Sunday, December 31, 2017

December 31 - Best of the Year - Part 1

I've rounded up my best photos/experiences of 2017. Most of these are covered in this blog, but some of them were from my  2017 Vacation/Birding Blog .

I've tried to contain it to one or two photos for each month, but some months were more productive than others.

January 2017

Two photos stood out from January. The first was taken on a frigid New Year's day when I got a tip from Monica, a birding acquaintance, that there was a Harris's Sparrow at the foot of 96 St on Boundary Bay. It took a while to find it while shivering in the cold, but the photo made it worthwhile.

Harris's Sparrow - Boundary Bay, Delta BC - January 1, 2017

The other highlight was a Rock Wren at Brunswick Point about 3 weeks later. At one point, this bird walked between my legs as I was taking photos. This was my second ever Rock Wren, the lifer was in 2016.

Rock Wren - Brunswick Point, Delta BC - January 22, 2017

February 2017

Only one bird made the cut this month, a female Canvasback Duck at Surrey Lake. She was diving fairly close to shore and the light was good.

Canvasback (F) - Surrey Lake, Surrey BC - February 25, 2017

March 2017

Just one shot for March as well, this was my first ever of an American Bittern. I was wandering the trails at Reifel Bird Sanctuary when I met the group on the Sunday bird walk. They told me there was an Bittern further up the trail. I'd seen my lifer in 2016, but it was just a flyby with no photo. The Bittern was still there when I arrived and I took a number of good shots.

American Bittern - Reifel Bird Sanctuary, Dalta BC - March 19, 2017

April 2017

I saw my first Yellow-rumpled Warblers for 2017 on April 1st at Iona Regional Park in Richmond. This photo captures the beauty of this species and Warblers in general.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler - Iona Regional Park, Richmod BC - April 1, 2017

Since 2013, I've been participating in an Okanagan birding tour with Avocet Tours. I've picked up quite a few lifers on this tour including Western Screech-Owl in  2016. I didn't get much of a photo of it that year, but I did in 2017.

This photo was taken through a guide's spotting scope with my IPhone.

Western Screech-Owl - Kelowna BC - April 7, 2017

After the tour was over, my friend Mary-Jean and I revisited the McIntyre Bluffs that overlook Vaseux Lake near Oliver. There were numerous Mountain Bluebirds migrating through the area. We caught a male and female close together on a fallen tree.

Mountain Bluebirds - McIntyre Bluffs, Oliver BC - April 9, 2017

One more April shot that I took in White Rock on a Sunday afternoon. We see Horned Grebes all through the winter in their black and white Basic (non-breeding) plumage. It's rare to see them in their Alternate (breeding) plumage as they head inland for mating season.

Horned Grebe - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - April 16, 2017

May 2017

May is migration month with many birds returning from the south to either stop over before heading north, or to stay here for breeding.

Early in the month I visited the North 40 Dog Park in Delta. This is an abandoned Air Force base that has been left to go back to natural conditions. A pleasant surprise on my only visit here was a Lincoln's Sparrow in very fresh plumage.

Lincoln's Sparrow - North 40 Dog Park, Delta BC - May 6, 2017

Near the end of the month Mary-Jean and I visited Pitt Lake Regional Park where we saw Gray Catbirds, Eastern Kingbirds and other spring migrants. As we were approaching the entrance to the Nature Trail, I saw a small bird and realized it was not a Sparrow. This was the very secretive Swainson's Thrush. I only got a couple of quick shots away, the best seen below. In almost 30 years of birding, I've only photographed this species three or four times.

Swainson's Thrush - Pitt Lake Regional Park, Pitt Meadows BC - May 29, 2017

June 2017

Early in June I made a solo trip to the Okanagan. One of the areas I try to visit is the Swan Lake Conservation area, just outside Princeton. I saw a good collection of birds on this stop. Just before leaving a large bird flew by and landed. It was a Great Horned Owl perched about 30 feet away wondering why I was invading its territory. I took a few shots and skulked back to the car.

Great Horned Owl - Swan Lake Conservation Area, Princeton BC - June 4, 2017.

Near the end of the month, my wife Edith and I travelled to Alberta for our annual family visit in Calgary. We took the southern route this year and visited Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. After leaving the park, we saw this hawk just off the roadside on a fence post.

Swainson's Hawk - near Foremost Alberta - June 27, 2017

That's the end of part 1 of my best of 2017. Second half of the year should be right below this post soon.

December 31 - Best of the Year - Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of the best of 2017. July and August are generally the worst months for birding on the west coast. With the nesting season over, it's very quiet. In August the southward shorebird migration starts, but September and early October are generally the better months.

July 2017

Here's a photo from July of a Bustit, taken in our backyard in North Delta.

Bushtit - Backyard North Delta BC - July 26, 2017

August 2017

August was a complete wipeout for bird photos. the highlight of the month was observing the total Solar Eclipse in McMinville Oregon.

Solar Eclipse totality - August 21, 2017

September 2017

I had reached September without picking up an addition to my life list. The last one was seen in November 2016. That changed this month when I saw my first Parasitic Jaeger in Point Roberts. I also witnessed it stealing a fish from the mouth of a Glaucous-winged Gull, typical Jaeger behaviour. This was #421 on my North American Life List.

