Saturday, September 23, 2017

UK Birding 2017 #1

Sept 17 2007 Goldcliff Lagoons Newport Wetlands Gwent Wales.

After a trans-Atlantic flight I really needed a full days birding to help shake off the jet lag. Prior to my departure I had arranged to meet Cardiff birder Paul Bowden through the BirdingPal website. Since joining a few years ago I have hosted a number of fellow birdpals on their visits to the Lower Mainland and now it was my chance to sit back be shown a few sites with a local expert.
Paul and I had corresponded before I left Vancouver providing him a print-out of my meagre UK life list (134) and unbeknown to me Paul had figured out a plan to find me some lifers. He was even kind enough to pick me up from the village store which is close to the family home. More of why I am in England/Wales later. Soon we were barreling down the motorway to the Newport Wetlands and Goldcliff Lagoons, a well known birding hotspot.
Barely a scrape in the ground, Goldcliff's proximity to the Severn Estuary makes it a magnet for migrating shorebirds while the surrounding farmland attracts a myriad of species including various species of ducks, Meadow and Tree Pipits and Northern Lapwings. The hedgerows harbour migrating warblers like the Chiffchaff and Eurasian Goldfinch. The area is also a staging area for many species preparing to fly across the Bristol Channel, the English Channel and on to Europe. Some migrating as far as North and Central Africa.

In no time at all we had Common Redshank and Greenshank, both lifers as well as Northern Lapwing and a flock of Ruff, It was the first opportunity to use my new Hummingbird Scope. The small size is perfect for travel as it fits in a photo vest pocket or small camera bag, with it I was able to view a another lifer, a Little Stint which otherwise would have been out of range with bins.

(Common) Redshank.

Meadow Pipit.
Heading toward the blinds we stopped to watch some warblers gleaning insects from the bushes. A Blackcap was the year bird, most were Chiffchaffs with the occasional bird possibly a Willow Warbler although without hearing their song they are hard or next to impossible to differentiate.

(Eurasian) Curlew Numenius arquata.

Little Grebe.

These ruff were part of a flock of five. The males are much larger than the females.

Cardiff Bay

Our second stop was Cardiff Bay. Sluice gates allow seafaring vessels in and out of the bay allowing salt water to mix with the brackish bay water. Inside the bay a good number of Tufted Ducks preened alongside several hundred Black-headed Gulls. A Gray Heron and half a dozen Great Crested Grebes filled out the roster.
Grey Wagtail
Walking along the seawall both Gray and Pied Wagtails were hawking insects while dodging the lapping waves.
Pied/White Wagtail.

Black Rock Nr Chepstow Gwent Wales.

Black Rock /Portskewett

 Black Rock is also a migrant trap as birds funnel along the banks and across the mudflats. In winter Short-eared Owls hunt along the fallow pastureland. On my visit the bushes and shrubs held plenty of chiffchaffs and the odd Goldcrest. The shoreline had a flock of (Eurasian) Curlew probing the mud. A small flock of Redshank also landed within view. I talked to some locals who were quite amazed by the birds in their midst.


Chiffchaff I think?


Further adventures to follow when time allows.

John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Boundary Bay Birds # 250

August 30 2017 Boundary Bay Regional Park 104-88 St.

Delta, British Columbia

Sunny 84°F/28°C

Black-bellied Plover can be difficult to approach and are easily flushed.

I seemed the only birder on the bay, at least I couldn't see anyone else. The tides weren't good but that meant less people birding. Anyway, the most sensible would have stayed home with a cold beer but not me. The breeze off Boundary Bay was a welcome respite. There wasn't a bird in sight at 104 so I made my way to 96 where most of the migrating shorebirds have been reported. As I approached 96 I spotted the dreaded by-law officer ticketing a car. By the time I got there the birders/occupants had gone. Best park at 104 or 72. A ticket can cost $160

My goal was to find the three types of godwits had been reported for the past three weeks as well as a number of other species including Black-bellied Plover and various sandpipers, perhaps even get really lucky and find a Red Knot or Buff-breasted Sandpiper. All good birds to add to a year list.


Around 6pm the sun began to loose some of its harshness and in front of me were a thousand or more ducks, a good selection of terns, gulls and sandpipers just waiting to test my identification skills or lack thereof. Sanderlings no problem, Western Sandpipers no problem but what about the dowitchers, were they long or short billed? The terns were Caspian, easily identified by their size and raucous calls. As it turned out I bumped into two young birders Logan and Liron who were able to ID the dowitchers for me, the nicest and most knowledgeable youngsters you'll ever want to meet.

Finally after an hour I found the first of the two rarer BC Godwits, the Hudsonian. The Marbled was nearby but in bad light for a decent photograph.
Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit.

Finally I caught up with one of the three godwits I had been adding to my year list. This is my 249 BC species for 2017.

Western Sandpiper

Sweet Light

 Moments before the sunset I found this small flock of Short-billed Dowitchers. It was a great way to end the day.

Short-billed Dowitcher

  All images taken handheld with the Nikon D500 and Nikon 200-500 5.6 zoom

Sept 2/17
As I write this I have just returned from Boundary Bay where I had a scope views of the Bar-tailed Godwit, my two hundred and fiftieth BC bird of the year. No photos but I had a fine time chatting with birder friends who I hadn't seen for a long time. 

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Odd Bird/Published Work/NPS Exhibition

The Last Week of Aug 2017

Life works in mysterious ways. Recently birding and bird photography had to take a back seat. Fortunately there's now light on the horizon and I have been able to venture out more and more. I even took a trip up to Rock Creek for a music festival where I managed a couple of hours of birding at the Kettle River Recreation Site. As I only had a very short time I walked around shooting handheld with the Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm Nikon zoom.


Some Rock Creek Images
Calioppe Hummingbird

A large forest fire a few years back has created the perfect habitat for woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker
The image of the Three-toed Woodpecker below was taken from a considerable distance, really just a speck at the top of a tree and until I brought it into Lightroom I thought I had a Black-backed which would have been a lifer. 

Three-toed woodpecker

This week I've been down to Boundary Bay in hope of seeing the Bar-tailed and Hudsonian Godwits. I haven't caught up with either yet but I did come across four Semi-Palmated Plovers, nothing too unusual except that one of the birds was very pale.

The first pix is one of the three regular Semi-palmated Plovers, the last a very pale or perhaps leucistic specimen.

When I first saw the light coloured plover bird I had to investigate. This was a day tor two before the sighting of the now famous Piping Plover discovery.

Semi-palmated Plover.

A pale or Leusistic Semi-palmated Plover. Note the lighter coloured legs.
More about leucism in birds


A few blogs back I talked about how to go about having one's work published and sure enough a week later I find out one of my images was chosen for the cover of BC Birding.

 I sent the editor a few words to explain the who, what, where and why behind the image. Remembering that the editor is compiling a myriad of information from many sources, he's also correcting typos and errors and then finally the magazine has to be laid out. It's a tremendous amount of work and takes skill and perseverance, especially when done on a volunteer basis. I say this because writers and photographers need to make the editors job as easy as possible

The LeConte's Sparrow which appears on the cover was a target bird for many in the group and thanks to our group leaders everyone had great views. LeConte's prefer undisturbed damp 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.

 The Peace River region is somewhere I had always wanted to visit. Situated in the northern part of British Columbia, the Peace Region 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 two 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 McQueen 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.

Back Cover

The Lazuli Bunting photo (back cover) was taken on my way home on the West Fraser Road just south of Quesnel. The area has been in the epicentre of the massive BC fires and many of the stunning areas I visited are now charred beyond recognition. The forest will re-generate


then more good and surprising news came from Nikon

Congratulations! Your Contest Entry has been selected to become a Gallery Tour
Finalist in the 2017 Nikon NPS Member Exhibition Photo Contest

The image below was taken at the Jantar Mantar Open Air Observatory, Jaipur India. 

Now all I need is to find some godwits.

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Publishing Your Images

Sorting through some of my files last week I came across an old photo page I had published in the Langley Times. It got me thinking about the whole process of getting an image into print. The idea came about when I recently shared a ride with a gifted photographer who for whatever reason couldn't get his work published.
 Here are some thoughts that might help you get published. Sometimes but not always the pictures themselves can be quite ordinary, they don't all have to be award winners as long as they tell or contribute to a rounded story that readers can relate to. This photo page below was about Brydon Lagoon in the City of Langley. 
The first picture below is straight out of the camera. There's nothing too special about it at all except I have purposely left plenty of space at the top and bottom of the picture to place more photographs, a title and some copy.

As I had other assignments that day I remember having only an hour or so to gather the photos. I had been down to the pond previously and had seen a leucistic Mallard which I knew I could hang the rest the other photos around. As it turned out it wasn't that co-operative so I shot the Canada Geese and Mallards (Fig 1) in the vertical format and used that as the main artwork. 
I used ©InDesign to combine the images and text on the page but it could also be done in ©Photoshop if one is using images only.  

There are some important considerations when contributing to a publication.
Colour files should be jpeg or tiff and be saved at 300 DPI. While 8x12 is usually large enough a higher resolution image can always be supplied if requested by an editor. It is very important to leave some space around the image so that the editor can fit into the available space. If possible send both a vertical and horizontal shot of the subject, that way you may find your shot being used on the cover. 

The Black-necked Stilt had been around the White Rock area for a few days so I sent the picture to the editor of the Peace Arch News knowing that it would be of interest to local readers. It was published the very next issue.

The most important factor of all is actually the submitting your work to publishers, magazines and newspapers when and if you think it might me newsworthy, if you don't try you'll never get published.

John Gordon 
BC Canada

Monday, August 7, 2017

Waiting for Phoebe

Late July 2017 Iona Inner Ponds Richmond BC.

The Black Phoebe was proving to be elusive. Eventually an hour into our search Tom Platt and his son located the flycatcher over the sewage lagoon. The bird was hawking insects low to the water, we never did get close enough for a photo, just fleeting views but views nevertheless. It was a lifer for many of us. Over the next few days the bird proved to be incredibly elusive, finally disappearing into the ether never to be seen again.
During the wait an American Goldfinch landed close to me and began to feed on thistle seeds plucking several at a time sending the feathery part into the air like a miniature parachute.

An American Goldfinch plucks seed from a thistle.

Below, a Kildeer chick scurries along the 'muck' at Iona. Since I took up birding I have visited more sewage lagoons than medieval cathedrals...just saying! 

Kildeer chick.

Least Sandpiper.

Long-billed Dowitcher.

Long-billed Dowitchers illuminated by the early morning sun.

Spotted Sandpiper at sunrise.

Western Sandpiper.

Now in the first week of August the shorebirds the migration is beginning to get into full swing. I've 
visited Boundary Bay a few times where Westerns and Baird's are now turning up on a regular basis. One evening there were just flocks of Least Sandpipers. The flocks of Black-bellied Plover are worth looking over for American Golden Plovers.
Now that I have sorted the garden, the repairs to the house are completed I can get back to the birds. I hope to see you out there. Good birding to you all.

John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Friday, July 14, 2017

Jackman Wetland Aldergrove

June 23 2017 
Jackman Wetlands
 Aldergrove BC.

I can't believe I worked in Langley for well over twenty years and never birded Jackman Wetlands. I've birded Point Pelee, took a train to bird Churchill Manitoba and drove and ferried to St Mary's Ecological Reserve Newfoundland but never Langley's Jackman Wetlands.
Back in the day when I was actively employed by the Langley Times I covered a story about methane gas extraction from the old garbage dump that now makes up part of the Jackman site. On this visit the same machinery lay toppled over and rusting in the bushes. There was little evidence of the thousands of tonnes of garbage that was once dumped there. Presumably the methane and assorted garbage is still percolating underground. Meanwhile my erstwhile birding companion Carlo G pointed out the singing House Wren way up in a tree, I would have probably missed the bird had I birded on my own. Thanks Carlo.

House Wren

The path to Jackman Wetlands was quite birdy but the best action was at the gravel pit ponds where a May and Damsel Fly hatch was in full swing, an important event for the many fledging barn swallows and cedar waxwings eagerly awaiting to be fed.

Barn Swallows

Family Gathering

Jackman Wetlands, Metro Vancouver, British Columbia, CA
Jun 23, 2017 10:42 AM - 11:13 AM
Protocol: Stationary
21 species

Canada Goose  9
Mallard  1
Pied-billed Grebe  1
Sora  1
Spotted Sandpiper  1
Willow Flycatcher  2
Northwestern Crow  5
Northern Rough-winged Swallow  6
Tree Swallow  10
Violet-green Swallow  3
Barn Swallow  10
Swainson's Thrush  2
American Robin  2
Cedar Waxwing  30
Common Yellowthroat  4
Yellow Warbler  1
Savannah Sparrow  1
Song Sparrow  1
Black-headed Grosbeak  2
Red-winged Blackbird  6
House Finch  1

Cedar Waxwing drops a dragonfly.

O Ave  272 St

Afterwards we popped down to nearby 0 Ave and 274, the most southern edge of Aldergrove Regional Park where we found a good selection of birds including Willow Flycatchers, American Goldfinch, Common Yellowthroats, Eurasian-Collared Doves and a marauding Cooper's Hawk.
Cooper's Hawk

Willow Flycatcher

                     By noon it was just too hot to bird and time for an afternoon siesta, who knows what the evening might bring

"It never too late to stop birding"
John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Monday, July 10, 2017

Backroads: Quesnel to Clinton

June 13-15 2017 

Quesnel to Soda Creek Williams Lake-Alkali Lake and Dog Creek.

On my drive back from Dawson Creek and Prince George I stopped off at a quiet rest area just north of Quesnel. I headed down to a small creek where I heard a Northern Waterthrush. I was finally birding on my own so approaching birds was much easier. This bird was singing and easy to locate.
Northern Waterthrush.

 West Fraser Timber Park

 West Fraser Timber Park was a busy place with a softball game in full swing and a packed tennis court. Despite an impromptu soccer game there was still plenty of birdlife everywhere. Western Tanagers, American Redstarts, Red-eyed Vireos, Calliope Hummingbirds and other canopy dwellers.

Western Tanager.

On the pond were two pairs of Barrow's Goldeneye with their broods.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Old Soda Creek Rd.

After a night in Quesnel I decided to take the Old Soda Creek Road to Williams Lake. The drive would take me through some stunning scenery and better still, some great birding. I was happy to be off the main road and had the place to myself.

One of the many stunning views from the Old Soda Creek Township Road.

 I was on the Soda Creek Road for only a few minutes when I heard a Western Tanager. I had only taken a few shots when a rancher stopped his truck to have a chat. Maybe he thought I had broken down. He told me about some of the birds he had seen over the years on his farm and then we parted ways, he to the hay field, me to Williams Lake and the tanager long gone into the forest.

Western Tanager.

Although the area south of Quesnel and toward Williams Lake is very arid, every now and then I would find patches of green where thickets and bushes flourished. These areas were good habitat for Lincoln Sparrows.

Lincoln Sparrow.

I am not too sure about this crop which looked like a type of dandelion but smaller, the field was being watered so maybe it is a bona-fide crop. I took all the scenics with my Nikon P900 camera during the heat of the day, a real landscape photographer would have a ball here if they had the time.
Soda Creek Macalister farmland.

The Fraser River.

After spending the previous week with some very good birders I had begun to hear bird song in quite another way. These Lazuli Buntings, which I heard before seeing them were sitting on wild rose. I shot them from the window of my VW Westfalia.

I hear a lot about bird pictures being cropped too close and the lack of background/habitat being included to give context but there is more than one way to look at cropping or framing a picture.
The picture below would fit nicely onto a cover of a magazine while the second picture gives more info about location and habitat would not make a cover. 
I my humble opinion there is a place for both especially if the subject is co-operative.
Lazuli Bunting

This time I decided to include more of the background.

Williams Lake to Alkali Lake and Clinton

After arriving in Williams Lake I took the Dog Creek Road to Alkali Lake. I have too say it was one of the most interesting drives with ever changing scenery and birding opportunities.
Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Scenic Arid Benchlands 

Alkali Lake

Eventually I arrived at Alkali Lake where I spotted six American White Pelicans, the first of my trip.
Also present were Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Mallard, Green and Blue-winged Teal. The marshes had good populations of Song Sparrows, Eastern Kingbirds, Mountain Bluebirds, Willow Flycatchers, Common Yellowthroats and Vesper Sparrows.

Gadwall and American White Pelican.

 Wherever I went there were Brown-headed Cowbirds and to a lesser extent Brewer's Blackbirds. I hardly saw any raptors except for the occasional Red-tailed Hawk. Probably if I had two or three days I might have had more luck but that's just the best excuse to return and do some serious birding.

Dry grasslands of the Fraser Valley.
I continued my drive through the arid landscape, nesting boxes had been occupied by Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds. In the skies Ravens dived bombed each other perhaps in jest or maybe some type of intricate courtship ritual.

Vesper Sparrow.

Had I known I would be stealing furtively glances at my fuel gauge I would have stopped for gas at the Dog Creek Reserve. I didn't realize they sold gas and how far it was to both Williams Lake and Clinton. When I came to a fork in the road I waved down a farmer for directions and advice. He explained that both towns were a two hour drives away and to follow him. He was kind enough to guide me through twenty kms of forest logging roads to Beaver Lake which is just north of Clinton. As it turned out I had plenty of gas to make it to Clinton. 

Mountain Bluebird (Male)
When I retrace my steps next year I will take the turn off for Dog Creek about ten kms north of Clinton and head for Beaver Lake where there is a BC Recreation site with lakeside camping.

Mountain Bluebird (Female)

An alternate route is well documented if you want to start at Williams Lake and head north to Soda Creek and beyond check out Russell and Dick Canning's book, Birdfinding in British  Columbia.

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