Monday, 24 August 2015

Bar-tailed Godwit

When I heard of a report of a Bar-tailed Godwit at Boundary Bay this afternoon, I raced down there as fast as I could to try my luck at it. The tide was out fairly far at 88th street, so I took off my shoes and began to traipse out across the mud. Ironically, another birder had the same idea I had and we ran into each way out on the flats. To our delight, the godwit was right where we ran into each other with a large group of Black-bellied Plovers! I tried to get some shots off but something spooked the flock and they took off south down the shoreline. I split up from the birder and walked along the edge of the mud in search of more birds, or another encounter with the godwit. There were thousands of shorebirds on the mud feeding busily including huge amounts of Western Sandpipers, surprising numbers of Sanderling ( 70+ ), and a peppering of Pectoral and Baird's Sandpipers. Short-billed Dowitchers were dotted sporadically throughout the predominantly Black-billed Plover flocks as well as a lone juvenile Red Knot. Around an hour and a half after I saw the godwit the first time, I came upon it foraging on the perimeter of a shorebird flock, elegant as can be. I slowly crept toward it in a soft walking/kneeing style, taking a few shots every few feet. Amazingly, the bird didn't seem to have a care about my presence, continuingly picking at the mud. Even when all of the Black-bellies took off around it, the godwit watched them and then resumed feeding. I sat down when I realized how close I was, and I didn't want to disturb it, just in case it fancied to flush. In my cross-legged, camera-on-lap position, I got some images I am proud of.

Bar-tailed Godwit


Here's a view looking from where I was near the godwit back to shore.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Alightment to Australia

November 30th, 2014

"Flight to San Francisco, connecting to Sydney, Australia will be two hours late." Those were not the words I wanted to hear to begin the big Australia trip, but what began slightly shaky, became one of the best trips of my lifetime. Sitting in the Kelowna International Airport, with -18 degrees Celsius frigid air outside, I was ready to depart for warmer climates. But at the same time I was slightly confused. This is my first real major trip. The thoughts started to plague me : What am I supposed to feel like? What is Australia going to be like? Am I going to have a good time? Am I going to utterly fail in my swimming competition? And the crucial one - am I going to miss most of my target birds?!

I tried to divert my attention by attempting to get Internet... no battery left. How about chatting with the rest of the athletes who are riding with us... they are all on their wireless devices. So, I resorted to watching the Packers/Patriots NFL game in the bar while I waited out the delay. As it turned out, in the important match, the Packers outduelled the Pats in dramatic fashion.

Finally, the guy who calls out the boarding instructions ( I cannot think of his profession's name )... maybe the "Flight Ussher" or maybe "Delay Giver" announced that the flight is boarding. Quickly rustling up my bags, I hurriedly dashed out of Kelowna International's waiting room and stepped onto the plane. But not before feeling the last of the sub-zero temperatures outside as I walked across the boarding bridge.

Three hours later - San Fran airport. Only a two hour window of downtime, and then we're off on the 15 hour flight to Sydney. At last, after finally finding some decent food at the airport, the Flight Ussher ( this time no delay, so not the Delay Giver ) calls out the flight. I did some tuck-jumps to loosen up the legs before the knowingly long and cramped flight, but it caused some rather un-wanted attention from the lengthy line-up of passengers awaiting to board the plane... but my Team Kelowna athletics outfit kept them at bay; I guess they thought this was part of my hourly routine ( not ). Many more tuck-jumps later, and I'm feeling the last of solid ground for the next 15 hours, hearing the last American accents for the next five weeks, and savouring the last bite of normal food before the three potentially ghoulish airplane meals.

The flight to Sydney was very eventful, and could be a subject of many stories, but I'll try to shorten it up. First, the airline we were riding with ( I won't mention the name ) has arguably the worst leg room of any airline in the US, so trying to sleep was an art of manipulation and toleration. I'll also throw in irritation and aggravation. For the 15 hour, through-the-night flight, I frankly didn't get much sleep. The best I got was flipping my legs up in the air to the window-crevice, and resting my head on the supplied pillow on the arm rest. That's how I slept my three hours. The rest of the time was composed of watching mindless cooking shows, silly movies, etc. on their terrible touchscreen screen on seat in front of me. There were also games supplied, but there was an annoying string of comments such as "You're pushing too hard!", or, "Whenever you push that, my head gets jolted forward!!!", from the lady in the seat in front of mine whenever I tried to do anything. Oh, and just like I expected, the meals were... let's not even talk about the meals. Let's just say I went hungry for 15 hours.

Finally, as the movie Mrs. Doubtfire was finishing, and breakfast, Aussie-time, was being served in my home for 15 hours, the spell-binding coastline of eastern Australia was laid out invitingly out the window of the plane. My heart leapt as we started our decent toward the Sydney International Airport, and we only had half an hour until landing. Of course, being me, as we descended closer to the water, I squinted at the cargo ships below, wondering if perchance a jaeger could be somehow materialized in my eyes perusing the vessel for scraps. Alas, we were still at too far of a distance and I diverted my gaze back toward the rapidly approaching shore ahead. In minutes we were coursing the coastline; flying over the pristine sandy beaches and eucalyptus forests of Australia. I couldn't hardly believe what I was seeing. The aircraft suddenly veered left, and runway was laid out below us. Downgrading it went, and then pop, Australian turf was underneath the plane's wheels. We taxied toward the airport gate, and already I was looking for birds. All of a sudden, a bird snuck into the corner of my eye, soaring high overhead. WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE!!! I almost couldn't harness my excitement, and nearly yelled it out loud. Gazing at this bird with my naked eye, I admired it's wonderful silhouette, much like a Bald Eagle, but seemingly larger, with much wider wings. My first bird of Australia was actually not a usual airport suspect, such as a starling - who knew? It was fantastic to cross something better off the list to commence the trip. Well, the next species I noticed was indeed a jolly old European Starling. After several minutes of criss-crossing the runway, we at last pulled up to the boarding gate. I jumped up out of my seat, stretching my legs all the while, and hustled up my bags. We then walked down the long aisle of the interior of the plane, and seemingly after a endless time, with heart beating, I stepped out of the plane and into the embracing warm air of Australia.....

To be continued...


Saturday, 22 November 2014


Australia? Yep, I'm travelling down under to the big oval continent at the hypothetical 'bottom of the world' that is Australia this December. I received the chance to go as a result of being picked as an athlete for the International Children's Games in Lake Macquarie, which is just north of Sydney. The Games are an international, multi-sport competition, hosted by the Olympic Commitee, and are the largest multi-sport youth games in the world. I am a swimmer, so, I'll be swimming at the games. To put it into perspective, it's like the Olympics, just for youths of ages 12 to 15. There are four groups of swimmers going to the games from Canada : Kelowna, two from Ontario, and one from Quebec. 88 cities from 32 countries in total are participating, so it's a huge event!

Me swimming in Kamloops this summer at a swim meet. Believe it or not, this is the best picture I could find of myself that downloaded properly into this blog!

Bad picture aside, I am pretty proud of myself that I was able to qualify for an international competition after six years of hard work!

The games are from December 7th to the 12th, but I'm leaving for Australia on November 30th, so I have time to recover from the severe jetlag that takes a toll on you after the 17 hour flight.

Right after the ICG ( International Children's Games ) are over, I'm heading straight out of Lake Macquarie, southward to Wollongong, and I'm going on an Aussie pelagic!!! I am very, VERY excited to say the least. Who knows what could be out there? WAAL, BBAL, WCAL, WTSH, GWPE, PRPE, and BRSK are some of the possibilities. You figure out the four letter codes. ;) ( Tip - just Google any of those codes, for example "WAAL four letter code" and the answer should be in any of the links provided. ) Anyway, from there, I will embark on a chaotic three week birding roadtrip, zipping across New South Wales, ACT, and Victoria, until I leave on my return trip to Kelowna on January 8th. My goal is 270 species of bird, but I'll be happy even if I get 200 - hey, I'll be birding in glorious Australia - it's all good!

I'm not sure if I'll have time to update this blog while I'm gone, due the lack of computer access and time.

Well, I will be departing on the Aussie adventure in... eesh a week, so I don't know if I'll be able to post until the new year, but just in case, you can check the blog sporatically if you want.

Have a great Christmas everyone, Bon Voyage, and this may sound really cliche, but G'day!


Monday, 10 November 2014

Busy Life Birding

Hello everybody;

Some of you may know either one or both of these two things :

1. I finally purchased a Canon 400 f/5.6mm lens

2. I am going to Australia in December

These are the two reasons I haven't been active on my blog for the last few months, as well as balancing school and three sports, on every day of the week. Alright, now I'm just making excuses. Of course, being an ever-craving birder, I have scampered around the Okanagan on various escapades over the last month. Here are some of the tales and photos.

On October 19th, on a whim, I decided to head south to Penticton, to twitch the Lesser Black-backed Gull that has been showing nicely on the waterfront near the pier. Nearing the location in early morning, a pack of nasty butterflies were rising up a storm in my stomach; the tension was heating up to get the bird! As we were pulling up the edge of the parking lot, I could not believe my eyes. There, sitting on the sand, visible from the car, was the Lesser BB Gull. Tearing open the car door, I poised my freshly purchased lens, ready to fire. Suddenly the gull flock took off in a flurry of wings. I shot away, and below is the first shot I ever took with the lens, of the LBBG. Okanagan lifer #250 and B.C. lifer #303!

Lesser Black-backed Gull

This photo does not do it justice, as it's really a very looking sharp bird. This gull is a "third cycle" immature, which means it is in its third year. Lesser Black-backed Gulls take four years to fully mature into adult plumage.

After that excitement, I met up with Russell Cannings at the wharf, and we headed down to Skaha Lake, feebly trying to re-find the Black Scoter reported last week by none other than himself. ;) There were no scoters of any kind out there, but I tested out the new lens on a fly-by Ring-billed Gull.

Ring-billed Gull BIF

Heading back over to Okanagan Lake, we scoped various waterfowl such as Surf Scoter, ( finally a scoter sp. for the day ), Red-necked, Western, Pied-billed, and Horned Grebes...

Horned Grebes - Penticton waterfront

... and around 15 other species of ducks and grebes. We then hiked around the esplanade trails behind the yacht club, grabbing some goodies such as Bewick's Wren, ( scarce in the Okanagan ), 13 Western Bluebirds, migrating Sharp-shinned Hawks, and a late Wilson's Warbler :

Wilson's Warbler - several weeks late for its fall migration

But unanimously, the best bird of probably the entire fall for me so far, was a Dusky Flycatcher, found foraging in a flock of juncos on the north side of the esplanade. Why is this significant? It was the second latest record ever recorded in Canada, by almost two weeks. Russ and I, to say the least, were incredibly ecstatic. Thankfully, I managed to take a some half decent shots of it, including this one, albeit a tad obscured by branches.

Dusky Flycatcher - you should be in Mexico!!!

After a good morning of birding around Penticton, Russ and I parted ways, and I headed for Peachland for the afternoon. My mom's friends live way up the mountains that loom above the town of Peachland, and we decided to pay them a visit. Spruce and Douglas Fir trees abound up there, and the slopes and gullies that make up the terrain create a beautiful scenic look to it. So, I deduced, while I'm there, I might as well see there are any birds up there. First off, while still in their backyard, I heard a small group of White-winged Crossbills chattering it up in the massive cone-bearing evergreens that line the property. An unexpected surprise, and one I didn't think would come down that low in mid-October. From there, I embarked on a two hour extreme solo hike, with walkie-talkie in hand, down the various trails and gullies in the vast forest. I didn't bring my camera, as the hiking was too treacherous for anything to risk getting broken! Scenario - walking down a slope, falling, and my camera in pieces. Point in case, I didn't dare bring it. All three nuthatches, Red Crossbill, and Pygmy Nuthatch were tallied right off the bat. A few minutes later, another random late Wilson's Warbler, and a slightly late ( for the Okanagan ) Spotted Towhee were spotted low down in a riparian creek bed. Then, scanning a far away ridge produced a migrating Northern Goshawk, and suddenly, a gorgeous Golden Eagle glided right over my head, also headed south. This spiel, without any pictures to keep you awake, is getting too long, so I'll leave it at this. :roll: :mrgreen: :lol: To sum it up, some of the other birds seen on the walk were Western Bluebirds, a Chestnut-backed Chickadee ( another scarce sight in the Okanagan ), and various other nick-nack species.

It turned out to be a fantastic day, with a lifer, the Lesser Black-backed Gull, and over 75 species on the day list.

A couple days later, on October 23th, I captured this Black-capped Chickadee with an orangey autumn backdrop, signaling it is definitely fall.

Black-capped Chickadee

To my good fortune, this picture was chosen to be posted on the front page of the website, Kelowna's homepage.

On Saturday, October 25th, I birded hard around Kelowna, seeing a somewhat respectable 65 species, and finding the Okanagan's latest ever House Wren! I'm sorry, I could not manage a photo. :cry: Well, here are some other photographic highlights of the day :

Ruby-crowned Kinglet - Munson Pond

There was a hyper flock of seven of these Ruby-crowned Kinglets at Munson Pond. These guys hardly ever pose for longer than 0.5 of a second, but in migration, they sometimes, albeit rarely, come close as they feverishly glean the foliage for food.

Song Sparrow - also at Munson Pond


Male Gadwall - Rotary Marsh

Gadwalls absolutely love wetland ponds, as they forage among the vegetation at the bottom to feed. Also at Rotary Marsh was a very distant Pacific Loon and this Brown Creeper.

Brown Creeper camouflage

Common Raven silhouette - mouth of Mission Creek

Song Sparrows are too hard not to photograph, so here's another one taken that day.

Song Sparrow - Thomson Brook Marsh

And finally, a Red-tailed Hawk posing for a split second at the Kelowna Landfill :

Red-tailed Hawk - Alki Lake Landfill

Last Saturday, on November 1st, I met up with Chris Charlesworth, Russell Cannings, and Reid Hildebrandt, a birder from the Northwest Territories, and we journeyed around the Central Okanagan, seeing almost 80 species of bird, and nailing most of our targets.

We were birding at a high pace, so there were few photographic opportunities, but here are some of the few I got :


Northern Shrike - They are back! These two pictures are backlit, but the two levels of contrasting bokeh turned out.

Great Horned Owl - We found a roosting pair of these strikingly patterned birds in a grove of willows.

Northern Pygmy-Owl - This beauty flew right overhead from a giant fir tree, landing in this bare cottonwood, and starting calling persistently.

Well, this is what I've been up to lately, and it will only get better in about three weeks when I'll be in Australia!

P.S. Sorry about the widths; they're all wonky. ;)

Sunday, 26 October 2014

C'est Arriver

C'est Arriver? What in the world? It translate to "it has arrived" in French. You'll ask the obvious questions : "What has arrived?", "What context is that in?", "When did what arrive?!" Well, the simple answer to all those questions is the Canon 400 f/5.6 L Prime super-telephoto lens, and it arrived last Thursday. A mouthful to say and a whole lot of money to purchase.

I've been wanting this particular lens for the last two years now, and I have scraping up as much money as I could toward it. I thought the day would never come, but on October 16th, 2014, the call came in from the local London Drugs, "It's here". "What?!?!" Just the night before, I purchased the lens online, and it was estimated to take at least a week to get here. So, a day later - yes, the next day, I was in somewhat of a state of shock when I heard the news that it had arrived prematurely. You bet I rushed down there as quick as I could to go pick it up, and only 21 hours after I ordered it, at last, I had my hands on a brand new Canon 400 f/5.6 lens!

For me, I wanted my first shot with my new rig to be somewhat special, so when I heard that a Lesser Black-backed Gull was showing nicely in Penticton, that was almost too much bait not to dive in for! A possible B.C. lifer, plus a chance for my first picture ever taken with the lens to be a rare bird, was making me decide rashly to hit the road and head down there... stay tuned...


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Gull help for birders in the Vancouver area

This is a short guide to the gulls that birders in the Lower Mainland area of British Columbia may run into. Also, this doubles as a visual reference to gull ID... I hope.  :wink:

There are 9 regularly spotted gulls in the Vancouver area ( Glaucous-winged, California, Mew, Ring-billed, Herring, Bonaparte's, Heermann's, Western, and Thayer's ). There are also several rare species that are reported annually ( Franklin's, Glaucous, and Iceland ), and a mouth-watering assortment of MEGA rarity gulls that have only been seen in the Lower Mainland a handful of times, ( Black-tailed, Black-headed, Little, Sabine's, Slaty-backed, and many more ).

"Gulling" as it's dubbed, is much better in winter, as they crowd fields, pastures, and landfills, providing easy visuals of many species side-by-side. The turf farm at 72nd street in Delta can produce at least 8 species of gull if scoped carefully in winter.

At this time of year ( summer ), Mew, Ring-billed, California, Glaucous-winged, and Heermann's are virtually the only species of gull possible to see. Franklin's do show up though, and I had one at Boundary Bay in late July.

Here is a selection of pictures I've taken over the years to help you with gull identification. I haven't photographed every species possible, but I've tried. :lol:

Glaucous-winged Gull - typical adult

Glaucous-winged Gull - immature

Herring Gull - 1st cycle immature

Herring Gulls - typical adults

California Gull - nice adult

California Gulls - a group of adults, you can see the wingtips ( primaries ) better here than in the first picture

Ring-billed Gull - adult

Ring-billed Gull - adult preening

Iceland Gulls - winter plumage adult on left, immature on right

Thayer's Gull - adult in centre of image, three California Gulls above it

Mew Gull - beautiful winter-plumage adult

Mew Gull - immature

Glaucous Gull - "yellowy" immature

Heermann's Gulls - adults ( or three musketeers )

Heermann's Gull - adult, flying

Bonaparte's Gull - adult

Bonaparte's Gull - immature, flying

Bonaparte's Gull - adult, flying

Franklin's Gull - immature

I hope this helps in your quest for gull identification, Guy, and whoever else needs help in the trickeries of gull identification. :D

To conclude, remember, there are gull hybrids, which may cause groaning and head-scratching, and some of you may just want to stop at distinct species. Anyways, there are two common gull hybrids in the Lower Mainland; the Western X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid, and the Herring X Glaucous-winged Gull hybrid. There are others, but they are extremely hard to distinguish, and rare. I do not have a picture of the Herring X Glaucous-winged, but as Western X Glaucous-winged hybrids are everywhere, I am bound to have pictures of them.

Western X Glaucous-winged Gull ( hybrid ) - muddy adult

Western X Glaucous-winged Gull ( hybrid ) - immature, flying

This is merely a photographic guide of the differences between the species. If I were to describe every detail separating them, and go into depth about age, plumage variations, and moulting, we could be here for hours! Again, this is just a selection of photos which you can compare, and I hope it helps to aid the identification of the gulls if you're at your last resort.

Logan - gull nerd at heart! :mrgreen: