Sunday 30 December 2012

2012 Audubon Christmas Bird Count

Dec 30th 2012 Langley B.C. Foggy with sun in the afternoon.
Images from the Langley, Surrey and White Rock Audubon Christmas bird count. These are mainly record shots, however I do really like the Golden-crowned kinglet. A big thanks to group leader Anne Gosse for sharing her expertise that made these images possible.
So what to say as the year comes to a close. The blog has been a great help to keep me organized in both my record keeping (it is so easy to forget details) as well an outlet for my birding exploits.
For those of you who have been kind enough to make comments, I thank you. Although there are too many people to thank here, a special thanks should go to all the members of the Langley Field Naturalists, to Al and Jude Grass and to Russell Cannings (for pointing out the location of a Yellow-breasted chat) for all their helpful advice. And last but not least all the dedicated birders and photographers who have helped me along the way.


Male Golden-crowned kinglet displaying

Surrey, White Rock, Langley Christmas Bird Count Results

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has taken place each year since 1900 to provide information about ongoing changes in bird populations. Today, over 60,000 birders in 2,000 count circles across North America take part.
Beginning early on the cold damp foggy morning of Sunday, December 30th, 2012, Langley Field Naturalists thoroughly scrutinized our part of the large circle that encompasses the Surrey, White Rock, and Langley Christmas Bird Count area.  We had 5 teams covering our Langley area. Members ranged in age from two enthusiastic teenagers to experienced seniors.  By noon, sunshine emerged and so did the birds!  The spirit of competition is high and each team works hard from first light to dusk trying to identify and count as many birds as possible.
The Langley teams enjoyed a fabulous day of counting all over our area - with teams reporting lots of Dark-eyed Juncos as well as soaring noisy waves of Pine Siskin's and Canada Geese flocking overhead every so often. One team found three owls; another recorded an Anna's Hummingbird (which are moving into our area) plus many raptors gliding over our farmer's fields.
 At our post count gathering to tabulate results, excited chatter of Langley Field Naturalists and friends exchanging notes on sightings completed a wonderful day. Our Langley total was 68 species (last year 62) consisting of 6,557 birds.  In the evening, at the post count dinner, our results were combined with the whole of the Surrey, White-Rock Langley circle for a total of 128 species.  
As well as being an exciting, fun event at year’s end, the Christmas Bird Count provides important information for bird conservation in all of North America.  Langley Field Naturalists are pleased to be part of this and look forward to next year’s count!
Submitted by
Kathy Masse
Anne Gosse
Langley Field Naturalists

Check out link for more info

Great blue herons
Barred owl

Great-horned owl

All pictures taken Dec 30th 2012.

Saturday 29 December 2012

Christmas Bird Count Publicity

See previous blog for more owl pictures.

Rough-legged hawk, Barnston Island, Surrey
Pitt Meadows Bird Count Dec 15th 2012
© John Gordon Photography

Check the link below for more information

Friday 21 December 2012

25 years later (The Northern saw-whet owl)

Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary Friday December 21, 2012

It was not the most promising kinds of days, typical west coast, just miles and miles of billowing grey and white clouds looming over the landscape and the promise of rain in the air. Looking toward Crescent Beach, a thin yellow band of pale yellow sunlight was the only colour in the sky. Maybe there would be a spectacular sunset at the the end of the day.

Meanwhile it was so windy on Boundary Bay that our avian friends had all hunkered out of sight or as they say "flew the coop" Nada! Nought! Nothing! The birds will be sheltering so plan B went into motion.

The original plan (now Plan B) was to see if I could find the elusive but very photogenic Northern saw-whet owl. One had been seen at Reifel so as the rain began to fall I made my way along the North Dyke.
I had tried to photograph a Saw-whet twenty five years earlier in Campbell River. I was in an orchard at Hudson's Farm when the Saw-whet landed within feet of me. I was just too close, I just couldn't move without spooking the bird. The resulting shots (2) were OK and were shot Kodachrome 64 on a 135mm Pentak Takumar portrait lens, but really it was really a missed opportunity. Twenty five years later I had my second chance. These shots below were shot in dense shade and were taken at a ridiculous 2000 ISO. How times have changed!
I'm glad I made the effort as this self-assignment proves. I hope you agree.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Prosperous and Peaceful 2012

The Northern saw-whet owl  (Aegolius acadicus)
 The owl is about 8 inches tall but when resting often looks a lot smaller
The saw-whet prepares to spit up a pellet. 
In the above picture the bird had just coughed out a pellet, so quickly that the motor drive on the camera failed to pick it up.
The owl was in an awkward place but only four or five feet from the ground. The get these pictures I had to lay on the ground and shot through a convenient hole in the undergrowth.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Boundary Bay (All Kinds of Birds)

                                  Friday Dec 14th 2012 Boundary Bay-Sunny and Cold.

Birding on Boundary Bay is never dull, even in the depths of winter rare and unusual avian visitors make it one of the best birding hotspots in North America. 
In the previous blog I featured some so so images of the Sage thrasher (a lifer) which I had taken under less than ideal conditions. I just had to return with the tripod and all the gear and try for some better compositions. Three long days had passed before some suitable light conditions returned and other commitments were behind me, I was just raring to go!
As usual the weather forecast was vague to useless, despite the promise of sun it spotted with rain all my way to 64th. I thought the day would be lost to the rain but when I arrived the wind suddenly died down, the skies cleared and the sea mist quickly evaporated. Perfect!

I began my search for the Thrasher but I couldn't see it anywhere, so I headed for a white dot on the horizon, a snowy owl was perched in a tree a few hundred feet from the pathway.

Snowy photographed from the Dyke.

A few shots (12) were taken without spooking or approaching the young owl too closely when I noticed a Northern flicker (below) land on a bush about 50 feet away. It took me a few minutes to gain the trust of the woodpecker, the resulting photograph is one of my all-time favourites, the colour of the tail feathers are amazing.
Northern flicker (Red-cross/Yellow shafted intergrade)

Orange-crowned warbler.

Behind me on the ocean side I heard a flock of Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped warblers. They were feeding on yarrow seeds. There were also a flock of White-crowned sparrows, purple finches and in the distance a Northern Shrike perched on a bush.

White-crowned sparrow
Purple Finch 

A Northern shrike looks for rodents or small birds.

Sage thrasher.

Sage thrasher searches for food.

Sage thrasher.
I prefer the clean background long lenses provide but it is as important to show habitat.

Thanks everyone for looking in at the blog. Your comments are really important to gauge how this avian journey is progressing.

Happy Holidays

Monday 10 December 2012

The Sage Thrasher

An unusual visitor for British Columbia, a Sage thrasher has spent the past week at 64th Ave in Delta. On my way home from seeing my grandson and on a whim I thought I might just pass by the area where the bird had been sighted. As mentioned in the copy below the bird feeds on insects and berries and should be able make it through the West Coast winter. 

Technical details for tech heads.
Nikon D3s 300m F4 handheld 1600 ISO.

The Sage thrasher is a visitor to the Pacific coast.
For more information

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Snowy Owls (On Their Terms)

Dec 3 2012  Boundary Bay. Mostly cloudy, cold with a sunny breaks.
The weatherman, the newspapers, the radio all spoke of rain but as usual they were wrong. Tuesday was supposed to be the day for decorating the Christmas tree but I suppose there is always tomorrow.
As the first rays of sun came through the living room window I knew it was time to head out birding. I wasn't quite sure where I wanted to go, at first I thought I'd check out 112th for raptors but then decided to go to 64th but it turned out to be too windy and cold so I doubled back to 72nd. What had promised to be a warm sunny day quickly turned overcast and I was deliberating whether to return home. A quick visual scan turned up three snowy owls way out on the foreshore.

Two snowy owls jostle for position.

Recently there had been a number articles in the local press about not approaching the birds too closely as they are thought to be starving and have recently come down from the arctic due to a lack of food. The logic is that the owls are hungry and need to rest and being chased by photographers disturbs them.
On this particular day the photographers were on their best behaviour due to the high tide which kept everyone on the dyke and out of the marsh area. We needn't have worried, after an hour of waiting two owls flew within one hundred feet of about twenty or so onlookers including us photographers.
Not only did the owls graciously perform a fly-past but they also jousted for position on the only stump available to them, not once but twice before flying off to a distant perch to repeat the ritual (top pic).
Everyone had a good look at the birds, the photographers including myself were happy, birders didn't need bins and point and shooters were all smiles, all in all, a win for everyone including the owls.

Two snowy owls fight over a perch. I had my 1.4 converter  on which
proved a hindrance, cutting off the second owl and ruining a potentially great shot. 

                             This owl was shot on a full frame camera and was close enough to show quite a bit of detail.

A snowy poses for photographers.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Boundary Bay Birding or raking leaves!

Nov 24, 2012 Boundary Bay, Delta British Columbia. Cool and Sunny.

The big decision was to either go birding or rake the thousands of leaves lining the driveway.
By the time I arrived at the parking lot at Boundary Bay and 72nd Ave it was already full of vehicles. It was not only a glorious morning for birding or walking the dog but with the added bonus of Snowy owls that have returned for the second time in two years.
Often overlooked by the casual visitor are the Short-eared owls (see below) and the Rough-legged hawks which can be seen hovering above in the nearby fields. There are also numerous Northern harrier whose antics while hunting can be quite amusing, sometimes they even steal the prey from the Short-eared owls (see previous blog)

The one of many voles caught by this short-eared owl during an afternoon hunting session.

