Birding, February 10, 2024: Through the tunnel, to the harlequins

Where: Crescent Beach, Serpentine Fen, 1001 Steps (Surrey), Sapperton Landing (New Westminster)
Weather: Cloudy, 8°C

The Outing

It was a gray, cloudy day, with generally mediocre light, but on the plus side, my camera behaved again1Except when it came to one robin. See below for the blurry details., and it didn’t rain until after we had wrapped up.

We ventured to south Surrey and 1001 Steps, on the promise of spotting Harlequin ducks and lo, they were there! They were not close to the shore (none of the waterfowl were, a recurring theme for most of the day), but we got shots that say, “This is a Harlequin duck!” (Nic fared better–this is where 400mm vs 250mm can make a real difference).

The 1001 Steps that winds down to the rocky beach is more like 250 or so, but it’s still a notable number when you’re climbing back up. This is where all that jogging finally paid off. The beach is quite rocky, so we had to step carefully, but the view was very pretty, even with the cloud cover, and there were many birds swimming off the shoreline. We saw some species I don’t see often, too, like surf scoters and grebes, so despite the so-so light and distance, it was spiffy to check out a new area and see a new bird in the bargain. After climbing back up the stairs, we walked a few blocks to Kwomais Point Park. Here, there were a lot of songbirds, including bushtits (hehe) and a brown creeper, but most were not nearby. There was one extremely chill robin and I took a bunch of photos, but my camera was more interested in the grass directly behind the robin for reasons. I vow to shoot in manual mode the next time I see a robin sitting still like that. I will learn how to do this, just like a real guy-with-a-camera.

We actually started the day at Crescent Beach and Blackie Spit. There were lots of mallards, pintails and wigeons, but cormorants were absent, songbirds were not very prevalent, but we did see some greater yellowlegs, including two that had a bit of drama along the shoreline. Something felt off about the area today, though, whether it was the weather, the mix of birds or maybe just the time of year.

After 1001 Steps, we moved on to Serpentine Fen and got all crazy, walking the trail in reverse. I don’t mean walking backward, which would have been awkward, but possibly entertaining for others, we simply walked the route opposite the way we normally do. Sometimes you see views or things you didn’t notice before.

What we did see were lots of goldeneyes, wigeons, more mallards and several brooding herons. A few songbirds showed themselves here and there, but perhaps the biggest congregation consisted of several giant flocks of starlings atop some tall trees and power pylons. For some reason, this place had a lot more people than I would have expected for such a dreary day. But maybe people go somewhere else on nicer days? Maybe nothing new is on Netflix?

We wrapped up with an impromptu stop at Sapperton Landing, because I was hoping to see some birds near the river’s edge. And we did see some goldeneyes and a few others, along with some sparrows and a crow that took off at the precise moment I took its photo. It was a fitting end to what was a day of not-great shots. For the most part, it was the conditions and not my own ineptitude, or camera problems, but I think, after three years with my camera, I am ready to step up and start learning more control over the hardware, so I can better blame myself when a shot doesn’t turn out, just like nature intended.

The Shots
Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American bushtit
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Red-winged blackbird (heard)
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee (heard)
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Belted kingfisher
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Canada goose
  • Common goldeneye
  • Common merganser
  • Cormorant
  • Dunlin (?)
  • Great blue heron
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Green-winged teal
  • Harlequin duck
  • Horned grebe
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Scaup
  • Surf scoter

Common:

  • Crows
  • Seagulls

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle

Non-birds:

  • A rabbit at Serpentine Fen with a weird-looking puffy cheek

Birding, November 17, 2023: The light, the loons and the lens cap

Where: Green Timbers Urban Forest Park (Surrey), Blackie Spit/Crescent Beach (Surrey), Piper Spit, Burnaby Lake (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 5-10°C

The Outing

Saturday birding was replaced with kooky Friday birding, due to what looked like better weather on Friday. The weather was indeed sunny, though it cooled noticeably once the sun began to dip (more on that below).

The other downside of weekday birding is rush hour traffic, which caught us multiple times.

But we started out relatively early and in a new location–Green Timbers Urban Forest Park. It lived up to its name, with both green and timbers being present. And it started out with wacky hijinks. Instead of going immediately to the lake, we went to a small foot bridge that connected a smaller pond to the lake to take some shots there. Nic took the cap off his telephoto lens and then, as if for comic effect, it dropped onto the bridge, landed on its edge and rolled just enough to go over the edge.

It didn’t land in the water, but was unreachable without clambering down. Which Nic did. Lens cap secured, we moved on.

