Monday, 21 January 2019

Super Wolf Blood Moon

Jan 20 2019 
My Front Yard

Super Wolf Blood Moon

I used the Nikon P1000 Nikon Coolpix 24mm-3000mm which I normally use for travel scenics and bird photography. I used approx 2000mm focal length, the long end of the zoom cropped off part of the moon. I used a tripod and the built in timer to minimize camera movement.
I photographed from my front yard which was fully illuminated by vapour street lights, in the end it didn't seem to make too much difference. I used a tripod and the 'Moon' mode on the camera. The camera also has a "Bird' mode which I use extensively but that's another story. Focus was a bit fiddly to use especially during the umbral.
I hadn't planned to photograph this rare phenomena until I saw the full moon come over my neighbours roof. I quickly grabbed a winter coat and torque and moved into action. A few of my neighbours also came out to watch the sight. Next I paused the Liverpool v Crystal Palace game which I had recorded on the PVR. Liverpool won 4-2, one of the best games of the year. I digress.

The eclipse began at 6.36 p.m while the umbral started at 7.33p.m The total eclipse lasted from 8.41p.m until 9.43 p.m The umbral ended at 10.50p.m and eclipse ended at 11.48p.mSource: Nasa


The eclipse lasted 62 minutes. The next super blood wolf moon will be Jan 31 2037.
A few stars can be seen as specks of light. 

"It's never too late to leave the comfy chair"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, 20 January 2019

2019 Week 1

Jan 2019 Mill Lake Abbotsford

Birding can be so unpredictable. I had spent a fruitless and chilly January morning looking for the Great Egret in Aldergrove. Disappointed I returned home to warm up and take care of a few honey-do chores. That afternoon I went on a second twitch at Abbotsford's Mill Lake where a vagrant Cape May Warbler was found Jan1 by Neal Doan. 
Cape May Warblers breed in the Peace country and east of the Rockies, they are rarely found on the south coast. The Abbotsford bird is only the second on record for the south-west corner of the province.

 The bird was an easy twitch and very confiding for those late to the party. The bird was attracted to a flowering Mahonia and ignored everyone and everything. At one point a dozen onlookers watched the diminutive warbler as it flitted flower to flower feeding on protein rich pollen.
* The bird is still present Jan 20/19 

Cape May Warbler feeding on pollen
Fellow birder Carlo Giovanella provided the interesting information below;

Mahonia aquifolium, aka Tall Mahonia, aka Tall Oregon-grape, aka Oregon-grape Holly, etc. is a common native shrub, blooming in early summer.  Cultivars of this are often planted in local landscaping.  The blue fruit are true ‘berries’.

The winter-flowering varieties are hybrids of M aquifolium crossed with Asian species. 

One lesson a birder can take away from this experience is that if a vagrant bird ends up in unfamiliar territory it will need a food source to survive. Where no insects are emerging it would make sense for the bird to find flowering plants. Good birders know to check these areas as was the case last winter when a Nashville Warbler was found feeding on the same type of shrub at Lonsdale Quay.

Note the accumulation of pollen on the bill. Some have speculated it is a growth. Further photographs will tell as the bird is still around at the time of writing.
For the above photo I have used leading lines, a commonly used compositional technique. Note the leading line coming from the bottom left of the image as well as in the bottom centre. Another leading line from the top left trains the eye subconsciously toward the subject.

These photograph were taken in the late afternoon as the light was fading. Shot at ISO 2500 with a Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm 5.6 zoom. The camera was set to automatic ISO so that the exposure of each image would be the same regardless of where the bird was feeding. Obviously when the bird was feeding under the canopy of the plant the shutter speed would drop too low for a sharp picture.

The pinkish background is from a building in the background. 

An added bonus
On the way home from Abbotsford I decided to take a detour and look for the Great Egret which has been feeding in the same farmers field since before Christmas. I think it may be only the second or third I've photographed in the Lower Mainland. It was feeding on large earthworms while some have  photos of it catching voles.

Great Egret 

One less Bull Frog
Great Blue Heron

One of the most insidious creatures to have been introduced to Canada and the Lower Mainland is the Bull Frog. Below a Great Blue Heron tries the difficult task of swallowing its catch. An indigenous species would be smaller and therefore an easier meal. The heron eventually flew off, the frogs fate unknown.

An adult Bullfrog can weight a kilogram when full grown and spawn 20,000 eggs at a time, most will survive as they are unpalatable to most predators.

After days of rain the sun finally came out and although I had seen the Snow Buntings on the Christmas bird count it had been raining and bitterly cold.
Now I have a scope I tend not to photograph in less than optimum lighting situations unless of course it's a lifer, vagrant or ID shot. 

Snow Bunting

A small flock six snow bunting have been feeding on newly planted grass seed at the BC Ferries jetty. 


Sometimes late in the day the light is so poor that high ISO's are the only way to capture an image. The images below are fine for web use but wouldn't really work for fine printing. I used 1/1250 ISO 250 at F5.6 to get some which I posted on eBird.

The Prairie Falcon is carrying a vole before landing in a tree.

Prairie Falcon with vole
To be continued....

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Drawn to the Birds

2018 Birding  

Lower Mainland BC Canada

A Northern Shrike mobbed by a flock of bushtits, a Short-eared Owl hunting over the foreshore, thousands of Dunlin settling on the mudflats. So many great memories, that for me was birding in 2018.

 I tallied birds on several occasions including The Glen Valley Bird Count, the Derby Reach/Brae Island Parks Association and recently the Dec 29/18 White Rock and area Christmas Bird Count. We got drenched on that one. It was so wet that in some locations no birds were recorded. I also went on more than a few twitches, mostly successful and brushed shoulders with some top birders.

 My one hundred submissions to eBird kept my ever growing tally of species in perfect order. I made trips to Mexico and the UK where I used the eBird data base to track down the best hotspots. I managed a few UK lifers, the best being a Spotted Crake. Mexico provided over 150 lifers. Last but not least I made some really good birding friends in both Mexico and across the pond.

Ruff and Greater Yellowlegs.
Boundary Bay Regional Park

For reference purposes it's always good to get two more species together in one shot. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs is a good example. I have images of both together and the differences are immediately evident. When seen separately even an experienced birder can have second thoughts. The Ruff above is uncommon bird in BC and easily overlooked.
Here the four Greater Yellowlegs stand out from the smaller Ruff, the obvious difference in size, leg colour and bill length is a dead giveaway. This is good listing shot, the type I like to download and study when I get home.


Ring-necked Duck (Female)

The two images of Ring-necked Ducks below were taken on a fruitless search for the Philadelphia Vireo at Hasting Park. Sadly I dipped on the vireo four times, there were however some magic moments when the light burst through the clouds, side-lighting these Ring-necked Ducks.

Ring-necked Duck (Male)
Hastings Park


Below are a few random observations and some of my favourite 2019 sightings.

I came across this sign at Green Timbers in Surrey. It still makes me smile.
Mega Thrush
The long drive to Salmon Arm was well worth it.

The  Fieldfare only the second on record for BC

Throughout November Snow Geese attracted thousands of onlookers.

The fascination of birds.

Snow Geese/Terra Nova
When it comes to birds I have always thought the purest form of birding would be to sketch with pencil or watercolours. I've tried drawing and believe me my efforts are somewhat lacking. Perhaps the most direct experience is that of just observing, sitting on a riverbank, lake or seashore, ask any fisherman.


                                                    Some Random Favourites from 2018 
Barn Owl with Townsend's Vole
Hutton's Vireo/Westham Island
             Birding with experienced birders is as beneficial as helping out the novice. Joining an organized walk lends itself to the social side of the pastime. Over the past decade I have made many new friends and even more acquaintances while birding. Long may it continue.
Black and White Warbler
Riverside Park.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Queen Elizabeth Park

I saw this swan which has a good amount of yellow on the bill. Every other Tundra I had seen has very minimal yellow. It was an exiting find made possible at long range with the Nikon 24-3000mm Coolpix.
Adult Tundra "Whistling" Swan
Boundary Bay Regional Park

Surf Scoters/Point Roberts

Often we concentrate on the more colourful male of the species, here the female crossbill shows off her broad white wing-bars and delicate hues.
Female White-winged Crossbill/Richmond
May was a great month for birding with plenty of birds moving through the region. The Sage Thrasher in Pitt Meadows took me three attempts and when I did find it I only had enough time for about 10 shots before a dog walker flushed it. Fortunately it sat out in the open, allowing me this 'clean shot' without any distracting background elements. 

Sage Thrasher
Pitt Meadows
I photographed this Cassin's Vireo during the Skajit Valley Bird Blitz May 4-6. I find attending such events invaluable. See link at the bottom of the page for more info. They're also fun for the family and the birding is usually excellent.

Cassin's Vireo
These two images of the Spruce Grouse was taken on the Manning Park Bird Blitz in June. The event was also run by the Hope Centre. Both images were taken with the Nikon 200mm-500mm zoom. Had I been using fixed 500mm or 600mm I wouldn't have been able to get these shots as the bird was at our feet, even attacking us at one point. 
Spruce Grouse

Tufted Puffin/Smith Island Washington State

        Some of my favourite links of 2018


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

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Nikon Coolpix P1000 Review

Nikon Coolpix P1000 Road Test
October Birding 2018
Various Locations/Lower Mainland

What better place to try out the Nikon Coolpix P1000 24mm-3000mm super zoom than Piper Spit. There is nowhere else in Metro Vancouver except perhaps Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary where birds can be approached so closely. 
The day of my visit the weather was perfect, there were birds galore and the afternoon sun provided plenty of shutter speed to really test out the capabilities of the P1000. At this point I hadn't read the online guide so I was using the Birding Mode. Normally I use my iPhone for scenics but this time I used the wide angle end of the zoom of the camera. Unlike the P900 the P1000 comes with a lens hood which shields the sun. I strongly suggest adding a UV filter so the precious front element is protected at all times.
I began shooting an overall scene at 24mm.
 All shots are handheld although when I shoot video I plan to use a hefty tripod 

 In the foreground were a small flock of Long-billed Dowitchers, they are often found at Piper Spit. Other species can include grebes, ducks, herons and hawks. Depending on the time of year the trails around the lake can turn up almost anything including an elusive Bobcat or two. During the summer I photographed a Cassin's Vireo and recently American Dippers have returned to feast on salmon eggs in the Brunette River. A few years ago during the Christmas bird count a flock of White-winged Crossbills drew birders and photographers from far and wide. 

Long-billed Dowitchers

 I quite like the painterly feel of this image.
It works for me aesthetically and that's all I can really ask.

Long-billed Dowitcher

Recently a pair of Rusty Blackbirds put on a show at the spit, a 
 treat for everyone who went down to see them. Someone had the bright idea of putting out bird seed and bread crumbs, the birds loved it.
Rusty Blackbird
More on the plight of the Rusty Blackbird at the bottom of the page.

Back to the P1000. I really bought it to shoot 4k video but I am having so much fun shooting stills I have decided to post a few more images. Strangely on both the P900 and P1000 the video files are much better and cleaner at all focal lengths, all the more reason I am stoked about getting the P1000 on a big solid tripod and seeing what it can produce at the 2000mm-3000mm range.

Next up were some of the ducks (some would say sitting ducks) many of which are now coming into their winter splendour. These images show how well the P1000 reproduces when little or no cropping is applied. Even with the stated 128x zoom it's still best to approach as close as possible.

Note: Some pictures have been cropped for better composition with either levels or curves applied. Also some sharpening has been applied in ©Lightroom. Colour rendition is very clean.
All files are shot in jpeg mode as I can't open Raw files with my outdated software. 
Wood Duck
Northern Pintail

Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach 


Greater Yellowlegs
This is a perfect example of a decent enough photograph of a Greater Yellowlegs. I was on a bird count with no intention of photographing when from perhaps one hundred plus feet away I zoomed in on the unsuspecting sandpiper. Note the reflection, the bird's eye is repeated four times. This is the exact situation where a bridge camera is so useful, catching those unexpected moments. 

