Sunday 27 May 2018

"The Darling Birds of May"

May Birding in the Lower Mainland

Springtime was a long time coming to the Lower Mainland. Many of the winter species were still hanging on and new arrivals were slow to show up. Many remarked on how quiet it was in the forests and foreshore. Eventually warmer weather prevailed and a change of season was underway. First were the yellow-rumped Warblers and the Townsend's Solitaires. Then in May there was some real movement including some really good birds and a few surprises.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club

Here are some of the birds of early May including the location and dates as recorded by eBird.

Iona south Jetty.

I was drawn female Canvasback and the calm water, I thought it created an interesting reflection. This bird was a distant speck but enlarged nicely. 
To keep a record of sightings I have been using eBird. The app allows you from the comfort of your chair to plan what where and when to bird.

The #154 denotes the 154th Metro Vancouver species I have spotted in 2018 and so on. Last year I hobbled together 217 species in Metro Vancouver and hope to surpass that number this season. Ticking birds isn't for everyone but if a person has the time, why not.

Want to know more about what birders get up to read this

The difference between bird watching and birding

Sightings cont.

154. Red-breasted Sapsucker Burnaby Mountain CA-BC 01 May 2018
155. Townsend's Warbler Burnaby Mountain CA-BC 01 May 2018
156. Western Tanager Burnaby Mountain CA-BC 01 May 2018
157. Semipalmated Plover Boundary Bay - 104th St., Delta CA-BC 02 May 2018
158. Western Sandpiper Boundary Bay - 104th St., Delta CA-BC 02 May 2018
159. Pacific-slope Flycatcher Semiahmoo Fish and Game Club CA-BC 02 May 2018
160. Sage Thrasher (Below) 21471–21599 Koener Rd, Pitt Meadows CA-BC (49.3154,-122.6214) CA-BC 03 May 2018

Sage Thrasher
Pitt Meadows

This one of the easiest twitches I have ever been on. I drove out to Pitt Meadows exited my car walked up onto the dyke and the thrasher was right there posing on a branch. I fired off seven shots before it hopped down into a tangle long grass. I never saw it again. A wonderful moment.
 Nikon D500 Nikon 200-500 Handheld.
I am happy to say the  resulting image made the cover of BC Birding.

161. Blue-winged Teal Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 07 May 2018
162. Least Sandpiper Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 07 May 2018
163. Spotted Sandpiper Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 07 May 2018
164. Hudsonian Godwit Reifel Bird Sanctuary CA-BC 07 May 2018
165. Barred Owl Reifel Bird Sanctuary CA-BC 07 May 2018
166. Black-throated Gray Warbler Riding ring Brown Park CA-BC 07 May 2018
167. Lark Sparrow Riding ring Brown Park CA-BC 07 May 2018

Lark Sparrow
Brown Park Surrey
168. Black-headed Grosbeak Brydon Lagoon Langley CA-BC 08 May 2018
169. Solitary Sandpiper Riverside Dr, Port Coquitlam CA-BC (49.2657,-122.7373) CA-BC 09 May 2018

Wester-wood Pee-Wee
Colony Farm

170. Western Wood-Pewee Colony Farm CA-BC 09 May 2018
171. Yellow Warbler Colony Farm CA-BC 09 May 2018
172. Lesser Yellowlegs Blackie Spit (Incl. Dunsmuir Farm & Nicomekl estuary) CA-BC 11 May 2018
173. Caspian Tern Blackie Spit (Incl. Dunsmuir Farm & Nicomekl estuary) CA-BC 11 May 2018

         Finding good birds is a mixture of many factors. The more I bird the more I realize how little I  actually really know and how much I have to learn. Birding is a great excuse to get out and exercise, travel and socialize with other like minded individuals. One afternoon I walked a few kms with a birding expert and had the best conversation about our grand children and of course such trivial things the meaning of life.

                                                                   Birds/Meaning of Life

Lapland Longspur
 Iona South Jetty

Being aware of the tides and suitable habitat helps find birds. Try plugging into news groups like vanbcbirds or BC Bird Alert..see blog sidebar 
Some birds, like the Sage Thrasher are easier than others. The Lapland Longspur above was an eight kms trudge along the Iona South Jetty and back. I walked out early in the morning hoping to photograph the bird in the "sweet light" of morning but couldn't find so I returned and birded two kms around the Inner Ponds for a total of ten kms. As I was leaving Iona a birder mentioned the longspur was feeding at marker 192 about three kms along the jetty, a six km round hike. A grand total of sixteen kms and two nasty blisters later I had my shot.

On my way home I stopped off and photographed the Pacific-Golden Plover just metres from the dyke.

Pacific-golden Plover
Boundary Bay

I don't normally photograph birds in the heat of the day but birds have their own schedule so even a technically poor image like the one above can serve as a good ID shot, especially in the case of a rarity. 