We focused mainly on the area around Green Timbers Lake, a pretty if petite body of water as seen below. The east side of the trail hugs the lake, affording us good views. The trail arcs wider on the west and the adjacent area to the lake there is fenced off, so all the more exotic birds were hanging out there. And by exotic, I mean a heron, a fair number of cormorants, and some buffleheads. On the east side, where the people were feeding ducks, despite signs saying not to, were, well, ducks. And plenty of ’em.

We also saw a sign (sadly, I did not take a photo of it) warning of Deep Water Thin Ice, which Nic thinks would make for an awesome album title by some goth band, so I record it here for posterity.

On the trail west of the lake and on and around a large concrete block (?) someone had sprinkled a lot of seed, which was attracting chickadees, towhees, a squirrel and multiple Steller’s jays. We have been seeing them all over lately, and I have no idea why. They are fabulous, so this is quite welcome.

Green Timbers, with lake. Image from Google Maps

We decided to round out our trip there by going to the Surrey Nature Centre and checking out something called the Big Hill. I was intrigued because Surrey generally doesn’t have many hills, especially big ones. Curiously, the sign directing us down the trail for the 20-minute walk to the Nature Centre dumped us on a road with no indication of where to go next (just down the street a short way, as it turned out). We chatted with a nice park worker there, who informed us of a red-tailed hawk that sometimes flies over the area (she correctly surmised that two guys with cameras bearing telephoto lenses were birders and not, like, peeping toms). We did not see the hawk, but the worker did point out the Big Hill to us. I have included a shot of it below, with arrows to better identify it. It’s big if you are very small. I mean, I’m not saying I was unimpressed, but I walk up a bigger hill just to go to the local grocery store.

The “Big Hill”, image from Google Maps

After wrapping up at Green Timbers, we moved on to Blackie Spit, which is wonderfully quiet during the week.

We headed out to the spit first, though a new(ish) sign indicated not to go all the way out due to birds. But even as we contemplated the sign, we saw a heron land not far away and in an area we don’t normally see them. Then another heron landed not too far from the first one. Then there was heron drama. After, only one heron remained. I mean, they didn’t battle to the death or anything, one just chased the other away.

We saw more herons in their usual locale in the marshy area to the south. We also saw large numbers of wigeons–including Eurasian wigeons, which we don’t see often–as well as wood ducks, mallards and northern pintails. The tide was in, so shorebirds like yellowlegs and dowitchers were not to be seen. We did see a kingfisher, though.

And we saw loons. We have seen loons here before, but this time they were kind enough to be closer to the shore, so I finally got decent shots of them, rather than my usual “you can tell by its shape that it’s a loon” photos.

For sparrows and sparrow-adjacent birds, we saw some Northern flickers, sparrows of the song, golden and white-crowned variety, as well as one especially vocal crow. There were some finches and juncos for good measure, and what Merlin tells us was a sharp-shinned hawk sitting atop a distant tree. Neat!

We also discovered a trail we have missed despite being to Blackie Spit many times. We noticed a woman sitting on a bench on the other side of a creek, where we assumed you could not reach. Clearly she had reached it. We then discovered the path, which is narrow, but affords a different view. We now know for the future.

By the time we finished lunch and wound up the trip to Blackie Spit, the light was getting low. As mentioned, we had not seen any shorebirds, and Nic wanted to see shorebirds, so we headed off to Piper Spit at Burnaby Lake, to get in a few minutes of birding before the sun set. We arrived a little over half an hour before sunset and stayed until ten minutes before. By that point, the light had shifted from (very) golden to dim and the temperature began to drop noticeably.

But we did see shorebirds! And more Steller’s jays. Those guys are everywhere now, it seems. It was kind of fun to get shots in the somewhat extreme lighting conditions, but that’s what the denoise filter is for, amirite?

We also saw a bunch of people launching canoes from Piper Spit. Now, canoeing on the lake is fine, but launching your canoes from the middle of a bird sanctuary is a bit rude. They temporarily displaced most of the birds as they moved out. One woman on the pier was quite animated about how she felt about these canoodlers. This also happened as the sun was dipping behind the trees, so I don’t know if they were planning to paddle by the light of the crescent moon or had flashlights, because pretty quick it was going to be dark.

In any case, we were done, and I somehow took over 700 shots, of which several were actually salvageable. Woo! Time to watch more camera tutorials, because then I can blame someone else for my shots of varying quality.

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • Fox sparrow
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • House finch
  • Northern flicker
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Steller’s jay
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Bufflehead duck
  • Canada goose
  • Common loon
  • Eurasian wigeon
  • Green-winged teal
  • Long-billed dowitcher
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Rock pigeon
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Northern harrier
  • Sharp-shinned hawk (probably)

Non-birds:

  • Black, grey and Douglas squirrels

Birding, September 30, 2023: Hello fall

Where: Centennial Beach (Delta), Boundary Bay Dyke Trail (Delta), Crescent Beach (Surrey), and Piper Spit (Burnaby)
Weather: Sunny, 12-17C

The Outing

We hit four sites on our first official fall bird outing and the weather, though sunny, was indeed fall-like, with it starting at only 12C at Centennial Beach, along with a brisk wind. It warmed up to around 17C by late in the afternoon.

Centennial Beach: Raptors on Raptor Trail once again failed to materialize, but we did see a bald eagle out on the tidal flats. Shorebirds were also scarce, possibly due to the tide being way out, as it often is when we visit. We saw gulls, a Brewer’s blackbird couple, a wigeon or two, plus a bunch of goldfinches that would not stop flitting about.

Boundary Bay Dyke Trail: Planes were plentiful, and birds were, too, but much like earlier, they were flitting like mad from tree to tree and branch to branch, making good shots a fun (?) challenge! We did see a Northern harrier or two, as well. As always, the view was nice.

Crescent Beach/Blackie Spit: Seagulls were flying around in abundance, as were some herons, but no loons, alas. We did see some more yellowlegs and a few cormorants. The beach and park were fairly busy, which surprised me a little. Apparently everyone wanted to be outside on the first nice Saturday of fall. By now it was warm enough to doff jackets, if desired.

Piper Spit: This place was crawling with people and children (not that children aren’t people, but you know what I mean). Coots were croaking, but all the shorebirds were in one tight group, snoozing. Golden hour was setting in, so light was rather harsh. We shot a heron grooming up in a tree. They always look weird up in trees. I did not notice any pigeons or seagulls, and the land mass seems to be continuing to expand, so I assume they are letting more water flow out of the lake, Or maybe it’s magic.

Overall, it was a good day of birding, even if we didn’t see anything super exotic, and even though a lot of the birds were even more uncooperative than usual. Don’t they know we just want to capture them in all their pretty glory?

The Shots

Soon™

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American blackbird
  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brewer’s blackbird
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Goldfinch
  • Northern flicker
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Steller’s jay
  • Yellow-rumped warbler

Waterfowl:

  • American coot
  • American wigeon
  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Green-winged teal
  • Mallard
  • Northern pintail (possibly)
  • Wood duck

Common:

  • American crow
  • Glaucous-winged gull
  • Ring-billed gull
  • Pacific gull (?)

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern harrier

Non-birds:

  • Douglas and gray squirrels
  • Dragonflies
  • Grasshoppers
  • A fuzzy little caterpillar dude (or dudette, who can tell?)
  • Various aircraft

Birding, August 26, 2023: Still on P, plus raptors, brewers and more

Where: Blackie Spit (Surrey), Centennial Beach (Delta), Boundary Bay Dyke Trail (Delta), Tlahutum Regional Park (Coquitlam)
Weather: Smoke haze and sun, 23-26C

The Outing

Two bits of good news to start:

  • Despite the return of the smoke haze after a brief respite, it wasn’t as bad as previously. The main change is it was no longer causing a distinct yellow cast to the lighting. Today it mainly affected the visibility of distant scenery (no shots of Mt. Baker) and the sky looked whitish-blue instead of just blue.
  • I never had any of the shenanigans that happened last week with my camera. I set it to P (Program) mode before heading out, and it stayed there the entire day. Woo. All lousy photos were my own fault, just as nature intended.

We hit four places today. It was kind of crazy, but the good kind of crazy. Mostly.

We started at Blackie Spit and at first the birds were as scarce as the water (it was low tide). Once we moved away from the beach, our luck improved with some house finches, purple martins, a northern flicker, distant herons, a gaggle of ducks in a creek huddled against the shady side (smart ducks–it was hot!) but best of all, a group of greater yellowlegs hanging out on a couple of logs, most of them initially snoozing. They were eventually joined by others, along with a pair of short-billed dowitchers, and began feeding and bobbing and doing the things they do.

We moved onto Centennial Beach next and there we saw some Brewer’s blackbirds, a couple of waxwings, some raptors (not on the Raptor Trail but technically above it), herons and more shorebirds, including a variety of gulls, some terns, more yellowlegs and the ever-cute and weird killdeer. We also saw a very shiny beetle, which ended with Nic taking a photo of his own foot. Nic got some really nice shots of a red-tailed hawk and was able to crop out all the weird stuff that showed up in multiple images, then mysteriously went away on its own. We agree that my dial of doom curse had somehow transferred over to his camera, at least for today.

