Tuesday 28 January 2014

Being in the Right Place at the Right Time

Jan 27 2014 Sumas Prairie
With the wonderful weather coming to a close my birding buddy Raymond and myself took off to nearby Sumas Prairie to find the Gyrfalcon and whatever other birds presented themselves.
Taking Whatcom Road east at Vye it wasn't long before we came across an American Kestrel hunting among the blueberry fields. Within ten minutes the tiny raptor had caught a quite large rodent that looked like a small rat, it was far too big for a mouse or vole.
As luck would have it, the bird at first flew away with its prize only to make an abrupt turn and fly toward us and land on a pole about 30 metres away. It was an exiting moment and more than we expected and we had been birding all of ten minutes.
Here is one of the resulting shots.
Female American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
         Later in the morning we came across this male waiting to pounce on some hapless rodent
American Kestrel. We saw five females and only this one male. 
Below is my first ever photograph of the Harlen's Red-tailed Hawk. Note lack of red tail associated with the normal population.

Harlen's Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

A Harlan's glides over the fallow fields of Sumas Prairie.

Yet another great day of birding, full of surprises and new experiences. The Harlan's was a bird I had never seen before so with a change of weather I can now spend the next few days catching up with all or some of the minutiae that gets in the way of my birding adventures.

Good Birding

Sumas Prairie Raptors

Jan 24/14 Sunny Sumas Prairie, Abbotsford B.C.

Sumas Prairie, Abbotsford B.C Jan 24 2014

With Boundary Bay fogged in due to a week-long inversion I decided to head out to sunny Sumas Prairie in search of an elusive Gyrfalcon and some much needed sun. It wasn't long before the Gyr was found but it was too far away to get even a half decent picture. I was happy with the sighting and moved on to search for a Golden Eagle that had recently been seen in the vicinity. 
Following an hour of driving around, scanning every large tree for signs of the Golden Eagle a large silhouette in a distant tree promised success. Even with binoculars the bird was too far way, it was either an immature Bald Eagle or the Golden but I couldn't be certain.
Frustrated by the situation (the bird was on private land) patience again would have to come into play. Hopefully the bird would take flight and in my direction.
A great deal of birding I am finding is part research and the other half, plain good luck. A cold wind buffeted the car while I ate lunch and waited. The waiting reminded me when I used to fish for carp and tench back in the UK. Sometimes waiting hours or even all night for a bite. To bird you need patience, there's no way around it. I once spent ten days in silence at Buddhist retreat so waiting for an hour of two for a bird to move is not really a big deal.
I remember one particular day when after meditating for six or seven days with only minimal sleep my mind was in a quite a tranquil place. The internal chatter of the mind had died down and everything seemed well with the world..so I thought. Just as I was thinking I was getting the hang of the "meditation thing" a flock of birds landed just outside the monastery window. The flock burst into a noisy chatter and all the calm I had acquired suddenly vanished. Bloody birds, I thought. That night, we could if needed ask the monks a question and so I asked her was about the noisy birds and how they disrupted my 'precious' meditation.
Her answer was simple and became the title of my blog "Listen to the Birds". With those few words I understood the concept of letting nature be itself and not to try and impose any thoughts upon it. Those wise words are with me today as I bird and photograph our avian friends.
Suddenly out of nowhere a Bald Eagle flew toward the tree. It became clear the bird in the tree was indeed a Golden Eagle and a fierce battle for territory was suddenly being fought overhead. The Golden Eagle soared in an ever increasing spirals suddenly swooped down to drive the intruder away. No contact was made but there was no doubt who now ruled of the roost.
Who needs the National Geographic channel when we have this in our own backyard!
Here is one the resulting shots.

Golden Eagle ( Aquila chrysaetos)

The day continued with sighting of one Rough-legged and seven Red-tailed Hawks, five American Kestrels and one Gyrfalcon and a large flock of Western Meadowlarks.

Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

A long distance ID shot with some nice backlight. 

