Michael Force – January 2022

I was surprised when I was selected as a BCFO Featured Photographer. As a long-time birder, I consider myself more of an “accidental photographer” than one who actively goes out with the sole objective of taking photos. I often have my camera with me while I’m birding and if I’m lucky I might find something worthwhile. This modus operandi is apparently quite widespread among the birding crowd and works quite well for many of us.

I began birding in the Vancouver area more than 50 years ago—photographing birds was not a high priority. The camera became an additional data collection device, particularly valuable for documenting something unusual, rare, or unexpected. The rise of digital camera technology has been, as we all know, a game changer. I no longer have to wait for the exposed roll to be developed at the lab and returned to me a week or so later to see if I have any keepers. An additional benefit is that people are discovering birds through photography. I see photo-birders every time I go birding, many carrying only a camera and a smart phone. The impressive reach of compact mega-zoom cameras means one is essentially carrying a light weight spotting scope.

I’ve owned several cameras over the years. My first SLR was a trusty Pentax Spotmatic 1000 with a Tamron 200 mm lens. Motivated by professional field work, I upgraded to a Canon Elan with a 300 mm lens. I then made the move from analogue with a couple of early fixed-lens digital cameras from Sony and Panasonic. My current kit is a Canon 70D with a Canon 100-400 mm USM II zoom lens. The principal drawback is its weight—too often it stays behind in the car. Furthermore, prime lenses reveal a crispness of focus lacking in zoom equivalents. With rapid advances in mirrorless camera technologies, such as autofocus response on par with DSLR’s, their size makes them a very compelling, if pricey, option.

Having been at sea far beyond BC waters for most of the past 30 years, the vast majority of my photos are pelagic in nature. Here is a random selection of photos, nine of which were taken in the Okanagan Valley.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Birds that scramble about on the bark of trees, be they woodpecker, nuthatch, or woodcreeper, include some of my favourite birds. Among them is this Ponderosa Pine specialist, looking cocky in Winfield.

Golden Eagle and Common Raven (south Okanagan Valley). It’s so tempting to anthropomorphise when observing bird behaviour. It’s clear to me this raven has had enough of the eagle.

Lark Sparrow (south Okanagan Valley). With its striking harlequin head pattern and distinctive burbling, choppy song, this is my favourite Okanagan sparrow. This one I felt I just had to include in spite of its poor choice for a perch.

Loggerhead Shrike. This rare visitor to BC took time out from gorging on ants to pose on a Vernon fencepost one April afternoon. Visible here is the smaller all dark bill and black feathering extending across the top of the base of the bill, useful field marks for separating it from the similar and more familiar Northern Shrike.

Eared Grebe. Showing off full alternate plumage at Kelowna’s Robert Lake.

Wood Duck (Kelowna). A sunbeam bullying its way through the canopy illuminates this lurking male Wood Duck drifting through the shadows of a shaded woodland pond.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Visiting a yard in Trail, August 2017. Every birder loves rare birds, right? Especially when it’s a long-overdue provincial lifer, as this one was for me. Lacking artistic talent of any description, I think I got lucky with some visually pleasing framing.

Lesser Goldfinch. Yeah, another rare bird, although not as rare as it once was. Sightings of this species in BC have increased dramatically during the past 20 years. This male was seen not far from where Canada’s first breeding was discovered, in the Kilpoola area of Richter Pass.

An apparently startled immature Sandhill Crane at Rawlings Lake, Lumby. A little known and poorly documented behavioural trait of Sandhill Crane is their irrational fear of Long-billed Dowitchers.

Arctic Tern. This species is common offshore in Spring and Fall, but is a “hot line bird” for most locations in the southern interior of BC. This immature was foraging in Okanagan Lake just off City Park, Kelowna one late September afternoon. The bird was just coming out of a shallow surface plunge and I like how the scattered water droplets add movement to the image.

Gyrfalcon. This and the following photo are white polar opposites. This is only the third white morph Gyrfalcon I’ve ever seen, the other two being quick flypasts a couple weeks prior to this one. This Gyr, carrying an immature Black-legged Kittiwake, came on board our ship off northern Baffin Island. An hour later, wings and some scattered feathers were all that remained.

Snow Petrel (Bismark Strait, Palmer Archipelago). I want to include a habitat shot of one of my all time favourite birds. This southern ocean seabird, the world’s only all white petrel, is rarely seen away from ice. For me, it is the true avian icon of Antarctica, not some goofy flightless bird that gets all the press.

Here is a pic of the presenting photographer in person, at sea in the northwest Atlantic Ocean, south of Nantucket, Massachusetts.  Michael purports that he was pensively pondering the veracity of irrational behaviour in Sandhill Cranes.

Editor’s note: Michael has spent many years observing birds on the high seas around the world. We did not want to completely exclude this vast experience from his presentation, so we have slightly adjusted the guidelines for submitted photographs. Until now, all of the selected photos had to be taken in BC. The adjusted guidelines require that at least ten photos must be of birds in BC, and up to two can be from anywhere the presenter chooses. This adjustment will apply to all future presenters.