Short-eared owl flies away with a vole in it's talons. 
Other birds noted were Northern shrike, American robin, Yellow-rumped warbler, Song sparrow, White-crowned sparrow, Savannah sparrow, Western meadowlark, Northern flicker, Bald eagle and Snowy owl.
A Bald eagle surveys the Boundary Bay Golf course.

Yellow-rumped warbler

Sunday 18 November 2012

The More Eyes the Better

Nov 16 2012 
Cool and Overcast
George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary.
I figured that joining a group of experienced birders would not only be a great social event but educational as well, especially a walk led by noted naturalist Al Grass. The group consisted mostly of members of the White Rock and Langley Field Naturalists.
Within minutes Wim pointed out two Great-horned owls perched in a cedar and we were still in sight of the parking lot. Making our way around the sanctuary we eventually tallied fifty five species in three hours.
It was also a time for me to photograph "birders" birding for my upcoming presentation "Where to Bird in The Lower Mainland". The show is slated to be shown in early March at the FVRL White Rock library. I'l be showing some of my images (a work in progress) as well as location shots. Also included will be  tips on what camera gear one might need to photograph birds, including budget set-ups for those who don't want to get too seriously in debt but want to make a photo collection and perhaps self-publish the results in a coffee table book. The event is free but pre-registrsation is requested.
Anyway, I include a few of the photographs from Fridays Reifel trip including what appeared to be a wounded Snow Goose that may have been hit by stray shot. Sightings of the Great-horned owl, the Rough-legged hawk and a Northern shrike were the highlights of the day for what turned out to be yet another wonderful day in Beautiful B.C..
A special thanks to Anne Gosse who arranged the trip. Her blog and more info about upcoming trips visit:

Brown creeper

Golden-crowned sparrow

Great-horned owl

Hooded merganser 

Red-winged blackbird

Sandhill crane

Wood duck
Snow goose

Saturday 10 November 2012

Self-assignment (Better flight shots)

Nov 10, 2012 Delta B.C
Sometimes we are slaves to our thinking and that certainly relates to how we sometimes use our gear and approach our subject matter.
I had visited 104th St in Delta to photograph the Tropical kingbird with the idea of getting a few decent flight shots. My previous tripod mounted efforts left much to be desired.
For me, hand holding a heavy and somewhat cumbersome 500 F4 for long periods of time is no easy task. Even the best autofocus systems can have difficulty keeping up with the erratic swooping up and down motion of a bird that is 'hawking' insects.
Waiting for the Kingbird to leave its perch took a great deal of concentration, it meant holding the camera to the eye for several minutes at a time.
In this case a good method to steady a handheld camera is to place both arms against the ribs (forming a tripod) and squeeze the camera body while pressing the shutter button, this technique keeps the lens steady leaving the photographer to concentrate of the flight path of the bird.
With this approach I was able to capture a number in-focus shots, a far higher success rate that was achieved using a Gimbal head and tripod.
I hope this helps your photography, I was certainly helped me achieve my self-assigned project.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Sunny on the Wetcoast..Time to get out!

Nov 5, 2012
When the sun comes out in the Lower Mainland most everybody gets out to soak up the sunshine, including the birds!
I started the day at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary with some flight shots of Trumpeter swans but not much else. Thousands of Snow geese were way out in the bay trying to avoid the many hunters. I then decided to take a walk along nearby Brunswick Point where two rough-legged hawks tumbled through the sky, talons locked, albeit to far way for any half decent photographs. A number of Western meadowlark (5) and a Northern shrike flew from bush to bush. In the bay a large flock of perhaps three* thousand Dunlin were being pursued by a Peregrin falcon.
On my way home I decide to stop off at 72nd Ave and Boundary Bay. I am glad I did, a long-eared owl a 'lifer' was perched just a few yards from the parking lot. The bird had attracted quite a crowd, I hope it doesn't get too stressed by all the attention. Also present were a Northern shrike, more Western meadowlarks, Song and Savannah sparrows.
After a few quick shots I found three Northern harriers, a male, female and a juvenile stealing voles midair from a short-eared owl and then from each other. A common crow was the lucky recipient of a vole dropped by squabbling harriers.
Bit of a Rant..............
The above scenario with the raptors is only possible because of a number of fallow fields that have been left to grow wild. Unfortunately the is type of vegetation is becoming rarer and rarer as it gradually being swallowed up by monoculture. Our insatiable need for cheap foods at the grocery store is the main culprit. Cheap veggies tend to be grown by monoculture farmers who then use chemicals which can  detrimental to songbirds which then disrupts the nature of things. Eighty percent of prairie birds have now been lost to intensive farming and the by-products of chemicals used on food production.
And now a new ring road (to deliver cheap products from China) had swallowed up acres of prime feeding/roosting spots, leaving everything from hawks to sparrows and ducks with a lot less feeding opportunities than ever before. Perhaps its time to get in front of the bulldozers!
On a positive note many farmers across Canada are now setting aside tracts of land and working with organizations like the Nature Canada bcnature

*I reduced the original estimate.

Anyway, Here are the results of the days photographs and happy birding!

A male Northern harrier.

An adult northern harrier and  juvenile (right) drop their dinner.

Two northern harriers squabble over prey.
A common crow takes off with a dropped vole.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

So Many Sandpipers!

Oct 30, 2012 Pouring rain.
Who knew there were so many types of Sandpipers, ninety four world-wide. To the casual observer (non birder type of person) there is little to tell one Sandpiper from another but to the skilled observer tell tale markings like leg colour, shape or length of beak or habitat are some of the clues needed to differentiate one from another.
This year, with the help of a number of birders I have learnt to locate, identify and photograph a number of the Sandpiper family. They include the Stilt, Pectoral, Sharp-tailed, Least, Solitary, Spotted and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed curlew, Marbled godwit, Black-turnstone, Sanderling, Dunlin, Willet, Greater and Lesser yellowlegs, Long-billed and Short-billed dowitchers, Wilson's snipe, Wilson's and Red-necked phalarope.
Today I added the Rock sandpiper to the list, thanks to fellow birder Tak who phoned Raymond and I who had retreated to McDonald's to have a  coffee and warm up. The three of us found the birds on the ferry causeway during a typical B.C. downpour.
Rock sandpiper was feeding with a flock Black turnstones

It would have been easier to to say home on this grey and cloudy day but I am glad I didn't. Maybe there will be chance to go back when there is some 'Sweet light' but for the moment I'm just happy to have seen this bird for the first time.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Rough-legged hawks 'Another Lifer'

Two 'Lifers' in one day can't be bad especially, after all the rain we have had. A pair of Rough-legged hawks, one a dark morph were feeding along the trail at 72nd in Delta. Despite the amount of foot traffic, people with dogs running amok and hunters blasting ducks this pair seemed unconcerned. Other birds in the area included an American kestrel and Northern harrier.

Dark morph variety.

Rough-legged hawk hovering.

Tropical kingbird a big draw and "LIFER"

The colourful Tropical kingbird first sighted at Blackie Spit Oct 21st has been a big draw for birders in the Lower Mainland. The Tropical kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus) is a rare but regular visitor to the B.C. Coast. For the past week it could have been found easily by looking for a crowd of people with tripods and spotting scopes at the end of 104th St in Delta. It even became a family event with birders bringing their children to see the colourful yellow visitor.
Later in the day I photographed my second "Lifer" of the day a Rough-legged hawk. See following blog.
Could be sharper but.......not a bird on a stick!

The Tropical kingbird has a longer beak than does the Western.

Friday 26 October 2012

A Mixed Bag

Oct 25th 2012 Mixed cloud and sun.
 Iona Regional Park Richmond B.C.
With family commitments put away and the weather forecast predicting a dry and sunny day I set off for Iona Regional Park in Richmond. Driving up to the parking lot five Western meadowlarks could be seen eagerly searching for food. These prairie birds seem to feel quite at home on the sand that has been deposited here over the millennium. Meadowlarks are most noticeable when they perch in the few bushes which have sprouted up along the beach, however they do spend most of their time scurrying around in the long grass, ever wary of the northern harrier and other raptors looking for a meal.
As per usual I met number of really interesting birders and photographers, exchanging niceties about lens length etc (a male obsession), bird lore and the latest sightings.. it beats working!
 My favourite shot of the day was the Goldfinch (below) which was taken half-way through once such discussion, it pays to keep attentive!

American goldfinch  

Northern Harrier hunting.
Keeping an eye out for trouble!

Great horned owl (note the white around the throat)

Anyway, after photographing a flock of American goldfinches that were feeding on seed heads the subject of a Great horned owl came up in  conversation. This news sent me scurrying off to the Terra Nova garden allotments in Richmond. A small murder of crows immediately gave away the owls location. The bird has become quite the celebrity, it barely moved as a procession of schools groups and seniors filed to get a good look. It was perched about fifteen feet from the ground where it nonchalantly  viewed all and sundry.
The bird has become quite the hunter dispatching two barn owls over the last few  days. Apparently the Great horned owl doesn't like competition, it has even attacked a gardener!