Long-Billed Curlews at Malheur

I spent two or three years at the coast looking for Long-Billed Curlews without any luck. So last year when I got a distant shot of one at Malheur I was thrilled. This year, though, I wasn't nearly as happy when I saw this one in the distance even though it was much closer and I got a better shot.

Long-Billed Curlew

It seems to be human nature to always want more than we have. Photographically, that means I want more than just a shot of a curlew walking across the grass.

I was a lot happier, though, when I caught a picture of this curlew with its wings spread out in the sunshine.

Long-Billed Curlew

If you can't catch a picture of one actually flying, this is the next best thing.

Later, though, I got an even better series of shots when I was attracted by one curlew’s persistent “call.”

Long-Billed Curlews

Though I could never figure out exactly was going on these three had a squabble that went on for quite a while. Two of the curlews seemed determined to drive the third off, though they never actually touched each other. No matter, it made for some

Long-Billed Curlews

dramatic shots.

Long-Billed Curlews

I never did see what happened in the end. When I decided to leave after nearly fifteen minutes, the bird they were trying to chase away was still voicing its displeasure.

Long-Billed Curlew

Sandhill Cranes at Malheur

Judging from my recent experiences, this must be The Year of the Crane. Upon my arrival in Malheur last week, I was met by a field full of Sandhill Cranes, quite a change from past years when I was lucky to see one or two cranes on my whole trip.

Sandhill Crane

As a result, I had more time to actually observe their behavior, which, in turn, raised questions I've never had before, like, what the heck they were eating

Sandhill Crane

when they drove their beaks into the wet muddy soil? As it turns out, they are omnivores and eat almost anything, though I think in this case they were probably eating tubers in the mud.

On the second day of my trip I was driving through cattle country looking for raptors when I noticed Sandhill Cranes browsing with herds of cattle.

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes are often described as “very large” birds, and looking through binoculars or a telephoto lens they look huge, but as this photo reveals, “very large” is a relative term, isn't it?

My trip to Malheur ended the same way it began, taking pictures of the Sandhill Cranes in the flooded fields just south of Burns. This pair of cranes held my attention the longest, though, because of how closely they stayed together,

Sandhill Cranes

at times almost appearing as a single, two-headed bird, impossible to separate.

Sandhill Cranes

The morning light also gave a quite different look than the late afternoon light did. Perhaps the blue reflections off the water made them seem “ bluer,” too, Even the crane’s white faced appeared blue in this shot, but it made me wonder why the colors varied so much in the shots I had gotten of different cranes. Although Sandhill Cranes are “slate-gray” birds, they apparently preen themselves with mud, giving themselves a rusty sheen, which is certainly more noticeable in the first shots in this entry.

Although I don’t think I really like any of these shots quite as much as the shots I took earlier of the Sandhill Cranes flying overhead at Ridgefield, but it was definitely fun to get a closer look at them and beginning to understand more about them.

At the Port Orchard Marina

After Friday’s trip to Theler, I made my usual stop at Port Orchard to see if the Horned Grebes had left as I had predicted. As I entered the marina I was greeted by a large number of gulls, and this one flew over my head with a small starfish in its beak,

 Gull with Starfish

closely followed by another gull squawking very loudly

Gull chasing another Gull to get food

Not too much later I encountered another gull

Gull with Starfish

having a hard time fitting a whole starfish in its mouth.

I was also surprised by a Pigeon Guillemot that also seemed to have a starfish in its beak.

 Pigeon Guillemot

Since I hadn’t managed to get very close to the Pigeon Guillemots at Westport, I thought it was nice of this one to come up right in front of me.

In the same vein, I spotted this Western Grebe a ways off shore, a bird I’d hoped to see at Malheur but hadn’t.

Western Grebe

Although the majority of the Horned Grebes seemed to have left (or were spending the afternoon at another nearby site) there were four or five Horned Grebes in various stages of breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe

Spring Flowers at Theler

I spent most of this week at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, partially to get a “sunshine fix,” but, as often turns out, it was great weather here in the Puget Sound area while I was gone. When I got up Friday morning the skies were blue, and I knew it would be a sin to go to the YMCA and get some much needed exercise. Instead, I headed to Belfair to see what had changed in the last week. The birding wasn’t exactly great, but the Spring flowers were an entirely different matter.

One of the trilliums at the Wetlands’ entrance was beginning to turn purple.

Trillium

The Oregon Grape was in bloom.

Oregon Grape blossoms

The Shooting Star lit up shady areas in the garden

Shooting Star

even brighter than these bell-like purple flowers.

  bell-like purple flowers

The highlight of the walk, though, had to be the Cherry and Apple trees that line much of the trail.

tree blossoms

The flowers were so impressive that I was hardly aware that the best bird of the day was a Stellar Jay,

Stellar Jay

which I could probably have gotten a better shot of in my backyard.

The Butterfly Gardens with Lael

It's surprising how easy it is to be so distracted by a disappointment that you don't realize just how good of a time you are actually having after the disappointment. In fact, it wasn't until I started writing about what I did last week when I couldn't go to Malheur that I realized what a great time I actually had.

I capped off the week by taking Lael to the butterfly garden at the Pacific Science Center. Although there were a lot of people there because of vacations we still had a great time.

I'm sure that I've included pictures of these kinds of butterflies in years past, but I see them so seldom that they all seem "new" to me. I'm pretty sure that I said that this one reminded me of a geisha girl:

butterfly

I just love the curled proboscis on this one.

butterfly"/

But I have no memory of this one, and they were all over on this visit.

butterfly

I don't know whether we finished quickly at the Butterfly Garden because they were trying to get lots of people through or because they didn't seem as "special" as they have in the past, but we ended up with more time than usual to do other things.

Lael had a good time at the seashore exhibit, where kids have a chance to actually touch the animals/plants found in tide pools.

Lael

And we even had time left to walk down and see the fountain and explore some of the small gardens on the way there:

Lael

Of course, via tradition we had to drive to West Seattle and have fish and chips at Spuds for lunch.

Loons Change Plumage, Too

While taking pictures of the horned grebes at Port Orchard I happened to notice a pigeon guillemot. That, in turn, reminded me that I needed to go to Westport to see if the Common Loons have also begun to change into breeding plumage. So when it was sunshine predicted a few days later, I headed out to Westport.

The first Common Loons I saw were still in winter plumage.

Common Loon in winter plumage

Sure enough, though, some of the common loons had begun to change colors, like this one in breeding plumage.

Common Loon in breeding plumage

I love those black and white markings, but the green stripe around the neck is the real finishing touch.

As a bonus, I even discovered why there are so many loons at Westport.

Loon with Crab

Apparently they come for the same thing so many fishermen come for: crabs, though the ones they catch are considerably smaller.

As an added bonus, I even got to see my Pigeon Guillemot,

Pigeon Guillemot

with a cormorant thrown it.

cormorant

A Beautiful Transformation

Although I was disappointed that had to delay my trip to Malheur for a week, I was glad that I got another week to photograph the Horned Grebes at Port Orchard because I've watched them change plumage the last few weeks.

I was so amazed when I saw the transformation a few years ago, that watching them change has become a rite of Spring for me. In the winter they're a rather nondescript little gray and white bird, one of the smaller members of the grebe family.

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Come Spring, though, and they transform into a remarkably striking bird that makes it clear why they were name the Horned grebe. It seems to take three to four weeks to change from their winter plumage to their breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe intermediate plumage

Until they complete the transformation, they can look quite motley and judging from the amount of preening they do, it can be quite irritating.

Horned Grebe intermediate plumage

The result certainly justifies whatever discomfort the change might entail.

Horned Grebe breeding plumage Horned Grebe breeding plumage

I'm not sure the transformation is quite complete, but I doubt that they will still be around when I return in a week. They seem to leave for their nesting area almost immediately after the change so I only have a short amount of time to enjoy them.