An Annual Pilgrimage

Although there are Harlequin Ducks locally, I haven’t managed to sight any this year so after a scheduled lunch fell through we decided Sunday would be a good day to drive to Ft Flagler where I’ve managed to see them every winter for the last seven years. Things looked good when we left as it was one of the sunniest days we’ve had for a while.

Unfortunately, when we reached Ft. Flagler there was an extremely high tide. There were few shorebirds and even fewer Harlequins. The only pair I saw was so far out that I couldn’t recognize them with my bare eyes. Even the 800mm (400mm with a doubler) lens I brought barely reached them.

While this shot would serve to confirm my sighting, they were so far away I couldn’t crop the shot to fill the frame.

After checking a couple of other places to see if we could find some closer, we gave up and decided we might have better luck in Port Townsend after some shopping and lunch when the tide had receded. Despite several off-leash dogs running the beach, we did see a pair of Harlequins closer than we had seen them in the morning.

Though not as good as some I’ve taken in previous years, this shot captures the Harlequin's beautiful markings and colors that brings me back year after year.

The 800 mm lens combination I was using had such a shallow depth of field that I found it impossible to capture both the male and female in a single shot, so I had to combine shots where I focused on each of them separately to create this portrait.

Though not quite the day I’d hoped for, it was still a delightful day, one I’ll undoubtedly repeat as often in the future as I’m able to.

Old Friends Pass By

Though I still enjoy seeing familiar birds while out birding – as followers of this site are probably painfully aware — the most enjoyment comes when you see a bird for the first time. The next best thing is seeing a bird you don’t see very often.

This duck has fooled me several times over the past years because I don’t see it very often and because it is the female, not the male. Like many female ducks, it’s much less striking than the male Greater Scaup.

I’m always sure I’ve never seen it before when I first sight it. As soon as I get home and identify it in my birding book, though, I remember that I have seen it in the same place in past years. Though not as distinctive as the male, the female Greater Scaup

is distinctive enough that you’re not likely to confuse it with other female ducks who are also primarily brown in color.

Widgeons are so common that I quit taking pictures of them about the same time I quit taking pictures of Mallards. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take pictures of them if they fly by because it’s a much more challenging shot.

Though I haven’t tired of taking shots of Hooded Mergansers, I really like this shot because they usually dive rather than flying away when scared and I don’t have many shots of them flying.

Subtle Shades of Brown

I’ll have to admit that the photographer in me is attracted to sunshine, but, personally, I’ve always preferred subdued, earthy colors to bright colors. In fact, ex-students used to make fun of my many brown corduroy jackets and brown pants because clothing I’ve always favored muted colors in clothing. Perhaps that is because I was raised in the Pacific Northwest where those colors prevail most of the year.

Who could argue that the male Northern Pintail doesn’t look elegant foraging on Belfair’s mudflats

or that the Great Blue Heron’s subtle blues and grays don’t stand out here?

Heck, the male Green-winged Teal looks positively dapper against the muddy banks when sunshine finally penetrates the cloud cover.

Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Rain”

Although I liked a lot of the poems in Naomi Shihab Nye's Words Under the Woods, it's only 157 pages long, so I thought I would just cite one more poem, one that seemed particularly poignant to me after 30 years of teaching and provides ample evidence that William Stafford was right on when he was quoted on the back cover as saying, "In the current literary scene one of the most heartening influences is the work of Naomi Shihab Nye. Her poems combine transcendent liveliness and sparkle along with warmth and human insight. She is a champion of the literature of encouragement and heart. Reading her work enhances life."

Rain

A teacher asked Paul

what he would remember

from third grade, and he sat

a long time before writing

“this year sumbody tutched me

on the sholder”

and turned his paper in.

Later she showed it to me

as an example of her wasted life.

The words he wrote were large
as houses in a landscape.

He wanted to go inside them

and live, he could fill in

the windows of “o” and “d”

and be safe while outside

birds building nests in drainpipes
knew nothing of the coming rain.

I taught high school, not the third grade, but I can still identify with the poem, even if I can't identify with the teacher who saw Paul's paper as an "example of her wasted life." Hopefully, she was the "sumbody" that touched Paul on the shoulder providing him with the feeling that someone cared for him, though she seems too out of touch to have been the one that did that.

As a converted caseworker, it was precisely students like Paul who inspired me to turn to teaching in hopes that I could help people before they ended up on welfare. As it turned out, that was a lot harder to do than I ever imagined, and I failed a lot more than I succeeded in helping them to succeed. While that failure makes it easy to believe that I "wasted" my life trying to help students like Paul succeed, there are more important things than "book learning." The most important thing you can do as a teacher is to make students feel good about themselves, no matter what skills they may or may not have.

Having been a caseworker and been married to a caseworker for 17 years, I was always aware that some of my students lived unimaginably hard lives, ranging from abuse to neglect, never knowing what was coming next in their lives. Before they can move on they need to feel safe, not like "birds building nests in drainpipes."

The Anti-Trump

It's either been too cold, too wet, or too cold and wet to get out birding recently, so I've finally used up all the pictures I've taken. Hopefully, I'll get out shortly, but until I do I either have to write about the many books I've read recently but haven't had the ambition to organize my notes into a rational statement or read some new poetry books and comment on them.

For now I decided to do the latter and began by reading Naomi Shihab Nye's Words under the Words: Selected Poems. published in 1995. I actually commented on Nye's Fuel in 2002 but had almost forgotten about her in the intervening years. Luckily, I was reminded of her poetry recently, for it seems like a perfect antidote to the constant barrage of Trump news that has filled my Facebook page and my news feeds.

Tell, me can you imagine Trump, or his supporters, for that matter, ever reading, much less writing, a poem called "Kindness."

Kindness

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Colombia

For better or worse, I've never lost all the things Nye mentions in the first stanza, though I suspect losing my faith in the American Dream after serving in Vietnam probably made me kinder, and less self-centered, than I might otherwise have ever become. I know it inspired me to become a caseworker instead of a banker or businessman which, in turn, forced me to see just "how desolate the landscape can be." Afraid I would end up staring "out the window forever," I left casework to become a teacher where it seemed more likely that I could actually help people.

I've never seen where an "Indian in a white poncho/lies dead by the side of the road," but I'm still haunted by fellow officers who died in Vietnam pursuing their dreams. Though I'm not sure seeing those bodies made me kinder, I do know it made me realize just how precarious life really is, that there are never any assurances that things will "turn out for the best."

I've certainly experienced my share of sorrow, and at times felt overwhelmed by it and empathized with the sorrow of others who haven't been as lucky as I've been. The Buddha had it right when he said, “What is the noble truth of suffering? Birth is suffering, ageing is suffering and sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair are suffering.”

The Buddha's answer to that suffering was "compassion," or, in Nye's words, "Kindness." I suspect some of us are going to need all the kindness we can muster to get through the next four years and a President who tries to bully and belittle anyone who opposes his ideas. Though I've already managed to fly off the handle at some Trump supporters, I would consider myself a better person if I could manage to empathize with them while still standing up for what I believe in myself. After all, kindness would seem to demand that we treat all people, and not just those who agree with us, the best we can.

Mergansers Flirting

I know I posted something like this last year when the Hooded Mergansers frequented the Port Orchard Marina, but I’ve been observing it for years and it still fascinates me. I first observed it in Goldeneye ducks, but apparently it's fairly common in ducks, though it took me 70 years to notice it.

I sure wish I spoke Merganser because I can never quite figure out the scene. I just know this a common way males try to attract the attention of a female that has caught their attention.

This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen a female mimic the actions of the male.

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They actually seemed to be talking to each other,

and I thought this might be the beginning of pairing.

I was less sure of the supposition, though, when two other females started following the male after his display, while the original female moved back with a glassy-eyed look.

POSTSCRIPT: My friend John tells me that the one that looks like a female Merganser is probably an immature male, as indicated by the dark beak and yellow eyes. In which case, he's probably learning how to flirt rather than being the object of the flirtation.

Fogwalking

You’d better not live in the Pacific Northwest in the winter if you don’t like walking in the fog. Sure, it may be a little cold, but that’s why we buy hats, gloves and down jackets. On a recent walk, we stopped and picked up Mira who was on Christmas vacation.

While I have to admit that I’m not fond of birding with shotguns blasting in the distance, particularly when it’s hard to tell how far away they really are,

I won't cede the wetlands to hunters, particularly since humans are not the only hunters stalking the wetlands.

As Mira revealed in these two photographs, sometimes fog adds beauty to the ordinary,

particularly where sky and land meet.