Wednesday 29 April 2015

Queen Elizabeth Park Fallout

April 26 2015 Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver BC Canada. Sunny and warm 16c

I had read about 'Fallouts' but had never actually witnessed the phenomenon. That changed Monday, what an unforgettable sight. Two years ago I watched birds arriving on the tip of Point Pelee but that was quite different to the scene at Queen Elizabeth Park. The highest point in Vancouver City, the former quarry and now a park resplendent in not only flowers, shrubs and ornamental trees but birdlife too. The park is an oasis of calm. I often see people just sitting, meditating or and doing nothing, an increasingly rare sight these days.

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
The Bushtits were extra busy collecting insects and caterpillars especially as the new influx of warblers seemed to transform the park in a veritable hive of activity.

The Hutton's was lifer for me. I had been searching for one on my last few visits to the park. I thought I could hear a vireo singing so I played a song for 30 secs and within moments this curious Hutton's came out to see what the bother was all about.
(fig1) Hutton's Vireo (Vireo atricapillus) 

The prolonged playing of calls at this time of year should be done with great caution so as not to bring attention to a bird's nest or its whereabouts. Crows and Sharp-shinned Hawks are always on the prowl for an easy meal.

 (fig 2) Hutton's Vireo
In photo composition and in the West we read from left to right so we are programmed in a way to look at images that way. In the above picture (fig 2) the bird is looking from right to left. The first Hutton's (fig1) the birds is looking from left to right.
Which of the two Hutton Vireos images do you think is easier on your eye. Please let me know.

Orange-crowned Warbler (Vermivora celata)
Such an accommodating bird, the Orange Crowned Warbler seems more comfortable with human activity than many of the other warblers except perhaps the Yellow-rumped. Orange-crowned Warblers nest in the Lower Mainland and beyond and are one of the true harbingers of springtime.
Townsend's Warbler
Use selective focus (above) when you can't get a clear view of the subject. This was common problem during the QE warbler fallout as many of the birds fed under the canopy of the trees. The technique is not always successful but worth the effort. When shooting through the leaves use a wide open aperture like F4 or F5.6 which still enables a shot to be taken like the one above. One advantage is that it often shows more of the environment as photographers often zoom in too close loosing all sense of place. I'm an expert at that!
Later and this is where the thinking cap comes in, a photograph hopefully contains some behavioural traits, what a radical concept that is! Perhaps a bird eating, diving, soaring, or mating. Sometimes an incredible image might show 90 environment and 10 percent bird. Of course this takes an even amount skill, time, patience and quite a bit of luck.

Townsend's Warbler (Dendroica townsendi)

Note the ragged leaves of the cherry tree where a green caterpillar hatch made a perfect hunting ground for the flock of warblers travelling through the park.

Female Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Audubon)
The Yellow-rumped Warbler is one of the most common warblers seen in the Lower Mainland, some overwinter here. They have the ability to change their diet from insects to seeds as the seasons change.

Yellow-Dumped Warbler (Myrtle)

Other birds noted were the Black-throated Gray Warbler, Townsend's Solitaire, Wilson's Warbler, Nashville Warbler and Warbling Vireo, all were busily feeding after their long journey.
Wilson's Warbler (Wilsonia pusilla)

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday 26 April 2015

Odds and Sods/April Birding

April has been a bit of a whirlwind so getting down to some birding and blogging has been difficult. Needless to say I have been around and about visiting Boundary Bay, Iona, Burnaby Mountain, Brydon Lagoon, Maplewood Flats and Squamish Estuary. The last two produced no photographs but not every outing produces, besides I was doing babysitting duty close to the latter, a good excuse to bird further afield.

First up is a shot from a week or two ago. I had hoped to photograph owls at dusk but it became too dark. On the way back to the car I saw this Great Blue Heron hunting in a ditch. It was quite dark but the soft light sky reflecting onto the water made for the perfect silhouette. At least I had something to show for my efforts.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)


A few days later I visited Iona Sewage Treatment plant. Only birders would willingly spent hours scouring the stinky ponds for a rare sandpiper or duck. The odours are soon forgotten when a Wilson's Snipe is spotted then a Least Sandpiper.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolour)

                                                     A Tree Swallow takes a break from hunting insects. 


