I’m back… sort of!

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Dear reader…

As you know, I have stopped posting to my blog since the Fall of 2016. I have returned for a brief moment, however, to let you know that I was pleased to be interviewed for a blog post by Sharon McInnes, a regular contributor at Bird Canada. If you have a moment, please take a moment to read her article and look at my photos (including the one posted above. To read Sharon’s article, please click here!

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…

Tree Swallow

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Today is the last day of my “bird photo blitz” for Vancouver Bird Week 2014 and for the Vancouver City Bird competition, for the simple reason that today, May 10th, is the final day of this special week and competition. So if you haven’t done so, take a moment to vote for you favourite Vancouver bird.

Today also happens to be International Migratory Bird Day 2014 – if you haven’t done so yet, I would strongly encourage you to explore this website.

I have chosen to finish my blitz with this beautiful pair of Tree Swallows checking out a tree house in Delta, BC’s George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. I chose this photo to make an important point about this week and day: Many migratory birds around the world are in great difficulty, especially if they eat insects on the fly. Although the Chimney Swift and Barn Swallow are doing far worse, Tree Swallows are also declining.

There are probably many reasons for the decline in flying insects and the flying birds that eat them, but the use of certain pesticides, the decreasing number of family farms and climate change are probably the three leading causes. This decline has been going on for some time (for three decades or maybe more) and is quite alarming; you can find out more here, here and here (and this is only a very small sample, by the way).

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.

 

@vanwoodpecker: Pileated Woodpecker

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The Pileated Woodpecker is the last bird that will be featured this week so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.

As I indicated a few days ago, I will take this occasion to try to answer two common questions linked to woodpeckers:

  • First, how to they climb trees the way they do? The answer is linked to the strength of their claws and tail muscles, not to mention their very stiff tail feathers, which provide them with a fair deal of leverage as they go up.
  • Second, given how often they bang their bills against a rather hard tree to find food, do woodpeckers get headaches or concussions? As it turns out, it would seem the answer is no. L. J. Gibson summarizes the main reasons in the following manner: The relatively small size of this family’s members “reduces the stress on the brain for a given acceleration;” the brevity of the impact “increases the tolerable acceleration,” and “the orientation of the brain within the skull… increases the area of contact between the brain and the skull.” [L.J. Gibson “Woodpecker pecking: how woodpeckers avoid brain injury” Journal of Zoology 270 (2006) 462]

I should also point out that the Pileated Woodpecker is currently considered to be the largest North American woodpecker. But this was not always the case: Both the Ivory-billed and Emperor Woodpeckers (which lived in the Southern United States and Mexico, respectively) were larger, but are now considered to be most likely extinct due to habitat loss, hunting and other human activities. I guess I bring this up to say that we should do all that we can to ensure that the Pileated will not share in the fate of their cousins by preserving our old-growth trees and forests and by keeping the impact of our activities on their lives to a strict minimum.

Now that I have concluded my series on the six fascinating birds that are running for election as Vancouver’s next City Bird, there is only only thing left to do: Vote!

@vancityblackcap: Black-capped Chickadee

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The Black-capped Chickadee is the fifth bird featured in this week’s bird extravaganza so that you, my loyal reader, can make an informed choice when you vote before May 10 in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest.

There are many reasons this is one of North America’s favourite (or at least best-known) birds, including its great curiosity, its characteristic song and other calls and vivacious nature. The fact that it will often land in people’s outstretched hand even when there isn’t any food there does not hurt, of course.

But I particularly like this bird because they tend to be followed around by a great posse of birds wherever they go, including other chickadee species, nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos (to name only a few). I can only guess that their complex series of warning calls are considered the best in the forest!

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@thevariedthrush: Varied Thrush

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The Varied Thrush is the fourth bird to be featured this week on my blog so that you, my dear reader, can make an informed choice when you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest — which you must do before May 10.

Aside from being an incredibly beautiful thrush with a rich orange coloration in the front and dark slate (almost blue) in the back, this bird has one of the most haunting and oddly almost-human whistles, which is quite beautiful in its simplicity.

Another interesting fact about this bird is that some individuals have an extremely rare variant plumage in which the orange parts are replaced by white. I thought this was quite interesting in light of the photo below: This bird had one mostly white eyebrow (the other was orange). Now this individual’s bill is clearly damaged — I wonder if there is a link?

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@pacificwren: Pacific Wren

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The Pacific Wren is the third bird featured in this week’s “bird blitz” so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.

One of the more interesting facts that I have read in many different articles about this bird is that, gramme for gramme, the Pacific Wren sings ten times as loudly as a crowing rooster. I do not know how scientific this fact is, but one thing is certain: When you see and hear one of these tiny birds sing (only hummingbirds are smaller in this region, BTW), you can only admire how much they pack a punch!

If you recall the blog I published yesterday on the Northern Flicker, this species used to be divided into two species, but was then simply divided into “red-shafted” and “yellow-shafted” subspecies. In the case of the Pacific Wren, however, experts decided that the almost cosmopolitan “Wren” actually deserved to be divided into two new species in North America, the Winter out east and the Pacific in the west. One of the most important clues? The fact that in one of the few places both reside (the Murray River area in eastern British Columbia), the two species’ song remains quite distinct and, more importantly, they almost never interbreed even though they share the same habitat. (I found this fact here, although the article confusingly still considers the two species to be the same.) And so imagine how happy I was to get two new species on my life list without having to do anything!

In any event, I thought you might want to admire one of these very interesting birds as its sings its powerful song:

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@northernflick: Northern Flicker

 

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The Northern Flicker (Twitter handle: @northernflick) is the second bird that will be featured this week so that my readers may make an informed choice when they vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest between now and May 10.

Flickers (colaptes in Latin) are an interesting subgenus of the Picidae family (which includes most notably several the woodpecker) for many reasons, one of which is that they not only peck on wood, but also routinely eat on forest floors, grass (as can be seen in the photo below) and even sidewalks or the wood panels of houses! What are they finding there? Well, in many cases, they are looking for insects like ants and termites. So if one or more of these birds seem to be feasting on something in your walls, you might have a serious problem on your hands. It should be said, however, that the males also use wood, metal or vinyl sidings and chimney covers to drum like mad. Why? To establish their territories and attract females, of course!

Now how do they use their tails to climb on trees and how can they withstand all that pecking? Well, if I may create a bit of suspense, I will get to the answer in a few days, when I speak about this gentleman’s much bigger cousin, the Pileated Woodpecker.

For now, I will mention one interesting fact: Out west, we have what is now known as the “red-shafted” Northern Flicker, as opposed to its “yellow-shafted” counterpart, which lives in the eastern half of North America. Until the late 1950’s, however, these two varieties were in fact considered separate species, until it became apparent that the resulting “hybrids” are in fact able to breed normally over their lifetimes.

But don’t let this loss of species status get you down: The “red-shafted” Northern Flickers residing all year in Vancouver are quite striking and colourful. Their bright orange (almost electric pink) underwings are quite a sight. In fact, whenever I see one of their feathers on the ground, I find it hard to believe that it hadn’t been artificially coloured!

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@annathebird: Anna’s Hummingbird

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The Anna’s Hummingbird is the first bird that will be featured this week so that you, gentle reader, may be able to make an informed choice as you vote in the 2014/2015 Vancouver City Bird contest before May 10.

Many things impress me about the Anna’s Hummingbird, such as its tendency to attack much bigger birds or the male’s impressive mating display, which puts fighter pilots to shame (read more about this fascinating subject here). But I will focus on perhaps its most astonishing feature: Its brain. According to worldofhummingbirds.com, the brain of a hummingbird represents about 4.2% of its body weight, “the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.” Apparently, these birds remember “every flower they have been to, and how long it will take a flower to refill.” More information about the brains and memory of hummingbirds may be found in this article. It is also good to note that the speed of execution of the Anna’s Hummingbird arial display suggests that it must have a very rapid brain that can analyze things like distance and speed much faster than humans or most other living things, for that matter.

But let us not forget that one reason many people like these birds is that they are quite simply flying jewels, as can clearly be seen in these two photos taken a couple of months ago at UBC Vancouver’s Point Grey campus.

See you tomorrow, when I will speak of the Northern Flicker.

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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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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

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