Friday 19 February 2016

Surrey Lake with Langley Field Naturalists

Feb 11/2016 Surrey Lake Overcast 7c
Over the years I have been on numerous outings with the Langley Field Naturalists (LFN) 
Some trips have been for up to five days long but most are morning or afternoon walks. I have trekked in the Chilcotins and Caribou where we conducted bird counts for Bird Studies Canada. On other occasions I joined them for day long trips to the Skajit Valley and other Lower Mainland locations. This weeks trip was closer to home at Surrey Lake.

Below is a shot of the signage which outlines the Surrey Lake trail system. Entry is off 152 St just north of 72nd Ave.
 Langley Field Naturalists are lucky enough to have a number of top notch naturalists to guide the neophyte's among us. 
One advantage about joining a group like LFN is the chance to learn from more experienced naturalists. Some group leaders like noted naturalist Al Grass will help putting a name to most any tree, fungi, plant or critter.


As we walked around the lake we noted a number of diving and dabbling ducks, mallard, green-winged teal, buffleheads, canvasbacks, northern pintail, lesser scaup. mallard, common and hooded merganser and in the Surrey Golf Course pond a gadwall and a single redhead. The redhead is not that common in the Lower Mainland so that was an extra special sighting.

ID shot of the redhead in the golf course pond (north of the bridge) with two mallards and gadwall. The above shot is taken from 152nd St as there is no legal access to the pond. I asked at the golf club and there is a liability issue. Please don't trespass and besides golf balls can really hurt! 
Tour leader Gareth Pugh (left in picture) and the group. I'm on the right with camera gear. A passerby was kind enough to photograph us. For walks like this I take the Nikon P900 instead of a scope for ID purposes and a Nikon 200mm-500mm in case there are any good photo opportunities. Also the lightweight set-up allows me to keep with the group.

As we walked around the lake and after the dogs walkers had departed the ducks soon dropped their defences and gave us excellent views. If only the owners would clean up and leash their pets everyone would be a lot happier, especially the birds. I hope these images  show some of the potential for birding at Surrey Lake. On previous visits I have also seen virginia rail and later in the year warblers and nesting woodpeckers.

Normally trumpeter swans are found in flocks so it was a surprise find a lone specimen at the lake. Several things come to mind. Was it injured, had it ingested lead shot, perhaps it was just an old bird which no longer had the energy to migrate or perhaps none of those things. On close inspection the bird seemed to be in good health and was actively feeding so it remains a mystery, hopefully it will join a passing flock soon.

Trumpeter Swan

We left the lake behind us and walked the trail past a floodplain. A single second growth tree hosted a pair of bald eagles. A red-tailed hawk's nest was in another smaller tree. As we headed through the woodland section of the park the lack of birdlife made one wonder what would the world be without  birds. As we stopped and listened the forest began to give up its secrets. The sounds of ruby-crowned kinglets and chickadees filled the air, a Bewick's wren skulked in the undergrowth.
Out of the woods and under hydro towers a flock of male house finches fed in a tangle of himilayan blackberries. An anna's hummingbird came to check us out and three fox sparrows scratched back and forth in an effort to unearth insects from the undergrowth.

The walk had ended and as I packed away my camera and was saying my goodbyes a belted kingfisher landed in a tree close-by. When bird plunged into the watery ditch I took the opportunity to grab my camera to move a little closer. She went back and forth five or six times but only once was she on an unobstructed perch. I moved to include as much of the tree trunk into the background as possible. It's one of my better kingfisher shots and perfect way to end the day.
 Female Belted Kingfisher
I'm glad I made the effort to get out on what was a miserable day, by the end of the walk I felt the morning was well spent. Now all I had to do was remember where on earth I had put the shopping list my other half had given me!

Come join us on sometime, we even have a kid's club for the youngsters and check out the LFN Facebook page and website for more details. New members always welcome. Being a member also includes a membership to BC Nature and a quarterly magazine and wealth of information not available elsewhere.

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

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Introducing Stephen Bolwell

Feb 16 2016.

I first met Stephen about two years ago. We were both photographing snow geese on Boundary Bay. We chatted a while and have been corresponding ever since. Stephen has a very interesting background including his work as a cameraman with the BBC, as well as an environmentalist and artist. I think you will enjoy his blog which I have included in the link below as well as in the sidebar of my blog.

