Saturday, October 14, 2017

Slimbridge Wetlands UK

Slimbridge Wetland Centre Gloucestershire UK

This was my fifth or sixth visit to the  Slimbridge Wetland Centre 
The sanctuary is very similar albeit a much larger version of the Reifel Bird Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta BC. Both are close to large estuaries as well as large tracts of agricultural land. Both offer a haven for migratory birds. Not only is the birding superb the centre's gift shop houses one the largest selection of bird books anywhere on the planet.


My guide for the day was Birding Pal Alan Baxter from Gloucester. I met Alan at the entrance and although we had only previously exchanged e-mails we immediately hit it off, especially when he suggested to the attendant I was entitled to a seniors discount. Five pounds saved just like that! 

We wandered from hide to hide looking for our two target birds, the Ruff and a Spoonbill, both had been showing earlier in the week but like any birding weren't guaranteed. At the first pond we were rewarded with a pair of Black-tailed Godwits, a Common Snipe (Wilson's to us in N.America) and the elusive Ruff, a great start to the day but still no sign of the Spoonbills though.

A  long distance shot of a Black-tailed Godwit.
 Barwits can't be mixed in with the flock so a decent photo makes for certain ID.


One of the better sightings with my new Hummingbird Scope were two Dark-bellied Brent or Brant. Now if only I could attach my iPhone I would have time to study my finds on the computer when I got home.

This Egyptian Goose (wild) flew into the ponds surprising a few observers. Quite a common bird in the eastern part of the country, nor so much in the West.

One birder insisted the goose was tame, all the others disagreed, a pointless argument as it turned out, the bird wasn't tagged and thus deemed a wild bird. Alan and I left the others, we had more ground to cover and a lot of ground there was, one could easily spend the whole day at the centre.


(Northern) Lapwing.


Common Snipe (Gallinago Gallinago)

Finally we heard from other birders a pair of immature Spoonbills had landed in one of the ponds. We hurried over and the pair were already pruning, partially obscured by a flock of black-headed Gulls. The hide was jam packed with a small army of birders, it was a tight squeeze with all the tripod mounted scopes and cameras jostling for position. Suddenly something made the birds take flight and provided us the opportunity of a flight shot. There were high fives all around, mission accomplished and time for a well deserved coffee break.

I left Slimbridge without buying another bird book for which my long suffering wife will thank me a plenty. We headed for Frampton in search of a Yellow-legged Gull. Fortunately Alan knew his gulls but not before I sighted a gull that looked different from the others, Alan confirmed my suspicions and yes it was the yellow-legged, species #143 on my UK list.

It was the perfect way to spend the day following a week-long session of packing and cleaning in preparedness for Dad's move across country from Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire. Next week will be spent sifting through more than  sixty years of memories my parents had squirrelled away, I wonder what treasures i'll find*

* And treasures I did uncover. Every postcard I had sent from my world travels, every newspaper and magazine tear sheet I'd sent them, my old school report cards (cringe) from the Sixties and earlier, old photos I had never seen, a lifetime of memories. 
Six days from now i'll have another opportunity to bird so until them.

"It's never too late to start birding"

John Gordon
BC Canada

Sunday, October 1, 2017

UK birding #2

Setting the Scene

I'm in England helping Dad move to a smaller house, at 91 he's having a little trouble with the stairs. In between packing and cooking I've had a few hours to wander up and down the country lanes that meander around Brockweir, a village I moved to at eight years of age.


Looking upstream from Brockweir Bridge.
Nikon P900
I spent countless hours fishing the River Wye at Brockweir. I caught eels, chub, dace and the odd trout. I vividly remember catching elvers (see below) in large hand held nets. I would go down in the evening with a large torch and wait for the ebb tide to turn (the river is tidal at Brockweir) when strong river currents forced the still transparent young eels to the edge of the riverbank where they could be scooped up. We only ate them a few times, fried elvers and bacon wasn't my favourite dish.

plural noun: elvers
  1. a young eel, especially when undergoing mass migration upriver from the sea.

These days the fishery is gone or regulated after years of over fishing. The eel larvae are carried all the way from South America's Sargasso Sea, carried northward by the North Atlantic Drift. The baby eels or elvers remain in rivers and ponds for seven years and then return to South America lay their eggs deep in the ocean and the resulting larvae would float to the surface making their way to North America and Europe. The life-cycle of the eel (Anguilla anguillawas a complete mystery until very recently.

A 16th century malt house in the village.
Bucolic is a word often used to describe the scenery and way of life found here. It was a great place to grow up and a hard place to leave but looking back Canada had been the right choice for me when I emigrated in 1978.

                                                               More About Brockweir

...and there are birds too. All except the Robin are difficult to approach so quite a bit of stealth is required. The Robin is the most common bird in the hedgerows and very territorial. The Robin is a curious bird often coming out to greet the imposter be it car or hiker. I must have counted 15 on my last walk and that might be conservative as it has many types of calls that can confusing to the birder not familiar the 'tick-ick-ick' or the single 'tick'.

(European) Robin
Nikon P900

In the distance perhaps 12 miles away I can see the Severn Bridge suspension bridge and in the Valley below is Tintern Abbey. The abbey roof is still missing from the time when Henry the VIII sent his henchmen and the Dissolution to the Monasteriess (1547-1551) decimated the abbey. It's eerie walking around the village, walking in the footsteps of so many generations. Sometimes one can almost feel the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives. William Wordsworth, Lord Nelson, Bertram Russell, the fishermen and farmers too.

Ancient Hedgerows

Comma Butterfly

In the hedgerow was a Chiffchaff, a common warbler and the first of its kind to arrive in the UK in the spring and one of the last to depart for Africa as autumn deepens. Some hedgerows here are almost a thousand years old.
The older hedges make great habitat for birds as they may contain fruit and nut bearing plants that are safe from the farmer's plough and harvester.
The oak trees are laden with acorns, each tree has a family of grey squirrels busily collecting the nuts for their winter larder. Wood pigeons are also in the trees fattening up for the winter.

Wood Pigeon.
In the past farmers would shoot them for food, later generations of birds are still fearful of men and are very difficult to get close to even with my 24mm-2000mm P900 super zoom. I haven't seen a native red squirrel since I walked the lanes as a ten year old. I hope that same fate won't happen in Canada where the same grey squirrel is also a pest.

Nikon P900.

My First Fish

There's a small bridge barely wide enough for a small car or horse and buggy and a babbling brook where as an eight year old I caught my first trout. 
I leant over this wall to catch my first fish in 1961.
 The brook hasn't changed at all, these days it's much cleaner after the farm upstream was made to clean up their act. I can still remember walking home with the smelly catch. Almost six decades have passed since that day, just one of a lifetime of memories!
In those days I would be outdoors all day when school was out, the moniker 'Helicopter Parents'  hadn't been coined then. When school was out I would leave in the morning and return for supper. I would spend the day on the riverbank learning how to 'read' the river, learning where the fish might hang out, very similar in a way that birders learn how to find birds.

Pecking Order

Common Buzzard
Nikon P900
Walking along the lane on my way to the village store I noticed a Common Buzzard feeding on roadkill. What appears to be a domestic pheasant had lost its battle with a vehicle. There are thousands of pheasants in the fields, released in the spring and left to fatten up themselves for the autumn shooting season. The scrawny looking pheasants are not at all like the wild pheasants which have bred in the UK since the Middle Ages. They're hapless, soon to be victims of the gentry who will paying huge amounts of money for the "Privilege"
Foxes love the banquet too as do the raptors, unfortunately farmers are not averse to shooting or poisoning birds of prey. There are even egg collectors who raid nests.

On my return from my walk a few hours later I notice the road kill is pretty well picked clean and now being squabbled over by a pair of Magpies, such is the pecking order in the UK countryside.

One day I walked to 
My grandparents lived out their lives there. I often drank too much at the pub and walked home rather than risk driving the narrow lanes. Those were the days. In the church yard I found this Song Thrush feeding on the red berries of an ancient Yew tree.

Song Thrush

From the castle grounds I watch around forty Jackdaws plying the thermals off the steep escarpment. They glide and dive over the village, their raucous calls more playful than anything. Jackdaws pair for life and are very tolerant of humans although I'm not too sure if that's reciprocated, especially around gardens at harvest time. The Jackdaw is a social bird, interacting with humans and often using chimneys to nest and raise their young. I stopped to talk to one villager, she told me they were a noisy pest.

Jackdaw or Chimney-Sweep bird on the roff of the local pub.
Nikon P900 at 2000mm handheld
There was a few hours of daylight left and the weather was perfect for walking. I decided to take a quick drive down the River Severn to Lydney Docks before it got dark. Along the canal towpath I found Goldfinches, Chiffchaffs and a Kingfisher.

Getting late in the day so the shutter speed is too slow but I would have go this shot unless I had the P900 at 2000mm

Next day off is a trip to permitting!

John Gordon
BC Canada

Saturday, September 23, 2017

UK Birding 2017 #1

Sept 17 2007 Goldcliff Lagoons Newport Wetlands Gwent Wales.

After a trans-Atlantic flight I really needed a full days birding to help shake off the jet lag. Prior to my departure I had arranged to meet Cardiff birder Paul Bowden through the BirdingPal website. Since joining a few years ago I have hosted a number of fellow birdpals on their visits to the Lower Mainland and now it was my chance to sit back be shown a few sites with a local expert.
Paul and I had corresponded before I left Vancouver providing him a print-out of my meagre UK life list (134) and unbeknown to me Paul had figured out a plan to find me some lifers. He was even kind enough to pick me up from the village store which is close to the family home. More of why I am in England/Wales later. Soon we were barreling down the motorway to the Newport Wetlands and Goldcliff Lagoons, a well known birding hotspot.
Barely a scrape in the ground, Goldcliff's proximity to the Severn Estuary makes it a magnet for migrating shorebirds while the surrounding farmland attracts a myriad of species including various species of ducks, Meadow and Tree Pipits and Northern Lapwings. The hedgerows harbour migrating warblers like the Chiffchaff and Eurasian Goldfinch. The area is also a staging area for many species preparing to fly across the Bristol Channel, the English Channel and on to Europe. Some migrating as far as North and Central Africa.

In no time at all we had Common Redshank and Greenshank, both lifers as well as Northern Lapwing and a flock of Ruff, It was the first opportunity to use my new Hummingbird Scope. The small size is perfect for travel as it fits in a photo vest pocket or small camera bag, with it I was able to view a another lifer, a Little Stint which otherwise would have been out of range with bins.

(Common) Redshank.

Meadow Pipit.
Heading toward the blinds we stopped to watch some warblers gleaning insects from the bushes. A Blackcap was the year bird, most were Chiffchaffs with the occasional bird possibly a Willow Warbler although without hearing their song they are hard or next to impossible to differentiate.

(Eurasian) Curlew Numenius arquata.

Little Grebe.

These ruff were part of a flock of five. The males are much larger than the females.

Cardiff Bay

Our second stop was Cardiff Bay. Sluice gates allow seafaring vessels in and out of the bay allowing salt water to mix with the brackish bay water. Inside the bay a good number of Tufted Ducks preened alongside several hundred Black-headed Gulls. A Gray Heron and half a dozen Great Crested Grebes filled out the roster.
Grey Wagtail
Walking along the seawall both Gray and Pied Wagtails were hawking insects while dodging the lapping waves.
Pied/White Wagtail.

Black Rock Nr Chepstow Gwent Wales.

Black Rock /Portskewett

 Black Rock is also a migrant trap as birds funnel along the banks and across the mudflats. In winter Short-eared Owls hunt along the fallow pastureland. On my visit the bushes and shrubs held plenty of chiffchaffs and the odd Goldcrest. The shoreline had a flock of (Eurasian) Curlew probing the mud. A small flock of Redshank also landed within view. I talked to some locals who were quite amazed by the birds in their midst.


Chiffchaff I think?


Further adventures to follow when time allows.

John Gordon
Langley Cloverdale
BC Canada

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Boundary Bay Birds # 250

August 30 2017 Boundary Bay Regional Park 104-88 St.

Delta, British Columbia

Sunny 84°F/28°C

Black-bellied Plover can be difficult to approach and are easily flushed.

I seemed the only birder on the bay, at least I couldn't see anyone else. The tides weren't good but that meant less people birding. Anyway, the most sensible would have stayed home with a cold beer but not me. The breeze off Boundary Bay was a welcome respite. There wasn't a bird in sight at 104 so I made my way to 96 where most of the migrating shorebirds have been reported. As I approached 96 I spotted the dreaded by-law officer ticketing a car. By the time I got there the birders/occupants had gone. Best park at 104 or 72. A ticket can cost $160

My goal was to find the three types of godwits had been reported for the past three weeks as well as a number of other species including Black-bellied Plover and various sandpipers, perhaps even get really lucky and find a Red Knot or Buff-breasted Sandpiper. All good birds to add to a year list.


Around 6pm the sun began to loose some of its harshness and in front of me were a thousand or more ducks, a good selection of terns, gulls and sandpipers just waiting to test my identification skills or lack thereof. Sanderlings no problem, Western Sandpipers no problem but what about the dowitchers, were they long or short billed? The terns were Caspian, easily identified by their size and raucous calls. As it turned out I bumped into two young birders Logan and Liron who were able to ID the dowitchers for me, the nicest and most knowledgeable youngsters you'll ever want to meet.

Finally after an hour I found the first of the two rarer BC Godwits, the Hudsonian. The Marbled was nearby but in bad light for a decent photograph.
Juvenile Hudsonian Godwit.

Finally I caught up with one of the three godwits I had been adding to my year list. This is my 249 BC species for 2017.

Western Sandpiper

Sweet Light

 Moments before the sunset I found this small flock of Short-billed Dowitchers. It was a great way to end the day.

Short-billed Dowitcher

  All images taken handheld with the Nikon D500 and Nikon 200-500 5.6 zoom

Sept 2/17
As I write this I have just returned from Boundary Bay where I had a scope views of the Bar-tailed Godwit, my two hundred and fiftieth BC bird of the year. No photos but I had a fine time chatting with birder friends who I hadn't seen for a long time. 

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Odd Bird/Published Work/NPS Exhibition

The Last Week of Aug 2017

Life works in mysterious ways. Recently birding and bird photography had to take a back seat. Fortunately there's now light on the horizon and I have been able to venture out more and more. I even took a trip up to Rock Creek for a music festival where I managed a couple of hours of birding at the Kettle River Recreation Site. As I only had a very short time I walked around shooting handheld with the Nikon D500 and 200mm-500mm Nikon zoom.


Some Rock Creek Images
Calioppe Hummingbird

A large forest fire a few years back has created the perfect habitat for woodpeckers.

Pileated Woodpecker
The image of the Three-toed Woodpecker below was taken from a considerable distance, really just a speck at the top of a tree and until I brought it into Lightroom I thought I had a Black-backed which would have been a lifer. 

Three-toed woodpecker

This week I've been down to Boundary Bay in hope of seeing the Bar-tailed and Hudsonian Godwits. I haven't caught up with either yet but I did come across four Semi-Palmated Plovers, nothing too unusual except that one of the birds was very pale.

The first pix is one of the three regular Semi-palmated Plovers, the last a very pale or perhaps leucistic specimen.

When I first saw the light coloured plover bird I had to investigate. This was a day tor two before the sighting of the now famous Piping Plover discovery.

Semi-palmated Plover.

A pale or Leusistic Semi-palmated Plover. Note the lighter coloured legs.
More about leucism in birds


A few blogs back I talked about how to go about having one's work published and sure enough a week later I find out one of my images was chosen for the cover of BC Birding.

 I sent the editor a few words to explain the who, what, where and why behind the image. Remembering that the editor is compiling a myriad of information from many sources, he's also correcting typos and errors and then finally the magazine has to be laid out. It's a tremendous amount of work and takes skill and perseverance, especially when done on a volunteer basis. I say this because writers and photographers need to make the editors job as easy as possible

The LeConte's Sparrow which appears on the cover was a target bird for many in the group and thanks to our group leaders everyone had great views. LeConte's prefer undisturbed damp fields. On reflection I would have preferred to have photographed the bird from more of a side angle but I didn’t want to risk flushing it before everyone had had a good view. Thanks to Brian Paterson for getting us on the bird.

 The Peace River region is somewhere I had always wanted to visit. Situated in the northern part of British Columbia, the Peace Region is a three-thousand kilometre round trip journey from Vancouver.
Three days of hard-core birding were slated for June 11–13 following the BCFO convention in Tumbler Ridge.
Twenty birders were split into two groups. Mark Phinney and Brian Paterson were group leaders.
Based in Dawson Creek and led by Brian, our group visited numerous birding hotspots including Swan Lake, Road 201 and McQueen Slough. Day 2 saw us visit Fort St. John where we birded Beaton Park and Boundary Lake, Watson Slough as well as spots in-between.

Back Cover

The Lazuli Bunting photo (back cover) was taken on my way home on the West Fraser Road just south of Quesnel. The area has been in the epicentre of the massive BC fires and many of the stunning areas I visited are now charred beyond recognition. The forest will re-generate


then more good and surprising news came from Nikon

Congratulations! Your Contest Entry has been selected to become a Gallery Tour
Finalist in the 2017 Nikon NPS Member Exhibition Photo Contest

The image below was taken at the Jantar Mantar Open Air Observatory, Jaipur India. 

Now all I need is to find some godwits.

John Gordon
BC Canada

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Publishing Your Images

Sorting through some of my files last week I came across an old photo page I had published in the Langley Times. It got me thinking about the whole process of getting an image into print. The idea came about when I recently shared a ride with a gifted photographer who for whatever reason couldn't get his work published.
 Here are some thoughts that might help you get published. Sometimes but not always the pictures themselves can be quite ordinary, they don't all have to be award winners as long as they tell or contribute to a rounded story that readers can relate to. This photo page below was about Brydon Lagoon in the City of Langley. 
The first picture below is straight out of the camera. There's nothing too special about it at all except I have purposely left plenty of space at the top and bottom of the picture to place more photographs, a title and some copy.

As I had other assignments that day I remember having only an hour or so to gather the photos. I had been down to the pond previously and had seen a leucistic Mallard which I knew I could hang the rest the other photos around. As it turned out it wasn't that co-operative so I shot the Canada Geese and Mallards (Fig 1) in the vertical format and used that as the main artwork. 
I used ©InDesign to combine the images and text on the page but it could also be done in ©Photoshop if one is using images only.  

There are some important considerations when contributing to a publication.
Colour files should be jpeg or tiff and be saved at 300 DPI. While 8x12 is usually large enough a higher resolution image can always be supplied if requested by an editor. It is very important to leave some space around the image so that the editor can fit into the available space. If possible send both a vertical and horizontal shot of the subject, that way you may find your shot being used on the cover. 

The Black-necked Stilt had been around the White Rock area for a few days so I sent the picture to the editor of the Peace Arch News knowing that it would be of interest to local readers. It was published the very next issue.

The most important factor of all is actually the submitting your work to publishers, magazines and newspapers when and if you think it might me newsworthy, if you don't try you'll never get published.

John Gordon 
BC Canada