174. Purple Martin Blackie Spit (Incl. Dunsmuir Farm & Nicomekl estuary) CA-BC 11 May 2018
175. Lapland Longspur Iona Island--South Jetty CA-BC 14 May 2018
176. Pectoral Sandpiper Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 14 May 2018
177. Semipalmated Sandpiper Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 14 May 2018
178. American Pipit Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 14 May 2018
179. Pacific Golden-Plover Boundary Bay - 96th St., Delta CA-BC 14 May 2018
180. Wilson's Phalarope Boundary Bay 96-88 St. (mansion), Delta CA-BC 14 May 2018
181. Bullock's Oriole Brunswick Point, Delta CA-BC 15 May 2018

Male Bullock's Oriole
 Brunswick Point

As I watched the male female Bullock's flew in with nesting material. I visited a few days later and there was no sign of either birds.

Cassin's Vireo
This picture was taken on the Skajit Valley Bird Blitz in early May. I include it as the sighting below in West Van wasn't good enough for a photo. 

182. Hammond's Flycatcher West Vancouver-Eagle Lake Road CA-BC 16 May 2018
183. Cassin's Vireo West Vancouver-EagleLake Road CA-BC 16 May 2018

Hammond's Flycatcher
Cypress Mountain
Warbling Vireo
Cypress Mountain
184. Warbling Vireo West Vancouver-Eagle Lake Road CA-BC 16 May 2018
185. Sooty Grouse Cypress Provincial Park Road CA-BC 16 May 2018
186. MacGillivray's Warbler Cypress Provincial Park Road CA-BC 16 May 2018

Cinnamon Teal
 Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary
Horrible midday light again but a BC lifer so again a decent ID shot and record shot. The background is the Iona sewage ponds where many birders find themselves over and over again despite the odours.

Common Grackle
 Iona Inner Ponds
187. Evening Grosbeak Cypress Provincial Park CA-BC 16 May 2018
188. Common Grackle Iona Island inner ponds CA-BC 16 May 2018

Dark-eyed Junco fledgling begging for food
Crescent Park.
189. Swainson's Thrush Crescent Park, Surrey CA-BC 17 May 2018

Swainson's Thrush
 Crescent Park

California Scrub Jay
Maple Ridge
Another easy bird was the California Scrub Jay in Maple Ridge. I actually heard the bird(s) before I saw it. I exited  my car and before I could get a good view a neighbour came over and told me they may be nesting in her roof. She'll keep me updated if indeed there are young.

190. California Scrub-Jay Dover St Maple Ride CA-BC 18 May 2018
191. Lazuli Bunting Colony Farm CA-BC 18 May 2018
192 Western Kingbird Colony Farm CA-BC 20 May 2018
193 House Wren 1056 256 Ave Langley CA-BC 25 May 2018

House Wren

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

Sunday 13 May 2018

Every Picture has a (little) Story

 March  2018
 California Road Trip

When Spring Break came around my wife and I decided to head for California, Joshua Tree National Park and warmer climes. It was to be an adventure, no schedule and hopefully time to see some birds.

The drive down took three days. To alleviate the tedium of driving we decided to keep an I5 seen while driving list (40 species) while listening to U2's Joshua Tree.

After the long journey down we hadn't bargained on the entire park being booked. A few kms from Joshua we found the next best thing, a meditation retreat with a rustic campground, hot showers and birds.
There were Joshua Trees everywhere as well as numerous other prickly looking plants. Exhausted from the drive it wasn't until next morning that I realized we were the only campers on 400 acre retreat.

I was woken up early by the dawn chorus. Nearby a pair of Cactus Wren had built a nest in an area set aside for meditation. They must have known it was a quiet little corner, clever birds!

Cactus Wren
The male was singing away posing for photos when the female came out of a nearby bush. I'm sure they had a nest in the shrubbery so I left them to follow a flock of Lesser Goldfinch that had just flown overhead.

The goldfinches were harder to approach leading me a merry path arounds the retreat. The grounds contained religious iconography of every kind, I recognized a few from my practice, most however held no meaning, each to their own I suppose. The buildings themselves were built by American architect Frank Lloyd-Wright, an altogether interesting place to camp and bird.

Lesser Goldfinch

One of my target birds was the Greater Runner, the protagonist of many a Saturday morning cartoon.
I didn't have to wait long when out of the corner of my eye I spotted not one but two.
Add caption
Joshua Tree National Park wasn't that birdy but what it lacked in birds it made up for with jaw dropping scenery. The first drive through took us all afternoon and evening. The next day we spent the whole day stopping in wonderment. Joshua Tree is 1000 metres above sea level and is surrounded by the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. To the south is the Salton Sea which we would visit later.

The first bird I heard was this Black-throated Sparrow, I finally tracked it down few hundred metres from the car. I had only seen one before and that was a vagrant at Grant Narrows in Pitt Meadows. At least this time I could include it perched on a cactus.
Black-throated Sparrow

One of the most common birds at Joshua Tree was the Sage Thrasher. I really like the bokeh or background in this image. 
Sage Thrasher

Sage Thrasher

Chollo Desert Garden /Joshua Tree National Park

Close-up Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cactus Garden
I found this hummer feeding in the garden but i'm not too sure which species it is.

Hummer sp?

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve

Before I left for California I asked BirderGirl Mel to give me some suggestions about where to bird and one was Big Morongo. I wish I could have birded in the cool of the morning but when traveling it's not always possible.

California Scrub Jay

I met Surrey birder Gareth Pugh at Big Morongo. The women left us to bird and took off shopping. We walked the lush canyon trails. A creek fed by a perennial spring is a great attractant for wildlife in an otherwise arid landscape. Hundreds of species of birds have been recored at the reserve. A casual walk in the heat of the day turned up a number of good species and a few lifers including a Verdin.

This towhee below was a difficult capture, it's a skulker, a species that darts into the undergrowth at the first sense of danger. Most of my shots were obscured by branches and twigs but finally it popped out for a portrait, another Lifer.
California Towhee

Now and then a little luck plays a part in any birding finding trip. Big Morongo has a couple of feeder stations and at one I was lucky enough to get two frames of an Oak Titmouse, another lifer and one of the target birds Mel had told me about. I waited and waited for another shot but it never returned.

Oak Titmouse

Next up was a real tongue twister, I proved incredibly difficult to pronounce and to even more  difficult to photograph. The male Phainopepla proved impossible although they were commonplace. I settled for the female below.

Phainopepla (female)

At the feeder was a Hooded Oriole, a species I had only seen in Mexico and now one I can add to my ABA list.
Hooded Oriole

Imperial Wildlife Area

 Salton Sea

Next stop was a campground at the north portion of the Salton Sea. My wife had imagined swimming,  sandy beaches and cocktails, she wasn't that impressed especially the stench of dead Talapia that had been washing up after a recent algae bloom. The lake is shrinking every year and the amount of fertilizers washing into the lake is changing the ecosystem. 
Say's Phoebe
I shot this through a chain link fence wide open at F5.6

There first bird I heard was a Northern Mocking bird then a Bullock's Oriole and then a small wave of Yellow-rumped Warblers. A pair of American Kestrels and a Barred Owl were in the campground palm trees. Say's Phoebe were everywhere.

Northern Mockingbird

Driving down the east side of the Salton Sea we stopped off at Imperial Wildlife Area. It seems the roadbeds and channels are set up for hunting more that birding but in the parking lot were a mixed flock of warblers and among them was this Black-tailed Gnatcatcher.

Black-tailed Gnatcatcher

                Also presentt were White-faced Ibis and a large flock of American White Pelicans. 

American Pelicans

Sonny Bono Salton Sea
National Wildlife Refuge

We arrived at Sonny Bono late afternoon and storm clouds made for some interesting light and I think that is why the colours on this Ground Cove looks so vibrant. 
Common Ground Dove

Another target bird was Gambal's Quail. I came across one flock but couldn't get near them, they seemed so skittish but at Sonny Bono hunting is banned and I eventually found a flock that had more trust in humans. I took me fifteen minutes but eventually I managed to get off a few shots before it was time to look for a campground for the night.
Gambal's Quail

Gambal's Quail (female) was at a feeder.

The whole area around the Salton Sea is farmed intensely and Cattle Egrets find plenty of pockets of water in which to hunt. 
Cattle Egrets on a silage bale.
Flocks of Black-necked Stilt could be found almost anywhere on the sea feeding alongside ducks, geese and gulls.
Black-necked Stilt
American Coots
American Avocet

White-fronted Geese

The trip was a great introduction to California and for a boy from the Newport Wales, the scenery, the flora and fauna was simply stunning, i'll be returning for sure.

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

Wednesday 9 May 2018

A New Birding Location

 Blakeburn Lagoons Park

Port Coquitlam BC 

May 9/2018

It's not that often that the politicians get something right but that is exactly the case with the Lower Mainland's newest birding location. Originally a de-commissioned water treatment Blakeburn Lagoons could have easily been turned into yet another subdivision. Thankfully a decision about the future of the site went to a vote and the citizens of Port Coquitlam voted with their tax dollars to have a beautiful nature park instead. 
I paid my first visit today and despite it only being opened a few weeks I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a good number of birds. There have been plantings of native flora and eventually as the site matures it will become a superb birding location.

Here are some of the birds from my visit. I actually spent an hour there in the morning and returned later in the afternoon when news of three Solitary Sandpipers broke. I include a distant grainy shot as the SOSA was my target year bird.

Wilson's Warbler

Least Sandpiper

A very distant and heavily cropped Solitary Sandpiper. (SOSA)

Northern rough-winged Swallow

Cinnamon Teal

There you go, the nature park has a wide variety of birds not only in the two lagoons but also along side the golf course where the mature tress were bopping with warblers and a nesting pair of Northern Flickers. Thankfully planners had the wisdom to keep the older nursery trees for cavity nesters and for that and the overall project I applaud everyone involved. If you are a Port Coquitlam taxpayer drop city hall a letter of congratulations, they deserve it.

"It's never too late to discover new birding locations"
John Gordon
BC Canada