Cecil Green and Museum of Anthropology

American Tree Sparrow

The above image was taken at close range at about 20 feet with minimal cropping. The image is quite acceptable for blogging (120 DPI at 4x6) or even a larger print. Peter Candido found the bird in a pathway outside the museum and a few of us went down and re-found it.

My original introduction to a 'Bridge Camera' was the excellent Canon SX50. The first time I used it I was hooked. The light weight and long zoom options allowed me when appropriate to shed the tripod, heavy lens and DSLR. My daily walks tripled in distance and I never felt I might miss a shot. My second bridge camera was the Nikon P900 which I have blogged about extensively. See links on main page,

Also see video link for some P900 footage.

White Rock Pier

Next up were a couple of trips to White Rock to scope the bay for grebes, loons and ducks. At the marina a Belted Kingfisher was perched on a sailboat mast and a small flock Black Turnstones flew in. Further out here a raft Western Grebes, I stop counting at 150 birds.

Black Turnstone
Harlequin Duck
This shot was taken from the White Rock promenade over the railway tracks, beach and about a further fifty feet out.

Red-necked Grebe
Below are a few images I shot under early morning filtered sunlight. Shooting downwards at an angle can often make for an unnatural view, however with the lens set at 2500mm-3000mm at F8 there is plenty of depth of field as can be seen by the water droplets on both these grebes above and below.

Horned Grebe
P1000 (300DPI)

 I originally thought this was a Western Grebe. Later I persuaded myself it was a Clark's Grebe. After posting on eBird the experts were quick to point out that is was neither, rather a Western x Clark's hybrid. It would have been a very good year bird for my Metro Vancouver list.
Western x Clark's Grebe
P1000 300 DPI

All I can say about these amorous pigeons is they have beautiful plumage.

Rock Pigeon

A Belted Kingfisher perches on a sailboat rigging

Belted Kingfisher

Common Loon reflection

Harbour Seal

Some miscellaneous images from my ramblings around Brydon Lagoon/Latimer Lake

A few days later I decided to walk Latimer Lake. This Townsend's Chipmunk sat still enough just long enough to capture it backlit. I wasn't able to move in case I spooked it, I opened up to get the correct exposure for the critters face. 
 Townsend's Chipmunk
A Mallard at Brydon Lagoon
Often when rambling/walking /hiking/biking I always take the point and shoot like the P1000 with the idea of taking scenics. I now have an extensive collection throughout the seasons from most of my favourite haunts. If I see a good bird even better. Recently I was at the woodlot on 112th and the cloud patterns was simply awesome, too good to pass up. Because bridge cameras are so light I find I can easily cycle with a small Hummingbird scope, tripod (mostly for scope use) bins around my neck and the P1000 on my shoulder. The wide angle of the P1000 is excellent while the panorama mode is also easy to use for more those expansive scenes.

Stratocumulus clouds I think. Let me know if I am wrong .
Boundary Bay at the Woodlot

A typical P1000 grab shot

Northern Flicker approx. 2000mm
Black-bellied Plovers at Boundary Bay at 104
There is no doubt that the advent of digital photography had changed the face of birding. More birds are being photographed, more birders are photographing and more rarities are being unearthed, often long after the photos were taken. Recently several rarities were discovered only when the photo was posted on a digital platform. 
A good example was the Vermillion flycatcher in White Rock, who would have believed it had it not been for a digital photograph. It also helped greatly that the finder was an excellent birder and was alert to his find.  
 In the past decade a large range of bridge cameras have hit the market, Sony, Canon and Lumix offer similar options, the Nikon P1000 is just the latest iteration. 

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper/Long-billed Dowitcher in foreground.
Reifel Oct 31st

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