Tuesday 28 May 2013

Eastern Road Trip May 2013

May 15 Toronto Islands
The first day of the Ontario 2013 roadtrip was spent at the Toronto Islands working off a little jetlag. Cliff Swallows filled the air, Long-tailed Ducks dived for molluscs and snails, Ring-billed Gulls milled around, Baltimore Orioles whistled from popular trees, Chipping Sparrows, Ravens and House Sparrows rounded off the list. A pleasant way to unwind after a long flight.
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)

May 16th Toronto Harrow, Essex county Ontario.
The Kingsville Harrow area is coined the 'Tomato Capital of Canada'  Forty-seven kms east of Windsor, the once heavily wooded area is part of the Carolinian Zone that includes some of Canada's most endangered and rarerst species of flora and fauna. Point Pelee, Hillman Marsh, Rondeau are some of the other remnants.
I'm staying with the Braithwaite family, who before I have even unloaded my car are showing me around their garden and woodlot. There are Wood ducks in the their pond, Eastern Bluebird and Tree Swallow boxes with freshly laid eggs. Next morning the dawn chorus of Catbirds, American Robins, Blue Jays, Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks and Chipping Sparrows made sure I was up bright and early and ready for my Point Pelee initiation!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (pheucticus ludovicianus)

Sunday 12 May 2013

Burnaby Mountain Warblers

May11, 2013 Burnaby Mountain 
(High pressure system breaking down/low moving in/sun partial cloud, rain imminent)

The vistas from Burnaby Mountain are spectacular and it's a popular picnic spot with locals and tourists alike. The mountain is also a known for its excellent bird watching. Earlier in the year, a flock of Pine Grosbeaks drew many birdwatchers while in May the flowering trees and shrubs attracts hummingbirds and warblers. Sooty grouse can be heard 'booming' in the trees while if you are lucky, one may make its way to the ground to feed.
On Saturday I had a phone call that the Black-throated gray Warbler was present in a mixed flock of Townsend's, Yellow and Wilson's Warblers. Having never seen one before it didn't take me long to head over the Port Mann Bridge and up the mountain, it turned out to be a good decision.
The birds were present on the pathway above the Horizon's Restaurant. They were easy to find, their songs filled the woods. Soon I had a Townsend's in my viewfinder albeit from quite a distance, then a nice surprise, a Warbling Vireo popped out to snag a green caterpillar. The Mountain Ash and Maple trees were providing plenty of insects for the foraging birds. Then, out of the greenery came my 'Lifer' the Black-throated gray Warbler.  It was a brilliant sight to watch as it went from limb to limb, hopping around, sometimes feeding upside down. 

Black-throated gray warbler (Dendroica nigrescens)
I try to imagine the journey these birds have made to get this far and how much further north they might go. The bird books say Black-throated gray's nest in open mixed dry oak, juniper or coniferous woodlands, so I expect it will have a few more days of flying to arrive at their final destination. Anyway, there was an abundance of insect life on the trees and the flock were pre-occupied although somewhat wary of the humans traffic below. Occasionally the flash of the yellow and black Townsend's would flit across the frame, the females out numbering the males three to one.
Female Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi) gobbles down a catipilar.
Male Townsend's Warbler
The Townsend Warbler winters in Mexico and  California.

Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) winters in Central America.

I wonder if the aformentioned birds migrate as mixed flocks, anyone have any thoughts about this?

Bonus Shot while photographing Warblers
Sooty Grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus)
 Burnaby Mountain

Friday 10 May 2013

Whimbrels (Perseverance Pays Off)

