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Monday, November 25, 2013

Dabbling with Ducks Plus Hawks and Finches

Monday  Nov 25 2013. Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach Surrey, B.C. British Columbia.
I have to admit that I have not had the opportunity to study the difference between American and Eurasian Widgeon until today. I had seen them through bins but now I had a mixed flock in right in front of me and within camera range. The flock not only had the two aforementioned species but also a number of hybrids.
I am posting these pictures to see if anyone is actually reading this blog as there is no better way to monitor blog readership than to misidentify a species. Your feedback is appreciated if I have mislabeled any of these beautiful dabbling ducks.
 Male American Wigeon (Anas americana)

American and Eurasian hybrid.
Note: I have been told this actually an Eurasian not hybrid. I'm learning too, thanks to Mike Tabak for the identification.


Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope)



After photographing the ducks on the spit I took a walk into the wooded area east of the car park. There I saw the silhouette of a bird of prey. It turned out to be a Cooper's hawk.
Cooper's Hawk (Accipter cooperii)

The Cooper's swoops down into the undergrowth but was unsuccessful.
 It suddenly flew down from a tree, crashing into the undergrowth, the bird re-appeared sans prey and continued hunting.
The bird was originally perched in a tree and then went diving and hunting in dense bushes.
I managed to grab a few perched shots and then it flew off, even with a high shutter speed the wings are blurred. The most vital part of flight shots is using at least 1/1000 or faster shutter speed to capture a sharp eye, slower speeds can create a blur which spoils the final image.

The weather was cool but sunny so I decided to take a wander to the other end of the conservation area close to the railway line. There are a number of Pacific crab apple and hawthorn trees which are still laden with berries. There I found Downy Woodpeckers, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Northern Flicker, Raven, North-western Crows, Great blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Double crested Cormorants and Purple Finches.

Purple Finch (Carpo purpureus)

A male Purple Finch gorges on Pacific crab apples at Blackie Spit.

Good birding to you all
John Gordon








Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Short-eared Owls are Back

Nov 21 2013 Boundary Bay, Delta  British Columbia. Sunny and Cold
The Short-eared Owls are back. In 2012 I first saw them on Oct 30, this year a little later on Nov 12. That doesn't mean they weren't there before, I just wasn't looking closely enough.
I was wondering where these beautiful owls go to each summer so I include a few links below.

I have copies and pasted a few paragraphs from the Bird Studies Canada website with a link at the bottom that gives comprehensive information about these birds.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a species of Special Concern in Canada because of long-term population declines and loss of habitat (see COSEWIC report). Short-eared Owls are an open-country bird and will wander extensively within their breeding and wintering ranges hunting for small mammals. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult to monitor populations. For this reason, little is known about Short-eared Owls.

The Problem

Grasslands are one of the ecosystems that are the most at risk, and grassland bird populations have shown greater and more wide-spread declines than any other group of North American birds. Christmas Bird Count data shows a 3% annual decrease in the North American Short-eared Owl population, with the Canadian population suffering nearly a 25% decrease in the last decade alone.
Short-eared Owls nest, rest, and feed in open areas such as fallow fields, hay fields, grasslands, airports, and meadows. Loss and degradation of these habitats are thought to be the major threat to Short-eared Owls.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) 72nd Ave  Boundary Bay, Delta B.C.

Behaviour


One of the most notable characteristics of a Short-eared Owl is its buoyant and somewhat erratic moth-like flight. Short-eared Owls nest and rest on the ground, in thick cover, and are often found in communal groups in the winter. As the snow accumulates, Short-eared Owls will seek shelter in trees. Short-eared Owls tend to be more active during the day than are most other owls, but are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), especially during winter.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a species of Special Concern in Canada because of long-term population declines and loss of habitat (see COSEWIC report). Short-eared Owls are an open-country bird and will wander extensively within their breeding and wintering ranges hunting for small mammals. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult to monitor populations. For this reason, little is known about Short-eared Owls.

The Problem

Grasslands are one of the ecosystems that are the most at risk, and grassland bird populations have shown greater and more wide-spread declines than any other group of North American birds. Christmas Bird Count data shows a 3% annual decrease in the North American Short-eared Owl population, with the Canadian population suffering nearly a 25% decrease in the last decade alone.
Short-eared Owls nest, rest, and feed in open areas such as fallow fields, hay fields, grasslands, airports, and meadows. Loss and degradation of these habitats are thought to be the major threat to Short-eared Owls.

Short-eared Owls/Bird Studies Canada


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Snow Buntings and Other Birds

Nov 19 2013 Boundary Bay, Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and 64th Ave, Delta B.C.
After a miserable weekend of rain and poor light it was with great excitement I found myself with what I  hoped would be a whole day of freedom from appointments, phone calls and other 'worldly distractions'
First stop was the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal where I was in search of a small flock of Snow Bunting. They had been reported a few days earlier.  They weren't hard to find, they were feeding on the gravel road that parallels the main road leading to the ferry. A slight movement gave away their presence. I actually had to back my car up in fear that I might flush them.
It was bitter cold but sunny, my hand warmer wouldn't work but otherwise I was prepared to stay until I managed some images with different angles and light.
The small flock of four were feeding on wild flower seeds. They were to a point quite tame, unlike the flock I have photographed in Churchill in Manitoba where the approach distance was three times a far. I fact, these birds were so close at times that I wish I could have taken off my 1x4 converter but I didn't want to risk spooking them. This picture was from about twenty feet away. The third shot farther way.
Snow Bunting (Plectrohenax nivalis)
I spent well over an hour taking far too many images, most of which, although perfectly good were culled in Lightroom and trashed. I have ten like the one above. I kept three slightly different poses then backed them and about thirty others up to two external hard drives. I saved them as DNG and from there made 300 DPI jpegs of the blog shots which were then made into web sizes 6x4 at 120 DPI. The original Raw files are then trashed. Why keep everything, the kids won't want them !
I just managed to fit this bird into the shot. I did lose another shot of this bird sitting on the top of a pebble because I was too close, something that has happened a few times to me on. Originally I was going to go with my handheld 300 F4 but decided to take the 500 with a 1x4. However I feel it was a successful assignment having visualized my ideas and then leaving the birds undisturbed to continue feeding.

Two of the four snow bunting feeding on seeds. There were four birds but I thought I saw another single bird which may mean there are five.

On the way home I decided to stop off at 64th Ave to look at the results of the log removal. The upper shoreline abutting the dyke is now mostly devoid of logs. Some of the remaining logs have been driven into the ground vertically, creating perches which I yet to see any bird use. The same at 72nd Ave, only time will tell whether there will be any disruption to the numerous creatures who used to make their homes in the tangle of logs and other organic materials.

(Below) A few images from 64th Ave. What it shows is a sunny day but not the biting wind from the North-west. 

On 72nd there were and are about five thousand snow geese right beside the road as of Tuesday.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) feeding on Hawthorn berries.

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) feeding on Pacific Crab Apple.
Good Birding
John Gordon


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Glen Valley Mountain Bluebirds

Nov 14 2013.  Glen Valley Langley /Abbotsford border/Lefeuvre Rd on Marsh-McCormick Rd.
Thanks to birder John Vooys who first spotted the birds, I and others were able to photograph two Mountain Bluebirds at the above location Thursday. How long they will hang around no one knows.
According to what I have read, Mountain bluebirds are quite common in the Spring (I have never seen them in the Fraser Valley) but are uncommon at this time of year. Anyway it was great to get these shots in and get some fresh air at the same time.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) Female?

The out of focus cranberry fields behind set off the colours of this beautiful bird.

The other bird is either a juvenile or female. Any takers?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sweet Light, Northern Harriers and Snow Geese

Nov 12 2013 Boundary Bay 72nd Ave. Delta British Columbia.
There I was on Boundary Bay, one of Canada's best winter raptor locations. Practically alone, the only others in sight were a horseback rider, a duck hunter and some joggers and one other photographer (the latter please contact me if you are reading this)
The sky was overcast, just a hint of blue sky over Point Roberts. Rather than work with the flat light we chatted away. Suddenly a shaft of sunlight pierced the leaden sky. The game was on. We both set up our lenses waiting for the afternoon "sweet light" Dark sky and cloud hid the Coast Mountains while on the dyke the cold wind was tempered by the warmth of the late afternoon sun. If I had to choose just one word to describe all this, it would be bliss with a big B!
Before long the Northern Harriers began hunting in earnest. The newly arrived Short-eared owls could be seen hunting out on the foreshore. Soon they'll habituate themselves to all the human activity and like the Harriers, will soon be hunting closer to the dyke and within range of the lens.
Our first pictures were of the flock of Snow Geese, perhaps as many as five thousand. They flew overhead, honking and flying. Waves and waves of them flew toward a freshly ploughed field on 72nd Ave.
Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens)

As the afternoon progressed the light became softer making it ideal for catching the last of the fall colours. This Northern Harrier skirted along the dyke and over the golf course and straight toward me. Panning the flight of the bird combined with a fast shutter speed helped me secure this pleasing image.
Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
This shot I took Nov 8 on the way to Boundary Bay. Who says the sun never shines on the Wet Coast

Great Egret: The One That Almost Got Away

Oct 21 2013 Grant Narrows, Pitt River Maple Ridge B.C.
I had been so busy shooting an ad campaign for Parks Canada and Coast Cranberries that I forgot to post this very long distance image of the Great Egret. On the subject of birds I also photographed John Cleese at the Vancouver Club, he never mentioned anything about parrots, dead or resting! He did however manage to insult everyone in the room especially the lawyers and accountants who had paid mega dollars to hear him.
Anyway back to the Egret. When it turned up at nearby Grant Narrows a few weeks it was too tempting not to go and see it. Finding time and some blues skies was the biggest hurdle.
There it was, hundreds of metres out feeding on fish or perhaps frogs. Great blue Herons out numbered the great white bird ten to one. If only it would fly closer in, eventually it did but not before the sun rose and without enough shutter speed all I had managed were a series fuzzy pics, destined for the delete button. This shot was taken as soon as the sun came out and before too many dog walkers frightened the bird off. I have seen some excellent shots (which this isn't) from other photographers and I salute their dedication and skill as well as a little luck that played a part in their success. Here is my token contribution, an ID shot but cool bird anyway.
Great Egret (Ardea alba)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Swamp Sparrow

Monday November 4 2013 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary Delta B.C.
Nothing gets a birder more invigorated than the news of a potential 'Lifer' Better still, the bird was close by, just thirty minutes drive. As happens in these cases every light was against me, roadworks seems to be everywhere and why, why is everyone driving so slowly! Eventually, after what seemed an eternity I arrive and head toward the spot the bird had last been seen. Another birder was just leaving and was kind enough to point me in the right direction and show me a photo on the back of his camera. Easy I thought, but the wait turned into a two hour cat and mouse affair with the little sparrow feeding low to the ground in dense matted marsh grasses. As you can imagine brown grass and a little brown bird make excellent camouflage. Finally I catch a glimpse but as soon as I focus the bird is gone, two more attempts fail but finally two hours of waiting pays off with a clear view. Happy and enjoying the sunny weather I am trudging back to the car when a Belted kingfisher flashes by and lands in a tree. Five Sandhill fly overhead and all is well with the world. Time for coffee and the hand warmer.
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georginana)
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
On my way back to the car I couldn't resist this long distance shot with the colourful background.