Thursday, September 27, 2018

Lesser Goldfinch

Lesser goldfinch eating seeds
There are a lot of birds that are yellow in colour.  In our area there are Wilson's and yellow warblers, gold finches and the occasional evening grosbeak.  I have also seen yellow rumped warblers, common yellow throats, and Townsend's warblers.  I have gotten to know all these birds by sight, so I was taken aback, and thrilled, when I came across this fine feathered fellow.

As always, I uphold the tradition of the west, which is to shoot first and ask questions later (the questions being, "What kind of bird was that?")  If I was to attempt to identify first before photographing it I would more likely have an identity but not any photos.  I could be accused of being trigger happy, especially with my drive mode set to high - an uzi setting for cameras, capturing a myriad of images in the blink of an eye.  Then, when I have time, I can put my feet up and check the critter that I photographed.  Sometimes I get enough of the bird to warrant an identity, other times not.

I did that today, even though I took this picture some time ago (March 11, 2015).  If you are wondering what this bird was doing here at that time of year, understand that it was shot in Palm Springs.  I don't always get to my images right away, especially if I don't have my bird books with me.  I went onto one of my favourite birding websites,, and used the search function.  Black cap, perching bird, yellow breast, throat, and stomach with a solid pattern.  There were over 100 matches at first and then it got narrowed down to eight; that was when I started clicking on potential subjects.  The third click landed me on the lesser goldfinch - I had finally identified the culprit.

I find their behaviour very similar to the American goldfinches that we have around here; they flit from plant to plant looking for seeds to plunder.  I don't know the particular type of plant, but in this area they are really fond of thistles that have gone to seed.  I have also seen them taking apart fennel plants with a lot of gusto. 

And so now I have another yellowish bird to add to my mental list, so when out and about and I happen to come across some golden bird with a predilection for larger plants with small seeds, I will more likely know what it is.  If not, I can always bring out the guides, after I shoot it first that is.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Red necked grebe with chick

Red necked grebe and chick
They say a photo is worth a thousand words; I think sometimes it can be worth more.  Have a look at the photo above and consider what is going on in it.  I like the picture aesthetically for a number of reasons.  The shallow depth of field isolates the subject relative to its surroundings to draw your eye, but the background betrays the environment the scene is taking place in.  The three birds line up nicely, guiding your vision to the sparkling yellow horizon at the top of the frame.  Nice bokeh, and the detail on the parent and chick is excellent in the original image (this one is significantly reduced for this blog).  But there is a deeper connection which belies the events taking place that the observer will decipher something critical which is easily overlooked.

Family.  A parent spending quality time with their young.  I can imagine things the fledgling might be saying in this shot.  "Let's go around again, mom." or "I love going for a ride with you."  Likewise, the adult is enjoying the moment too, giving its offspring a shoulder ride, as it were.  But it goes deeper than this, because in the background is the other parent.  Watching, enjoying, looking for danger, waiting to take their turn with junior.  Out for a beautiful day in the park, the family is basking in the sun and being rewarded with a memory that will stick with them forever. 

The chick grows quickly, in only weeks it will be diving for fish on its own without having to rely on mom or dad for food.  But even then, the folks are not far away.  Danger always lurks in the wild and it is up to them to be sure their progeny grows to adulthood.  Summer will wane and the infant will grow up to become an adult in its own right.  A mate will be found and another feathered miracle will enter the world.  And just think, a small chick will ride on their back and he or she will look back and remember how it was with them.  Family.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Photography for birders

There are a number of things which I  just love to do, but four of them I can compact into a single activity; experience nature, take pictures, write, and teach.  Having just retired from a career in teaching which has spanned nearly 30 years, one of my first goals was to write a book on photographing birds.  I have written other books before which I use in my home business of teaching photography, but this project would be different. 

The plan was to do a book in colour, where as my previous creations have been done in black and white so they were photocopy friendly.  It had to be interesting, informative, and above all, fun to write.  It had to convey the four passions and present them in a combined effort.  The result is the book which I titled, "Photography for Birders (and other wildlife enthusiasts)."

The book is self published.    It is available through my website,  There are 76 pages with 115 photographs and six chapters.  I also will be teaching a new course of the same title starting in the winter session here at a local college.  Its purpose, as with that of the book, is to help those with a passion for nature and photography to combine the two successfully. 

The photo of the book cover above is of an eastern kingbird feeding its chicks; I shot this while hiking at a wildlife conservation area in Creston, BC. early in the summer this year.  What I love about the image is that everything came together very nicely.  The parent is nicely squared to the camera and not at some obscure angle.  A dragonfly which was plucked from the air is clearly visible in its beak.  The chicks are engaged, extended, and attentive.  The sun, to my back, illuminated the scene well allowing good shutter speeds.  There was no clutter in front of the camera and the nest was actually about eye level so that I could see everything quite clearly.  It was an awesome moment.