Saturday 27 July 2013

Wandering Tattler and the Curious Spotted Sandpiper

July 24 2013 Iona Regional Park, Richmond B.C.

I have learnt that when a rare bird report comes in the best chance of success is to jump in the car and get moving right away. With the help and advice of many I have been fortunate enough in locating numerous Lower Mainland 'Lifers' and other interesting birds. Wednesday was one such day.

Iona South Jetty is 4km long
VANBCBIRDS had been reporting a Wandering Tattler at Iona. For one reason or another it took a text from another good birding friend to persuade me to drop my gardening and DYI chores and make the trip from Surrey. I hadn't seen a Wandering Tattler since a visit to Mitlenatch Provincial Park back in the mid 80s. There I had taken a grainy shot on Kodachrome 64 so this was possibly a chance to update my files and get another view of the elusive sandpiper.
With temperatures hovering around 22 c and with sunburn a good possibility, the thought of walking 2.5 kms on the South Iona jetty to look for a bird that might have already departed for California had me wondering if I was still sane!
Looking toward UBC as the tide moves in. Scenics taken with Canon SX50

I made a last minute decision to bike it, I hadn't biked or done much exercise in years so it wasn't long before my legs could pedal no more. I stopped and started several time before arriving at Marker 164, the last place the bird had been seen. I couldn't find the Tattler but a Spotted Sandpiper was feeding way out on the sandbar.
Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia)

As I had the bike I thought I might as well make it to the end of the jetty where the only signs of life were two noisy Caspian Terns and what appeared to be a topless sunbather of the female persuasion, but without my bins I couldn't make an exact identification!  Making my way back I bumped into another birder who knew exactly where to look (for birds of the avian kind) and soon we were both photographing the Wandering Tattler. The bird was feeding on tiny crabs forced onshore by the flooding tide. Not to be outdone, a curious and possibly the same Spotted Sandpiper (above) landed on a rock a few feet away to pose for pictures.

Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus)
A wave pounds on the Iona jetty where a Wandering Tattler rests before continuing its southward migration. A fast shutter speed 1/2000 sec was needed to freeze the action of the wave splashing against the rock.
In conclusion I'm glad I made the effort to photograph today. I did get some fresh sea air, exercise and with this humble series of blogs an attempt to throw off a writer's block that has haunted me for over a decade.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Kestrels, Grasshoppers and Camera Trial

July 22, 2013 Boundary Bay, Delta.  Between the Pilings and 112 St.

An American Kestrel hovers above the Boundary Bay dyke pathway. From one perch to another the female Kestrel makes its way along a hundred or so metres of hedge, eagerly looking for any movements in the tall grass below. Even barking dogs, walkers and the sudden movements of passing cyclists cannot deter the bird's concentration.  There are scores of grasshoppers everywhere. After a few sideway glances, a menacing stare and a little bobbing of the head the hunter suddenly swoops down on another juicy meal. Not every hunt is successful but during the time I spent observing at least five large grasshoppers were dispatched.
As the setting sun waned and the cool breeze off the Boundary Bay brought to close yet another day in paradise I wondered if could life be any better for a BC birder.

American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
The Hunt is on.

Another grasshopper is caught.
 Camera Test. Canon SX50 HS Superzoom
I have always wanted to test an inexpensive super zoom point and shoot to see if it would be useful addition to my already heavy camera bag. Below are some examples.

The two pictures (above) and (below ) were taken with the $400 Canon SX50 HS. The first three hunting pictures in this blog were taken with my trusty Nikon D3s and 500 F4 lens and 1.4 converter mounted on a Gitzo tripod at ISO 1000. The high ISO helped me catch the flight shots using 1/2000 sec shutter speed.  The Canon ain't gonna do that for you but...
The SX50 is point and shoot APS censor camera 12 Megapixel with a 24-1200 zoom. I had always wanted a little lightweight camera to take on organized bird walks etc where carrying a tripod and big lens just slows everyone up. The big question was, would I be happy with the results ? The answer is Yes and No.  The shots above were taken hand held while the bird was perched. A tripod  would help although not too many birds are stationary long enough. Although the images looks fine on a web blog they wouldn't be suitable for printing bigger than 4x6 or 5x7. The first three images on the other hand could be made into 16x20 prints without too much trouble. In conclusion it all depends on your end use. Apart from selling large prints I also give presentations where a certain clarity is required. If however you are blogging, Flickring, Facebooking or other inter webbing use and you don't require action shots I think the Sx50 is a decent choice for the person just wanting record shots and that coming from a Nikonian is high praise!
Oops! I forget to mention that it takes great scenics and video to complements your record photos and for that purpose alone I think its perfect and money well spent.

 If the  main purpose is to add a simple inexpensive easy to use camera to back up your bins or just to take record shots I think the Sx50 is a good choice. I tried out other brands but felt the Canon was the best build and buy. The fact I could hand hold the camera at 1200 mm and get these shots was I felt really useful. Forget about action flight shots as the shutter has a slight lag and sometimes it is easy to hit the video record button by accident but overall it was fun to use. Whenever I want a powerful zoom I'll defiantly carry this camera especially for concerts and other long distance situations.

Saturday 6 July 2013

West Vancouver Birding

July 5, 2013 Grouse and Cypress Mountain. Sunny
Following my most excellent road trip mentioned in previous blogs I came home to much grass cutting, pond cleaning and planting. Birding took a backseat while I slowly caught up with things. The Lower Mainland weather has been so hot that birding and gardening has to be done early in the day. By 5 a.m Friday I was making my way to hopefully photograph a male Nashville Warbler on Grouse Mountain. Didn't really know if it would still be there, The bird had been first reported about ten days ago so who knows. I soon joined fellow photographer/birders Raymond and Tak, both had visited the location before and within twenty minutes and with the sun still behind the mountains the colourful songster arrived and gracefully posed for us. What a beautiful bird the Nashville Warbler is! Some distant firs created a pastel background so perfect for the  500mm F4 and a 1x4 converter combination. Just another day in 'birdie' paradise!
Nashville Warbler Vermivora ruficapilla)

The Nashville can be found along the power line east of the Grouse Mountain "D" parking lot.

None of these pictures would be possible without the generous sharing of information by other birders. One reason why Birding is North America's most popular pastime.
Next it was off to find a MacGillivray's Warbler. Without spotting any at Grouse it was off to Cypress Mountain where better luck might ensue. There are plenty of turn-offs and viewpoints on the mountain road to Cypress where openings in the forest attracts a wide variety of species. Here are the morning's results. We came across a small flock of Townsend's Warbler, heard Sooty Grouse booming away, watched a pair of Band-tailed Pigeons and were serenaded by a Spotted Towhee before finding our other warbler of the day.
Band-tailed pigeon (Columba fasciata)

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus)
The Pacific variation of the spotted towhee has spotted wing-bars.

MacGillivray's Warbler (Oporornis tolmiei) Grouse Mountain
Technically far from perfect but something to improve on subsequent visits.

Thursday 4 July 2013

Final Thoughts Saskatchewan Part 3

June 4-5 2013  Regina Beach, Saskatchewan
My whirlwind visit of Saskatchewan via Point Pelee and Churchill came to an end with two more days of birding.
I had 31 'Lifers' in Ontario, 9 in Churchill and a Brown Thrasher in Saskatchewan. That's 41 plus a few flycatchers yet to be identified.
This is my second annual birding road trip and so far it has been two for two. Last year I drove through southern B.C, the Okanagan, Milk River in Alberta and Regina and had a great time.

I decided to photograph at Craven at the very southern tip of Last Mountain Lake. Reed beds and slow moving river, sloughs, open lake and quiet backwaters attract a multitude of species. 

Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonata))
Hundreds of Cliff Swallows (above) nest under a bridge at the entrance to the Exhibition Grounds in Craven.

Kildeer (Charadruis vociferus)

Swainson's Hawk (Buteo swainsoni)
The Swainson's hawk winters as far south as Argentina, only the Peregrine Falcon travels further.
This bird was hunting along route 99 between Craven and Regina.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalis) is a very common bird on the prairies.

List of Saskatchewan Birds:
Yellow Warbler, Song, Vesper and Savannah Sparrow, Baltimore Oriole, Forster's Tern, Black Tern, Swainson's Hawk, Ring-billed Gull, Eastern and Western Kingbird, Gray Catbird, American Pelican, American Robin, Willet, Northern Shoveler, American Widgeon, Mallard, Greater Scaup, Bufflehead, Black-billed Magpie, Western Meadowlark, Warbling Vireo, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Red-winged Blackbird, Brewer's Blackbird, Canada Goose, Common Grackle, Wilson's Phalarope, Kildeer, Brown Thrasher, American Goldfinch, Horned Lark, Brewer's Blackbird, Western Grebe, Starling, European House Sparrow, Cliff, Bank, Barn, Tree and Cliff Swallow, Purple Martin, Gadwal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Blue-winged Teal, Canvasback, Redhead, Cedar Waxwing, Bobolink, Turkey Vulture, Horned and Eared Grebe, Wilson's Snipe and Flycatchers???

Are these Western Grebe on the left and Clark's Grebe (right) or both Westerns, any takers out there?

Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis)

Far From Home-Rose-breasted Grosbeak

July 4 2013, Vancouver Island B.C.
Click on the link below to read Christopher Stephen's story.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Wednesday 3 July 2013

'A Slough of Birds' Saskatchewan Part 2

June 4 2013 Regina Beach, Craven, Saskatchewan.

A Slough of Birds

The second day of the 2013 road trip in Saskatchewan was one of driving around exploring new backroads in the hope of seeing a Sharp-tailed or Ruffed Grouse. Everyone I spoke to had seen 'Prairie Chicken' and suggested I take an early morning drive along just about any gravel road. Apparently they were everywhere. I drove and walked and searched but none were to be found, not even a tail feather, not a glimpse! I suppose it's a perfect excuse to plan another road trip sometime soon! 
However, I did see fifty-three species of birds including some goodies like Forster's and Black Tern Willet and Swainson's Hawk.  I'm sure any experienced birder could have achieved a much higher tally quite easily but I know that will come with time spent in the field.
What can one say out this little corner of Saskatchewan. It's amazing,very accessible and close enough from B.C. for a two week road trip and if you fly, less than an hour from Regina Airport. You could be birding that same evening. If you decide to drive don't forget to stop off at Chaplin Lakes to see the Piping Plover, Black-Crowned Night-Herons and flocks of American Avocets. While Saskatchewan has some of the best birding in North America, April or May are the prime times with the Fall being the best chance of seeing both Sandhill and Whooping Crane migrations. 
On a weather note both April and May can produce surprise snow storms so make sure you are well prepared and are able to hunker down for a few days while keeping warm and fed. You can still bird but the backroads can get difficult. That is how I came to see the Piping Plover last year. I had to shelter at Chaplin Lake and when the snow stopped I took a drive around the lake and within minutes found a single Piping Plover feeding in the shallows. 
A roadside portrait of a Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata),  Regina Beach, Saskatchewan.
The Slough
  • Slough, a stream distributary or anabranch, or in some cases, a regular stream.
More localized meanings of slough are:
  • a muddy marsh in the British Isles.
  • swamp or shallow lake system with trees (Eastern and South Eastern United States).
  • a secondary channel of a river delta, without trees (Pacific coast of North America).
  • pond, often alkaline, often a glacial "pothole" (prairies of North America (see Prairie Pothole Region).

A typical prairie slough in June. Note the cultivated fields behind.
Farmers are working with naturalists to leave a swath of wild grasses to ensure nesting birds are safe from tilling, ploughing and spraying. A slough like this in Craven will host numerous species of ducks, grebes, phalarope, and Yellow-headed and Red-winged blackbirds. Various sparrows including Vesper and Savannah while Meadowlarks, Bobolink, Horned Lark and sometimes Willet nest nearby.

Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)

Redhead (Aythya americana)

Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) feeding on dragonfly larvae.

A pair of Willet nest close to a slough at Regina Beach hunt and for food in the adjoining fields and pastures.