Tuesday 28 March 2017

A Change of Seasons

March 24 2017

Birding in the Lower Mainland around the first days of spring can be a most rewarding experience. Although the weather cannot be guaranteed a good selection of over wintering birds can still be found. An added bonus are the new arrivals including the rufous hummingbird, warblers and the various species of swallows, the sure harbingers of warmer weather. We are blessed that three hundred species breed in British Columbia and an additional two hundred and fifty have be recorded. A lifetime could be spent trying to see them all.

Here are a few birds from a recent sortie around Ladner and Langley. 

White-throated sparrow.

Fox Sparrow.
A good place to start birding and bird photography is 

Rufous Hummingbird.
It always helps when you have an experienced photographer to help point out the location of a bird as was the case when Tak pointed out this brilliantly coloured rufous hummingbird.

Wood duck.

Wood duck.


Centennial Beach Tsawwassen
Mountain bluebird.
I heard about this mountain bluebird on the https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/
 When I arrived at Centennial Beach in Tsawwassen it was pouring with rain and for once I was quite unprepared. I had to hide my lens and camera under my coat. There was already a couple of photographers on the scene so I crouched down and waited until the bird made its way closer to my hide-out, eventually the bird popped up in front of me. The rain had stopped and it was time to head home to babysit the grandchildren for the evening.

Mountain bluebird.
As luck would have it and just around the corner from my daughter is a feeder where a small flock of mourning doves can been easily seen. 

Mourning dove (Male)
Occasionally there are also a few band-tailed pigeons although those weren't present this time. I shot these from out the window of the car as I was running late and frankly I was more interesting in adding them to my year list than winning any photo awards.

Mourning dove (Female)

Finally I would like to thank everyone who took time to attended my T.A.L.K. presentation at Kwantlen University Monday. I hope to see you all out in the field. As I mentioned during the talk one of the best ways to learn more about birding is to join your local naturalist's club.
I am a member of the Langley Field Naturalists. We meet the third Thursday of the month at the Langley Music School at 7.30. Arrive at 8 p.m. If you want to avoid the business meeting beforehand.

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

A Young Birder of Distinction

This CBC interview with Victoria BC young birder is well worth a listen

Wildlife photographer and educator Liam Singh hopes to raise awareness for declining bird population by sharing photographs and leading bird-watching tours.


John Gordon

Thursday 23 March 2017

Avifauna Odds and Sods

March 1-20 
Various Locations around the Lower Mainland BC Canada

Brydon Lagoon
Hooded Merganser
There has been a small flock of hooded mergansers at Brydon Pond most of the winter. Despite a major fish kill a few years back the pond has re-bounded quite well. While numbers of certain bird species are down, the lagoon is still a good wintering hole for Common goldeneye, hooded and common merganser, pied-bill grebe, glaucous-winged gulls, great-blue heron and a lone green heron.

The most serious threat to the pond is the recent over pruning around the edges and irresponsible dog owners allowing their muts to run amok. Only yesterday I had words with one dog guardian whose dog was chasing the ducks, his reply, he didn't think his dog will eat them (the ducks)
Same thing this morning, this time the owner leased his dog after I pointed out it had just nose dived into a red-winged blackbirds nest.
My wife picked up two garbage bags of garbage around the perimeter of the lagoon but the soiled doggie bags hanging in trees, that's inexcusable. Where's the bylaw officer when you need one!

Terra Nova
This mink has set up home at Terra Nova pond where food is plentiful.

West ham Island Delta
Bullock's Oriole nest from last year on River Rd, Ladner.
Why do Bullock's Oriole's use blue threads to build their nests? I searched for more info but found nothing really explaining the phenomenon. Below is a shot of a striking male Bullock's. The complementary colours of the nest and bird has always fascinated me.

Haynes Park Provincial Park Osoyoos 

I photographed this male Bullock's Oriole June 2014.
The Bullock's oriole (Icterus bullockii) is a small New World blackbird. At one time, this species and the Baltimore oriole were considered to be a single species, the northern oriole. This bird was named after William Bullock, an English amateur naturalist. (Wikipedia)

Nicomekl Floodplain
Bald Eagle
This pair of bald eagles at Brydon Park in Langley had just mated. The male seems quite proud of himself. All week they had been adding to their long time nest on the Nicomekl River floodplain. Finally I was able to shoot handheld with the Nikon D500 and Nikon 200mm-500mm through an opening in a tangle of branches. It is one of my favourite bald eagle shots.

Cheam Wetlands/East of Chilliwack
Trumpeter Swans
Last week I was out with the Langley Field Naturalists at Cheam Wetlands just east of Chilliwack. There was fresh snow on Mount Cheam and the cold air was spilling down the mountainside making for a cold day. The wetlands had the large numbers of ring-necked ducks, over one hundred trumpeter swans, hooded mergansers, hundreds of American wigeon and of course scads of Mallard. The woods however were quite uneventful with just a one hairy and downy and a few pine siskin. Nothing has budded and the forest plants seem weeks behind.

