Tuesday 17 December 2013

Pelee Island Bird Observatory Video

Dec 17 2013. Pelee Island

Better late than never. I finally got round to editing the videos from my trip to Ontario in May. One of the more interesting mornings I had was a visit to the Pelee Island Bird Observatory.
The observatory was in the same woodlands where I had been searching for the Prothonotory Warbler.
I spent two days on Pelee island watching bird after bird arrive on the southern spit of the island.

Below is the video from that morning. I'd like to extend gracious thanks to observatory founder Graeme Gibson and field supervisor Sumiko Onishi for taking time to answer my many questions. I hope you enjoy the interview.
As you listen to the video listen to the bird song on the background, simply amazing!

            My video         http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKm7IOsLyQA                          

Official link to PIBO    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LzNbhlOaVj4

Below are a few stills from my visit :
Dunlin (Calidris alpina) feeding at the Leamington ferry terminal to Pelee Island.

This Mockingbird landed on the spit after flying across Lake Erie. The bird is pumping its wings to dislodge insects from the sand.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos)
Waves pound the spit of Pelee Island. The southernmost part of Canada except for an island a few miles south inhabited by thousands of Double-crested Cormorant.

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpescarolinus) knocks off a piece of bark.

A Snapping Turtle comes out to lay eggs on Pelee Island.
Sunset from my cabin on Pelee Island.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Christmas Bird Count Maple Ridge/North-West Langley

Dec 14 2013 Pitt Meadows Area #5&6 Christmas Bird Count, Barnston Island Surrey B.C. Foggy 5-7C

Once again it was time for the Maple Ridge/North Langley Christmas Bird Count. Don't ask me why it includes Surrey but it does.
A dozen members of the Langley Field Naturalists split into three groups with our patch being Surrey's Barnston Island. The others covered Tynehead and Surrey Bend.
The morning began with coffee at Denny's. While I could only bird until noon the others continued until 3 p.m.
We spotted thirty-three species on Barnston Island, with the highlight being a Red-breasted Sapsucker. Below are the totals from our group and the other two groups who birded in the Surrey Bend and Tynehead areas.
Despite the fog, it was a great excuse to get out and see club members, some of who I hadn't seen for a while.
Overall 56 species were encountered and a total of 3031 birds were counted.
Total Number of Sightings


Total Number of Species


Km driven

10km x4

38km x3

Km walked

1km x4
3km x3
9km x3
2km x 3

The best way to visit the island is on bicycle although, you can take a car which you'll have to back off the ferry. You could always leave your car at the ferry parking lot. Once there wooded areas, open fields, hedgerows and beach habitats can be explored.

The following pictures were taken with the Canon SX50 HS point and shoot super zoom. The camera which was recently on sale for $299.99 has an outrageously long 50x zoom. The birds shots were taken from the car except for the Fox Sparrow which was 'phissed' while walking in a wooded area. The Fox Sparrow was 10 metres away, the Woodpecker 30 metres away and the other birds 100-150 metres or more away. It was nice not to be lugging around the tripod and DSLR. As I have mentioned before the SX50 HS is not the perfect solution but sure is fun to use. 

The Barnston Island Ferry has no slots and for the moment is free!

Barnston Island is just downstream of the Golden Ears Bridge. 

A flock of Mallard (right) fly along Barnston Island.

Bald Eagle.
I braced myself against the car and zoomed to1200mm,  took a deep breath and squeezed the shutter, image stabilization did its job. I had to have been at least 300 metres away but the zoom does the trick.

Phisshed again!…This Fox Sparrow came to check us out: Note the muddy feet and beak.

Male Downy Woodpecker shot from the back seat of the car. Too lazy to get out, not really, the bird would have taken off as soon as opened the door. This is where the Canon SX50 HS excels.

"Birds on a Wire)
A flock of Brewer's Blackbirds were found near a barnyard. I set the auto exposure to +1.

Canada  Geese fly toward Maple Ridge.

Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls (ID Shot)
Note the lack of sharpness but for recording purposes like bird counts the camera works well.

Red-tailed Hawk( ID Shot)
This bird was so far way the red tail marking couldn't be seen unless using binoculars.

I find the Canon SX50 HS perfect for casual bird watching and for recording birds from a great distance so others might
view and confirm identity. As I have mentioned in other blogs, I wouldn't use the camera for stock or enlargements, but for web or blogging and ID the camera is the perfect tool.

Good Birding

John Gordon

Thursday 12 December 2013

Stanley Park's Black and White Warbler

Dec 12 2013 Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia. Overcast and threatening to rain.

By now most any serious birder in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland has heard about Stanley Park's Black and White Warbler. It isn't a bird we see often here on the West coast. Originally spotted a few days ago by a couple out for a walk, the distinctive black and white warbler has already attracted numerous birders to the park. What better excuse to turn off the footy, grab the camera and go for a walk. As we looked for the bird, one could hear the staff of the Vancouver Aquarium talking the crowd through the Beluga Whale session. We centred our effort near the cenotaph. A colourful freshly laid wreath of poppies lay at its base. A quick thought about my uncle who died at Dunkirk and then back to the joy of birding.
While many had spent fruitless hours searching for the bird and not seen it, one of our party, a particularly good bird spotter pointed out the diminutive warbler sixty feet up in a Maple tree, a tiny speck, but there it was and only after five minutes of searching. How lucky is that!

Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia)

Moments later it flitted up higher into a Sycamore Tree and then it was gone. To see if we could re-locate the warbler we decided to split up so as to cover more ground. Fifteen or twenty minutes passed before another of out party saw it, this time perhaps thirty feet away. The bird was still high up against a dreary Vancouver sky, not the ideal backdrop. However, patience paid off and the bird did a pretty spiral in the air and then fluttered down to a moss covered cheery tree.

The black and white plumage against green moss creates a far more pleasing image.
 As is common with this bird it made its way down the trunk of the tree picking off insects. Finally we had a decent contrasting background to work with. The bird continued to feed despite the rattle of motor drives and exited spectators.
The Black and White Warbler has a long beak which it uses to pry insects out of crevices.

 After a three or four minute feeding session the bird flew back up into a higher branch and continued to feed, completely oblivious to all the fuss it had made down on the ground. There were lots of smiles everywhere and we left before another birder arrived, just then the heavens began to open and a deluge of rain began.

Merry Christmas
Good Birding

John Gordon

Monday 9 December 2013

Birds and Cold Weather

Dec 9 2013 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Delta B.C. Canada Overcast -3 Light Snow.

The Lower Mainland and Vancouver has been in the icy grips of a cold arctic outflow. The air which originated in the prairies has been spilling down the mountains passes for a week. This rare occurrence has meant sub zero temperatures, bringing challenges for the birds and those of us birders out in the field.
Most ponds are frozen solid, the ground is hard and a bitter wind makes a hand warmer and several layers of clothing a necessity. Even the shoreline of Boundary Bay looks like Churchill Manitoba at break-up. At least the air is dry but one has to wonder how our avian friends survive the nights. I have included an excellent link at the end of this blog that gives a far better explanation than I ever could.

I arrived at Reifel and for the first time ever I was, apart from staff the only one there. It was bitter cold and overcast but having been cooped up all weekend I couldn't wait to get out. Perhaps that is why in no time at all and before anyone else disturbed them I came across three Red-breasted Sapsuckers. I find the Sapsucker quite a wary bird and my shots are less than ideal but I was glad to actually get close enough to one to get this less than perfect shot (due to the gloomy conditions I had failed to check my shutter speed) Oh well, next time!
Red-breasted Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus ruber)
Technically flawed. Really should have upped the ISO to 6400 to freeze movement.
This is where fill flash would have been ideal and could have used 1600 ISO.
How often is it so quiet in the forest that one can hear the wind in the trees, the soft pattering of snowflakes, the drumming of a woodpecker and the sparrows sifting through the crinckled leaves. Quite blissful, perhaps that is what draws us out time and time again.

Leaving Reifel I turned out the main gate and toward the open fields and hedgerows a sudden movement caught my attention. A Northern Shrike was on the hunt for food. Sometimes called the "Butcher Bird" the Shrike catches and impales its prey on hawthorn bushes or barbed wire.

Juvenile Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor)
This shot was taken through a tangle of branches. I set the aperture wide open F4 to soften the effect which in turn removed the foreground. Fill flash created the catchlight.


After  leaving I stopped off at Wellington Point Park which is just after the old wooden bridge as one heads back to Ladner. I watched a Red-tailed Hawk chase down prey and as I had my lunch a  movement on the snow covered gravel car park caught my attention. Luckily I had my lens on the front seat. The following shot of the Kildeer eating a frozen worm was the result.
Kildeer (Charaddruis vociferus)
This bird was feeding in the gravel parking. I have also seen this behaviour with Ruddy Turnstones.

I am glad I made the effort to get out and as I sit here at home, warm and with a cup of tea beside me I wonder what tomorrow might bring!

Good Birding

John Gordon

Saturday 7 December 2013

The Cold Snap

Dec 6 2013 Kanaka Creek, Colony Farm and Burnaby Lake. Cold and Sunny
 Windchill -7 High -5
The high pressure system that has been hovering over the Lower Mainland had brought below freezing temperatures and best of all sunny skies, a real treat for us WETCOASTERS!
According to reports we may be having the driest year and winter on record. The bottom line though is that everyday is now a good birding day.
Starting at Kanaka Creek the target bird was the American Dipper but as much as I scanned the boulders and icicle laden river bank not a one was to be seen. Time to move on. Wanting to stay out of the biting wind of Boundary Bay I headed toward relatively sheltered Burnaby Lake.
Using the Mary Hill bypass I thought I might check out the Colony Farm ponds for Virginia Rails, sometimes they can be seen scampering across the frozen pond but today but the only sign of life was a forlorn looking Great-blue Heron. In a wooded area close to the car park a small flock of Varied Thrush, Song and Fox Sparrow were sifting through leaves, scratching through the frost to unearth anything that had not been frozen into the ground. A few unsatisfactory photos and it was time to stop off a Burnaby Lake's Piper Spit where I finally found some action.

Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca)
 With plenty of semi-tame ducks around the only challenge was the frozen ground and bitter cold wind.
Wood Duck (Aix sponsa)

Wood Duck
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee (Poecile rufescens)

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Another Day in Paradise Pt 2/Robert Bateman

Dec 3/4 2013 Boundary Bay, Delta B.C. Sunny and Cold.
What can I say, the sun was out and there were birds everywhere. For starters, there were three long-eared owls all perched in one tree. The birds were sunning themselves while trying to sleep. Everyone loves an owl, passersby on horseback, construction workers, joggers, dog walkers all stopped to view the birds. I heard later that everyone kept a respectable distance EXCEPT for a few overzealous photographers who in their rush to secure the perfect pose eventually forced two of the birds to re-locate to another tree. Shame on you! We all get hyped when we see a new bird but take a hint from the birding community and respect the bird's space. This type of asinine behaviour gives us photographers a bad name.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

Here is my shot taken from a respectable distance after which I left for 72nd Ave where the following images below were taken.

 My target bird was the American Tree Sparrow which I found just east of the 72nd Ave parking lot. I 'phissed' it to the tree in front of me with the sun on my back.
American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arboreo)

Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
On composition and Robert Bateman
Last week I attended the Langley Field Naturalists monthly meeting and a very interesting talk by B.C. Nature President John Neville. His talk centred around the calls and behaviour of the raptors of Canada. The talk was fascinating and we all had many questions.
As you may know John has spent years recording birds many of which can be found on his excellent Cd's.
As a sidebar to his presentation, which he delivered in braille were artist Robert Bateman's finely detailed paintings. 
For years I have stuck quite closely to photographic compositional principles such as the two-thirds rule, use of leading lines (like the Fox Sparrow shot above) and other ways of making images more pleasing for the viewer. However, I was really struck by Bateman's use of space within the picture frame. In some of the images, the bird would be right on the very, very edge of the photo and I mean almost touching the edge or other times smack in the middle. The result were quite different from the close crops many of us fall into the trap of producing time and time again. Both have their merits but sometimes we forget in our rush to get the perfect close-up view that the bird's environment is often forgotten.
 I learnt much that night, not only from John but about how my personal vision may be being stifled by always trying to conforming to the 'right kind of composition' as well as shooting too tight.
This something that I will work on in the new year as a self assignment.

Great-blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Female Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

"Perfect symmetry" Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator)

White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys)

I photographed this Cooper's Dec 4 on 64th Ave. It was chasing down songbirds.
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Good Birding


Monday 25 November 2013

Dabbling with Ducks Plus Hawks and Finches

Monday  Nov 25 2013. Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach Surrey, B.C. British Columbia.
I have to admit that I have not had the opportunity to study the difference between American and Eurasian Widgeon until today. I had seen them through bins but now I had a mixed flock in right in front of me and within camera range. The flock not only had the two aforementioned species but also a number of hybrids.
I am posting these pictures to see if anyone is actually reading this blog as there is no better way to monitor blog readership than to misidentify a species. Your feedback is appreciated if I have mislabeled any of these beautiful dabbling ducks.
 Male American Wigeon (Anas americana)

American and Eurasian hybrid.
Note: I have been told this actually an Eurasian not hybrid. I'm learning too, thanks to Mike Tabak for the identification.

Eurasian wigeon (Anas penelope)

After photographing the ducks on the spit I took a walk into the wooded area east of the car park. There I saw the silhouette of a bird of prey. It turned out to be a Cooper's hawk.
Cooper's Hawk (Accipter cooperii)

The Cooper's swoops down into the undergrowth but was unsuccessful.
 It suddenly flew down from a tree, crashing into the undergrowth, the bird re-appeared sans prey and continued hunting.
The bird was originally perched in a tree and then went diving and hunting in dense bushes.
I managed to grab a few perched shots and then it flew off, even with a high shutter speed the wings are blurred. The most vital part of flight shots is using at least 1/1000 or faster shutter speed to capture a sharp eye, slower speeds can create a blur which spoils the final image.

The weather was cool but sunny so I decided to take a wander to the other end of the conservation area close to the railway line. There are a number of Pacific crab apple and hawthorn trees which are still laden with berries. There I found Downy Woodpeckers, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Northern Flicker, Raven, North-western Crows, Great blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Double crested Cormorants and Purple Finches.

Purple Finch (Carpo purpureus)

A male Purple Finch gorges on Pacific crab apples at Blackie Spit.

Good birding to you all
John Gordon

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Short-eared Owls are Back

Nov 21 2013 Boundary Bay, Delta  British Columbia. Sunny and Cold
The Short-eared Owls are back. In 2012 I first saw them on Oct 30, this year a little later on Nov 12. That doesn't mean they weren't there before, I just wasn't looking closely enough.
I was wondering where these beautiful owls go to each summer so I include a few links below.

I have copies and pasted a few paragraphs from the Bird Studies Canada website with a link at the bottom that gives comprehensive information about these birds.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a species of Special Concern in Canada because of long-term population declines and loss of habitat (see COSEWIC report). Short-eared Owls are an open-country bird and will wander extensively within their breeding and wintering ranges hunting for small mammals. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult to monitor populations. For this reason, little is known about Short-eared Owls.

The Problem

Grasslands are one of the ecosystems that are the most at risk, and grassland bird populations have shown greater and more wide-spread declines than any other group of North American birds. Christmas Bird Count data shows a 3% annual decrease in the North American Short-eared Owl population, with the Canadian population suffering nearly a 25% decrease in the last decade alone.
Short-eared Owls nest, rest, and feed in open areas such as fallow fields, hay fields, grasslands, airports, and meadows. Loss and degradation of these habitats are thought to be the major threat to Short-eared Owls.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) 72nd Ave  Boundary Bay, Delta B.C.


One of the most notable characteristics of a Short-eared Owl is its buoyant and somewhat erratic moth-like flight. Short-eared Owls nest and rest on the ground, in thick cover, and are often found in communal groups in the winter. As the snow accumulates, Short-eared Owls will seek shelter in trees. Short-eared Owls tend to be more active during the day than are most other owls, but are generally crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), especially during winter.

The Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is a species of Special Concern in Canada because of long-term population declines and loss of habitat (see COSEWIC report). Short-eared Owls are an open-country bird and will wander extensively within their breeding and wintering ranges hunting for small mammals. Because of their nomadic nature, it is difficult to monitor populations. For this reason, little is known about Short-eared Owls.

The Problem

Grasslands are one of the ecosystems that are the most at risk, and grassland bird populations have shown greater and more wide-spread declines than any other group of North American birds. Christmas Bird Count data shows a 3% annual decrease in the North American Short-eared Owl population, with the Canadian population suffering nearly a 25% decrease in the last decade alone.
Short-eared Owls nest, rest, and feed in open areas such as fallow fields, hay fields, grasslands, airports, and meadows. Loss and degradation of these habitats are thought to be the major threat to Short-eared Owls.

Short-eared Owls/Bird Studies Canada

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Snow Buntings and Other Birds

Nov 19 2013 Boundary Bay, Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal and 64th Ave, Delta B.C.
After a miserable weekend of rain and poor light it was with great excitement I found myself with what I  hoped would be a whole day of freedom from appointments, phone calls and other 'worldly distractions'
First stop was the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal where I was in search of a small flock of Snow Bunting. They had been reported a few days earlier.  They weren't hard to find, they were feeding on the gravel road that parallels the main road leading to the ferry. A slight movement gave away their presence. I actually had to back my car up in fear that I might flush them.
It was bitter cold but sunny, my hand warmer wouldn't work but otherwise I was prepared to stay until I managed some images with different angles and light.
The small flock of four were feeding on wild flower seeds. They were to a point quite tame, unlike the flock I have photographed in Churchill in Manitoba where the approach distance was three times a far. I fact, these birds were so close at times that I wish I could have taken off my 1x4 converter but I didn't want to risk spooking them. This picture was from about twenty feet away. The third shot farther way.
Snow Bunting (Plectrohenax nivalis)
I spent well over an hour taking far too many images, most of which, although perfectly good were culled in Lightroom and trashed. I have ten like the one above. I kept three slightly different poses then backed them and about thirty others up to two external hard drives. I saved them as DNG and from there made 300 DPI jpegs of the blog shots which were then made into web sizes 6x4 at 120 DPI. The original Raw files are then trashed. Why keep everything, the kids won't want them !
I just managed to fit this bird into the shot. I did lose another shot of this bird sitting on the top of a pebble because I was too close, something that has happened a few times to me on. Originally I was going to go with my handheld 300 F4 but decided to take the 500 with a 1x4. However I feel it was a successful assignment having visualized my ideas and then leaving the birds undisturbed to continue feeding.

Two of the four snow bunting feeding on seeds. There were four birds but I thought I saw another single bird which may mean there are five.

On the way home I decided to stop off at 64th Ave to look at the results of the log removal. The upper shoreline abutting the dyke is now mostly devoid of logs. Some of the remaining logs have been driven into the ground vertically, creating perches which I yet to see any bird use. The same at 72nd Ave, only time will tell whether there will be any disruption to the numerous creatures who used to make their homes in the tangle of logs and other organic materials.

(Below) A few images from 64th Ave. What it shows is a sunny day but not the biting wind from the North-west. 

On 72nd there were and are about five thousand snow geese right beside the road as of Tuesday.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius) feeding on Hawthorn berries.

Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla) feeding on Pacific Crab Apple.
Good Birding
John Gordon