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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Ring-billed Gull grooming on Second Beach

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Ring-billed Gull (Goéland à bec cerclé / Larus delawarensis) in winter plumage, grooming on Sunset Beach in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Taken with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (ISO 400, 260mm, f/7.1, 1/2000). Not baited, called in or set up.

This is a House Finch… or so I thought

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When I shot this photo (and several others), I was sure that I had taken a House Finch. But when I got home, the extent of the red colouring led me to believe that I had in fact taken a photo of a Purple Finch. After some online consultations, however, it would seem that my original identification was correct.

Jericho Beach Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada, November 22, 2014. Taken with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (ISO 800, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/800). Not baited, called in or set up. (This photo is not as clear as it should be in part because it was significantly cropped.)

This Horned Grebe was far away…

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The photo above is of a Horned Grebe (Grèbe esclavon / Podiceps auritus) in winter plumage. Although it shows a fair amount of detail, it would be even better if I did not have to crop it so much. The picture below is the one I actually got – in terms of surface area, I had to cut over 90% of the shot below to get the photo above. The moral of the story? I will need a stronger lens if I hope to be able to capture these much more distant birds with greater detail!

Jericho Beach, Vancouver, BC, Canada, November 22, 2014. Taken with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (ISO 720, 300mm, f/5.6, top: 1/800; bottom: 1/1000). Not baited, called in or set up.

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Those elusive owls…

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Owls pose quite a challenge for both birders and wildlife photographers, since they are generally active at night and are very good at hiding their presence in the day. In fact, we probably walk buy owls on a regular basis, but miss them completely because they hide so well in trees. I was able to spot this Northern Saw-whet Owl for only one reason: A fairly large patch of white droppings told me that a bird was found in a tree I had just passed by. And when I looked up in the right area, I found it. As you can see, it is eating a grey bird or small mammal.

Aside from not being easy to spot, even when you do find them, photographing them is quite difficult: Branches are almost always in the way, as is the case in both these photos. Still, I thought I would show them to you, because I was quite happy to have found this beautiful little owl.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (français, Petite Nyctale / scientific name, Aegolius acadicus), University of British Columbia, Point Grey Campus, Vancouver, BC, Canada, November 7, 2014. Taken with a handheld Nikon D5200 and AF-S Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED (ISO 1600, 300mm, f/5.6, top photo: 1/50 and bottom photo: 1/40). Not baited, called in or set up.

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In a perfect world…

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Anna’s Hummingbird | January 2014 | University of British Columbia (Point Grey Campus) | Nikon D5200 | AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR (ISO 1600 | 300mm | f5.6 | 1/320)

In a perfect world, all of my bird photos would look like the one featured above: In a natural setting, with a perfectly focused eye, good feather details, vibrant colours and an almost perfectly uniform background (and even this photo was only achieved with some serious cropping and other minor magical computer tweaking).

In reality, I never know when (and especially where) I will be able to capture that great, up-close shot of a colourful subject. The following three photos of Northern Flickers are a case in point. The first two of a male were taken from a sidewalk not far from my home in North Vancouver. As you may tell from the photo, the bird was next to the curb of the road, on a patch of grass that had seen better days. The third photo of a female was taken on the lawn of a housing complex in Whistler, next to a driveway’s small stone wall.

Although these three photos are laking in many ways, I thought the birds were captured vividly enough that they deserved to be displayed on my blog:

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Northern Flicker (male) | October 2014 | North Vancouver, BC | Nikon D5200 | AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR (ISO 1600 | 300mm | f5.6 | 1/250)

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Northern Flicker (male) | October 2014 | North Vancouver, BC | Nikon D5200 | AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR (ISO … | 300mm | f5.6 | 1/200)

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Northern Flicker (female) | September 2014 | Whistler, BC | Nikon D5200 | AF-S Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G VR (ISO 1600 | 300mm | f5.6 | 1/40)

Unsolicited Praise: Rebecca Budd, a.k.a. Clanmother

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This week, I would like to shine the spotlight on a prolific and highly talented blogger (and adventurer), Rebecca Budd (a.k.a Clanmother). Rebecca was of the earliest people to follow this blog, which was launched when the We Love Birds website/blog became a mere Facebook page. And she has been a loyal follower ever since, diligently liking my posts and providing interesting comments from time to time!