One of the most difficult sandpipers to differentiate are the Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. Seen together there are obvious differences but separately confusion can arise.

Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes)

A pair of Lesser Yellowlegs.

The Lesser Yellowlegs (foreground) is easily differentiated from the larger Greater Yellowlegs when seen together.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Getting Soaked/Grant Narrows Walk

April 24 2015 Grant Narrows. Rain and More Rain 10c

The road to Grant Narrows and Catbird Slough
A very wet Sandhill Crane at Catbird Slough.
Finally the crane (Grus canadenis) flew off 

We made our way along the trail to the first lookout. Because of the wind, few birds were showing. The most evident species were the Rufous Hummingbirds. All went well until the surrounding mountains began to disappear behind huge rain cloud. The sky looked ominous so we thought it prudent to take shelter. We waited for the rain to abate but it never did. Not the greatest for birding but we did see a Merlin hunting, tree swallows swooping for insects and an amazing duel between an Osprey and a Bald Eagle, the latter making the fish hawk drop its catch. It rained so much I couldn't get out my Tamron for fear of drowning it so I took a very quick took a shot with my new 'pocket' camera, the P900. The Varied Thrush shot below is the result.

Female Varied Thrush (Ixoreus navies) shot with Nikon P900
All others Tamron 150mm-600mm

Species Count
White crowned Sparrow     Red winged Blackbird     Varied Thrush     Spotted Towhee     Rufus Hummingbird 

Tree Swallow     Common Yellow-Throat    Song Sparrow    Purple Finch     Black-capped Chickadee     Flycatcher ?

Bewick's Wren {HEARD ONLY}    Dark-eyed Junco      Green Winged Teal     Bald Eagle     American Wigeon     Merlin    

Ruby -crowned Kinglet     Osprey     Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon) Scaup     Norther Flicker     Anna's Hummingbird

Fox Sparrow     Sandhill Crane     Canada Goose     American Robin    Cooper Hawk    Great Blue Heron    Mallard

White-crowned Sparrow      Orange crowed Warbler Greater Yellowlegs

Despite the torrential rain and the ensuing cold everyone seemed to have a good time proving that a little rain never deters "Wet Coasters" from enjoying our birding.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday 22 April 2015

Nature Vancouver Birding Feld Trips

This weekend there are 
3 Nature Vancouver birding field trips 
as follows:

Saturday, April 25. Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver
Meet the leader Adrian Grant Duff at 8:30AM in the east parking lot near Wallace St. & 3rd Ave. for a half day of birding through Jericho Park. 

Saturday, April 25. Port Coquitlam's northern dykes
Join Larry Cowan for a half-day birding field trip at Port Coquitlam’s Pitt River Dyke, from the Fremont Reclamation area (just north of Lougheed Hwy.) to the parking area at DeBoville Slough. This field trip covers some excellent dyke-side habitats. They will be on the lookout for Spring migrants. Meet in the gravel parking lot adjacent to the washroom facilities at Cedar Drive & Victoria Drive in NE Port Coquitlam at 8:30AM. They will then carpool to the starting point at the Fremont Reclamation area.

Sunday, April 26. Deer Lake Park, Burnaby.
Deer Lake Park is in central Burnaby, between Royal Oak Avenue and Sperling Avenue. This leisurely walk around the lake (about 4 km), includes mixed coniferous/deciduous forest, open-field habitat and the lake itself, resulting in a good variety of birds. There have been 94 species recorded in this park in April since 2003. Meet the leader Colin Clasen at 8:00AM in the paved parking lot beside Sperling Avenue, at the east end of the lake, next to the boat rental/washrooms. 

If you are a new participant, then before the field trip, please read the Nature Vancouver Release of Liability form at:

Sunday 19 April 2015

Early Morning Birding at Iona Jetty

April 20 2015 Iona Regional Park Richmond BC Sunny 17c
The alarm went off at 5 am and again thirty minutes later. The plan was to drive to Iona Regional Park to look for a Lapland Longspur that had been seen the day before. I had only ever photographed them in the Autumn so I was looking forward to seeing one in full breeding plumage.
Because I had slept in the sun was already up when I arrived. A cold wind was blowing for the north-west, I wished I had brought gloves. I made my way out to where the bird had last been seen the evening before at around the 150 marker. Numbered markers run the length of the 4km (2.5mile) jetty. It is very popular with walkers and cyclists, especially on the weekends.
A  male Lapland Longspur seems unperturbed by a passing walker.
There were only two of us on the jetty. Eventually I saw some bird movement but it turned out to be a false alarm, just a pair of Savannah Sparrows. I keep searching and finally I found my quarry, a splendid adult with rufus nape and black face.
Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

I continued to photograph until a few more people passed and flushed the bird. When I relocated the first bird, a female suddenly flew in and joined the male. They continued to feed on seeds before the foot traffic became distracting,  by mid-morning it was getting warm, the light harsh and time for brunch.

The female longspur holds a seed between its beak.
  1. Female (left) and male


          The Iona Jetty 

  1. On the walk back to the car the cries of Caspian Terns drew my attention. They were quite far out and high above but with the Tamron 150mm-600mm I was able to zoom in a catch a few shots. All images were taken hand held.

    Caspian Tern (Sterna caspia)

  2. American Wigeon (Anas americana)

    "It's never too late to start birding"
  3. John Gordon
  4. Langley /Cloverdale

Saturday 18 April 2015

Date Change and Birding Links

24th April, Friday

Grant Narrows Park & Pitt Polder Ecological Reserve/Pitt-Addington Marsh Wildlife Management AreaLeader: John Gordon Time:  9:00–  Grant Narrows  Park parking lot. Come join our leader John and the Langley Field Naturalists as we go to see nesting Ospreys and perhaps Sandhill Cranes. This large dyke/marsh area, with several viewing towers, is a major migration route for bird life and has the largest tidal lake in the world. It also has a great variety of bird life making it very popular with bird watchers.  Meet Douglas Cres Rec Centre in Langley at 8:00  for car pool or 9:00 at Grant Narrows Park parking lot. Phone: 576-6831 or 888-1787  for info or to let us know how many for car pooling.
      No charge. Sponsored by the Langley Field Naturalists



"Get Inspired"  flower photography workshop Sat April 18th 

Thanks everyone who attended.
Here are a few demonstration pictures I took with the P900

P900 Handheld with soft filter for 'artistic effect'

P900 Handheld

P900 Telephoto shot handheld

 P900 Macro shot/handheld 

Sunday 12 April 2015

Nikon P900 Review: Some More Thoughts

April 8-10 Various Locations

I picked up the new Nikon P900 24mm-2000mm bridge camera last week. This is my second look at the camera. My first impressions out of the box was the camera was bulky yet lightweight. The front element is quite large and imposing. I felt uncomfortable having it exposed to scuffs so I sprung for a 67mm filter. I am now looking for a hood to give further protection from rain and to control flare from the sun.
I have tried the camera in manual, aperture priority and the bird photography mode. I have used various metering options including the matrix, centre weighted and spot. I also used it out of the box in 'idiot' program mode and it worked fine except for small objects like the Loggerhead Shrike when a small subject against a plain background forced the autofocus to hunt. I have now rectified that by reading the owner's manual and switching to single focus mode
Here are a second series of shots which I am sure with more practice and familiarity with the camera's controls better results can and will be achieved.

 Black-capped Chickadee.
Black-capped Chickadee
Nothing can be more fleeting than a Black-capped Chickadee or the Brown Creeper below. They don't hang around too long so I was happy to get these shots from a burst of four frames a second in Birdwatching mode.

 Brown Creeper Brydon Lagoon.
Brown Creeper (Certhia americana)

The Goldeneye and the Wolf Eel Reflection.
Common Goldeneye
The reflection in this shot reminds me of a Wolf Eel. The camera did a great job of keeping up with the goldeneye as it swam and dove for fish at Brydon Lagoon in Langley

Who needs a view camera anymore.... just joking!
Grant Narrows
The camera can go from shooting scenics to zooming in on birds like the shrike below. Focus is quite fast. Those used to shooting a DSLR will have to adjust to the electronic view finder (EVF). I have tried a number bridge cameras with EVF and the P900 is the best so far.

P900 worked well during the Loggerhead Shrike twitch. 
Loggerhead Shrike.
This bird was about 30 metres (100 feet in English) away from the camera. Handheld at 2000mm or 357mm on 35mm at ISO 400 at F6.7
Normally I wouldn't have used a point and shoot but I knew it would be the perfect test. A number of birders and photographers were frustrated by not being able to get a close shot. The P900 handled the light and exposure perfectly and you might think the shot was taken with a DSLR.

Spot the Northern Shrike.
Just to the right of the telephone pole is a Northern Shrike. Can you see it, the camera did! I have put an arrow on the picture to help you out.

I am not kidding but I took the shot below from across the road from my car seat, how lazy is that but as many of you now the car can make an excellent blind/hide. Can you see the bird in the picture above, look for the arrow? Again I shot at about 2000mm handheld and picked up the two shots below. The shrike moved so I had the chance for different backgrounds which the camera handled both very well.

Northern Shrike with mountainside creating the blueish background.

P900 at 2000mm shot against clouds. The auto exposure underexposed just a little.

From Wide to Telephoto
Can you see a small dark shape in the middle of the frame ?
I stood in the same spot after I saw a turtle in the water. Probably about 20-25 metres aways and obscured by a few branches. The P900 was able to 'see" through the tangle and give me this shot below. The eye isn't quite sharp but to be honest I wasn't expecting anything much so I was pleasantly surprised by the results. I am sure with a tripod and clear view a much better image would be possible. I include it here to show how powerful a reach the P900 has.

Another handheld shot in my garden F2.8 at ISO 400

Macro Mode
Tulip stamens.

Bushtit (Psaltriparus minimus)
Brydon Lagoon.
In conclusion I believe the bridge camera moniker fits the P900 perfectly. I would love to see a larger chip but that would reduce the 2000mm to 1000mm or so. It would also be nice to have a larger buffer especially after using the birdwatching Mode. However, I must say I haven't had so much fun with a camera since I bought a Nikon D3s the only difference is the P900 is $700, the D3s a lot more.

"It never too late to start birding"

John Gordon

BC Canada

Various Places/Various Birds

April 10/15 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary/Richmond Nature Park/Boundary Bay.

Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

On arriving at Reifel we were saddened to hear the Sandhill Crane had lost both eggs. Whether they had been predated or otherwise we couldn't confirm, only that the birds had abandoned their nest. Sanctuary manager Katherine mentioned they might have another attempt to lay depending how amorous they feel.
The goal was to find a pair of Swamp Sparrows which may to may not be breeding in the Reifel's reed beds. Normally the species heads into the interior to breed so it will be interesting to see what unfolds. I almost got a clear shot but there's always another day. 
Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana)

On the way out of the sanctuary the Harris Sparrow was hanging around with the Golden-crowned Sparrows.
It's looking a bit rough as it changes into adult plumage.
Harris Sparrow (Zenotrichia querula)
Richmond Nature Park
I just felt like going to photograph some hummingbirds. The nature park has both Rufous and Anna's Hummingbirds and numerous feeders.
Anna's Hummingbird (Calypte anna)
Juvenile I think?

 Male Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)

Next up was the surprise arrival of a flock of Red Crossbill. They came in so quickly for a drink at a small pond that I ended up underexposing the few shots I did manage to fire off. The result grainy pix.

Male Red Crossbill (Loxia curvirosta)

Juvenile males?

Juvenile female Red Crossbill.
After all the excitement that lasted just a few minutes, it was back to the other birds where a number of species were sharing a feeder with a Douglas Squirrel.

Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii)

 Male Purple Finch ( Carpodacus purpureus)

Male House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)

Female Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

I photographed this Great Blue Heron while waiting for the Golden Eagle. If I remember right I shot it handheld with the 500mm F4 because I had just arrived and hadn't put up my tripod.

Below is a Bald Eagle shot from the same spot but this time on a tripod. I have dozens of Bald Eagle shots but this one has a little more expression in the bird's face than most.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
About a month ago Boundary Bay was inundated with Bald Eagles. From one spot alone a group of us counted 180 birds wheeling around in the thermals. As the weather warms the eagles slowly disperse and us birders turn our attentions to warblers, terns and shorebirds. Some of us will head to the Interior for desert and alpine species and others for the prairies to bird for grassland species.  Wherever your birding takes you I wish you the best of luck and good birding.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada