Tuesday 22 October 2013

From the Archives: A Nightmare Comes True

Oct 22 2013
With all the recent talk about oil pipe lines and tankers I though I might include this link from the The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales archives. I grew up in South Wales and know the coastline quite well. The B.C. coastline is as rugged but with many more inlets and islands making any clean-up operation almost impossible.
Draw your own conclusions.

.From the Archives/A Welsh Oil Spill

Monday 21 October 2013

Beautiful Plumage/White-throated Sparrow

Oct 21 2013 Burnaby Lake, B.C. Foggy
This is my third attempt to get a decent photo of the White-throated Sparrow. Last year I photographed one at Ladner Harbour, however the light was in my face and bird elusive and the resulting photo less than stellar. A week or so ago another try at Vancouver's Vanier Park proved a little better but again the bird did not really co-operate and hopped off into the undergrowth. This time I found this fellow out in the open feeding on seed accompanied by Dark-eyed Junco's, Spotted Towhee's, Golden-crowned and Song Sparrows.

White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

Good Birding
John Gordon

Friday 18 October 2013

Western Scrub Jay At Home in Maple Ridge

Oct 17 2013 Maple Ridge York St/ 119th/South of Dewdney Trunk Road.

The well documented pair of Western Scrub Jays that have been reported in Maple Ridge were nowhere to be seen. An hour of fruitless searching passed when suddenly another birder spotted a single bird in a tall fir.
Western Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)
The Western Scrub Jay is more often found in drier climates, especially
where there is an abundance of oak and juniper.
Soon after another Jay landed in a tree about 50 feet away, affording me a shot against the blue sky. I was lucky, moments before the fog was so thick photography would have been a challenge. No sooner had I rattled off a few shots, the bird was spooked by crows and flew off to York St/119th.  I followed the bird to a hazelnut tree where I was greeted by several residents who wanted to know what I was looking at. Tripods and bazooka lens tend to draw crowds.
Long time York Street resident Scott Fraser has been feeding one of the birds for three years. The first Western Scrub Jay arrived at his feeder in the summer of 2011, emaciated and in poor condition. After a steady diet of sunflowers and peanuts the bird steadily regained its health. In the autumn of 2011 it left only to return the following spring, this time accompanied by a mate. The newer arrival is quieter, a little smaller and quite shy in comparison. Eventually (she) did come down on the lawn for a peanut. One shot and it was gone back into the tree. Scott thinks they nested in a bramble bush but the squirrels got to the eggs.
Since their arrival, the two birds have had to fight off a number of Steller's Jays. No doubt a noisy confrontation, a tussle they have apparently won. Scott rarely sees the commoner Steller's in his garden anymore. While I was there the original Scrub Jay even chased off a Northern Flicker.

This scrub Jay was in poor health when it arrived at Scott Fraser's garden in 2011.
The pair spent last winter in the vicinity due to a plentiful supply of peanuts and sunflower seeds provided by many feeders in the area. I then spoke to one of Scott's neighbours whose pet Parakeet now mimics the Scrub Jays when they visit her garden. She also confirmed the bird was there in 2012.
Western Scrub Jay on Scott Fraser's front lawn.
I hope you enjoyed  this blog. Good Birding

Thursday 17 October 2013

Black-necked Stilt/Canon Test Update and Cranberry Birds

Oct 16 2013 Derby Reach/Allard Cresent, Fort Langley B.C.   Foggy morning/sunny afternoon.
What a week, I have been so occupied shooting an add campaign for Parks Canada, speaking engagements and a photo/video shoot for a Fort Langley cranberry farm that I hadn't had time to get out and bird. On a positive side, the extra work has set me up for my next road trip.
The days were long with early mornings and evening photo sessions. The afternoons were taken up with editing. I did however manage to PVR England's two successful World Cup qualifying games. During my photo shoot at the cranberry farm I could hear what I thought were sandpipers but with other matters at hand I just let it pass, besides I didn't have my bins with me.
During the brief breaks in the action I also spotted a pair of Belted Kingfishers rattling across the bog and a Red-tailed hawk glided down from a fir tree to catch prey. Just as the light was getting soft and golden a flock of seven American Pipits landed behind me on a pile of sand. Luckily I was at my car and the 500mm was quickly taken from its case and Voila! They then flew down to the waters edge for a drink, their yellow/brown bodies contrasting against the red and yellow cranberries. Some shots just can't be made and best left at that.

