Liron Gertsman, February 2018

Ever since I could talk, I’ve been interested in nature. My earliest memories involve spending time in my backyard and neighborhood, searching the shrubs for insects. Around the age of five or six, I began to take a particular interest in birdlife, and my parents bought me my first camera, a small point-and-shoot. Over the years, my fascination with birds grew into an intense passion, and I saved up my money to upgrade my photography gear. I’ve been fortunate to visit many places in the world, but no matter where I visit, I never loose my love for British Columbia. I feel so lucky to live in such an amazing place for natural beauty and bird migration. I’m now a grade 12 high school student, and I’m planning on studying sciences in university next year.

For many years, I’ve enjoyed photographing birds. However, in more recent years, I began to realize the importance of what I was doing. The camera that I hold each weekend is a powerful tool which allows me to capture the natural world and translate it into a beautiful form for people to see. My goal is to spread love and appreciation for nature through my photos. I believe that people need to see nature if they are to want to protect it, and one of the best ways to do that is through photography. Because I have opportunities with nature that not everyone gets to have, I feel that it’s my duty to educate and tell conservation stories through my work.

I’m very grateful to BCFO for giving me this opportunity to share some of my favorite bird photos with you. These photos were taken across British Columbia, from my home city of Vancouver, to the Haines Triangle in the far Northwest.

My current photography gear is a Canon 7D Mark II and Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM, however some of these photos are taken with my old gear, the Canon EOS 60D and Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM.

If you are interested in seeing more of my work, such as scenery, wildlife or birds from other locations in the world, please visit my website or social media pages.






Willow Ptarmigan

For a week at the end of June 2017, I went on a road trip with my Dad. We started in Whitehorse, Yukon, and headed south through BC’s Haine’s Triangle down into Haines, Alaska. From there we took a ferry to Skagway, Alaska and drove back up through BC back into the Yukon. It was an incredible trip!

One of my most wanted birds for the trip were ptarmigan. Ptarmigan are often notoriously difficult birds to find, but the NW corner of British Columbia is supposed to be one of the best places to look for ptarmigan, specifically Willow Ptarmigan. One morning, my Dad and went for an easy 6km hike from the main highway down an old dirt road to Kelsall Lake, and back. The setting was spectacular; endless willow shrubs with a backdrop of towering mountains, and a distant lake. This area is known to have a high density of Grizzly Bears, so we had our bear spray out on our belts. On the walk in, we enjoyed hearing and seeing birds like breeding Lesser Yellowlegs, Semipalmated Plovers, American Tree Sparrows, and Gray-cheeked Thrushes. We saw some old Grizzly Bear tracks, but nothing fresh. After we turned around to head back, this beautiful Willow Ptarmigan almost immediately ran across the road. Slow and careful stalking got me very close to the bird, and I snapped away as it briefly posed on a bed of moss and lichen among the willows. The result was this shot! On the walk back, we saw brand new Grizzly tracks of a mother with at least one cub that had just passed through. We never ran into a bear, but it was a powerful reminder of the true wilderness of the incredible area we were in.

Arctic Tern

Another bird species I wanted to see in BC’s Haine’s Triangle were breeding Arctic Terns. Previously, I’d only seen quick flybys on pelagic trips off the BC coast. One morning, we pulled off the relatively quiet highway, Haines Road, to do a hike up into the mountains. There was no trail; we simply followed the streams and ridges up the slope of the mountain. After some time, we came to a beautiful, pristine alpine lake.

One of the highlights at the lake was seeing this Arctic Tern up close. It was extremely territorial, chasing everything away from its area of the lake, such as the numerous Mew Gulls. It eventually came after me, flying only feet from my face! It was truly an incredible experience, one of the highlights of the trip.

Being at the lake, I couldn’t help but wonder, how many other people had ever seen it? Perhaps at some point over the years someone else had also hiked up to this spot off the highway, but either way, it was an incredible place to see.

Bald Eagles

Every year in November or December, I look forward to visiting the Fraser Valley to photograph hundreds of Bald Eagles that gather around Harrison Mills to feast on spawning salmon. It’s really fascinating to watch them as they feed, rest, and fight. The forest and river setting in the area is also stunning. I’ve now gone to photograph the eagles for five years in a row and have probably taken upwards of twenty thousand eagle photos at that location.

My favorite eagle photographs are the ones that show their interactions. While photographing the eagles this past December, I would follow birds coming in to land in my viewfinder, hoping for interactions as they approached other birds. Frequently, disputes would break out as an eagle landed, illustrated by this picture.

“Blast Off” (Snow Geese)

Every year, large numbers of Snow Geese migrate through the Fraser River Delta. Massive flocks gather just south of Vancouver, where they feed in fields until they choose to move, or until a predator flushes them up into the sky at once. This spectacle is often called the “blast off”, and I think it’s one of the most spectacular things to see in nature in North America.

One of my favorite places to photograph the geese is the dyke in Richmond. It’s amazing to watch and listen to large flocks gather. I took this photo when an eagle flew by and sent this massive flock into the air. Hoping to create a more unique image and to illustrate the chaos, I used a slow shutter speed to give a more abstract effect. This was photographed in October 2016.

“Looking Glass” (Red-necked Phalarope)

One of the reasons why I love living in Vancouver is the annual shorebird migration through the Fraser River Delta. Each year, I spend many hours out at Boundary Bay, photographing the migrant shorebirds and scoping through the flocks in search of something rare.

In August 2016, I had an incredible experience photographing this juvenile Red-necked Phalarope at the bay. I spotted it feeding all on its own while the tide was fairly low, and after a long time slowly approaching, I found myself close enough for some good photos with a telephoto lens. The bird completely ignored me and kept on feeding, moving towards me until it was too close to focus with my 400mm lens. I switched to my wide angle lens, hoping to capture a more unique perspective on the phalarope, to show the bird in its habitat. This was the result!

“Tranquility” (Dunlin)

The Dunlin is another shorebird species I’ve spent time photographing at Boundary Bay. While most of the shorebirds simply use the Fraser River Delta as a relatively brief migration stopover, large numbers of Dunlin spend the entire winter in the area.

In mid-April 2015, I went out to Boundary Bay to see the if there was any early movement of northward-bound shorebirds. The tide was low, but I found a few Dunlin foraging in the tidal pools. Approaching slow through the mud and water on my belly, I eventually found myself near this Dunlin. It was already sporting much of its breeding plumage, and it was casting a beautiful reflection on the water as it fed.

Pacific Golden-Plover

Part of why I love birding at Boundary Bay so much during shorebird migration is the opportunity to search for less common species of migratory shorebirds. Birds like Pacific Golden-Plovers will often stop at Boundary Bay, but they can be difficult to spot among large flocks of Black-bellied Plovers. Photographing them can be even more difficult, as these large plover flocks are often extremely skittish.

One late September day in 2016, I spotted an unusually large group of six golden-plovers among a flock of Black-bellied Plovers. There were four Pacific-Golden Plovers, and two American Golden-Plovers. The tide was rising, and the flock of plovers was moving in to shore with the quickly rising water. I positioned myself in the water, lying down in the wet mud. Eventually, I was surrounded by shorebirds as they moved in with the rising tide. Among them were the golden-plovers, and this Pacific-Golden Plover posed stunningly in a clump of green and gold grasses. It was an incredible experience, and the only time I’ve been so close to a golden-plover. I eventually left the birds to their feeding and resting, but not before getting soaking wet due to the rising tide, which had caused the water to rise about 5 inches above the mudflats while I was lying down.

Canada Warbler

When selecting the photos for this feature, I wanted to show photos from many places in British Columbia. We’re very lucky to live in a province that has such a variety in bird habitats. Located in the far northeastern corner of BC is the Peace River Region. This region is situated on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, which makes it an incredible place to see eastern North American birds within BC.

One of the many striking warbler species found in the region is the Canada Warbler. I photographed this stunning male near the town of Taylor, while on a brief birding trip to the region in late June 2015. It’s on my bucket list to return the Peace River region in early June, to see even more eastern birds in British Columbia while they are more actively migrating and singing, and therefore easier to find.

Shearwater Reflections (Sooty Shearwater)

I’ve always loved birding from boats. My first pelagic birding trip was one that I organized in April 2014, which went out to the infamous Triangle Island from our starting location on northern Vancouver Island, Port McNeil. Triangle Island is a breeding colony for millions of seabirds, including Tufted Puffins, Cassin’s Auklets, Common Murres, and even a few pairs of Horned Puffins. This island also can be one of the hardest places to reach by boat in Canada, as huge waves, fog, and storm force winds occur very frequently, even in Summer.

Although the Sooty Shearwater, the bird species photographed, does not nest on the island, they use the rich ocean waters around it as a stopping place on their around-the-globe journey from their breeding grounds in New Zealand. We were treated to many Sooty Shearwaters flying around our boat for much of the trip to Triangle Island. I took many photos, but this one of the bird and its reflection was one of my favorites.

In Sync (Black-footed Albatross and Pink-footed Shearwater)

In September 2015, I participated in my first pelagic trip departing from Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim. We left Ucluelet aboard MV Francis Barkley early in the morning. The conditions were decent in harbour, however heading out to sea we were greeted by rain, wind, and fog. Despite the conditions, it didn’t take long until a variety of seabirds, including many tubenoses, were flying all around the boat. The stormy conditions made for difficult photography. When we reached the continental shelf around fifty kilometers offshore, some Black-footed Albatross appeared out of the mist. I was memorized by their size and the way they flew effortlessly over the waves. They began to follow the boat and feed on the chum with the other seabirds, including many Pink-footed Shearwaters. I photographed this scene off the stern of the boat, showing the size difference between the Black-footed Albatross and Pink-footed Shearwater as they soared over the stormy sea.

Concealed (Short-eared Owl)

Each winter, I look forward to the return of the birds of prey that use the Fraser River Delta area as their wintering grounds. One species that I look forward to seeing each winter is the Short-eared Owl. I’ve enjoyed many moments watching these birds hunt over the marsh during chilly winter mornings and evenings. One afternoon in October, I had a band performance not too far from a salt marsh. Knowing I was close to a good birding area, I brought my birding and photography gear along with me. It turned out to be a good decision! During lunch break, I visited the area, and it didn’t take long to find this owl resting on a log. I composed this photo to show the owl concealed in the tall grass that is needed for its survival. After a productive lunchtime photo shoot, I headed back to the concert hall for my performance, only a couple minutes late to warm-up. It was a fun day!

Pigeon Guillemot

During the Summer months, I’ve been fortunate to spend time with my grandparents in the Gulf Islands aboard a sailboat. While living on the sailboat, one of my favorite things to do is to explore the area in the dinghy, a small inflatable boat. Over the years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time photographing the marine life of the area from the dinghy.

Of all the birds I’ve spent time photographing from the dinghy, I’ve probably spent the most time with Pigeon Guillemots. I really enjoy watching them. I photographed this bird taking off with food from the dinghy off Montague Harbour, located on Galiano Island, in July 2017.