Now aside from being a highly talented photographer, Rebecca possesses one of the most important qualities that a blogger can have: She is an excellent storyteller! Her musings on the meaning of life and what constitutes art, culture and civilization are deceptively simple, yet profound. I especially like her reflections on the necessity of myth and heroes in past and present societies. She argues her positions quite convincingly, especially since she combines her great writing with excellent visuals (her photos). Although Rebecca maintains several blogs and social media streams, I especially like Clanmother, ChassingART and Lady Budd.

If you want to see her talents as a photographer, take a look here, here and here. When it comes to storytelling, you can start here, here and here. But please be aware that this barely scratches the surface… you could spends hours, perhaps even days, looking through Rebecca’s blogs and photos.

Choosing a photo as a homage to (and representative of) Rebecca did not come immediately, but when the idea popped in my head, I wondered why I did not think of it earlier. It is a photo I took (and already featured in this blog) in January of “The Lions,” two magnificent peaks that stand guard over Vancouver, on its northern shore. This photo was taken in North Vancouver’s Cleveland Park and show the peaks being reflected in Capilano Lake. It is good to note that before being given their current name by European settlers (of an African animal), the Squamish people (one of the region’s original inhabitants) called these majestic peaks Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn (“Twin Sisters”). According to the Squamish, the peaks were created by the Sky Brothers (or Transformers) after twin sisters of the Squamish nation married twin brothers of the Haida nation, thus setting in motion the end of a lengthy war that had raged between the two peoples. Their descendants still live in the region around the peaks.

Fall is here… and so are the Cedar Waxwings!

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Oddly enough, in this part of the world, I especially welcome the arrival of fall! Although the long, warm and lazy days are over and even if we will now have cooler temperatures and much rain (!?!) for several months, autumn also heralds the arrival of our long “bird season,” which actually runs from September to May (strangely enough, summer is relatively quiet around the Vancouver area when it comes to birds).

This photo of a Cedar Waxwing eating a berry is a clear indication of the changing seasons: The fruits are now quite ripe and birds are once again flocking together. In fact, these birds nearly landed on my head, allowing me to take a large number of good to excellent pictures! I may very well post a few more of them in the next few days, as well as photos of another species that signals the start of bird season (I will keep the mystery going for a few more days)…

[UPDATE: I should have indicated that this is a juvenile Cedar Waxwing and that the photo was taken a few days ago on the Point Grey (Vancouver) campus of the University of British Columbia, a few steps from the Clock Tower.]

I’m back, if only for a short while (with a Brown Creeper photo)!

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After being absent from these pages for almost a month, I figured I should post at least one new picture. I haven’t had the time to do a lot of birding or wildlife photography lately, but I have been lucky enough to get a few good shots here and there.

I got this photo of a Brown Creeper at UBC’s Point Grey campus, right next to the city of Vancouver. I am always amazed when I see these little birds: They seem to vanish for days, even weeks on end and then they suddenly appear right under your nose. This was literally true in this case: I am fairly sure that if I had not moved reflexively, one of these birds would actually have landed on my camera lens, probably to see if any tasty bugs lived there. And the bird taken above was so close to me at one point, that I actually had to back up so that my lens could focus on it.

Although I am greatly enjoying the glorious summer that we have had this year, I am looking forward to the start of the fall migration and winter arrivals. Maybe then I will be able to post photos more regularly!

Red-winged Blackbird

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I took this photo of a singing male Red-winged Blackbird a few days ago, next to the pond in Devonian Park in Vancouver (not far from Stanley Park). This individual is quite impressive with its jet-black plumage. And as you can see, it was quite a beautiful day (the weather is still fine!).

Busy squirrel

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I found this Douglas Squirrel yesterday morning as it was busily munching away at a large fallen tree in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. It was clearly busy making a hole in it, but to what purpose I am not sure. What I was not able to capture was that this individual was constantly fighting off one of its colleagues who was quite agressively trying to claim the new hole as its own.

Scrumptious starfish!

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I took this photo of a flying Glaucous-winged Gull with a purple/red starfish* in its mouth next to Stanley Park’s Seawall in Vancouver… I wish I hadn’t clipped off its left wing, but I still like the drama! Have a great week.

*According to an article in Wikipedia, this starfish may be the “Pisaster ochraceus, generally known as the purple sea star, ochre sea star or ochre starfish, … a common starfish found among the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Identified as a keystone species, Pisaster is considered an important indicator for the health of the intertidal zone.” Unfortunately, I just read an article in our local newspaper that these starfish may be falling prey to a mysterious disease, so our coasts may be less healthy than they should be. Climate change may once again be at issue…

Last year’s Vancouver City Bird…

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If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know that the Black-capped Chickadee was voted Vancouver’s City Bird a couple of weeks ago. But you may not know that last year’s City Bird was the Northwestern Crow, a species that is essentially only found in a very narrow band of land along the Pacific coast of British Columbia and Alaska. It is so close to its “first cousin” the American Crow, that many ornithologists believe they are in fact conspecific (the same species). I thought I would tip my hat to this remarkable bird with this photo I took last weekend on Stanley Park’s Third Beach in Vancouver.

Eating a wormy meal…

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I took this photo of a male Bushtit eating a green caterpillar (so it’s not a worm, but “wormy” not only sounds better that “caterpillary,” it’s actually a word) a few days ago in Jericho Park. The lighting was far from optimal and the focus of the eye is not perfect, but I like taking and showing these photos of birds going about their business.

White-crowned Sparrow

Having just celebrated International Migratory Bird Day on May 10th, I thought I would post a photo of a White-crowned Sparrow, which nests in greater Vancouver (I can hear one signing outside as I write these lines), but winters in nearby Washington and Oregon states. I realize this is not a perfect photo, because of the visual noise created by the branches and leaves, but I like the level of detail that can be seen in this bird. And I like that this was a chance photo, since I took it at the end of my work day as I was going from the office to the bus loop at UBC’s Point Grey Campus.

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And the winner is…

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After taking a one day break from my “blogging blitz” for Vancouver Bird Week 2014, I would like to take this occasion to congratulate the species that was elected this weekend to be the Vancouver City Bird for 2014-2015: The Black-capped Chickadee! (I guess that explains the photo, which I took in Stanley Park in late March).

Congratulations and best of luck also go to the other five candidates: Anna’s Hummingbird, Northern Flicker, Pacific Wren, Pileated Woodpecker and Varied Thrush.

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).

Flying off?

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For today’s instalment of my “bird photo blitz” in honour of Vancouver’s Bird Week 2014, I will post two photos of a Mew Gull, in part because they allow you to admire their beautiful wings. These birds were doing something intriguing when I took these shots: As the photo below shows, they were repeatedly skimming the surface of the water, seemingly for no reason. Perhaps someone can tell me what was going on?

I took these photos in North Vancouver on April 20, along the North Shore Spirit Trail in Kings Mill Walk Park (not far from the foot of Fell Avenue).

I took these pictures with a fantastic borrowed lens (if you like to photograph wildlife): Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR.

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Flapping away!

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For today’s instalment of my “bird photo blitz” in honour of Vancouver’s Bird Week 2014, I will simply post a photo of a female Common Goldeneye flapping away on Lost Lagoon in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

I took this picture with a borrowed lens: Nikon’s massive AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II, with a 1.7 teleconverter.