Monday 30 March 2015

From Kamloops to Osoyoos

March 27-28 2015 Kamloops to Osoyoos, The Okanagan Valley BC
Sun and Clouds 16c in the Valley 3c in the Mountains.

With high expectations five of us Roy, Daniele and Brian, myself and our fearless leader Mel left cloudy Vancouver and headed to bird various locations between Kamloops to Osoyoos. 
There are plenty of great birding spots around the Kamloops area, many of which can be found in Russell and Dick Canning's book Birdfinding.
One particular bird I didn't expect to see was a Burrowing Owl. 

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
Note the tags.

These particular Burrowing Owls are re-introduced birds and much hard work has gone into giving them a chance to re-establish in the grasslands. The owls migrate south in the winter and return in the spring. The birds are free to go as they please so the re-introduction can so far be considered successful. Hopefully the birds will now breed and their numbers will increase with time. 

The Burrowing Owl nests underground usually in disused badger dens of which I don't think there are any. Instead man made burrows have been built to offer shelter and nesting.

The sounds of the Meadowlarks call carrying across the grasslands was breathtaking. Fleeting views of a Northern Shrike and Vesper Sparrows were just a taste of what is to come. Soon Horned Larks and Clay-coloured Sparrows will arrive en masse.
Western Meadowlark (
We made our way back toward Kamloops and on to the Tranquille area. At Rattlesnake Bluffs we searched for Canyon Wrens but no luck, we were however visited by an accommodating Say's Phoebe.

Rattlesnake Bluffs
Nature Conservancy of Canada Property
Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)

Sunlight reflected off the canyon walls lights up the wings of dainty flycatcher. This is a good place for Chukar, Canyon Wren and nesting White-throated Swallows.
Say's Phoebe feed on insects and can be very vocal and are easily approached compared with some species.

Bighorn Sheep at Vaseux Lake.

Chukar  (Alectoris chukar)
Tamron 150mm-600mm
Across and just before Rattlesnake Bluffs is a railway track where trains pass on a regular basis. Chukar feed grain spilt on the railway tracks, only flying away when a train is almost on top of them. Introduced from the Middle East feral populations are found in the Kamloops area, the Okanagan and in the Princeton area.

Leaving for Kelowna we looked for less travelled areas where we spotted both Western or Mountain Bluebirds hawking insects. Many were already populating nest boxes. Soon the Lazuli Bunting will  be arriving adding to the colourful display.

Pygmy Nuthatch (Sitta pygmaea)
Tamron 150mm-60mm handheld

In the trees Pygmy Nuthatches were excavating nest holes and squabbles between Northern Flickers and European Starlings provided an entertaining distraction from looking for owls. On a previous trip I found one particular tree with all the above three species nesting within feet of each other.

Moving on we had a tip from a local birder that a Western Screech Owl had been seen so we searched  and found a spot with enough "whitewash" to indicate an owl had indeed used the tree to roost. We returned at ten o'clock that night and after an hour and applying a few calls a Western Screech Owl flew into a closeby branch. Having never photographed owls at night I had no idea to expose for the shot so my images are dismal...... to their credit Brian and Roy got some nice images. We got back to our hotel at 2 a.m completely knackered.


Next day working on another tip we tried another spot but again no owl. We moved on deciding to return later in the day.
We left the balmy weather of the Okanagan Valley with blue skies and cherry blossom for the high mountain logging roads where it was cold and grey. Our search for woodpeckers was fruitless, we could hear them but had to settle for flocks of Mountain Chickadees, a bird I haven't seen too much of and was quite happy to photograph. I would have liked to have stayed longer but birders don't hang around like photographers. I must be a hybrid because I can do both but not at the same time!
Mountain Chickadee (Poecile gamble)
This picture was taken up at the snow line where snow lined the logging road and the temperature was a chilly 3c.

Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicottii)
Finally an owl in daylight, something I could manage and after blowing the shot the night before I felt a lot better,  finally I have a decent image of species that I had only seen once before.

