Sunday, 27 September 2020

Finding A Good Bird

 Sept 22 2020

A few months ago, fellow birder Colin Classen and I were chatting about finding rarities, the ones that turn up once or twice a year or in extreme cases once in a decade. As it turned out a few weeks later, Colin found and photographed an Ash-throated Flycatcher (ATFL) while on one of his regular walks at Colony Farm. He couldn't have been happier to share his find with others in the birding community. I and others tried for Colin's bird but we all dipped. I wouldn't be the first bird I would miss but that's just one of the many aspects that makes birding so fascinating.

In birding parlance the ATFL was a "really, really good bird" occurring in the Lower Mainland perhaps once or twice every couple of years. Over the last ten years I have only seen two myself including one a few nights ago at Brunswick Point. That bird was found by Grant Edwards who shared his find via the BC Rare Bird Alert allowing numerous other birders to get on the bird. For many, the Brunswick Point ATFL was a lifer. It's still there as I write a week later.

Most often when a rare species is found word spreads quickly. That's what happened to me a few weeks ago during a visit to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta. Due to Covid19 I and others had to book  visits beforehand. Prior to mid-March one could just turn up at the sanctuary and bird away. Fortunately  I just happened to be booked in Tuesday September 8. I chose that date as the migration of shorebirds would be in full swing and the tides high enough to force the flocks off the foreshore into Reifel's ponds. That's the theory anyway.

I found myself at the West Field where many of the smaller sandpipers find suitable habitat in the shallows. Other sandpipers present included Long-billed Dowitchers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, a few Pectoral and the flock of Western Sandpipers. The longer-legged birds can feed in deeper water. The diminutive westerns however prefers the shallows where they are continuously on the move, probing for food, re-fuelling for the next leg of an epic southern migration.

 It was time to scan the flock again. Flushed earlier by a Merlin the small flock of westerns were agitated and rarely stayed in one spot. Eventually they settled down to feed. Birders are always hoping for something different, scanning the flock over and over in the hope of finding the proverbial diamond in the rough. Perhaps there would be an early Sharp-tailed or even a Stilt Sandpiper. The westerns were on the move again, now barely visible even with a scope. Once again they flew closer which gave excellent views. Scanning through the flock of 30 or so was one bird which looked quite different in size, somewhat larger and with a long decurved bill. What I needed was a picture to help identify the bird. If it flew off what proof would there be, believe me I been stung before with an odd looking hummingbird a few years back, no picture, no proof, no kudos. This time I shot off a few frames with my Nikon P1000 but the distance and reeds blocking the view made it difficult to get a clear image. Finally I managed  three frames but being nervous and shot at 3000mm handheld, the results were far from perfect, in fact they were terrible, but proof nevertheless. Looking at the images I came to the conclusion that it was a Curlew Sandpiper, a bird I had photographed in the UK but never in Canada. I needed back-up confirmation but no-one close-by could help. I sent a picture via text to Mel who does an invaluable job running the BC Rare Bird Alert, the fuzzy picture impressed her enough have her immediately make her way to Reifel to confirm the sighting. Once she had put the word out other birders began to converge on Reifel.

The Curlew Sandpiper was much larger than the Western Sandpipers it was associating with.
Nikon P1000

The buzz of finding a rare bird is something only a birder can fully appreciate. It's not that a common experience but when it happens it's gratifying. Being Johnny on the spot means waiting for others to arrive to get them on the bird but better still there is no need to battle traffic, drive like a bat out of hell or slip away from work for a fictitious doctor's appointment. 

The large decurved bill was a giveaway toward identification.
Nikon P1000

Thirty minutes later an out of breath Mel arrived but the curlew had taken off. Every birder knows that sinking feeling, it's not nice. Mel decided to stay put in case the birds flew back and l went to scout the other end of the pond. Five minutes later I was on the bird again by which time other twitchers were arriving. I texted Mel who joined us, there were smiles all around. For many the bird was lifer. 

