Wednesday 28 October 2015

Another Twitch

Oct 26-27 2015 Hougen Park, Sumas Prairie Abbotsford BC.
The weekends are usually set aside for family time (except for mega twitches) so I was hoping that the Pacific Loon would hang around until Monday. So it was with great anticipation I headed out to Abbotsford Monday morning. Local birder Henry Wall had found the loon in a local slough a few days earlier. After scanning the creek for about 30 minutes without any luck I decided to drive through adjacent Sumas Prairie farmlands to see if there were any newly arrived raptors. During winter Sumas Prairie is a great place to see Bald and the occasional Golden Eagle. If you are very lucky even a Harlen's Red-tailed Hawk, Gyrfalcon or some of the of smaller raptors. On this particular day there were quite few Western Meadowlarks in the fields.
The Kingfishers use the conveniently places telephone wires to hunt along the roadside ditches which at this time of year are teeming with life. The following shots were taken with the D7100 and Nikon 200mm-500mm from the car window.

Belted Kingfisher
Only a few metres down the road a juvenile American Kestrel was hunting, also utilizing the wire as a perch.
American Kestrel
For those of you who have driven Sumas Prairie the roads can be very busy, especially during harvest time but that didn't seem to deter these birds feasting on some spilt grain.

Spilt grain in a welcome treat for American, Crows,  European Starlings and Brewer's and Red-winged Blackbirds.

I then went to the Chiliwack Heron Reserve where feeders are always worth a check. Sure enough nothing too special until out from under a bush a juvenile White-throated Sparrow popped out. Its crown already turning from brown to white. One of my favourite sparrows and always nice to see.

Juvenile White-throated Sparrow.

Then I sat back and had lunch overlooking the small lake. A pair of Hooded Mergansers dived for food, several Bufflehead floated with heads tucked on their backs. A Kingfisher rattled across the water and a Ring-necked Duck sat motionless with beads of water resting on its head. Could life get much better when suddenly the sun broke through and its warmth seemed to bring a host of new activity including three Anna's Hummingbirds. One landed so close I could barely get it in the frame.
Anna's Hummingbird
For those of my readers from outside Canada who may be surprised to know that the Anna's Hummingbird overwinters here on the BC coast. Forget about the frigid temperatures from the rest of Canada. BC isn't called Lotus Land for nothing. 
Over the past few decades Anna's have gradually established as a wintering species. The preponderance of hummingbird feeders could be one reason as well as global warming or perhaps El Nino which is seeing warmer winters here on the coast. I tell most Brits our climate is akin to Cornwall, Guernsey or Jersey, defiantly not Newcastle or Manchester!

After a little sunbathing it was time to return in search of the Pacific Loon. I found a Hooded Merganser that had just empaled a crayfish and then a Red-necked Grebe but no loon.
Hooded Merganser with crayfish.

Red-necked Grebe

I had another look but couldn't find it and decided to make my way home. Fortunately I left my phone number with another birder, Bill Thomas. I hadn't been on the road more than five minutes when the phone rang with the news the bird had been re-located. I returned and voila!

Pacific Loon. Not the best shot.
Not happy with my efforts I returned the next day and found the photographers and birders first and then the loon. How easy is that!
Here area few more images and this time the bird popped up so close to me I couldn't hardly fit it in the frame. 

Pacific Loon with a hapless Pumpkinseed Sunfish.
                                                               More on Pumpkinseed

The Loon dropped and lost the fish a few times before it eventually re-captured it, this time the loon popped up right in front of me. It was the first fish I had seen it catch in the two hours I observed the bird. At least it was eating as there was little concern it may have a injury but I don't think that is the case as  I am told it continued to feed after I had left.

I used a Nikon D300s with 500mm 1x4 extender and tripod. I had just taken off my D3s which would have been better as I landed up bring too close in the end, funny how these things work out.

Anyway, it was another bird to add to my 2015 Canada list which now is #292 species. I know some birders have that many species from just in BC which is pretty amazing tally. One birder I know had one hundred species on New Year's Day. One year I might try for 300 plus BC species but at this moment I am just happy to bumble, stumble and ramble on enjoying the birding experience for all its worth. If you are out in field please say hello and don't forget what the T-Shits says Eat, Sleep and Bird!

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

Sunday 25 October 2015

Roadside Hunter

Oct 24 2015 104St and Hornby Drive, Delta BC 14c

I had been birding most of the morning (see next blog) and was making my way home with all my photo gear packed away in the boot of the car. On the seat beside me was the Nikon 200mm-500mm just in case I saw something interesting.
Juvenile Red-tail Hawk.
Well, it didn't take long for when I pulled out of 104 onto Hornby Drive I spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk being mobbed by Northwestern Crows. I cut the engine, rolled down the window as the raptor dropped to the ground, grabbing a partially eaten prey and flew off across the freeway. It all happened in a few seconds, the very reason to keep a camera close at hand.

The raptor pounces on prey. 

and off he goes with a meal.

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

Saturday Birding

Oct 24 2015 White Rock Pier 13c

I can't remember the last time I birded at White Rock pier but it was time to check out some of the wintering birds. There were several birders and photographer already there, some looking for the Clarks's Grebe, others like myself happy enough to photograph some of the Western and Horned Grebes feeding in and around the pier. I wasn't expecting to get close to a Red-necked Grebe. I had seen one in Saskatchewan's Grassland National Park in June but it was very wary so this was a good chance albeit out of breeding plumage to watch another fishing at close range. Technically the picture could be way better but for me the action makes up for those failings. 
Red-necked Grebe with what looks like a sandeel.

Who's looking at who? A Harbour Seal checks out the action on White Rock Pier.

Blackie Spit

After a few hours at the pier I made my way down to Blackie Spit where small shoal of bait fish were being chased by a Horned Grebe. There were also numerous Common Loon which seemed more interested in larger bottom fish and crabs.
Horned Grebe
There is a tremendous amount of luck when it comes finding the Blackie Spit Long-billed Curlew. Some days it can be found close-in, other times a scope is needed. This particular day it was feeding close to the dog beach. 
Despite there being two designated off-lease areas a number of dog guardians, some who live in Crescent Beach have been running their dogs on the spit despite a sign saying dogs prohibited. One even threatened me when I pointed out her blatant disregard for the bylaw. I digress. 
Anyway, I was birding with Raymond Ng so we both knew the bird would flush if we approached too quickly. We spent ten minutes approaching in small increments and having secured a few nice images were surprised when another photographer ran down the beach without any thought of stealth or field craft. The picture below is the bird being flushed as she charged down the beach. 
Long-billed Curlew.

Next up was a pair of Marbled Godwit which arrived just as birding buddy Raymond and I were about to go off to Boundary Bay. They fed in the exact same spot as the curlew.
Marbled Godwit

I never get very close to Black-bellied Plovers so it was nice to spend a few minutes with this bird.
Black-bellied Plover.

After the Blackie Spit outing it was off to Boundary Bay and 104 where were with the help of birder's scope I was able to watch a Bar-tailed Godwit, a Red Knot and perhaps ten thousand Black-bellied Plover, hundreds of Sanderling and Western Sandpiper. Alas the Golden Plover were nowhere to be found. Did I mention the thousands of Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Mallard and American Wigeon and a lone Merlin.

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

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Sparrows, Sandpipers and a Hawk

Oct 20 2015 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary Sunny T-shirt weather.
The day began at Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. Bonaparte, Mew, California and Glaucous-winged Gulls were busily preening on the foreshore. Several hundred Double-crested Cormorants were resting on the spit while around them were an equal number of American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Sharing the shoreline were small flocks of Greater Yellowlegs and Dunlin.
Further out, more than a hundred Horned Grebe were diving for food, beside them a small flock of White-winged Scoters were chasing each other for no apparent reason. As I walked toward the ferry Song Sparrows jumped out of blackberry thickets to check out the camera wielding intruder.
It was time to move on to Reifel where I asked a couple of birders how there morning had been. They had seen a single Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with the flock of Long-billed Dowitchers. Hopefully it would be closer than the one I had seen earlier in the year.

Fortunately it was, sleeping alongside a pair of Long-billed Dowitchers.
Safety in numbers. A Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with Long-billed Dowitchers.

The sharpie was sleeping. I didn't have to wait long though as a Rough-legged Hawk spooked the flock.

Rough-legged Hawk
They flew around the pond returning back to their original roosting spot. The hawk was more intent on chasing larger prey and made it's way out to where thousands of Snow Geese and ducks were feeding on Spanish Banks. Eventually the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper returned.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. A rare visitor from Asia with perhaps less than half a dozen recorded each year.

On my way out of the sanctuary and across from the warming hut I noticed a sparrow that was a little different than the others, it seemed more skittish. I waited for it to come back out to forage. Anyway it turned out to be a gorgeous White-throated Sparrow which was feeding with a resident flock of European House Sparrows.
White-throated Sparrow on fence with nice clean background. 

A White-throated Sparrow forages amongst with autumn leaves. Way more storytelling than the previous picture. 

On my way home I dropped into 72nd Ave and found this Lincoln's Sparrow, a real nice way to close out another beautiful day in paradise.

Lincoln's Sparrow.
This shot with the Nikon 200mm-500mm and D7100.

 Some images from Oct 13/15 Reifel.
As an afterthought I include the two images from the same flock of Long-billed Dowitchers taken a few days earlier than the sandpiper images above. Pic#1 shows a Dunlin and Long-billed Dowitcher and the other a Pectoral Sandpiper with same flock of LBD.
Pix #1 Long-billed Dowitcher and Dunlin.

Pectoral Sandpiper with Long-billed Sandpiper (rear) and Short-billed Sandpiper.

Pectoral Sandpiper bathing with Long-billed Dowitchers.
Just thought it's interesting how the Long and Short-billed Dowitcher flock plus a few Greater Yellowlegs stay put and other sandpipers seem to come and go on a regular basis. Always worth a good look Eh!

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

Sunday 18 October 2015

Wilson's Warbler has UK birders Twitching

Thanks to Gareth Pugh who sent me this link about a Wilson's Warbler that was blown across the Atlantic to Scotland.

Below is one of my shots from the Okanagan Valley BC Canada.

The Skagit Valley walk with the Langley Field Naturalists

Oct 16/15 Skagit Valley with the Langley Field Naturalists 22c Warm and Sunny.
The Langley Field Naturalists run a variety of indoor and outdoor programs throughout the year. I have included a link at the end of the blog for those who are interested in our programs. The destination this weekend was the scenic Skagit Valley. 

This rock face loomed above us at our first stop. It reminded me a little of Yosemite, albeit on a much lesser scale. 

I couldn't resist this reflection, especially when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

The lake was like a mill pond.

We were lucky to have Al Grass leading the tour. He found us many types of fungi. Now I need fungi field guide!

I am still working to I.D this plant as the dew drops clinging to the leaves were truly fascinating. I could have spent hours with this plant but alas it was time to move on with the rest of the group.

A Painted Lady feeds on a thistle.
Strong backlight sets off this stand of Popular trees.

American Dipper.

Our group enters Chittenden Meadows with its rare stand of Ponderosa Pine.
This is good place to see Common Nighthawks in the summer. 

Our group pose at one of the Ponderosa Pine.

A 'selfie' from the bridge leading to Chittenden Meadows where a ten acre meadow is a naturalist's delight.

Red Osier Dogwood is found from Mexico to Alaska.

Take exit 167 off Hwy 1 just before Hope and drive 75 kms to Skagit Valley Provincial Park. Horse riding and camping facilitiesare available in season. 

                                                  All images with the Nikon P900

It was a long but rewarding day. Leaving Langley at 7.30 a.m and returning back home at 6.30 p.m We didn't see too many birds except for a few American Wigeon and Mallard, A Hairy Woodpecker, a single Sandhill Crane, a few American Goldfinch, a flock of American Robins as well as both Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A Raven greeted us loudly and a single Northern Flicker flew overhead while we were in the meadows. We also saw a few American Dippers and Common Merganser.

The youngest person on our walk was six weeks old and the eldest in their 80s. It was another beautiful day out in the nature and although I can't speak for the others but I for one was rewarded by a sound night's sleep.

       Link:  Langley Field Naturalists

"It's never to late to go on a nature walk"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada

Wednesday 14 October 2015

Tropical In Steveston

Tuesday Oct 13 2015 West Dyke, Steveston Village/Richmond. Sunny 14c
After the Canada Thanksgiving weekend I desperately needed an excuse to walk off all the turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie I had eaten. With that in mind I made my way out for a full day of birding. My first stop was to be West Dyke near Steveston Village.
It was a new location for me and the news that a Tropical Kingbird had been seen the previous day had me stoked. If I could find the vagrant it would be a Canada year bird #268. The Tropical Kingbird is a rare visitor to the Lower Mainland and Vancouver area so the opportunity to see it was too much to pass up.
There was one last year at Brunswick Point and another a few years before that. We had just had a small storm which originated in Pacific Ocean which may have blown it off course and brought it to our shores. The species is more at home in arid Arizona, hopefully it will eventually find its way home. Meanwhile here are some pix.

Tropical Kingbird with grasshopper.

The bird spent the morning hawking insects from small Pacific Crabapple tree
A flying ant becomes the kingbird's next meal
The kingbird has incredible eyesight and would fly 50-60 yards to snag and insect. It seemed more intent on
hawking insects and seemed oblivious of passersby, cyclist and photographers.

                   I used the Nikon D7100 and Nikon 200mm-500mm zoom handheld 400 ISO. Just for fun I prepared 16'x20" and 20"x 24" prints using the 200mm-500mm. They look fantastic!

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Monday 5 October 2015

Birding with the Nikon 200mm-500mm.

Sept 22-Oct 2 2015 Various Locations 16c T-shirt weather.

