As a boy of 9 years age in the late 1990’s, I began birding at a swamp found not too far from my Kelowna home. The swamp was the Chichester Bird Sanctuary and it is the place where I honed in my birding skills as a kid. I ripped up and down the paths either on foot or on my mountain bike, often alone, and sometimes with another neighborhood boy, Dayton. Binoculars dangling from my neck, gum boots adorning my feet, and often a camera in hand were my characteristic field marks. As a teenager, I used my Pentax camera with a 75-300 zoom lens. The use of a doubler, also helped get closer to the birds. in the last 20 years, nothing better has happened to photography than the digital wave and the elimination of old fashioned film. I really like the luxury of just being able click away these days, not having to worry about how many shots I have left. As the years went by and I had seen many of the birds the Okanagan and British Columbia have to offer, I figured I had to get creative about how I was going to see birds in other places too. Thus, Avocet Tours was born, and I have been fortunate to lead close to 100 birding tours since 2000. Some of the places guiding tours takes me to regularly include Texas, Arizona, Ontario, Oregon, California, Colorado and of course BC and Alberta. Recent years have taken me to other exotic places too, such as Panama, Peru, South Africa, Australia and Thailand. Being that I am out in the field so much, I am able to get some pretty decent photos of the birds I encounter. I would not really consider myself a professional photographer at all, rather just a ‘birder who carries a camera’. I don’t have the patience to sit and get ‘the shot’ that other photographers often go for. I just hope I have my camera on me when something interesting, or particularly confiding pops up in front of me. These days I use a Canon EOS 60ED camera with a 100-400 zoom lens with image stabilization. It is exceptionally rare I use a tripod, and all of the photos I have included have been hand held. Enjoy.
American Avocet: This unique species has special interest to me. In Kelowna the American Avocets have a precarious breeding colony at Alki Lake. Why is this colony so precarious you might ask? It is on the property of the Kelowna Landfill and the landfill is slowly filling in the lake. Over the years, naturalists have tried to stop the growth of the landfill towards Alki Lake but it seems there is little we can do at this point and much of the lake has already been filled in. Despite growth of the dump, American Avocets have persisted here and can be seen foraging amongst the trash in the green, polluted waters of Alki Lake. I like this bird so much I named my business after it, Avocet Tours.
American Dipper: Everybody loves to see an American Dipper and British Columbia has a lot of these charismatic little birds. I particularly am intrigued by nesting dippers, as they often choose lovely places to nest, such as rock walls behind waterfalls. This particular individual had built its mossy nest under a bridge. I photographed this adult as it brought food to a fledgling along Mission Creek in the mountains east of Kelowna in June 2012.
Cassin’s Vireo: While not a particularly attractive bird, the Cassin’s Vireo is quite a nice bird to have in one’s home patch. They are often vocal and when they scold loudly, it sometimes alerts me to the presence of a predator such as a hawk or a pygmy-owl for example. I photographed this curious male in Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon, on June 29, 2009.
Clark’s Nutcracker: Corvids in general are quite interesting, and the Clark’s Nutcracker is no exception. They are quite common in the high forests of southern BC where they feed on cones of White Pines. The pine trees rely heavily on nutcrackers to ‘spread their seeds’. Nutcrackers are also not shy of people. I took this photo in Manning Park on June 17, 2010 as I led a group of British birders through southern BC. You’re not supposed to feed the wildlife in the park, but the nutcrackers give you no choice as they just outright steal your food from right in front of you. This bird was perched in a tree next to our picnic table, waiting for a scrap.
Common Nighthawk: I am always pleased to see nighthawks in the skies above the Okanagan on warm summer evenings. Their buzzy and distinct booming calls are often heard while out on evening outings. Once in a while, if you’re lucky, you’ll find one roosting. This individual was ironically photographed near the Nighthawk Border Crossing, west of Osoyoos, on June 23, 2010.
Red-necked Grebe: The Red-necked Grebe in breeding plumage is really a stunning bird isn’t it? This particular bird was nesting near the mouth of the Okanagan River at OK Falls. I kept my distance from this bird as it was nesting, but as a passing pedestrian got a bit close to the nest, the bird raised its crest and opened its bill, just as I snapped. May 22, 2010.
Red-naped Sapsucker : All woodpeckers seem to have some personality to them, and perhaps none more than the sapsuckers. When they return to the interior of BC in late March and early April, they are feisty birds, rapping away on tree trunks, chasing one another around, and generally just showing off. I can never resist the chance to get another shot of a Red-naped Sapsucker, and I took this photo east of Lake Country along Beaver Lake Road, April 16, 2011.
Rufous Hummingbird: I think everybody loves hummingbirds for several reasons. First of all they are often tame, and attracted to human habitation by flowers and feeders. Also, the males of most species are very brightly colored, and the females, well they’re at least very cute. The Rufous Hummingbird is the hummingbird species that breeds the farthest north in the world and does a pretty epic migration down to Mexico and Central America for the winter months. Every time I see my first one of the season, I wonder just exactly where it spent the winter. This lovely male was photographed at the Red Roost Gift Shop near OK Falls, May 21, 2010.
Sanderling: Where I live and grew up in the Okanagan Valley, Sanderlings are a rarity, showing up most years during migration. I really enjoy shorebirds, partly because they offer a bit of a challenge to bird identification and also because they can often be very confiding. This Sanderling was photographed on the sand bar at the mouth of Mission Ck in Kelowna on September 19, 2013. ‘What would beaches be like without shorebirds’, as the late Roger Tory Peterson once said. Good question, though I’d rather not find out.
Spruce Grouse: Here in the Okanagan, there are a lot of back roads through the forest, mostly active and deactivated forest service roads. This is where I find Spruce Grouse, though not often, as they are not common and are rather elusive most of the time. While conducting breeding surveys for the breeding bird atlas, I found this female who was protecting her chicks along a forest service road east of Kelowna, July 25, 2009. The bird perched very obligingly for me and luckily I had the camera ready.
Wilson’s Snipe: This species usually stays hidden in marshy vegetation, but when it comes time to defend its territory, it seeks out a conspicuous perch from which it loudly proclaims its ownership.
Ed’s note: Chris has his own blog on which he regularly posts day-t0-day summaries of his touring adventures. You can tag along vicariously here: http://www.avocettours.wordpress.com
Hi Chris. Great photos and several with real character and “action.”
I’m looking forward to the postings to come in 2015. The birds; the mammals; the landscapes all come to life in Chris’ writing and photos.
A banner year ahead, no doubt!