Eventually the two day photo expedition came to an end. A huge thanks from all of us should go out to our fearless leader Mel who went way beyond the call of duty to make sure we had an interesting 
itinerary. We covered 1300 kms from Vancouver to Kamloops and Osoyoos and back but without the effort we wouldn't have had such an amazing experience.

As an aside I will be trying out the new Nikon P900 24mm-2000mm bridge camera in the next few weeks. It might make a great birding lens for those who don't want to lug around too much gear and just want to post on Flickr and not be bothered with exhibition quality images. It even has a birding mode where it takes a high sequence of frames.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Management takes no responsibility for grammatical errors.

How to do a Big Year with ebird

I found this posted on vanbcbirds and thought it might be of interest to all you birder types!
It's an interesting article about how ebird was used by Neil Hayward to tie or break the Big Year record for North America.


John Gordon

Sunday 29 March 2015

A Lone Snowy Owl

                                Mar 25 2015 The Lower Mainland. Sunny 14c Sun and Cloud

Not where one would normally expect to find a snowy Owl.

.......but a Sharp-shinned Hawk maybe

A Sharp-shinned Hawk dive bombs the intruder. The owl being a lot bigger didn't budge.

The snowy spots something a ndprepares to take off.
A shorter lens would been better as I had little space to get a flight shot.

Two daycare workers with six children in tow ask what I am looking at. I point to large white owl on a rooftop. The wonder in those young eyes as they look toward the bird is priceless. Suddenly the Snowy flies past a flowering cherry tree and on to another rooftop.

Snowy Owl (Nyctea scandiaca)
        One of the neighbours came out to ask what I was looking at but the bird had already flown.

The house owners have asked not to advertise the location as some photographers have crossed property lines by design or by accident. Owl twitches seem to bring out the worst in some people so for the sake of the beleaguered homeowners the location is not posted here. If you are in the know then you'll know where it is.
Maybe by now this young bird maybe is already on its way back up north none the worse with its brush with suburbia.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday 25 March 2015

Tri-City Photography Club Presentation

Mar 23 2015 Port Moody 7p.m.

I was honoured to speak to the Tri-City Photography Club Monday evening. Below is a brief description what was covered during my presentation entitled "Where to Find Birds in the Lower Mainland"
The group consisted of photographers of varying levels of expertise so I was kept in line with a variety of interesting questions, all of which led to a very interactive presentation.
I would like to thank Diane Belyk for adding this link to the club's website and Harry Vose for making sure the presentation went off flawlessly.

Honey Bear Okanagan

Bullock's Oriolle

Mallards on Shushap Lake

Check this link for a review of the presentation. 

To book a presentation or workshop contact me through my website.

John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada

The Weasel and Woodpecker

For those of you who haven't seen this.

Why do some Geese have rust coloured markings ?

March 20 2015 Ladner BC Overcast with sunny breaks 11c

Snow Goose (Chen caerulescens)
The rufous heads are the result of these birds foraging in the iron rich soils of Washington State. This flock of about three hundred birds were photographed in Ladner.

The bird in the foreground has far less colouring, perhaps feeding in a different area and then joining this flock for the northward migration.

A hungry Coyote (Canus latrans) contemplates his next move.
I have included a shot below taken on their southward migration to show the Blue morph variety of the Snow Goose.

Adult dark morph Snow Goose with 'regulars'
This shows a large congregation of Snow Geese preparing to leave on their northward flight to Wrangel Island, Alaska.

Since this last picture (below) was taken in 2009 their population has almost doubled and their breeding grounds are not going to able to support their presence. A population crash is inevitable at some time. I recently returned from Churchill Manitoba where research group say large swaths of tundra have stripped bare by the geese.
Thousands of Snow Geese and Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary just outside Vancouver.
       Around Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary winter crops are sown to provide migrating Geese and other birds access to forage on their migration.

If anyone can provide a detailed explanation about the rust coloured stains on the Snow Geese I will gladly publish it here with a full credit, thanks.

Follow the link

"It's never too late too start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Whooping Crane Tours/Bad Idea!

Mar 25th 2014

Try out this link. The feedback from those who have responded to the news is mainly negative. What do you think?
I'm in two minds about the whole process myself. I would love to sees Whooping Crane but for those with the knowledge can see them during migration without entering Saskatchewan's Wood Buffalo Park. My cousin who worked on a community farm for many years saw them on numerous occasions.

                                                   "It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Monday 16 March 2015

Lower Mainland Birding

                         March 12-13 2015 Various Lower Mainland Locations Sunny 19c

Ann'a Hummingbird (Calypte anna) feeding one of two nestlings. 
A female Anna's Hummingbird feeds one of her two chicks. The nestlings are about two weeks old and still have short beaks. Anna's hummingbirds live year round in the Vancouver and Lower Mainland area. For the UK readers I would describe Vancouver's weather as something like Devon and Cornwall with occasional cold blasts just like the UK. The rest of Canada is as you imagine Canada to be....cold in winter and hot in summer.
Some Anna's will try for a second clutch if the soon to arrive and more aggressive Rufous Hummingbirds leave them alone. This particular nest was within feet of a very busy pathway so staying any length of time would attract attention from passersby.
When the female was away from the nest we would point our lenses in another direction so as not to draw attention to the nest.
Ethical birding practices includes not disclosing the location of nesting birds so therefore I have left their location out of this blog just to say that this series of pictures were taken in three different locations. 


Barred Owls hunt mainly at night or early in the morning. They choose a handy perch and sleep most of the day sometimes waking up for a shake of the head or perhaps when mobbed by crows. They can be easily disturbed by humans and dogs so care must be taken not to flush them. Many owls including Northern Saw-whet and Great Horned often perch very close to human activity when they might have acres of forest to choose from. Go figure! 
"Head Shake" Barred Owl (Strix varia)
This Barred Owl awoke when a squirrel ran within inches of its gaze. Once the squirrel realized its folly it froze, eventually moving away very slowly until out of danger. After opening its eyes for a few seconds the owl then rubbed its head on a branch and then shook its head in a circular motion, the slow shutter speed was used catch the motion.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Usually the Night Herons at Reifel are hidden in a tangle of branches but this one was almost in the open so why not rattle off a few frames.
The Sandhill Cranes were in an frisky mood with more than one pair going through the courtship rituals.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Next stop was Blackie Spit. In the past I have found some interesting birds including a Solitary Sandpiper and Horned Lark, there is always something interesting. On Thursday afternoon Gareth Pugh and his group counted 42 species in a few hours, a Red-necked Grebe being the best sighting. Before they arrived I photographed this Common Loon diving for crabs. I waited for the bird to dive before approaching closer. Despite my low angle the bird knew I was there all the time, eventually it moved away and I moved on.
Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius)
 This is a heavily cropped shot of one of my favourite forest birds. the Varied Thrush. I actually heard it before eventually spotting it high up in a tree. I alway remember sound recorder and birder John Neville calling the bird the 'tone deaf thrush' very apt as its call is not that melodious making it easy to pick out from the rest of the Spring chorus.
Varied Thrush
Other birders keep telling me they have Varied Thrush come to their feeders but I've yet to find one that tame so for now I will have to be content with shooting them from a distance. There's no great rush, much of the fun is in the waiting and searching.

Pacific Wren formally Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes)

Finally this Pacific Wren was heard long before I almost tripped over it. I must have been very close to its lair. These diminutive forest birds make any walk in the forest that more interesting with their noisy antics. I have a dozen good shots but I like that this shot has motion in the wings, exactly as I remember the scene.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Blossom Birds

Dec 6 2015 Tynehead Park, Dog Park 72nd Ave BC Sunny 12c

How perfectly this House Finch blends into the cherry blossom. As it fed on protein rich stamens an unleashed dog ran by frightening the bird and ending the photo session. It took me thirty minutes to win its trust and in seconds it was all over. Golden-crowned and Song Sparrows HAD also been busily munching away but they too had gone too ground thanks to rampaging hound. The owner asked me what I was looking at, tongue in cheek I replied, Nothing! He still didn't get why I would be looking at nothing and left.

House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

The finch plucks the flower from the branch, twists it around, feasts on the stamen and discards the petals.

Frustrating as it may be to photograph at the dog park, it still can be a very rewarding place to spend a few hours, especially now as the catkins, butterflies and insects are beginning to emerge. Soon the warblers and grosbeaks will be back, adding their songs to the proceeding. Above me I counted a kettle of 45 Bald Eagles effortlessly using the thermals to glide, dive and swoop. Occasionally the courtship displays of the Red-tailed Hawk drew my eye away, light fighter jets, the hawks would appear and be gone, only to re-appear way off in the distance.
...Oops! I forgot to mention the Golden Eagle, Short-eared Owl, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Rough-legged Hawk and Northern Harrier I saw just saw a few hundred metres down the road.

Birding can't get much better than this and it's all in our own backyard. Who said March was a quiet time for birding!

                                                        "It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Vancouver BC

Monday 9 March 2015

Flower Photography Workshop

 Flower Photography Workshop
April 18 2015
Langley BC

We will be meeting at the Houston Barn on Allard Crescent at 10 a.m.

Friday 6 March 2015

Ethical Wildlife Photography Links

Following the Northern Pygmy Owl debacle in Chilliwack recently and again with the Great Gray Owl in Squamish here are a few links to ponder.

A photographers point of view:

Ethical Nature Photography

A good read from the amazon site:


American Birding Association:

ABA Ethical birding Guidelines

Bird Fellow

John Gordon
Langley/ Cloverdale

Vancouverite Back Home

Mar 4 2015 Boundary Bay 64th Ave, Delta BC Sunny 12c

It was with great anticipation that I returned to bird the Lower Mainland and Vancouver BC. It was brilliant birding in the UK and I look forward to returning soon.
Unfortunately on my return to Canada I was stricken down by flu bug, methinks it originated from the plane's air-conditioning.
A week after my return I was able to venture out and catch up with a few birds and birders. During my absence I had missed a Great Gray Owl and a pair Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, the latter would have been a lifer but that's the way the feather falls sometimes.
Wrapped up in three layers of clothing I made made my way out into the great wide open. Below is my first stop, a record shot of a wintering lone male Yellow-headed Blackbird with a mixed flock of Starling and Brewer's Blackbird at 112th/Hornby Drive in Delta.

Yellow-headed Blackbird with mixed flock of Brewer's Blackbird (bottom left) and Starlings.

I decided to take a break and have a lunch overlooking Boundary Bay. Thousands of ducks were out in the bay. Small flocks of Dunlin flew by while Northern Harriers patrolled the foreshore. The scene reminded me a little of the Severn Estuary. A flock of American Wigeon had one pair of Eurasian among them. I laid back to enjoy the sun and dozed off for a few minutes, only to be awoken by a very distraught Marsh Wren who objected to my sharing its territory. Funny how the smallest of birds can make their presence known in no uncertain terms. As I collected my belongings a Lincoln Sparrow jumped out of the long Canary Grass to add it's voice to the proceedings. I got the message and backed away  leaving the birds to themselves.
Lincoln's Sparrow (Melospiza lincolnii)

(Below) shot from the car window handheld with the lightweight Tamron 150mm-600mm. I don't think I would had time to get a larger lens out of the car in time. 

Light first year juvenile Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)

By mid-afternoon it was homeward bound to help with one those domestic things that always seem to pop up just as the birds are waking up from their afternoon siesta. I had packed everything away but there was one more unexpected moment of drama to record.

The Urban Hunter
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
As I pulled into my driveway a Marlin swooped out of a fir tree and nailed a unwary songbird, pinning it to the ground. I exited the car, unzipped my camera bag and shot off a few frames before it flew off into a neighbours garden.

Until next time...good birding!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
Vancouver BC Canada