Bonus Birds from Port Townsend

I may go to Port Townsend to see Harlequin Ducks, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see lots of other birds while birding.

During the winter you can count on seeing a flock of Brant

at the end of the spit at Ft. Flagler.

Sometimes while trying to photograph Harlequins you get distracted by nearby birds like this Long-Tailed Duck,

a bird I’ve only seen three times in all the years I’ve birded. In fact I spent nearly seven years looking for one of these before I saw a small flock while crossing Puget Sound on a Ferry.

Luckily, female Red-Breasted Mergansers

are much more common, but still a good find.

But the male Red-Breasted Merganser provides an even better photo-op.

Flagler’s Harlequin Ducks

Regular visitors would probably know after yesterday’s post that photos of Harlequin ducks are bound to follow, and here they are. The main reason I go to Ft. Flagler is to see the Harlequins. Though I can sometimes find them near Port Orchard, I’m almost guaranteed to see them at Flagler.

On this trip, though, I was at the very tip of the spit before I spotted a single male Harlequin, and it was a long ways offshore.

Of course, the waves were so high that there might have been a small flock out there and I wouldn’t have seen them.

When Harlequins are feeding they spend much of their time trolling, looking for a meal,

and they’re barely visible even in calm water.

The best shots come when they’re in the calm side of the spit apparently just hanging out, like this pair that was staying out of the bone-chilling North winds.

Sunshine and calm waters make for elegant profiles of these colorful ducks.

Small Price to Pay

Saturday we got a rare treat — a cloudless, sunny day. To celebrate we headed up to Port Townsend. It was sunny, but seemed almost as cold as Mt. Baker looked across Puget Sound.

The price of sunny days here in the Pacific Northwest is often a strong Eastern wind, with accompanying cold. Even the birds seemed to be seeking shelter from the frigid winds.

Small price to pay for the beautiful golden hour light reflected on this Black-bellied Plover in winter foliage,

on these two Yellowlegs,

and on this rarely seen Western Meadowlark.

Color Me Relaxed

What do you do when you’ve finally finished processing all the photos from your vacation and it’s still cloudy and rainy?

Try to get out between showers and accept the challenge of getting the best shots you can. Perhaps a brightly-colored male Green-Winged Teal will lend a little color to the drab mud-flats.

It’s a good time to revisit old skills like panning while taking action shots.

and I’ve been doing this long enough I still think a little blur creates a sense of speed rather than being a serious photographic flaw.

Subtle, gray backgrounds fade away, leaving a sense of calm and serenity,

the exact feeling I often get while walking in the fog or under overcast skies.

Make Lemonade

Although sunshine was forecast for much of the rest of the week, it was cloudy our last day in Santa Rosa. Undeterred, I took my camera on our walk along the Santa Rosa creek.

If I’d known what I was actually looking at, I would probably have been thrilled at sighting a small flock of Western Bluebirds, a bird I only occasionally see in the mountains. Truthfully, I didn’t know what it was until I opened my shots in Lightroom. It was hard to tell what was sky and what was bird until I maxed out the controls and was left with a grainy, but recognizable, shot of a female Western Bluebird.

I probably should just have junked the shot, but it looked so much like a watercolor that I decided to play around with it in Photoshop and ended up with a picture I liked.

This shot of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

was actually saveable, but I liked the Bluebird treatment so much that I decided to apply the same effect to this shot and liked this better than the original picture.

Kiting Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail

Though I’d prefer that every photo I take turn out to be magnificent, the best thing about being dissatisfied with the shots you’ve taken is that you know that, given another chance, you'll get better shots. After all, the most important belief for any photographer is the belief that their next shot will be their best ever.

The weather gradually improved during our Santa Rosa visit, and our next outing this White-Tailed Kite was awaiting us at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Trail, blending in superbly with the foggy skies.

At least it was bright enough that I could use a faster shutter speed and capture it as if gave me a fly-by

and appeared to be checking me out.

It was even brighter on our way back, but the Kite insisted on keeping the sun to its back so that the white wings appeared to be gray.

I’m convinced raptors purposely swoop down out of the sun to frustrate their paparazzi, though it might have more to do with confusing prey.

Still, one of the three White-Tailed Kites we saw did me a favor and circled around to hunt again, giving me great light.

I felt blessed to see so many Kites on this visit, considering that I've only seen one in all my previous visits.