Sunday, 8 November 2020

Red-backed Shrike Mega Twitch


Rare Bird Alert. A Red-backed Shrike had turned up on BC's Sunshine Coast. A MEGA find if there ever was one. 
The shrike normally breeds in Europe and Western Asia and winters in tropical Africa. Twitchers began frantically checking ferry schedules and booking hotel rooms. I wasn't so quick to react. I thought about it for a full three days before I got my act together and decided to make the six hour, two ferry trip up the Sunshine Coast and beyond to the bustling metropolis of Powell River. It would be a 12-14 hour day trip. Prior to leaving I decided to hedge my bets and stay overnight. That would give a me a better chance in case I dipped on my arrival. I am glad I did.


Twitchers wait for some action.


Arriving at midday I arrived in Powell River and headed for the stakeout (see above) where a number of other birders had been patiently waiting for several hours. There was a bitter cold with blowing off the Salish Sea. I wore three layers and I was still shivering. Eventually three hours later and as the light began to fail the shrike finally appeared. I quickly captured some so-so video footage on my Nikon P1000 bridge camera. 




The camera has excellent 4K video qualities and has a 24mm-3000mm which proved ideal for this particular twitch where we couldn't approach too closely.

Nikon P1000 

The P1000 is not a replacement for a DSLR or a quality mirrorless but not everybody wants to go that route. I then switched to my D500 and 200mm-500mm F5.6 Nikon zoom for some crisper shots by which time the light had dropped and I forced me to shoot at ISO 1000 to get enough shutter speed. The light was terrible but photographers have to work with whatever is available. Thankfully the rain held off.


 

The shrike flew to the ground


and picked up an earthworm

then scolded me.
Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm


I stayed at the historic The Old Courthouse Inn which is unique in every way and well worth visiting 
even if it's only for breakfast. I had a restful stay after my long day's drive and headed out next morning 
to try my luck for the shrike again. There were already birders from Nanaimo when I arrived. It wasn't long before I had to peel off two of my three layers, a complete change in weather from the day before. This time the bird was in the same garden where it had taken up residence. The owners of the house were very gracious allowing an ever growing numbers of birders to keep watching the bird, one twitcher flew in from the Okanagan another from Ontario.
This time I managed to get a few frames off without flushing the bird while the newly arriving birders eagerly searched for the bird. By noon there were no more sightings which meant more than a few returned home without seeing the bird. Those who stayed were luckier next morning.


 
A few days later I procrastinated again and missed the the Prairie Warbler in Kelowna so I may have to get my act together or just not worry about chasing every bird that's reported. 






Very rare birds are termed Mega

see
 

  "It's never a good idea to procrastinate"
                  John Gordon
            Langley/Cloverdale 
                           BC Canada 

 


Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Nature Walk & Forest Bathing (Shinrin Yoku)

 Nature Walk & Forest Bathing

In September a few DRBIPA members, supporters, and volunteers headed out on a socially-distanced guided nature walk at Derby Reach - with John Gordon, professional photographer, author, and Langley Field Naturalist. We learned about letting ourselves be encompassed by our surroundings and how this can help nature photographers. John also shared some of his best tips and tricks for getting good nature shots. It was a great morning out in the park surrounded by trees, even in the rain! 



Osoberry or Indian Plum





Forest bathing is simply spending time outdoors under the canopy of trees and immersing oneself in the forest and soaking in the atmosphere through the senses. John taught us about his approach to forest bathing, about being still and silent until the quiet forest becomes alive with sounds and sights you didn't know were there. A perfect activity for nature photographers and all nature lovers!


Sunset with a 50mm lens shot
 wide open at F1.4


According to Dr. Qing Li, author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health & Happiness, the key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. He advises to let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. A two-hour forest bath will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you.


The Pathway/Brydon 


DRBOBA Newsletter



"It's never too late to take up the art of forest bathing"

John Gordon

Langley/Cloverdale

BC Canada

Bird Watching During a Pandemic

 


A few weeks ago Black Press contacted me about an article they were putting together about birding for seniors. Birding has seen a huge spike in popularity in recent years among all age groups but particularly seniors. Despite the current situation with Covid-19 many groups and clubs are still offering opportunities for seniors and others to get out in a responsible manner. One example is the Langley Field Naturalists, other groups are also offering walks that follow strict social distancing and health protocols. We have had numerous walks around the Lower Mainland and we even have some new faces attending. I've met many who are despondent and are having a tough time with the isolation. To those I  I urge you to get out on your own, with your family unit or in a safe group and take walk in the forest, listen to the birds, take a very deep breath, relax and try to put everything into perspective. Nature is perfect and it will see us all  through these uncertain times.


*Note: Since the article was published just a few weeks ago cases of Covid-19 have begun to rise and the health authorities are asking everything to take even more precautions. Please keep this in mind when you read the article.

Follow the link below to read the whole story. 


John with Canada Jay/Photo Carlo Giovanella


Link to Birdwatching during a Pandemic

                                                              Birding for Seniors/Covid19

 

   Langley Field Naturalists


"Its never too late to get out birding"

John Gordon

Langley/Cloverdale

BC Canada

 


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

Langley/Cloverdale 

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
Langley/Cloverdale

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.
Enjoy

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-nottinghamshire-52009781/birdwatcher-14-making-the-most-of-lockdown-wildlife


and owls too.


John Gordon (JOGO)

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Forest birds


Forest Birds 

Spring in the Lower Mainland

 2020

***

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 tanager with an extra amount of precision.

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

Queen Elizabeth Park

Vancouver

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