Brian Stech, May 2015

As a child I have fond memories of my father taking pictures with his Pentax Spotmatic film camera. The next step involved processing the film in various containers of solutions in a completely dark basement area where the pictures would gradually appear on print paper. Magic!  My own interest in photography was kindled much later and after the advent of digital cameras. Now there was real magic; no film and just take as many shots as you want and delete the poor ones.

Birding and photographing birds are complementary though in many ways they are very different. I am always torn when a new or rare bird pops up; do I reach for the binoculars or the camera first? Often the camera wins out. Seeing a bird through bins or scope is an easy task compared to capturing a good image,  considering the position of the sun, distance to the subject, shutter speed, under/over exposure etc. etc. The learning curve has been steep and I am constantly amazed at how consistently some photographers produce such top quality images. Equipment used is part of the equation but there is more to it than just equipment. Personally I have always used Nikon equipment. Camera bodies have progressed through the D80, D90 for a short while and currently I use a D7100. I always shoot “jpeg” images,  never having learned the more complicated processing involved with “RAW” images. Lenses have included both the older and newer versions of 80-400 mm zooms. The newer AF-S one is quite an improvement.


Several photographers have mentioned to me that a winter-plumaged ptarmigan is high on their list.  A minimal coastal snowpack this past winter gave me an opportunity to photograph one. Disappointing as it was for the ski crowd,  it allowed a large, enthusiastic group of birders to ascend one of the Vancouver area peaks for a mid-February search. The only one found was this White-tailed Ptarmigan. Don’t you just love the feathered snowshoes?

Stech White-tail Ptarmigan

Throughout the winter several areas on the Sunshine Coast have small populations of Rock Sandpipers. They overwinter mainly with mixed flocks containing larger numbers of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds. Flocks like these are difficult to approach and it is best to position yourself and let the birds come to you. This technique worked with this shot.

Stech Rock Sandpiper

This bird is seen on most trips to Manning Park. They readily approach humans looking for handouts. This habit makes the Gray Jay an easy target for photographers. I really liked the snow scene in this shot as it seems to emphasize the subtle colours of the bird.

Stech Gray Jay

In the 1970s in South Surrey, Western Screech-Owls would regularly occupy Wood Duck nest boxes that we monitored on a weekly basis. Over the years their numbers fell to near zero in the area. High on my “want to photograph” list, this bird was discovered in the B.C. Interior.

Stech Western Screech-Owl

Williamson’s Sapsucker reaches its northern limit in B.C. from Manning Park, where I saw my life bird, to the West Kootenays. In trying to photograph them south of Princeton last year I met researchers there who indicated that they knew of only 10 pairs in that area. Nowhere are they common. Computer research indicates that in the 1850s a Lt. R. Williamson was surveying for the transcontinental railroad in California and Oregon. A crew member collected a striking “woodpecker” and named it the “Williamson’s Woodpecker”.  Early ornithologists observed that two woodpeckers, Williamson’s and Black-breasted, closely associated with each other. These ornithologists studied these two “species” which looked so different from each other. Eventually, in 1873, someone in Colorado saw a Williamson’s Woodpecker and a Black-breasted Woodpecker sharing a nest hole together and the mystery was solved. They were one species. The name was changed to Williamson’s Sapsucker as they were found to be in the woodpecker genus known as Sapsuckers and the AOU had them listed as such in 1886.

Stech WIlliamson's Sapsucker

Bald Eagles in the Vancouver area don’t get the respect they deserve. Any day through the winter dozens can be observed in the Fraser River Delta. There they seem to lose their innate fear of humans, making reasonably close approach easy. This portrait was taken on a sunny winter’s day at Boundary Bay.

Stech Bald Eagle

While doing Breeding Bird Survey work in the Chilcotin,  I was lucky enough to see a number of Spruce Grouse, several of which were displaying males.  This striking bird displayed long enough for me to capture the essence of the moment.

Stech Spruce Grouse

This past winter the usual influx of Bohemian Waxwings to the Okanagan extended as far as the coast. I was fortunate to find up to one hundred of these photographically desired birds, feeding on small crab-apples in the Pitt Lake area. They were feeding low and by positioning myself where I felt they would feed next I was able to get some images I was very happy with.

Stech Bohemian Waxwing

Few will forget this rare Asian visitor that overwintered in 2013 in Queens Park, New Westminster.  Birders came from near and far for this one.  Most of my photos were taken in the deep shade this bird preferred but late in its stay I managed to catch this Red-flanked Bluetail in the open long enough for several images.

Stech Western Bluebird

This shot was taken on the boardwalk into Liard Hotsprings during a Breeding Bird Survey in early July several years ago. Though the image quality is low, the “interest” factor is high. It is possible that earthworms don’t exist this far north so American Robins adapt to whatever food items are available. Computer research indicates that this species is very opportunistic in its prey selection, even including very small fish at times.

Stech Robin

Who knew that a “dirt” bird could be so striking!  The iridescence of this breeding-plumaged European Starling is most visible in the spring. This bird was seen strutting around Jericho Park.

Stech Starling

Quite by accident I discovered that adjusting the contrast in post-processing can produce some startling results. I have only tried this with a variety of waterfowl including this Ring-necked Duck, but the technique may well work for other species whose colour patterns are predominately dark and light.

Stech Ring-neck Duck

10 thoughts on “Brian Stech, May 2015

  1. Congrats Brian you deserve the recognition. Having seen a few of the photos in the past, I was very pleased to be able to see more. You do excellent work and you are always an interesting person to meet in the field.
    Nick Balachanoff

  2. Hi Brian. Wonderful photos. I especially like the two “chickens” and the owl. Keep up the good work. John Vooys

  3. Beautiful Pictures Brian. I remember the Red Flanked Bluetail well indeed as I had never seen so many birders in one place in BC actively photographing our winged friends. Shasta my golden retriever & I would enjoy our daily walks including at Queens Park and were delighted by seeing lenses short & long alike focusing in and capturing a moment & memory. Chris Parlow

  4. As you know Brian, I always love looking at your work, and look forward to your posts titled ” A Few Pictures for you ” A beautiful montage of some great birds. Even though I have seen the Red flanked Bluetail a couple of times now, including the Queens Park bird, I don’t think I have ever seen a better image. Congrats. Thor

  5. Your montage of photographs are very impressive. Congratulations to you! Hope to see you in the field.
    John and Margaret Ramsay

  6. Just discovered this today Brian. As Thor has stated, several of those images found their way to my computer as “A picture for you” but they seem even more impressive this way. Congratulations on a job well done!

  7. Lovely photos, Brian! I like the way you find beauty in birds that we take for granted, like the starling.

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