Friday 30 September 2016

A Plover Crash Course... of Sorts!

Sept 27/28/29 Boundary Bay 96-104 St Delta BC. 
If I ever thought flycatchers were difficult to identify then the American golden plover and its close cousin the Pacific golden plover come in a very close second.
The species can be next to impossible for the novice to identify and even experienced birders sometimes have to take a second look. 
Even scoping in the company of experienced birders, identification can still be a challenge. Tell tale signs like the presence of the long wingtips on the American is diagnostic, while on the Pacific, tail feathers don't protrude beyond the tail. Simple Eh, Hmmm! 
But what if the bird is facing you (most times they are) and to that add a mixture of juvenile adult non-breeding and adult breeding birds in the same flock then the challenge of identification become more difficult. 
Just to confuse matters, telling Pacific and Americans apart (below) is again confused by some juvenile black-bellied plovers. Note the stout bill and the golden wash of the bird below, it tricked me for a moment into thinking it was the scarcer American golden plover.
Juvenile black-bellied plover with fresh plumage resulting a golden wash and streaked breast.

Even with a scope, identification can be difficult. For the purpose of this blog I spent three evenings photographing all three species, but especially the rarer American and Pacific.
On each occasion I would check to see if there were any other birders around before I walked out to get a closer view. There weren't. The tide was far out so I walked along the beach until I spotted six plovers mixed in with a small flock of western sandpipers and dunlins. As I drew closer I could see that the plovers were more dainty and slimmer billed than the commoner black-bellied plovers. Besides they acted differently allowing me to creep up on them, something black-bellies won't normally allow. Americans and Pacific that mix-in with black-bellied are almost impossible to approach.


Back home I had  four birds books laid out on the table trying to work out which of the two species was which. I even posted my photos and only had two responses, both who erred on the cautious side. So, if you see I have mis-identified any of the pictures below please feel free to drop me an e-mail.

Often the American and Pacific goldens feed on the edge of the larger black-bellied plover flock.
American golden plover.

Another day and another pair of American golden plovers.
American golden plover.
American -golden plovers feel more secure when hiding in the tussocks of grass at high tide.

Pacific-golden plover.

(l-r) Pacific-golden plover, western sandpiper and dunlin.
Pacific-golden plover. 
This bird is easier to identify than juvenile and non-breeding adults but if possible try to get a side angle as in the picture below so as to share the photos with the experts who help identify between the two species.
A better side-view of the Pacific-golden plover with retained alternate (breeding) plumage.

Plovers are not the only birds on the beach. American Pipits have been passing through most of September. Sometime flocks of fifty gather in the fields while along the dike pairs can be seen feeding on insects, sometimes they feed alongside pectoral sandpipers.
American Pipit.

American Pipits are often found in pairs.


Small flock of pectorals continue to feed right up to the edge of the dyke even when the water is way out.

Pectoral sandpiper.
As the tide floods Western Sandpipers sit on flotsam to rest.

Western sandpipers.

This sandpiper came so close I could almost touch it.

Black-bellied plover are mostly gray overall and the commonest plover in Boundary Bay.

Parting Shot

As the sun sets so does the quality of light. Often referred to as" sweet light" this light adds a golden wash to everything including this flock of black-bellied plovers which a few hours earlier (above) were gray in colour. Can you see identify the odd bird out?

An American golden plover (foreground) feeds on the mudflats of Boundary Bay.
"It's never too late to learn about plovers"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday 22 September 2016

Sharp-tailed sandpiper at Iona

Sept 22 2016 Iona Sewage Ponds Sunny 21c
Thanks to Tak Shibata for the lead on the sharp-tailed sandpiper and another tip of the hat to Wayne Weber who with his scope found the bird when it had been flushed by a northern harrier, his expertise enabled me to get this ID shot. Thanks to both birders for their help. The sharpie is a year bird for me.
I have included a pectoral sandpiper (background) for comparison purposes. This shot handheld with a D500 with the 200mm-500mm Nikon zoom from 75 metres. A long way off, but taking all things into consideration I am more than happy to post it here.

The Sharp-tailed sandpiper has a buffy breast, stouter beak and a pronounced reddish cap.
"It's never too late to start birding"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday 15 September 2016

Bird Eat Sleep and Bird

Sept 12 2016 Queen Elizabeth Park Vancouver BC Sunny 23c

Morning Session

I had the whole day to bird and bird I did. I began at Queen Elizabeth where twitchers were searching for a chestnut-sided Warbler, quite the rarity in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver. I dipped on that one but there were plenty of other birds to photograph including this bushtit. I like the clean background in this shot, nothing too distract from the bird itself.

The unmistakable sound of a red-breasted nuthatch drew my attention where not one but five nuthatches were playing follow the leader from one dead snag to another, perhaps it was a family group. In this image I couldn't control the background nor the angle, sometimes it's not possible but being aware of backgrounds, direction of light can help to make a picture better.
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Queen Elizabeth Park has thousands of plant species. Many attract insects which in turn attract gleaners like warblers and vireos. 
Note the clean background with minimal distractions. In this case the dappled background is created by the dark shadows of the forest. I waited for the bird to perch on the sun before pressing the shutter.
Warbling Vireo
Some birds like the black-headed grosbeak and western tanager (below) feed on the many kinds of fruit in the gardens. The migrating birds move through the park in waves and once a flock is found it just takes some patience and little luck to find some good light and approprite background.
Western Tanager
I waited for this tanager to move to a branch with a clean background and then to tilt its head so the sun created a catchlight in the eye.


Time to sit down, read the newpaper and have an afternoon siesta in the sun.

When I awoke it was time to head toward Boundary Bay. I don't really like to photographing between 11 am and 3 pm unless of course I am on holiday when anything goes.

Late Afternoon

 On the Flood Tide/Boundary Bay 104
Plovers can be skittish birds but being the only person around I took the opportunity to sneak up upon a flock of about twenty birds. The tide had begun to recede and the birds wouldn't be around much longer. I estimate it took me a full thirty minutes to approach the flock. By the time I took these pictures I was perhaps fifteen metres away. Some of the birds were so relaxed they were asleep.
I read recently that birds can control their sleep even when flying, allowing them to cover long distances over oceans and inhospitable terrain. Half the brain stays awake and when tired other side takes over allowing birds to sleep in flight. These plovers must have realized that I was not a threat. Eventually I was close enough to compose these shots, especially the third shot below where I have tried to incorporate some reflections.
Male and female black-bellied plovers.
In this frame I have left some space on the left for the birds to look into rather than fill the frame completely. I'm not too sure I like the birds touching the edge of the frame but I couldn't ask the birds to shuffle for me.

Adult non breeding and (left) juvenile black-bellied plovers.
In this frame I have used two birds creating a repetition of shapes.

In this composition I have framed the main subject on the left drawing the viewer in. At that point the eye automatically runs along the line of birds and them back to the closest bird. The process takes only a few moments. Due to the amount of images we are bombarded with the average time a person looks at an image is about three seconds. If you can hold a persons attention for more then you have been successful in your goal.Why does this work? In western society we read from left to right, most advertising uses the same ploy, it is easy on the eye, draws the viewer into the picture. If that succeeds in engaging the viewer then we as photographers have succeded in our goal.
However, a bigger question is, can I tell the difference between a western sandpiper and semi-palmated or an American golden plover and a black-bellied plover...for me that's a greater challenge!

American golden plover ( right) with black-bellied plovers.

American golden plover in the forground looks daintier, note the long wingtips. Behind are two black-bellied plovers that have a larger beak and look plumper.

Until next time, good birding.

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

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Flickr Up and flying....Again!

Sept 8 2016

Due to a glitch in "The Cloud" my original Flickr account has been deleted. Five years of uploads are gone. Too bad as I was really enjoying following a number of talented photographers from both BC and the UK. Trying to get things sorted with a corporate giant like Yahoo has proven frustrating so I am starting again and uploading some 2016 images to re-boot the process. If and when it rains I will put up a few more of my favourites. I like Flickr as I think images appear to be sharper on the Flickr platform. Loosing those I was following is a real drag, hopefully I can catch up with you all soon to see what you have been up to. I will continue ramblings on the Blogger platform and continue to re-populate flickr, albeit the images may not be in chronological order.
Here is the new site and some recent images from Brydon Lagoon.
Purple finch.

Great horned Owl photographed Sept 13 2016 Brydon Lagoon forest.


"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Art of Disguise

 Sept 9 2016 Boundary Bay Delta BC Sunny  21c

In one of my earliest blogs I recalled a visit to Boundary Bay. I was just starting to bird and didn't have a clue about what I was supposed to be looking for. I had been told that there were plenty of birds to photograph. Armed with my camera and a cheap pair of bins I searched for the slightest movement. Apart from a few sparrows, sea gulls and a few eagles I didn't see a thing.

