Stanley Park monthly bird count (September 2016)

Green-winged Teal (female)

Green-winged Teal (female) | Sarcelle à ailes vertes | Anas carolinensis or Anas crecca caroliensis

After a lengthy absence from my blog, I felt like posting a few pictures taken during Stanley Park Ecology Society‘s most recent monthly bird count, which took place last weekend, on September 11, 2016 and was led by Else Mikkelsen.

We saw a number of interesting birds, but the most interesting for me was seeing (and hearing!!!) a pair of kingfishers up close and personal at the northwest corner of the Lost Lagoon, near the lagoon’s tributary. I captured only a marginally acceptable shot of the male, but I have posted it here nonetheless. We were also lucky enough to get some good views of Gadwalls, Green-winged Teals and Wood Ducks, not to mention a few migrating birds such as a Warbling Vireo and Yellow Warbler (the latter is not 100% certain, but I’m fairly confident that this is what I saw).

But the strangest thing that happened as we began our walk was that we got a very good and long look at a bat as it flew on the lagoon in broad daylight to hunt insects. Unfortunately, this may also indicate that this individual had rabies, as it is highly exceedingly rare for most bats to be so active after the sun has fully risen. Let’s hope that it only was temporarily confused! I’ve included a photo of the bat, even though it isn’t very sharp.

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Cooper’s Hawk at Queen Elizabeth Park

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Cooper’s Hawk (juvenile/1st year) | Épervier de Cooper | Accipiter cooperii: My son and I were lucky to spot and then get decent photos this Cooper’s Hawk as we were walking around Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park. Now if only I owned a more powerful lens, I would not have had to crop this photo as much as I did! One day, maybe…

Taken July 23, 2015, with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (ISO 900, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/500, cropped). Not baited, called in or set up.

Hooded Mergansers on Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon

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Hooded Mergansers taken on November 23, 2014 at Stanley Park’s Lost Lagoon in Vancouver, BC, Canada (top: male, bottom: female). Shot with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (top: ISO 800, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/1000; bottom: ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/400). Neither bird was baited, called in or set up.

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I’m still here!

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I have yet again neglected to post anything on my blog for several weeks, so I thought I should provide some proof that I am still out and about taking pictures of birds and other subjects! I took this Ring-billed Gull yesterday on Wreck Beach, next to Vancouver’s University of British Columbia. This photo was taken at a focal length of 75mm, because this bird wanted to get very close to me. In fact, I had to back up on numerous occasions to continue taking photos! I guess it thought I might have tasty snacks (I guess it didn’t know that I never hand feed birds, because it is quite bad for them – more about that in a future post).

Unsolicited Praise: Mia McPherson

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On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, I thought of starting a series called “Unsolicited Praise,” which will feature a heartfelt post on an extraordinary blogger. As the title implies, these people did not ask for to be included here and nothing is required of them in return. I will include a variety of bloggers in these articles: Although many of them are birders or wildlife photographers, other kinds of photographers or naturalists will also be included. And some bloggers will be featured because they possess one of the great gifts any person can have: That of being able to tell a good story. As much as possible, instalments in this series should appear every Monday, although some weeks may feature additional posts. And at least one of my photos will be included with the story and dedicate to the person in question because it is in some way related to this person’s blog, stated interests or online personality. I hope you will like this feature as much as I am looking forward to writing it!

Choosing the first person to thank was, I will admit, very difficult: Over the past few years, I have visited the sites of many excellent bloggers and even exchanged messages with a large number of them. But since I had to start somewhere, I’ve decided to feature this week two bloggers whose work has most influenced my own modest bird photography efforts in the past few years. Today, I will tell you about Mia McPherson, a highly talented and dedicated bird photographer. Although Mia began to perfect her art in Florida, she now calls Utah home. The quality of her blog, “On the Wing Photography,” is simply stunning.

From my perspective, it doesn’t hurt that Mia uses Nikon cameras and lenses, which I have been partial to since I first purchased the FE-2 film camera in the late 1980’s (my first camera was the highly reliable Pentax K-1000). But in truth, I really enjoy her work and her blog because of the effort that she puts into capturing the perfect shot. And this is far more complicated than it seems: She not only has to find and then foresee the behaviour of her subjects, but must also concentrate on issues linked to composition, lighting and background. And she must do all this even if it the day is cold or hot or wet or mosquito-infested.

In short, the photos she choses to publish (and even the ones she “re-discovers” years later in her archives) are not only all extremely well composed, but also communicate the essence of the bird being captured. This is truly amazing. If you would like to see a few examples of what I mean, please take a look here, here, here or here (and I am only barely scratching the surface with these).

The photo featured above is a Wilson’s Snipe, that I captured during the Stanley Park Ecology Society’s monthly bird count in December 2013. I chose it because, in a an excellent article posted recently, (which features a beautiful picture she took in 2009 of a Willet), Mia wrote that “shorebirds were the spark that ignited my passion for bird photography that continues to consume me today.” The photo displayed above does not feature the extraordinarily luminous and “soft” backgrounds that Mia seems to find so often when she photographes birds, but it is one of the best series of shots that I have managed to take so far of a “shorebird.”

Tomorrow, I will write a few lines about one of Mia’s good friends (and fellow bird photographer), Ron Dudley. Stay tuned…

So many choices: Northern Pintail

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Today, I have chosen to feature a female Northern Pintail that I found a few days ago in the pond in Jericho Park. I was quite lucky to be able to get fairly close to it. I have always liked the female’s understated beauty: Take a look at those lovely feathers on her back…

And since I got many good shots of this bird, I was unable to choose a single picture. As a result, I will feature two pictures in this post and a third one on my Twitter feed later today.

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A small owl, simply…

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I took this photo of a lovely Northern Saw-whet Owl in March at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Delta, BC. I will let the image do the talking, but will point out that this post continues my “bird photo blitz” for Vancouver Bird Week 2014.

My favourite parasite?

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To continue on my “bird photo blitz” to honour Vancouver’s Bird Week 2014, I will feature a much-maligned species, the Brown-headed Cowbird (BHCO). This bird gets a bad rap among birders and other people in the know, because it practices “brood parasitism.” To put it another way, they lay their eggs in the nest of another bird species and let the other parents raise their young. Evolutionary biologists believe this behaviour evolved to allow these birds to follow the huge herds of bisons that used to roam the North American plains, without having to worry about raising their young.

I should also point out that they often target much smaller species, including warblers. To see the colour of a BHCO egg, take a look at this picture on Wikipedia. And to see the sometimes surprising size difference of the “chosen” species, take a look at this Yellow Warbler feeding a young BHCO – posted in Murr Brewster‘s wonderful blog.

Having said all that, as the following photo can attest, the male of the species can be quite striking and even beautiful, especially in early spring, when the contrast between its brown head and black body becomes even more striking due to the iridescence its black feathers, which make them seem deep turquoise in the right light. I took this photo along the boardwalk (Piper Spit) in Burnaby Lake Regional Nature Park.

 

Vancouver City Bird 2014/2015

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Six iconic bird species residing all year in Vancouver are competing for votes to be honoured as this year’s official City Bird. The winning bird will be used in promotional material for 2014/2015’s Bird Week (information on this year’s event may be found here). So get your vote in by May 10! To find out more about the 2015 Vancouver City Bird competition, please visit: http://ow.ly/vF63w

To do my part to increase voter turnout in an unpartisan, even-handed way, I will feature (starting tomorrow) a daily blog post with stories and photos of each species. So come back over to my blog over the next six days and then get your vote on!

I probably should also tell you that each bird has its own Twitter account – now how appropriate is that? In alphabetical order, here are each bird’s Twitter handle: @annathebird @northernflick @pacificwren @thevariedthrush @vancityblackcap @vanwoodpecker (BTW, I will post each species in this order and *not* in order of preference.)

You may wonder: Why is there a photo of the Northwestern Crow at the start of this blog? Answer: Because it was the Vancouver City Bird in 2013/2014!

Spring has sprung all over the place!

I haven’t been posting much recently, so I thought I would post this photo I took today at UBC Vancouver. This male Bushtit was busily getting food and materials for the nest it was building with its mate. As you can see, the leaves are just about to sprout and Vancouver will once again show off its resplendent spring colours!

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Flight: A photo essay

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Now that I have your attention, why don’t you run on over to my guest post on Bird Canada, entitled Flight: A photo essay. You may have guessed that it was about… flying bird photography! (Oh, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day if you’re Irish, would love to be Irish or are just in the mood to celebrate something.)

D50 Archives: Bushtit

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Bushtit (female) | Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC | April 2013

This week’s “D50 Archives” feature puts the spotlight on one of my favourite small brown birds, the Bushtit (en français : Mésange buissonnière | Scientific name: Psaltriparus minimus).

Although the photo at the top needed a greater amount of tweaking than usual to compensate for the lousy background light, I quite like the result. We can clearly see the female’s yellow eye and the texture of its feathers, not to mention the delicate cherry blossoms. These birds are quite hard to capture on camera and so I have only managed to take a few good pictures over the years.

This is an interesting species in that they tend to flock around in large “gangs” of 30 or more birds, that constantly chatter at each other while they look for food. Another interesting fact about this bird is the way you can distinguish the male from the female: As you can see below, the male has a dark eye, while the female’s is yellow (see above).

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Bushtit (male) | Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC | March 2013

D50 Archives: Hybrid Gull?

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“Olympic Gull” or Thayer’s Gull? | Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC | February 2013

This week’s “D50 Archives” feature is rather unusual, since I am posting what is likely to be two completely or at least partially separate species: The picture above may be a hybrid gull (in all likelihood an “Olympic Gull,” which is not an actual species, but a cross between a Western and a Glaucous-winged Gull) or it could be a Thayer’s Gull (THGU). I have included below a picture of a Glaucous-winged Gull (GWGU) in its winter plumage – for comparison only, since I will feature at least one other image of this species in a future posting.

I rediscovered the photo above only recently. Looking closely, I noticed right away that the bird’s mantle was darker grey than a pure GWBU, especially the primaries, which are in fact almost black. I also noticed that, compared to the GWGU, its bill looks a bit smaller (compared to its head) and its eye is quite dark. As the image below demonstrates, however, eye colour is not always useful, especially in certain light conditions, since this is clearly a GWBU (with its light grey mantle and primaries), but its eye look quite dark, not clear yellow or light brown as it should be. I should also indicate that the black spot on the bill (next to the red) may also be a sign that a California Gull was involved in creating this individual, but many birders have told me that this indication may be quite misleading, especially in younger adults.

Now I have not always cared much about gulls, especially out in Montreal, because there are relatively few species that are commonly found there and they are readily identified. But on the Pacific coast of North America, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many ornithologists here specialize in these birds, given the weird combinations we can find here and the challenge involved in identifying them. So, if you happen to be such an expert, what are your thoughts on the matter?

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Glaucus-winged Gull (non breeding adult) | Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC | March 2013

Signing in!

Grey Jay | Cypress Provincial Park (West Vancouver, BC, Canada) | October 2013

Grey Jay | Cypress Provincial Park (West Vancouver, BC, Canada) | October 2013

Once again, I have been away from my blog for an extended amount of time. I thought I would post something about the bird count that I did in Vancouver’s Stanley Park a few days ago, but I was not able to take any pictures because I forgot that, for my camera to work, I should have remembered to return my fully charged battery to its proper place (more about that on my monthly guest post on Bird Canada).

So instead, you may admire the lovely Grey Jay I photographed the following day, when my family and did a very pleasant (if slightly exhausting) hike in Cypress Provincial Park, from the ski station to Mount St. Mark and back. These courageous and rather intelligent birds understand that they can get some free chow anytime exhausted humans stop to admire the view and eat a few bites to regain some energy before returning home.

BTW, one of the reasons that I have been absent is that I am putting some order in my photo archives, which I hope will be finished in a week or so. Once it is done, I will try to increase the regularity of my blog posts. Let’s see if I can do that, shall we?

House Finch surprise

I did not think much of this photo when I took it a few weeks back at the foot of Grouse mountain and although the lighting and pose are far from perfect, I do like the striking colours. By the way, the House Finch is called Roselin familier in French and its scientific name is Haemorhous mexicanus.

House Finch (male) | Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver, BC | July 2013

House Finch (male) | Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver, BC | July 2013

Birds of Europe

Now that I’ve returned from an all too brief trip to Europe, I thought I would post a few bird pictures taken there. Although I did not do any serious birding on this particular trip, I still managed to see many species and even added a couple of beautiful birds to my life list: the Black Woodpecker (en français, Pic noir / Scientific name: Dryocopus martius) and Red Kite (Milan royal; Milvus milvus). I may very well have seen both of these before, given the number of times I was able to spot them in a relatively short amount of time, but it was great to get 100% confirmation on both.

Although only a few of the photos presented here are as good as I would like them, I am very pleased with the pictures I took of the European Robin (Rougegorge familier / Erithacus rubecula), taken in an urban garden in Berlin – one of these pictures is on display here. Another bird that I was able to capture well is the Egyptian Goose (Ouette d’Égypte / Alopochen aegyptiaca), which seems to be more closely related to shelducks than geese. Because it is quite popular as an ornamental species, it has been introduced in the wild in various places in Europe, including Germany, where I found several colonies of these birds in or close to Berlin and Frankfurt.

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“The Birds” at Photohaus Gallery in Vancouver

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Now that I have your attention…

If you happen to live or be in the Vancouver area this Friday, May 10th, please drop by the Photohaus Gallery at 14 West 7th Avenue for the photography exhibition “The Birds” (the title says it all, but if you want more information, just click on the link).

I probably should add that this is in large part a shameless act of self-promotion, since five of my pictures will be featured during the show.

Of birds, wind and waves…

Last Monday (April 30), I was one of the people who volunteered to help with a migratory bird survey conducted every spring since 2007 by Stanley Park Ecology Society‘s (SPES) Conservation Officer, Robyn Worcester.

The day started well enough, with a lovely sunrise and a bit of a breeze when I left my home at 5:20 am to catch the bus that would take me to the park on time for the 6:00 am start. Once there, I noted that the wind seemed to have picked up a bit, but this did not seem too alarming to me. When we headed out the door to visit the first of the ten stations we were supposed to monitor on this day, however, it soon became apparent that the winds would impair our ability to hear the birds we were supposed to be counting and might even be a safety concern if branches were to start falling on our heads. When we arrived at the fourth station, and even though I heard one bird for the first time of my amateur birding career (a Black-throated Grey Warbler), it was apparent that not only was the wind not dying down, it was actually getting stronger and so covered the voices of the birds even more than before. At that point, our leader Robyn decided to call the survey off.

I was of course disappointed, but as we drove around Stanley Park, I noticed that Vancouver’s normally placid English Bay seemed to be displaying some pretty impressive wave action so, armed with my camera, I decided to investigate. As you can see from the photos displayed below, I did manage to capture a few pictures of some interesting birds on my way to the waves, including a lone Greater White-fronted Goose that did not seem in a hurry to leave this beautiful part of the world to go to its breeding grounds in Alaska and Canada’s Arctic.

But I mainly wanted to get some shots of the waves and I was not disappointed, as the images below should demonstrate!