Tuesday 30 August 2016

"A Whole Lot of Sandpipers Going On"

Aug 29 2016 Boundary Bay between 96 and 104 street. 20c Sun and clouds.

Last week I went to Boundary Bay and never took a single shot. Yesterday was far different, some might say the stars were in alignment. I was of the best days birding I have ever experienced on the bay and believe me there have been quite few.
Way out on the mud flats several thousand black-bellied plovers, western sandpipers, sanderlings and a few dunlin were making their way up the beach on the flood tide.


Black-bellied plover and dunlin.

Red knot hiding among the black-bellied plovers.

One bird, a red knot stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. There were two red knot I could see as well as three short-billed dowitchers and a marbled godwit. The latter too far way even for a record shot. I didn't want to push my luck as a large female peregrine falcon was patrolling the foreshore and any sudden movements would have sent the flock skyward.
Short-billed dowitcher.

The tide was coming in and while the plovers sought cover and safety a little further offshore many of the sandpipers hung close to the dyke where feed was plentiful.
As luck would have it I bumped into Roger Foxall, an excellent birder. I was able to point out the red knot for him which turned out to be a year bird for both of us. He helped me ID the short-billed dowitcher and explained the plumage difference between long and short-billed. 
A fuzzy shot ID showing the ruff in flight with the white U on the upper tail coverts.
Roger went his way and I began looking for the buff-breasted sandpiper that had been seen the day before. Not long after Roger called me over to look at the juvenile ruff he had spotted. I had difficulty finding it among the flock but finally managed a flight shot. The ruff is a very rare bird in these parts with only one or two seen each year. Soon however it had flown off into the distance.

As luck would have it the bird had flown back from the pilings to the foot of 104 where a number of us were able to photograph the bird again.
Juvenile ruff.

A pectoral sandpiper and the larger ruff.

On most days a ruff or even the red knot would have been a good day but then the word came that three buff-breasted sandpipers were just a few hundred metres further along the dyke you know Christmas had arrived early.

  Lord of the flies
I like this shot,  it reminds me of all the flies I had to contend with as I lay in the soggy seaweed.

Buff-breasted sandpiper.

There were three different buff-breasted sandpipers, something of a rarity to see a flock these days.

Pectoral sandpiper.
It was a perfect evening on the bay with a fantastic selection of birds to photograph and observe. Perhaps i'll see you all down there tonight for a repeat performance                     

                                                                See list of birds for the day

"It's never too late to stop birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Friday 26 August 2016

Back to the World of Birding

Aug 25 2016. Iona Sewage Ponds Sunny 16-34c

It's been so hot and muggy in the Lower Mainland recently that waking at 5.30 a.m. to go birding has become a necessity with mid-day temperatures reaching the mid 30s it's hotter than Ho Chi Minh City!
When I arrived at Iona the sun was just peeking over the mountains. The sky was orange and the "sweet light" of morning illuminated the sky. A distinct aroma permeated the air. Regardless the birds seem to relish it all, especially the ducks and the shore birds which were finding plenty to pick at especially in the drained section that had recently been excavated. A few small puddles of water was all that remained and that is where the peeps were feeding.

At the waters edges I could just make out some shorebirds beginning to move around. I fired off a few shots at some of the sandpipers thinking they were all pectorals, later that night in Lightroom© one of the three birds was the buff-breasted sandpiper, the very bird I and others were there to observe. None of the shots were keepers. Soon the sun had begun to warm the air and a few other photographers had arrived. One of them Peter Z beckoned me over to where he had just re-located the buff-breasted that Tom Plath had found the day before. Apart from the aforementioned pectorals there were a few westerns, a single semi-palmated sandpaper, a small flock of least, Baird's and standing head and shoulder above them all was the buff-breasted. Often it would run after the smaller sandpipers  just to let them know who was boss.
Apparently not in the too distant past there would small flocks of buff-breasted pass through. It seems that their numbers like most of birds has declined and only two have been reported so far. The other being spotted Aug 26 in Boundary Bay.
Buff-breasted Sandpiper
ISO 500
D500 Nikon 500mm F4 and 1.4 converter.
I have Photoshopped all the 'floaties' out of the picture for aesthetic reasons. 
As I haven't done too much photography lately I had completely forgot to check my ISO settings so the first shots I took were at ISO 2500. I should have known something was wonky when I had 1/2500 at F8 but I blithely carried on ignoring the camera settings. After a while it clicked (excuse the pun) that something wasn't quite right and I quickly changed it to my default bird setting of ISO 400 (actually 500 when I checked later)

