Sunday, 2 June 2019

Nikon P1000 Field Test

A number of birders have been asking me how well the Nikon P1000 Coolpix works for birding. 

Rather than go through the Nikon P1000 online manual, I have been experimenting with the camera out in the field under real life conditions. Prior to the P1000's release I had traveled to the UK with the Nikon  P900. I really enjoyed the P900 but it didn't offer me 4k video and a microphone jack for better sound recording. Those posts were the most popular I ever posted.  

This year I have shifted my focus away from bird photography to videography, scoping and listing. I am beginning to see birds in a completely different way especially those offshore which the scope brings into full view.
Sometimes I arrive home after severals hours of birding having never taking the camera out of the bag. 

Normally I don't  photograph at high noon as the contrast can be tricky to deal with but with the emphasis on ticking as many birds as is possible in the calendar year lighting and time of day becomes a secondary consideration. Besides I already have numerous pictures of most BC birds so I can afford the luxury of using the P1000 purely for ID purposes and for blogging.
Here a some examples
Chipping Sparrow
I literally stepped on this Chipping Sparrow while on my way out of the Iona Inner ponds. It was feeding with a mixed flock of White and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Shot from about fifteen metres.

Greater Yellowlegs at 50 metres
Blackie Spit

Same bird shot in the P1000 Birdwatching mode.

Horne Lark
Another middle of the day shot that the P1000 handles very well considering the contrast.
This image captured from about 20 metres.

Hutton's Vireo nestlings
Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club
The articulated screen on the P1000 allowed me to hold the camera over my head and shoot the nest which was about three metres off the ground.

Is it a Lesser or Greater Yellowlegs way off in the corner of the settling ponds? I took this ID shot to check later. My initial instincts were correct that it was indeed a Lesser Yellowlegs and another year bird.

Lesser Yellowlegs
Iona Inner Ponds

         (Below) This long distance shot of a House Wren was needed to verify the species. There are a number of areas that make this a very poor picture that I would normally publish but in this case it didn't matter. Because it was possibly a very early house Wren (April 23/19) I needed to verify the species before posting it on eBird and possibly sending other birders on a wild goose chase. I've not encountered enough HOWR to be sure except that it was on a nest box which gave me a clue.

House Wren
Campbell Valley Park Vernal Ponds

A few seconds after finding this Yellow-headed Blackbird (Below) at Brydon Lagoon two Green Herons flew past me chased by a crow, not the kind of situation the P1000 handles very well. If you want to capture birds in flight you really need a DSLR.

Yellow-headed Blackbird and Brown-headed Cowbird
Brydon Lagoon
Langley City

A few days later I was on the Iona Jetty photographing a Horned Lark when on my way back to the car I found this brilliant Yellow-headed Blackbird. I adjusted my height to include as much sky a possible to complement the black and yellow of the bird, the trees in the bottom of the picture add complimentary colours and depth to the scene.
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Iona South Jetty

I often visit my son in Squamish and always stop off at Porteau Cove to break my journey.  Mostly I find sea ducks, oystercatchers and cormorants but this time a number warblers were moving through the trees. Just because the camera has a 24mm-3000mm doesn't mean one can't back off a little and include some habitat to give context.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubons)
Porteau Cove
Sea to Sky Hwy
Finally I went to Reifel to search for migrating shorebirds and was fortunate enough to find this Great Egret, a bird not often seen in the Lower Mainland although one spent almost a month in the Aldergrove area and one was seen in mid-May in Langley City. It is likely that this is the same bird but there is no way of really knowing. 

Great Egret

   After photographing the bird feeding in a side channel it eventually flew into a nearby tree where a number of us were able to capture it preening. I took more than a few pictures but this is the only one I really like as a gust of wind splayed out the birds feathers. All but four of the other sixty files I took were deleted later, no need to keep them. Culling is like de-cluttering, hard to do at first but as you learn how to edit your own work the process becomes easier. I was taught to edit by a very good newspaper editor when I first began photographing for a living. These days I try to edit in the camera as much as possible so I can spend more time either out in the field, reading or watching Footy.

To conclude I have to say that after a year of use I still really enjoy using the P1000 to ID birds especially from a great distance. The wide angle end of the zoom is great for scenics, the macro is easy to use, and the scenery modes including the Birdwatching Mode are fool proof and easily overridden when needed. The rapid bursts are useful, the many Scene modes are easy to use.
The camera is not a substitute for a full blown DSLR like my D500 and 200mm-500mm but for the birder who wants to photograph birds and wants to go light either the P900 or the P1000 are good choices. Canon, Sony and Lumix all have options worth looking into but being a Nikon user I tend to stick with same operating systems.
Finally for those who like to shoot video and record bird sounds the P1000 has 4k and a mic output. The video can be handheld at up to 1000mm but a solid tripod is needed for the longer lengths. The video quality is more tha the most discerning photographer will ever need. 

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Skagit Valley Bird Blitz

Skagit Valley Provincial Park

May 10-12 2019 

Skagit Valley Provincial Park is just one hundred and fifty kilometres from Vancouver. The park entrance is thirty-five kilometres east of Hope. The location for the ninth annual Skagit Valley Bird Blitz (SVBB) organized by the Hope Mountain Centre
I had been invited to open the event with a Friday night presentation so when I arrived Friday afternoon I immediately went out for a short walk to check for birds. I am familiar with the area as I have made numerous visits with the Langley Field Naturalists where the focus is more than just birds. 
I decided to take my P1000 bridge camera for a quick walk around the picnic area just in case I saw anything worth photographing. I left my D500 and 200mm-500mm at the campsite.

Ross Lake picnic area and campground.
Outside the group campground a large open grassy area with picnic benches offered spectacular vistas out toward the North Cascades Park in the USA, Ross Lake National Park and the Pasayten Wilderness. Ross Lake is dry at this time of year but  will eventually fill with snow melt. The dammed and logged valley provides Seattle with twenty percent of its electrical needs. On the Canadian side is almost twenty-thousand hectares of wilderness offering great opportunities to hike and bird.
The park is however under threat from logging and greedy mining barons.

BC Nature wrote:
Many of you are aware that logging occurred last year in what is known as the Manning-Skagit ‘Donut Hole’. The Donut Hole refers to the area not yet included within the parks but surrounded by Manning and Skagit Provincial Parks. This area has not yet received park designation due to an old mining claim, but the Skagit Environmental Endowment Commission is negotiating to buy out this claim. Government allowed logging to occur last year, but after public expressed grave concerns the logging has been put on hold. BC Nature sent a letter about the logging on July 20, 2018. 

Now the holder of the mining claim, Giant Copper/Imperial Metals Inc, has applied for a multi-year permit for mineral exploration.

To add insult to injury a 2018 forest fire burnt thousands of hectares of forested mountainside causing considerable damage to creeks and roads. The logging road to the bird blitz opened on Thursday the day before so a huge thanks goes out to parks staff who made it possible for the event to even take place. The road, normally full of ruts and potholes has never been smoother. There were plenty of vacant campsites so treat yourself and get in a visit before the mosquitos hatch. 

I hadn't really started exploring when I spotted a Black Bear. He looked like a third or fourth year now on its own after spending the first two years with its mother. Although he looked calm and occupied I kept a healthy distance, I was happy I had my 24mm-3000mm P1000 zoom.
When the bear made eye contact I decided to move slowing away.

Black Bear
Nikon P1000 at 3000mm handheld and no crop
Closeby three Chipping Sparrows alighted on the gravel path to feed on small black and yellow beetles emerging from the Black Cottonwoods.
Chipping Sparrow
Nikon P1000
 After my surprise meeting with the bear I spotted some other birders and I tagged along with them, safety in numbers. Around the forested areas Barn and Violet-green Swallows were hawking insects, American Robins were having a field day with an abundant supply of earthworms.
A Common Raven landed in a nearby tree. Dark against the leaves I moved a few inches to place it against the bright bark which showed off the outline of the bird nicely.  Compositional elements like this come from years of shooting Kodachrome 64 that were 75 cents per shot. In those days we took a  little more time before pressing the shutter, besides who wants to sort through hundreds or thousands of digital files when time could be better spent in the field.

Common Raven
 (Below) One of five frames of a Pine Siskin, each with a slightly different pose. I liked this one the best. Black Cottonwoods bark develops deep furrows which in turn attract insectivorous birds.

Pine Siskin

 Soon it was time to head back to camp to prepare for the Friday night slide presentation and supper. Just as we decided to make our way back a pair of Turkey Vultures landed in some distant trees. The P1000 zoom handheld at 3000 mm worked well enough to capture this decent ID shot.

Turkey Vulture

The Following Day

Apart from having a lot of fun, the purpose of the (SVBB) is to build a data base of birds found in the Skagit Valley. A dozen locations are chosen and each day birders break up into small groups to make a tally. I like to bird Chittendon and Whitworth Meadows for the variety of species and stunning scenery. Others prefer mountain hikes and others take on forest walks, any location can turn up good birds. Some birders have been attending for the last nine years and their expertise is shared amongst new participants that include birders of every level. Much of the groundwork was laid by renowned naturalist and expert birder Denis Knopp. Last year I tagged along with Denis who taught me how to find Cassin's Vireo. This year I was able to pay it forward to three novice birders.
The counts began Friday afternoon and last until Sunday morning when on our way home participants bird our way out of the park. 

Pacific-slope Flycatcher

Common forest birds included Pacific-slope, Hammond's Flycatcher and Cassin's Vireo. Out on the lake the Barn Swallows, Violet-green Swallows, American Robins and  Purple Finches were present in good numbers. Meadow birds included White-crowned Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco's, along the riparian zone Wilson's and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Western Tanagers and Brown-headed Cowbirds were present. A rare for the Valley Lark Sparrow was also photographed on two occasions and at different times. One or two birds we'll never know.
Distant shot of a Townsend's Warbler
 On Sunday morning there was a small fall-out of Warbling Vireo's, Western Tanagers, Townsend's Warblers. 
Western Tanager
Some 'Sweet Light' and a nice catchlight make this my favourite shot of the entire weekend.

Western Tanager collecting nesting material.

 Soon it was time to make our way back to civilization and reality but not before finding a really good bird and rarity (according to my eBird submission) for the park. Cassin's Finch are normally found in the Interior but sometimes wander in the coastal regions which the Skagit Valley straddles.
The finches looked a little different from the Purple Finches nearby so I took some insurance shots just to make sure. I'm glad I did. I had a good bird for the trip and the three birders with me all had a lifer, a great way to end the weekend.

Cassin's Finch (female)
Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm

Male Cassin's Finch

Male and Female Cassin's Finch and Pine Siskin.

All to soon weekend came to a close too quickly but with 75 species ticked (the final eBird count is still to come) the event went off without a hitch. We shared the campground with a small herd of deer, the mosquitos were thankfully non-existent, the weather balmy and of course the  company was as good as ever. 
The next Hope Mountain Centre birding event will be the Manning-park-bird-blitzjune-14-16-2019/
I hope to see you there. 

Cheers and good birding.

*Management takes no responsibility for grammatical errors.

"It's never too late to start bird blitzing"
John 'Blitzer' Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Fun in the Sun

Nuevo Vallarta 


March 2019
Birding in Mexico is awesome. This latest trip was my third visit. 
Our hotel was perfectly places being close to a breakwater, a harbour, a beach and an estuary.
When beach-combing I brought along my Nikon P1000 and iPhone just in case I saw something interesting.

