June 23, 2013 by Rokman61
After the discouraging results of my bird photography efforts in Asia, it was good to get back to some more cooperative subjects.
During winter, large flocks of Trumpeter Swans are observed rooting through the mud in agricultural fields (see Blog post Feb 13, 2013). By the end of March most have left for the breeding grounds far to the north. So it was a bit of a surprise to come upon this lone individual, on May 9th, perhaps wondering where the gang went. Then my friend George found two of them in the same locality on May 22nd. (Click on photos for larger views)
Flocks of Pine Siskins are not unusual around our neighbourhood, noisily zipping around from treetop to treetop, but rarely coming down into the yard. They purportedly like to dine on niger seed, so Norma dutifully kept a feeder full, hoping to attract them down. For several years they paid no attention, then suddenly this spring they came in droves, all day long for weeks on end. (Update as of mid-June, they’re gone).
Here are a few more birds that frequent our feeders . . .
The Whimbrel is a type of large sandpiper that has one of the longest migrations known – from the Arctic coastal tundra to South America. On their spring passage they fuel up on the mudflats on our coast, and move to fields during high tide. There is one particular field near my home where large flocks of them show up every spring. Why this one field is so unique – maybe it’s just their whim.
Spring is the season for locally-nesting waterfowl to produce a new batch or two. Here are some goslings that are well-advanced by end of May.
This is one of the parents – an unusually pale Canada Goose. Interestingly, the geese that nest locally are non-migratory and were introduced to the area from several different populations, hence we refer to them as ‘mutt’ geese. In some places they have become an overabundant nuisance – golfers for one don’t like to get their fancy shoes messed up with goose poop.
The cover photo on one of the most popular field guide books features a magnificent Red-tailed Hawk. Birders are always looking for an opportunity to match this iconic image. Here is my best attempt to date.
This is the ‘original’ – still some room to up my game.
The first technique that bird photographers learn is that with digital cameras one can take numerous photos – it’s a bit like aiming at a target by throwing a handful of projectiles at it. The second thing one learns is to throw a huge bucketful. This leads to numerous frames of a single subject, and one is faced with the dilemma of what to do with so many of them. In most cases only a few stand out, and the rest can be junked. Occasionally one encounters a bird that sits still for a bit and allows you to take a whole batch of which virtually every one is a winner – however, they are almost all identical! It is prudent to delete such ‘duplicates’, but oh such anguish on seeing your best images getting nuked.
Less often a bird hangs around close-in and allows for many shots with different poses and background. Now one has another dilemma – what to do with lots of really decent shots of the same subject but many quite unique. Exactly the situation I faced with this Hairy Woodpecker, and decided to include several.
Ospreys are unique and fascinating birds. They are obligate fish-eaters, and occur all around the world. Since they always build their nests in conspicuous places, they provide a lot of pleasure to observers, especially anyone with a camera. This pair chose to build within a few metres of a very popular boat-launching dock! Unfortunately, there was just too much commotion going on, and the nest was quickly abandoned.
Every once in a while, a rare bird is sighted in our local area and all the hard-core birders flock out to get a look. We were treated to several goodies this April/May.
This Dicksissal was an unprecedented find, coming to a feeder in the village of Ladner. Most of the time it was concealed behind a fence, and made brief appearances perched high in trees, so my photos at best could only be described as ‘documentary’.
At about the same time, a Palm Warbler was spotted in Richmond. They show up every few years, but this one didn’t hang around for long. I was lucky to catch a few useable photos.
And this Upland Sandpiper was the hit of the spring season, drawing a huge excited crowd. It stayed hidden in tall grass for much of the time, eventually providing photo ops for those who both waited and got lucky.
Rails are marsh-dwelling birds, fairly common, but they tend to be so secretive that most people aren’t even aware that they exist. This Sora rail spent the winter on a pond in a popular park, providing an unusual treat for many birders, but didn’t seem to like waiting around to have its picture taken.
I got lucky with this Virginia Rail – my best ever photo of this species. (Click for larger view).
There are basically two ways that photographers manage to get really great bird shots. One way is to apply a considerable amount of skill, time, and patience to the pursuit. Often it is not possible to approach closely to a subject, so the alternative is to sit and wait for the bird to come to you. The other way is by pure serendipity: one occasionally just gets very lucky and a bird presents itself close by, in good light, and is in no hurry to move on. This Western Wood-Pewee is a perfect example of such a happening. It helped to know that pewees often sally out from a perch to catch a fly, then repeatedly return to the exact spot. This allowed me to position myself and catch it between sallies.
Since I’m not one particularly inclined to telling stories, or adept at doing so, I’m struggling to come up with things to say about my photos. The next batch of random subjects are just for show – no rambling patter attached.
Spring of course brings flowers. Here are a few examples of native flora that are relatively common and conspicuous.
One of the earliest, and an attractant for the first hummingbirds, Red-flowering Current (Ribes sanguineum).
The Western Trillium (Trillium ovatum) is a very special plant – long-lived but difficult to grow or transplant, so never abundant as it is in the east. We are pleased to have 3 or 4 on our property.
The genus Rubus (raspberries et al) includes numerous common plants that gives us both pretty blossoms and yummy fruits. Here are my two favourites:
We also have several kinds of blackberries (also Rubus sp) in the Lower Mainland. Most residents are very familiar with the conspicuous and nearly ubiquitous and aggressively invasive Himalayan (R. discolor) and Evergreen Blackberry (R. laciniatus) or ‘brambles’. The flower of a third species, a more delicate native one, the Trailing Blackberry (R. ursinus) is shown here.
My most appreciated, when it comes to foraging, is the Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), which is actually a reddish-coloured blueberry. We have several very productive plants right in our yard that provide snacks for the full month of July. The flowers are subtle but elegantly attractive.
In May the trails through our local woods are literally lined with this next flower, the Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora). Because the flowers are rather small and greenish they mostly go unnoticed, but close inspection reveals their superbly intricate and delicate form. I tried to capture these with my new macro lens, but could not get really sharp images – something else to work on.
The flowers start off greenish-white, then develop pinkish margins as they age.
My best effort was taken with my long telephoto lens.
Here is one from the “Can’t get much easier than this” department. Our native Nootka Rose (Rosa nootkana) is common, beautiful, easy to photograph, and even smells great.
This one is not a native, and happens to be a very invasive pest. None-the-less, one has to concede that the flowers on Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) can be rather striking.
The wood of Scotch Broom is also very attractive, hard, and colourful.
This one is not what we usually think of as a ‘flower’, but it is a plant – algal scum on the surface of a pond. The patterns intrigued me.
I wasn’t sure whether this one belonged with the birds or with the flora.
And a few more miscellaneous creatures.
And, hot off the ‘press’, the latest issue of the BC Field Ornithologists newsletter.
That’s my photo on the cover, with the ‘cover story’ following.
As my fame grows, can fortune be far behind?
I won’t be spending any of it just yet!