Monday 26 May 2014

Forest Birding in Surrey

Monday May 26 2014 Crescent Park White Rock/Latimer Pond 192/24 Ave Surrey Sunny.
Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

I visited two locations today that I hadn't visited since the winter. I decided to think out of the box and try for some forest birds. I searched out open glades where birds might be nesting.
At Crescent Park (Crescent Rd/129th St) in White Rock I photographed a very vocal Swainson's Thrush near the children's playground. The call, pwip pwip gave away its location. The sun was pouring through the vine maple and a babbling creek belied the fact that we were very close to human habitation. I waited until it alighted on a moss covered bough and fired off a few shots. This is the pose I like the most.

Black-headed Grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)

 I then visited Latimer Pond (192/24 Ave) where I photographed a pair of black-headed Grosbeak on the outer west trail. 

Spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia)

This is the first time I have seen this sandpiper at Latimer Pond.

All images Nikon D3s 500mm F4 with 1x4 converter.

Latimer Pond is actually more like a lake and has been for the past decade been under pressure from surrounding industrial development. What used to be a lake stocked with trout is shrinking and is becoming weed ridden. Ducks winter there as well as being home to a pair of Belted Kingfisher but for how long who knows. The water level is dropping and although it is a designated park the lake's future is not certain. The City of Surrey are determined to make this their new industrial centre right on the border of Langley. 
This is one location to keep and eye on for the birds sake!

It's never too late to start birding.

John Gordon

Friday 23 May 2014

Tamron 150-600 Nikon Test Run

May 21 2014 Sunshine Valley to Princeton and Keremeos

The Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 that I pre-ordered in January finally arrived just in time for a planned mini road trip to Princeton and Keremeos.
I had originally ordered it to go to the UK and was eager to finally test it out. As some of you know I have been using a Canon SX50HS point and shoot for long walks where the 500 F4 and tripod are just too cumbersome. The Tamron lens will hopefully give me more flexibility in the field and eventually less backache on long hikes.

The lens has been available in the Canon mount for months and for whatever reason the Nikon version has been slow to come to Canada. I felt Tamron owed us an explanation for the hold-up but none was ever forthcoming. PR obviously isn't their forte!
The first opportunity to use the lens was at Sunshine Valley just east of Hope where a mixed flock of Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin were feeding beside the road. This gave me the opportunity to shoot the lens in a low light and handheld. The sun was yet to flood the valley so I used the vibration control at 1/200 sec shutter speed.
Even with such reach, the birds are still quite small and it wasn't until they gained my confidence that I was able to fire off some close shots at 15-20 metres.

Male Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
The following four shots was all taken handheld at ISO 500 1/200 sec at 600mm (900mm 35mm equivalent)
I know that if I had had it mounted the lens on my gimbal head and tripod I might have had better shots but the whole idea of this first time use was to test the lens ability to be used handheld. Bearing in mind the sun had not yet set I think it performed well in a low light situation. I wouldn't normally recommend shooting at such low shutter speeds and there were a number of shots that were wasted but overall I was quite impressed by the vibration control. Rather than randomly shooting, I waited for the peak moment, it takes plenty of concentration but offers great rewards if everything comes together.
Female Red Crossbill
This crossbill (above) came as close as any and as you can see even handheld at 1/200 sec the VR control steadied the lens enough to capture what I feel are pleasant enough images. I also leant against a tree to steady myself, held my breath, squeezed the camera and fired the shutter. I am about five metres away for the first two shots. The two shots below are about twenty metres away.
These images have been cropped and edited in ©Lightroom 4.4. otherwise not too much tweaking has been done.
This flock perched on a tree until a passing semi-trailer spooked them. Shot from 25 metres away.
Red Crossbill and Pine Siskin flocking together.

