Thursday 30 October 2014

No Better Place To Be

Oct 29 2014 Ladner and Brunswick Point, Roberts Bank Nature Reserve Sunny 17c

For those who live in the British Columbia's Lower Mainland the autumn and winter can bring more than a few rainy days. As I write this journal October 30th it's pouring. It's not much fun birding in the rain so when the weather forecast called for sunny breaks I decided to visit Brunswick Point via Delta's Hornby Drive.
Most of the morning was spent scoping distant flocks, looking for signs of the Pacific Golden Plover  amongst a large flock of Black-bellied Plovers. The birds were huddled together taking cover from the strong winds coming off Boundary Bay.
Because of the high tide and the accompanying swells there was very little activity on the dyke so I made my way to Ladner, taking a circuitous route to see if I could spot any raptors. Sure enough I spotted a Merlin perched atop a bush. I barely had time to jump from the car and shoot a few handheld frames before the raptor swooped away from me and nailed a shorebird (Dunlin I think)
Juvenile Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Shot from quite a distance this Merlin perches moments before making a kill.

If there were any artistic value of showing the results of the kill I would but it was gruesome. I'll leave it up to your imagination.

Next up was the Brunswick Point Tropical Kingbird that has been delighting birders and photographers with its acrobatic feeding displays. The bird which should be moving south is a rare visitor to the Vancouver area. The last sighting was two or three years ago in Delta.
This was my third visit to photograph the bird. For the first effort I took my Tamron 150mm-600mm but I found it a bit sluggish for the flight shots. To be fair I did have a few which were OK (See previous blogs for more flight shots)
This time I took my 500mm F4 and tripod and a Nikon D3s which shoots 8 frames a second and has a larger buffer for shooting raw files. Previously I used the D7100 which is a fine camera but painfully slow and has a very slow buffer hindering my ability to get more than the odd clear shot.
For better or worse here are some of the results, although not perfect they are an improvement over last week's efforts. It seems practice and patience are the only way to get better images. More about that in later blogs.
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

A distant shot of the Tropical Kingbird about to catch an insect. The bird fed incessantly from the time I arrived until I left.

More Tropical Kingbird shots:
I can see why they are called Tyrant flycatchers, that fearsome bill would fit right into a Game of Thrones episode.

Not to be cynical but this type of shot is often called a 'Bird on a Stick' shot.
However some birds look better on a stick than others!

I dislike some of the expressions birders use, the 'Bird on a Stick' is one, the other is 'Dirt Bird' No bird deserves that moniker. 
Anyway the shot above took a lot of patience, a kickback to when I use to be an angler, camping out all night out to catch enormous carp and tench. Catch and release of course!
I would have been happy with any shot if the bird was only around for a few hours but this guy has been here for two weeks and doesn't seem too perturbed by all the attention he/she is attracting.
To find the bird on a branch that didn't have a cluttered background took hours of waiting. I additionally bisected the frame at each corner by careful cropping in Lightroom© and have left a few branches in the bottom of the frame. I think they give the image a little more of a three dimensional effect. I could have Photo-shopped them out but I don't think it was necessary or ethical. I also placed the bird in the bottom left of the frame using the tried and trusted two-thirds rule.

As I was getting carried away with the kingbird and the warm weather I 'accidentally' took this picture below. Talk about a lucky shot, it is my first American Robin flight shot. Maybe that is something to practice on with the commoner birds..Hmmm!
Maybe i'll assign myself that little project and see what I can come up with.

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
I like this shot and that is all that matters. I like the symmetry of the wings.
There were breaks in the action when the kingbird would simply take off to catch an insect hundreds of metres away. During one such interval a Northern Harrier flew by and I was able to get off two frames.

Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus)

Finally, when the day was coming an end a Robin perched in front of the kingbird. I thought the mixture of tones, colours and two species of birds, one common and the other a scarce vagrant an interesting juxtaposition. I quickly took two shots so that both birds would be in focus. The shot with the robin out of focus and kingbird in focus doesn't look right so i'll just remember that moment in my mind's eye and leave the memory there. The one below works better.

American Robin and Tropical Kingbird.

I've travelled around the world, visited some iconic places, met some amazing people and photographed a wide variety of creatures but honestly, it would be very hard to beat this particular day in the Lower Mainland. 

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Boundary Bay Birding

Oct 27/2014 Boundary Bay 64th Ave. Cloudy and sunny breaks.

Afternoon session 1-4.30 p.m.

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
A common bird at feeders and at fruit trees during the Fall and winter.