The Curlew Sandpiper is a rare visitor from Eurasia.

More birders arrived and there was much back slapping and high fives which reminded me of my conversation with Colin a few weeks earlier.



"It's never too late to find a 

good bird"

John Gordon


BC Canada

Monday, 15 June 2020

Changing the Way I Photograph

Changing the way I photograph or how I became a Cotton Carrier fan

I've always enjoyed photography. Back in the day I even made a good living from it. Apart from a few days here and there I have been making and creating images for fifty years.
 Bird photography is by far the most challenging yet most enjoyable I have ever tackled. 
Photographing a tree creeper or a warbler flitting from branch to branch demands somewhat the same skillset as photographing Wayne Gretzky flipping a puck past Richard Brodeur or David Beckham scoring a goal. I should know, I've done both.
Often I would use 300mm F2.8 or 500mm F4 lenses. I would carry one or the other around all day. On numerous occasions even walking out to the end of the Iona south jetty and back. 
During my press days (1983-2011) I can't remember how many times I visited the chiropractor with sore shoulders and stiff neck. Finding a perfect way to carry gear was a never ending quest.  

A long lens was useful to get this shot at the PNE.
Afterwards I got to meet the Dalai Lama shake his hand and exchange a few words. 

Even so, carrying one of the new lightweight 200mm-600mm super zooms and camera attached has a combined weight of 8.5 lbs which can weigh heavy on the shoulders. So after years of trying various carrying systems I have now found the perfect solution, namely the Cotton Carrier system. 

 I recently tumbled over a rock and landed awkwardly. While I and my camera came out of the situation unscathed my Cotton Carrier suffered from the impact. It was a freak accident with the vest taking the brunt of the fall. These things happen and I suppose the designers made the vest to carry a lens and not to break the fall of a doddering senior.
I continued to bird but I missed the vest. I lasted a week before contacting Cotton explaining what had happened and asked it they could repair the damage. After sending some pix I received an email from Brook Parker at Cotton's Vancouver headquarters explaining they would replace the harness free of charge. I was gobsmacked. As much as I offered to pay for postage and repairs and even an upgrade I became clear they weren't going to have any of it. A few days later I received a brand new vest in the mail. That's what I call amazing customer service. Talk to anyone you see wearing one, I'm sure they'll all agree that it has changed the way they bird, it sure has for me.

Khutzeymateen Grizzly bears play fight.

The ability to bird, cover long distance and be ready to catch a fleeting moment has changed the way I photograph. I am having more fun, getting better results and photographing way more birds than I ever did lugging around a tripod and super-telephoto lens. I can now keep up with birders on organized hikes, better still, I don't mss a beat when I go abroad and I take exactly the same set-up that I use when birding around Vancouver. It's a win win situation.
That said, the Cotton Carrier system can be used to carry large prime lenses although most photographers would need a tripod for best results. Attachments are also available to attach multiple cameras, tripods and bins. 
In conclusion, go forth, don't take life too seriously and enjoy your photography. I am.

A bed of flowers or a Flower Bed

John Gordon

Young birder and Covid-19 lockdown

Here is  an interesting link to a young birder from the UK as well as some other odd goings on across the pond.

and owls too.

John Gordon (JOGO)

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Forest birds

Forest Birds 

Spring in the Lower Mainland



Campbell Valley Park

I spent the morning birding in the forest, it's my favourite place to be, especially at this time of year. 

Western Tanager
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm
The birds are only outnumbered by the insect population, their emergence perfectly timed for the arrival of millions of hungry migrants

Orange-crowned Warbler
Nikon Coolpix P1000

    During the migration I can think of no better place to be than in a forest. My childhood was spent in the UK's Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, both places of outstanding natural beauty. I would spend the summers in the forest or on the riverbanks either fishing or rambling. I remember the Kingfisher and the Song Thrush but little other birdlife. 
Within the protective canopy of the forest stresses can dissipate within seconds, it's really quite remarkable. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest are a powerful force. Any thoughts I might have floating around my bird brain take a backseat to the forest chorus. 

 Latimer Lake

Orange-crowned Warbler
Nikon Coolpix P1000
Latimer Lake is a postage stamp parcel of forest, bush and lake on the Surrey/Langley border. Surrounded by industry, the park offers more than it should considering the loss of farmland and forest that surrounds it. 

Burnaby Mountain

Cassin's Vireo
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

High above in the forest canopy, Black-throated Grays, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the Warbling Vireos plucked juicy insects from the unfurling blossoms and buds, easy pickings after an epic migration. One sound rose above the others but before I could locate the source a Yellow-rumped Warbler flew right past me directly into a nest, she wiggled her rump and settled down. Every trip to the forest brings a surprise.

Cassin's Vireo
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

Joe Brown Park  

A simple puddle of water is a welcome respite for a migrating bird that may have flown all night, all the while avoiding the many perils that long distance travel might entail. How birds battle the elements and find their way over great distances is one of the great wonders of nature.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

I immediately hatched a cunning plan to secure a photo. I hid just off the trail waiting to see which birds might come down to bathe. After being interrupted by a couple out for a stroll a Yellow-rumped Warbler eventually returned to the puddle. A Townsend's Warbler thought about a dip but was flushed by a cyclist and never returned. 

Townsend's Warbler
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

At eye level Wilson's Warblers and Warbling Vireos plucked insects from low hanging shrubs, the warblers showed no fear, seemingly intent on fattening up after their long journey. After taking a few pictures I tucked away my camera and just watched and listened. A few sounds like the Bushtits and the Black-throated Grays were familiar, others however will remain a mystery.

Warbling Vireo
Nikon D500 200-500mm

Home Sweet Home

After birding all morning I returned home to tackle the foot high grass that my wife had been asking me to cut for weeks. It was a hot day and hard work so I treated myself to a nice cool Mexican beer. Part-way through my first swig a flash of yellow caught my attention. It happened so quickly that I couldn't be sure what species of bird I had just seen. I went out to the street and sitting in my Acacia was a Western Tanager. A pleasant surprise and a new yard bird. 

The tanager leaves its perch and prepares to snag a juicy insect.

Wings tucked in at the last moment provided the tanger with an extra amount of precision.

Looking for its next victim.
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

Queen Elizabeth Park


Olive-side Flycatcher
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm
Technically not a forest but the closest thing in Vancouver City is Queen Elizabeth Park. A pair of Olive-sided flycatchers used the same snag for almost a week before moving on to places unknown. They are more common in the Interior forest than in Metro Vancouver but any forest of good size will hold a few during migration with some even breeding locally in the Lower Mainland.

Campbell Valley Regional Park

Red-eye Vireo
Nikon D500 Nikon 200mm-500mm

Catbird Slough

Although not technically a forest, the riparian stand of Black Cottonwood along Catbird Slough is an important buffer between the 3000 acre Pitt Lake and the Pitt-Addington Marsh. The narrow strand of forest between the two stands of water offers shelter and sanctuary for many species of birds and animals.
American Redstart
First year male
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

The American Redstart was singing but very shy. I recorded its song on my iPhone, when I played it back to myself the bird suddenly appeared and then disappeared as quickly, never to return.  This image was shot through leaves, a technique called selective focus. The lens has to be shot wide open which on the 200mm-500mm is F5.6
 I have learnt from experience that it's best to shoot as many frames as possible to get one that portrays the subject well. Initially I thought I had a few out of focus shots due to the shyness of the subject. Although not technically perfect is the first time I have managed to photograph an American Redstart in the Lower Mainland. 
Many thanks to Quentin Brown who differentiated the similar sounding Yellow Warbler and redstart making locating the bird so much easier. We actually found two apart from the one pictured here.

