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