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


  1. Beautiful shots of the Gray Flycatcher John.

    1. Thanks Mel, looks like it's going to be a good year for bohemians. Good birding and thanks.