Sunday 30 November 2014

Mortal Enemies

Nov 29/14 Boundary Bay. Sunny and cold -1c

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
There were two Barn Owls in a Cedar tree. I was told that one was male, the other a female. The one above looks to be the female and below the male. The pair were quite content being photographed from a distance through the thick foliage. The out of focus splashes of colour are from using the lens wide open. The term used by photographers is selective focus, the technique is very useful in bird photography when a bird is partially obscured.
After photographing the owls for a few minutes another photographer came and joined us but in his rush for a clear/better shot he approached too close for comfort and the birds flew the roost. Puns aside, no shot is that important that the birds are forced from their daytime roost. What bothered me is that the bird flew the past a tree inhabited by a pair of fearsome looking Great Horned Owls, who if they had the chance would make short work of the Barn Owls.

Barn Owls are uncommon. The lack of nest sites like older barns and older forests are fast disappearing.
The Lower Mainland's population of Barn Owls is being monitored to the extent that landowners reports birds in barns and elsewhere. Recently a nest with owlets were found under the old Port Mann Bridge while the structure was being dismantled. Those birds were transferred to care for a potential release later.

Barn Owls are found worldwide. 
A nocturnal hunter, it finds its prey more often by sound.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianis)

These images came at the end of a day that began on Sumas Prairie where we glimpsed a Gryfalcon hunting but not much else. The wind kept many birds hunkered down. A flock fifty Western Meadowlark was the other highlight on what was a beautifully sunny but cold day.

"It's never too late to start  birding"

John Gordon

Thursday 20 November 2014

Snow Buntings and More

Nov 19/14 Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach Cloudy 8c.
When I arrived at Blackie Spit it was cold and windy. Usually there are joggers and walkers but as I approached the tip of the spit it was clear I would have the place to myself. I sat and waited. A few minutes later three Snow Buntings flew in to feed on the plant material that had been blown down by the wind and washed upon the shore. The birds fed on the sandy beach, blending in, camouflaged, crouching down motionless when a patrolling Northern Harrier flew overhead. As soon as danger passed they continued their business.
Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Adult non-breeding.

The Snow Buntings gleaned seed from these plants washed up after a recent high tide.

First winter bird

Some walkers asked me what I was photographing. They had difficulty locating the birds even though they were only a few metres in front of them. It reminds me of before the time before I started birding. I remember going to 72nd Ave after someone told me there were lots of birds there. I didn't see a thing so I went again and the same thing happened. These days when I go, I often see ten or fifteen species or more without too much difficulty. These days my eyes are wide open.

While photographing the Snow Bunting I had made myself quite inconspicuous so much so that the Common Loons and Horned Grebe seemed comfortable with my presence. 
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)

A harbour seal also patrolled the spit were a rip tide was causing a riffle in the water, perfect fishing location for both seal and loon.
Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina)

Common Loon (Gavia immer)

It was time to move on so I decided to scan the fields along Hornby Drive, who knows what might turn up. I drew a blank.  Eventually I made my way down to 'The Mansion' where thousands of Dunlin and hundreds of Black-bellied Plover were walking in with the flood tide.
Above me a Bald Eagle surveyed the scene, suddenly it launched into the air disturbing two Wilson's Snipe in front of me. It was time to grab the camera. They lifted a few feet in the air and landed into the reeds. A master of disguise they were hard to spot but eventually a slight movement gave them away.

Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago delicata)

The other snipe with slightly different plumage. 
Where the time went I will never know but soon the light was fading and it was time to head home for a warm meal.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Harris's Sparrow Twice

Nov17 2014 Iona Regional Park and Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Richmond BC Sunny 6c

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
I include the image of the House Finch for no other reason than I like it. If I didn't like it I wouldn't have taken it in the first place, it's as simple as that. I only photograph what catches my eye. I am drawn to this image because of the muted earth tones, it was one of the first frames I took while waiting for my next subject, the Harris's Sparrow.

