Friday 25 January 2019

Twitching the Dusky Thrush

Jan 21 2019
Gordon Rd Nanaimo
Vancouver Island

This is what a rare bird alert looks like. Below is the link to more rare bird sightings.

At approximately 4:00pm on January 19, 2019, David Baird and Bryan Vroom found a Dusky Thrush at the Nanaimo River Estuary in Nanaimo. The bird was photographed along Gordon Road near the Holden Creek entrance to the estuary.

On January 20 the bird was relocated in the same area, feeding in the grassy fields on the North side of Gordon Road. It continues as of Jan 22 at this location.

Please be respectful of private property and do not block traffic when parking and viewing it from the road.

This is the third record for the province of BC.

Courtesy BC Rare Bird Alert


The alarm went off at 5.45 a.m. but I was already awake. The ferry from Tsawwassen to Vancouver Island would leave in a few hours. The plan was to meet fellow birder Mike Tabak. He comes from a birding background and has become an excellent bird photographer. Mike is a great one to have around especially when trying to identify alcids and gulls from a fast moving ferry. We had been on a few twitches before, namely the Acorn Woodpecker in Victoria.

A long time friend mine had agreed to pick us up at Duke Point ferry terminal, it meant we wouldn't have to take a car. As a senior (still trying to get my head around that) I qualify for free BC ferry rides Monday through Thursday, aside from a few cups of coffee the whole twitch would me cost less than ten dollars.
To give the journey some scale for my friends in the UK the ferry ride is about the same distance from Calais France across the English Channel to Dover.
There's a certain kind of nervous energy that comes with chasing a bird. Some birders can't sleep in anticipation, others have problems waking up. On board we met up with other bleary eyed twitchers. Most were perched around the bow peering off into the distance at Common Murres and Pelagic Cormorants. 

I used my 'super zoom' to ID birds on the ride across, focus is hit and miss at hundreds of feet or more but occasionally everything works like in the picture below. 

Common Murre
Nikon P1000

Feeding Frenzy

As we approached Nanaimo and Vancouver Island the ships captain announced a feeding frenzy off the port-side bow. Thirty or forty Bald Eagles joined a mixed flock of gulls as they fed on a herring ball. The skipper even changed course so as not to disturb the birds. Also joining in the feast but out of picture were Red-breasted Mergansers and Pacific Loons.

 Two Bald Eagles catching herring while sitting on the surface of the water.
D500 200mm-500mm

Gulls, Bald Eagles and Common Murres

Gulls join in the feeding frenzy.

Finally The Twitch

A short ride from the ferry is Gordon Rd where the Dusky Thrush had been seen hanging out with a flock of American Robins. The thrush wasn't hard to find, there were already fifteen birders on site. It took less than two minutes to get on the bird. After taking a few snapshots I wanted to know from some of the veteran twitchers how significant this sighting ranked in the grand scheme of things. I honestly didn't know. One birder told me it was considered a Mega. The Dusky Thrush was a lifer for me and for pretty well everyone else present while for myself it was Canadian bird #399 

Mega - n. A very rare bird generally confined to a given region. 

Megatick - n. An extremely good tick for novice birders to expert veterans. 

Dusky Thrush
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm
Though the bird kept its distance we stayed in the hope that it would perch somewhere in the open, it never did. Eventually we both got a few frame so two of it flipping leaves in the meadow. The bird aside, it was great to see my dear friend who kindly drove us from the ferry to Gordon Rd and to meet up fellow island birders who I hadn't seen in a long while.
Whenever the bird disappeared us Brits talked football and Brexit and moaned about the state of the world. Brits are expert moaners, we'll moan about anything, especially the weather. Did I tell you how freaking cold my feet got! 
Anyway, as soon as the thrush re-appeared all the doom and gloom faded away and we were back to twitching. 
It was a day well spent, may there be many more.

To be continued.....

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

Monday 21 January 2019

Super Wolf Blood Moon

Jan 20 2019 
My Front Yard

Super Wolf Blood Moon

I used the Nikon P1000 Nikon Coolpix 24mm-3000mm which I normally use for travel scenics and bird photography. I used approx 2000mm focal length, the long end of the zoom cropped off part of the moon. I used a tripod and the built in timer to minimize camera movement.
I photographed from my front yard which was fully illuminated by vapour street lights, in the end it didn't seem to make too much difference. I used a tripod and the 'Moon' mode on the camera. The camera also has a "Bird' mode which I use extensively but that's another story. Focus was a bit fiddly to use especially during the umbral.
I hadn't planned to photograph this rare phenomena until I saw the full moon come over my neighbours roof. I quickly grabbed a winter coat and torque and moved into action. A few of my neighbours also came out to watch the sight. Next I paused the Liverpool v Crystal Palace game which I had recorded on the PVR. Liverpool won 4-2, one of the best games of the year. I digress.

The eclipse began at 6.36 p.m while the umbral started at 7.33p.m The total eclipse lasted from 8.41p.m until 9.43 p.m The umbral ended at 10.50p.m and eclipse ended at 11.48p.mSource: Nasa


The eclipse lasted 62 minutes. The next super blood wolf moon will be Jan 31 2037.
A few stars can be seen as specks of light. 

"It's never too late to leave the comfy chair"
John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday 20 January 2019

2019 Week 1

Jan 2019 Mill Lake Abbotsford

Birding can be so unpredictable. I had spent a fruitless and chilly January morning looking for the Great Egret in Aldergrove. Disappointed I returned home to warm up and take care of a few honey-do chores. That afternoon I went on a second twitch at Abbotsford's Mill Lake where a vagrant Cape May Warbler was found Jan1 by Neal Doan. 
Cape May Warblers breed in the Peace country and east of the Rockies, they are rarely found on the south coast. The Abbotsford bird is only the second on record for the south-west corner of the province.

 The bird was an easy twitch and very confiding for those late to the party. The bird was attracted to a flowering Mahonia and ignored everyone and everything. At one point a dozen onlookers watched the diminutive warbler as it flitted flower to flower feeding on protein rich pollen.
* The bird is still present Jan 20/19 

Cape May Warbler feeding on pollen
Fellow birder Carlo Giovanella provided the interesting information below;

Mahonia aquifolium, aka Tall Mahonia, aka Tall Oregon-grape, aka Oregon-grape Holly, etc. is a common native shrub, blooming in early summer.  Cultivars of this are often planted in local landscaping.  The blue fruit are true ‘berries’.

The winter-flowering varieties are hybrids of M aquifolium crossed with Asian species. 

One lesson a birder can take away from this experience is that if a vagrant bird ends up in unfamiliar territory it will need a food source to survive. Where no insects are emerging it would make sense for the bird to find flowering plants. Good birders know to check these areas as was the case last winter when a Nashville Warbler was found feeding on the same type of shrub at Lonsdale Quay.

Note the accumulation of pollen on the bill. Some have speculated it is a growth. Further photographs will tell as the bird is still around at the time of writing.
For the above photo I have used leading lines, a commonly used compositional technique. Note the leading line coming from the bottom left of the image as well as in the bottom centre. Another leading line from the top left trains the eye subconsciously toward the subject.

These photograph were taken in the late afternoon as the light was fading. Shot at ISO 2500 with a Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm 5.6 zoom. The camera was set to automatic ISO so that the exposure of each image would be the same regardless of where the bird was feeding. Obviously when the bird was feeding under the canopy of the plant the shutter speed would drop too low for a sharp picture.

The pinkish background is from a building in the background. 

An added bonus
On the way home from Abbotsford I decided to take a detour and look for the Great Egret which has been feeding in the same farmers field since before Christmas. I think it may be only the second or third I've photographed in the Lower Mainland. It was feeding on large earthworms while some have  photos of it catching voles.

Great Egret 

One less Bull Frog
Great Blue Heron

One of the most insidious creatures to have been introduced to Canada and the Lower Mainland is the Bull Frog. Below a Great Blue Heron tries the difficult task of swallowing its catch. An indigenous species would be smaller and therefore an easier meal. The heron eventually flew off, the frogs fate unknown.

An adult Bullfrog can weight a kilogram when full grown and spawn 20,000 eggs at a time, most will survive as they are unpalatable to most predators.

After days of rain the sun finally came out and although I had seen the Snow Buntings on the Christmas bird count it had been raining and bitterly cold.
Now I have a scope I tend not to photograph in less than optimum lighting situations unless of course it's a lifer, vagrant or ID shot. 

Snow Bunting

A small flock six snow bunting have been feeding on newly planted grass seed at the BC Ferries jetty. 


Sometimes late in the day the light is so poor that high ISO's are the only way to capture an image. The images below are fine for web use but wouldn't really work for fine printing. I used 1/1250 ISO 250 at F5.6 to get some which I posted on eBird.

The Prairie Falcon is carrying a vole before landing in a tree.

Prairie Falcon with vole
To be continued....

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Thursday 3 January 2019

Drawn to the Birds

2018 Birding  

Lower Mainland BC Canada

A Northern Shrike mobbed by a flock of bushtits, a Short-eared Owl hunting over the foreshore, thousands of Dunlin settling on the mudflats. So many great memories, that for me was birding in 2018.

 I tallied birds on several occasions including The Glen Valley Bird Count, the Derby Reach/Brae Island Parks Association and recently the Dec 29/18 White Rock and area Christmas Bird Count. We got drenched on that one. It was so wet that in some locations no birds were recorded. I also went on more than a few twitches, mostly successful and brushed shoulders with some top birders.

 My one hundred submissions to eBird kept my ever growing tally of species in perfect order. I made trips to Mexico and the UK where I used the eBird data base to track down the best hotspots. I managed a few UK lifers, the best being a Spotted Crake. Mexico provided over 150 lifers. Last but not least I made some really good birding friends in both Mexico and across the pond.

Ruff and Greater Yellowlegs.
Boundary Bay Regional Park

For reference purposes it's always good to get two more species together in one shot. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs is a good example. I have images of both together and the differences are immediately evident. When seen separately even an experienced birder can have second thoughts. The Ruff above is uncommon bird in BC and easily overlooked.
Here the four Greater Yellowlegs stand out from the smaller Ruff, the obvious difference in size, leg colour and bill length is a dead giveaway. This is good listing shot, the type I like to download and study when I get home.


Ring-necked Duck (Female)

The two images of Ring-necked Ducks below were taken on a fruitless search for the Philadelphia Vireo at Hasting Park. Sadly I dipped on the vireo four times, there were however some magic moments when the light burst through the clouds, side-lighting these Ring-necked Ducks.

Ring-necked Duck (Male)
Hastings Park


Below are a few random observations and some of my favourite 2019 sightings.

I came across this sign at Green Timbers in Surrey. It still makes me smile.
Mega Thrush
The long drive to Salmon Arm was well worth it.

The  Fieldfare only the second on record for BC

Throughout November Snow Geese attracted thousands of onlookers.

The fascination of birds.

Snow Geese/Terra Nova
When it comes to birds I have always thought the purest form of birding would be to sketch with pencil or watercolours. I've tried drawing and believe me my efforts are somewhat lacking. Perhaps the most direct experience is that of just observing, sitting on a riverbank, lake or seashore, ask any fisherman.


                                                    Some Random Favourites from 2018 
Barn Owl with Townsend's Vole
Hutton's Vireo/Westham Island
             Birding with experienced birders is as beneficial as helping out the novice. Joining an organized walk lends itself to the social side of the pastime. Over the past decade I have made many new friends and even more acquaintances while birding. Long may it continue.
Black and White Warbler
Riverside Park.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Queen Elizabeth Park

I saw this swan which has a good amount of yellow on the bill. Every other Tundra I had seen has very minimal yellow. It was an exiting find made possible at long range with the Nikon 24-3000mm Coolpix.
Adult Tundra "Whistling" Swan
Boundary Bay Regional Park

Surf Scoters/Point Roberts

Often we concentrate on the more colourful male of the species, here the female crossbill shows off her broad white wing-bars and delicate hues.
Female White-winged Crossbill/Richmond
May was a great month for birding with plenty of birds moving through the region. The Sage Thrasher in Pitt Meadows took me three attempts and when I did find it I only had enough time for about 10 shots before a dog walker flushed it. Fortunately it sat out in the open, allowing me this 'clean shot' without any distracting background elements. 

Sage Thrasher
Pitt Meadows
I photographed this Cassin's Vireo during the Skajit Valley Bird Blitz May 4-6. I find attending such events invaluable. See link at the bottom of the page for more info. They're also fun for the family and the birding is usually excellent.

Cassin's Vireo
These two images of the Spruce Grouse was taken on the Manning Park Bird Blitz in June. The event was also run by the Hope Centre. Both images were taken with the Nikon 200mm-500mm zoom. Had I been using fixed 500mm or 600mm I wouldn't have been able to get these shots as the bird was at our feet, even attacking us at one point. 
Spruce Grouse

Tufted Puffin/Smith Island Washington State

        Some of my favourite links of 2018


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