From Surf Scoter to Dunlin

I spent the second half of Monday at Port Orchard, though there seemed to be a few less birds in the Marina than usual, perhaps because there was another photographer wandering the area. I did manage to get close to a couple of birds, though. Surf Scoter usually paddle away before you can get close enough to get a good shot, but this one actually popped out from under the dock just as I walked by.


Of course, it was so eager to get away that there is no way I was going to get a shot of anything but its back. Still it’s hard to miss its distinguishing marks: the brightly colored beak, the “wiggle” eye that looks like it belongs on a doll, and the white patch behind the neck.

Most of the time I tried to capture shots of the Goldeneye as they took off


and skittered past me,


darting from one end of the marina to the other, only to repeat the pattern as I approached the end of the dock.

I probably spent the most time, though, capturing a shot of this little bird, fascinated because I couldn’t identify it at first. At first it kept fleeing down the boardwalk, running slowly, then flying a short distance before landing.


After I neared the end of the dock and turned around because I didn’t want to totally stress it out, it flew past me as I walked back to the marina entrance.

At one point it even seemed to chide me.


This all seemed like rather strange behavior for a shorebird, especially when I finally decided that it must be a Dunlin in non-breeding colors. I’ve photographed lots of Dunlins, but usually in breeding colors and almost invariably in large flocks on the beach, not a solitary bird walking a marina.

A Monday Morning at Theler Wetlands

With rain again predicted for most of the week, I spent Monday at Theler Wetlands and Port Orchard. There were a lot of birds, but mostly the usual suspects, Great Blue Herons and ducks. Large flocks of Widgeons and Northern Pintails rose up from the wetlands and moved to new feeding areas.


About the only unusual birds I saw were a pair of male Common Mergansers resting in the heavy shade near the end of the trail.


I didn’t see much all the way back, either. When I heard a Pileated Woodpecker’s cry, I immediately thought of Ruth Sullivan’s saying when I started birding, “ All we need is one Good Bird.” Since I have often heard this particular woodpecker at Theler but very seldom see it, I didn’t really expect to see it.

I should have been more ready, because not long after I saw the bird right next to the trail. Of course, by the time I pointed my camera at it, it had moved further away.


Still, considering the lack of light, I was quite pleased with this shot, certainly one of the best I’ve gotten in years. I had my “one good bird” and was ready to head to Port Orchard.

Fortunately, though, I ran into John after missing him at the Salmon Center. We talked awhile and I thought I’d walk part way back with him before heading out. We hadn’t gone very far when he spotted a Northern Shrike at the top of a tree near the pond.


It’s even rarer than the Pileated Woodpecker around here; so I actually ended up with “two good birds” for the morning.

Add a Little Sunshine

If you devote yourself to taking wildlife photographs in the Pacific Northwest you accept the fact that many, if not most, of your photos are going to be taken in cloudy, overcast conditions. It’s just a fact of life that you soon adjust to or take up another hobby. Modern cameras and software like Photoshop can certainly help you improve your photos. When you shoot in RAW mode, you can pull colors out of the shadows that you can’t even see with the human eye. That said, I don’t think you can ever match the colors you get with real sunlight as I was reminded by several of the shots I took at Nisqually Friday.

For instance, I was actually further away from this Northern Shoveler than the one I posted a couple of days ago at Lake Waughop, but the colors in this shot are far more appealing.


This is a pretty uninspired pose, but very few shots I’ve ever taken of Great Blue Heron sparkle like this shot does.


Even this Widgeon flying overhead has a glow that would be tough to capture under any other conditions.


It’s hard to believe that this Green-Winged Teal


is even the same species that I showed in an earlier shot from Theler Wetlands.

In all fairness, I’ll have to admit that shooting in full sunshine in the middle of summer often presents its own problems. Harsh sunlight and shadows can actually make shots unusable. So perhaps it was the glow from low, winter light that I like so much in these shots.

Back to Nisqually

I don’t think I’ve been to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for nearly a year, even though it’s the only place I can get my favorite Torta. Truthfully, I’ve never felt the same about the refuge since they replaced the 5 mile loop around the perimeter of the refuge that I walked two or three times a week. There are still lots of birds to be found at the refuge, but I can’t help but remember all the birds and wildlife that I no longer see.

I did see a number of birds I have not seen since I walked Nisqually the last time, like this Golden Crowned Kinglet


and this Brown Creeper.


I was a little surprised to see a small flock of, I think, Least Sandpiper in winter plumage.


