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