Wednesday 27 December 2017

Some Winter Birds

Metro Vancouver.
Dec 2017

West-coast birders are so fortunate to live and bird around the Vancouver area.
The mountains, the rivers, the farmland, forests and of course the ocean are all magnets for wintering birds.  We are really blessed with phenomenal birding year round, winter birding unparalleled in Canada.

 I have been making the most of my time, getting out and around, sometimes with camera, sometimes with just a scope and bins. One Wednesday an arctic outflow enveloped the Fraser Valley resulting in cobalt blue skies and mountaintops dusted in fresh snow. It also meant the falcons were back in Pitt Meadows staking out their winter territory and terrorizing wintering flocks of ducks.

After several hours of searching I was lucky enough to find this Prairie Falcon flying across its territory on Sharp and Old Dewdney Trunk Rd in Pitt Meadows. 

Prairie Falcon

Eventually I had a four falcon morning with a Gyrfalcon, Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel and Prairie Falcon, my only miss was the Merlin.


Boundary Bay still has few areas left where owls can hunt. The development of cranberry and blueberry farms has shrunk their traditional hunting grounds. The image looks like I've used stealth and expertise to make this photograph, however this owl has become so habituated to humans that it frequently hunts close to the dyke pathway putting on a show to all who are present. I had been drawn to the spot by accident when coming back from fruitless search for American Tree Sparrows. The bird is a regular visitor to the same fence line where it catches numerous Townsend's vole, stashing its catch for later consumption. I'll never take an easier shot.
Short-eared Owl with a Townsend's vole.
It was a foggy day on the bay and I intended looking for the Willet. I had no idea that the the fog was so thick. Looking for a single Willet amongst two thousand Dunlin and Black-bellied Plover would have been a fruitless endeavour. Rather than return home I began looking along the dyke hedgerows, within seconds my eye was draw to a bright object, it turned out to be a long-eared owl sitting out in the open, not a branch in the way and with its eyes wide open. I took five shots, two vertical and three horizontal and left. 

Long-eared Owl.

Since I took this picture a few weeks ago the word has got out and many photographers, have descended on the location. Many are not even birders, while drawn by the owls presence they may not understand or simply ignore that their behavoir, the waving of hands, stomping of feet, approaching too closely or the tossing of sticks to may endanger birds well being. When I intervened I was met will a volley of abuse, sadly there was no conservation officer around. It was time to leave.
Below is a guide to ethical birding.

Pine Grosbeak (female)

Another species I was hoping to add to my Metro Vancouver year list was a Pine Grosbeak. This bird was part of a flock of five that have been visiting Burnaby Mountain since early December. Eventually and on my third visit and a three hour wait my patience was finally rewarded. The birds were feeding on cherry buds, a piece of which can be seen falling from the bird's bill.

Another elusive species is the White-winged Crossbill. A really difficult bird to find. When a flock were seen and photographed at Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary I went next day. I was never really close enough for a quality image and the flock were always against an ugly grey sky, the best I could do was the shot below.

White-winged Crossbill

What better way to round out 2017 than with a rarity. On December 23 a Blue Jay was found in Richmond during the annual Christmas Bird Count. A Metro Vancouver rarity, the species has been seen only dozen times in as many years. It was a welcome addition to many birders Metro Vancouver  list. 

Blue Jay

As the year closes I like to wish everyone a happy, healthy and birdy 2018. Hopefully we'll see each other in the field


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

Friday 22 December 2017

WhiteRock/Langley Christmas Bird Count

Dec 21/2017

Come out and join us.

See link at bottom to newspaper article and previous counts

On Dec. 30, the public is invited to participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The CBC is organized by the White Rock and Langley Naturalist Clubs, along with other conservation groups in the area.
Novice or an experienced enthusiast — the bird count is for everyone.
Whether you like exploring forests, fields, and waterways in search of lingering migrants, or prefer counting feeder birds from your window with a warm mug in hand, the Christmas Bird Count offers a range of opportunities for participants.
The counts are used to study the health of local winter bird populations. People with garden feeders are encouraged to phone in their sightings as soon as possible so their numbers can be added to the count.

Belted Kingfisher/Brydon Lagoon Nikon P900 

White Rock and Surrey are divided into many sections. Data collected during the Langley/White Rock count includes details on the number of birds of each species seen or heard within a local 24-km diametre circle. Surveying this circle year-after-year contributes valuable long-term information on how winter birds are faring, both locally and across the country.

Varied Thrush.

During last year’s count in Canada, over 3 million birds and 278 species were counted by 14,000 participants in 447 counts across the country. Last year was the coldest, snowiest count in recent history here in Langley.
There were 21 people who braved the minus six degree Celsius weather to count birds, resulting in more than 4,000 birds counted and 61 species found. Those numbers were down significantly from the year before but were likely due to the wild weather.
For more information or to participate in this year’s count call Gareth Pugh, 604-576-6813 for the White Rock area or John Gordon, 604-533-7171 or Mike Klotz, 604-861-1677 for the Langley area.

Sunday 17 December 2017

A Privileged Encounter/Northern Goshawk

Maplewood Flats December 2017 Lower Mainland BC

When I arrived at Maplewood Flats my spirits were high. As I made my way to the salt marsh I kept passing birder after birder heading back to their cars. There were lots of smiles which meant only one thing... they had seen "the bird"  The bird in question was of course a Northern Goshawk that had been well reported and first found by Perry Edwards a week previously. The Northern Goshawk is a bird I had only seen once before so that chance to view another was high on my 2017 year list.

Northern Goshawk
Arriving at the salt marsh I met another birder who motioned that the bird had just flown, he pointed to a tree way off in the distance, I couldn't see anything.
Any birder will know it's a sinking feeling, abject disappointment when the seeker, brimming in anticipation just misses the quarry.

I spent ten minutes at the salt march but with nothing happening I decided search elsewhere. After walking along the trail to the big pond I had the bird high up in a popular. (Pic1) The view was obstructed but shooting through a tiny opening allowed me to get a decent 'keeper' shot.

(Below) However, the bird was soon on the move, flying a great speed through the forest about twenty feet above the ground, an amazing experience, it moved so fast that I lost contact within seconds. It reminded me of one of those Robert Bateman paintings where a special moment in time is frozen. I don't think i'll ever forget that scene, something a camera would never be able to capture.
I continued my way back to the bridge and the car park thinking about my experience when just above me I noticed a dark shape, it was the goshawk again just above the trail with its back to me. I watched and admired and then walked slowly walked under the bird to get a frontal view.


I spent five minutes with the bird as it bobbed its head back and forth and sideways surveying the forest floor for prey. Suddenly it was off again at high speed where it perched again within the confines of the forest and off trail. Again I left for my car, crossed the bridge when I see the goshawk yet again (see below) by this time a crowd of onlookers had gathered to find out what I all the fuss was about. I pointed to the trees across the creek... to the Northern Goshawk.

I left one more time for the beach behind the environmental offices but not before posing one more time.

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

Monday 11 December 2017

More on the Summer Tanager

Larry Pynn from the Vancouver Sun contacted me yesterday requesting a picture of the Summer Tanager. I just happened to be home and was able to provide him with two pictures, a vertical and a horizontal shot. They used the horizontal.
I included as much information as possible, the usual what, where, when and why and next morning the Larry sent me the link of the  published story.

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

Langley Field Naturalists 2018 Dates to Remember

Please Note: anyone wishing to carpool should phone in to make arrangements beforehand, otherwise please meet
at the designated meeting place. Please call to let the leader know to expect you. The walks are generally about
two to three hours long and are open to all Naturalist Clubs & members of the public (adults & children, but no pets
please). Dress for the weather and bring water, binoculars and a snack, plus bug spray in the summer.
Note these walks are weather dependent so if the weather is bad and no calls are received then the leader will not
show up.

Leader: Gareth Pugh
Time: 10:00 am at the Centre
Join us for a visit to an important breeding facility and
learn how the owls are paired off and cared for.
Please note that they want to restrict the numbers to
twenty people so the first nineteen to sign up will be able
to go. If we get a greater response we will organise
another visit that same week.
Phone 604-576-6831 for more information and to let us
know to expect you.

Leader: Al Grass
Time: 9:00 am to noon
Meet at the 16th Avenue Parking Lot. Bring a hand lens
if you have one.
Please phone 604 219 2043 for information and to let us
know to expect you.
Leaders: Larry Cowan & Gareth Pugh
Time: 9:00 am in the parking lot at the end of the
road by the community gardens in Colony
Farm Regional Park off the Lougheed
Join us to walk the dikes and woodlands of this popular
Metro Vancouver park to search out the many waterfowl,
raptors, and other birds that call this area their home in
Phone 604-576-6831 for more information and to let us
know to expect you.

Leader: Al Grass
Time: 9:00 am to noon
Bursting buds, and other early signs of spring like a
symphony of bird song. Maybe too, a Green Heron? Or
early swallows. Meet at the 53rd Avenue parking lot near
198A Street, Langley.
Please phone 604 219 2043 for information and to let us
know to expect you.

Leader: Biologist Phil Henderson
Time: 9:00 am to noon
Join biologist Phil Henderson as we go in search of any
early spring bird migrants - plus bryophytes which include
mosses and their relatives: tiny but beautiful plants that
flourish in moist, shady sites. We will also drop down to
the wetland water edge to have a look for waterfowl.
Bring binoculars and hand lenses if you have them. Meet
at Houston Trail parking lot on Allard Crescent, Langley
9:00 am. Phone 604-576-6831 or 604-888-1571 to let us
know to expect you.

Leader: Al Grass
Time: 9:00 am at entrance
Signs of Spring abound - a chorus of bird song, early
swallows, and the fragrance of bursting cottonwood buds.
Love is in the air! And who knows what migration will
bring - maybe a Sora? Dress warmly, bring a lunch and
a warm drink.
Please note there is a $5.00 entrance fee for non
members of the Bird Sanctuary. There is a seniors rate.
Please phone 604 219 2043 for information and to let us
know to expect you.

Sunday 10 December 2017

Summer in Winter

It was a lazy Sunday morning and I was pouring over a newspaper review about storyteller Stuart McLean's posthumous book Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe when an e-mail popped up on my desktop.
It was from my neighbour and birding buddy Carlo G or CAGO. The e-mail contained a link to one of McLean's most beloved stories The Bird. The significance of the link is that the story is about a Summer Tanager that came to a winter feeder and attracted many, many birders, so many in fact that it gave McLean leave to create a riotously brilliant, funny and most compelling piece of Canadiana. A link to The Bird is at the bottom of the page. It's well with a listen.


What you may ask what has all this have do with birding in Vancouver, well guess what, for the past few days a Summer Tanager which should be in sunny California has been visiting a bird feeder in chilly Metro Vancouver.
Yesterday I went to investigate and as with most twitches I met up with a good number of birders I hadn't seen for a while. This particular Summer Tanager is only the sixth on record for BC which in birding vernacular is a "good bird"
Between swapping stories I experimented using my camera on Auto ISO and using the back button to focus rather than the shutter button. The big advantage is that once focus is achieved touching the shutter button doesn't alter the focus. It takes a little while to get used to and the court is out but with the picture below I was able to shoot as the bird was perched and eating, once focused on all I needed was to shoot and worry about exposure. 

Summer Tanager.

Anyway it wasn't too hard to find and photograph the bird, the trick wait was for it to land out in the open without too many distractions so as to provide a pleasant composition. 

The young male will eventually become completely red.

                  Anyway, it was a nice sunny day, the traffic was light and the bird was a lifer, what better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  

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

Thursday 23 November 2017

Redpolls Finally

Nov 20 2017 Mill  Lake Abbotsford BC

I had been looking for Common Redpolls for weeks. Finding a reliable report is fine but flocks tend to move around making them difficult to locate. This time I had a good lead from vanbcbirds that there had been a sighting in Abbotsford. That was on Saturday, Sunday I had other plans but for Monday I had the time to make the thirty minute trip from Cloverdale
When I arrived Mill Lake was wet and cold, even a few flakes of snow. After walking halfway around the lake without much luck I finally spotted a small flock of birds. There were perhaps twenty in total, soon more arrived and then another influx, I counted at least a hundred. They were too far away to photograph and were high in the trees against an ugly grey sky. Apart from a few Pine Siskins, a single Black-capped Chickadee and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet they were all Common Redpolls.

As I mentioned I had heard about the flock on vanbcbirds, a list server that notifies birders about bird sightings. Where ever I have travelled in BC, across Canada or around the world I have found an amazing network of birders willing to take the time to show complete strangers like myself around their patch, it's simply amazing. Most areas have birding sites like vanbcbirds so why not go online next time you are headed out, it's well worth it. 

Recently I have been wondering how much ego is wrapped up in the publishing images on social media. Why do we continue to photograph a species especially one at risk when we may already have dozens images already on file? Sometimes we may happen upon a bird and the opportunity presents itself and that can be fine but when twenty or more photographers converge on the same bird day after day and when it's the same photographers morning, day and night there has to be some questions asked about the motive. Maybe they're new to bird photography and will move on to other species once they have their fill. The focus for everyone is different but meanwhile wildlife can't speak for itself. Finally it's up to the individual to become mindful the impact the pressure might have on wildlife.

Another place to find put about BC bird sightings is


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

Tuesday 14 November 2017

The Langleys-Another Book Review

The Langley Times and reporter Monique Tamminga  gave The Langleys a super write-up resulting in the book selling out at Chapters. I have now re-stocked the book. Thanks to everyone for helping making the book such a success. 

  1. The Langleys

Monday 13 November 2017

Fall Birding in Metro Vancouver

Oct 21-Nov12 2017 Various Locations/Lower Mainland

After returning from my visit to the UK I was eager to go birding again.

Apparently I hadn't missed too many birds for my year list, only the American Avocet stands out as a complete loss as it was long gone by my return.
All that remained was to catch up with the odd vagrant and newly arriving winter species. 

Iona South Jetty

The Horned Lark, was a recent arrival at Iona south jetty.

I used my iPhone for this aerial view of Iona's south jetty as I left for the UK. The Horned Lark and Snow Buntings were found halfway along the jetty on the day of my return in mid-Oct.

This Merlin had just captured an American Goldfinch.

A pair of Snow Buntings feed on seeds halfway along the south jetty. The jet lag was completely forgotten as I concentrated on trying to get two birds in one frame. Does it really matter that the one in the background is out of focus, I don't think so. Even with F8 there isn't enough depth of field, besides selective focus is a technique I use often in flower photography. The lack of focus  forces the viewer to alternate between foreground and background.

A flock of snow geese rest in the shallows at Iona. The standout was of course the adult blue morph snow goose in the top centre in the photo.


A few days later I headed to Reifel to search for the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, I dipped. Just as I was leaving I watched a Sora scuttle across the shallow water. I saw it again but was too slow for a picture, besides the light wasn't great and I already have a good number of pix of the secretive rail so why not just, just sit back and enjoy the moment. Taking pictures mindlessly is like going to a concert and videotaping the show with your iPhone, really pointless in my opinion.

While chatting with birders in the UK they mentioned how they admired the majesty of the Bald Eagle. When I mentioned that one recent winter afternoon we have had over one thousand at Boundary Bay they were speechless. 
                                                           Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary

           The Cedar Waxwing chomps on a Pacific Crabapple. 

Boundary Bay

I originally saw this Northern Shrike eating berries and then lost track of it when suddenly it popped up right in front of me. I find sitting down on the dyke, rather than standing and keeping a low profile often pays dividends.

Moments after photographing the shrike a pair of Western Meadowlarks landed on the foreshore.
They were quite a distance away so one bird on its own would have looked very small so I incorporated the two birds forcing the viewer to move the eye around the frame and back the bird in the foreground.
As much as one thinks other people are interested in your photographic exploits the simple fact is that unless there is some really compelling storytelling going on then the most we can expect others to look at an image is about three-seconds. Not a lot of time to make an impression.

A Barn Owl flies past me just as the sun sets. Maybe not the best technically executed of images but for me one of my favourite bird shots this year. I'm photographing a little less these days, especially birds that I already have stock images of. On my last two outings my camera stayed in my bag. I even shelled out for a small scope to view distance specks bobbing out on the ocean. I am even having fun twitching. I've expanded my repertoire and enjoying every moment of it.

Brydon Lagoon

Another Good Bird

Close my home is Brydon Lagoon. On Nov 3 2017 Langley birder Cos van Vermerskerken* found a Clay-coloured Sparrow.  Although I have seen many in the BC Interior this was the first I had seen in the Lower Mainland. 

I waited two hours for the bird to appear. I sat and looked in vain for ages when I heard a rustling right behind me. I very slowly turned around and there it was perched on a stem of grass about two metres away.

A passerby flushed the bird into a bush which gave me the opportunity of another angle and neutral background. In a perfect world the bird would have turned toward me a little but I am happy enough to get a second yet different angle.

  This time I lay on the ground to get yet another angle, different light and different effect.


American Goldfinch
I saw this bird coming to a feeder. It landed on a few different perches. I liked this one in particular because it looked pleasing to the eye. The colours of the bird, the leaves and background created a pleasant colour co-ordinated palette. 

 White Rock Pier

Red-necked Grebe
Photographing down from White Rock Pier for most part creates an unnatural angle but occasionally the birds co-operate and provide something interesting. I think the grebe must have been spooked by a predator above or some distracting movement on the pier.

Brunswick Point

Hermit Thrush
I went to Brunswick Point looking for the Harris and Swamp Sparrow. I managed looks at both. I have a so so photo of the Harris hidden in a bush against a bright sky, not a bad shot but it's not really going advance the world of avian photography anytime so why show it.


Mountain Chickadee
As luck would have Mountain Chickadees have been showing up in the Lower Mainland, normally one would have to climb to higher elevations so I and scores of other birders have been flocking to a house in Ladner where the owners (birders themselves) have set up feeders where not one but two of the 'eyebrowed ones' have been posing for all and sundry. 
 Crescent Beach South Surrey

Three Western Bluebirds/A Mega Sighting(So I'm told)

Male Western Bluebird
Western Bluebirds are just not found in the Metro Vancouver area, it was so rare a sighting it drew some of the areas most experienced birders.  Many had been birding two, three or more decades and had never seen the species in the area.

Female Western Bluebirds (Above and below)

Grant Narrows

Catbird Slough and mountain background

Harlan's Red-tail Hawk
This Harlann's may be the same that one that took up residence last year in a tall Popular on Rannier and Ladner in Pitt Meadows. Take a few shots from a distance as it is easily spooked before approaching more closely. When I arrived a Cooper's Hawk sat in an adjacent tree.

I continued to Catbird Slough looking any signs of redpolls and grosbeaks but none were around. The scenery was stunning that morning. I'm glad I took a few shots when I had the chance as later the blue skies were replaced by grey billowing clouds. 

Varied Thrush
My last bird of the day was a Varied Thrush, one of my favourite forest birds. At first I didn't see it but could hear a rustling in the bushes. I sat on the ground and waited for the bird to emerge where I watched it dine on worms beetles and slugs.

This may be my last blog for a while as I am suffering from some kind of brain fog. Too much copper has been one diagnosis which can be traced to drinking water or maybe something altogether different.
Finally if I find something to say I will try to get in down somehow, meanwhile good birding and I hope to see you all in the field.

Al images D500 and 200mm-500mm F5.6 
except scenic of Catbird Slough Nikon P900
 and Iona aerial iphone 5s

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

Friday 3 November 2017

Up in Flames

Book reprint goes up in flames for Langley photographer
The second edition of John Gordon’s picture book caught fire en route to him.

Langley Advance
Oct. 31, 2017 


Disaster struck.

Imagine John Gordon’s horror when, back in August, he receives a call from his publisher telling him an entire reprint order of his book, The Langleys, has been destroyed in a truck fire.

Disaster might be a bit of an over exaggeration, but it was shocking news for the retired Black Press photographer who had covered many a fire call in his days working for the local newspaper.

Turns out, that on transit through the Rockies, his books – coming from Friesens Printers in Manitoba – went up in smoke.

“I was facing a total loss,” said Gordon, who originally published his The Langleys book in 2008. He sold out of the first 3,000 copies and had ordered a second printing – of another 1,000 copies – earlier this summer.

A freshly cut hayfield.

“I and 11 other authors lost their books,” he said, noting he took possession of the reprinted reprints on Thursday.

He sold out of this book almost a year and a half ago, but was constantly receiving requests for more, which prompted him to consider publishing a third book. But that, he said, was too costly and time consuming an undertaking. So, the avid birdwatcher and traveller opted instead to simply do a reprint on The Langleys.

They’ve arrived just in time for the Christmas season, he said, and “to my surprise orders have been pouring in even before the book was delivered, word of mouth and social media are wonderful things.”

Gordon noted that a further reprint may be needed sooner than he expected.

He also published another book about Langley called Familiar Places: Familiar Scenes, which was released in 2004 and sold close to 3,000 copies.

So what inspired these books. Many things, he said. But most of all it’s the people and the scenery of Langley.

“First impressions often leave an indelible impression,” he recounted.

Fort Langley

“That was the case when I first visited Langley 20 years ago,” Gordon said, explaining the inspiration for his $20 paperback book.

“As I drove along the Fraser Highway heading east and crossed over 192nd Street before me was Langley. Not only was the community nestled in a picturesque valley but a majestic snow capped Mount Baker completed the scene. I now know it as a community of communities, a place where people still greet each other by first name and where town really does meet country.”

In this book, he attempted to gather a collection of photos showing off the beauty that initially attracted him to settle in the area.

As he sat, staring at the computer screen and watching his collection of photographs originally come together for this book, he said: “I can’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to work and live in one of the most beautiful corners of British Columbia.

“Whenever I return from a trip overseas, I am always grateful to get home. There is something about the mountains that surround us, the proximity to the mighty Fraser River, the parks and trail system, the fresh farm produce, the list goes on and on. But most of all, it is the residents of Langley who top the list as reasons to live and work here.”

More information on Gordon and his book are available online at: by calling to 604-533-7171.

Books also available at Chapters in Langley, Wendels in Fort Langley or direct form John

John Gordon
BC Canada