Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 photographic year in review

This is the 5 year anniversary of the "photographic year in review" !!! And if I may say so myself, I think it's one of the (if not thee) best collections ever! Probably only 2009 would give it a run for the money...

Check out past years here, if you're interested:

Photographic year in review (the best of): 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009

If you're not interested (why would you be? it's old news!) we'll get on with the 2013 edition!!!


Great Gray Owl - Thunder Bay, Ontario. March 9, 2013

Regular readers of the blog may remember that I was kinda bummed out at my collection from 2012, and by late witner I was itching to get away and take some photos! I had plans for Alberta... I had plans for Texas... And instead I went to Thunder Bay for 3 days..... 

Long story short, I was REALLY busy with work and that was all I could muster! But, the Great Gray's obliged and I greatly improved my collection for the species, as well as my personal favourite image from the trip - shown above. 

Red-breasted Merganser, Kingston, Ontario. March 20, 2013

Pumped up with photography happiness after the Thunder Bay trip, I brought my camera everywhere (typically my 300mm). I hit paydirt on March 20th while working in Kingston - which also happens to be my birthday. I hate birthdays. I specifically planned my work so I wouldn't be around anyone I knew. To be honest - I really enjoy getting older, I just can't stand "planned days" or "planned celebrations" in general. I'm just weird that way. 

BUT! I was lucky to get some RB Mergies feeding in some serious wave action - something not easily photographed at the best of times - but somehow i managed to nail this male as he misjudged a strange bit of "wave action" and tried to ride this one out on the surface (typically they dive). I was quite pleased with the result. 

(warning, graphic image in the next one) 

White-tailed Deer and American Crow. Parry Sound, ON. March 22, 2013

While working along Georgian Bay, a coworker and I spotted a deer. It took about 1.5 seconds to realize that it wasn't in the best of situations - presumably having fallen through the ice the previous night. Many people don't enjoy images like this - but I do. I enjoy it because it's an accurate depiction of a real life situation. Based on everything I've learned about nature in my 26 years, I can only assume that "life sucks" for wild animals. Unless you're on the top of the food chain, you'd always be worried about being eaten. They have no doctors to help with injuries. There's no medicine for illness. There's parasites and biting bugs. When it's cold, there's nowhere to go to "warm up". When it's raining, they're going to get wet. 

So why do I especially like this image? Because I feel like it would be very easy for just about anyone to anthropomorphize the scene. The deer is clearly in distress and looking towards the crow. The crow is clearly looking back into the deers face. Is there an understanding in the deers face, knowing its dire circumstance? Is the crow feeling distress for being unable to help the deer? 

Probably not. The crow is probably just wondering why its food keeps squirming. 

Sanctuary Pond, Point Pelee N.P. Ontario. April 27, 2013

I included this "grab photo" in my year in review because of how freakin much I enjoy Pelee. This was one of my very first mornings in the park in 2013, and the scene was so awesome that I had to stop and enjoy it for a few minutes. I then proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable "May's" of my life!

White-eyed Vireo, Point Pelee, Ontario. May 1, 2013

Photography! I continued to work outside my comfort zone as much as possible this past spring. This image was special (to me) for being taken with my 600mm lens - handheld. It's pretty heavy... And I RARELY ever took it off the tripod in years past. I needed to do something new! Different camera settings and technique were required, however I was quite happy with the results. This White-eyed Vireo was a particular favourite from the new strategies I was employing. 

Swallow-tailed Kite. Point Pelee, N.P. Ontario. May 4, 2013

This was one of the single most exciting birding events to ever "go down" in Ontario's history - as far as I'm concerned. Here's the skinny: Mike Burrell and Erica Barkley spotted this Swallow-tailed Kite near Port Alma on Lake Erie, and it was then tracked for nearly 30km before passing over the Point Pelee VC parking lot - where 75+ people had amassed - hoping for the bird. Ken Burrell kept me in the loop from outside the park. Dave Bell did some incredible predictions of what exact time the bird would arrive. It was cooperative for photos. It's one of the single most beautiful birds in the world. I was able to enjoy it surrounded by family and friends. Everyone cheered after it had passed. It was amazing. 

Blackburnian Warbler. Point Pelee N.P. Ontario. May 3, 2013

We were blessed with multiple days of "reverse migration" at Pelee this spring. I find it tremendous fun to ID the birds in flight, but also put forth serious effort in getting photographs of passerines in flight. It went quite well overall, but one photo overshadowed the rest; this Blackburnian Warbler. Unlike the others, this was actually taken in the afternoon of a foraging bird! 

