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


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, it was so warm, almost like a summer's day. There were tourists there who were birders and couldn't believe their luck getting a 'lifer' and how beautiful BC was.

  2. John I always quite enjoy your blog. I learn some things I did know, I read about birds being found in areas I am unfamiliar with and you are a fantastic photographer. I love the fact you went back three times to get better photos of the Tropical Kingbird. I figure if a bird is going to be as accommodating as this one is they are entitled to be presented in the best possible light!

    "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."
    I so appreciate that you posted that comment, I struggle with it, as I freely admit to being a little squeamish and I have posted such shots on a couple occasions requested by others and I was not happy about it. Now I can simply tell people who request me to post such shots or even before I consider even taking it; "That I feel that such shots have little artistic merit"
    Thank you!
    Nick Balachanoff

  3. Hi Nick,
    Thanks for kind comments. I used to be a community newspaper photographer. It was a full time job and often I had to find subject matter for as many as three issues a week. Apart from the news and editorial assignments like sports and arts I had to self-assign. Photographing Wayne Gretsky or the Dalai Lama were good examples of self-assignments. Visiting the same place at different times of the day or following a subject for there months and then producing a photo story is what I love to do. That is where the three visits to the Tropical Kingbird you found came from or my two visits to the Northern Pygmy Owl you found and the countless hours trying for Prairie Falcon flight shot.
    Thanks to your superior birding skills I am having the time of my life. I am glad I am part of the birding community. Please say hello if you see me in the field.