Harris's Sparrow (Zonotrichia querula)

This wasn't exactly a hard bird to find, someone had left seed the previous day. When I arrived on Monday morning a flock of sparrows including Golden-crowned, Spotted Towhees, Song and Fox were busily scratching the ground. After a ten minute wait there he was, the much sought after Harris's Sparrow. It wouldn't be a lifer for me as I had photographer adult birds in Churchill, Manitoba. David Tang, myself and another couple were the only ones there.
For those interested in seeing a Harris's in full plumage see June 2012 blog.
Harris's Sparrow Adult/Manitoba

The Harris's Sparrow is not that common in the Lower Mainland so it is a 'good bird' for those wanting it for their BC list, myself I only have a Canada list. Perhaps one day i'll get completely addicted to birding and have all kind of lists!
Next up I had this crazy idea to see whether on my way home I could find the other Harris's that had been spotted at Reifel. On arrival I couldn't find the bird anywhere but didn't matter. I continued my way along to the outer dyke to look for the Swamp Sparrow, a bird that has been quite a nemesis for me. Yet again, a reed stem got in the way of a decent shot. Oh well, there's always tomorrow!

Eventually i'll get a clear shot.

While waiting for the Swamp to re-appear I thought I saw some movement along the dyke, with the sun in my face it was hard to discern whether it was an American Robin or perhaps a Northern Shrike. I slowly inched my way along the dyke until the sun was in a better position. Just as I was going to press the shutter, you guessed, the bird took off. I started my approach again and this time I was able to shoot through some bushes with the aperture wide open (F4 or F6.7 with the 1x4 converter) so that the branches didn't show.
Here is the result. On close inspection some blood can be seen on the bill of the shrike, living up to its nickname 'Butcher Bird'
Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor)
Sibley's notes that the shrike is uncommon to rare and indeed I normally see only a few each year. This is my fourth already this winter.

Both these images look like they are taken in the open but are in fact shoot through a small gap in a maze of thin branches. As mentioned this effect can be had by shooting wide open and a long lens.
I used a D7100 plus a Nikon 500 F4 with a 1x4 extender which is about a 1000mm. The neck and back pain come free with the job!

Anyway, with all these distractions I made my way back to car. On the way I couldn't resist a few shots of a male Wood Duck reflected in the dark water. As I approached a turn in the trail I spotted a flock of Golden-crowned Sparrows feeding on seed someone had thrown around. Within minutes the bird I couldn't find earlier suddenly jumped into view and viola, I had my two Harris's Sparrow something I hadn't really planned on but it was nice way to end the day.

Harris's Sparrow at Reifel

I had so much fun I forgot to mention the Peregrine Falcon flying at hyper speed to chase off another from its territory, there was even a few feathers flying on impact. This type of behaviour seen from a distance is what attracts me to birding. Even the Dark-eyed Junco was fun to watch as it looked for seeds someone had put in the hollow of a tree trunk.

I hope you've enjoyed this ramble, I certainly enjoyed my day out and adding these images to my portfolio.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Sunday 16 November 2014

Acorn Woodpecker/Face of a Clown

Nov 15 2014 Cedar Hill Golf Course Victoria BC. Sunny 5c
I never ever thought I would have the opportunity photograph an Acorn Woodpecker in BC. I may have missed the opportunity had I not bumped into 'Birder Girl' Melissa at 64th Ave last week. She encouraged me to get off my butt and get over to Victoria and search for the bird. Thanks Melissa.
So I put out the word for a companion to share the costs of going over to Vancouver Island. I rose at 5 a.m and met Mike Tabak at the ferry at 6.30 a.m. Mike has been birding since he was a kid and is a wealth of knowledge. On the trip through Active Pass he pointed out Ancient Murrelets, Harbour Seals and Sea Lions.
We arrived at Victoria's Cedar Hill Golf Course at 8.30 a.m. A number of Victoria birders were already there and were very helpful in showing us around. We looked and looked but found only Chestnut-backed Chickadees, some singing Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Hermit Thrush. Eventually the woodpeckers turned up, unfortunately just Downy and Hairy. The area where we searched for the Acorn woodpecker is predominately Garry Oak. The species flourishes in and around the rocky outcrops of southern Vancouver Island. Cavities in the older trees provide valuable nesting sites.
If we thought we would just roll up and find the Acorn Woodpecker we were in for a surprise. At one point we thought we were going to have a blank. Eventually three hours later Vancouver birder Michael Preston and his family found the bird and called us over for a look. We spent the next few hours watching and photographing the bird pluck acorns off one tree and cache them in another. It was an amazing sight, the birds antics drawing quite a crowd, most of whom weren't even birders. Here are some of the results of a fantastic days birding. The bird only came close once, many of the shots are from quite a distance but overall it was an exhilarating experience.

Acorn Woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
The Acorn is about the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker. Here it is stashing a shelled acorn in a crevice of a Garry Oak.

I have cropped this image quite a bit to show off the "Clown Face" of this very characteristic bird.

The bird was busy all the time, hardly taking a moment to rest. The normal range for this bird is Washington State south to Mexico. This is the first record for Vancouver Island. Another bird was recorded this week in Powell River so perhaps there are more out there. Keep your eyes open.

This is the closest the bird got to us and was from the first few frames I shot. I didn't hang around very long before flying up to a stand of oaks.
I'm glad I made the effort and the trip was fruitful arriving home in time for some taped Footy. Until next time, Good Birding!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Sunny Day Birding

Nov 12 2014 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary Sunny 6c
The weather in the Lower Mainland has been fantastic. Sunny and cooler than normal, the blue skies and crisp mornings make it perfect for birding. So with all the gardening chores over the only commitment was to feed the garden birds and change the hummingbird feeder. We have two resident Anna's Hummingbirds who come to feed each morning. To make sure they'll survive the winter I bring in one feeder at night so it doesn't freeze. 
After our recent group visit to Reifel I decided to go back on my own just to enjoy a quiet walk and enjoy the solitude.
The chattering of a kingfisher and a native crab apple tree festooned with Cedar Waxwings greeted me as I drove into the parking lot. By now the sun was warm enough to dispense with my hat and scarf.
Snow Geese and assorted ducks are disrupted by hunters. A dredger works to keep shipping lanes open.

 Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus) with seed.

 Juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
In all my visits to Reifel I have seen adult but never a juvenile night heron. Near the warming hut I spotted this juvenile bird bouncing around from branch to branch. The four adults, sleeping nearby ignored its antics completely. Night herons usually sleep during the day and forage at night so seeing this bird bopping around in broad daylight was quite a treat.

By noon it was time to move along and visit one of my favourite birding locations 64th Ave. Moments after leaving my car I heard the rattling of a Belted Kingfisher coming from the greenhouse pond. Sure enough a female bird was actively hunting what appeared to be sticklebacks. 
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)
My eye was drawn to the cobalt blue of the water, the rusty coloured pipe and the wide open bill. 

"The Catch"

These images took two hours of waiting and waiting by which time the sun was waning and my toes were becoming numb, time to go home for a nice cup of tea.

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

Saturday 15 November 2014

Langley Field Naturalists Visit Reifel

Nov 8 2014 Reifel Sunny and 5c

Oops! This blog was lost in cyberspace so here it is again with story by Langley Field Naturalist's Anne Gosse.
The walk was led by all-round naturalist Al Grass. Check out the Langley Field Naturalists website for more of our walks. We meet the third Thursday of the month at the Langley Music School. Newcomers welcome. Here is one account of what we get up to when we have too much time on our hands!

Owls! two types of secretive Rails! two hunting Northern Shrikes! plus two “Lifers” for several of our group – including myself! Seventeen members from three different naturalist clubs joined our leader Al for another great birding adventure in Reifel Refuge on a warm sunny day. Before we had travelled a 100 feet into the bird sanctuary we had checked off nearly 20 species!  A fantastic day’s search then followed as we wandered the trails spotting and counting. The usual gang of Black-crowned Night Herons are back wintering. The Sandhill Cranes gave a low saluting flying bypass to Kathleen’s trilling – then they greeted us along the paths. Several species of sparrows and waterfowl were seen diving and dashing for cover as a predatory Merlin sped by. Song, Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, plus Towhees, Juncos, American Robins, Cedar Waxwings, Golden Crowned Kinglets were all duly recorded plus many more usuals. Great views of the Red-breasted Nuthatches and Rufous Hummingbird were given on the feeders. We stopped to adore the small wide-eyed Saw-Whet Owl high up in the fir branches. In all the excitement two birders were knocked off the trial into the bramble bushes in the rush! On the outer dykes we excitedly spotted two Northern Shrikes and heard the Virginia and Sora Rails amongst bullrushes answering Al’s call. With John G’s help we got to view a Swamp Sparrow – giving many of us a “Lifer”!  Thanks John! 
Swamp Sparrow (Melosspiza georgiana)
Lovely Wood Ducks, graceful Pintails, black-bottomed Gadwall, diving Canvas Backs, busy Northern Shovelers, Buffleheads and Pied-billed Grebes and my favorite Hooded Mergansers along with Ring-necked Ducks and blue-footed Coots were seen. We also watched Red-tailed Hawks, Common Raven, and a Sharp-shinned Hawks along the outer dykes. Caught up in this exhilarating day of plentiful sightings, we all set off to see the wayward Tropical King Bird with John guiding us to Brunswick Point. This wonderful yellow-coloured flycatcher was atop a bush busy catching flies and giving great views to birders and photographers. We all were quite enthralled. Unexpectedly we found a Barn Owl in the trees behind us – and in the same tree a Great Horned Owl!  It was then agreed we just as well record the Short-eared Owls on Brunswick Point dyke as well – so off we went!  Three lovely butterfly winged Short-eared Owls were seen out on the foreshore along with flocks of Dunlin, and Meadowlarks. Then along the dyke Marsh & Bewick’s Wrens, White-crowned Sparrows, and Orange-crowed Warblers along with Bushtits and House Sparrows were found. However, on this day we did not find the Wagtail or the Townsend Solitaire that had been seen in this area. Our day’s count ended up with an astonishing 66 different species!  We were so excited about our adventures that some forgot the time and had to phone spouses to check in – (a marathon 7 hour birding day!).  
Tropical Kingbird (Tyrannus melancholicus)

Whee – what a day! These are the days you remember and they make you feel alive! We send our thanks to Al for leading our group.
Anne Gosse
"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Fraser Valley Birding

Nov 11/14 Sumas Prairie Abbotsford BC Cold 1c

American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)

Driving around Sumas Prairie in sub zero temperatures looking for raptors can be a frustrating experience. On calmer days American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks and even the odd Golden Eagle can make it an exciting place to bird. We did find a dark phase intermediate Red-tailed Hawk but the buffeting winds made holding the camera still somewhat of a challenge. The American Pipit (above was shot from the car window from about twenty-five metres with the Tamron 150mm-600mm. I bought the lens for situations like this when a larger lens would have been too cumbersome to set up in the cramped quarters of a small car. With no Black-backed Gull to be found we headed toward Mission to find Bald Eagles that had congregated to feed on spawned out salmon.

Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
Another car window shot with the Tamron. The lens is so light and agile it can be very useful in situations where a wary bird like the Varied Thrush can only be approached by using the car as a blind. Plus it was really windy and cold outside.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
An adult Bald Eagle (left) clashes with a 2nd year bird on Nicomen Slough. The spent salmon the eagles were fighting over can be seen in the water below the birds.

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

A Few Hours at Blackie Spit.

 Nov 6 Blackie Spit, Boundary Bay Cloudy 7c

The next day I accompanied Andrew Foxall around Blackie Spit. There were number of Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, American and Eurasian Wigeon as well as a few hybrids. A Bald Eagle flew overhead and sent the ducks in the air, as the flock circled we also observed five Marbled Godwit and one Long-billed Curlew. The 'six amigos' flew off to the Farm Slough next to the railway track.
Around the tidal pond a Sharp-shinned Hawk was hunting. This is the first shot I took. I eventually moved around to get a 'cleaner' shot without so many intersecting branches. I do however like the Fall colours and the intense look of the bird.
Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus)

The Farm Slough/Blackie Spit.
The spit became a park in 1996 as the result of a Surrey-wide referendum.

The same Sharp-shinned Hawk but standing a few away from the original shot. I prefer this composition for the clean and darker background. Others might prefer the first shot that includes some Fall colour.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Friday 14 November 2014

Wagtails/White and Pied

Nov 5 2014 Ladner, BC Canada Cloudy 6c

My notes from  Nov 5.
"White Wagtail, good scope views-no photos and big twitch"

I found this file buried deep within a series of other shots. The Wagtail was so far way I didn't bother to check if it was even in focus. I was quite happy to have seen the bird through one of the scopes set-up at the site. Recently someone asked me if I had a record shot of the White Wagtail, so with much trepidation here it is.
The first year White Wagtail drew numerous birders and photographers to a muddy field in Ladner. It was a decent sized twitch with people booking off work, skipping school, many had come down with a mysterious ailment that birders sometimes contract when a rarity turns up!
This tiny black, gray and white bird was a lifer for many, including myself or so I thought. As it turns out this little guy is closely related to the Pied Wagtail of the UK which I photographed on several occasions, so it turned out not to be a lifer after all. It SUCKS!
White Wagtail (Motacilla alba)

The White Wagtail is a very rare visitor to BC while the sub-species the Pied Wagtail/White Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii/alba) a British subspecies (below) is quite common in the UK. 

The  Ladner bird (Motacilla alba) inhabits the continent from Western Europe to Japan. 

Pied/White Wagtail (Motacilla alba yarrellii/alba) photographed in the Wye Valley near Tintern Abby. Gwent Wales.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon