Days in Pictures Thoughts about Things

The year in pictures: days 1096 — 1461

The Year of the Birb

So… 2020, am I right? But the thing is, I’ve been mostly lucky. I still have my job, I live in a beautiful city with amazing scenery, which I’m able to go out and enjoy. That’s huge. I don’t think I’d be able to deal nearly as well otherwise, and it’s important for me to express gratitude and realise how lucky I am.

Diving deeper into the world of photography, I bought myself a for-real camera (Sony α-7iii) after Xmas, then followed it up in March with a 300mm telephoto lens! The original plan was to use it in Paris in May, but… well, obviously, that didn’t end up happening. However, I put my gear to good use exploring my neighbourhood, especially after I started working from home. And I discovered whole amazing worlds of urban wildlife that had been right under my nose the whole time! Sure, I already knew about ducks and geese and herons, but that’s just scratching the surface.

Still, even though I started my birding life in 2020, I’m torn about calling it “The Year of the Birb” because you still get lots of sunsets and cityscapes and whatnot!

But yeah, there were a ton of birbs.

First light – January 9
Yaletown towers morning

Seriously this is one of my favourite photos everrrrr. The composition, the colours, the almost mirror-smooth water, I can’t take my eyes off of it, it’s just damn near perfect.

Unlimited Growth – February 8
Del Mar Hotel

Vancouver does have cool old architecture, like you’d find in the Old World. Granted, it’s not nearly as old, and I don’t see it very often anymore since it’s all in the downtown core or Gastown, but it’s there!

Pitt River – February 22
Pitt River

It’s funny, I don’t think I ever went past Pitt River when I lived in PoCo. Except that one time, when I deliberately got off the West Coast Express in Pitt Meadows, just to shake up my routine and see what it was like. Going over the river on the train at night was super cool! But getting off the train, that was even more suburban than my neighbourhood. Bleagh.

Anyway, the moral of the story is: it’s never too late to enjoy the gorgeous scenery out there, even in a place you hated once upon a time!

Towers and Giants – February 29
Towers and giants

The downtown towers, all pretty and silver, contrasting with the colourful concrete silos. Plus parks, False Creek, and a beautiful blue sky? That’s a winner.

Full moon – March 8
Full moon

Telephoto magic! My first big full moon!

Breakfast – March 9
Common goldeneye and breakfast

This is the first bird shot I took with my telephoto lens that I’m really happy with—not the first ever, that would be some wigeons and a song sparrow a few days earlier, but the light was bad so I’m pretty meh on them. I’d been watching goldeneyes for months, even before getting my new camera, so it was a huge thrill to get up close to this hungry boi.

The hood – March 25
West End at night

The textures, the lights, the life. Just beautiful!

White-crowned sparrow – April 1
White-crowned sparrow

I really didn’t know white-crowned sparrows were a thing until I looked it up. No clue, even though I’d been living in this neighbourhood for almost 12 years when I took this picture. And I think this was what got me thinking: what else am I missing? What else is out there that I’m just not seeing?

Birders talk about a “spark bird”, a particular bird that got one interested / obsessed, and this is mine. This bird, right here. This is where everything changed for me.

Second Beach sunset – April 12

Capping off a lovely walk around Lost Lagoon.

A dapper heron watching the sunset – April 23

There’s a whole story there! I wonder what was on its mind…

White-throated sparrow – April 26
White-throated sparrow

It was just there, just sitting on that branch by the Burnaby Lake trail. Not even singing, just chilling. Went back several times, but never saw one like it again :sadface: Shouldn’t be surprised, though, white-throats don’t live here year-round. This pretty fluffster would have been in transit from the Oregon / California coast to northern BC or Alberta.

English Bay sunset – April 30
Sunset reflected on low tide beach

Don’t thank me, thank English Bay Beach and the low tide.

Chickadee – May 20
Chickadee on a wall

My first really good shot of a chickadee. Wasn’t really looking for it either, it was out in the open, on the side of a building at about eye level. Brave little birb!

Clouds – May 21
Clouds and boats

Oooo that’s straight out of a painting. Just delicious.

Waves and rocks and light – May 28
Gold and blue sunset

And so’s this one!

House finch – June 3
Male house finch

Hey, back to birbs! Here’s a lovely male house finch nomming on a seed. There are a bunch of finches in George Wainborn Park and surrounding trees / bushes along the seawall.

Hummingbird juvenile – June 5
Juvenile Anna's hummingbird

My first shot of a hummingbird!

Picture-perfect white-crown – June 11
White-crowned sparrow posing

Okay, I’ve taken lots of excellent photos of white-crowns because they’re perfect and I love them, but this is my absolute favourite. Look at them* modelling for me! If I got another tattoo, it would be of this bird right here. And now I’m kind of wanting another tattoo.

(* I saw a lot that spring with duller beige + brown head stripes and figured they might be females; but it turns out no, they were juveniles, and all adults have the same black and white head stripes. We live and learn!)

Evening sky – June 17
Blue streaky sunset

Another one of my absolute top faves. Pure perfection.

Buzzy bee – June 24
Bee on blossom

Oh, that’s another thing I explored with my new gear: bees! I used to be really scared of them, and to be honest I’m still a little twitchy, but I accept that honeybees won’t sting you without provocation, so I just let them get on with their pollinating beezness, shooting them from a distance with my zoom lens.

Anna’s hummingbird – June 27
Anna's hummingbird

An Anna’s hummingbird having a rest. Look at those lovely green feathers!

Song sparrow singing a song – June 27
Song sparrow singing

They don’t have the prettiest colours, but their namesake mating / territorial songs are fluid and complex, far outclassing house sparrows’ single sharp chirps and white-crowns’ repetitive 5-note calls. Song sparrows are pretty reclusive in the spring and summer, staying in very wilderness-y areas (e.g.: Stanley Park, Colony Farm, or Burnaby Lake) to raise their young.

Lost Lagoon, blue hour – July 9
Lost Lagoon blue hour

Ahhh wonderful serene colours!

Boats boats boats – July 12
Boats boats boats

Busy marina! I know I’ve done this shot before, but I love it.

Comet and stars – July 17

So it turns out my camera can shoot sky bears and comets. Neat!

Pollen in your eyes – Juy 28
Bee on a pink flower

That’s how you know you’re really hungry!

Sunset and silhouettes – August 2
Orange and blue sunset

I can’t believe how many colours can go in a sunset!

Bald hornet – August 5
Bald hornet

They’re kind of pretty! From a safe distance, of course.

Bushtit – August 14

These little birbs are so hard to catch, but they do occasionally deign to sit still for a few seconds!

The lighting – August 26
Chickadee in the shade

“Make sure you get my good side!”

Bee red-dy – August 29
Bee in orange flower

I apologise for the caption, but hopefully the colours and composition will make up for it.

Wispy sunset – September 6
Wispy sunset

I love sunsets like this, with just enough clouds to enhance the experience.

Savannah sparrow – September 19
Savannah sparrow

The light was getting low but with a bit of patience I was able to zero in on its tweets. Wowsers is that good camouflage! Savannah sparrows are mostly migratory but there’s apparently a small year-round population in the Lower Mainland, boosted in the spring and fall. Alas, it doesn’t look like any of that population lives around downtown Vancouver, because I’ve only gotten a few sightings over a few weeks in September.

Trevor the Mandarin duck – October 3
Mandarin duck

Seriously, how is he even real? This is birds-of-paradise-level glamour. I never thought a duck could be this fabulous.

False Creek sunrise – October 22
False Creek sunrise


Hang in there – November 7
Chickadee on a twig

A good message for 2020, I feel.

Beach Avenue – November 13
Beach Avenue gold

Just the right time of day, just the right time of year, when all shades of gold play off each other.

TOWERS – December 3
Towers over False Creek

One last skyline shot, on one of the last really bright days of the year!

Sleepy heron – December 12
Sleepy heron

I think what makes this special to me is seeing a ruthless predator with a big stabby spear for a face, be… sleepy. And almost… vulnerable? I mean, I’ve seen big cats napping, but it’s a bit of a shock to see a bird settling down like this at the end of a short, cold December day.

The floofiest little floof – December 17
Bushtit in pine tree

Usually my zoom lens’s fine focus is a little tricky, and I need a few seconds to get things just right if I know I’m going to be cropping. But this time, I had no problems. The bushtit sat still, miracle of miracles, and it seemed my gear got it exactly right the first time. I’m honestly shocked at the the level of detail here, this shot is one in a million!

Jupiter and Saturn – December 22
Jupiter and Saturn conjunction

I shot NEOWISE and Ursa Major in July, so I knew my gear could handle stars okay. Then in August, I found I could capture Jupiter and the Galilean moons if I focused just right. So I had high hopes for this conjunction, and was not disappointed. It’s actually one day after their closest approach but this is Vancouver so I’ll take any clear night I can get.

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