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Mission: Photographing the Bar-tailed Godwit

July 31, 2015
On July 24, a Bar-tailed Godwit was seen at Boundary Bay. Shorebirding is my absolute favorite thing to do at this time of year, so I was really keen to go out there and find it. Unfortunately, the next day I couldn't go. The bird wasn't seen that day either. I got out on the 26th, and was super excited when I got the word that the Bar-tailed Godwit had shown up! I spent a long time watching it with a crowd of birders. It was very distant, but still nice to see:

ImageBar-tailed Godwit (record shot) by lironsnaturephotography.com, on Flickr


That was as close as the bird got (taken with a 400mm + 1.4x telecovnerter for 500mm on a 1.6x crop sensor camera, the 7D Mark II).

The bird eventually flew off, but other good birds remained in the area: Pacific Golden-Plovers, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstones. I took a few (distant) turnstone shots:

ImageRuddy Turnstone by lironsnaturephotography.com, on Flickr


In the evening of July 27, I went out again to see if I could see the godwit another time. Unfortunately, it had last been seen about 30 minutes prior. Nothing wrong with Western Sandpiper photography in sunset light, though!

ImageWestern Sandpiper by lironsnaturephotography.com, on Flickr


On July 29, I set out once again, hoping to find and photograph the godwit. As the tide rose, I scanned through a massive Black-bellied Plover flock. I spotted a couple Ruddy Turnstones, but where was the godwit? All of a sudden, my binoculars landed on a bird sleeping that looked like the one I was after- could it be? When they are sleeping it is hard to tell (from a big distance) if you are looking at a godwit or a Whimbrel, or something else. Eventually it woke up- it was the Bar-tailed Godwit! Shortly after I spotted the Pacific Golden-Plovers, but I was interested in the godwit, not them! With the rising tide, the bird and its flock kept on flying around, having to re-position because the water was getting deeper and deeper. This gave little chance to approach the bird for photos.

Eventually I got reasonably close, but still not as close as I would like:

ImageBar-tailed Godwit by lironsnaturephotography.com, on Flickr


A little bit later, I got even closer than before, however the bird kept on flying around, looking for places that were not under water to land. As this was going on, I snapped my closest shot of the bird, a flight shot! I am very happy with how this one turned out!

ImageBar-tailed Godwit by lironsnaturephotography.com, on Flickr


Later on, I also spotted two Red Knots. Lots of shorebirds were around- 14 shorebird species in total!

Thanks for reading! :) 

If you are interested in a photography workshop or birding tour at Boundary Bay, go to:
http://lironsnaturephotography.com/workshops.php


 

More shorebird photography! (July 23 2015)

July 26, 2015
On July 23rd, I had an awesome day of shorebird photography at Boundary Bay. There high numbers of shorebirds on the move: 9 species and thousands of birds, not including the escaped Ruff!

I started the day off by locating the Pacific Golden-Plovers in with a flock of Black-bellied Plovers:

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Plover flocks are hard to get close to, but one Black-bellied Plover allowed me to get close enough for some shots:

ImageBlack-bellied Plover



I wandered around and found some Western Sandpiper flocks. They were a little harder to approach than normal but I still got some shots. Here's one (with a Least Sandpiper in the back):

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Next up was a lone Short-billed Dowitcher in a worn breeding plumage. These are my first photos of this species in breeding plumage!

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Most of the time when I see yellowlegs at Boundary Bay they are Greater Yellowlegs, so it was nice to see 6 Lesser Yellowlegs for a change:

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The escaped Ruff was also around. A surprisingly wary bird! Believe it or not, it somehow took me multiple visits before I saw this bird! :lol: 

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I now located a group of Semipalmated Plovers. These guys are usually quite difficult to photograph (they are wary of people), but there were some cooperative birds in the group:

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Just beyond the Semipalmated Plovers were hundreds of feeding sandpipers. They were mainly Western Sandpipers, but there were also Least and Semipalmated Sandpipers feeding with them.

This shot shows all three species. From left to right: Semipalmated Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper:

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Least Sandpiper:
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Western Sandpipers:

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Semipalmated Sandpipers:

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That concluded an awesome (over 8 hour) day at Boundary Bay!


Thanks for looking! :)


 

Recent shorebird photography

July 22, 2015
A lot has gone on since my last post! I have been birding all the time. My BC year list is now at 272, helped out by a birding trip to the Peace River Region (Fort. St. John area). My goal for the year is 305, which I am confident I will be able to achieve!

Now that it's summer and I'm off school, I'm free to go birding pretty much every day! :D My favorite activity to do at this time of year is visit Boundary Bay and photograph the shorebirds that are on their fall migration, heading south.

I did some shorebird photography when the birds were on their way north as well. These were taken a few months ago, but since I haven't posted them on this forum I thought I would include them:

Dunlin - April 2015

This particular Dunlin was very cooperative, and I spent a while photographing it. The tide was far out, so I walked over 1.1 kilometers out on the mudflats before stopping to photograph this guy, according to the GPS in my camera! After a while of slithering around in the mud on my belly, I left this bird to feed and headed back to shore, soaking wet and covered in mud!

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Western Sandpipers - May 2015

The peak of the northbound shorebird migration had passed, but lots of shorebirds were still migrating through! I spent nearly two hours lying down in the mud, and eventually positioned myself right in the middle of a flock of about 1000 Western Sandpipers and 500 Dunlin. Being totally surrounded by these birds is amazing. It is not easy to gain the trust of a flock of this size, so whenever I get hundreds of sandpipers coming too close for me to focus it is always so amazing!


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I didn't go shorebirding at Boundary Bay in June because it is the quietest month of the year for shorebirds- you can go out there and get zero migrating species!

Now that it's July and I'm off school, I'm back at it. Here are some shots from a couple days ago, July 20:

I was super happy to relocate two Pacific Golden-Plovers at Boundary Bay on the morning of the 20th! This is only the second time I have seen this species in BC, and to get some close shots of them was awesome!! This is also the first time I have ever seen this species in breeding plumage!

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After photographing the Pacific Golden-Plovers, I searched for more species to photograph. I saw Western Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeers, Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin and Black-bellied Plovers. I have spent a lot of time photographing all these species in the past, but I decided to go for the Black-bellied Plovers. 

Of the 34 shorebird species I've photographed in and around Boundary Bay, Black-bellied Plovers are probably in the top 3 hardest shorebirds to get close to. Rarely do I manage to get close enough for good photos of these plovers, but I've figured out some good techniques that is making it easier!

I approached multiple groups of Black-bellied Plovers on the 20th, but they all would get nervous when I was still quite far away. I eventually found one group that allowed me to get reasonably close. I was happy to get some decent shots! Getting sharp shots in the heat haze was a bit of a challenge.

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After shorebirding for a while longer, I finished the 8.5 hour birding day with some Least Sandpipers. Least Sandpipers are one of the easiest shorebirds to photograph at Boundary Bay, but it still takes effort to get close shots of them. To get these ones I was lying down in the mud!

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Thanks for looking! :) Sorry for the overload of photos! :lol:


I run private shorebird photography workshops at Boundary Bay. If you are interested, go to this link for more info:http://lironsnaturephotography.com/workshops.php



 

Audubon Photo Awards 2015 - Top 100

April 28, 2015
I am proud to say that these two of my photos have been selected for the top 100 in the 2015 Audubon Photo Awards competition. Nearly 9000 photos were entered, so it feels good!
The top 100 can be seen here, organized alphabetically by photographer's name. My photos are number 68 and 69.
 

More recent shots!

April 19, 2015
Here are some more recent shots from around Vancouver.

Palm Warbler - this guy was my lifer bird and stayed at Jericho Beach Park for a while. I went to see it twice. The bird was hard to photography as it stayed way up in the trees, but patience and persistence allowed for some shots I am happy with!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler



While the Palm Warbler was at Jericho, the Mountain Bluebird continued at Locarno Beach nearby (see a previous post). I wanted to create a more unique image than what most people were getting, and this is the result:

Mountain Bluebird



These two shots were taken with a wide angle lens in Stanley park in the late afternoon:

Evening Stroll

Canada Goose



Bird migration is picking up, and places like Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver are starting to get lots of migrants! This Orange-crowned Warbler was singing away, and I managed to locate him and get some photos, including this one:

Orange-crowned Warbler


On April 11th I went birding with Melissa H. We started at Debouville Slough in Coquitlam to see if we could find a Green Heron that had been seen. We did not find that but did get some photos of a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and Rufous Hummingbirds (there were 20+ Rufous Hummingbirds!).

Red-tailed Hawk

Rufous Hummingbird



We then went over to Pitt Lake where it was reasonably quiet, but the Ospreys were back at their nest and busy mating! Here are a couple shots. The nest is a bit too far off the path where I was shooting for my 400mm, but adding my 1.4x teleconverter onto the 400mm brought them into decent photo range, and I am happy with the results!

Ospreys Mating

Ospreys Mating


We then went over to Maple Ridge where a pair of Western Scrub Jays has been living for the past 2 years or so. After about a 40 minute wait, they showed up! The homeowner who feeds the jays was very nice as he always is!

Western Scrub-Jay - Maple Ridge, BC


Our last stop was at Colony Farm in Coquitlam, where we looked for a Sora that had been seen. It did not take long to find one, and while we were watching this one another called from further away, so there were 2 in total!

Sora



That concludes this blog post, thanks for looking!

 

BC Listing Goals - 2015

April 17, 2015
While I enjoy casual birding and photography, I am also a bit of a lister when it comes to birds. I love big days (seeing as many species you can in 24 hours), and I keep lists for all sorts of regions that I have visited. Aside from my life list, probably the most important list to me is my year list from the province of British Columbia, where I live.

While I'm not doing a big year (seeing as many species as possible in a year), I do hope to see 305 or more species in BC this year. This is a high goal, but I think it is possible. I am based around Vancouver and will probably see about 215+ species there throughout the year. In addition to that, I will be doing a big day in the Okanagan in May which should add a whole lot of species (I will likely see 150+ species over a couple days). In the Summer, I am planning a trip to the Peace River Region in July, which should get me a bunch of eastern species (this area is on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains). In September I am going on at least one pelagic off the west coast of Vancouver Island, so that should get me a bunch of pelagic species. Theoretically 320-330 or even more is possible, but having never seen more than 271 species in a year in BC, I will keep my goal at 305 species for now!


BC


 

Short trip to Ottawa - early April

April 16, 2015
Over the Easter long weekend, I went to Ottawa, Ontario, the capital city of Canada, for a non-birding trip. Even though I wasn't there to bird I got out birding every day and managed to see and photograph lots of bird species and other wildlife too! Here are a few photos from this trip, all taken around Mud Lake located close to downtown Ottawa.

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal


Canada Goose landing on ice
Canda Goose landing on ice


White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch


White-tailed Deer
White-tailed Deer


Bohemian Waxwings
Bohemian Waxwings


Thanks for looking!

 

Photographing the Milky Way - an experience of a lifetime

April 10, 2015
The night sky has always been something that has amazed me. The universe is such an amazing place that we know little about, but the part of it that we see in the night sky is fascinating. Until recently, I have not really been into astrophotography (photographing the night sky), but a unit on astronomy in school taught by my teacher Mr. Procyk (recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence) got me inspired.

I have always been blown away by photos I have seen of the Milky Way. It has been a dream of mine to see and photograph it one day, and this dream came true in Joshua Tree National Park in March!

Let's start by talking about what the Milky Way is. Our planet orbits around the sun, which is just one star of a few hundred billion stars in our galaxy, known has the Milky Way. What we see in the night sky that we call the Milky Way is our galaxy's galatic core, the center of the galaxy that appears like bright dust clouds to us do to what is really tons and tons of stars.

The Milky Way is the easiest to observe in the Summer in the northern hemisphere. March, when I would be photographing the Milky Way is harder, because the Milky Way only shows up in the night sky in the early morning. It is still very possible to photograph the Milky Way, but we would have to wake up at 3:30 AM or so.

Prior to leaving my home in British Columbia, Canada, I watched lots of video tutorials on how to photograph and process the Milky Way. I did this until was completely confident I knew what I was doing!

Once in the Palm Springs area, my Dad and I waited for a night with perfect stargazing weather. One night looked really good, so we headed out the day before to do some birding around Joshua Tree National Park, which is home to lots of desert bird species. After lots of birding, we went to campgrounds. The areas of the park that are best for stargazing only have first come first serve campgrounds (no reservations), and unfortunately they were all full. This wasn't a big issue as we ended up staying in a motel just 15 or so minutes away from where we were planning on shooting the Milky Way.

Before going to bed, we drove into the Joshua Tree National Park to get our first glimpse of the dark skies.  I have only seen the night sky free of any light pollution once before. That was in Costa Rica, but I wasn't really focused on the night sky- I was birding, looking for the nocturnal Dusky Nightjar. This time my main focus was on the sky, and I was blown away! Living in Vancouver, I am used to barely being able to see the stars due to extreme light pollution. There was basically no light pollution where we were in Joshua Tree National Park, and the sky was unlike anything I had seen before! I had never seen so many stars! We spent some time photographing the night sky but didn't spend too long, as we would have to get up early the next morning to see the Milky Way! There were a few clouds in the sky at this time (9:00 PM) but it was supposed to totally clear up over the next couple hours.


The constellation Orion in the night sky:

Canon EOS 7D Mark II | Tokina 16.5-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AT-X DX @ 17mm | 10 seconds | ISO 12800 | f/4.5

Orion


The Great Nebula in Orion, M42 was visible to the naked eye and could be seen very well with binoculars. This nebula is "only" 1,344 light years away. Here is a closeup of the Great Nebula in Orion and the Running Man Nebula. In the wide photo above, the Orion Nebula is the really bright object that looks like a star in Orion's sword, below the three evenly spaced stars that are Orion's belt. This is a stack of 97 exposures taken with a Canon 7D Mark II and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM at 1 second, ISO 16,000 and f/5.6. Stacking exposures reduces noise (grain) and brings out a lot of detail that is hard to see with the naked eye.

Orion's Nebula and Running Man Nebula



I also spent some time photographing Andromeda Galaxy, located over 2.5 million light years from Earth. Andromeda is the furthest object from our planet that can be seen with the naked eye, and has about 1 trillion stars, so it is much larger than our own galaxy. In a dark sky it pretty much looks like a star, but binoculars reveal it to be a galaxy. If the Andromeda Galaxy appeared as bright as an object like the moon, it would appear to be about 6 times larger then our moon in the night sky! What can be seen in this and most photos of the Andromeda Galaxy taken from earth is just the center of the galaxy, the brightest area.

This is a stack of 51 photos each taken with a Canon 7D Mark II and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM lens at 1 second, ISO 16000 and f/5.6.

Andromeda Galaxy



We now went to bed and set our alarms for 3:45 AM!


I was super excited so woke up before the alarm, and we ended up heading out to photograph the Milky Way at 3:30 AM. The sky looked clear from the motel, which was a good sign. We began driving up into Joshua Tree National Park. Even through the windows of the car, I could see the stars getting brighter and brigher. I wasn't sure what to expect when I would get out of the car. What I be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye, or would I have try to find in in long camera exposures?

I got out of the car, and looked to the southeast. There it was: the Milky Way! It was amazing, a dream come true. There were so many stars out, even more than when we had gone to bed, and there in the sky was the Milky Way! Seeing so many stars and the Milky Way with the naked eye was amazing! I have never seen anything like it before. It was an incredible experience, something I will never forget! We spent the next two hours photographing and staring at the Milky Way. Time flew, and next thing we knew it was starting to get light! Here are some shots of the Milky Way, all taken with a Canon EOS 7D Mark II and Tokina 16.5-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AT-X DX at 17mm, a 13 second shutter speed, ISO 12800 and f/3.5.

The orange light on the horizon in these pictures is light pollution coming from the Palm Springs area.

Milky Way


This one is my personal favorite from the night. I stacked 5 photos for this one to reduce noise.
Milky Way


A picture I took of myself staring at the sky with binoculars in front of the Milky Way
Stargazing


As it began to get light:
Milky Way at first light


It had been an amazing experience, one I will never forget. By dawn we were out birding again. Even though birding is the best, astronomy is pretty darn cool!


 

Say's Phoebe and Mountain Bluebird - Locarno Beach, Vancouver

March 28, 2015

Yesterday afternoon, I went down to Locarno Beach in Vancouver, BC to see if I could find two rare birds, a Mountain Bluebird and a Say's Phoebe that had been seen there. The bluebird had been around for a few days, but the phoebe had only been found that morning. It was a fun afternoon and I ended up getting some decent shots of these locally uncommon birds.

The bluebird is continuing to be seen at the beach, but the Say's Phoebe has turned out to be a one day wonder, so I was lucky to get to see it!



Say's Pheobe

Say's Phoebe


Say's Phoebe


Urban Say's Phoebe


Say's Phoebe




Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird


Mountain Bluebird


Mountain Bluebird wing stretch


Mountain Bluebird


Sorry for the lack of posts in the last while. I have been away in southern California and have lots of photos from that trip that I will share soon!


 

An amazing day: White-tailed Ptarmigan adventure and the last minute Tufted Duck twitch!

February 16, 2015
Today, February 15 2015, was a day which I will never forget. It was one of the best birding days of my life, and was more than just a birding day: it was an adventure!

Around a week ago, I got a text from my friend Melissa, who was helping to organize a hike to the top of Mount Seymour that Ilya P. had planned. The goal was to find a White-tailed Ptarmigan for Ilya's Vancouver big year and for many birders life and year lists (you can follow Ilya's his big year at: http://vanbigyear.blogspot.ca/)

I would place White-tailed Ptarmigan in the top 10 list of most sought after birds in BC. They are super cool birds living in really harsh environments, but the fact that it takes a lot of effort to see them in most of the province also makes them such an amazing bird to see. In the Vancouver checklist area, ptarmigans are pretty much unheard of; most reports are from hikers that snap a photo of chicken-like birds not knowing what they are, and show them to a birder.

As you can see, there are no reports of a Ptarmigan from the Vancouver area on eBird. There are a few reports north of Squamish around Whistler and some from the eastern Fraser Valley, but none in the Metro Vancouver checklist area:

ebird ptarmigan map


The only time I have ever seen a White-tailed Ptarmigan was on Whistler mountain in the Summer of 2011, when while not really birding I almost stepped on a female with chicks. It was an amazing experience, but I didn't realize how lucky I was to see this amazing bird.

White-tailed Ptarmigan (female) - Whistler Mountain (peak), August 21 2011

White-tailed Ptarmigan


Today, Sunday February 15th 2015 was the day of the hike. It was foggy in the morning, but as Mel drove me up the mountain we quickly escaped through the fog. Looking down at the city was amazing, as only a few buildings were sticking up through a sea of fog.

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Soon more birders began to arrive. About 15 of us were coming on the hike.

We would take a trail up to the Mount Seymour peak. It is about an 8 or so kilometer hike, but it is very steep. The terrain is very hard to walk on too. This year there is basically no snow on the mountain, but at the upper elevations we hit snow that was very hard to walk in with hiking shoes.

We began heading up the mountain at around 8:00 AM. We started up a ski run. It was a beautiful day and the scenery was gorgeous!

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There were some ravens flying around, and we heard Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Pacific Wrens, but other than that it was totally quiet. The views were spectacular.

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The hike got harder and harder. Slippery snow and difficult terrain combined with steep slopes makes for a very difficult hike. There were zero birds expect for one Gray Jay that briefly showed up. As the hours passed hiking got harder, but there was a motivation to keep everyone going: the ptarmigans that we would hopefully eventually find.

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Hiking up I didn't really think we would find any ptarmigans. I have searched for hours in alpine in the past and come up with nothing ptarmigan-like.

About 3/5 of the way up, I began asking hikers coming down if they happened to have seen a white chicken-like bird walking around. The answer was no- that is, until we ran into a group of three hikers who had camped overnight at the peak. They showed us a picture on an iPhone of a bird they thought maybe was a dove (they were from Australia, where there are white coloured, fat doves, so this makes sense). They had taken it the evening before on Mount Seymour's peak. This is when I realized that maybe we would in fact find one of these white chickens!

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The group was quite spread out hiking up, and soon Ilya, Mel, and I arrived at the base of First Pump Peak. The Ptarmigan habitat looked good here, so Ilya wandered around looking for a bird. A few minutes later, i heard a noise off in the distance. Ilya was pretty sure it was someone shouting "I got it!" Could it be? Had someone found a ptarmigan?!?

A minute later Ilya's phone rang (there was cell reception up here). It was John Reynolds, notifying us that they had found a ptarmigan!! We sprinted up that last part of the trail up to the peak (only falling in the snow a few times), where a beautiful White-tailed Ptarmigan was sitting out in the open. Everybody in our group got amazing looks. The bird was a lifer for many, and a Vancouver area lifer for almost everyone.

It was hard to believe. The bird was beautiful, in its white winter plumage. The scenery was just as stunning. The hard hike had taken a few hours. The scenery would have made it worth it ptarmigan or not, but getting looks like the ones we got of the ptarmigan was amazing. It was one of the best birding moments of my life!!

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan


The ptarmigan then started to head down a cliff. We adjusted our position and watched it slowly work its way down the cliff, occasionally stopping to feed. If it had been on this cliff when we arrived at the top, we most probably never would have seen it!

Most of these photos are not cropped at all, as I wanted to show the near rocky environment the bird lives in (which should be covered in snow at this time of year).

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan

White-tailed Ptarmigan



As the ptarmigan disappeared from view, we sat down to eat lunch. Everyone was super happy! It had been a successful adventure!

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After eating and mingling for a bit, some decided to began heading down for the mountain, some decided to stay in the area for a while, and some of us decided to continue on hiking to the next peak. I decided to go on to the next peak. There is no real trail there, so it is a very difficult but fairly short hike. The view from the next peak was even more beautiful than the first! We didn't find any more ptarmigan but the scenery still took our breaths away.

Myself at the first peak
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Beginning the hike to the second peak
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Scenery
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Jeremiah and Ian taking in the view 2I6A0250_lr


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Stunning scenery
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Arrival at peak 2, Grouse Mountain in the back (note windmill on the left)
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Ptarmigan habitat on peak 2 overlooking the Lower Mainland
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Myself, peak 2
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Myself, peak 2
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After taking in the view at peak 2 and walking around for a bit, we headed back to peak one. It wasn't easy getting back, and at times we were going down near vertical rock faces!

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After a short rest at back at the first peak, it was time to head down. The way down was very hard as the melting snow and steep slope made for a lot of slipping and he occasional fall, but it was all part of the adventure!

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Down at the bottom we looked for the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches that have been at the parking lot but had no luck. We decided to meet down at the bottom at a cafe to eat a bit and talk. It was fun! I enjoyed a hot chocolate and a cookie.

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Group photo, taken shortly after finding the ptarmigan.

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After a while of chatting, we headed out to the parking lot and said goodbye. As we were about to leave, Daniele gets out his phone and causally says, "Tufted Duck back at Iona". A Tufted Duck had been seen at Iona in Richmond a couple weeks prior but not since. This was a big deal as Ilya needed it for his big year. So Ilya, Carlo, Andrew took off in their car and Mel and I and Daniele followed. We arrived at Iona and hustled out to the NW inner pond where it had been seen.

On the walk to the pond spotted a Tree Swallow (my first of the year). We arrived at the NW inner pond and Daniele set up his scope. A couple minutes later, we hear "I got it!". Daniele had spotted the bird! We all saw it and made our way to the other side of the pond where we got some pretty good looks. It was awesome!


Tufted Duck



The sun was setting and the light was fading, so we called it a day! It was one of the best birding days of my life, full of adventure and excitement! It was also awesome that I got to share it with some of BC's amazing birders! I'm pretty sure not too many people have seen a White-tailed Ptarmigan and a Tufted Duck in the same day. Certainly not around Vancouver!

Daniele and Ilya
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Sunset at Iona
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Thanks for reading!
 
 
 

 

 

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