I couldn’t resist taking a series of shots of this Hooded Merganser pair. They were calmly paddling down this slough when I pointed a camera at them and simultaneously a shotgun blast echoed from across the river.


They took off so simultaneously that I didn’t even realize there was two birds in several of my shots


until I looked at the last shot in the sequence.


Sometimes I think it’s too bad that I walked Nisqually for so many years before they changed it; new visitors I meet often seem to be enthralled by the place. Strange how the mind subtly controls our perception of a place and how hard it is to overcome that perception, no matter what the reality.

Visiting “Old Friends”

After weeks of being housebound for various reasons, we’ve had an unusual break from the rain so I’ve gotten out more this week than I have for quite a while and took the opportunity to visit several areas I haven’t visited for months. Lake Waughop was crowded with Northern Shovelers, a duck I haven’t seen for so long that I forgot how striking they actually are.


Of course, it’s that Jimmy Durante snoz that immediately gets your attention, but the male’s plumage is also quite striking, especially this time of year.

On my way back, I stopped off at Titlow park, another place I used to visit regularly but haven’t visited for months. I hoped to see an Eurasian Widgeon, but wasn’t a single one in sight so I had to settle for this shot of a male American Widgeon.


Actually, I was a little disappointed with how few birds I found there. I wonder if all the new construction intended to restore the pond has actually driven birds away.

I’d hoped to go to Nisqually, but the promised sunshine hadn’t appeared by 1:00 PM so I decided to delay that trip to the next sunny day and, instead, drove down to the boathouse which is less than a half mile from my house.

I saw many of the same birds that I’ve been seeing at Port Orchard lately, but I did spot a Common Goldeneye,


a bird that increasingly seems to be replaced by the Barrow’s Goldeneye,


a bird I used to see rarely but is now seen more often than the “common” Goldeneye.

I would have entirely missed this last shot if the State Patrol Officer hadn’t pointed it out to me, but it somehow seems appropriate this weekend.


Around Seattle the 12th Man Flag seems more popular than even the American Flag, and certainly more popular than the Washington State Flag. Hopefully that will continue to be true after Sunday’s game.

And Not Just Hooded Mergansers

I think I’ve been an “environmentalist” most of my life, but until I became a “birder” I had no idea how important the Puget Sound was as a winter refuge for birds, nor did I realize how many different birds overwinter here. Of course, if you’ve been following me for several years you’ve already seen most of the birds that overwinter here. Luckily for me, seeing them after a long absence is almost like seeing them for the first time. Hopefully that’s not just due to age-induced dementia.

I don’t think I’ve shown any shot nearly this good of a Surf Scoter


for quite a while, though I’m sure I have better shots sitting somewhere on one of my hard drives. Truthfully, if I were to limit myself to first-ever or best-ever shots of birds, I wouldn’t have much left to say, but surely the wondrous beak on the male Surf Scoter deserves to be shown more than once.

Even the beak on this male Red-Breasted Merganser seems quite remarkable to me,


almost as remarkable, though not quite, as its chic hairstyle.

Barrow’s Goldeneye are nearly as common as Widgeons in Port Orchard,


but I can’t resist getting shots of that chevron on the male’s wing, and I’m always amazed at how different the male and female look.

Not sure why cormorants, particularly Pelagic Cormorants,


still appeal to me since it’s a year-round resident, but I’m always pleased when I’m able to capture that iridescent green on its neck.

I couldn’t recognize this bird when I first sighted it, though once I saw the profile clearly I recognized it was a Pigeon Guillemot


changing from its winter white coat to it’s black breeding colors. I had never seen this coloration until I saw it Monday, but Wednesday I saw a similar (or the same) bird down at Owens Beach.

Hooded Mergansers

The forecast sunlight hadn’t even appeared by the time I reached Port Orchard on my Monday excursion, though it peeked through the clouds several times in the hour I was photographing there, which must account for some of the weird bluish-gray lighting in these shots. There were actually more birds at the Port Orchard Marina than I’ve seen so far this year, but I particularly focused on the Hooded Mergansers because it’s the first time I’ve seen more than a single pair there this year.

This pair greeted me as I entered the Marina.


At first I thought this bold male was by itself,


but before long this female emerged a short ways away with a shrimp in her mouth and hurried away,


though it was hard to tell if she was hurrying away from me or from the gull that flew down just as she emerged from the water.

Although I try not to disturb the birds I’m photographing, it’s hard not to be pleased when the bird you’re photographing doesn’t feel comfortable with all the attention and decides to leave


in a hurry


and not just diving and swimming away like most of them do when they feel threatened.