John Gordon 

Monday 15 February 2016

Sunny Day Birding

Feb 9 2016 Various Locations. Sunny 12c
I decided to begin birding at the George C Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary then later in the day make my way home via Brunswick Point and Boundary Bay.
Driving along Ladner Trunk Road I passed about thirty Trumpeter Swans feeding in the furrows of the rain drenched fields. Root crops left over from the harvest sustain the swans throughout winter.  On a bush a juvenile Northern Shrike, head bent downwards scanned the hedgerow.
On Ladner Trunk Road between 112 St and 72 St I counted eight Red tailed Hawks while above me at one hundred or more Bald Eagles circled above in a mass kettle. During the recent Ladner Christmas Bird count an incredible 1360 Bald Eagles were recorded. Passing 72nd Ave a further 30 eagles perched in a row of trees. Beneath a busy BC Hydro crew were pruning branches, the eagles didn't give a hoot. So many birds and Reifel was still 5 miles or 8kms away!
Eventually I pulled into Reifel where a pair of Pied-billed Grebes were mirrored on the calm water of the slough.

Reifel 10.30 A.M
Northern Saw-Whet Owl.
I took five shots and was in and out within 30 seconds. If the owl is asleep please don't disturb it
Handheld no flash.

Unfortunately there have been some questionable practices taking places both at Reifel and at other locations. Monday was BC Family Day, a record number of people visited Reifel. It seems not everyone was happy just to see the owls in their natural habitat. Staff told me some (idiot) thought it necessary to "trim" a few twigs so as to get a better shot of the above Saw-whet. The day I visited someone with a point and shoot (neither a birder or photographer) tried to get a better shot by making loud noises crunching a water bottle, hoping the owl might open its eyes. I had to ask him to move on. At another well known location where Barn Owls roost someone had also been doing some "creative pruning" so as to get a better view. No wonder ethical birders and photographers are reluctant to post their owl sightings. It's a shame really. Anyway, human nature being what it is sometimes our egos get the better of us and we forget that the birds live by instinct and instinct alone and that we humans can easily destroy what we love in the mad rush for acceptance via blogs, Flickr etc.
Recently I have thought about selling my camera gear and just watch birds but I have photographed most of my adult life and would like to think I can police myself.

Wood Duck
  Who can resist photographing the exotic Wood Duck?  This one was plying a quiet backwater.


Brunswick Point 

Lincoln's Sparrow
At Brunswick Point there are signs that something is about to change and not for the better. This sparrow was photographed on a small patch of blackberries, most of which have been bulldozed. Many who visit the area wonder how long before some form of development takes place and yet another birding spot is lost forever.
Close to the car park a flock of American Pipits bathed in a distant puddle and overhead five nervous Western Meadowlark fly toward the dyke.

Western Meadowlark
This meadowlark was about 30 metres away, a small speck in the frame but nevertheless captured in flight

European Starling

When this European Starling landed in a nearby tree I was taken by its iridescent plumage.

It was warm enough to eat my packed lunch outdoors. Later I made my way past the coal port through what used to be good arable farmland. Often rough-legged and Red-tailed Hawks were seen hunting. Now only tonnes and tonnes of gravel, heavy duty machinery and a gas station have taken its place. A barn and two snags gone and the birds too, in their place plastic bags, disgarded coffee cups and who knows what else! Development has robbed the birds of what was a bountiful feeding area. Now there are plans to build a second terminal the size of Stanley Park in the middle of Roberts Bank.

I am including a letter written by noted naturalist Anne Murray. It contains information and contact details on how to made your views know to your MLA and MP. Please take moment to read it.

Here is where letters on how birdwatchers value the Fraser Delta environment could go in the short term:
Any federal politician can be contacted by email using the standard format: e.g.
With the new government in place it is an opportune time to let your local MP, Mr Trudeau, opposition leaders and Marc Garneau, Federal Minister of Transportation, hear your views on the importance of the Fraser River estuary and delta (Roberts Bank, Boundary Bay, Sturgeon Banks, the Fraser River and the surrounding farmland) to migratory, wintering and resident birds. It is the top-rated Important Bird Area in Canada and a critical stopover on the Pacific Flyway.
You can also let Premier Christy Clark premier@, Todd Stone Minister of Transportation, and your local MLA (same basic format) know your opinions. Send photos, help them understand how special this area is!

If you want to give input on PMV's Terminal 2 to the Canadian Environmental Assessment ( - search by project) currently in process, there will be opportunities for public comment in due course. Sign up at to receive email updates of all Port Metro Vancouver comment opportunities, open houses etc.
Hope this information helps. Feel free to contact me off this site.

Anne Murray

Tsawwassen Ferry Jetty
 1.45 p.m.
Black Oyster Catcher.

Note the band which has the #2 on it. I can't read any other information.

Note the different neck markings.

Brant feed on eelgrass that grows in and around the present coal port. The birds wait until low tide when the grass beds are exposed. Low tide provides herons with fish and crabs caught in tide pools while diving ducks find easy pickings among the shellfish beds.