Brydon Lagoon
Common Goldeneye
This common goldeneye at Brydon Lagoon was trying to attract a female with a series of dramatic postures and antics that included neck stretching, wing beating and feet splashing.

White Rock/White Rock Pier
Black Turnstone at White Rock
I really believe that birding can be enjoyed in both a solitary and group fashion. It's one of the best ways to spend time outdoors and meet new people and gain deep understanding of the complexities that combine to make up the natural world. 

Black Spit Crescent Beach
One of my favourite spots to go and unwind is Blackie Spit in South Surrey. Over the years have had some really good birds there including solitary sandpipers, horned lark and on several occasions snow buntings.

Surrey Lake

Marsh wren.
Surrey Lake
Pied-billed grebe.
Westminster Hwy and Gibbons Drive, Richmond BC
Snow goose.

After a few weeks of relative inactivity I have been able to finally get out and bird.
No pressure, just birding around Langley and Surrey, a couple of trips to Brydon Lagoon and taking a birding pal friend to Richmond.

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

Tuesday 21 March 2017

Third Age Learning at Kwantlen (TALK)

"Where to Bird in the Lower Mainland"

Kwantlen Polytechnic University College
Langley Campus
10am-11.30 am
March 27 2017 

A few months ago I was invited to put on a presentation at the Langley campus of Kwantlen University in Langley. The talk is part of the Third Age of Learning program (TALK)

The talk which includes a fast moving slide presentation may be of interest to those just beginning to start birding as well as those interested in learning more about some the many great birding locations in the Lower Mainland. Non birders most welcome.

Third Age Learning Kwantlen provides those 50 and over with creative and stimulating educational activities.
More details here

Grant Narrows lookout over the Pitt River and marshlands.

Sooty Grouse Cypress Mountain.

If you are interested, a link and registration is at the bottom of the page.


Serpentine Fen Surrey.

Long-eared owl Boundary Bay.

Black Turnstone/White Rock March.

Kwantlen Birding Talk/registration

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

Free Nature Walk Mar 25/17

Saturday March 25th
Little Campbell River 
Time 9:00 am at Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club, 1284 - 184th Street, Surrey
Leader: Al Grass 
Walk the interpretive trails with Al, along the Little Campbell River, to look for the plants and shrubs as they sprout new vegetation and flowers and look for any early bird migrants. While it might be early spring it can still be a little cool, so please dress warmly and wear proper foot wear.  There will be a guided tour of the hatchery following the walk.  Meet at 9:00 am – please park by the Hall which is in the upper parking lot.   Phone 604-538-8774 for information and to let us know to expect you.

House finch.

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). Please dress for the weather and bring water, binoculars and a snack.  Note these walks are weather dependent so if the weather is bad and no calls are received then the leader will not show up.

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

Sunday 19 March 2017

Say Twitching

March 18 2017 Sea Island, Richmond BC British Columbia Canada

twitcher |ˈtwiCHər

a person or thing that twitches.• Brit. informal a birdwatcher whose main aim is to collect sightings of rare birds.                                                      *****

It's a rainy Saturday afternoon and I'm in the dentist's chair. The last thing on my mind is birding. Halfway through the procedure I get a text. Being an important bird alert my dentist allows me to check the posting. The message is sweet and short, Say's phoebe Sea Island.
 Finally the drilling and filling are completed and I can make plans. The phone quacks again, this time fellow birder and neighbour Carlo is wondering if I can chase the phoebe. Why not, it's pouring rain but who cares, a Say's phoebe is a very good bird for Vancouver. By the time we reached Richmond the rain had stopped, there was even a thin ribbon of blue sky over Vancouver. Things were looking up.
We arrived at the YVR to find no one around but were soon joined by a number of Lower Mainland Twitchers: The chase was on. It wasn't long before the collective group numbered a dozen. We made our way along the perimeter fence with planes landing and taking off in the distance. A few of our more experienced group had already spotted the phoebe with their scopes.

Say's phoebe with VYR airport in the background.

We were all treated to some excellent views gradually getting closer and closer until everyone had had a good look. The listers were soon gone once they had seen the bird, another tick, a big smile and for them onto the next bird. Some of us remained while more birders arrived. I asked everyone if they had had a good enough look before I closed in a little closer for the shot below.

Say's phoebe sitting on a piece of re-bar eyeing any movement in the undergrowth.
Not only did out collective effort find one phoebe but soon a second was spotted. The two birds used the airport fence and some low lying rebar posts to catch insects and in one case a large grub which the bird beat to a pulp before swallowing.
Both phoebe's seemed to be doing just fine despite the cold weather and blowing wind, a testament to the hardiness of these dainty migrating flycatchers. 

To obtain the correct exposure against the grey sky I overexposed one stop, the same would apply when shooting in snowy conditions. A good example would be a ptarmigan against a snow bank. This is a situation where manual settings are the best method to obtain the best exposure. 

As we left a Kildeer did the wounded wing routine leading us away from the nest below. I didn't want to stress the bird by photographing it so we quickly left. As I looked over my shoulder the killdeer had already scurried back to her nest to keep the eggs warm.