Then it was on to Princeton's August Lake to try for better shots of the elusive Williamson's sapsucker. After last weeks effort I knew better shots could be found if given a little more time in the field. Raymond and I met up with Jim a local outdoorsman who was already at August Lake scouting for birds. Within minutes a white-breasted and pygmy nuthatch were photographed. A mountain bluebird and chipping sparrow showed themselves well and then we heard the drumming of a woodpecker. Was it a pileated or the Williamson's? They have different drum beats. After intensive searching we heard and eventually found a Williamson's drumming on a telephone pole near the Hydro right of way. Whether it was our presence or for whatever reason the bird flew to a nearby snag. Slowly the three of us approached where we managed a few long distance shots. Eventually we were able to approach close enough to get these images which were way better than last week. If at first you don't succeed! 
The Williamson's have been designated as endangered in Canada (COESWIC 205) and breeds only in British Columbia and is listed under Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act.
The Sapsucker was photographed with Nikon D300s/Nikon 500mm F4 and 1.4 converter. Even though I had the Tamron I needed the extra reach of the 500mm and converter.

Williamson's Sapsucker  (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
 The sapsucker landed on several snags feeding as it went, it seemed to being doing a circuit, we eventually lost contact when it flew into a large stand of Ponderosa Pine.
For more information about the
Williamson's sapsucker
It was an amazing experience to spend time with this wonderfully coloured woodpecker.

It was beginning to be quite hot and the birding activity had slowed so we decided to make a dash for Keremeos. Entering the Lower Similkameen Valley the landscape changed one again with far fewer trees and a valley bottom where rows of cherry, peach and apple farms dotted the landscape.
Passing through Keremeos we made our way to Lindicoat Rd. Our first sighting was a California Quail.
California Quail (Callipepla gambelii) Tamron 150mm-600mm
We then made our way up the gravel road with a 4x4 to search for Brewer's sparrow. The gravel road up to the cel tower station is quite rough and had been partially washed away in places, just don't look down if you are afraid of heights!
Eventually we reached prime habitat for the Brewer's Sparrow. On the way we also saw an american kestrel and a rock wren and what looked like a golden eagle. Eventually we saw our first Brewer's.
Sage grassland country. Brewer's Sparrow and Sage Thrasher nest here.
Tamron 150mm-600mm at 150mm

Brewer's Sparrow (Spizella breweri)
D3s Tamron 150mm-600mm at 50mm F7.1 ISO 800
As we reached a flat area a bird flew up from the sagebrush. This is the situation I had envisioned the Tamron being most useful.
With the Tamron 150mm-600mm handheld I was able exit the truck quickly, crawl toward the skittish bird and fire off a dozen handheld shots with in a minute or two. If I had taken the time to set up a tripod for the big lens I am sure the bird would have been long gone. One up for the Tamron.

Returning down the trail a mountain bluebird perched upon a fence and again I was able to get a decent 'snapshot' and then the real test to see how fast the autofocus would work. Above me an American kestrel pursued a vaux's swift but after an amazing aerial display both birds parted ways. This was a good test as any for the new lens as I had to quickly find the bird and lock focus in a split second. After a few attempts I was able to catch on to the bird as it dive bombed the swift. The picture won't win any awards but it is a good ID shot that most birders would be happy with, photographers less so, but who's cares when you're having fun, life's way too short to worry about such minutia!
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
Nikon D3s Tamron 150-600 at 460mm and 800ISO 
As we made our way down the hill and back to the blacktop we spotted a Chukar perched on top of a pile of rocks. After the Brewer's this was my second 'Lifer' of the day.

Chukar (Alectoris chukar)
Introduced from the Middle East feral population have taken hold in the dryer and warmer part of British Columbia.
I think the lack of sharpness on these shots is a combination of haze and heat rising off the rock or most probably the camera operator being sloppy with technique. All these files are 92 DPI so that could have something to do with the lack of detail in blog form.

This was one of a pair nesting in an area that has been sectioned off for a new subdivision.
Photos above and below Nikon 500mm F4 1x4 converter.

As we watched the chukar a succession of Western meadowlark and then Bullock's oriole began to make come into roost for the night and for us the long journey home beckoned.
Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
It had been another great day in Beautiful British Columbia added to which I had a new lens to play with.
My initial thoughts are positive but I'll need to do a few more tests before I make any final judgement.
The crossbill shots look pretty decent, the mobility issue is solved for me especially when shooting quickly from the car or stalking without a tripod. At the 150mm end of the lens I was able to take scenics to show where I was birding without removing the lens which avoids getting sand or dirt on the sensor. I might even dedicate one body to the lens and have it on the car seat as I bird. I can't tell you how many great shots I missed as I tried to poke the big nikon lens out the window. The Quail shot above took less than thirty seconds to shoot from the time the bird was first spotted. In and out without disturbing the bird. So, at the moment I am sold on the Tamron for certain applications and I think for anyone looking for a long lens the 150-600mm is the perfect solution.

It's never too late to start birding.

John Gordon

List of birds

Red-tailed Hawk
Savannah Sparrow
American Goldfinch
European Starling
Western Kingbird
Chipping Sparrow
Northern Flicker

August Lake/Princeton
Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Chickadee
White-breasted Nuthatch
Pygmy Nuthatch
Olive-sided flycatcher
Mystery gull all white
Williamson's Sapsucker
White-throated Sparrow
Yellow-rumped warbler
Lesser Scaup

Sunshine Valley
Red Crossbill
Pine Siskin 
Rufous Hummingbird
Yellow Warbler
Cedar Waxwing
Barn Swallow 
Tree Swallow
Canada Goose
American Robin
Bald Eagle

Brown-headed Cowbird
Common Raven
Barrow's Goldeneye
Clarke's Nutcracker

Brewer's Blackbird
Bullock's Oriole
Black-billed Magpie
Rock Wren
Golden Eagle
California Quail
Rough-winged Swallow
Western Meadowlark
American Kestrel

John Gordon

Sunday 18 May 2014

Cloverdale to Princeton and Back

May 15 2014 Sunshine Valley/Manning Park/Princeton B.C.

 4.15 a.m The very early start was soon forgotten when at the Hope Airport we came across the first bird of the day, a mountain chickadee.
Just past the Hope Slide at Sunshine Valley, birding buddy and wide awake driver Raymond spotted a flock of red crossbills feeding in a popular tree. As luck would have it, a dozen birds hung around for fifteen minutes or so and allowed us to frame a few shots before a pair of evening grosbeak landed in the same tree and spooked the smaller crossbills. Continuing on and near the West Gate we came across a young female black bear and numerous mule deer.

 Female Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)

Male Crossbill
The next stop was Lightening Lake at Manning Park where a three chipping sparrows and a pair of savannah sparrows were busily feeding in the picnic area as were a pair of yellow-pine chipmunk.

Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina)
Also present, along with the booming of sooty grouse were five co-operative gray jays looking for a handout. Back at the Manning Park Resort several clark's nutcrackers were easily photographed as was a stealer's jay and numerous Columbian Ground Squirrel.

Columbian Ground Squirrel (Spermophilus columbianus)

Columbian Ground Squirrel. This one is gathering nest material.

Clark's nutcracker (Nucifraga columbiana)
Gray Jay (Perisoreus canadensis)
A quick stop off at Beaver Pond produced numerous rufous hummingbirds, common yellowthroat, American robin and a hairy woodpecker.
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Leaving Manning Park we soon approached Princeton which straddles the coast Mountains and the Okanagan Valley.  The landscape changing from wet deciduous to Pondorsa Pine.There are birds here that we rarely see on the coast. Each switchback brought us incredible vistas and more than once we stopped to view birds on lakes and mountainsides. The Similkameen River was beginning to rise as the snowmelt filled the many tributaries.
Our first stop in Princeton was at a feeder where we found rufous and calliope hummingbirds. Nearby a lewis's woodpecker flew from tree to tree to what looked a like a nest hole but too high up to photograph. A cassin's finch was another surprise bird but soon it was bullied off the feeder by a flock of noisy brown-headed cowbirds.

Cassin's Finch (Carpodacus cassinii)
An uncommon bird of open dry pine forests.
Our next stop was A&W not the usual McDonald's. With caffeine coursing through our veins we  headed up Copper Mountain Road in search of our target bird the williamson's sapsucker and anything else that might present itself. Passing a number of small lakes we spotted cinnamon duck, mallard, pied grebe, lesser scaup, bufflehead and American coot but no sapsucker. There were deer everywhere.
Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

The next stop was August Lake where we immediately came across a pair of mountain bluebird and a mountain chickadee. Soon however the "wave" of birds moved on leaving us to survey the lake with its selection of miscellaneous duck and lone killdeer.
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gambeli)
As with many of these picture an effort is being made to show at least a little of the habitat rather that crop too tightly. It is harder than it seems.

Finally we caught a fleeting glimpse of the endangered William's Sapsucker. This record shot was at the end of the day and was a "Lifer" for both of us.
A very distant shot of the Williamson's Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus thyrodeus)
The bird is designated as endangered in Canada (COSEWIC 2005) and is listed under schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. The entire Canadian breeding population occurs in British Columbia.

By this time the light was beginning to fail, it had been a long day and the drive back was filled with good storytelling and a few belly laughs.
As we left Princeton a majestic dark morph red-tailed hawk swooped down in the valley below, it came to rest on a pine tree, surveying the grasslands below, no doubt looking for a meal. We watched in awe and counted our blessings that we live in such an amazing part of the world. At times like these the camera is best left well alone.

 So there you go, another great day of birding. 

We finally arrived back in Cloverdale at 11.55 pm

Below is a complete list (51 Species) of our sightings for the day. We did spot a few sparrows that may have been brewer's but they vanished into the undergrowth before we could photograph them.  As for bird song we could have added quite a few more had our birding skills been a little sharper.
American Robin
Song Sparrow
Mountain Chickadee
Orange-crowned Warbler
Rufous Hummingbird
Calliope Hummingbird
Tree Swallow 
European Starling
Swainson's Thrush (heard)
Pileated Woodpecker
Canada Goose
Red Crossbill
Evening Grosbeak
Brewer's Blackbird
Bald eagle
Pine Siskin 
Gray Jay
House Finch
Chipping Sparrow
Common Loon
Hairy Woodpecker
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Common Yellowthroat
Clark's Nutcracker
Stella's Jay
Brown-headed Cowbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Raven
Lewis's Woodpecker
Purple Finch
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Pied Grebe
Lesser Scaup
American Coot
Cinnamon Teal
Red-tailed Hawk 
Red-tailed Hawk dark Morph
Barrow's Goldeneye
Sharp shinned Hawk
Mountain Bluebird
Pileated Woodpecker
House Sparrow 
Common Merganser

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Birds, Builders and the World Cup

             Iona Regional Park, Richmond B.C. May 7 2014

It was with mixed emotions when after three weeks I left the UK to return to Canada. It didn't take me long to recover from the jet lag and soon I was on my way to Iona for a bit of Canadian Birding!

Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)

For those UK birders coming to Vancouver, Iona is less than ten minutes from the Vancouver Airport and not that far from the downtown core. Close to the hotel district there is excellent birding at Stanley and Queen Elizabeth Parks. Depending on the time of year, world class birding can be enjoyed in the nearby mountains, beaches and forests. For a quick pelagic trip take a whale watching tour out of Steveston.
Anyway, as luck would have it I missed only one rarity (Lapland Longspur) while I was away so after the jet lag I stopped off at the Iona where  two pairs of Yellow-headed Blackbirds were displaying close to the parking lot. Meanwhile oblivious of all the foot traffic a Marsh Wren was building a nest only a few feet from the boardwalk. The Wilson's above was photographed at nearby SFU where it was among a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers. I had originally gone to find the Sooty Grouse but to no avail.

Yellow-headed Blackbird (Zanthocephalus xanthocephalus)

At the same time an Osprey appeared and circled the ponds but it never made a dive. I'll have to return for the Osprey when the builders (new kitchen and bathroom) leave me in peace and I can resume my 'normal' lifestyle of watching "Footy" and birding. With the World Cup coming up who knows if there will be even be time to eat. 
My wife and I will be celebrating our fifth World Cup together. If England make the finals I will eat my birding hat! Anyway, she knew what she was getting into when she married me, but I digress. 
Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

It's Never too Late to Start Birding

John Gordon

Monday 5 May 2014

UK 2014 Final Thoughts

May 2 2014  Higham Roundabout/Frampton-Upon-Severn/Forest of Dean

I had a few more locations to visit before my UK trip finally ended. The last few days were spent around the Forest of Dean and Severn Vale. As I travelled through Bream past Lydney and as I approached Highnam roundabout near Gloucester I suddenly spotted a Kestrel. It was perched on a branch above a pull-off or lay-by, another UK "Lifer" and my first falcon of the trip. It looks very much like our American Kestrel, it may even be the exact same species, i'll have to check my Sibley's when I get back to Vancouver. There are a few species that overlap like the Wren and Snipe which can make identification a little tricky.

Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
 UK and throughout Europe.

The next stop was to check out the Nightingales in the ancient woodlands at Highnam Woods, alas my birding skills were sorely lacking, unfortunately no signing nightingales . Never mind, that's all part of the birding experience and there is always next year.

                                                                  Highnam Woods

Next stop was Frampton-on-Severn. I saw quite a few species nothing new except a soaring Buzzard. Unfortunately one of the best locations was closed off to the public and the tide was out, leaving most of the birds (little egrets, sandpipers, various gulls etc) way out on the sandbars. I should have checked the tide tables first.
However, the historic village which in mentioned in the Doomsday Book was very interesting and picturesque. Public paths can be taken around the many lakes and dense forests provide habitat for many species of birds.

Record shot of a Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus)
Resident throughout the year in most of the UK and Europe.

Back to the Forest of Dean and with the help of fellow birder Gary I was able to find and photograph the Long-tailed Tit, another "Lifer" to add to the growing list on the trip. 

May 3 2014 Forest of Dean Cannop Ponds and Nagshead Reserve

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
A member of the crow family found throughout the UK and Europe. Like the Steller's Jay this bird raids bird feeders for nuts and then makes a cache. 
Finally I managed to photograph the Jay. I found them quite elusive, they don't stay still for very long, luckily I had my 1.4 extender on my 500mm and shot this from the car. In my opinion I think it's the prettiest crow you'll ever see especially when observed flying.


Along with the Robin the Kingfisher is the quintessential British bird, the bird of postcards, of book and magazine covers, framed prints, the magnificent Kingfisher stands just six and half inches or 16.6cm tall and weighs a meagre 38 grams.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
A Kingfisher surveys the pond in front of the Nagshead lower hide. 
Sometimes described as a flash of sapphire, the Kingfisher preys on small fish, water beetles, tadpoles, dragonflies and other aquatic life.

The brilliantly coloured Kingfisher one of my' 'target' birds on my trip.

Final Thoughts
The trip has been brilliant considering birding took a second place to more important family affairs. 
I would like to thank the generous support of the local birders who helped me on my quest including the 'Gloster' Birder Mike King for his suggestions I use Twitter to contact other birders and his site which keeps an up to date tally of new sightings. Thanks Mike


Finally, I wouldn't have such a rich experience had it not been for a number of other birders including Tim Fletcher who kindly toured me around the Speech House area where we found a Tree Pipit and Willow Warbler. John Lawson who showed me the Bearded Tits and Cuckoo at Newport Wetlands and Gary Thoburn who led me to the Pied Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher and Long-tailed Tit. A huge thanks to you all.