Talk about bird brains. Reminds me of a shoot I screwed up years ago for the Langley Hospital. I had been hired to shoot the board of directors for a brochure. The executive would meet once a month and I was to take the group shot. I shot it with my Hasselblad CM and 40mm lens and portable studio. There was quite a set up. Later that night at home I went to take the 120 film out and to my horror the back wasn't loaded, fortunately they allowed me to re-shoot the following week. The moral of the story is similar to birding. The more you think you know the less you actually know.
ISO 2500
This is the shot I had forgotten to change the ISO. As it turns out only you and I know that!
ISO 500
At the buff-breasted twitch there were some heavy hitters from the birding world. I forgot about the stinky sewage ponds as they regaled birding adventures from Iceland, Madagascar, India, Ethiopia and elsewhere. . Funny how birds bring people together in the most unusual of places!

It was good to get back in the world of birding.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday 13 August 2016

Birding the Pacific Marine Circle Route

Aug 2-5 2016 Victoria to Port Renfrew. Sunny 22c
The Pacific Marine Route.

The Tsawwassen ferry had just left the terminal when five pelagic cormorants flew by.
Several more could be seen flying toward the Delta Port Terminal where it appears some might be nesting. As we passed the gulf islands and headed toward Vancouver Island dozens of pigeon guillimots could be seen diving for fish. Glaucous-winged gulls and bald eagles wheeled overhead. Harbour seals lounged on the rocks. The early morning clouds were burning off and the sun warmed our faces. All was good with the world. No internet, no newspapers, only the ping of Mel's bird alerts would be allowed to disturb the peace and tranquility. 

First we visited friends in Victoria who we hadn't seen for years. We then made our way west to Whiffin Spit in Sooke where the dogs and piles of poop out numbered the birds, so much for it being one of the premier birding spots on southern Vancouver Island. Russell and Dick Cannings give ample warning about the Whiffin dogs in their excellent must have book.

We weren't too surprised, a shame really as I wanted a closer look at some sandpipers and a common merganser with young but dogs running loose on the beach makes for a frustrating birding experience, especially if you don't watch where you are walking! I suppose a 5 a.m start would be a better ploy next time.

French Beach

Our next stop was French Beach where a few passing sandpipers were feeding on the ebb tide. They looked hungry, some with plenty of rufous on the scapulars, others hardly any.

Western Sandpiper feeding at French Beach Provincial Park.
The sandpipers must have been hungry as they tolerated a steady stream of holidaymakers and a few off-leash dogs. To be fair most people, did leash their animals. Most park visitors were completely unaware of the peeps until made aware of their presence at which time they stood transfixed at the little bird's antics as the birds dodged the pounding waves.


French Beach Provincial Park

 bald eagle

American robin

 red crossbill
 chestnut backed chickadee
 north-western crows
 western sandpiper
Gulls ???
 Pacific wrens with 2 young
 Brown creeper
 Varied thrush

Jordan River

Heeman's gull
A second or probably third year bird was mingled in with a flock of California Gulls. 

Turkey vultures were a common sight along the Pacific Marine Coastal Route.

   Jordan River

 California gulls

Non breeding Heeman's gull

 Turkey vulture
Harlequin duck
 Common loon

Next day we camped a few miles down the coast at China Beach Provincial Park. The beach is one km from the campsite and the steep walk down offered the usual forest birds, most of which were way up in the thick canopy.

Someone has to do it!
China Beach Provincial Park is clean and quiet, the park's dense forest yields the usual forest birds. A nearby beach offers the chance of shore birds and ducks. Bald eagles can be seen scavenging along the coastline.
Western Sandpiper feeding at China Beach Provincial Park.

 The Sandpipers were feeding on many kinds of invertebrates including sand shrimps.

China Beach

Western sandpiper
Hermit thrush
Red crossbill
Cedar Waxwing
 Brown creeper
Wilson's warbler 
 Hairy woodpecker
 Northwestern crow

Port Renfrew

Recreational smelt fishermen are closely watched by a flock of California Gulls. I really couldn't tell if they were Calornian/Western X or not.
Nikon P7100.

Nikon P7100
The fish are fried and eaten whole, a delicacy i'm told!

California Gulls.
Pacheedaht White Sand Beach. Nikon P7100
The Pacheedaht campsite is run by the local indian band with sites near the beach as well as along the river. The beach front can be windy and is most popular camping spot. Book ahead if you want one of those sites. We arrived late and took a riverside site that gave us views of the tide changes, the herons, gulls and about 28 common merganser feeding in a mass frenzy, obviously this years hatch. We also were visited by many of the woodland birds which were foraging along the riparian area close to the river. The beach sites lacked the same variety of habitat but are better suited for the children, if you happen to have some in tow.

There were a good variety of birds feeding along the riverbank especially the kingfishers. The woods had a good selection of birds. The campground has everything except as stands it, feels dirty and disorganized. Why not have designated fire pits for example. Our campsite had five fire areas of scorched grass where previous occupants had made fires, little things like that would make the whole experience so much better for the camper and the environment.

Port Renfrew/San Juan

 Black swift
 Belted kingfisher
 Red crossbill
 Great blue heron
 American robin
 Bald eagle
 California gulls
 Rufous hummingbird
 Brown-headed cowbird
 Least sandpiper 
 Willow flycatcher
Hermit thrush.
 White-crowned sparrow
White-winged scoter
 Yellow-rumped warbler
 Western sandpipers
Stella's jay
Wilson's warbler
 Common merganser
 Bonaparte gull
 Canada geese
 Song sparrow

 Cedar waxwing

San Juan River looking toward Port Renfrew. Nikon P7100

Least sandpiper.
    At our campsite we had a steady parade of visitors including this willow flycatcher below.

Willow flycatcher.

Botanical Beach

The main attraction out of Port Renfrew is Botanical Beach. A perfect location for all members the family, a place to study intertidal pools and the marine life. Make sure to study the tide tables so as to arrive at low tide. Watch out for rogue waves as they pound the shore, they can be dangerous. The few birds present on  our visit included a flock harlequin ducks, a great blue heron, a pair of bald eagles and a sandpiper which may have been a wandering tatler but it was spooked by another tourist before I had a chance to get a good view. But it is not the birds that are the attraction but the weathered sandstone and creatures in the tidal pools.

Sandstone is weathered by the action of the waves and wind creating a myriad of interesting shapes. Nikon P7100

For more see

Botanical Beach
I know I should have used a polarizing filter to cut down the glare on the water but these days I use a point and shoot for everything except birds. Nikon P7100.

We really enjoyed the Pacific Marine circle Route concluding the mini tour by going through Lake Cowichan to Duncan and then Nanaimo. We did the whole thing from Cloverdale and back on half a tank of gas or about 400 kms. 

The route offers many different types of habitats that change with the seasons so going back in the autumn might not be such a bad idea as inclement weather might push in a few pelagic and others birds into the Juan de Fuca Strait.

All pix Nikon D500 200mm-500mm F5.6 handheld unless noted.

Until next time.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday 9 August 2016

Some random thoughts about being published.

Mar 2016

During the period 1983-2011 when I worked as a community newspaper photographer I published thousands of photographs. No big deal, it was my job. Give or take a few thousand, I estimate over twenty-five thousand images. I still have all the tear-sheets... I know, I know, if I ever downsize I'll be having one heck of a bonfire but that's another story altogether. Looking back, some of those early shots were horrendous. Come to think of it some of my recent pix (the ones you don't see) aren't that hot either!
During those first months freelancing with a  Pentax K1000, 28mm f2.8, 50mm F2 and Takumar 135 F2.5 I was flying by the seat of my pants. My first editor Bill Mathis saw something and he encouraged me, teaching me how to edit my work. Bill used to take a thick red china marker and circle the contact sheet with the shots he wanted for publication, I didn't question him, that's how I learned.
I have photographed a variety of subjects since then including my favourite shoot, the Dalai Lama. I even got to meet him and shake his hand. David Bowie at the Commodore with Tin Machine and BB King to Premiership football (soccer) and of course the Canucks. However, bird photography is like starting all over again. Unlike a hockey game or a concert where the lighting is consistent or a stage play where the actors are rooted to a certain area birds have no such parameters. Birds usually see you before you see them and are long gone by the time you get there. With a little skill and lots of good luck the photographer can come away with an awe inspiring shot that is pleasant to the eye,  even if no one ever sees it except for friends and family.

Published in the Langley Times.
Albino starling
Captive bird at Monica's Wildlife Shelter Surrey BC.
Back in the day when editorial and advertising content was 50/50 there was plenty of space in publications for photographs and photo essays and room for a staff photographer. These days ads take up 75-80% leaving little room for creativity. My job as staff photographer came to an end as soon as management gave everyone point and shoots. After 28 years in the newspaper business it was time to move on. So you might ask, why am I burdening you with all this useless information! Simply, it's the joy of seeing my humble efforts in print again. It still elicits the same excitement as it did back on February 1983 when my first ever picture was published in the Campbell River Courier/Upper Islander.
As a staff photographer out on assignment five days a week I would often came across some unusual birds. One time it was an albino starling at Monica's Wildlife Refuge in Surrey. Another time a white crow in the community of Otter in East Langley. In Fort Langley I photographed a Spotted Owl, part of the captive program which continues to this day. The picture below is of a black-necked stilt in White Rock.
Floyd Cherak and Peter Zadoronzny first spotted the area rarity just south of the White Rock pier but nobody thought of sending a pic to the local newspaper.

Published Peace Arch News

Some weeks, along with my usual editorial, lifestyle and sports pics I might have a page of bird photographs from the Christmas bird count or perhaps I'd photograph an eagle which the editor liked enough to put on the front page. Three times I visited Mitlenatch Island Provincial Park on assignment. Once with Chief Harry Assu from Cape Mudge (it was his fishing boat on the back of the old ten dollar bill) during the trip he showed me where his people had for centuries collected eggs from the glaucous-winged gull colony. The chief also showed me where gatherers from Cape Mudge village had strung nets to catch pigeon guillemot, harvested camas and collected yellow cedar off the beaches for carving. The subsequent story and page of pictures appeared in the Campbell River and Comox newspapers. I later expanded it for a magazine article for Birder's World and Pentax magazine. Some of those pictures are on www.johngordonphotography.com

During the early eighties Trumpeter Swans were just making a big comeback after relentless hunting and lead shot poisoning, that story ran in the Victoria Times Colonist. Still, I never considered myself a birder, the concept never crossed my mind, all I knew was that birds attracted me more than any other subject matter.
Northwestern crow siblings couldn't be more different.

The question which never got answered is what happens to the white crow. Apparently the parents had white offspring in previous years so one would think that there would be several white crows in the vicinity but I have returned numerous times and found none. I wonder if they gradually turn dark?

A call to the newspaper reader provided me with this opportunity

One week I might have a photo page of scarecrows, another wildflowers but birds were my favourite subject matter. My images appeared mostly on Vancouver Island or in the Lower Mainland. Some were published internationally, I even had one picture in the National Enquirer. That picture was taken in Williams Park in Langley where a pig had unearthed a two-thousand year old native indian ceremonial bowl, it was the type of photo the sensationalist publication loved. PIG UNEARTHS SACRED BOWL! That one shot was worth a weeks newspaper salary.

This winter I phoned my local newspaper in Cloverdale and asked if they knew birders were flying in from across North America to see a rare bird. They were very interested and in the next issue Voila!

The Siberian Accentor twitch provided me the opportunity to have my picture published in the community newspaper. It took four visits and twenty-two hours of waiting to get the shot.

Same pic but this went out to birders!

Right up to the very last issue I worked on in April 2011 the excitement of opening the latest issue never failed to excite me. Recently I had a few more images published and the excitement of seeing them in print still remains. Here is another recent tear-sheet.

This shot being published came about by accident. I had submitted a few pictures to BC Nature for another feature and within hours the editor asked me if they could use it on the front page. 

Recently I and a number of other photographers have had images published in the Atlas of Breeding Birds of British Columbia 

and the just published Birder's Guide to Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
ISBN 978-1-55017-747-3

Personally I can't see the point of keeping images hidden away on hard drives so to see them out there gracing the pages of newspapers, magazines, books and websites completes the whole process that may have begun months or years earlier by a lake, grassland or mountainside. Enough writing, I can hear a black-headed grosbeak singing. 

More about the Black and White Hawk Eagle

Since I began this blog a few more of my pix have been published in 
A Complete Guide 
of British Columbia and
 the Pacific Northwest.

Barn Owl hunting over the fields of Boundary Bay.


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Management takes no responsibility for bad grammar.