Final Frame

A Sign from Anna's Place

"It never too late to listen to the birds, read a book and enjoy the quiet moments"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Mindfull Birding/ Vortex /Garbage and Birds

Please bird mindfully

By Team eBird
March 27, 2020
For birders, one way to get through this period is to spend time outdoors enjoying birds—just remember to keep health and safety your top priorities. Follow the recommendations of your local health authorities at all times, even if it means staying at home and focusing on your yard or garden list instead.

Full article below

N.A.B. (Not a Bird)
Douglas Squirrel

Vortex Rocks

Two months ago I dropped my Vortex Diamondback bins, they wouldn't focus so I sent them back to Vortex Canada. Vortex is well known for offering a lifetime guarantee so I put it to the test. The process was simple. The cost of shipping is covered by the owner and the return shipping by the company which is fair. Meanwhile my birding buddy and neighbour Carlo G saved the day and lent me his old bins so I could continue birding. Imagine my surprise when a month later the front bell rang and the courier handed me a box. What I found inside was not my old battered pair but a brand new and undated version off my old bins.
Thanks Vortex, you made my day.
Customer for life.
John Gordon (JOGO)

The Songster

Bewick's Wren

Another bird song I have mastered this year is the Bewick's Wren. During winter the call is very recognizable, the song even more distinctive. That's how I found and photographed this bird.

Garbage and Birds

The birding was amazing. Sandee my wife, a non-birder and I visited Surrey's Latimer Lake Park. It's our way of trying to bird closer to home and spending more time together. While I leisurely birded Sandee scoured the trails for litter. It drives her nuts to see how loutish some people are. One has to wonder what type of thinking, if any these people have when they're not busy throwing aways their paper wrappers, coffee mugs and cigarette butts. It boggles the mind. Please don't get me going on the crappy dog walkers who leave their poopy bags on the trail or hanging in bushes like gaudy Christmas ornaments. 
After a few hours birding we counted the total number of species of birds I had seen and she the bags of garbage collected. Her count was three to my twenty-one. I conceded that her effort far outweighed mine. We were both more than happy as we headed back to the car. When I went to put away my camera I noticed I had lost the lens hood.  
As we retraced our steps I suddenly heard a Hutton's Vireo. While I was hard at work looking for any movements in the bushes Sandee returned with the lost hood. Brilliant! 

Hutton's Vireo.
Note the broken eye-ring and olive colouring.

        Finally I spotted the bird, but in the excitement of the moment I managed to get my camera and bins in a tangle, loosing sight of the bird and almost choking myself in the process. When I untangled myself I needed to make sure it wasn't a similar looking Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a mistake I've made numerous times before. I scanned the bushes again, found the bird and fired off a few shots. 

Changing the background was as simple as moving a few steps sideways. The cottonwood made for a pleasant backdrop..

The curved at the end of the bill and lack of black bar on the base of the secondaries sealed the deal, it wasn't a kinglet. 

Final Frame

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Just a few feet away from the car I spotted a Golden-crowned Kinglet perched in the foliage of the flowering Indian Plum. It seemed transfixed, allowing me to fire off few frames before finally calling it a day.

All pix Nikon Coolpix P1000

"It's never too late to pick-up garbage"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Stay Safe, We'll Get Through This Together

Mar 26 2020
Lower Mainland

Since I took these pictures the world has changed unmeasurably.
  Somethings however remain the same.  Outside my window a pair of crows break off twigs to build a nest. In the garden a Bewick's Wren has survived the winter and the neighbourhood cats. The Yellow-rumped Warblers have returned to the woodlot and swallows swoop over ponds. That part of our collective experience hasn't changed.

Some of you I know are holed up at home because of underlying health conditions or just worried about going out except for groceries. Please stay safe and guard your health.
If that is the case here are some miscellaneous images to hopefully cheer you up.
Boundary Bay access points like 104 St (above) are now closed to visitors.
Nikon Coolpix P1000 at 3000mm
 When I went birding in the first ten weeks of 2020 the world was a very different place. My plan to go birding in Arizona seems so far fetched now it's ridiculous, had I gone I would have been caught up in dodgy travel arrangements and all the other complications that would have entailed. Considering what has transpired that's a mere inconvenience and little comfort to my daughter and thousands of others who may lose their jobs or worst those who have contacted or succumbed to Covid-19. In the scheme of things it seems rather selfish to be out birding but we know that being outdoors will keep us healthy in mind, body and spirit. In these times I keep thinking of the words of the late Leonard Cohen.

"There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in"
(Leonard Cohen)

A Ray of Light

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
Iona Regional Park
Nikon Coolpix P1000
A ray of light came in the form of a beautifully coloured finch at Iona Regional Park Wednesday morning.  It was a magical feeling, somewhat of a rare commodity lately. Thanks to Gillian Mitchell for letting all us share their find.
At the twitch we all kept a very respectful distance from each other and from other park visitors. We were very aware of not touching objects such as washroom doors, park benches and leaving no traces whatsoever. After a walk along the beach I drove straight home making sure I didn't come into contact with others.


Patch birds

I have as much as possible begun to seek out places to bird locally where I might avoid others or at least give them a wide berth.
I either bird within walking distance from home or drive within 5 kms.

Pacific Wren from Brydon Lagoon
Nikon Coolpix P1000

My patch is Brydon Lagoon in Langley City. I have been birding there for decade and had never seen a White-throated Sparrow until this year. There are actually two, both are very timid, often bullied by the Song Sparrows seeing them takes a little patience and stealth, it's good to see they have survived the winter.

White-throated Sparrow
Nikon Coolpix P1000

Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Latimer Lake, Surrey
Nikon Coolpix P1000

Brown Creeper
Nikon Coolpix P1000
Arbour Ribbon Trail-Township of Langley

The Migration

 Meanwhile the migration is beginning with Mountain Bluebirds turning up all over the Lower Mainland and beyond.

It may seem selfish in these dire times to be posting photographs but I hope they might bring a little smile to those who might not be able to get out. These were mostly taken while shooting video on my Nikon Coolpix P1000. However with plenty of time on my hands it seems like a good time to update the blog.
 I have been shooting video for an upcoming project so my still photography is mostly taking a back seat for the moment. I am really exited about shooting video. I am having to learn new skills and terminology but it's all part of the lifelong learning experience. 

Mountain Bluebird
A small flock of Mountain Bluebirds turned up at Centennial Beach on the very same date in 2019, how uncanny is that.

Nikon Coolpix P1000 Centennial Beach (now closed to the public)

Canada Geese
Surrey Lake
Nikon Coolpix P1000

Nikon Coolpix P1000
I can't remember where I took this particular shot.

Some Images from Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary 

A semi tame Red-breasted Nuthatch comes for a hand-out.
Reifel Bird Sanctuary (now closed)
Nikon Coolpix P1000


Mallard wing pattern.

Sandhill Crane
Nikon Coolpix P1000 (Handheld)

I love the 3000mm zoom on the P1000, no way I am going to use a macro mode on a bird with a spear for a beak.


I don't photograph humans anymore so when a thin wisp of cloud covered the sun and created some  great light I started to focus in on a couple of confiding Wood Ducks. I noticed how visitors were admiring their beauty and being a regular visitor to Reifel I have fallen in to a pattern of walking right past these beautiful birds as I ventured forth to find the latest and greatest arrival. That's one of the pitfalls of listing, it's easy to overlook the obvious in the mad dash for a tick. The 24mm-3000mm P1000 allows to shoot from a great distance, the bokeh is amazing.
Wood Duck

Wood Duck

 I have enjoyed putting this smorgasbord of images together, something I have been putting off for months. I thought it might be therapeutic for myself and hopefully brings a smile to anyone else who has been affected by the recent events. Safer times will undoubtedly return. Time will be the healer.

"It's never to late too practice social distancing"
John Gordon
BC Canada