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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.

Untitled



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!
 

Pine Grosbeaks and Great Gray Owl

February 9, 2015
I went to Queen Elizabeth Park yesterday morning, hoping to find the Pine Grosbeaks that had been reported. I looked for a whole while where they had been seen but had no luck. I did a big loop of the park and found a few interesting things, but no Pine Grosbeaks. I went back to where the grosbeaks had been reported, and within a couple minutes two Pine Grosbeaks arrived with some Purple Finches! These were only the third Pine Grosbeaks I have ever seen! They posed for photos for about 20 minutes until a Sharp-shinned Hawk (unsuccessfully) dived at them and the Purple Finches they were with. Here are a couple photos of the grosbeaks. These were taken with a Canon 7D Mark II and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM at 1/640, ISO 500, and f5.6.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak



I now headed out to Delta where a Great Gray Owl had been found the day before. The Great Gray Owl is a very rare visitor to the Vancouver area. It is an amazing bird, and one that i have only seen once before! When I arrived I was told it had been seen first thing in the morning but not since. A few hours later it flew in! It was perched really far away, but still awesome to see! I managed a few distant shots.

Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM + 1.4x III (560mm) | Canon 7D Mark II | 1/320 | ISO 800 | f/8

Great Gray Owl


It was an awesome day of birding!


Thanks for looking!


 

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches on Seymour Mountain

February 7, 2015
Yesterday afternoon I decided to go up Seymour Mountain to try for the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches. Despite the fact that these birds have been around for more than a week, i was in school when they were first seen and was away last weekend, so this afternoon was the first opening I had to go look for them.

Weather conditions seemed fine on the drive, but as soon as we got to about 500 metres above sea level we hit the clouds. The fog became so thick that it was hard to see just a few metres in front of the car. Because we had never been up Seymour before we couldn't even tell if we were in the parking lot at the top until we saw some buildings emerge in the fog. In addition to fog, it began to rain, and at times was bucketing! Despite this, while looking for where to park in the parking lot, I noticed two birds beside the lot from the slow moving car. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches! They were a lifer, and a bird I have wanted to see for many years! Amazing birds, and super cooperative for photos!

I did not see a single other bird species while up there, but due to thick fog I couldn't even see if there were trees around or anything like that.

The thick fog, bucketing rain and low light made photos tough, but thankfully these birds were very tame, so I managed to get some shots I am very happy with!

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM | 1/80 | ISO 2000 | f/5.6

Interior subspecies
Gray-crowned-Rosy-Finch (interior)


Coastal subspecies
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (coastal)



Here is a pic I snapped with my phone on the drive down. The fog was much worse than this at other times.

Seymour Mountain fog



Thanks for looking!
 

The night sky...

January 29, 2015
In school right now, my Science teacher. Mr. Procyk, recipient of the Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence, has been teaching us about astronomy. What I have learned is really amazing, and it inspired me to go back and process a couple photos I took of the night sky in Costa Rica in July 2013. These photos were taken in the Cerro De La Muerte region of Costa Rica (Mountain of Death), away from the light polluted sky of the city.

Both these photos were taken with a Canon EOS Rebel T1i, Tokina 16.5-135mm F3.5-56 AT-X DX lens at 30 seconds, ISO 800, and f3.5. The first was at 19mm and second was at 17mm.


Costa Rica night sky


Costa Rica night sky


I have been taught a whole new meaning for big... the milky way where we are is just one of countless galaxies in the universe, all constantly being pushed farther away from each other, making the universe larger and larger. From what we can see most of these stars all have their own set of planets orbiting them, meaning there could be trillions of earth-like, livable planets that are currently well beyond the reach of where we can go. The nearest star to us, Alpha Centauri, is 41,314,127,522,900 KM away, and that is the closest star (according to my calculations of 1 light year being 9.4605284 × 10 to the 12 kilometers multiplied by Alpha Centauri's distance of 4.367 light years from earth). If that is the closest star, the distance to the stars in these pictures is unimaginable. We are looking at worlds so far away that the light that we see left them lifetimes ago.

It is very hard to grasp, so for now I am just going to appreciate how amazing the night sky appears, especially away from the city like in these pictures!


Thanks for looking! I will get back to bird pictures soon...


 

More Bald Eagle shots from late November, plus a Golden Eagle from Sunday

January 28, 2015
On a weekend in late November I rented a Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM to go photograph Bald Eagles feeding on spawning salmon in BC's Fraser Valley. Unfortunately, high water levels covered the mudflats where dead fish usually get washed up. Despite this, there were still hundreds of eagles around and I got some shots I am very happy with. I still have many more to go through, but here are some shots I have not yet posted on my blog:

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/3200 | ISO 200 | f/4

Bald Eagle in flight



Other than making this black and white, very little processing was done. I was shooting into the sun which gave a neat effect.

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/2500 | ISO 200 | f/4
Bald eagle with salmon



Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/2500 | ISO 200 | f/4
Bald Eagle



Lit by the late afternoon sun, a juvenile Bald Eagle flies by a shaded, misty mountain slope in Harrison Mills, BC, in late November 2014.

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4x III (840mm) | 1/1000 | ISO 1600 | f/5.6
Juvenile Bald Eagle in flight




Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/2000 | ISO 1600 | f/4
Bald Eagle in flight




While I have closer photos of this bird with no branches in the frame, I liked the way the branches and the wider view display slightly more of a setting.

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/1000 | ISO 500 | f/4Bald Eagle



I photographed another species of eagle on this past Sunday. A Golden Eagle has been at Boundary Bay in Delta, BC, for many weeks now. It has become a bit of a celebrity, and even was featured in the Vancouver Sun newspaper. Despite it's popularity, while at Boundary Bay today I spotted it sitting beside the road in a tree with some Bald Eagles when no other people were around. A really neat bird! When it was first found I was in Mexico. When I tried for it a week ago it did not show, so seeing it on Sunday was awesome!


Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM + 1.4x III (560mm) | 1/320 | ISO 500 | f/8

Golden Eagle




Thanks for looking! I hope to post more eagle shots and more photos from Mexico soon!


 

A couple photos from late November....

January 23, 2015
I still have photos to go through from my Bald Eagle photography trip to Harrison Mills, in the Fraser Valley of BC, Canada. Here is one I recently processed, not of a Bald Eagle but still I shot I really liked!

While walking around at sunset near Harrison Mills, I noticed that the sky was being lit up beautifully by the setting sun. While I did capture some images with my wide angle lens, I found shots like these of birds flying with the beautiful sunset colours taken with a telephoto lens to be even better.

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/500 | ISO 320 | f/4

Ducks flying at sunset



Here's another shot from in late November 2013 of A young Bald Eagle perched in a tree in Harrison Mills, BC, Canada

This beautiful young Bald Eagle was posing in a tree next to the river. In this shot he is nibbling at something on the bark.

Canon 7D Mark II | Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM | 1/320 | ISO 500 | f/4

Bald Eagle (juvenile)



Thanks for looking!


 
 
 

 

 

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