The light was fading and even at 1000 ISO the shutter speed was too low to stop the movements of this tiny kinglet. I used a Better Beamer flash diffuser on a Nikon SB800 flash. The flash head was set at 50mm on my 500mm lens with 1.4 converter. The flash was dialled in at -1/3.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (Regulus calendula)

Yellow-rumped Warbler (Dendroica coronata)
As with the previous shots of the kinglet a little flash brightened up the scene while creating a catchlight in the eye of his dainty warbler.

 The Northern Shrike (Lanius excubiter)
Sometimes referred to as the "Butcher Bird" this juvenile Northern Shrike was hunting the small birds I was photographing. The white background is the out of focus greenhouses at the end of 64th Ave.

It was almost dark when I left for home, a few drops of rain had begun to fall, the remnants of a tropical storm way out in the Pacific was about to batter the BC coastline. Driving home there were Red-tailed Hawks hunting, Snow and Cackling Geese preparing for the deluge while the recently flooded cranberry fields held hundreds of Mallard.
By the time I arrived home it was dark, the wind was whipping up the red and yellow maple leaves in the driveway. It was time for a nice cuppa, a comfy armchair and a good book.  C'est la vie!

"It's never to late to start birding"

John Gordon

Monday 27 October 2014

Two in One Week, Leucistic That Is!

Oct 27 2014 Brookswood Langley. Francis' Back Yard Overcast

Morning Session 10-11 A.M.
It has been quite a week for Leucistic birds. The Eurasian Collared Dove last week in Delta and now a Black-capped Chickadee. All thanks to a tip from Francis, a fellow member of the Langley Field Naturalists who alerted me to the bird coming to her feeder. I was able to photograph this beautiful chickadee with hot coffee in one hand and the other on the shutter button. Did I mention Francis bakes awesome homemade cookies! Thanks Francis for the bird, the hospitality and the cookies.
See the previous blog for a link to Leucism in birds.

Leucistic Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapilla)

The back view shows off the beautiful plumage of this unusual bird.

In the afternoon I spent an hour at the Richmond Nature Park (more bird feeder shots) followed by a  few hours at Delta's 68th Ave. Please check the next blog which i'll post later.

I don't know where all the hours go when I bird. Time seems to take on a quality all of its own. Time is neither long or short, only the changing position of the sun (when it peeps from behind the Pacific North-West clouds) gives away that the day is quietly fading away. A reminder to return home and reflect on a day well spent.

"It's never to late to start birding"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale

Sunday 26 October 2014

A Mixed Bag

112 St and Hornby Drive Delta B.C. Overcast 13c
The escapee budgerigar is still flying with a mixed flock of Brewer's Blackbirds and Starlings. It has been there all summer after 'flying the coop' in Ladner. A few weeks back the owners contacted me via vanbcbirds asking me about the bird's location. Good luck catching it!  I am told the bird could still survive our harsh winters as long as it can find grain and seeds. A nearby barn which houses livestock should provide shelter and food. No picture this time but as I was watching the bird in flight a Leucistic Eurasian Collared Dove landed on a wire a few feet away.
Leucistic Eurasian collared Dove (Streptopelia decaocto)
A nice blue sky would have improved this image but until then this adds to my collection of leucistic species. So far I have photographed leucistic:
Mallard, Canada Goose, American Crow, White-crowned Sparrow, Steller's Jay, Starling and Red-winged Blackbird.
More about Leucism

The dove wasn't the only reason I was at the corner of 112th. Thanks to a tip from friend and fellow birder Gareth Pugh I was able to photograph a flock of Snow Geese that contained a family of the  dark morph variation.
They were quite far away but I did manage a few pix.
Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
The dark morph adult is on the left and two juveniles are on the right. 

Both variations for comparison. 

Spooked by an eagle the trick was to locate the dark morph's out of a flock of 400 as they flew across the cornfields.

Even though it was lousy light for photography, the birder in me enjoyed the entire experience. Back home in front of a warm fire I reflected on another day well spent.

"Its never too late to start  birding"

John Gordon
Langley  Cloverdale

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Ignoring the Weather Forecast Pays Off!

Oct 20 2014 Boundary Bay/Blackie Spit. Overcast with sunny breaks
It was supposed to be pouring rain all day!
Sanderling (Calidris alba)
I arrived at the base of Delta's 112 St flood tide. Out in the bay thousands of Northern Pintail, Mallard and American Wigeon were feeding. Keeping them company were hundreds of Black-bellied Plovers, a single American Golden Plover, numerous Western Sandpipers, Sanderlings and perhaps two thousand Dunlin.
As the tide rushed in something spooked the flock, most of the sandpipers and plovers flew off. I knew it was time to leave when a beachcomber and dog arrived on the scene. I decided to visit nearby Crescent Beach and Blackie Spit which is a only a ten minute drive away. I had heard there was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper among the peeps.

A flock of Dunlin and a few Black-bellied Plover are spooked by a Bald Eagle but soon come back to rest.

As the tide rose a dozen Greater Yellowlegs and about 30 Least Sandpipers began to feed quite close to the pathway that leads out to the end of the spit. American and Eurasian Wigeon (possibly hybrids) joined the sandpipers to feed on the submerged grasses.

Dunlin and Least Sandpipers flock together.
Note some of the birds have yellow legs, they are the Least Sandpiper our smallest sandpiper. There is one at the top of the frame as well as a few others.

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
From a distance I thought I had found the Sharp-tailed but as it immersed into the open the speckled breast gave it away as being a pec. Better luck next time.

Marbled Godwit in flight. I'm not too sure what the other bird is, perhaps a Dunlin?

Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
All in all it was a great day outdoors and had I listened to the weatherman I would have stayed home and missed out on a glorious afternoon. It was just one of those quiet days out in nature, hardly a thought to bother me, oblivious of everything except the birds. Life can be sweet at times!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Saturday 18 October 2014

Tropical Kingbird at Brunswick Point

Oct 19 2014 Brunswick Point Cloudy with sunny outbreaks.

I had intended to spend the morning watching the Man City game on the telly. Outside the grey morning was turning into a beautiful sunny Fall afternoon so I decided to make my way to Brunswick Point. My birding buddy Raymond had texted me to say the flycatcher was still around. When I arrived there were already a number of birders and interested bystanders watching in fascination. The brilliantly coloured Tropical Kingbird was very active catching one insect after another. The clouds were clearing and patches of blue sky were appearing.
I decided to give it an hour of two to see if I could get some flight shots as well some perched shots with a decent backgrounds.

For the first hour the bird made a few forays to feed but always landed deep into foliage making photography difficult. It looked like that was going to be all until a Merlin flew by and scared it off. The colourful bird then flew along the dyke trail. Handholding my Tamron 150mm-600mm I was able to pick off a few shots as the bird bopped around the shrubs and bushes.

Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Finally the bird began to feed again, hawking insects in the brisk wind. I have included a few shots of the bird feeding although they are technically flawed they do show something that is difficult to observe in the field.
 Even with a high shutter speed freezing the action is difficult. These cropped pictures shot in manual mode to make sure I had decent exposure for cropping.

Anyway, I did get to see my game and also have a fantastic few hours outdoors before returning to the 'Man Cave' for the Arsenal v Hull game. By then it had become cloudy again and a contented feeling that the day had been very, very well spent.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

White Rock Sandpipers

Oct 15 2014 White Rock BC Overcast and Showers
Rain or shine Wednesday was the only day I could go to White Rock to see whether I could find the Marbled Godwit that had been reported the day before.
Sure enough it had joined the resident Willet and Kildeer that commonly feed alongside the White Rock foreshore. The birds are easy to find, just make your way to the large Rock just south of the pier.
The challenge was to capture both birds in one frame. Here are the results before backing off and leaving the birds to feed.
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) in the foreground and Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)

The two sandpipers feed among Canada Geese and Mallards.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon


Monday 13 October 2014

Thursday 9 October 2014

Forest and Mountain Birds

Oct 8 2014 Cypress Mountain, Vancouver BC Foggy with occasional clearing.

Bird wise, the climb up to the Bowen Island lookout was uneventful, mostly because of the thick fog that blanketed the mountainside. The hope for blue skies never materialized and the Northern Pygmy Owl was a no show, at least for me. It did turn up just after I left. Murphy's Law, Eh!
However the day wasn't completely futile especially when fellow birder and 'eagle eye' Mike Tabak spotted a Sooty Grouse skulking around in the undergrowth. The bird finally came out in the open and at times was too close for some of us with long lens. A point and shoot would have worked just fine. That was a special bonus for all of us..Thanks Mike.
Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscures)
Pacific (Sooty) Subspecies )
The grouse was an unexpected surprise and after birding Boundary Bay the rarified air of Cypress Mountain was a welcome change of scenery.
Next up was a pair of Sharp-shinned Hawks whose acrobatic displays were magical to watch. Several times they came flying by like two fighter planes commanding the sky, dive bombing each other.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipter striatus)

These two very long distance shots of the sharp-shinned hawk turned out way better than I had imagined.

On my way back to the car I walked through the forest near Yew Lake when I heard a rustle in the bushes. I 'phissed' a few times and a Swainson's Thrush popped out to give me a great view. Two shots and it was gone, thank goodness for autofocus.
Swainson's Thrush (Catharus ustulatus)

Before I could go home to catch up on some sleep I attended a book signing at the Walnut Grove Library with three other Langley authors. My second book, The Langleys is almost sold out with just seventy copies of the original three thousand remaining. The event celebrated the library's and the Walnut Grove Recreation Centre's 20th anniversary. It was a long day and now fourteen hours later it's time to go home. Thanks and good birding.

It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon

Friends of Semiahmoo Bay Society Volunteer Reception

I am an honoured to provide this picture to help publicize the below event. It should be a lot of fun rain or shine. See you there.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Mountain Birding

Oct 6 2014 Cypress Mountain Vancouver BC
The alarm went off at 5 a.m and again fifteen minute later. I'm a breakfast person so after a bowl of Weetabix, marmalade on toast and a piping hot cup of tea (the morning papers would have to wait) I was ready to battle the early morning Vancouver rush hour. The drive from Cloverdale to Vancouver can be brutal even at 6 a.m in the morning!
On our arrival, Cypress Mountain was cloud hidden. The climb was gentle if not a little heart pounding. A Merlin was the first highlight. On the very first switchback we spotted the bird we had hoped to see, the Northern Pygmy Owl #1. What a beautiful bird, so small, it weighs just 2.5 ounces and stands 6.75 inches high. The owl looked at us, its head bobbing around and moving from side to side and then, in a split second, it was gone. A diurnal owl or a daytime hunter, its prey, chickadees or juncos scattering into the thickets as it flew past us.

Northern Pygmy Owl #1. Some of us think this owl is a different bird than the we photographed later.

After catching our breath from the exertion and the excitement of seeing such a rare bird it was onward and upward to see if the forest would reveal more wonders for our party. The owl was a 'Lifer for me as well for quite a few of our group. We continued our climb up Cypress Mountain in anticipation.

Northern Pygmy Owl #2 (Glaucidium gnome)
Sharp-shinned Hawk  (Accipiter striatus)

At the first lookout we rested. It wasn't long before a Steller's and several Gray Jays put in an appearance.  Their antics kept us amused for quite a while, that is until what we believe to be another owl (slightly different markings) landed on a tree several hundred metres away. A Sharp-shinned Hawk also put in an appearance.
Steller's Jay (Cyanocitta stelli)

 Slowly the owl flew from branch to branch approaching closer all the time until finally it was within 30 metres. We all got our 'trophy shots' when suddenly the tiny owl flew between us, unsuccessfully we think chasing one of several Yellow-pine Chipmunks which had been fed seeds by hikers.

Yellow-pine Chipmunk (Tamias amoenus)
This is the same bird as the second picture.

More intent on hunting, the owl landed on a grey branch with grey clouds behind, not a pleasing composition. By moving a few feet I was able to juxtapose the bird with a weathered tree trunk giving the background a little more character. It was a treat to see the bird flying around, I just wish the photographers would have backed off and let it hunt, it has to eat too! I hope photographers will realize that wildlife viewing should never be taken for granted and that the animals ALWAYS come first.

Gray Jay(Perisoreus canadensis) with peanut.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Oct 2 2014 Boundary Bay 104th St Delta B.C.
I really hadn't meant to photograph the vagrant Ash-throated Flycatcher again but on my way to find some shorebirds a small gaggle of birders and photographers were actively looking for the bird so I stopped to chat. Since my first shots, the moulting process had been in full swing and the best words to describe the bird was 'ragged and worn"
Suddenly the Ash-throated suddenly popped out of the brush so I decided to see whether I could improve on the composition from my previous series of shots. My first few shots from mid-Sept the flycatcher was perched on a dead branch and the dark background. My second attempt I had it catching a darner. This time I was after better composition. The advantage of the zoom lens became apparent when the flycatcher first flew in very close to us. With the 150mm-600mm zoom I was able to compose an image in camera at around 500mm on my D7100 and come up with a completely different looking image from previous efforts.
Ash-throated Flycatcher

I am happy with results as it gives me a different perspective. The bird is completely separated from any background distractions. I use Lightroom© for editing but try not to shoot too many "same same" images once I know I have a good record shot. I suppose it goes back to the days of film when you could see a 'keeper' image through the viewfinder as the mirror flipped. I see quite a few people rattling off hundreds of shots of the same thing and wonder wouldn't their time be better spent birding  than editing. 

"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon