Harriers in Action

As we were leaving the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, we spent at least fifteen minutes watching three Northern Harriers demonstrate how they got their name. Usually Harriers will move on once they spot you, but these three must have been hunting something special because one by one they buzzed the same brushy area, totally ignoring us.

Despite their appearance these are not shots of the same bird, but I chose to put them in this order because they all seemed to be harrying above the same shrubs. The first shot is a classic ID shot, with that distinctive Northern Harrier head.

Here the Harrier seemed more intent on scaring something into running than actually catching something.

After a few minutes of hovering, this Harrier moved on,

but was closely followed by another Harrier that seemed to have spotted prey in the same bushes.

Once a Harrier dove into the bushes my camera had a very hard time deciding what to focus on.

While the ultimate shot is of the hawk actually catching a prey, this didn’t happen in the fifteen minutes we sat taking pictures; everyone of them left empty-clawed.

With the considerable number of rabbits and ground squirrels nearby in much more open areas, both Leslie and I wondered what the heck they were trying to catch. I wondered if these were young hawks who were still mastering their hunting techniques, particularly since I’ve never seen Harriers this close together before. That led me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where I discovered that “In winter, Northern Harriers roost in groups on the ground.”

Back to Merced NWR

Not only did I see the Snow Geese I missed at the Sacramento NWR at the Merced NWR, I also got to see Black-Necked Stilt that hadn’t arrived at Sacramento yet. Unlike the Snow Geese, they were spread throughout the refuge. I got some nice closeups of individual stilts foraging in the shallows

and some nice shots of small flocks hanging out with some Yellowlegs.

Of course, it only took two nervous stilts

to spook the flock.

Photographing birds is always a delicate balancing act as I want to get good shots but I don’t want to stress out birds, particularly at this time of year. As it turned out, I hadn’t even seen the two stilts that spooked the stilts I was photographing.

A Truly Trumpless Day

Monday looked like the perfect day to get back to snowshoeing, and, strangely enough, it actually turned out to be a nearly perfect day. We snowshoed the Narada Falls-Reflection Lake trail which was between five and six miles long with a 500 ft elevation gain. It was rated “moderately difficult,” and it felt that way until I got home and had severe cramps in my legs.

The trail begins by following the creek up a rather steep bank.

Luckily, whenever I felt tired I was distracted by the beauty around me.

The trail is designed so that about the time you think you couldn’t climb another foot it levels off, and you have time to regain your breath before starting up, or down, again.

Glimpses of Mt. Rainier across the valley provided several opportunities to drag out the camera equipment and rest while taking a picture.

Reflection Lake wasn’t spectacular with six feet of snow, but I was happy enough to take a break before heading back to the car.

We were joined by a small flock of Gray (Robber) Jays looking for handouts. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a shot of them as they flew down to get food.

Although I took several shots of the mountain during the hike, I couldn’t resist stopping for an even better shot on the way down to Longmire.

It was exhilarating to spend most of a day simply putting one foot in front of the other, plodding along in rhythm with my heartbeat rather than sitting in front of my computer reading about the Trump’s latest fuck-ups, even if I did suffer some awful leg cramps when I finally sat down that evening.

Snow Geese at Merced NWR

On our way to Fresno from Santa Rosa we stopped at the Merced NWR where we saw the Snow Geese that we hadn’t seen on our earlier stop at the Sacramento NWR but not the Sand Hill Cranes we had seen on our previous visit to Merced. (No, I don’t really think these are the Snow Geese we’ve seen in the past in Sacramento, and I was told by another birder that the Cranes had been there earlier in the morning.)

When you bird you learn to be ready to be disappointed and to be surprised, good training for life. Needless to say, I was thrilled at seeing this many Snow Geese even if my wide-angle lens couldn’t come close to showing how many Snow Geese were in the refuge. This shot is made up of three wide-angle shots fused into a panorama, and there were still more geese on the left and right side of the shot.

In the distance, it looked like a snowstorm was advancing as thousands of Snow Geese took to the air in the distance.

As it turned out, the huge flocks made it even harder to get shots of individual Geese than it was at the Sacramento NWR.

Though we were never directly in the flight path of large flocks of Geese, I did manage to get a few shots of the Geese in flight, always my favorite shots of birds.

Expected and Unexpected

I used to see Pied Grebes a lot when I visited Waughop lake regularly, but I was reminded how seldom I’ve seen them lately when Leslie insisted that we weren’t seeing a Grebe at Spring Lake. She was sure that this little guy was too small to be a grebe, and it’s definitely smaller than all the other grebes we’ve seen recently. This one was a Pied-Billed Grebe in non-breeding colors

while this one we saw a little later was in breeding colors.

I was really looking hard for Acorn Woodpeckers at Spring Lake, and not finding them, but in the process of looking for them I found this Pileated Woodpecker,

a bird I often see at home but have never seen at Spring Lake before. Strangely, I think this is the closest I've ever gotten to one.

I’d almost given up hope of seeing an Acorn Woodpecker on this visit when one

flew right overhead, landing on a tree right next to me just as I was getting ready to leave for the last time.

As I was following it from tree to tree, I caught sight of an even rarer bird for me, this Oak Titmouse.

I’m always amazed at how many birds can be found at Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake despite the large number of people who walk there throughout the day.

Almost Like Home

Our recent whirlwind trip to California included a quick stopover in Santa Rosa which gave me a chance to walk around Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake and see some birds I haven’t seen recently here in the Pacific Northwest.

A Scrub Jay confronted me as I was walking down to the lake.

Although I had hoped to see the Green Heron I’ve seen there many times in the past, I was satisfied to take this Snowy Egret’s picture instead.

Unfortunately, Spring Lake was still recovering from recent flooding, and I wasn’t to able access many of the areas where I commonly see Green Herons and Night Herons. As a result, I saw less birds than usual.

When we returned to Lake Ralphine two swans that I’d seen out in the middle of the lake had moved closer to shore.

Perhaps my favorite shots of the day, though, were these shots of a female Common Merganser,

a male Common Merganser in breeding plumage,

proving Dan Gurney was right when he told me a few weeks ago that I could see them in California even if they were still rare here in the Pacific Northwest.