Friday 9 January 2015

Burnaby Mountain Grosbeaks

Jan 8 2015 Burnaby Mountain Sunny 6c

As mentioned in my last blog I was so carried away with composing clean uncluttered images of the colourful male Pine Grosbeaks I totally forgot the female of the species.
Ironically, ignoring the female species is something my wife kindly reminds me of when I return from one of my extended birding trips!
With the Lower Mainland fogged in I decided to return to Burnaby Mountain where at least there would be blue skies, sun and warmth.
When I arrived I was lucky enough to find the grosbeaks feeding on cherry buds. The Rose Garden was almost deserted, except for one young birder sketching and enjoying the tranquility. An hour later a dozen photographers and birders were on the scene by which time the birder/artist had long departed!
The Pine Grosbeaks are easy to find near the Horizons Restaurant and seemed to have no fear of humans, just respect their space and they'll reward you with excellent views.

Male Pine Grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator)
This one came down to drink and take in grit and water at the Rose Garden. 
When I returned home I found I had shot 267 files, I quickly edited it down to 57. There were issues including distracting backgrounds, branches behind the bird's head or too bright a sky or out of focus foliage. Even though I tried not to press the shutter until I had a clearly composed shot, emotions took over and I landed up with 210 useless shots which have now been dispatched to the trash.

Some thoughts on Composition
When I started photographing birds a record shot was mandatory, later as I learnt a little more about bird lore, a close-up shot would be the goal. None of those early images show any kind of habitat and if they did it was as a second thought. These days I am trying to include more habitat within the frame as well as a clean background. Not as easy as it sounds. I have tried hard to compose better images with this second round of Pine Grosbeak images.

Female Pine Grosbeak in an "active pose" in my opinion a step up from the 'bird on the stick' pose.
There is tension in the bird's pose

First year male showing rump and uppertail coverts.

Female Pine Grosbeak.
Like the picture below I looked for a clean background amongst the tangle of branches the cherry trees provided. The hope is to separate the bird from the background allowing the viewer to enjoys the bird's physical characteristics.

Male Pine Grosbeak.
In this composition above I tried to combine the simplicity of primary reds and blues. I waited for the bird to move along the branch until it entered a space, creating a frame within a frame. Note the foreground and background branch. A touch of blue sky and the pinkish red plumage compliment each other. This was one of five shots before the bird flew off. The open beak with cherry bud capped off the composition. 

So what make a good image ?
1. Impact: Does the image have wow factor, does it evoke some emotional connection?
2. Story-telling: Does the image tell you anything about the subject.
3. Technical stuff : Exposure, Composition.
of course

sense of humour!

See Ya!

It's never too late to start birding

John Gordon


  1. Best photographs I have seen of the Pine Grosbeaks, but just as important was the information you shared. I am on a similar journey and I am trying to keep many of those points you made in mind as I am out shooting. While the journey has been enjoyable, the destination has become more sharpened in my mind and I am hoping to get to that point where my photos do tell stories and are not just record shots.
    Nick Balachanoff

    1. Hi Nick,
      Phew! Thanks for the comments, I was wondering if anybody was actually reading the blog. Regardless, if it inspires as the birds inspire me then that's all I can hope for.