Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What's in a Name by Carlo Giovanella


Carlo Giovanella (text and photos)

Used with permission.

Bird Names - a case of Capital Confusion!

Anyone with a serious interest in plants will be well aware of the confusion over the common names in use.  A given species often has several, and sometimes many, common names applied to it, so use of the binomial Latin names are almost essential to avoid confusion.  Fortunately, the birding world has found a way to avoid the problem, but unfortunately not everyone buys into the solution.

The AOU (American Ornithology Union) and similar world-wide organizations have formalized the common names for each species, so each has only one officially recognized name.  Because the names are formal, they should be capitalized like all proper names.  The unfortunate part is that the convention is not universally accepted.  Often this is because not everyone is aware of the protocol, and others simple choose to ignore the convention.  For some inexplicable reason most editors of books, magazines, and newspapers obstinately refuse to follow along.  

I present two illustrations to demonstrate why we all should always use capitals for bird names.

Example #1 

The corvid family includes a number of jays that are basically blue in colour, seven species of which occur in North America, and three that can be seen in BC (plus is a single record of a fourth - Pinyon Jay).

The most-common one is a Steller’s Jay.

Western Scrub Jay, a rare and fairly recent intruder to the southwest corner of the Province.

Note: Since this article was originally published the Western Scrub Jay is now California Scrub Jay.

 California Scrub Jay

Note that all three birds in the photos are 'blue jays' (or blue-coloured jays), but only the last one is properly a Blue Jay.  Use of capitals for the bird’s name removes any ambiguity about its identity!

Example #2

The bird in the photo below could correctly be labelled as 'White Rock pigeon', or as a 'white Rock Pigeon'.  The first label indicates where the photo was taken (in this case on the pier at White Rock Village), and the general kind of bird, but not the actual species.  The second label identifies the exact species and the colour of the individual, but does not provide location.

This one could also be correctly labelled as a 'White Rock pigeon’, because it is a pigeon and it was located in White Rock.  However, you can see it is not white, and it is in fact a Band-tailed Pigeon, not a Rock Pigeon.

Got it?  Perhaps you are more confused than ever.  But PLEASE capitalize your Bird Names!

This article came about when Carlo asked me why I wasn't capitalizing birds names. The reason dates back to my newspaper days where we used Canadian Press rules for animal names which was not to capitalize. The habit continued when I started blogging . I always felt it odd and have now changed my ways thanks to Carlos' sage advice.

"It never too late to start capitalizing bird names "
John Gordon 
BC Canada

Catching Up

April 1-15 2017 Various Locations.

For someone who normally blogs every week I have been surprised how easy it to let weeks go by without any additions. That doesn't mean I haven't been birding, it just means I haven't been shooting much still photography. Instead I have been shooting more and more video, something that I enjoy very much.

Recently I have been asking myself how many shots of a Short-eared Owls or a Mountain Bluebirds do I really, really need? What on earth am I going to do with the files I am amassing, the kids sure won't want them and what about when those hard drives fail!
True, some images have been published in bird guides and I have sold a good number of Giclee prints and of course they come in useful for my AV presentations but video ... that's a whole new ball game!

Anyway here are some stills from the past three weeks while I figure out how to load the videos here.

First up was this beautiful leucistic House Finch, the male companion was quite the normal brilliant red but you'll have to agree, the female really steals the show!

Leucistic House Finch/Cloverdale April 2017.

Here's another pretty bird, a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk I photographed April 18 next Vancouver International Airport (YVR)

Rough-legged Hawk.

Meanwhile I did take my DSLR up to Squamish. On the way I usually stop off a Porteau Cove for lunch and spend some time enjoying the birdlife and scenery, it breaks the journey and relieves any stress I may have accumulated fighting the Vancouver traffic. The Porteau Cove picnic area overlooks a pebble strewn beach where a raft of two hundred or more Barrow's Goldeneye were plundering the mussel beds. I took my flask of coffee and sandwich down to the beach and enjoyed the sunshine. The Common Mergansers seemed oblivious of my presence.

Porteau Cove
Common Merganser.

Female Common Merganser.

As the mergansers continued fishing I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. A pair of Black Oystercatchers had made their way to within a few metres of me and like the mergansers seemed completely oblivious of my picnicking.

Black Oystercatcher.
Even this oystercatcher found the pebbles a slippery proposition, reminding me to take extra care on return to the parking lot. Apart from the aforementioned species I had good looks at about a dozen Harlequin Ducks, Bufflehead and scores of Double-crested and one Brandt's Cormorant.

After my family visit I spent an hour at a very windy and cold Squamish Estuary where I  eventually spotted five Mountain Bluebirds far out in the flats, too far for a pic and too cold to hang around.

Meanwhile I went to Reifel to check out the geese for some video footage and came across a nice Ring-necked Pheasant. I find it strange that there are not more of these birds around the Lower Mainland as the climate here in BC is similar to the UK.

Ring-necked Pheasant.

It feels good to be back birding. I look forward to seeing you in the field. 

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Birds of Langley Bird Brochure

April 17, 2017 
For Immediate Release

Langley Field Naturalists Announce launch of bird brochure

The Langley Field Naturalists are pleased to announce the availability of a brand new bird brochure. This colourful brochure features 54 birds that can be seen locally. 

The brochure was made possible because of grants received from BC Nature, the BC Naturalists Foundation, the City of Langley and Van City. 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, the Langley Field Naturalists are making these brochures available for Langley City's elementary schools first.

Note :I also dropped of some at Wild Birds Unlimited in Langley.

In addition to distributing the brochure to the schools, they will be available at local libraries, recreation centres, Wild Birds Unlimited Langley 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.


Photos courtesy
Members of the Delta Naturalists and Langley Field Naturalists.

For more information, please contact Publicity Chair Lilianne Fuller at 604-290-8396 or President Bob Puls at 604-856-7534.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A Change of Seasons

March 24 2017

Birding in the Lower Mainland around the first days of spring can be a most rewarding experience. Although the weather cannot be guaranteed a good selection of over wintering birds can still be found. An added bonus are the new arrivals including the rufous hummingbird, warblers and the various species of swallows, the sure harbingers of warmer weather. We are blessed that three hundred species breed in British Columbia and an additional two hundred and fifty have be recorded. A lifetime could be spent trying to see them all.

Here are a few birds from a recent sortie around Ladner and Langley. 

White-throated sparrow.

Fox Sparrow.
A good place to start birding and bird photography is 

Rufous Hummingbird.
It always helps when you have an experienced photographer to help point out the location of a bird as was the case when Tak pointed out this brilliantly coloured rufous hummingbird.

Wood duck.

Wood duck.


Centennial Beach Tsawwassen
Mountain bluebird.
I heard about this mountain bluebird on the
 When I arrived at Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen it was pouring with rain and for once I was quite unprepared. I had to hide my lens and camera under my coat. There was already a couple of photographers on the scene so I crouched down and waited until the bird made its way closer to my hide-out, eventually the bird popped up in front of me. The rain had stopped and it was time to head home to babysit the grandchildren for the evening.

Mountain bluebird.
As luck would have it and just around the corner from my daughter is a feeder where a small flock of mourning doves can been easily seen. 

Mourning dove (Male)
Occasionally there are also a few band-tailed pigeons although those weren't present this time. I shot these from out the window of the car as I was running late and frankly I was more interesting in adding them to my year list than winning any photo awards.

Mourning dove (Female)

Finally I would like to thank everyone who took time to attended my T.A.L.K. presentation at Kwantlen University Monday. I hope to see you all out in the field. As I mentioned during the talk one of the best ways to learn more about birding is to join your local naturalist's club.
I am a member of the Langley Field Naturalists. We meet the third Thursday of the month at the Langley Music School at 7.30. Arrive at 8 p.m. If you want to avoid the business meeting beforehand.

