Malheur Ducks

With the lake about a third of its normal size, there weren’t a lot of ducks at Malheur on this trip, but there were still a variety of ducks offering good photographic opportunities if you were patient enough — a quality I’m not particularly noted for.

I was actually a little surprised to find so many Northern Shovelers there since they’re a wetlands bird, but there were as many of them as any other kind of duck and I like both this shot

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and this shot,

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though I definitely prefer the action shot.

I was definitely looking for Ruddy Ducks since I seldom see them in the Puget Sound area and because I’d gotten some of my best shots ever at Malheur. There were several in these wetlands as I pulled up, but I only managed a shot of this one

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before they all disappeared into the reeds.

I saw a lot more Cinnamon Teal on this trip than I’ve seen in the past, but they always insisted on silently disappearing into the reeds where it was impossible to get a clear shot of them.

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This shot of a pair of Northern Pintails bursting out of the water as I drove down the road was my favorite duck shot of the trip, though.

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Looking a Little Harder

Since the more familiar birds were absent, I spent most of my time at Malheur trying to photograph song birds which are generally much harder to photograph than larger birds since smaller birds survive by hiding in foliage and constantly being on the move. Luckily, I like the challenge of getting a good shot — or at least a recognizable shot of these kinds of birds.

Auto-focus is definitely a blessing to a bird photographer, but that’s not always a case with small birds hiding in foliage. The camera is just as apt to focus on a leaf as on the bird, and it has a hard time focusing on a fast-moving bird.

I’ll have to admit, though, that the camera saw this Yellow Warbler

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better than I did with my naked eye. In fact, I couldn’t identify it until I looked at the shot on my computer.

I probably should have guessed it was a yellow warbler, though, because there were a lot of them at Malheur and most of them flew away as soon as I pointed a lens at them,

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though occasionally I got lucky and found one so focused on attracting a mate or claiming its territory that it totally ignored me.

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There are a lot of small birds at Malhuer when you’re focusing on seeing them. This flycatcher, a Western Wood-Pewee, I think, was totally indifferent to me, returning to the same branch after each attempt to catch an insect.

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You also see a lot of birds at Malheur sitting on fence lines since that’s the highest point around. I first thought this was a Black Phoebe, but after a closer look I think it is an Eastern Kingbird,

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a bird I very seldom see and might not recognize with a birding book.

Back to Malheur

I followed my trip to Bear River with a stop at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, and it’s probably a good thing I decided to make several stops on this trip because Malheur is suffering mightily from our recent drought. I suspect that the lake is only about a third of the size it was when I started going there a few years ago. While variations like this are “normal,” I worry about the state of the refuge unless there’s a swing back to more rainfall soon.

Although there weren’t nearly as many birds as I’ve seen on past visits, there were still birds that I never see near home, though I did seen most of them at Bear River. There were lots of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds declaring their territory:

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There were a few Wilson’s Phalaropes, though this seemed to be a single bird.

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There was also one (or two) pairs of Sand Hill Crane,

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which I saw on both days but in different places.

There were also several Bullock’s Orioles. I got a few shots of a male, but nothing to match the ones I got at Bear River. I think this may be the first female Bullock’s Oriole I’ve ever managed to get a picture of.

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As long as I continue to find birds that I can’t find at home, I will continue to visit Malheur, though I probably won’t rave about it as much to my birder friends until it starts to recover from the drought conditions.

Crossing Nevada

As much as I loved visiting Bear River refuge in Utah, I can’t say the same for the drive there through Idaho and the drive back to Malheur. As I drove endless miles across northeast Nevada with nothing in sight it occurred to me that if I was a True Christian I would want to spend my entire life in Nevada, knowing that when my life ended that having already served my time in Purgatory I would go directly to Heaven.

Truthfully, even the beautiful skies could not deaden the monotony of the landscape.

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I pulled over three times crossing the entire state. The first time was to snap these shots of antelope beside the road looking at me

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until I stopped and they took off at a gallop.

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A little later I made a “rest stop” at a turn out beside the road because I hadn’t seen any other place to stop in over a hundred miles. I was rewarded with a birding “first,” these “common” Horned Larks

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that seemed to have been attracted to the cow pies along the parking area.

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It was a nice find, but certainly not one I would have driven nearly ten hours to get.

My third stop was to fill up my gas tank.

Goodbye to Bear River

I’ve already spent far longer showing the pictures I took at Bear River than I spent then the time I spent there, but I’ve only touched on the birds I saw there. Since I’m ready to move on, I’ll just finish by showing five of my favorite shots of birds I saw there. I’m not sure if there were two pairs of Sandhill Cranes or if I just saw the same pair in two different parts of the refuge, but it’s always a thrill to see them because of their size and because we don’t see them in the Puget Sound. UtSndhlCran Eared Grebes are another bird we never see in the Puget Sound area, though there were several at Bear River. UtErdGreb Pheasants are occasionally seen in the Puget Sound area, but they’re always beautiful. BRvrPhsnt Strangely enough, I’d spent several days trying to get a decent shot of a Bullock’s Oriole BkjsOr at Theler, but the tree are much taller there and I never managed a shot nearly as good as this one. Finally, here’s a shot of what I’m pretty sure is a Short-Eared Owl, ShrtErdOwl a first for me.

Babies Everywhere

I was certainly disappointed when I didn’t see any avocet chicks at Bear River, but I saw a lot of other chicks like the Clark’s Grebe chicks I featured on my last blog entry. I also saw numerous Canada Goose Gosling of all ages

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and sizes.

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One of the biggest treats, though, was this sighting of a Curlew.

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At first sighting I wondered what kind of birds all those small birds around the Curlew were. Then I realized they were actually very large Curlew chicks, the first I have ever seen.

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The biggest sighting, though, was a day later hundreds of miles away when I spotted two swans with their cygnet. I’ll have to admit that one of my long-term birding goals is to see more of the birds I see wintering in Puget Sound in their breeding habitat. Bear River was a great place to start and one I’ll return to often in the future.

Grebes with Chicks

If you’re too late to watch the rehearsals and the courtship, it’s always fun to stick around and watch the Clark's Grebes with their chicks. I was fascinated when I saw this mother (for the sake of this narrative I’m assuming that the first grebe was the mother and the second was the father) trying to herd two chicks. First she followed the one that went to the left,

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but almost instantly changed her mind, following the one on the right, instead, as the two chicks got further apart.

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The chick on the right swam toward the mother, apparently content to be close to her.

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After catching up with that chick, the mother vocalized several times quite distinctly.

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Unfortunately, I understand Horned Grebes but not Clark’s Grebes, so I’m not sure if she was calling to the other chick or to the other parent. I do know that the chick with her started vocalizing right afterwards.

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It didn’t take long before the presumed dad was tending to the chick that had swam away from the mother.

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Apparently satisfied that the problem had been solved, the mother and the other chick snuggled up to each other.

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It’s hard not to anthromorphise birds we observe, but it seemed pretty clear that these parents were as concerned for their wandering young as any of us would be.