From there, we moved on to fill our tummies with lunch, then headed for an unplanned trip to the Boundary Bay Dyke Trail. We saw many grasshoppers, though Nic has declared he is done with them, but they remain a freaky favourite of mine. Birds were a bit scarcer here, but we did see some more finches, chickadees (however fleetingly) and a trio of red-necked pharalopes, which I’d never shot before. They were not especially close, but I did get some shots that were good enough for Merlin to ID. I also got some extreme close-ups of planes landing at Boundary Bay Airport, of course. We also saw a male and female harrier and were able to get some of our best shots ever. Even I got a decent shot, woo.

After this, we were still not done, and headed to Tlahutum Regional Park for a quick check of the community gardens. We saw more flickers, white crowns, but best of all, hummingbirds that cooperatively supped at flowers nearby. We both got good shots of these pointy-beaked birbs when they weren’t chasing each other in a territorial dispute..

We each also drank our own weight in fluids. Did I mention it was hot?

Overall, a very respectable outing, with enough birb surprises to almost make up for no Savannah sparrows.

The Shots

This gallery has everything. Birds! Bugs! Boats! Black and white! Yes, I indulged myself and converted three photos to black and white, but I kept the originals for comparison.

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • Black-capped chickadee
  • Brewer’s blackbird
  • Cedar waxwing
  • Goldfinch
  • House finch
  • House sparrow
  • Northern flicker
  • Purple martin
  • White-crowned sparrow

Waterfowl:

  • Canada goose
  • Caspian tern
  • Great blue heron
  • Greater yellowlegs
  • Killdeer
  • Mallard
  • Red-necked pharalope
  • Short-billed dowitcher

Common:

  • Crow
  • Seagull

Raptors:

  • Harrier
  • Red-tailed hawk

Non-birds:

  • Grasshoppers and a beetle
  • Butterflies and things
  • A few squirrels

Birding, July 1 2023: Canada Day crowds, fuzzy birds and a desire to be carried

Where: Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, Serpentine Fen, Crescent Beach (all in Surrey)
Weather: Sunny, 22C

The Outing

I went out with a minor bit of trepidation. A few days earlier I’d caught a bug from Jeff, but on Friday I was feeling fairly decent and got a lot of stuff done, so I was hoping some birding on Saturday would be fine.

I was mostly right. By the time we got to our third and final stop, Crescent Beach, I was beginning to flag. Despite asking really nicely, Nic refused to carry me out. I managed to get out on my own two feet.

As for the various locations:

Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest: The name is a bit of a misnomer, because most of the area is shrouded in semi-permanent shade due to the abundance of very tall trees. It’s great for that forest vibe, and is neat to walk off a street and into the middle of fairly dense woods. The Merlin app was going cuckoo, reporting as many as seven different species at once, yet we actually saw very few birds, most of them remaining high up in the trees or away from the trails. My shots here were not great, though I did get a couple of nice shots of some fungus and then, right as we were about to enter the parking lot to leave, a junco came out and did a bunch of posing for us. What a nice junco!

Serpentine Fen: It had been a while since we’d visited here and the weather was ideal–sunny, but not hot. It was very pleasant, and the area was lush, though the river was very low. We did see more birds here, including an abundance of geese and herons in the river. Songbirds were more elusive, but we caught sight of a wren, a Savannah sparrow and a few song sparrows. Strangely, no ducks at all–not even mallards in the ponds. Again, my shots were not great.

Crescent Beach: We arrived here around 3 p.m. and given that it was:

  • Canada Day
  • A Saturday
  • Gorgeous weather

The beach was very crowded. We could not find parking in the usual lot and ended up parking further away, near a café, and had to walk in from there. As we trekked across the beach and through the trails, I began to flag, but managed to stay upright. We again saw no ducks, but there were song sparrows, some herons and purple finches were in abundance. A cedar waxwing also made an appearance, as did some Savannah sparrows.

Yet again, my shots were not great. As we left, I pondered this. A lot of the birds were far away, and the lighting was often not great (shadows or bright sun), but there seemed to be more to it than just the specific conditions of the shoot.

Later, when Nic and I talked about it, I mused that my shots had been getting worse–blurrier–for some time now. I am cleaning the lenses and contacts regularly, so I didn’t think those were the cause. As Nic looked over my camera, he noticed that the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) was blurry. I concurred, but had always figured that it was my eyes and not the EVF (my prescription for lenses is about two years old now). Nic consulted the internets and discovered where the diopter1In this context it’s the control under the EVF that sets how sharp the image is in the EVF is located. I’d known about this before, but had completely forgotten about it. Fiddling with it brought the EVF into sharp focus. It is very possible this was at least one of the major culprits of my shots not being as clear as they could be. I will find out more the next time I go out and aboot shooting birds.