Spotted Sandpiper
Nuevo Vallarta
Nikon P1000
Bird Tracks on Sand
Nuevo Vallarta
iphone 6
After a few days acclimatizing it was time to meet up with a long-time friend and check out the birds. Monday morning saw us drive to nearby Boca de Tomates just a few kms from downtown Puerto Vallarta. Check eBird for exact locations. My longtime friend Scott spends the winters in Mexico and had already scouted out the location.
The first sighting was a Grey Hawk. The road to Boca de Tomates was very 'birdy' despite the dust and noise from passing cars making their way to a popular Mexican beach restaurant at the end of the road.
Grey Hawk
Our late start meant it was already beginning to warm up. Despite the less than ideal conditions we did see plenty of American Redstarts, Black-throated Grey Warblers, Blue-Grey Gnatcatchers and as we neared the Mangrove swamp several Limpkins prodding around in the mud. Happy Wrens, San Blas Jays and White Ibis were feeding around the edges of the swamp. A dozen American Crocodiles lounged in the murky green water.

The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)
iPhone 6

American Alligators are found further north in Florida and other surrounding states while American Crocodiles (above) prefer a warmer climate though both species do co-exist in perfect conditions.


At the beach we refreshed with a few Pacifica beers before checking for more birds. Amazingly developments haven't touched the lagoon or shoreline and I am told there are moves to protect even more habitat. Several nature and government groups are working hard to preserve the remaining habitat from urban sprawl, golf courses and mega hotels. There were plenty of birds, the most numerous were Western Sandpipers re-fuelling-up for their northward migration.
 Herons included Great Blue, Little Blue and the Tri-coloured. Royal Terns made their presence known flying over our heads patrolling the surf before making vertical dives for fish.

Along the beach and in front of our time share several Willet, Neoptropic Cormorants and Reddish Egrets took little notice of local fishermen and beachgoers.
The Beach at Nuevo Vallarta.
A Willet and Sanderling and anglers.
iPhone 6
Pool Life

When laying by the pool reading In Search of the Albino Dunnock it was easy to be drawn away from the page by the soaring Brown Pelicans and Black. The afternoon thermals radiating off the hotel roof appeared to keep the birds stationary until for whatever reason a slight drop of a wing would send them higher and out of sight. Even my long suffering non-birding wife cast an admiring eye at the beauty of their movements and ease of flight. Perhaps the happy hour 2 for 1 Tequila Sunrise specials played a little part too, who knows. When a passing grackle crapped on her, I told it was good luck. She believed me. Keeping my book dry was about the most stressful task of the day.
 Other deck chair birds included Rough-winged Swallows and Yellow Warblers. The ever present grackles used the pool fountain to bathe and preen, Fun in the sun indeed.

Tequila Sunset

The Road San Sebastian del Oeste

Our guide Jose Antonio Robles, long-time friend Scott and myself left Nuevo Vallarta for the two hour drive the historic town of San Sebastian del Oeste. Jose came with great references from another Vancouver birder so we knew we would be in good hands.
The village is made up of ancient haciendas and century-old homes and a picturesque square. There is also a valuable legacy of tradition and history which makes a visit well worthwhile.  
We left Puerto Vallarta at 7 a.m and after an hour we pulled off on a nondescript road and parked. Black-throated Magpie Jays soon made their presence known, they were hard to miss. Elegant and Citreoline Trogons, Broad-billed, Berryline, Violet-crowned and Cinnamon Hummingbirds flitted through the vines. We added Greater Pewee, Ivory-billed Woodcreeper, Cordilleran and Brown-crested Flycatchers to our lists. Scrub Euphonia, Indigo Bunting and Summer Tanager were other highlights.

Jose found us a flock of fourteen Crested Guan, without a guide we could have probably overlooked them. They hung around us for thirty minutes, playing hide and seek high up in the canopy. They  eventually gave us great views as they flew to the next tree

Crested Guan
A Lifer
We arrived at San Sebastian in the heat of the day, the kind of heat that makes a person search for the nearest shade and a cold beer. Within minutes Jose found us a Blue Mockingbird but it was way too hot for someone recently off the plane from Canada. Skin can burn in ten minutes. Photography under this kind of light is next to impossible especially with a dark bird like the mockingbird. I used ©Lightroom to lighten the shadows.

Blue Mockingbird

We stayed at the inexpensive but excellent Hotel Los Arcos del Sol where we had a delicious lunch. Located next to San Sebastian del Oeste’s main square, Los Arcos de Sol is a 200-year-old building with charming patios and gardens.

We spent the afternoon exploring the lower regions of surrounding hillsides and later the back alleys and garden of the village itself. 

Zebra Longwing (Heliconius charitonia)

Grace's Warbler

We had a good selection of warblers and flycatchers including this gorgeous Slate-throated Redstart (originally Whitethroat).

Slate-throated Redstart

Next morning bright and early we made our way through the cobble stone streets of the village and upward to 3000m Cerro La Bufo Mountain (below) 

Cerro la Bufo
iPhone 6
The mountain is perfectly accessible by car. Scott'sVW Jetta did just fine. 
As we slowly climbed Mexican Pine and Oak dominated making ideal habitat for the many specialities not found at the coast.

Hepatic Tanager
Russet Nightingale Thrush

Golden-browed Warbler
Trans-volcanic Jay
*Transvolcanic Jay is similar to Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi), and indeed until recently Transvolcanic Jay was classified as a subspecies group of Mexican. Transvolcanic Jay is larger than Mexican Jay, and the upperparts of adult Transvolcanic Jay are deeper, more purplish blue than in Mexican. The bill of adult Transvolcanic Jay is black, but the bill of the fledgling is pale (pinkish or yellowish), and may take up to three years to turn completely black. Transvolcanic Jays occupy pine-oak forests and have large social groups, suggesting that it may be a cooperative breeder; but, in contrast to the northern populations of Mexican Jay in Arizona, which have been studied extensively, little is known about the biology of Transvolcanic Jay (Neotropical Birds Online)


Around each corner there seemed to be good birds and many lifers.

Mountain Trogon
Yellow-Winged Cacique

Rancho Primavera

 Rancho Primavera is an hour and half south of Puerto Vallarta (PV) To make the best use of my time I left the coast at 5.30 a.m so I would have time to do some morning birding. Driving south past the PV Botanical Gardens (where the best time to bird is in the morning) eventually climbing to 2000m and the quaint village of El Tuito. Rancho Primavera was just outside town.


Rancho Primavera

Some of the accommodation is around the ranch pond. The feeders are stocked daily with fruit and nuts and sliced oranges and lemons. A closer look with bins revealed Black-crowned night Herons, Wood Stork, White-faced Ibis and Black-bellied Whistling Ducks, a Least Grebe, Neoptropic Cormorants and a couple of horses.

Least Grebe.
I used my car as a blind.

Black-bellied Whistling Duck

Blue Bunting

Nutting's Flycatcher
I was told there were Nutting's in the woods so I played a tape and this bird immediately responded.

Rose-throated Becard

Varied Bunting

Black-vented Oriole

This was the only frame I managed of this timid oriole. I was told it came to one of the many feeders but was unreliable. I hid behind a bush and within five minutes the bird arrived and left without feeding. I never saw it again.

Julia or Mariposa flam (Dryas ilia)

Sweet Light

Russett-crowned Motmot
When on holidays it is not always possible to photograph at the best time day but when the light, bird and a little luck all coincide the results can be exceptionally pleasing to the eye. The above image is a good example of a shot taken a few moments after sunrise.

Grey-crowned Woodpecker
The above image is taken during the last moments of daylight. Handheld with at 1/50 sec at 5.6 the image works on the level of being a good ID shot but lacking the vibrance of the Motmot.

Unless otherwise stated all images were taken with a Nikon D500and Nikon 20mm-500mm F5.6 handheld.

Fantail warbler.
A difficult skulking warbler that only I found once, nevertheless a real highlight. 


One thing that I did notice on this my fourth trip to Mexico were the posting of notices everywhere warning people not to throw garbage on the roadside. Mexico is changing and changing quickly. The booming economy is putting pressure on the remaining natural spaces. There is however a growing awareness of what treasures Mexico has to offer, not only to Mexicans themselves but for the burgeoning tourist industry. Just for the birder alone there are over one thousand species to discover. Incredibly I have already seen 40% of all Mexican bird in just three short visits, the birding is that good.

33 Lifers and memories to last a lifetime.

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