Parasitic Jaeger - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - September 17, 2017

A week later at the same location I made a long walk along the beach to find a Lapland Longspur that had been seen by Chris Charlesworth of Avocet Tours, our tour guide in April. My patience was rewarded when a female Longspur bird appeared and posed very nicely for me.

Lapland Longspur (F) - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - September 24, 2017

October 2017

In October I travelled to San Francisco for the Oracle Open World convention. Afterwards, I took a few extra days to do some birding in the city and south in San Mateo county.

Near the Ferry building in San Francisco is a good place to see the local Western and Heermann's Gulls. This photo of a Heermann's is one of my best of the trip. The gull is quite small with black legs. It has an unmistakable orange bill with a black tip. We get the occasional stray up here at Point Roberts.

Heermann's Gull - San Francisco CA - October 5, 2017 

For the weekend, I relocated south to San Mateo county.  I visited some of the local hotspots and saw a good collection of birds as detailed in my vacation blog:
2017 Vacation Blog

There is a small city park in Atherton named Holbrook-Palmer Park. It has some play areas for the kids and some picnic areas. It also has plenty of trees and natural gardens. I've had a few lifers here during the years.

The first photo from the park is a happy accident, a Black Phoebe with an unusual background. The sky just happened to show up with this green colour, I didn't do anything in post processing to alter it.

Black Phoebe - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton Ca
October 6, 2017

On the same afternoon I came across this California Scrub-Jay in a darker corner of the park. I did some tweaking to darken the background while retaining the colours of the plumage.

California Scrub-Jay - Holbrook-Palmer Park, Atherton Ca - October 6, 2017

November 2017

Late fall and early winter are good times to see birds on the Lower Mainland. This first shot was taken in the backyard and features our resident Anna's Hummingbird. The feeder is hung on our upper deck. This gives us eye level views when the bird perches in an apple tree close by. This looks like an immature male just starting to molt into adult plumage.

Anna's Hummingbird - Backyard, North Delta BC - November 4, 2017

Later in the month I was at Point Roberts and saw a different northern visitor. I didn't have to walk too far for this one, it lit on a log very close to where I was standing, very close to the "lighthouse" (it's more like a small beacon).

Snow Bunting - Lighthouse Marine Park, Point Roberts WA - November 12, 2017

December 2017

On December 10th I spent the Sunday in the Fraser Valley and then made a brief stop on Burnaby Mountain. But the best photo opportunity came when I returned home and saw a Pileated Woodpecker in the back yard. 

Pileated Woodpecker - Backyard, North Delta BC - December 10, 2017

Six days later on the following Saturday, I pursued a rare bird alert in Vancouver, an immature Summer Tanager had been seen. It was in the Marpole area and had been around for a few days.

This bird is completely out of place here, it is most commonly seen in the South-eastern US. This was my last life bird for the year, it was #425.

Summer Tanager - Vancouver BC - December 16, 2017

The last bird of the year was a boxing day sighting of a Barn Owl hunting somewhere in Delta. The birder's code does not allow me to give location details for owls. This is done to to prevent harassment of the owls by over-eager onlookers. This is a female, which is larger and more colourful than the male. Note: this may look like I was too close, but this is a zoom from about 50 - 70 meters distance.

Barn Owl - Delta BC - December 26, 2017

This ends the 2017 blog, all of the posts are available below in descending date order. The older posts link at the bottom of the page will take you to the next set of older posts.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 30 - Last Outing in 2017

The weather before the New Year was not very good for birding, so this was my only outing after Boxing Day. I had not been at White Rock Pier for quite a while and I still was missing Greater Scaup on my year list. The Pier was the best spot to look.

My usual parking lot was nearly empty and after I paid my $3.00, I realized why. There was construction in the area and I had to walk around it, past the lot where all the other visitors were parked.

Once you're out on the pier, the views of White Rock can be spectacular, especially when there's a train going through.

There were numerous diving ducks in close range including both female and male White-winged Scoters.

White-winged Scoter (F) - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

White-winged Scoter - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

Another common diving duck here is the Bufflehead. The male is difficult to photograph because of the contrast between the dark and light plumage. It's a rare photo that captures the dark eyes. This one was a decent attempt.

Bufflehead - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

I reached the end of the pier and spotted a female Common Goldeneye.

Common Goldeneye (F)  - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

Nearby I found my target bird, a female Greater Scaup. The Lesser and Greater are tricky to differentiate, the Lesser prefer fresh water, the Greater like salt water. The best ID mark is the shape of the head. The Lesser has a peak at the back of the head while the Greater has a backward sloping angle. This bird definitely has the slope at the back.

Greater Scaup (F) - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC - 2017 Bird #222

This was my last species for the year.

On the way back, I took some more shots of the Scoters and the Bufflehead.

White-winged Scoter - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

This one caught something, but lost it back in the water a few seconds later.

Finally, this Bufflehead had some attitude.

Bufflehead - White Rock Pier, White Rock BC

This is the second to last post of the blog, I'll wrap it up with a best photos of the year post.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December 26 Part 1 - Brunswick Point

I love that the Christmas break affords me the opportunity to go birding and try to see a few more new species for the year. Alas, the weather did not cooperate this year, so I only got out on Boxing day and on the 30th.

I decided to visit Brunswick Point as there were some birds that had eluded me that are sometimes seen there. There was a report of an American Tree sparrow, which is an uncommon visitor from the north, but it's a big area to find one bird.

Brunswick Point is at the end of River Road in Delta (past the turnoff to Westham Island and Reifel). There is a very long stretch of dike that runs along the south side of the Fraser River as it feeds into the ocean. If you stay on the dike, you can reach the Tsawwassen Ferry jetty, but it's a long walk.

On the south side of the dike is a large agricultural field as shown below.

The foreshore beyond the trees is a good are to see raptors such as Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers and Bald Eagles. Occasionally there might be a Gyrfalcon in the area as well.

Bald Eagle - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

There were a couple of birds active in the field which turned out to be Killdeer, a year round resident Plover.

Killdeer - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

Part way out on the dike, it bends south. There is a bench there for those who need a rest or want to enjoy the view. Near the bench I took this shot of a Robin. It's a common bird but I'm really fond of this shot.

American Robin - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

Winter can be tough on the birds that don't migrate southwards, there's many scenes like this in rural Delta with Herons trying to conserve heat.

Great Blue Heron - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

I reached the area where the Tree Sparrow had been seen, but had no luck spotting it. I did see a familiar Woodpecker, also trying to stay warm.

Northern Flicker - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

As I walked back, there was more activity in the farmer's field, close enough for the Nikon to get a couple of zoomed out shots. It was one of the species I was hoping to see for 2017, American Pipits.

American Pipit - Brunswick Point, Delta BC - 2017 Bird # 219

The last bird I saw at Brunswick Point is more normally seen in an urban setting, it was nice to see it here. The photo turned out quite well as a bonus.

Rock Pigeon - Brunswick Point, Delta BC

I made one more stop on River Road at a residence where a couple of Mountain Chickadees had been visiting the feeders for a few weeks. Although they welcome birders to come into their backyard, it feels awkward. I only stayed briefly and did not see the chickadees. However, I took this colourful shot of an Anna's Hummingbird near a feeder.

Anna's Hummingbird - River Road, Delta BC

This ended the first part of my day, I made a quick Starbucks stop in Ladner and proceeded to my next location. See nex post for details.

December 26 Part 2 - Air Show somewhere in Delta

I hope this post does not break protocol. I will not divulge any location details since it is partially featuring an Owl.  It's also nearly a month later as I write this, so it's possible the subject is no longer in the area. Besides, very few people read this blog :-).

I arrived at the location and noticed quite a few photographers hanging around. Usually I recognize some people, but it's a different crew that frequent this location.

The first bird seen was a Rough-legged Hawk, perched close by on a tree. It had a very large tag on it's right side. Someone told me that it meant that the bird had been captured at the Vancouver International Airport, probably chasing Snow Geese.

The bird is tagged so that if it is repeatedly caught at the airport, it may be relocated somewhere farther out of the city.

Rough-legged Hawk - Delta, BC - 2017 Bird #220

However, the bird that most people were waiting for suddenly showed up, a female Barn Owl. I won't go into any other details, other than to say that it appears that recovery programs are working well. This is the first one I've seen in the wild since the 90's at Brunswick Point.

I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

Barn Owl - Delta BC - 2017 Bird #221


The owl disappeared with a mouse or vole that it had caught and was not seen again as the light faded.

The Rough-legged Hawk made one more appearance, this shot with the tag out of sight.

This ended Boxing Day birding, one more outing to come for the year.

Monday, December 25, 2017

December 25 - Blue (Jay) Christmas

Apologies to Elvis for the title of this post.

Like last year it was just Edith and I on Christmas morning, so after the presents were opened, I had some time to go birding. An alert had come in on December 23rd that a Blue Jay had been spotted at a Girl Guide camp in Richmond. It was probably found on the Christmas bird count for the area.

The camp is across from the south arm of the Fraser River near #5 Road. The camp has a live-in caretaker who has a daily routine of feeding peanuts to the birds in the area.

When I arrived there were a few birders there and they had seen the bird. It was not present at this time, but there were quite a few Steller's Jays around. Although I had seen this species on a couple of occasions in 2017, these were my first photos of them for the year.

Steller's Jay - Woodward Landing Girl Guide Camp, Richmond BC

Another bird that I only saw a couple of times, and only photographer once was also present, a Mourning Dove. They seem to have been displaced by the invasive Collared Doves.

Mourning Dove - Woodward Landing Girl Guide Camp, Richmond BC

Finally the Blue Jay showed up, just after the caretaker put out the peanuts.

Blue Jay - Woodward Landing Girl Guide Camp, Richmond BC
2017 Bird #218

These jays are common east of the Rockies, but whenever one shows up on the coast, it attacts a lot of attention.

Blue Jay- Woodward Landing Girl Guide Camp, Richmond BC

I'd visit again on New Year's day to see if I could add it to my 2018 list.