I do enjoy the photo immensely, but it also has a special place in my 2013 photography collection for exactly how I was able to get it. I was handholding my 600mm again, and was photographing this bird perched in a cedar. It took flight - and for reasons unknown - I intentionally tried to track it and fired a burst of 6-7 images. Of the 6-7 images, only one was even in focus, and only one had the entire bird in the picture. That means having BOTH of those factors line up is a 1:50 chance (per say). THEN there is a 1:25 chance the birds pose would be acceptable. Then there is a 1:25 chance the light cooperates. Then there's the fact that I only even try to track a bird in this manner in 1 in 100 times at best. Bare minimum, this is a 1 in 3,000,000 photo based on my attempts and desire to obtain it. I'll take it. 

Possible Carolina Chickadee. Point Pelee N.P. Ontario. May 13, 2013

Is there anything that May 2013 DIDN'T have?! One of the most exciting aspects of birding for me is confusing bird ID's. Not sure if you've noticed. This one came WAY out of left field in the form of a possible Carolina Chickadee. Dave Bell and I were working the east side early in the morning and this bird jumped out at us as "strange". We took a bunch of photos, then checked the guides. We weren't convinced. Then we were still perplexed by it. Then we saw it again and couldn't believe how obvious it was to "pick out". Then I started calling a Black-capped Chickadee as "this bird" minutes later (whoops). Then we did more research and have been discovering it is a very strong candidate for Carolina! And it's still ongoing.

I've got to be honest, I have no desire to convince people I know all there is to know about birds. No one does. I thoroughly enjoy NOT knowing something, which allows me to spend dozens of happy hours studying and learning something new. It goes hand in hand with one of my favourite quotes of the year (courtesy of Mr. Bell) -  "Birds are weird" ...

Scarlet Tanager. Point Pelee N.P. Ontario. May 18, 2013. 

One of my favourite birds to photograph, I just had the urge to include this photo. It may be a good time to discuss two items related to photography that have been on my mind a lot in 2013. 

1.) Photos look different on different computers! - and a SCTA photo is a prime example of just how different they look. This picture looks amazing on my personal computer, and like junk on my work monitor. Is it worth worrying about? I typically don't...

2.) Since a previous photography overhaul in early 2011 (where I totally changed around my priorities) - I've grown to really despise photographs taken with bait (eg,/ mice), photos taken with tapes (ipods), and "set up's". I would still do all 3 pretty quickly - hypocritical or not - but I have REALLY been avoiding it. There's something about getting a photo like the one above that now just makes me happier than any setup ever would - and that convinces me to get outside and take more photos. It's a win-win for me.

Kirtland's Warbler. Point Pelee N.P. Ontario. May 18, 2013. 

The grande finale to my spring at Pelee - found with my birding partner-in-crime (my Dad). Is there anything cooler than finding a Kirtland's Warbler at Point Pelee in May? I've always known these things, but finding a rare bird is not a "made-equal" event. I've been focusing on photos here, but I also found more rarities than just about any previous year in that time-frame. Location matters (eg,/ Pelee vs. some work site that no one can visit). People matter (eg,/ single observer vs everyone enjoying it) Looks matter (eg,/ close and prolonged). What do they matter for? My enjoyment of the situation! I can identify a flyby Pacific Loon, but it's more fun to find a bird that's sticking around. This Kirtland's was a "self found" with my Dad, posed for photos, stayed around all day, and occurred on one of our very last days. A grand finale indeed. 

Massasauga Rattlesnake. Georgian Bay, Ontario. June 20, 2013. 

Lifer! I was thrilled to work in some pretty exciting areas this year for the "breeding bird" season. Typically I'm so "burnt out" from May that I pack away my camera for weeks. June is when I make myself useful to society, as well as my bank account, as I work every single freakin day listening to birds sing. Armed only with my "point and shoot" (that died a painful death in 2013) I was thrilled to get some images of the first Massasauga Rattlesnakes I had ever seen. This one was rather sizable

Smooth Green Snake. Georgian Bay, Ontario. June 22, 2013. 

Nemesis! What is this, a herp page?! I was nearly 100% positive that Smooth Green Snakes were a total fabrication, possibly created by Ontario Nature to convince people to donate them money. Until 2013, I had spent thousands of hours in the great outdoors without ever seeing one. I cant' remember all the times I had someone say "they're all over around here, we'll see one today" over the past 10+ years. 

Well it turns out they're real - and I was very happy to see several in 2013. Getting this photo was icing on the snake-cake. 

"Yellow-rumped" Warbler. British Columbia. July 4, 2013

By early July, I was ready to totally "crash" from nature overload. Then I got the call. British Columbia!