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
 in the evening 'sweetlight'
As I was leaving for the day and moments after the sunset a small flock sandpipers landed just in front of me, the question to answer was which type of sandpiper? I had already packed everything in the trunk ready for my trip home but I know a little extra effort can sometimes pay didvidends. The trick was to extracate myself from the car and set up my camera without spooking the birds which were twenty feet away. I started with a D300 and 70-200 2.8 zoom and as it was quite dark I threw on a SB800 flash on to give myself at least the chance of obtaining an indentification shot. The bird was still too far away so I switched to my 500mm which I handheld with VR function enabled.
*Same set-up for the Pipit shot minus the flash.
The flock turned out to be Pectorals (they could have been somehing more exotic) who were feeding on worms and insects among flooded cranberries fields.
I'm not a fan of monoculture but the amount birdlife was quite encouraging. Hundreds of ducks, geese and other LBJ's. The resident Sandhill Cranes have left by this time of year and the Black bear and cub haven't been seen for a week due probably to all the activity in the cranberry bog.
Pectoral sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
Not too bad for a non birding day, Eh!

The Canon SX50 HS 
I have mentioned in my previous blog I am a big fan of the Canon SX50 HS 24mm-1200mm zoom camera. I use it when on nature walks where I want to move very quickly and don't want to be burdened with lens/tripod etc. One frustration I found was the shutter lag. However, after studying the online PDF guide I have found the answer.
Set the camera to SCN and chose the HQ option and you can shoot 10 full resolution frames a second without the lag. Great for bird action and (some) Canuck's games.

Flock to the Rock: 
Stilt picture featured in White Rock paper. The Black-necked-Stilt that is and continues to attract birders to White Rock New has been the talk of the promenade. I thought that if sent a picture to the Peace Arch News more people might enjoy going down and seeing the bird. Here's the tearsheet and a link.

For more see: Peace Arch News
Black-necked Stilt link

Sunday 13 October 2013

Canon SX50 HS Test Shots/ Brydon Lagoon

Sunday Oct 13 2013 Brydon Lagoon, Langley B.C.
A number of readers of this blog have asked me to post a few images from the Canon SX50 HS Super Zoom camera. Today I spent an hour at Langley City's Brydon Lagoon to give it a test. All my previous shots had been casual snapshots while using my 'proper' gear.
The following images were shot as jpegs, edited in Lightroom, cropped in Photoshop and that is about all. There is some sharpening but not very much.
Of course, not everyone wants or can drag around huge lenses, tripods and this little camera makes a perfect choice for those people as well as for those on limited budgets.
The camera has an 24mm-1200mm range with built in stabilzer. With care it allows handheld photography at great distances. It wouldn't be my first choice for fast moving subjects like sports but with practice the camera could become a useful extension to your birding experience.
The best method to get the sharpest image possible each time is to gently squeeze the camera with your hands, place one hand underneath the body of the camera, place your elbows to the side of the rib cage, take a breath and squeeze the shutter. This applies to all types of photography not just birds.
Rather than go into all the camera specifications I will include a link to the Canon website at the end of this blog. I paid $399 for mine and they seem to be on sale at the moment which may mean Canon have a new model coming out soon, but of that I'm not certain.

The scene at 24mm. There are three Song sparrows on the fence and in the bushes. They are just specks so I phissed them to come out into the open . From the same position I zoomed to 1200mm and caught this curious songster (below) on the left of the fence.  It can be hard to find the bird if you zoom in too quickly so zoom halfway looking all the time for movement. The camera is being handheld, as the use of a tripod would have slowed down focusing. For birding, a monopod with an inexpensive ball and head tripod head would be my other choice especially on duller days.  For most other applications like scenics and macro I would set the camera to the lowest ISO 100 and use a tripod. For snapshots the imge stabilization works 95% of the time.  For birds I would shoot at 320 ISO.

Song Sparrow. Shutter speed 1/640 at F7.1. ISO or film speed 320. The camera was extended to 1200mm. I managed 5 in focus shots and one shot where the bird was exiting the scene.

A few more shots from my hour long walk

Great Blue Heron Brydon Lagoon
Northern Shoveler (Brydon Lagoon)
Mallard and Reflection. (Brydon Lagoon)
Even though this bird is moving quite fast toward me the camera kept up with 50% of the shots. 
Handheld at 1200mm

White-crowned Sparrow.
Photographed from 75 feet away, this shot shows how much of a camera the SX50 is and that is high praise from a Nikonian.

The caveat is that this camera won't ever displace a DSLR but does an excellent job of capturing almost everything you'll ever come across including birds, one of the most challenging subjects of all. Any comments much appreciated.

Link: Canon SX50 HS

Good Birding

Friday 11 October 2013

"A Little Off Course"

Oct 10 2013 White Rock, British Columbia Canada. Cloudy with Sunny breaks
A Black-necked Stilt, a bird rarely seen on our shoreline, has been spotted at one of B.C's most popular beaches. A walking path and busy railway track are only yards away from the scenic White Rock promenade from which the bird can be easily observed.
The long-legged bird began drawing birders and photographers soon after it was spotted by Floyd en al  Wednesday afternoon.

The Stilt is a 'Lifer' for me and a few yards down the beach was another, a Franklin's Gull. That is three 'Lifers' in October, the Lapland Longspur being the third.
I was also testing out a Nikon D800 which meant I missed a few flight shots because of the slow motor drive and buffer writing the huge files. The jury is still out and my tests on the D800 are still ongoing. I might just be the user, unfamiliar with the camera controls.

Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus) in flight.
Scale: How big is this bird? About 14 inches tall. The stilt walks between two Cackling Geese on the White Rock foreshore. The bird is also hanging out with a Willet which winters on the coast. Both birds nest in the interior and prairies. The Willet migrates to winter on the coast and the Stilt to the warmer climes further south.

The bird itself was easy to find, no skill required, just look for the long lenses, tripods, safari hats, Billy Oddie lookalikes and a mostly unshaven male binocular carrying rabble.
I suppose this can be termed a "mini twitch" with passersby showing just as much an interest and sharing stories about their own sightings. Everyone, it seems has a bird story to share. Birds bring out the best in people, one of the reasons I enjoy birding so much.

The Stilt will refuel before heading to warmer climes possibly
Central America or the Southern USA for the winter.

The shot below is photographed with the $399 Canon SX50 HS. The APS sensor point and shoot is perfect for those who don't want to lug around tripods and heavy glass. It is ideal for the birder who wants to take identification shots and perhaps make small prints. I use mine to shoot scenics as well as test images like the one below. Compare it with the images above taken with the D800.
Even as a web shot a softness to the image is apparent and feather detail is poor.

Good Birding


Monday 7 October 2013

Patience Pays Off

Oct 7 2013. Vanier Park, Vancouver B.C. Light rain and overcast.
Manicured Vanier Park, is home among other things to the Planetarium, Bard on the Beach Festival and family picnics. It is also the home to a myriad of bird species. The park has numerous types of habitat. It is close to the ocean, features expansive manicured lawns and ornamental trees. To the East the park butts up to the Burrard Bridge. Among the trees, a remnant of a long lost stream bed can be seen, a mix of Alder and various shrubs share the space with a BMX track, joggers, dog walkers and the homeless.
Bushtits, Steller's Jay, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Black-capped Chickadees and my quarry, the White-throated Sparrow were most apparent. Somehow the birds eke out an existence in this urban jungle, their song drowned out by the passing traffic from the Burrard Bridge.
I had spent an hour looking for three White-throated Sparrows that had been reported yesterday on vanbcbirds. I could hear the call Tseep, Tseep but I couldn't see the sparrows. Another frustrating 30 minutes passed before I finally spotted two birds which I thought were Song Sparrows but turned out to be White-throated Sparrows feeding in the undergrowth. Finally my patience was rewarded with some  shots when the birds came to check out my phishing.
White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis)

A brief glimpse (above and below) as the sparrow came out from the undergrowth.
 It had been feeding on blackberries. One of the most secretive subjects I have photographed. Still looking for the definitive shot.

Saturday 5 October 2013

After the Storm: Fall Birding in British Columbia

Oct 3 2013 Iona Regional Park.  A sunny and crisp Autumn day.
Following my "Photographing Birds in the Lower Mainland" presentation to the White Camera Club Wednesday night I was looking forward to heading out into the nature. A five day storm had given the coastline a good soaking and the possibility of a fallout of migrating birds was high.
It wasn't long before my hunch was rewarded, I soon came across a Lapland Longspur, my first 'Lifer' since April. I had only just started walking along the jetty when a small flock of four flew over my head, I was less than a 100 metres from my car. I shot maybe 20 shots when I heard from another birder that a Palm Warbler had been spotted at the sewage lagoons, I was only minutes away!
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

A Coast Garter snake was also on the hunt for insects

Beside the lagoons are a row of large trees, assorted bushes, briars and grasses.
A flock of Yellow-rumped warblers, several Yellow Warblers, a single White-throated Sparrow and a gorgeous Palm Warbler were foraging for insects. Following the previous days windy weather the ground was littered with insects of all kinds. Also feasting on the bounty were colourful Common Yellowthroats, Song, White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Bush Tits and others. I didn't see the White-throated but the Palm did fly quite close, close enough to photograph.

Palm Warbler (Dendroica palmarum)

Note the yellow rump and streaked breast.

Note the dark eye line.

My favourite shot with a clean background, dramatic posture.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

A Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata) on the lookout for a meal. 
All pictures Iona Oct 3 2013
©All Images John Gordon 2013
Good Birding