A couple of days of photography in the lower mainland

My friend Maxime and I went on a photo tour of Vancouver over two days. I showed him my favourite spots as he visited from Quebec. We got along great and shared tips, we got down and dirty and went all over town. Our first day was shorebird heavy with an American Avocet, Long-billed Curlew, Marbled Godwit, Stilt Sandpipers, Pectorals, Long and Short-billed Dowitchers etc.

It was nice to just do pure photography for a few days. I find that photography can actually make you a better birder. You get to study that bird for much more than the average birder because you sit there and sometimes spend a few hours with your subject. You learn its movements, foraging behavior and try to bring out its beauty on camera. Digital Cameras now make all the difference if a bird is accepted by a record committee or not. In BC a provincial first cannot be accepted without a photo. The good thing about digital images is that first it is cheaper than film and you notice key field marks and can review them on your computer when you get home. It definitely enhances a birding experience. I only started taking bird photos in 2014 before that I took record shots with a point and shoot camera. I never ever thought I would spend thousands of dollars on lenses and cameras and actually enjoy spending hours photographing birds! I never thought I would have the patience! I now only shoot manual and couldn't live without my camera.

I notice that some young and adult birders are neglecting to pick up bins and use a camera as a sort of binocular,  this I disagree with. You must have binoculars to look at and study a bird, looking through a camera lens to view a bird in the field is just not adequate enough. However, combining photography with your birding skills/tools can make you a better birder. Photographing birds ethically can take a lot of patience and waiting around but when you get the shot you desire, it is really worth it. To be out with your subject for an extended period of time noting everything about a bird can truly be a life changing experience. Birders and Photographers notoriously sometimes do not get along (usually over concerns of harassment, trespassing and baiting) but when photography is done ethically, birders should embrace it.With beautiful photography, the photographers will attract other birders to the field because they will want to see, learn about and photograph stunning birds as well.

I have heard this statement by Paul Jepson: "Birding is akin to stalking but photo-birding seems to require the aptitudes of the angler." Now not all birders just tick and run but that quote is very true to me.

To read more on how bird photography can deepen your birding experience please click HERE.
On this day we were blessed to get close to this beautiful sub-adult male Northern Harrier. He was on prey it appeared to be a Rock Dove.

Sub-adult Male Northern Harrier in Delta - Photos: Melissa Hafting

I made a video of him eating above. This is the closest I have ever been to a Gray Ghost. He was feeding in a field and I was filming without a tripod hence a bit of camera shake.. yes I know I should use a tripod! :D

I find Gray Ghosts to be so utterly stunning. Definitely one of my favorite birds of prey! I love their owl-like faces. They hunt with silent flight, using their ears and eyes with their stiff feathers on their facial disc that collect the sounds of moving animals which then focuses them on the Harrier's ears. This is very similar to owls but you rarely see this in hawks.

Their cousins the Hen Harrier in Europe are declining so rapidly especially in the UK where there are only 4 breeding pairs left! This is mostly due to red grouse hunters (usually on rich estates) shooting them because the harriers eat the grouse. It is illegal to shoot them in the UK but sadly the shooting continues and they are the most endangered bird of prey there. Hopefully conservation efforts there will stop it from being extinct so they can have a healthier population as their Northern cousins.

Fun Fact: The male Northern Harrier is polyamorous and mates with several different females unlike other birds of prey.

We stopped at Blackie Spit Park in Surrey and saw a Marbled Godwit with a Long-billed Curlew. The Curlew is a resident bird in Surrey, otherwise he would be considered rare. We watched the Marbled Godwit harrass the Long-billed Curlew, he would run and jump at him and flap his wings. The Curlew would run back at him and nip at him with his beak. The light wasn't great but the Godwit allowed for some beautiful flight shots. I tend not to like white backgrounds but these artistic shots with the misty fog and gray water turned out better than I could ever have imagined. I ended up walking away with my best Marbled Godwit flight shot yet!

Fun Fact: The Marbled Godwit is the largest of all 4 Godwit species.

Marbled Godwit in flight in Surrey, BC - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Below shots are of a Long-Billed Curlew in Surrey - Photos: Melissa Hafting:

We got to stop at Point Roberts, where we saw Bonaparte's Gulls and Common Terns on shore, Parasitic Jaegers , Harbour Porpoises and the like. The light was great and the views beautiful, Point Roberts is definitely a special place! I love the little Bonaparte's Gulls they are so cute, as in the photo below:

Record shot of Bonaparte's Gull on the shore at Lighthouse Park, Point Roberts, WA - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It is a very rare opportunity that I get to get so close to a Common Tern! These minute terns are adorable and this little one was very comfortable to sit and later roost in our presence.

Common Tern at Point Roberts spreading wings and resting - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Birding has brought so many great people into my life I've now made a good friend I plan to visit in Quebec. It's fascinating how many special relationships I've developed from working with the young birders and at the Rare Bird Alert and by birding and meeting adults from all over North America and the world. I have friends that I now consider family that I met through birding and some I even love. Birding is a great hobby that not only gets us outdoors and thinking about conservation but gets us communicating with others again, creating friendships and bonds and gives us a sense of support and community. It's nice to feel part of something for all ages alike.


  1. Absolutely gorgeous photos, especially the tern stretching!!! Glad you and your friend had a successful shoot!!

  2. Love the photo of the Marbled Godwit in Flight- it looks like an oil painting! I've been really enjoying your blog. Teesa Christie ( I can't figure out how to comment with my name....)

    1. Hi tress thanks so much for reading the blog and commenting! You can post with your name if you post on a desktop or laptop and click the option of post by name then you can write your name in :). I appreciate your words on the marbled godwit photo as an artist I try to do artistic images and I am glad you appreciate them!


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