Work fired me off to some remote sites well north of Prince George, BC - where I basked in "freak bird" goodness. It was the magical realm of overlap! Subspecies and species mixing at will. (That magical zone in north BC - near the rockies). I really wanted to see a Grizzly Bear, but I had to settle for a few days of sweet photography and life birds instead. This "Yellow-rumped Warbler" photo - a mix of Myrtle and Audubons - summed up my trip quite well! 

Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel. British Columbia. September 27, 2013. 

Most years, my photography is virtually non-existent in the fall. Then I got the call. British Columbia! This time I was going to be on a boat! In fact, you may notice that there is a BC trend for the rest of this post... High on my wish list of birds to photograph was a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, although it was likely to be one of the hardest to obtain based on their small size and the circumstances of our work. I was happy with this one...

Common Murre. British Columbia. October 8, 2013

My "straight up" favourite bird photo from my time spent on a boat this fall (over a month!)... Common Murre's was one of the most frequently observed species. This particular individual was fleeing our approaching vessel by "scooting" along the surface of the water with its wings. From a photography stand point - the action is there, it's tack sharp, the light is sweet and its framed very well (for a full-frame image). I like it! 

Snowy Plover. Point Pelee, ON. November 1, 2013

2013 was one he!!of a year for rare birds, and I was pretty darn happy to have a superb showing of self founds and successful twitches. This was my first year in the condo, and things when bat-$#!@-crazy from mid August to mid September with mega's left and right (Neotropic Cormorant, Northern Gannet and a freakin Brown-chested Martin - not to mention rare gulls, jaegers, shorebirds etc!) Then there were the twitches... Specifically the Brown Booby and Elegant Tern - that both cooperated superbly with my travel schedule. With that said - this is a year in review surrounding my photography! So I picked my best "rarity" photo off the fall to show off here - the Snowy Plover I found at Point Pelee. I was buried in sand while desperately trying to get a few record photos before running back to the trees for shelter. (And I mean burried - I had sand in my nose, eyes and ears... My binoculars didn't just get sand in them, the eye cups filled to the top in just a few minutes!) It was awesome. 

Pileated Woodpecker. Stanley Park, British Columbia. December 15, 2013

After my last work trip to BC this year, I decided to take a two day layover in Vancouver for some bird photography. I had been to Stanley Park a few years previously (sans camera) and immediately noticed its potential as an awesome place to snap some pics! Why? Because of all the people! (Seriously). Large volumes of people "tame" birds with their constant presence - but you need to find the happy medium that combines a large amount of foot traffic with habitat that is actually suitable for some interesting species to be around. Stanley Park has it all! 

On my first morning, I took several hundred images of this Pileated Woodpecker "going to town" on a dying tree - all with my 300mm lens and without any worry about flushing the bird. It was awesome! I really didn't have a "favourite" image of the series, so sooner or later another post will arrive with several variations on the scene shown above. 

Wood Ducks. Stanley Park, British Columbia. December 15, 2013

Stanley Park again! Easily one of my favourite pics from BC this fall, I was entertained by the fact that my "best" images from the park were of species we have at home (eg,/ Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Ducks)... I personally believe that the best photographs are taken by photographers who are able to control the scene better than others. With that said, the little light-bulb went off in my head a few years ago and said "but who cares? Take pictures you're happy with"! Nowadays when I find myself in a cool, dark and foggy Stanley Park - I am no longer worried about how to manipulate the scene... I just try for pictures that look cool, dark and foggy. I thought this one "worked". 

Hope everyone has a fantastic year in 2014!!! 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Here comes the freeze

Big drop in temperatures on the way for southern Ontario (and everywhere north of us)... What does it mean for birds???

Personally, I have no idea... One can only guess that cold north winds might be decent for northern owls (more snowies? Hawk Owl?) or "northern" birds in general - Gyr's? Eiders? Maybe a Ross's/Ivory Gull??

(I always just say "Ivory Gull" in fall/winter birding predictions... Why? It's my "most wanted" Ontario bird... Not that I think this weather is anything all that special for IVGU's - I just want one). 

But honestly - I have no reason to believe that anything will happen (it's almost January)... Other than cold temps - what would happen?!

I know I'll be watching from the condo whenever there's a decent north wind over the next week... Just because it's good for birding in general! As of right now, it looks like Monday morning (today!?) Wednesday, Thursday and maybe Friday will be worthy of some watchin!

(based on current forecasts - i'm sayin Thursday is my "money" day)


With overnight low's in the minus 9 to minus 18 range for nearly a week, I'm curious to see what happens with the ice cover on the great lakes... It will be kinda windy, so maybe the shorelines will ice up rapidly, but won't cover the lakes? Erie usually freezes up... So is this the time it happens?!

Watch this space!


Still some serious cold blasts in the longer-range as well... The 6-10 day temp outlook is cold, and the models are still hinting at some very cold snaps in the future..

As shown above - a recent run of the Euro shows the "polar vortex" dipping down into the great lakes (240 hours out) !!! This is just what I've gleaned from people (online) who know a lot more about weather than I do, but that could be record-breaking cold !


Yesterday the blog passed 250000 views or pageviews or whatever (thanks, blogger stats) - and I just wanted to say thanks for reading along! I first stated the blog as method to generate traffic for my website in general, however now I really enjoy writing it just for fun! I like to think it may help some fellow birders/naturalists get through some of those slow days at the office at various points in time ;) 

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Haven't done a post like this in quite a while, but I was a bit surprised to see that one of my images was printed on the cover of British Birds for their recent December issue.

Pretty excited to see that. The image was one of three used in an awesome article on Redpolls by Andy Stoddart. Just had the urge to share! The journal has been published for 106 years, so it's pretty awesome to be apart of it. 

Maybe i'll have to dig out a few more recent ones... We are approaching the slow winter period and who knows - maybe I'll be hurtin for some blog material

Friday, December 27, 2013

Condo birding update - Dec 17th-26th (Pomarine, Cackling, Thayer's, Kings etc)

Condo birding! Haven't really "watched" all that much, but some cool birds still manage to fly past! Just the notable birds are listed below:

Photo of Toronto back in October (I think- maybe November) from my window... But who cares! Bring das birdies! - 

Dec 17th - one 2nd basic Iceland Gull flew past...

Dec 18th- I woke up and said "hey! there's a big duck right on shore"... Sure enough, it was a female King Eider that spent nearly the whole day in the same area. A flyby Glaucous Gull an hour later was also nice to see.

(taken from my office - as are all pics in this post) 

Dec 21st - went for a stroll outside in the rainy weather. Managed the first (and loonngg overdue) American Tree Sparrow's for the "patch"... As well as a "patch" first Northern Shrike!

That afternoon an adult Thayer's Gull put on a bit of a show as well - feeding and perching below me along the shoreline ice for a prolonged visit. A young Glaucous flew by mid day.

Not the best THGU ever... But also not the worst... Herring on right. 

Dec 22nd ! - there was an east wind storm! And I didn't really watch... So... nothing to report... nothing to see here... moving on...

Dec 23rd - limited time looking - but post-ice storm I did note some Canada Geese moving across the lake. Bailing out post storm!

Dec 24th  - woot woot! I watched a bit more this day than previous days; and the birds were cooperating... NEW for the condo was a CACKLING Goose - that flew overhead in a large flock of Canada's... There was a lot of geese on the move - presumably bailing out of places further north where their precious food was frozen to the ground.

Gulls continued to highlight... There sure are a lot of Great Black-backed Gulls around... Have been all fall/winter.... Two young Glaucous Gulls (The Burgomaster!) flew past together. Tried to get a pic but my card wasn't in my camera (whoops). I had to settle (ha) for a STUNNING juvenile Thayer's Gull a few hours later. Check out my horrible pics below:

I always have a problem when it comes to a bird like this. A "classic" Thayer's Gull is a stunning bird to my eyes - yet when I try to show it off to others they typically look at me like I'm insane... Meh. Kinda used to it.

Dec 25th - Merry Christmas! I had an adult Glaucous Gull and a juv Iceland Gull while eating my morning cereal! Then I zipped out the door for some family holiday fun.

Scored a quick look at a Snowy Owl at the tollgate ponds and the 2 liftbridge peregrines on the way. The Bay froze over the previous night and the canal was PACKED with ducks.

Dec 26th - Hamilton CBC day!!! Too bad there was virtually no movement of birds to count this morning... Highlights were a female KING EIDER and a stunner of a juv female PEREGRINE Falcon that did a few very close flybys!

Mid-day went all cray-zay with a 3rd yr Glaucous Gull and a juv POMARINE JAEGER!!!! Now that's more like it! In fact, things were fairly interesting overall (after the slow start to the day). 2 Canvasback may be my only sightings of the year from the condo. 5 Redhead (flybys) are uncommon here. Both probably due to the recent freeze-up of the bay.

Thee dec 26 bird 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Glaucous-winged Gull report for the OBRC

I was working on tidying this up a bit, when I realized that I had said what I wanted to say - and even if it's pretty messy - it's good enough for me:


That report and the images below is pretty much what the OBRC gets to deal with! We'll see how it all shakes down I guess...