 176 Street and 8th Ave, Delta  and 176 Street and 8th Ave,  Surrey, B.C. Sunny 24c
The day started with a tip that there were 12 Whimbrel on 112th Ave in Delta. It was noon and the fields where the birds were feeding was shimmering from the heat. Sunscreen and a hat were the order of the day. A farmer was preparing the soil for a potato crop and the Whimbrel were feeding on the disturbed ground. A few Killdeer, Crows, American Robins and Savannah Sparrows were also taking the opportunity to find an easy meal.
Fellow photographer Raymond and myself spent several hours skulking around the hedgerows hiding from the birds but as soon as we got anywhere near a Red-tailed hawk and then a noisy farm vehicle would push then back out of range. The shimmering heat coming off the fields made photography difficult and almost impossible to get anything in sharp focus. Another problem was that the birds were almost the same colour as the soil making for a very drab images. Every single shot from 112th was eventually deleted.
After several hours and wanting to get out of the sun the decision was made to head for the cool of the Little Campbell River to look looking for warblers or flycatchers. The cool forest glade soon revealed a  a number of Pacific-slope Flycatchers and a Swainson's Thrush. Being out of the scorching sun was a great relief and the backlit Maple leaves made ideal props for the diminutive flycatchers.
After an hour or so the light was beginning to soften and as evening approached and it was back to 176 Street to stalk the Whimbrel flock which we estimated to be between 185-225 birds. an exact account was difficult as there were even more birds in another field. The Whimbrel were feeding on a freshly hayed field and despite the dry weather there seemed an abundance of worms for them to feed on. Here are the results of the photo session. Total time spent photogtaphing six hours plus four hours looking for the birds. time well spent, you bet!
 I have to admit that I would have settled for any in-focus shot after spending so much time trying to find the birds so I was elated to have at least 50 keepers from the day plus the bird was also a 'Lifer'
Whimbrel (Numenenius phaeopus)

Picking off a single bird is easier than trying to follow a flock. Nikon D300 500mm  F4 with 1x4 converter.

These large sandpiper like birds can stand 18 inches high. Most breed in the Arctic, the Hudson Bay area, the West  Coast and winter south of the USA.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Another Day in Paradise (Pacific Golden-Plover)

176 Street and 8th Ave, Surrey and Grant Narrows, Pitt Meadows Sunny 20 c
I missed the flock of Whimbrels that had been reported at 176 Street on Tuesday but at least I ended up with one bird, a Black-bellied Plover. The bird was hanging out in a freshly cut hayfield accompanied by a pair of Kildeer.

*A few days after posting the image I began to have comments from readers about whether the  Plover was actually an American Golden-Plover or perhaps a Pacific Golden-Plover.
After conferring with a number of well respected birders the overwhelming verdict is that it's a Pacific Golden Plover. I suppose this is one of the many reasons birding can be so exiting.
There are a few who will disagree but the calibre of those who voted for PGP make me comfortable to post the results.

Here are some of the comments:

1. Hello John,

Fellow birders (expert) Russell Cannings and Michael Force emailed that it was a Pacific Golden Plover.

I just got your email, the tail looks slightly different in this shot. I might repost on facebook. Lets see what Mike Tabak says for now.


2. John; I also asked Russ and Roger, Jeremiah, Carlo.and Iyla(no response yet).
At this point based on collective opinions  I would say it is completely reasonable to relabel your bird as a Pacific Golden –Plover. Good find! Most adults are brighter than this(more golden and obvious) This is what threw me off at first.
We get a few PGPL each year in our area. Adult birds are more often PGPL than AGPL, while juveniles AGPL are more common than PGPL.

3 Always a pleasure to hear from you. Now this bird was quite a challenge and I can see why Pacific & American were considered one species not that long ago. In my (very) humble opinion, I'll go with pacific golden-plover based on:

1. Upright posture
2. Front-heavy
3. Largish bill

This would be a great photo ID quiz for sites like ABA or magazines like Bird-watching. I always enjoy seeing your photos.



Pacific Golden-Plover (Pluvialis fulva)

On the way to Grant Narrows I thought would drop into the Little Campbell Fish Hatchery on 184th Street, somewhere I have visited just once before, a visit cut short by a torrential downpour. There were Common Yellowthroat, Rufous Hummingbird, Hammond's Flycatchers, Great Blue Herons, Mallards with a single duckling, House Finch, White-Crowned Sparrow and American Robins. No pictures worth posting, just a nice walk along the forest trails.

Grant Narrows
A pair of Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) try to make a nest at the boat launch but it is doubtful that it will be successful with all the disturbances that come with the upcoming summer boating season

The pair had to re-locate to another location each time a boat came in.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Back to Birding

 May 6, 2013 72nd Dog Park and Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Record Temperatures 28 c
It was 6 a.m. and I'm in a T shirt and shorts and I've just been bitten by a mosquito. A Common Yellowthroat picks off small green caterpillars while an immature American Goldfinch sings from an Elderberry bush. By 8 a.m I had no luck finding the Lazuli Bunting and I decided to visit Reifel purely as I hadn't been there in months.

Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Again things were a little slow but I did come across some nest builders. A pair of Tree Swallows looked like they were feeding young while pair of northern Flickers were hollowing out a Pileated woodpeckers drill hole. A pair of Sandhill Cranes were incubating a single egg, taking turns while the other went off to feed. See pics below.
Sandhill Crane on the nest

The pair exchange incubating duties. Watching this graceful action was truly wonderful.

Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis)

Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor)

Norther Flicker (Colaptes auratus)

Canada Geese goslings
Follow the leader.
By noon it was just to hot and contrasty to photograph so it was back home to cut the lawn which was now starting to resemble a hayfield.

BC Nature Spring Conference

May3-5 2013 BC Nature Spring Conference, Abbotsford B.C.

'Along The Fraser-Adapting to Change'
Pine siskin(Spinus pinus)
Pine Siskin at Burrowing Owl Conservation Centre Feeder.
Nikon D300 300mm F4 handheld

An aggressive display shows off the colourful wing patterns.
Never waste an opportunity. These picture were taken at a feeder while waiting for a workshop to start.
Although I wasn't able to attend all the talks, I did hear Dr Jonathan Hughes excellent talk about 'The History of Flooding on the Fraser Valley' and Ryan Durand's 'Sumas Mountain Ecology' presentation. It is somewhere I want to explore the next chance I have. The schematic maps certainly gave a new perspective for me and the importance the area has for flora and fauna.
The thought provoking presentation Dr Kent Mulinex's 'Sustainable Food Systems for the 21st Century' was the highlight for me, so much information to 'Digest" As a presenter myself, the pace and delivery was perfect and a lesson to anyone who gets up in front of an audience. As a birder Ross Vennesland's 'Great Blue Herons' talk was of great interest to me. His talk centred around the 5000 B.C./Lower Mainland herons, a slightly smaller subspecies that are facing habitat loss due to encroaching development, the increase in Bald Eagle numbers and other mitigating circumstances.
There were also plenty of outdoor activities where some of us were fooled by the appearance of a 'hairy creature' who later posed for pictures. 
Some of the 'wild' creatures spotted during the weekend
While there were many outdoors field trips options my choice was to kick off the weekend with a visit to the Mission Interpretive Forest/Stave Lake with District of Mission's forestry staff Bob O'Neal and Kelly Cameron. Here are a few snapshots taken during the day.
Northern Rough-Winged Swallow/Stave Lake

Brown-Headed cowbirds/Stave Lake

White-Crowned Sparrow /Stave Lake

Friday May 3 2013 6.a.m. Early Morning Birding
An early start for birders meant the rattle of a 5 a.m. alarm clock. A group of about 15 of us took a walk along the the Sumas River.  Savannah Sparrow, Osprey, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Marsh and Bewick's Wren, Pine Siskins, White and Golden Crowned Sparrows and Rufous Hummingbirds were spotted. A Belted Kingfisher was heard and no doubt other birds were missed by me. I look forward to returning to see the Bullock's Orioles when they return to nest in the next couple of weeks.

Friday May 3 2013 Field Trip #2Douglas Taylor Park/Matsqui First Nation Reserve
It always surprises me when I discover a new place to walk, bird or just enjoy the quiet of a babbling brook. One such place is Douglas Taylor Park in Mission. Our group was led by GVRD's Jill Deuling and Jeanne Hughes who gave a lesson on native plants, scrubs and trees on the six km round trip. The heat of the day is not always the best for wildlife so a return during the morning would perhaps produce more birds.

Bleeding Heart.

'The Sentinel' 
Saturday May4 2013 Field Trip #3 Hogan Family Nature Park, Bradner  Rd.
How often have I driven past this little park tucked away among blueberry farms and dairy farms on Bradner Rd. The field trip was advertised as an 'Art Experience' and after a walk through the trail we all sat down to try out hand with pencil and paper. I must admit to being more comfortable with a camera.
Backlit to bring out the veins in the petals.

Sunday May 5. Field Trip #4 Burrowing Owl Breeding Facility Port Kells, Surrey
Rather than try to explain the program that Steve Howard has spent so much time developing I include the link here. This was the last field trip of the weekend. I had a wonderful time and I would to thank the Abbotsford Mission Nature Club for all the hard work hosting the convention.

Feeding time.

Each bird has a colour tag for easy identification in the field. 
Steve Howard with the Burrowing Owl pens which include underground Burrows.

This close-up is one of the original breeding birds that has now gone blind.
It now gives the opportunity for visitors and schools groups to see the bird up close.

Feeding time draws out a Burrowing Owl .

Wednesday 1 May 2013

American Goldfinches

May1st, 2013 Surrey B.C. Sunny but cool.
Before I starting birding I had always enjoyed watching the colourful American goldfinch. I found them hard to approach so when circumstances aligned to photograph them at a feeder I couldn't pass it up.
The opportunity came at the Grass residence where I was attending a Langley Field Naturalists monthly meeting. The Grass Goldfinches must be the best fed and fattest birds anywhere in the Lower Mainland so their frequent visits to the feeder made photographing easy.
The key was to chose a composition with a clean background and then watch for a catchlight in the bird's eye. The brilliant Yellow of the bird, the blue sky and the red cherry tree leaves are all complimentary colours which all makes for an image that is easy on the eye.  For me it was a well spent twenty minutes.

Female American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis)

Male American Goldfinch

Warblers and More!

April 30, 2013.  Richmond Park East, Richmond, B.C. Sunny
Richmond Park East was teeming with newly arrived warblers. Several large flocks of Yellow-rumped and dozens of Orange-crown warblers are busy feeding on insects, probably stocking up for the next leg of their journey northward. I have never seen so many birds in one place.
Deep within the forest, a Rufous hummingbird incubates a clutch of eggs. The nest is perched at the very end of a flimsy cedar branch. Across a sun drenched glade an American Goldfinch sings loudly from a treetop, a Downy woodpecker drums on a stump, and the rasping sounds of the Pine Siskins can be heard everywhere. Meanwhile Black-capped chickadees, Varied and Hermit Thrushes were all busy going about their business.
There were so many birds to focus on that it took an hour to walk a 100 metres!

Hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus)

As mentioned in a previous blog, my highlight last week had been the Palm Warbler and the Dicksissel. Todays surprise, another 'lifer' was a colourful Townsend's Warbler. At the time I had been photographing the Yellow-rumped Warblers and thought that one of the birds had looked different but with so many hybrids I didn't realize what I had captured until later that evening while sorting through my files in Lightroom.
As I only have one frame (below) I'll include for identification purposes.

Townsend's Warbler (Setophaga townsendi) 
 It seemed that a good proportion of the flocks encountered were hybridized Yellow-rumped warblers. This bird (below) has a white and yellow chin while some birds had very dark colouring and others were predominately white bodies with all white chins.
Hybridized Yellow-rumped warbler (Setophaga coronata)
Myrtle and Audubon

Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufu)
A rufous hummingbird sits on a nest made of lichen. The nest was so close to the end of a flimsy branch that predators would have difficulty approaching.

Hammond's flycatcher (Empidonax hammondii)

Earlier in the day I stopped off at Queen Elizabeth Park where I photographed a Copper's Hawk, a Ring-necked Duck, Gadwall, Hutton's Vireo and this Hammond'a Flycatcher.