Sunday, May 13, 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, May 9, 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

Monday, April 23, 2018

Good Walks and Dirty Dog Walkers

Another great walk this week:

WEDNESDAY APRIL 25TH QUEEEN ELIZABETH PARK, VANCOUVER Leader: John Gordon Time: 9:30 am at the Rose Garden parking lot off 37th Avenue Join John to walk through this beautiful park to admire the different flowers, trees and shrubs and to look for warblers, vireos and other spring migrants that use the park as a stopover on their way to the breeding grounds. Bring your camera and a snack.

Phone 604-533-7171 for info or to let us know to expect you. 

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.

Nora Truman, Secretary
Langley Field Naturalists



Mexico 7 Bonampark

Mexico Feb 21/18

Story Adrian Leather
Photos by John Gordon

Next on the menu was Bonampak. We stayed in a very cool ecolodge in the Lacanja area, more a village surrounded by rainforest, with scattered homes and cabins, ran by a Mayan family. Each cabin was numbered, then had a name in Mayan, and Spanish. The dining room was like a type of longhouse with sections of tree trunk providing the seating. It was neat to hear the staff speaking in Mayan. They were a friendly bunch, very laid-back, and served some excellent food. The Mayan Chief engaged in quiet conversation. The walls had hanging trinkets, maps, and nature info, and I noticed an article pertaining to a Canadian anthropologist. This place was super-tranquil.

We didn't have much luck with our nocturnal birding. Short-tailed Nighthawk was a no-show. We had a Vermiculated Screech-Owl which didn't want to quit, and a Mottled Owl. We heard this strange, loud sound. Someone asked, "What is THAT!?", to which Eric replied, "THAT is a Jaguar!", which certainly caught our attention. We heard the Jaguar numerous times. It was difficult to get a reading on how far away it was. Cool as anything!
John Hodges, and Eric were operating spotlights from each side of the van, when John said, "WHAT is THAT!?". It turned out to be a Kinkaju. By the way, I ought to mention that many of our birding destinations featured Spider Monkey, and Howler Monkey, which provided a lot of great viewing, and listening.

We never went to the ruins @ Bonampak, as the birding on the entrance road was so good! We saw 3 Blue Ground-Dove fly across the trail. 4 Mealy Parrot was a nice find.

Slatey-tailed Trogon
A Slaty-tailed Trogon (Massena) was impressive, and a Tawny-crowned Greenlet was hanging-out near 2 Lesser Greenlet. Northern Schiffornis, and Plain Xenops were spotted. Other good finds were a Slate-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Northern Bentbill, and 2 Long-billed Gnatwren. 2 Lesson's Motmot were watched, and a Rufous Mourner was heard. Birds kept coming thick and fast! 2 Barred Antshrike, 2 Dusky Antbird, and a Great Antshrike were added. We saw another Royal Flycatcher, and had a brief look at a Ruddy-tailed Flycatcher. Manakins also featured, with 2 White-collared, and 2 Red-capped. We enjoyed a nice mix of warblers, including Worm-eating, Chestnut-sided, Golden-crowned, and a beauty of a male Kentucky!

Kentucky Warbler

3 Green Shrike-Vireo were tallied. Among the grosbeaks were 2 Rose-breasted, and a pair of Blue-black! Breathless birding, and another tough place to depart.
We tried an area of the Parque Nacional Palenque where Spot-tailed Nightjar has been located. No luck with the nightjar, but we did encounter a noisy Limpkin, and a Common Pauraque. Other goodies were Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Canivet's Emerald, and Yellow-breasted Chat, but the biggest surprise was seeing 2 Scarlet Macaw on the very outskirts of the town.
Our final day dawned, and we were back @ the Parque Nacional Palenque, and greeted by the weirdest roaring sound. Was it even a bird? Jerry moved toward the sound, and realized it was coming from 2 Bare-throated Tiger-Heron high in a tree.

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

 A Louisiana Waterthrush gave excellent viewing as it bobbed along the shore of a nearby stream. We walked a trail in the park which was a gem of a place. We enjoyed good looks at a Rufous-breasted Spinetail, and a beauty of a Great Antshrike in the trailside scrub. 

Louisiana Waterthrush
Flycatchers included Yellow-bellied, and Acadian. Woodcreepers were Tawny-winged, Wedge-billed, and Ivory-billed. Other goodies included Wood Thrush, and 3 Black-headed Trogon. More than anything, this was a stupendous warbler walk, with fifteen species recorded, including Worm-eating, Hooded, Northern Parula, and with amazing looks @ 2 Blue-winged, a Swainson's, and 2 Kentucky! We joked that we wouldn't need to go to Point Pelee. Another supercharged adrenaline high! No chance of us leaving this trip quietly!

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

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Herrings and Twitching

April 2018

 Point Roberts USA

April 12 2017

Last week the herring were spawning off Point Roberts. The annual event attracts thousands of seabirds as well as good numbers of seals and the occasional whales. A wonder of nature, the spawning is an important food source for wildlife. Overfished for years the herring fishery is now highly regulated, hopefully stocks will rebound in the future.
The herring lay their sticky eggs on kelp and other aquatic vegetation. A small flock of Sanderlings gorged themselves on the beach, each new wave adding more bounty. 

Sanderling feeding on herring eggs attached to seaweed.
The constant activity overhead was mesmerizing, a birders dreamland. Flocks of Brant flew overhead, thousands of Surf Scoters feasted a few hundred metres offshore.
Brant flying over Surf Scoters

(Below) A raft of Surf Scoters prepare to follow the spawning herring toward the shore.
Surf Scoter inspired by Liron Gertsman

Several years ago I saw an award winning picture by young birder and upcoming nature photographer Liron Gertsman, the image made an indelible impression on me. I was hoping to witness something similar. Although this picture is nowhere near as interesting I am glad I was able to witness the sight for myself.

Surf Scoter
I knew the shot I wanted and because the Surf Scoters were backlit and lighting harsh I went for shape, form and feeling over a more literal presentation. I worked hard to find some simple symmetry in the birds wing patterns while including the rest of the flock in the background to give depth to the image.

A Surf Scoter dives leaving a curtain of water.
Harlequin Duck
 Timid and never coming too close to shore Harlequins are one of my favourite ducks  I waited and waited for something different and eventually the female rose out of the water sending a little spray toward the male. 


Great-tailed Grackle


April 18 2016

I spent the morning looking for the Sage Thrasher at Piper Spit in Burnaby but to no avail.
 I had already made a back-up plan to go for the Great-tailed Grackle on Vancouver at Kennedy and West 4th 
Grackles are common in the southern USA and Mexico and wouldn't normally warrant a glance but in Vancouver it was very twitchable.
There was a full-on twitch when I arrived. The bird had been posing for everyone until the exact moment I arrived when it decided fly off across the street to a block of apartments. Eventually it came back and gave everyone great views.

Once the sighting go out it even made both of the daily newspapers. I include the link below.

Great-tailed Grackle
See below for the Vancouver Sun story

A good "twitch bird" catches and swallows a beetle.

Colony Farm Coquitlam BC

April 20 2018
I barely had time to finish my Honey-Do chores around the garden when news of a Black Phoebe starting filtering on the Inter-web. John Reynolds had found a Black Phoebe at Colony Farm. They are very rare in Metro Vancouver, perhaps only a handful in the past decade. I would be a BC and Metro Vancouver lifer for me.
I picked up my neighbour CAGI and we were soon on the road to yet another twitch, our third of the week. On the way we chatted away, mostly complaining about the price of gas and aches and pains associated with gardening, eventually taking the wrong lane over the Port Mann Bridge and overshooting out destination. After a few choice expletives from the driver (JOGO) we arrived at Colony Farm. We found the birders before the bird, this twitch was even easier than the grackle a few days earlier. Three twitches in three days can't be bad. Too bad I was talking and missed the Sage Thrasher.

Note. Except for sharpening and cropping there is no extra editing. To ensure that the background of the images had no distractions I only shot when the bird was on an unobstructed branch.

When I viewed the bird through the viewfinder. I noticed the back view of the bird showed off the primaries so beautifully.

Secondly I wanted a side shot showing as much detail as possible and below I wanted was a shot with eye contact and finally I ensured that there was a catchlight in all the shots.

Mission accomplished we made sure we found the right overpass and were soon home none the worse for wear.

Finally here are a few of the best links I have found this week;

Amazing Cormorant Fishing

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