In the meantime, and as a bonus, I have also discovered how to make quick exposure and ISO changes. I’m finally learning to use my camera two and a half years after buying it! Go me.

As for the outing, I put in 25,000+ steps, which was probably way more than my body was in condition for, but the weather was nice, and I was glad to be out.

The Shots

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • Blackbird
  • Chestnut-backed chickadee
  • Dark-eyed junco
  • European starling
  • Purple finch
  • Robin
  • Savannah sparrow
  • Song sparrow
  • Spotted towhee
  • Wilson’s warbler

Waterfowl:

  • Canada goose
  • Great blue heron

Common:

  • Crow

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle

Non-birds:

  • Bumblebee
  • Butterflies
  • Some dogs at Crescent Beach
  • A drone buzzing a farm building

Trees, birds, and pacing myself

I’m still recovering from a head cold or maybe the flu (who can say for sure?) but thought a gentle day of birding would be fine. I mean, it was, except that I walked way more than intended–over 24,000 steps. That was perhaps too much, and toward the end I was flagging pretty hard. Some food and rest later helped, but I haven’t felt this bagged in quite a while.

We hit three spots:

  • Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest
  • Serpentine Fen
  • Crescent Beach

Overall, my shots were not great, but I may have found out partly why–more later when I have more energy to typy-type.

For now, here’s a shot looking up in Sunnyside Acres, taken on my iPhone:

Birding, March 25, 2023 (Centennial Beach and Crescent Beach)

In which I got mercilessly pelted by hail.

Where: Centennial Beach, Crescent Beach
Weather: Clouds, rain, hail, sun, 5-7ºC

The Outing

More like CentenniHAIL Beach, amirite? (I am right, see below.)

After last weekend’s lovely spring-like weather (it was technically still winter), this outing’s weather was decidedly less lovely and winter-like (it was technically now spring).

We expected the morning to be cool and cloudy, and it was. We headed out, with the usual low tide, capturing a few shots on the vast mud flats before moving up the trails. We neared the end, having spotted a few of the usual suspects–golden crowned sparrows, wigeons and others. It started to get drizzly, which was not ideal, then the drizzle turned into an assault of hail. This was totally not ideal.

Fortunately, we were close to the 12th Avenue pump house, which has a nice covered area to hide under in situations like this. I assured Nic that hail never lasts, so it wouldn’t be long before we could venture out from under cover.

Fifteen minutes later, we were still waiting, with the hail varying between relentless and slightly-less-relentless. I have never seen such persistent hail. It started piling up like snow. I finally made the call to head out when the worst of it seemed to have stopped, so we headed back at a brisk pace, getting pelted for most of the way. As expected, the storm pretty much stopped by the time we were back where we’d started, so we took the opportunity to shoot some ducks, robins and Brewer’s blackbirds.

Still soggy, we headed out to our Plan B backup, Crescent Beach, noting, ominously, that it appeared to be clearing up everywhere except precisely where we were heading.

When we got to Crescent Beach, it was showering, so we sat in the car and waited. About 15 minutes later, the last of the rain passed and the sun came out and I was all yay!

The tide was out here, too, which was the first time I’ve seen it here, so the usual boat shots were not to be had, as there was literally no water for them to run through. We did see lots of gulls and some wigeons and green-winged teals, along with a rare group of Northern flickers clustering in a stand of trees. It was just nice to have a bit of sun, though.

The Shots

Brewer’s blackbird poofing out
Northern flicker at Crescent Beach
Greater yellowlegs noodling in a creek
Gull flying over a gloomy Centennial Beach before the hailstorm
Yawning mallard
Crescent Beach, with storms in the distance

The Birds (and other critters)

Sparrows and sparrow-adjacent:

  • American robin
  • Anna’s hummingbird
  • Blackbird
  • Brewer’s blackbird
  • European starling
  • Golden-crowned sparrow
  • Northern flicker
  • Song sparrow

Raptors:

  • Bald eagle
  • Northern shrike

Waterfowl:

  • American wigeon
  • Dunlins
  • Gadwall
  • Great blue heron
  • Green-winged teal
  • Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Mallard
  • Sanderlings

Common:

  • Crow
  • Pigeon
  • Seagull

Non-birds:

  • Maybe a crab somewhere in the low tide?