Monday 28 November 2016

Dodo and other birding bits from around the world

Nov 28/2016

Some interesting stories I stumbled across on the inter web.

  1. A Dodo skeleton sells 280.000 UK pounds

  1. Cirl bunting back from near extinction:

  1. Hawfinch study


  1.                                  Spoonbill sandpiper hatchlings:

  1. Twitching

The twitching video has been taken down due to copyright reasons but neverthess the article is very interesting.

John Gordon 

Saturday 26 November 2016

Birding in a Gray Area

Nov 23 2016 Glen Valley Abottsford BC.
Gray  Flycatcher
If anyone had told me birding would have included spending a cold afternoon standing in a field of FRESH horse manure I would have said they were completely mad! But that's where I found myself, right in the thick of it.
I wasn't until later and I was driving home and the car warmed up that I realized how much of the you know what was still clinging to my boots. The aroma of horse manure permeated my car and senses..Yikes! I can now add this somewhat odorous experience to my ever growing list of smelly birding experiences.

To be fair though, most often birds are found in the most pristine of places and in the case of this gray flycatcher it has been attracted to a stinky manure pile, for this wayward bird it's a life or death situation. Unlike the ruby-crowned kinglets and juncos that keep it company, this bird is way out of its range. The manure pile is still yielding insects, even yesterday in the cold and blustery November weather there was an afternoon fly hatch and the diminutive flycatcher could be seen hawking insects. One thoughtful birder had even left some meal worms, perhaps hoping the bird will hang around for the Christmas bird count.

Fig 1 Gray flycatcher with a nice juicy insect.
Often with small birds just photographing them is hard enough. They tend to be on the move most of the time and with this bird, was often obscured by branches. To take a picture beyond just an ID shot, a little thought has to go into composition.

The clean background of the image below was achieved by shooting with a wide open aperture and long lens. More importantly I waited for the bird to use a particular perch that I had seen it use regularly and then waited patiently for it to return. My preference has always been for clean background for my subjects albeit a soccer game or portrait. The last thing you want in a picture is a distracting background. Both images (Fig 1 and 2) have no distractions so that the viewer is drawn in immediately to the bird and not some off-putting background.

Fig 2

I noticed that occasionally the flycatcher would land on this broken and withered blackberry stalk. All I had to do was make sure I was ready to frame a nice composition. The only alteration I have made is to crop the picture and added a little sharpening.

The picture below gives a little more information about habitat and time of year (winter) with a clear division between the subject matter and the background.

The bare branches indicate a winter shot.

Earth tones from the sky and trees punches up the colours in this images. All I had to do was change my camera angle and shoot toward the sky when there was a break in the clouds.

This was my second visit to photograph the gray flycatcher. My first attempt was very late in the afternoon where I was forced to shoot at ISO 6400. The results were less than ideal. This time the light was a little better so I was able to use ISO 800 for better colours and less digital noise.

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

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Dipping Twitching and Birding!

Nov 21 2016 Various Locations, Victoria
 Vancouver Island BC Canada

My evening started off quietly enough and then the phone rang. Was I interested in going to Victoria to chase the field sparrow? I really hadn't thought about going but within an hour, three other birders and myself had arranged to meet next morning at the Ladner bus loop and then car poll to the ferry. Now all I had to do was get my head around getting up next morning at 4.45 a.m.

The ferry ride over produced the usual birds

Active Pass, British Columbia, CA

Nov 21, 2016 7:45 AM - 8:00 AM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 kilometer(s)
Comments:     aboard the Ferry
8 species

White-winged Scoter  1
Bufflehead  20
Bald Eagle  1
Bonaparte's Gull  20
Mew Gull  20
California Gull  15
Glaucous-winged Gull  20
Belted Kingfisher  1

As mentioned the main reason to visit Vancouver Island was for the field sparrow and possibly the yellow-billed loon at the same location. Before I go any further I will say we saw neither. It didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves, besides it was warm and sunny and not the type of day to be indoors.

I have been on a few twitches and most had been successful so observing the demeanour of my fellow twitchers was interesting. There was no tire kicking nor an outpouring of birdy expletives, just a resignation to the fact we had been dealt a blank...we had dipped. For an explanation of birding slang see link below:

There must have been twenty other birders when we arrived at Esquimalt Lagoon. We thought everything looked good for the sparrow. Between searching I spent a few moments photographing the bufflehead and loons, even a house finch landed right beside me. The light was perfect. 

Esquimalt Lagoon.

House finch.

Along the lagoon several flocks of bufflehead fed in the shallow water. Each group seemed to have a dominant male who would make his presence known by chasing off younger males from his harem. A flock of white-crowned sparrows were the only birds that looked remotely like our field sparrow. When I started to photograph this house finch I could see a large group of birders approaching me, when they realized it was "just a finch" they melted away as quickly as they had arrived. Why bother one of them inferred! Bird photographers, twitchers, listers... it takes all kinds!
We searched for nearly three hours before deciding to move on.
Female bufflehead

Male bufflehead

Red-throated loon

Esquimalt Lagoon, Capital, British Columbia, CA
Nov 21, 2016 9:45 AM - 12:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.75 kilometer(s)
Comments:     searching for the Field Sparrow
27 species (+2 other taxa)

Cackling Goose  2
American Wigeon  60
Mallard  40
Northern Pintail  30
Surf Scoter  30
Bufflehead  150
Red-breasted Merganser  30
Red-throated Loon  2
Horned Grebe  15
Red-necked Grebe  6
cormorant sp.  20
Great Blue Heron  3
Turkey Vulture  5
Bald Eagle  1
Pigeon Guillemot  1
Marbled Murrelet  4
Bonaparte's Gull  20
California Gull  1
Glaucous-winged Gull  50
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  6
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  24
Northwestern Crow  5
European Starling  20
White-crowned Sparrow  6
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  12
Western Meadowlark  1
Brewer's Blackbird  20
House Finch  3

Ogden Point, Victoria.

This is an uncropped full frame shot from the D500 from about 200 metres. I have cropped the same shot below.
Common Murre.
Below are some more  distant ID shots from Ogden Point taken hand held with the Nikon 200mm-500mm and D500. If not for anything else they do give the opportunity to study the bird back at home. 

Common murre.
Same thing with the common murre, a huge crop just for blogging 

Rhinoceros auklet.
The auklet was little closer but shooting down from the pier is not the most desirable angle. As with all forms of photography and birding lots of practice, a little luck and bucket loads of patience will eventually pay off for those who persevere.

Black turnstone.

Victoria-Ogden Point Breakwater, Capital, British Columbia, CA

Nov 21, 2016 12:30 PM - 1:45 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.5 kilometer(s)
11 species

Bufflehead  20
Red-throated Loon  1
Black Turnstone  15
Sanderling  1
Red Phalarope  1    
( long distant pictures taken by most of our group)
Common Murre  2
Marbled Murrelet  4
Ancient Murrelet  1
Rhinoceros Auklet  10
Bonaparte's Gull  1
Mew Gull  8

Clover Point, Victoria.

There were plenty of ducks at Clover Point including quite a few stunning Harlequins. I couldn't get down to a lower angle because the rising tide but so far it is the best place I have found to photograph these incredible birds. 
Male harlequin duck.

Harlequin Duck  8
Surf Scoter  20
Long-tailed Duck  20
Bufflehead  30
Red-breasted Merganser  15
Red-throated Loon  1
Pacific Loon  4
Common Loon  1
Horned Grebe  15
Red-necked Grebe  6
Red Phalarope  3     3 singles seen out on the water using a scope from shore showing pale grey Phalarope with relatively heavy bill
Common Murre  2
Pigeon Guillemot  1
Marbled Murrelet  2
Rhinoceros Auklet  3
Bonaparte's Gull  4
Mew Gull  20
Glaucous-winged Gull  20
Western x Glaucous-winged Gull (hybrid)  2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  50

Victoria Airport--Canora Rd. overlook, Capital, British Columbia, CA
Nov 21, 2016 3:00 PM - 3:15 PM
Protocol: Stationary
5 species

Red-tailed Hawk  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
American Kestrel  1
Northwestern Crow  12
Western Meadowlark  5

Despite not finding the field sparrow or the yellow-billed loon we had a fantastic day of birding...until next time read this link below.


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

Friday 18 November 2016

Glaucous Gull

Friday Nov 18/16 Hawkins Pickle Road Dewdney BC

Glaucous Gull

I am not an expert on gulls but this one gull stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. As it turned out it was my third lifer of the week. I must be on a roll!'21.1%22N+122%C2%B010'01.5%22W/@49.172524,-122.1692757,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d49.172524!4d-122.167087?hl=en-CA

 One of the largest gulls (Sibly) Common in northern and western Alaska; Uncommon and rare elsewhere.

"It's never too late to start figuring out gulls"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Lucy in the Park with Diamonds

Nov 14 2016 Kelowna BC
Sunset Drive Park/Manhattan Drive

When the news of a mega rarity started percolating through the birding community I decided go for it. I've missed a few twitches because of inertia so I put my mind to making this one happen. Even though it would mean an eight hour round-trip it was too good an opportunity to miss.
I would need company for the long drive and within an hour I had two longtime listers Dale Jensen and Carlo Giovanella to accompany me on the long drive. I drove, they navigated and we swapped birding yarns. The time passed quickly as I listened to stories about spoonbill sandpipers at Iona and other famous BC twitches.
As we made our way over the Coquihalla summit (elevation 1210 metres) it began to rain and on the connector between Merritt and Kelowna it began to snow lightly, enough to collect on the windscreen wipers. We hoped the weather would improve and improve it did. By the time arrived at Sunset Drive Park in Kelowna the sun was out. At first we found only birders and a small flock of California Quail.

Eventually more twitchers arrived including renowned birder Mike Force (he was also one of those present when the spoonbill sandpiper was spotted at Iona) After scouring the park unsuccessfully for about thirty minutes we moved over to Manhattan Drive which borders on an industrial site. I hadn't met Mike before but before long he had us on the bird, albeit fifty metres away. At least we had seen it.

The blue that makes a nice colour complimentary background
 is actually a tarp in a nearby works yard.

The diminutive warbler played hide and seek for at least an hour before it eventually flew toward us and out of sight. Suddenly there she was, right in front of us perhaps only 15 metres away.
Lucy's Warbler

 We watched it capture a fly then what looked like a caterpillar. The bird weaved in and out of a rose hip bush, the white background in my pictures is a white wall in the distance. Regardless Carl, Dale and myself all had huge smiles in the knowledge that our long drive had been worthwhile and our efforts had been greatly rewarded.

Lucy's Warbler is normally found in the southwestern USA, mainly Arizona and New Mexico and winters in Mexico. The Lucy's and Prothonotary warbler are cavity nesters, the only warblers to do so.

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

Monday 14 November 2016

Bird on a Wire

Nov 10 2016 

On Monday Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen passed away aged 82. Like millions of others I've been listening to his music since the early seventies. I always found his words uplifting and often found myself singing or humming Bird on a Wire. Even though it was a sad day, I have no doubt his music will live on for a very long time. Meanwhile I have wondered if I had ever kept any pictures of birds on wires..I had more than a few... RIP Leonard.

Like a bird on the wire, Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free

                                                                             ©Leonard Cohen

Grasshopper sparrow( Manitoba)

 I can't believe twenty-five years have passed, but way back in 1991 I was lucky enough to meet and photograph Leonard Cohen at the Canadian Junos Music awards in Vancouver. That night Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

 I also saw him perform at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, which also featured Jimi Hendrix, The Who, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, ELP and that was just a sampling of an outstanding line-up. 

I also had the privilege of hearing him when he visited Vancouver a few years back. That night the concert was so uplifting that it felt the whole audience were on the wings of angels. Since his death Monday I have been listening to his music non-stop. 


  "There's a crack in everything/that's how the light gets in"
©Leonard Cohen

 Since his passing I have been looking for a box of negatives and eventually found these from 1991. After his induction he came backstage to talk to reporters. He was extremely gracious but really he sounded a little embarrassed about his achievements, I don't think awards were his thing!

As you can see I circled the frame below for publication with china marker. Those were the days!

Mourning dove

"It's never too late to watch birds on a wire:

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday 13 November 2016

A Flycatcher in November

Nov 12 2016 Gray Avenue and Dyke Road, Glen Valley Abbotsford.

It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. There I sat, sinking deeper and ever deeper into my comfy chair. On a whim and during the half-time of the World Cup soccer qualifiers I decided to check I'm glad I did because only twenty minutes away in Glen Valley well known valley birder John Vooys had located a gray flycatcher. He's master of finding good birds. It would be a lifer if I could only make it before darkness.

By the time I arrived clouds were rolling in and the light was failing. A few other birders were already there so with their generous help I was onto the bird almost immediately. The light was so low that even ISO 3200 gave me a very low shutter speed so I pumped it up to ISO 6400, something I haven't done before. The bird was hawking insects near a compost pile but it always landed on a branch that either had a branch in front of it or a cluttered background, neither ideal.

Gray flycatcher...a lifer!

 I had to be patient and hope it would land in the open. Eventually it did with the setting sun hitting trees far off in the distance. That created a beautiful Bokeh or an out focus background. I used a blur tool to take out digital noise in the background. Apart from that there is no other manipulation.

Location of bird.

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

Friday 11 November 2016

Coming Up Trumps

 Nov 8-10 2016 

Various Lower Mainland Locations

Rain, rain and then finally some sunshine.

White Rock Pier
Black turnstone White Rock pier.
White Rock pier was the place to be this week especially on the flood tide. Large congregations of smelt hung in and around the pier where hundreds of western grebe and one Clarke's grebe joined the hundreds of Bonaparte gulls in a veritable feeding frenzy. Red-necked loons, American coots, horned grebe, surf and white winged scoters and a female kingfisher also joined in the feast.

White-winged scoter.
Not the best photograph or the best way to photograph a bird. Normally the  eye usually goes to the brightest part the photo which in this case is the distracting sheen on the water. There's way too much going on to make this anymore than an ID shot but it being a year bird I thought it worth including.
A Bonaparte gull creates an interesting reflection. There's much to explore here on future visits.
Bonaparte gull.
Thank goodness for auto-focus of the Nikon D500. 

As many as fifty harbour seals herded shoals of smelt and probably a few herring into balls setting off a feeding frenzy that has been continuing all week.

Blackie Spit

A sanderling walks along riprap at the end of White Rock pier.

Lapland Longspur

I then went down to nearby Blackie Spit where five snow buntings had been reported. My first bird was this lone Lapland longspur.

Male Snow Bunting.
There were two groups of snow buntings at different locations. They were quite tolerant of photographers and passersby.
Female Snow Bunting
 The morning had started off with a heavy dew but by midday temperatures had hit a record 18c, T-shirt weather in November, even a stiff breeze coming off the ocean didn't cool things down.
Apparently the Pineapple_Express had arrived in BC and is still here as I write a week later. Although the warmth might be good of humans, the warming ocean in the Pacific is causing havoc with fish stocks displaced and many species, especially alcids are suffering from depleted food resources.

Boundary Bay

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

The fascination with owls is understandable. They conjure up memories from childhood, to some they have a cultural significance. Some associate them with wisdom and to others the owl is a companion in the afterlife. 

Long-eared Owl.

No wonder owl draw crowds. The long-eared is especially stunning. Once the word got out where this ever so co-operative owl was the internet lit up. Soon car loads of photographers began arriving on scene. What made things a little more circus-like was the arrival of a birding group from Bellingham. Soon thirty people were watching the bird. A group of us stood hundred metres away and hopes everyone behaved, they did. A few days later I was told the bird was gone from its almost perfect perch, here's hoping it had had enough and found a quieter location.

Note: I have always been of the understanding not to post the exact location of owls and I have waited to post this picture for the very reason outlined above. I was lucky to have taken this shot, one of 15 frames before the crowds came but I have to wonder why one photographer had to take hundred and hundreds of pictures of a bird that ever barely moved.



Parting Shot

Brown creeper
I hope you have enjoyed these images as I continue to enjoy the local birding experience. It never ceases to amaze me the generosity of other birders who share their finds and impart their knowledge so freely, it wouldn't be so much fun without you all. Thanks everyone and see you in the field.

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

Monday 7 November 2016

Brydon Lagoon and other Locations

Nov 1-7 2016 City of Langley 

Lower Mainland British Columbia 12c Sun rain and clouds.

Brydon Lagoon and surrounding forest make up a very small proportion of wilderness in an ever encroaching proliferation of light and heavy industry. A diverse number of bird species inhabit the area. Species come and go depending on the season, a few Canada geese and mallards call it home year round. Recently it has become a refuge for the homeless, drug addicts and the mentally hill.

A creek runs through the sanctuary where chum and coho salmon are now returning. It has been one of the rainiest Octobers on record following the hottest and driest summer in decades.

Brydon Lagoon City of Langley BC

Nov 5/16
Great horned owl.
The owl (above) was distracted when dog walker let his pet run wild in the forest. Good for a photographer but not so good for the owl.

Nov 7/16

Sometimes taking a different route home can bring dividends. Had I decided to go my usual circular route then I would have missed the shrike. I couldn't get really close due to the number of dog walkers who kept flushing the bird. These images are heavily cropped to improve composition.
Northern Shrike.

This is the first northern shrike I have seen a Brydon Lagoon. It was swooping down, feeding on insects on the gravel path between the wooden bridge and hydro station.

More from Brydon
Sometimes I just take a point and shoot and bins. These green heron frames taken with the Nikon Coolpix P900 bridge camera.
Green Heron

The Coolpix 24-2000mm super zoom can be difficult to control, especially when shooting through foliage. 
Despite having limitations the super zooms like the P900 are perfect for a wide variety of shots from wide-angle to video. See the side bar of my main blog page to see a P900 review.

Great blue heron feeding along a flooded footpath at Brydon floodplain.
For more information about Brydon Lagoon see Nature Vancouver's recently published 

Boundary Bay Various Locations
Short-eared Owl.

Another distant cropped shot but there will be other opportunities to photograph these beautiful owls.

Barn Owl sleeping.

I have in the past come across nocturnal owls that have had their eyes open, even flying in the daytime but remember that owls like humans need undisturbed sleep. 

Golden-crowned kinglet.

Ruby-crowned kinglet.
Purple finch.

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