher  4
Great Kiskadee  5
Social Flycatcher  3
Tropical Kingbird  7
Thick-billed Kingbird  2
Masked Tityra  2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  19
Barn Swallow  4
Sinaloa Wren  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  6
Rufous-backed Robin  2
Northern Mockingbird  1
Orange-crowned Warbler  3
Common Yellowthroat  8
Yellow Warbler  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  2
Wilson's Warbler  2
Yellow-breasted Chat  2
Blue-black Grassquit  5
White-collared Seedeater  3
Lark Sparrow  12
Blue Bunting  2
Blue Grosbeak  2
Varied Bunting  1
Painted Bunting  1
Great-tailed Grackle  23
Bronzed Cowbird  7
Orchard Oriole  4
Hooded Oriole  2
Streak-backed Oriole  4

Finally the holiday was over. Any expectations or lack of beforehand were met and surpassed. Apart from the three days in San Blas with guide Francisco Garcia of Safaris San Blas (see Facebook) all the birding was done in and around Rincon de Guyabitos.  A huge thanks must go to Ed Jordan. We actually met by chance in La Penita, both of us with bins around our necks, a most fortuitous meeting for which I owe Ed a huge thanks. 

This trip, my second to Mexico produced 224 species with 137 lifers. Most of all I had the time of my life, met some really good birders, their generosity made for an unforgettable experience. 

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

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Birding San Blas to La Noria

Jan 24 2017 San Blas to La Noria.
The alarm was set for 4.30 a.m. but I didn't need it, I was already awake, funny how that works! Despite the early hour I was eager to get going for what was going to be a full day's birding.
The first stop would be the local OXO (Mexico's version of 7 Eleven) for a large coffee and muffin.
As we drove out of San Blas the sun was still hiding behind the Sierra Madre Mountains. We passed through chili, corn and tobacco farms, past people going to work, some were setting up roadside stands. The shrimp ponds glowed with the golden light from the sky. I could have spent an hour photographing silhouettes but I was with birders and besides we had a thirty kilometre drive with numerous stops ahead of us. A good enough excuse to return next year.

We stopped at a nondescript hedge and waited for any signs of birdlife. We had three species of hummingbirds in short order. blue-throated, broad-billed and cinnamon. Then a bird I really had hoped to see, a black-capped vireo.

Black-capped vireo.
Climbing higher into the hills we again stopped where guide Francisco hoped we would find the rufous-capped warbler. He has a good ear and soon enough we were onto a pair. 

Wow! My first new warbler of the trip and what a beauty it was. I had photographed many of the wintering warblers that we get back in Canada but this one really captivated me as it flitted through the undergrowth, twitching its tail and diving towhee like in and out of bushes. The others decided to have lunch while I looked for a perfect picture of the dainty bird.

Rufous-capped warbler.
The dirt track we were travelling offered any number of places to stop look and listen. It wasn't long before we heard a russet-crowned motmot. As it turned out there was a pair sitting together on a tree branch.  
Russet-crowned motmot.
We drove on through the countryside climbing ever higher. The humidity of the lowlands was now replaced by an almost perfect mix of sun and shade. There were some great birds. Yellow grosbeaks, hepatic tanagers and a gorgeous red-headed tanager. 
Red-headed tanager.

We eventually arrived at Reserva Ecológica Sierra de San Juan-La Noria, a farm high in the mountains between Nayarit state capital Tepic and our base San Blas. There were all kinds of birds to feast the eyes on. The first were a pair of hepatic tanagers, then a striking tufted flycatcher. In a tree a flock of twenty elegant quail proved impossible to photograph but rewarded us with great views as they suddenly flew off into the forest. The double-toothed kite is not a common sighting especially on the west coast slope. We were able to confirm the ID from a grab shot I took as it flew across our path before disappearing into the forest.
Hepatic tanager (female).
Hepatic tanager (male)

Around one corner we came across a ravine full of flowering vines, a great pace to look for hummingbirds. Without the aide of a set-up I had to shoot at high ISO to get even the smallest chance in the dim light. This is one of the better captures from about fifty shots, most of which ended up in the trash folder.
Mexican woodnymph.

Gray flycatcher.
The tufted flycatcher one of the most accommodating birds of the whole trip always returning to the same perch, a real poser! 
Tufted flycatcher.

The Pacific slope flycatcher, a species that can be found in my home town back in Canada. 

Pacific-slope flycatcher.
Yellow grosbeak.
During the day we saw well over a hundred species, for me many were lifers. I managed decent pictures of some species, others like the one above I consider a good ID shot and others were seen through bins or very distant camera ID shots, which our guide Francisco would then confirm.

Black-headed siskin.
Rusty sparrow.
The rusty sparrow is found from Mexico to NW Costa Rica.

La Noria proved to be productive with sixteen lifers..not bad for one hour and fifteen minutes of birding. If you visit avoid the weekends as it can be overrun with campers, impromptu soccer games, and ATV's. There are no feeders, the owners want the birds to be naturally occurring.

Reserva Ecológica Sierra de San Juan--La Noria, Nayarit, MX

Jan 24, 2017 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM

Protocol: Stationary
37 species

Elegant Quail  20

Black Vulture  4

Turkey Vulture  3
Double-toothed Kite  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
White-winged Dove  2
Black Swift  23     Seen well , large swifts flying along the tree line. Large, long winged black swift.
Vaux's Swift  100
Bumblebee Hummingbird  1
White-eared Hummingbird  4
Acorn Woodpecker  1
American Kestrel  1
Tufted Flycatcher  3
Greater Pewee  1
Gray Flycatcher  3
Buff-breasted Flycatcher  1
Say's Phoebe  1
Vermilion Flycatcher  1
Common Raven  2
Violet-green Swallow  90
House Wren (Brown-throated)  1
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher  1
Eastern Bluebird  1
Hermit Thrush  2
White-throated Thrush  1
Blue Mockingbird  1
Gray Silky-flycatcher  2
Yellow-rumped Warbler  5
Rufous-capped Warbler  1
Wilson's Warbler  1
Stripe-headed Sparrow  4
Chipping Sparrow  2
Rusty Sparrow  2
Hepatic Tanager  2
Black-headed Grosbeak  1
Audubon's Oriole  1
Black-headed Siskin  3

Last but not Least
Wilson's Plover.
The day had been fantastic enough s as we approached San Blas we suddenly turned off the main hwy and headed toward a beach turnout. I knew our guide Francisco hand something special to show us, a Wilson's Plover. They were so camouflaged they were hard to see, eventually one moved, giving away their presence.

Eventually we arrived back at San Blas tired and dusty but satisfied that we had had one heck of a day.

Tomorrow we have a half day of birding before catching the bus back to Rincon de Guayabitos.

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