Before heading toward 72nd I dropped in at the dog park. Dodging muddy dogs and their crap I came across a flock predominately male house finches. They were busily eating buds from an apple tree. I was drawn to the bird's plumage set against the sky.

72nd Dog Park

Before leaving the park I spent a few minutes photographing Bald Eagles. The opportunities to get a flight shot are ever present as the birds squabble over perches or try to find a mate. The park is home to some larger trees and is close to the dump, a waste re-cycling depot and the ocean. The perfect habitat for the burgeoning population of bald eagles.

Bald Eagle.

I hope you got this far with my ramblings, bearing in mind I bird for my own enjoyment and blogging just helps to keep my brain ticking over between football games and grandchildren. Until the next time, good birding and don't forget to be kind to owls.

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

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Family Day Birding

Feb 9 2016 Blackie Spit Sunny
Monday was family Day in British Columbia. I turned out to be a glorious warm and sunny day. I took the opportunity to visit nearby Blackie Spit. The place was packed with families out enjoying the scenery and the long weekend. There were a fair number of dogs splashing away in the roped off dog paddle area. Despite the hundreds of people milling around there were still a few birds along the shoreline. I packed my Nikon P900 24mm-2000mm point and shoot just in case I found something interesting.

Black Oystercatcher
Handheld at 2000mm

Also spotted were three Marbled Godwit, a Long-billed Curlew, a pair of Black Oystercatchers, Eurasian and American Wigeon, Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, Common Loon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Mallard, Bald Eagle, and Ring-billed Gull.

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

Audubon: How Birds Are Trying to Dodge Climate Change

Occasionally I post articles that I have come across on line. This one I found particularly interesting.


Friday 5 February 2016

Between Rain Showers

Jan 28-Feb 4 2016 Boundary Bay. Clouds and occasional sunny breaks 8c

Getting out of my car, bundling up against of the wind and rain I made my way up to the dyke. I had only walked few feet when a small flock of Western Meadowlarks flew overhead,
Western Meadowlark
Mud Bay.

I had been away in the UK when Northern Pygmy Owl was reported on vanbcbirds. I was hoping it would hang around until I got home. I was curious having never visited the site before, besides it would be another year bird to add to the list. 
Northern Pygmy Owl.

There were many birders and photographers waiting for the owl to fly down and hunt. I was there thirty minutes, during that time I was lucky enough to get this shot before darkness fell.

Ring-necked Duck
Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

Why this bird isn't called a Ringed-billed Duck I'll never know. This shot does however show the ring on the neck, hence the name.

Iona Jetty Feb 1 2015
If anyone ever needed a walk it was me. I had spent the weekend watching footy I had recorded on the PVR. The only exercise I had over the weekend was dunking digestive biscuits into my tea as I binged on one game after another. It was heaven but as the season progresses so my waistline expands. It was time to walk Iona Jetty all 4km (2.5miles ) of it.

 I had heard there were a flock of Snow Buntings at the very tip of the jetty. On the way out I saw plenty of sea ducks foraging for shellfish, even a River Otter swimming along with a dead gull in its mouth. Does anyone know if otters catch birds live or just scavenge?
Barrow's Goldeneye.
One small raft of Black Scoter contained about thirty birds, further out a much larger number of Surf Scoters dove for shellfish. Buffleheads, Red-necked Grebes and Double-Crested Cormorants made up the rest of the flotilla.

Black Scoter
(left to right) Female, male,and a juvenile in the background.

Finally at the end of the jetty I found a flock of eighteen Snow Buntings, they never stayed put very long so I went a few hundred feet ahead of them and waited until they reached me. They were feeding on algae covered rocks.
Snow Buntings feeding on algae.
The Nikon 200mm-500mm lens allowed me to frame these birds handheld. I was able to clamber over the slippery rocks without damaging an expensive tripod.

The final shot before leaving the birds to feed. 

 Surf Scoters.
As I walked back to the car a raft Surf Scoters came within about a hundred metres. Normally it is best to shoot at a lower level but this angle does show the formation showing male, female and juvenile birds 

Thursday Feb 4/16
 Blackie Spit weekly bird count with Gareth Pugh 41 species noted

With the light being so dull I decided not to take a DSLR instead I packed the Nikon P900 point and shoot.
The P900 is perfect for bird identification and sometimes even when zoomed out 2000 mm and handheld it can produce interesting results. While our group watched four Northern Flickers courting I fired off this image. The second bird the left had yellow/orange tail feathers, an intergrade.
Northern Flickers
Note second bird from left has orange tail feathers.

Distance ID shot of the same bird.
More Info

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