The day ended with a quick coffee run to the Great-blue Heron Reserve where we were alerted to the possibility of a Lincoln Sparrow hanging out with the Song and Fox Sparrows. An hour later, the shy and diminutive sparrow posed for pictures.
Lincoln Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)
Good Birding

Monday 27 January 2014

The Falcon and the Goldfinch

Jan 23-24 2014 /Harbour Park and River Road, Ladner B.C.

Thurs Jan 23/14 Foggy with Sunny breaks

This week I had the opportunity to drop all my household chores and search out some of the raptors species that make the Lower Mainland their winter home.
As an aside, I missed having a five falcon day (no Merlin) that a few birders have had this week but four out of five ain't bad. The four falcons were the Peregrine Falcon, Gyrfalcon, American Kestrel and the Prairie Falcon.
The rich farmland in the Fraser Valley remains mostly fallow during the winter and makes excellent habitat for rodents and their avian predators. Many species of raptors arrive in the late fall from their frozen breeding grounds in the north, the prairies and the Interior. . They spend their winters in our temperate climes before returning in the early spring. Others like the American Kestrel can be found year round while the Prairie Falcon is a welcome rarity.
I started my day at Harbour Park in Ladner where exactly one year ago I photographed a White-throated Sparrow. No such luck this time but in the trees close to the car park, a flock of American Goldfinch were feeding on high protein alder catkins. The juicy insides can be seen in the bird's beak.
American Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis)
From there I made my way along River Road to see if the Prairie Falcon which was still spending its day chasing down Northern Harriers and stealing their food, it was. So far I have been quite disappointed with my efforts to get a definitive shot. Some would say it's all down to operator error! I'd heartily agree as I am finding bird photography both enjoyable and very challenging.

I spent a couple of hours trying for another chance but I can honestly say I am still searching for a definitive 'keeper' shot. Until then here goes.

A Prairie Falcon (top) tussles with a Northern Harrier.
The falcon spends most of the day stealing the harrier's prey. This very long distance shots is far from perfect
but I think does give an idea how the birds spar for food and territory.


If you are reading this and plan to go down to photograph the falcon please respect the farmer/owners property. If you don't have a long lens then stay on the road and use a scope or bins. If you are hoping to photograph the bird you'll need at least a 300m telephoto lens and if you are patient the falcon will eventually fly closer, especially in the afternoon.
Good Luck and be nice to the farmer and his wife, they are both elderly and deserve our respect even though they don't get what all the fuss is about.
It just isn't fair for the birding community to be blamed for the bad manners of a few who are spoiling what should be a positive experience for everyone. PLEASE STAY OUT  OF THEIR DRIVEWAY.

Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Serpentine Fen and Surrey Lake

Jan 21 2014 Serpentine Fen and Surrey Lake.
The inversion which has been blanketing the Lower Mainland in thick fog led me to re-think where I was going to bird. Originally I meant to go to Boundary Bay but with so little sun the option was to visit the Serpentine Fen where the fog had already lifted and the light was perfect.
On a good day Western Meadowlark or American Bittern can be seen. A few years ago a Cattle Egret stayed but unfortunately died when cold weather arrived. A Red-tailed Hawk scoured the pathway for prey. American Wigeon, Mallard, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser and Double-crested Cormorants bathed or fed on the Serpentine River. A Belted-kingfisher could be heard rattling away but not seen. A Northern Harrier glided across the fields spooking the flocks of Green-winged Teal into the air.

Overhead a pair of Trumpeter Swans make their to fields planted with carrots, a large flock of Canada Geese and then more Mallard splash down just beside me. A Marsh Wren takes advantage of the warm sunshine.
A Double-crested Cormorant dries its wings in the Serpentine River.
A large portion of the Fen is set aside for birds. The area is heavily used by dog walkers, many of who let their pets run free. Birding is best in the early morning. These pictures were taken at midday when birds are on their guard or have taken off to quieter pastures.

A Great-blue Heron catches a salmon smolt.
The walk around the Serpentine Fen was quite uneventful. The usual suspects included Song, Fox, Golden and White Crowned Sparrows. Spotted Towhees, Marsh Wren and Dark-eyed Juncos made up the small birds. Medium sized birds included American Robin, European Starling and Red-winged Blackbird.

The master fisher catches another fish.
Look at those eyes!

I then made my way home via Surrey Lake where this Cooper's Hawk was looking for any movement in the hedgerow below.

Cooper's Hawk
At Surrey Lake the highlights were five Ruddy Duck as well as Bufflehead, Northern Shoveler, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck, Common Merganser and a pair of Pied Grebe.

Good Birding


Thursday 16 January 2014

The Prairie Falcon Twitch

Jan 14/15 River Rd West/34st Ladner B.C.
For the first time in decade a Prairie Falcon (PF) has set up a winter home in the coastal Lower Mainland. For those interested there is apparently another PF and a Gryfalcon in the Chilliwack area. The PF normally winters south of B.C. In the summer time it breeds on craggy cliff faces in the Caribou and Chilcotins area of Interior British Columbia.
The juvenile PF in drawing numerous birders to the Ladner, just look for all the cars parked by the roadside on the way to Brunswick Point. The first day the bird was so far away it was pointless trying to photograph it. Thanks to a number of birders with powerful scopes I was able to see the bird as it perched on the piece of farm machinery. Today the bird finally came closer but I was ill-prepared.
The Prairie Falcon I finally got in focus is seen below is clutching a vole that it has just stolen from a Northern Harrier. I totally screwed up a sequence of shots here by forgetting to check my shutter speed.
I will be back tomorrow for another go!
Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus)

I went back Thursday Jan 16 and the result is a closer shot.
While waiting for the Prairie Falcon to make an appearance a pair of Bald Eagles squabbled over a vole which one of them had just stolen from a Northern Harrier.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

On 34St a Northern Goshawk turned out to be a Cooper's…
Cooper's Hawk (Accipter cooperii)

Anyway, it has been a quite an interesting few days for more reasons than one.
One of my winter projects has been to organize my bird files (of which there are now thousands) into family groups.
During the process I found a series of Gryfalcon photos from Brunswick Point May 2012. A lifer, but its gets better. While ploughing through my last road trip I came across a Cassin's Vireo taken on the bench lands above Osoyos June 2012. So two species that I was unaware of so three Lifers this week if I include the Prairie Falcon. Too cool! Maybe there are other hidden gems. Flycatchers anyone!

Good Birding


Wednesday 15 January 2014

Brydon Lagoon/Further Adventures SX50 HS

Brydon Lagoon Langley City.

Jan 5-7th Brydon Lagoon Langley  B.C.

Close to my home is Brydon Lagoon, a former sewage treatment pond that is used by many to walk their dogs, jog and birdwatch. I often go there for a refreshing walk or when I can't make it out to Boundary Bay or other birding locations. Rather than carry a ton of gear I carry a Canon SX50HS point and shoot 'Superzoom" camera.
On my last visit I watched a pair of Bald Eagles enlarging their nest, a Belted Kingfisher feeding on salmon fry as well as Golden-crowned Kinglets. On the pond were a number of duck species including Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead and Hooded Merganser. Sometimes during migration there are Canvasback and Green Heron.

The following photos are from two separate days. The first from a sunny afternoon walk while the second batch were taken on an overcast day. Even in lower light the camera works well.

Jan 5  2014

The Brydon Lagoon location has a number of interesting trails. These woods
 are just west of the lagoon and contain Great-Horned Owls, Barred Owls, songbirds
and an active Bald Eagle nest. 

A Common Goldeneye, one of the many species found at Brydon Lagoon.
 All these shots are taken with the Canon SX50 HS point and shoot super zoom.

Canon SX50 hs

Common Merganser. One problem the camera has it has difficulty with highlights .
However, I use it for documentation rather than serious photograph and have a lot of fun
 when I am out for my daily exercise.
 It's nice to have a light camera with such a reach in case something unusual pops up.

Spot the bird in the centre of the frame. Shot at 28mm wide end of zoom.
Without moving I took the next two shots.

Zooming in at about 600mm. Still a long way off but I haven't moved.

Here is the Bald Eagle at 1200mm zoom handheld and sharp enough to ID the bird.
Not bad for a $300 camera!
 I shot these Double-crested Cormorants silhouetted against the setting sun by using the
program 'idiot" mode. That caused the camera to underexposure,
creating a pleasing silhouette. The other three birds are Mallards.

 Brydon Lagoon Jan 7 2014

Spot the eagle.

Shot at 1200mm handheld. No processing on any these pictures except downsizing to 120 DPI.

A Double-crested Cormorant wrestles with a large catfish.

A House Finch and House Sparrow.

The House Finch was a nice way to finish off my walk around the ponds

Good birding.


Sunday 5 January 2014

The Birding Year Begins

Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Delta B.C. Sunny Balmy 6 c
Following all the excess and lethargy that the holiday season can bring it was with great relief that I finally managed to get in my first day of birding of 2014.
Walking along the north dyke my first encounter was a Downy Woodpecker. I heard it drumming a tree trunk while I photographed a flock of Purple Finch feeding on Pacific Crabapple. A Brown Creeper was splendid in the morning light. I haven't seen many this year so that was a treat. The dark forest floor created a neutral background and although it looks like flash the image was created with available light.
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)
creeps up and down tree trunks looking for insects.

Moving on the usual suspects were hopping around the forest floor. Song, Fox, Golden and White-crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhee and Dark-eyed Junco and Red-winged Blackbirds.
Across the fields were thirty-five Trumpeter Swans and hundreds of Mallard and Green-winged Teal. In the ponds were a pair Northern Shoveler, their plumage in pristine condition. Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck and American Coot made up the other species. Did I mention the five-thousand Snow Geese flying overhead!
In a quiet backwater a pair of Hooded Merganser allowed me close enough to grab this shot reflected in the water.
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)

Fate had me heading for the car but for whatever reason I decided to take another route and I am happy I did.
The rattling of a Belted Kingfisher caught my attention. A female was fishing from a row of bushes and saplings, picking off what looked like sticklebacks. An all-round naturalist would know which stickleback the bird was feasting on. I'll look into it.
Here are some of the pictures from the hour long session and my favourite series of the Belted Kingfisher to date.
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
Diving for sticklebacks at Reifel ponds.

Success ! Most of my shots of the bird hitting the water were blurry even with 1/4000 sec shutter speed. Not knowing exactly where the bird would dive added difficulty to the shot.

Back to the perch with the prize!

The female has the brown markings which are lacking on the male.

Now all the bird has to do is flip around the fish without dropping it. The total catch was 10 fish .
Good Birding to you all in 2014

John Gordon

Thursday 2 January 2014

Langley Christmas Bird Count 2013

Dec 29 2013  Langley Christmas Bird Count

         Langley Field Naturalists
Sheila Puls and Kathy Masse
Langley Field Naturalists 
 Photos John Gordon

On Sunday, December 29 dedicated Langley Field Naturalists divided into 5 teams and set out from their meeting spot at ABC Country Restaurant with their clipboards and binoculars, to spend the day counting every bird they saw, both numbers and species, in the assigned count area.  It was the annual North America Christmas Bird Count and the Fields Naturalists covered a pie shaped area, which is part of the large circle of the White Rock/Surrey Count area.
The day was drizzly and cool but happily the rain stopped after an hour.  At 4:00 pm, we met again, to warm up with a hot chocolate and to tally final numbers.  Stories of rare bird sightings and adventures of the day were shared and enjoyed by all.
We saw 67 different species which is one more than seen last year.  However our overall numbers were only six thousand and sixty-one, down from eight thousand last year, probably because of the misty weather.  We found American Robin counts are up. A highlight was the Cinnamon Teal which is rare in Langley in the Christmas Bird Count.  Some saw large flocks of Pine Siskin, and American Goldfinch.  A  Peregrine Falcon and 3 American Kestrels rounded out other unusual sightings.  
The 2013 Christmas Bird count, as it is each year, was a satisfying successful day for the Langley Field Naturalists!

Below are the stats from our group Mike Klotz and myself.
Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus)
At 16.5 inches tall and a 29 inch wingspan, the Pileated woodpecker is the largest of North American Woodpeckers.

Due to overcast and foggy conditions Sunday wasn't the best of days for a bird count but as the five groups from the Langley Field Naturalists (LFN) spread across Langley hopes were high. I birded with Mike Klotz.  Below is the e-bird list Mike logged on his iPhone. One of the first birds we saw was a Belted Kingfisher followed a few minutes later by a Pileated Woodpecker. Both birds were seen on the Nikomekl Rotary Park floodplain in Langley City. Here are our groups stats (1 of 5 groups)

BirdLog Checklist Summary for: Sunday, Dec 29 2013

Number of Checklists: 5
Number of Species: 42

Checklists included in this summary:
(1): Nicomekl Park
Date: 2013-12-29 8:08 AM
(2): Langley--Fraser Hwy & Serpentine River
Date: 2013-12-29 10:13 AM
(3): CA-BC-Langley- Sendall Gardens
Date: 2013-12-29 11:14 AM
(4): Langley--Fraser Hwy & Serpentine River
Date: 2013-12-29 12:55 PM
(5): Langley-Blacklock School
Date: 2013-12-29 2:15 PM

18 Greater White-fronted Goose -- (4)
30 Canada Goose -- (1)
2 Gadwall -- (1)
188 Mallard -- (1),(2)
2 Ring-necked Duck -- (2)
2 Greater/Lesser Scaup -- (2)
2 Bufflehead -- (2)
15 Hooded Merganser -- (2)
8 Common Merganser -- (2)
1 Double-crested Cormorant -- (2)
4 Great Blue Heron -- (1),(2)
1 Northern Harrier -- (1)
1 Bald Eagle -- (2)
1 Red-tailed Hawk -- (2)
3 Ring-billed Gull -- (5)
5 Glaucous-winged Gull -- (4),(5)
8 Rock Pigeon (Domestic type) -- (4)
1 Anna's Hummingbird -- (3)
1 Belted Kingfisher -- (1)
2 Downy Woodpecker -- (1),(2)
1 Northern Flicker -- (1)
1 Pileated Woodpecker -- (1)
4 Steller's Jay -- (1),(3)
46 Northwestern Crow -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(5)
1 Common Raven -- (3)
34 Black-capped Chickadee -- (1),(2),(3),(4),(5)
1 Chestnut-backed Chickadee -- (1)
4 Pacific Wren -- (1),(3),(5)
2 Bewick's Wren -- (1),(3)
9 Golden-crowned Kinglet -- (1),(3)
7 Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- (3)
26 American Robin -- (1),(2)
2 Varied Thrush -- (1)
104 European Starling -- (2),(4)
4 Spotted Towhee -- (1),(4)
3 Fox Sparrow -- (1),(2)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)
One of the common birds observed.

14 Song Sparrow -- (1),(2),(4)
2 Golden-crowned Sparrow -- (1),(2)
15 Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon) -- (1),(2),(3)
3 Western Meadowlark -- (4)
4 House Finch -- (1)
16 House Sparrow -- (1)
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
The highlight of the day were three Meadowlark near the Langley Airport.

A Tagged Whimbrel EH!

Jan 2 2013 Tagged Whimbrel.

Below is a message that popped up on my Flickr account this morning shedding light on a tagged Whimbrel I had photographed in Churchill, Manitoba in early June 2013.
I was in Churchill for avian migration and no, there weren't any Polar bears. I had sent the information in months ago and had a quick response but today more information arrived to shed some light on the bird in question. 
I had been photographing some Stilt Sandpiper when I spotted this bird. It was a long distance shot and I didn't notice the tag at first. 
What I love is the EH tag. Many Canadians, even myself a transplanted Brit include at the end of our sentences.  As in beautiful plumage, eh!

Below is the message:
"Hi John, 
We first tagged this guy on June 21, 2011, at his nest near Launch Rd at Camp Nanuq. I assume that's where this was taken? He was there this summer again, too! Thanks for getting a shot of him, and on an early date. We just got back our first set of geolocators from the Churchill Whimbrel, and in 2013, they all arrived on the breeding grounds between May 26 and 29. He probably spends his winters in ParĂ¡, Brazil."

Andy Johnson

 Whimbrel EH!