The final tally for the trip was 75 species of which 41 were "Lifers".
My highlights of the trip included the Kingfisher sighting, watching several Skylark sing above the grassy fields of the Severn Estuary and finally catching a glimpse of a pair of Bearded Tits. Not far behind were the Lapwings courtship display and Avocet at Gibraltar Point.
There were far too many highlights to mention here but I was also lucky enough to watch a herd of  Roe Deer, a family of boar, a fox, numerous rabbit, some amazing butterflies, and a slowworm bathing on a rock.
I also shot some video, which if any good will be posted to my UTube site at a later date.

Once again a very big thanks and don't forget it's never too late to start birding!

John Gordon

Thursday 1 May 2014

Newport Wetlands Nature Reserve Wales

April 10, 2014 Newport Wetlands, Nr Newport, Gwent, South Wales Morning fog then sun.

I finally made it to the Newport Wetlands. My goal was to investigate an area that I had never birded before and possibly get a sight of the Bearded Tit (Panurus biaricus)

Note the signage in both Welsh and English.

The reserve was clouded in fog when I arrived which made photography almost impossible. Despite visibility issues there were plenty of birds around. One in particular, the Pochard was high on my list, it looks like a Canvasback or a very close relative.
Pochard (Aythya ferina)

The light continued to be a challenge but as I made my way toward the lighthouse I saw my first Bearded Tit , it was deep in the reeds and not in range to photograph. I was to see three more but alas not a decent photograph.

Next up was a Whitethroat and a pair of Linnet, both photographed at a distance but at least the light was improving.
Linnet (Cardeulis cannabina)
Year round reside UK and European finch.

Whitethroat (Sylivia communis)
The same bird above and below but notice how the quality of light can change appearance. 

The Whitethroat can be found in thorn scrub and hedgerows.

As the light improved so did the birding, thanks mainly to another John who I had met on the trails. The two of us spent the rest of the day looking for the cuckoo which we heard and briefly spotted.

Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) Male and female.
In Vancouver during the winter of 2014 there was a mini twitch on a male Tufted duck meanwhile in the UK a Lesser or Greater Scaup is a noteworthy find.
As I made my way  back to the interpretive centre for a coffee I spotted this Grebe snacking on what may be a stickleback.
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)
The largest of the European grebes
At the excellent interpretation centre there are a couple of feeders and one of the more frequent visitors were a flock of Greenfinch.
Greenfinch  (Carduelis chloris)
Rather than the boring feeder shot I chose a reed bed near by where I could see the Greenfinches staging their raids on the free seed. I could have said I stalked these bird with much cunning and expertise but that wouldn't be the case. Sorry to spoil the illusion! 

As I photographed the Greenfinches, a Reed warbler was busy chattering away about twenty feet in front of me, the problems again were the dense reed bed. Finally after a dozen attempts, a gust of wind pushed the bird into view and voila!
Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
The light was beginning to improve so my new found birding buddy John and myself headed off to Goldcliff to observe the Lapwing and Avocet chicks that had newly hatched. We missed the Garganey and the Spoonbill but there was plenty of action and plenty of birders who helped point out new species such as the Little-ringed Plover.

I "phissed" this Sedge Warbler to the only bush in the reed bed. 
Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Another great day came to an end with the nagging wish I had been able to get a better picture of the Bearded Tit, an exotic looking Babbler that would not look out of place in the tropics. I am told by reserve staff there are perhaps thirty in the reserve reed beds. Presently they are busily building their nests or feeding young. The birds winter in the UK and change their diet from insects to seeds.

Anyway, planning my next trip before I return to Canada

                     So far in this trip I have ticked sixty-eight species of which 32 are "Lifers"

For more information 

Good Birding
John Gordon