Carlo wanted to see the cliff swallow at Iona so we made our way arriving at the sewage treatment plant where several hundred lesser snow geese were feeding on the lawns of the facility. Two of the geese were the dark morph variety. We never saw the cliff swallow but the geese were a good way to end the day.

Snow Goose Dark morph.
Carlo who has a wealth of birding knowledge explained that the dark morph's are normally found on the central flyways breeding in the arctic and Alaska while most of the snow geese found in BC migrate to and from the Wrangle Island in Russia.

Despite the bitter cold weather it feels that the migration is about to begin in earnest, let's hope that's the case.

 Note: So as not to miss any rare bird postings I have set my phone to a Quacking sound. Funnily enough my better half has taken to shouting out, "RARE BIRD, RARE BIRD" whenever she hears the text.

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

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Birding Around Vancouver

Feb 1-28 2017 Various Locations, Lower Mainland

Following my return from Mexico I was raring to get out and tackle some 'real' winter birding, the kind where three layers of clothing and a toque are needed to keep warm. That said, it was nice to bird all day without having to worry about sunburn and de-hydration. Soon however the novelty soon wore off when I lost all feelings in my toes. I had thoughts of fleeing back to Mexico but that's another story.

Anna's Hummingbird

The first thing I did was to bird a few of my favourite spots close to home. Both Stokes Pit and Brydon Lagoon are nearby.
Pileated Woodpecker/Cloverdale


A few days later I decided to go out Brunswick Point with a Birding Pal from France. We had never met. Adam works for Air France and had a few days to bird between flights. I picked him up at the Skytrain and spent a few hours at Iona then Reifel so he could pick-up some easy lifers including ring-necked duck, bufflehead and black-crowned-night heron.

Ring-necked duck
Often mis-identified as a ring-billed duck it's not until one gets a real good look at the ring around the neck, as seen here in this close-up that the correct moniker become apparent. Maybe it's age but I have to admit falling into the trap of misnaming this one on more than one occasion.

I wanted to show Adam at least one owl so when we dipped at Reifel we headed to Brunswick Point for short-eared owls.

We weren't prepared for what we were about to witness. We were both shocked to see so many photographers, ten at one point trampling over the marsh, some dressed like they were on a military manoeuvre. The behavoir upset us so much we sat by the second bench and shook our heads in disbelief. 
Most of the marsh is soggy but there are prime areas which are higher and dryer, prime Townsend's vole habitat, the main prey for the owls. Of course those were the exact spots the photographers chose to stand so as not to get their feet wet. We both got some nice shots of a northern shrike before we left. 

Northern Shrike at Brunswick Point

Adam has kindly invited me to check out his patch in France the next time I am in Europe. I have used the Birding Pal network quite a few times, especially on my cross Canada trip in 2015. Thanks to fellow birding pals I might have missed a Le Conte's sparrow in Winnipeg, a field sparrow and Eastern towhee in Ottawa and black ducks in New Brunswick. I also used Birding Pal on a recent trip to the UK where in Surrey, a suburb of Greater London I spent a morning photographing chiffchafs and swifts

My next outing was to Pitt Meadows in search of raptors. First up was the light morphed-tailed hawk but alas no picture.

Finally after driving around trying for a 'five falcon day' Raymond and I came across a stunning prairie falcon. Note the how full the bird's crop is, it had just fed on a duck. We left to look for other falcons but there were none to be found but we did come across two Harlans's red-tailed hawk.

Prairie Falcon.

Prairie Falcon prepares to take-off for the hunt.

Despite the cold weather there seems to be quite a few Anna's hummingbirds around our feeders. How they survived the four weeks of sub-zero temperatures an avian miracle.

Anna's Hummingbird.


I arrived at a well known owl hotspot surprised to find myself the only one there.  I took advantage by finding a spot a few feet from the dyke, taking great care not to encroach on the foreshore area where the owls feed. Rather than standing I simply sat beside a small bush and waited. I didn't have to wait very long. Obviously the owls couldn't see me or perhaps weren't bothered by my presence. After about ten minutes an owl landed on a post about ten metres away. It gave me a scowl and then another owl landed a few metres away on another post. I felt they were checking me out. My low profile seemed to be the key. I am certain that had I been standing up these intimate type of shots would not have happened. At least that's what I believe.

Short-eared owl

  1. The above shot is taken with the sun over my shoulder whereas the shot below is backlit with sun at a 45 degree angle to my position. It's best to shoot the backlit shot on manual and open up a stop while the first shot could be shot on aperture priority or manual. 

Backlight shot.

Short-eared owl.

Birds have safety zones so by making oneself as inconspicuous as possible greatly increases the chance of acquiring a shot like the one above. Instead of standing I simply sat on a log and let the birds go about their business. I can't remember exactly how long I took to acquire these images but less than an hour.
Before I left three black-capped chickadees landed next to me. They were so close that a photo was not possible. I watched one of the birds unfurl a bud, leaf by leaf, just like peeling a banana, finally extracting a juicy bug. What a way to end the day!

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