After picking up my new lens the first thing I did was head home. It was early evening and the garden and bird feeder were already in the shade. I shot handheld using ISO1600. I just had to see how the 200mm-500mm would perform. Right out of the box I shot this frame on the full frame D3s.
Out of the box shot. Nikon 200mm-500mm D3S. F5.6 ISO 1600 1/640 sec

Over the next few days I birded Brydon Lagoon, Blackie Spit and various Boundary Bay locations. I went on an all day walk and on another occasion I joined a birder group at Blackie Spit for their weekly bird count. 
Despite its weight and bulk I hardly noticed the camera and lens on my shoulder, probably because I am used to lugging around a 500mm F4, Wimberly head and Gitzo Tripod.

I shot the loons while on the walk. Unless noted all images are handheld. For expert technical descriptions and reviews you'll have to read the tech heads at DPI Review and other reviewers. My views are from the my experiences as a birdwatcher in training.

Blackie Spit Oct 1/15

Full Frame Handheld 1/1000 F/10
As you can see, a substantial crop of the previous photo but quite acceptable.
 The search for sharpness can sometimes overshadow image content so with the 200mm-500mm I quickly took this handheld shot of a Coyote hunting ducks and sandpipers at Blackie Spit.

Blackie Spit Coyote on the prowl. When the coyote saw our group I had to shoot quickly, the zoom was perfect for composing a pleasing shot. I later cropped off 50% of the image to create more impact.

The 200mm-500mm is the lens many Nikon users have been looking forward to and for many a pleasant surprise when it was announced. Nikon had kept it under wraps so there are presently few if any reviews out there to match it against the Tamron 150mm-600mm and the two Sigma 150mm-600mm zooms. I have used the Tamron (see earlier posts) and was very happy with it but it wasn't a Nikon! I haven't used the Sigma's but I yet to hear any negative reports.
The Sigma comes in two models, an "enthusiasts" model and a "pro" model, all three lens are very popular with bird photographers. Canon already has had the legendary 100mm-400mm for years so Nikon users, especially those on a budget are hoping the lens will be a winner.
The constant aperture of F5.6 is a big selling point and is only one stop slower than the more expensive and heavier 500mm F4. Today's camera with their high ISO capabilities means for most applications F5.6 is fine. Where the 200mm-500mm might not work as well is for birds in flight on cloudy winter days or early and late in the day where the brighter 500mm F4 will be more useful. I tried a few flight shots on a sunny day and had about a 60% success rate with small birds and 85% with larger birds like raptors and geese.

All images handheld unless otherwise noted.

I wanted a smaller lens for long walks, hiking and whenever a handhold zoom would be easier to use, or for trips on small plane, when on holiday or when crammed into a car full of birdwatchers and space is limited and using a tripod is not an option. 


Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Next morning I went to Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary where birds are reasonably easy to approach. I used the 200mm-500mm with a Nikon D7100.

Great Blue Heron
Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk 1/640 F/9 at 500mm handheld.
A good ID shot from about 500 feet.

Size comparison between a Malard and two Least Sandpiper.

Long-Billed Dowitcher (Tripod D7100)

Full Frame no crop. Nikon 200mm-500mm (D7100 Tripod)
This shot was taken from about 200 feet away with the 200mm-500mm and greatly cropped. Basically a dot in the frame but good enough for a decent ID shot but not for printing. It all depends on your final use. Personally I like the background and the ripples reflecting the blue sky in the water.

It was also the target species for the day and a 2015 Canada year bird #284. 

Not Sharp but considering the distance this Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (D7100 Tripod) was a nice find.
The above image is purely for ID purposes, the bird never came closer than 200 feet. 

Crane Test shots from a stationary position. Cropped in Lightroom.
Sandhill Crane
D7100 F/9 1/3200sec at 390mm
Same exposure cropped in Lightroom
None of these shots have been over sharpened.

Northern Harrier.

The "rare" European House Sparrow (Full frame)
Handheld cropped shot.
So there you go, you can take it from there. The fact that lenses vary in quality as they leave the factory and much too much time is spent "admiring" them rather than shooting them, the bottom line is that all we can hope for is that when we spend $1500 on a product it should deliver as advertised. 
I tried my 1.4 and 2x converters on the DX 7100 and D300s they are as soft as butter so I am not too sure where Nikon is coming from on that. Apparently I need to use newer camera like the D7200, D610 or D800. I will conduct some more test with the FX body before I pass judgement on the use of converters with the 200mm-500mm.
The images above are just a few examples but best try out the lens for yourself. Personally I sold my Tamron as I prefer the build of the Nikon. It feels more solid and I am willing to give up the extra 20% reach for the sharpness of the Nikon at 500mm. 

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada