Monday 15 June 2020

Changing the Way I Photograph

Changing the way I photograph or how I became a Cotton Carrier fan

I've always enjoyed photography. Back in the day I even made a good living from it. Apart from a few days here and there I have been making and creating images for fifty years.
 Bird photography is by far the most challenging yet most enjoyable I have ever tackled. 
Photographing a tree creeper or a warbler flitting from branch to branch demands somewhat the same skillset as photographing Wayne Gretzky flipping a puck past Richard Brodeur or David Beckham scoring a goal. I should know, I've done both.
Often I would use 300mm F2.8 or 500mm F4 lenses. I would carry one or the other around all day. On numerous occasions even walking out to the end of the Iona south jetty and back. 
During my press days (1983-2011) I can't remember how many times I visited the chiropractor with sore shoulders and stiff neck. Finding a perfect way to carry gear was a never ending quest.  

A long lens was useful to get this shot at the PNE.
Afterwards I got to meet the Dalai Lama shake his hand and exchange a few words. 

Even so, carrying one of the new lightweight 200mm-600mm super zooms and camera attached has a combined weight of 8.5 lbs which can weigh heavy on the shoulders. So after years of trying various carrying systems I have now found the perfect solution, namely the Cotton Carrier system. 

 I recently tumbled over a rock and landed awkwardly. While I and my camera came out of the situation unscathed my Cotton Carrier suffered from the impact. It was a freak accident with the vest taking the brunt of the fall. These things happen and I suppose the designers made the vest to carry a lens and not to break the fall of a doddering senior.
I continued to bird but I missed the vest. I lasted a week before contacting Cotton explaining what had happened and asked it they could repair the damage. After sending some pix I received an email from Brook Parker at Cotton's Vancouver headquarters explaining they would replace the harness free of charge. I was gobsmacked. As much as I offered to pay for postage and repairs and even an upgrade I became clear they weren't going to have any of it. A few days later I received a brand new vest in the mail. That's what I call amazing customer service. Talk to anyone you see wearing one, I'm sure they'll all agree that it has changed the way they bird, it sure has for me.

Khutzeymateen Grizzly bears play fight.

The ability to bird, cover long distance and be ready to catch a fleeting moment has changed the way I photograph. I am having more fun, getting better results and photographing way more birds than I ever did lugging around a tripod and super-telephoto lens. I can now keep up with birders on organized hikes, better still, I don't mss a beat when I go abroad and I take exactly the same set-up that I use when birding around Vancouver. It's a win win situation.
That said, the Cotton Carrier system can be used to carry large prime lenses although most photographers would need a tripod for best results. Attachments are also available to attach multiple cameras, tripods and bins. 
In conclusion, go forth, don't take life too seriously and enjoy your photography. I am.

A bed of flowers or a Flower Bed

John Gordon

Young birder and Covid-19 lockdown

Here is  an interesting link to a young birder from the UK as well as some other odd goings on across the pond.

and owls too.

John Gordon (JOGO)

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Forest birds

Forest Birds 

Spring in the Lower Mainland



Campbell Valley Park

I spent the morning birding in the forest, it's my favourite place to be, especially at this time of year. 

Western Tanager
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm
The birds are only outnumbered by the insect population, their emergence perfectly timed for the arrival of millions of hungry migrants

Orange-crowned Warbler
Nikon Coolpix P1000

    During the migration I can think of no better place to be than in a forest. My childhood was spent in the UK's Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley, both places of outstanding natural beauty. I would spend the summers in the forest or on the riverbanks either fishing or rambling. I remember the Kingfisher and the Song Thrush but little other birdlife. 
Within the protective canopy of the forest stresses can dissipate within seconds, it's really quite remarkable. The sights, sounds and smells of the forest are a powerful force. Any thoughts I might have floating around my bird brain take a backseat to the forest chorus. 

 Latimer Lake

Orange-crowned Warbler
Nikon Coolpix P1000
Latimer Lake is a postage stamp parcel of forest, bush and lake on the Surrey/Langley border. Surrounded by industry, the park offers more than it should considering the loss of farmland and forest that surrounds it. 

Burnaby Mountain

Cassin's Vireo
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

High above in the forest canopy, Black-throated Grays, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the Warbling Vireos plucked juicy insects from the unfurling blossoms and buds, easy pickings after an epic migration. One sound rose above the others but before I could locate the source a Yellow-rumped Warbler flew right past me directly into a nest, she wiggled her rump and settled down. Every trip to the forest brings a surprise.

Cassin's Vireo
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

Joe Brown Park  

A simple puddle of water is a welcome respite for a migrating bird that may have flown all night, all the while avoiding the many perils that long distance travel might entail. How birds battle the elements and find their way over great distances is one of the great wonders of nature.

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

I immediately hatched a cunning plan to secure a photo. I hid just off the trail waiting to see which birds might come down to bathe. After being interrupted by a couple out for a stroll a Yellow-rumped Warbler eventually returned to the puddle. A Townsend's Warbler thought about a dip but was flushed by a cyclist and never returned. 

Townsend's Warbler
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

At eye level Wilson's Warblers and Warbling Vireos plucked insects from low hanging shrubs, the warblers showed no fear, seemingly intent on fattening up after their long journey. After taking a few pictures I tucked away my camera and just watched and listened. A few sounds like the Bushtits and the Black-throated Grays were familiar, others however will remain a mystery.

Warbling Vireo
Nikon D500 200-500mm

Home Sweet Home

After birding all morning I returned home to tackle the foot high grass that my wife had been asking me to cut for weeks. It was a hot day and hard work so I treated myself to a nice cool Mexican beer. Part-way through my first swig a flash of yellow caught my attention. It happened so quickly that I couldn't be sure what species of bird I had just seen. I went out to the street and sitting in my Acacia was a Western Tanager. A pleasant surprise and a new yard bird. 

The tanager leaves its perch and prepares to snag a juicy insect.

Wings tucked in at the last moment provided the tanager with an extra amount of precision.

Looking for its next victim.
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

Queen Elizabeth Park


Olive-side Flycatcher
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm
Technically not a forest but the closest thing in Vancouver City is Queen Elizabeth Park. A pair of Olive-sided flycatchers used the same snag for almost a week before moving on to places unknown. They are more common in the Interior forest than in Metro Vancouver but any forest of good size will hold a few during migration with some even breeding locally in the Lower Mainland.

Campbell Valley Regional Park

Red-eye Vireo
Nikon D500 Nikon 200mm-500mm

Catbird Slough

Although not technically a forest, the riparian stand of Black Cottonwood along Catbird Slough is an important buffer between the 3000 acre Pitt Lake and the Pitt-Addington Marsh. The narrow strand of forest between the two stands of water offers shelter and sanctuary for many species of birds and animals.
American Redstart
First year male
Nikon D500 200mm-500mm

The American Redstart was singing but very shy. I recorded its song on my iPhone, when I played it back to myself the bird suddenly appeared and then disappeared as quickly, never to return.  This image was shot through leaves, a technique called selective focus. The lens has to be shot wide open which on the 200mm-500mm is F5.6
 I have learnt from experience that it's best to shoot as many frames as possible to get one that portrays the subject well. Initially I thought I had a few out of focus shots due to the shyness of the subject. Although not technically perfect is the first time I have managed to photograph an American Redstart in the Lower Mainland. 
Many thanks to Quentin Brown who differentiated the similar sounding Yellow Warbler and redstart making locating the bird so much easier. We actually found two apart from the one pictured here.

Final Frame

A Sign from Anna's Place

"It never too late to listen to the birds, read a book and enjoy the quiet moments"
John Gordon
Langley /Cloverdale
BC Canada