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

A Young Birder of Distinction

This CBC interview with Victoria BC young birder is well worth a listen

Wildlife photographer and educator Liam Singh hopes to raise awareness for declining bird population by sharing photographs and leading bird-watching tours.

John Gordon

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Avifauna Odds and Sods

March 1-20 
Various Locations around the Lower Mainland BC Canada

Brydon Lagoon
Hooded Merganser
There has been a small flock of hooded mergansers at Brydon Pond most of the winter. Despite a major fish kill a few years back the pond has re-bounded quite well. While numbers of certain bird species are down, the lagoon is still a good wintering hole for Common goldeneye, hooded and common merganser, pied-bill grebe, glaucous-winged gulls, great-blue heron and a lone green heron.

The most serious threat to the pond is the recent over pruning around the edges and irresponsible dog owners allowing their muts to run amok. Only yesterday I had words with one dog guardian whose dog was chasing the ducks, his reply, he didn't think his dog will eat them (the ducks)
Same thing this morning, this time the owner leased his dog after I pointed out it had just nose dived into a red-winged blackbirds nest.
My wife picked up two garbage bags of garbage around the perimeter of the lagoon but the soiled doggie bags hanging in trees, that's inexcusable. Where's the bylaw officer when you need one!

Terra Nova
This mink has set up home at Terra Nova pond where food is plentiful.

West ham Island Delta
Bullock's Oriole nest from last year on River Rd, Ladner.
Why do Bullock's Oriole's use blue threads to build their nests? I searched for more info but found nothing really explaining the phenomenon. Below is a shot of a striking male Bullock's. The complementary colours of the nest and bird has always fascinated me.

Haynes Park Provincial Park Osoyoos 

I photographed this male Bullock's Oriole June 2014.
The Bullock's oriole (Icterus bullockii) is a small New World blackbird. At one time, this species and the Baltimore oriole were considered to be a single species, the northern oriole. This bird was named after William Bullock, an English amateur naturalist. (Wikipedia)

Nicomekl Floodplain
Bald Eagle
This pair of bald eagles at Brydon Park in Langley had just mated. The male seems quite proud of himself. All week they had been adding to their long time nest on the Nicomekl River floodplain. Finally I was able to shoot handheld with the Nikon D500 and Nikon 200mm-500mm through an opening in a tangle of branches. It is one of my favourite bald eagle shots.

Cheam Wetlands/East of Chilliwack
Trumpeter Swans
Last week I was out with the Langley Field Naturalists at Cheam Wetlands just east of Chilliwack. There was fresh snow on Mount Cheam and the cold air was spilling down the mountainside making for a cold day. The wetlands had the large numbers of ring-necked ducks, over one hundred trumpeter swans, hooded mergansers, hundreds of American wigeon and of course scads of Mallard. The woods however were quite uneventful with just a one hairy and downy and a few pine siskin. Nothing has budded and the forest plants seem weeks behind.

Brydon Lagoon
Common Goldeneye
This common goldeneye at Brydon Lagoon was trying to attract a female with a series of dramatic postures and antics that included neck stretching, wing beating and feet splashing.

White Rock/White Rock Pier
Black Turnstone at White Rock
I really believe that birding can be enjoyed in both a solitary and group fashion. It's one of the best ways to spend time outdoors and meet new people and gain deep understanding of the complexities that combine to make up the natural world. 

Black Spit Crescent Beach
One of my favourite spots to go and unwind is Blackie Spit in South Surrey. Over the years have had some really good birds there including solitary sandpipers, horned lark and on several occasions snow buntings.

Surrey Lake

Marsh wren.
Surrey Lake
Pied-billed grebe.
Westminster Hwy and Gibbons Drive, Richmond BC
Snow goose.

After a few weeks of relative inactivity I have been able to finally get out and bird.
No pressure, just birding around Langley and Surrey, a couple of trips to Brydon Lagoon and taking a birding pal friend to Richmond.

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

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.

Black Turnstone/White Rock March.

Kwantlen Birding Talk/registration

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