A few days ago with thousands of hours of birding under my belt I went out to the very same location. As I looked out at the bay there were very few birds to be seen and even those were too far away and hard to ID. Instead of leaving I sat on the foreshore and waited. At first there seemed to be very little activity but slowly and surely I began to spot some movement. Not more than fifteen metres in front of me and  perhaps quiet oblivious of my presence were several pectoral and Baird's sandpipers. They had been hunkered down due to the presense of a peregrine falcon on a hunting expedition. The danger having passed the birds began to feed again and then and only then did the foreshore give up its secrets. Soon I was joined by a flock of American pipits and some least sandpipers took the place of the pectorals. I had let the birds come to me rather than the other way around.

The Art of Disguise.

Hard to spot at first, a pair of pectoral sandpipers feeding on the forshore of Boundary Bay are all but invisble to the untrained eye.

Keeping a lookout.

       A pectoral sandpiper watches as a pergrine falcon flies overhead.

Danger over

Once the danger has passed the pectoral continues to feed before continuing on its epic migration.

Soon several species of the sandpipers materialized from what at first appeared nothing but baked seaweed strewn muddy bay.

Bairds's sandpiper.

Some other birds on their way south.
Least Sandpiper.
Baird's Sandpiper
In my next adventure I'm off to to Vancouver to visit Queen Elizabeth Park, the City of Vancouver's highest point and an old quarry site. During the spring and autumn warblers and other passerines stop off on their migration and you never know quite what you'll find among the resident species either.

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

Thursday 1 September 2016

Boundary Bay Bird Bonanza

Aug 30 2016  2106 Boundary Bay, Delta British Columbia. Sun/clouds 19c

Yesterday's birding had been magical. The confluence of an evening tide, some fine late summer weather and the chance of more good birds would draw me back to the mudflats of Boundary Bay.

 This time I had the opportunity to catch up with a flock of Baird's Sandpipers (see below) 
Many sandpipers, including Baird's, least, pectoral buff-breasted and western can often be found along the high tide line. On the ebb tide they continue to feed in the pools left by the receding water, hunkering down when predators like the peregrine falcon are on the prowl. Generally the best time to go looking is early morning before too many people are around or during the afternoon or high evening tides. Higher water pushes flocks closer to land. August through October is the best time for shorebirds although spring and winter can be productive for overwintering dunlin, marbled goodwill and occasional long-billed curlew.

Baird's Sandpiper. Note the blackish legs.
Every year I have to delve back into the bird books to remind myself about the subtle differences between the many sandpipers species. I had totally forgotten that the Baird's have black legs.

However there is no mistaking the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. They seem to have a certain regal elegance about them. Less frenetic than most sandpipers, they appear more composed, more graceful.
Most of all they are a beautiful bird and quite rare with only a handful visiting our region each year. To see a small flock of four individuals is a very special treat.
I wanted to re-shoot the Buff-breasted Sandpiper in better light and came up with these two images. 

A  buff-breasted looks around just as a flock of sanderling flew over. There were four of the birds in a small area just east of 104.
(Below) This shot below is a too little tight in the frame for my satisfaction. The bird, perhaps unaware of my presence came so close to me that I couldn't back-off. Ideally it is better to leave a little more space for the subject to move into or even try to include a bit more of the environment. If I hadn't had my 1.4x converter on my 500mm lens I could have included more background.
Pectoral Sandpiper. Note the yellow legs.

The Ruff again but from a lower angle than yesterday where there was just too much clutter in the background.

A savannah sparrow came to check me out while I was photographing the sandpipers.

Semi-palmated sandpiper

It was another splendid day in paradise and it wasn't just the birds. I bumped into a number of birding acquaintances as well as a number of young birders like Logan and Liron whose knowledge and enthusiasm for birding is incredibly inspiring. Thanks to Logan who pointed out the pectoral and Liron for biking up and down the dyke with the latest birding news. I saw Birdergirl Mel who was with Cole and some other young birders, her encouragement for young birders deserves plenty of kudos. Then there was a young family who when shown the sandpipers were so engrossed that they decided to go and buy a camera and return the next day. Then there was a good friend and mentor, he of Welsh extraction, who came down and saw two lifers and to the many others I stopped and talked with. Actually when I think about it I spent more time chatting than actual photography but that's what makes being part of the birding community so rewarding, that and the fresh air!

Until next time.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada