Sunday 30 April 2017

A Whole Lotta Hummers/Update

April 28 2017 Richmond Nature Park West.

When I arrived at the Richmond East Nature Park there were more birders than hummingbirds.  The appearance of a black-chinned Hummingbird*, a very rare visitor to the Lower Mainland was causing quite a stir.

I'm posting an email chain between Melissa Hafting and Sheri Williamson regarding the identity of the purported Black-chinned Hummingbird at Richmond Nature Park. Please see below.

Good Birding,
Ilya Povalyaev
South Surrey, BC

Hi All,

I got a response from Sheri Williamson. She is an expert on Hummingbirds and the author of "A Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America." She has confirmed this bird is a male Anna's Hummingbird crossed with a Black-chinned Hummingbird. Kudos to Don Cecile for picking this up. I have cc'd Wayne Weber so he is aware for eBird.

See her response below. Feel free to post to vanbcbirds

Hi, Melissa,

Don Cecile also sent me some photos of this bird, which is definitely not a pure Black-chinned. The big-headed shape, dull, narrow chinstrap, and too-extensive violet are all indicative of hybrid origin.

Despite the violet gorget color and apparent lack of crown iridescence, two features particularly evident in Peter Candido's back view (which I hadn't seen previously) point strongly toward Anna's as the other parent: the long, deeply notched tail, inconsistent with Rufous, Calliope, Broad-tailed, or Costa's parentage; and shortish secondary coverts, an Anna's trait expressed intermediately in its hybrids. If perched side views can be obtained, I would expect them to show slight graduation of primary widths and faint notches on the inner vanes of P1-5, suggestive of Black-chinned, combined with a slight asymmetry to the outermost secondary coverts, an intermediate expression of another Anna's trait.

Hope this helps.

Good birding,

Sheri L. Williamson
Bisbee, Arizona

Anna's and Rufous Hummingbirds emptied a feeder in front of our eyes.
Someone remarked that there had been one several years ago but it had not been photographed. 

Anna's Hummingbird.
I took these Anna's (above) and Rufous (below) while waiting for the Black-chinned.

Rufous Hummingbird (Male)

Rufous Hummingbird (Female)
I spent an hour photographing the Black-chinned Hummingbird. I eventually had thirty frames to choose from. Twenty frames were identical with the bird feeding. The trick was to get a shot as it backed off from the feeder. Unfortunately every time it did, the other hummers chased it off. 
Hummingbird Black-chinned/Anna X.

The Black-chinned Hummingbird (above) came to the feeder fewer than three times in an hour compared to the Anna's and Rufous which fed continuously.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday 27 April 2017

I hadn't Planned on Birding #356

April 23-26 Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver BC

I hadn't planned on birding, there was a lawn to be limed, a pond to be cleaned and a myriad of other garden chores to be taken care of. However with good birds arriving daily the urge to grab the bins proved just too strong.
As for the garden I think i'll leave it for the birds, at least for now. The White-crowned Sparrows seem to enjoy scratching about in the vine maple leaves and the House Finches are nesting in the cedar bush. The hundreds of Bluebells carpeting the pathways make a perfect highway for a small flock Yellow-crowned Sparrows that have recently found the seeds set out each morning. A pair of Eurasian coloured Doves have moved into the neighbourhood and a single Rock Pigeon has been visiting. Mostly, we have a flock of homeless House Sparrows that have recently lost their roost to the bulldozer.


These two Brown Creepers, one which may be the female led me a merry chase.

Brown Creeper

Richmond Park East
Black-throated Gray Warbler.

Queen Elizabeth Park Vancouver

The cherry trees are in full bloom at Vancouver's Queen Elizabeth Park. One tree held a Townsend's, a few Yellow-rumped and two Black-throated Gray Warblers. The tree was close to a pathway and on a very busy Sunday afternoon, the constant foot traffic kept flushing the birds. I managed three frames in an hour, the above shot the best of the three.


A few days later I returned. There was no problem finding the Nashville Warbler which had been seen by many, it was as simple as spotting a group of birders, their necks locked into the upwards position.

Long-time birders will tell you that in years past the trees once to 'dripped' with warblers. On a good spring day, a fallout would deposit hundreds of warblers, vireos and flycatchers into the park.

On this particular day we had one Yellow-rumped and one Nashville Warbler, a Hammond's Flycatcher and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Something is in the air and it isn't birds!

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler.

Hermit Thrush at the QE duck pond.

Burnaby Mountain

 The booming mating call of the sooty grouse could be heard from the car park. Earlier in the day the bird had been on the ground displaying. Now it was sixty feet off the ground. A dark silhouette high up in a fir tree. I had to overexpose to get some detail in the bird and considering how far I am away I am continuously surprised how good the Nikon D500 couple with the Nikon 200mm-500mm is handheld.

Full Frame shot at 500mm handheld without crop

Cropped Image in Lightroom

Sooty Grouse.

It was time to make the drive home but one more bird high up in a tree gave itself away.
The grosbeak was a way off so I just took an ID shot to make sure. Another year bird and the third of the day. 

Full Frame Shot

Cropped Shot

Female Evening Grosbeak.
Pretty amazing what you can squeeze out of modern cameras and lenses these days and how much joy it gives to so many.

"It's never to late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Iona and Back

April 18 2017 Iona Provincial Park.

I just wanted to walk, be in the moment and see what would show up.

What better place to find some solitude than an early morning walk around Iona Outer Pond and the 8 km round-trip on the Iona Jetty.

Iona Jetty.

The morning began with a Marsh Wren at boardwalk. I waited until the very confiding songster came out and poked its head above the reeds. The bird was building two nests, taking turns to pluck the cattails while singing for a mate.

Marsh Wren

At 8 kms (5 miles) Iona Jetty is a popular place to walk bike and bird. The foreshore, jetty and ponds are one of the best places to see rarities in the Lower Mainland.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird
Two Yellow-headed Blackbirds have been hanging around the car park at Iona. Normally they are found at the edges of the pond where they breed. Iona is one of the few Lower Mainland locations where they can be seen on a regular basis.

This bird was flushed into a tree when a dump truck came by.

Savannah Sparrow
I never tire of the watching the Savannah Sparrow, for me the yellow eyebrow evokes the dash of colour from a child's painting.

Lapland Longspurs are a special bird for those who walk the jetty. Most years, either springSpring or fall  a few turn up. This one I found at the 240 marker which is almost at the end of the jetty.

Lapland Longspur.

The Lapland Longspur is a passing migrant making its way north to the tundra to breed.
It spends the winters in mixed flocks of Snow Bunting and Horned Larks.

An adult male in almost full breeding plumage feeds on seed heads.

A gull (probably a Glaucous-winged youngster) harasses an Osprey while hunting over the breakwater.

A change of the seasons and hope of warmer weather is often signalled by the arrival of the Caspian Terns from warmer climes. 
A Caspian Tern plucks a fish from the water.

A brilliant way to spend a morning. Million dollar views, snow capped mountains and plenty of birds to add to the year list. 

All Images Nikon D500 handheld with Nikon 200mm-500mm F 5.6
Recently I have been using the Cotton Carrier system to take the strain off my shoulders. I wasn't sure the harness would hold the weight but it does. What I like most it gives me the freedom to hold my bins while searching for birds with the knowledge I can access my camera when the need arises.

I forgot include the now famous Burrowing Owl, the most photographed bird in Vancouver last week.
Despite perching close to a very busy section of road the owl took absolutely no notice of heavy dump trucks passing, some as close as 10 feet. It really didn't give a hoot!
The owl was first spotted just out side the airport perimeter fence tens days ago but according the falconers who use birds of prey to keep waterfowl and geese away from landing aircraft, the owl had been inside the airport grounds since the first week of April.

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

Monday 24 April 2017

Not So Solitary!

April 17  2017 Pit Meadows BC Canada

I hadn't planned to bird so when the clouds parted I decided to call my close neighbour Carlo and see if I could interest him in taking the short trip over Golden Ears Bridge to Pitt Meadows. Reports of Townsend's Solitaires at Swaneset Golf Course was just too enticing to pass up. 
No sooner had we arrived the rain started and cold wind made it feel like December. Not to be outdone we walked for a good half-hour but the solitaires were having nothing of it. Back in the car we decided to drive along the golf course avenue. All these images were taken from the car window as the birds had been too skittish to approach on foot. Cars make for good blinds. I was more than happy to finally get some nice images of a bird I rarely see.
Townsend's Solitaire shot from the car.

To achieve the out of focus cherry blossom background. I backed up the car to include the complementary colours in the background. The resulting image has few distracting elements and overall the viewer is drawn to the bird which is the whole point of the exercise.

The picture below taken a few seconds later is from the same spot but cropped. 

From the same sequence but cropped.
Which image do you prefer, the full frame shot that shows more of the environment or the close-up with little or no distractions? A cropped version (not necessarily this one) could easily be used on a cover because I have cropped the orientation to vertical. I have also left space to put the publications title and an area in the bottom right to put the inside content information. If you can, try to shoot both vertical and horizontal shots, editors love the choice when they go to layout pages. Image banks the same thing. A vertical shot won't make it into a calendar, you'll need a horizontal for that whereas the vertical shot can be used on the cover or on inside pages. Also leave plenty of space around the picture so the editor can fit the picture into the available spot.

Another way to change the feel of a photograph is to find a background with different colours.
There's reason why McDonald's uses the red and yellow as it known to elect a feeling of warmth etc. Certain colours elicit different responses. The image below was taken when the bird moved to another branch and I maneuvered the car to have another clean background with alder and popular tress in the background.

 Over time each and every photographer develops a shooting style and mine has ALWAYS been to make sure whenever I shot a soccer game, composed a portrait or photographed a concert I always made sure distracting elements are not included in the background. As play developed I wouldn't bother shooting if there was a hydro pole or a port-potty in the background, it just doesn't make a pleasing photo. The solution is to move position and wait for the action to happen where there is decent background, the same applies in bird photography. 

As bird photographers we are often confronted with what I term as fractured scenarios, situations from which photographers have to bring some semblence of order. Unlike the artist who starts with a blank canvas, photographers usually start with a messy canvas, everything from poor light to that seemingly ever present branch right in front of the bird. Our aim is to bring order to the image so that the viewer can appreciate and enjoy what we saw so they can live vicariously through our efforts. Isn't that some of the reason we display our work be it on social media, in publications or in the gallery!

The exact rules apply to bird photography. Obviously a bird in a tangle of branches against a white sky isn't going to be as pleasing as a bird set of against a neutral background like the image above. 
This bird landed on the ground to feed and the background is neutral enough to set the bird apart. The colours all blend together, 

            Check out the link below especially toward the end where there're good examples of bird photography with clean well composed backgrounds.

Bokeh it's a characteristic of long telephoto lenses and how they can create clean backgrounds. 

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

Tuesday 18 April 2017

What's in a Name by Carlo Giovanella


Carlo Giovanella (text and photos)

Used with permission.

Bird Names - a case of Capital Confusion!

Anyone with a serious interest in plants will be well aware of the confusion over the common names in use.  A given species often has several, and sometimes many, common names applied to it, so use of the binomial Latin names are almost essential to avoid confusion.  Fortunately, the birding world has found a way to avoid the problem, but unfortunately not everyone buys into the solution.

The AOU (American Ornithology Union) and similar world-wide organizations have formalized the common names for each species, so each has only one officially recognized name.  Because the names are formal, they should be capitalized like all proper names.  The unfortunate part is that the convention is not universally accepted.  Often this is because not everyone is aware of the protocol, and others simple choose to ignore the convention.  For some inexplicable reason most editors of books, magazines, and newspapers obstinately refuse to follow along.  

I present two illustrations to demonstrate why we all should always use capitals for bird names.

Example #1 

The corvid family includes a number of jays that are basically blue in colour, seven species of which occur in North America, and three that can be seen in BC (plus is a single record of a fourth - Pinyon Jay).

The most-common one is a Steller’s Jay.

Western Scrub Jay, a rare and fairly recent intruder to the southwest corner of the Province.

Note: Since this article was originally published the Western Scrub Jay is now California Scrub Jay.

 California Scrub Jay

Note that all three birds in the photos are 'blue jays' (or blue-coloured jays), but only the last one is properly a Blue Jay.  Use of capitals for the bird’s name removes any ambiguity about its identity!

Example #2

The bird in the photo below could correctly be labelled as 'White Rock pigeon', or as a 'white Rock Pigeon'.  The first label indicates where the photo was taken (in this case on the pier at White Rock Village), and the general kind of bird, but not the actual species.  The second label identifies the exact species and the colour of the individual, but does not provide location.

This one could also be correctly labelled as a 'White Rock pigeon’, because it is a pigeon and it was located in White Rock.  However, you can see it is not white, and it is in fact a Band-tailed Pigeon, not a Rock Pigeon.

Got it?  Perhaps you are more confused than ever.  But PLEASE capitalize your Bird Names!

This article came about when Carlo asked me why I wasn't capitalizing birds names. The reason dates back to my newspaper days where we used Canadian Press rules for animal names which was not to capitalize. The habit continued when I started blogging . I always felt it odd and have now changed my ways thanks to Carlos' sage advice.

"It never too late to start capitalizing bird names "
John Gordon 
BC Canada

Catching Up

April 1-15 2017 Various Locations.

For someone who normally blogs every week I have been surprised how easy it to let weeks go by without any additions. That doesn't mean I haven't been birding, it just means I haven't been shooting much still photography. Instead I have been shooting more and more video, something that I enjoy very much.

Recently I have been asking myself how many shots of a Short-eared Owls or a Mountain Bluebirds do I really, really need? What on earth am I going to do with the files I am amassing, the kids sure won't want them and what about when those hard drives fail!
True, some images have been published in bird guides and I have sold a good number of Giclee prints and of course they come in useful for my AV presentations but video ... that's a whole new ball game!

Anyway here are some stills from the past three weeks while I figure out how to load the videos here.

First up was this beautiful leucistic House Finch, the male companion was quite the normal brilliant red but you'll have to agree, the female really steals the show!

Leucistic House Finch/Cloverdale April 2017.

Here's another pretty bird, a light-morph Rough-legged Hawk I photographed April 18 next Vancouver International Airport (YVR)

Rough-legged Hawk.

Meanwhile I did take my DSLR up to Squamish. On the way I usually stop off a Porteau Cove for lunch and spend some time enjoying the birdlife and scenery, it breaks the journey and relieves any stress I may have accumulated fighting the Vancouver traffic. The Porteau Cove picnic area overlooks a pebble strewn beach where a raft of two hundred or more Barrow's Goldeneye were plundering the mussel beds. I took my flask of coffee and sandwich down to the beach and enjoyed the sunshine. The Common Mergansers seemed oblivious of my presence.

Porteau Cove
Common Merganser.

Female Common Merganser.

As the mergansers continued fishing I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye. A pair of Black Oystercatchers had made their way to within a few metres of me and like the mergansers seemed completely oblivious of my picnicking.

Black Oystercatcher.
Even this oystercatcher found the pebbles a slippery proposition, reminding me to take extra care on return to the parking lot. Apart from the aforementioned species I had good looks at about a dozen Harlequin Ducks, Bufflehead and scores of Double-crested and one Brandt's Cormorant.

After my family visit I spent an hour at a very windy and cold Squamish Estuary where I  eventually spotted five Mountain Bluebirds far out in the flats, too far for a pic and too cold to hang around.

Meanwhile I went to Reifel to check out the geese for some video footage and came across a nice Ring-necked Pheasant. I find it strange that there are not more of these birds around the Lower Mainland as the climate here in BC is similar to the UK.

Ring-necked Pheasant.

It feels good to be back birding. I look forward to seeing you in the field. 

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

Monday 17 April 2017

Birds of Langley Bird Brochure

April 17, 2017 
For Immediate Release

Langley Field Naturalists Announce launch of bird brochure

The Langley Field Naturalists are pleased to announce the availability of a brand new bird brochure. This colourful brochure features 54 birds that can be seen locally. 

The brochure was made possible because of grants received from BC Nature, the BC Naturalists Foundation, the City of Langley and Van City. Though the brochure is appropriate for every age and expertise in birding the club is focusing its efforts on Langley's youth. Because one of the grants was from the city, the Langley Field Naturalists are making these brochures available for Langley City's elementary schools first.

Note :I also dropped of some at Wild Birds Unlimited in Langley.

In addition to distributing the brochure to the schools, they will be available at local libraries, recreation centres, Wild Birds Unlimited Langley and at local community events. To request copies of the brochure, contact the club by email at or contact Lilianne Fuller at 604-533-0638.


Photos courtesy
Members of the Delta Naturalists and Langley Field Naturalists.

For more information, please contact Publicity Chair Lilianne Fuller at 604-290-8396 or President Bob Puls at 604-856-7534.