Great Egrets

Although I got some shots I really love while shooting the Heron Colony in Santa Rosa, as I stated in a previous post, I really wish I had taken my 100-400mm lens instead of my 400mm fixed lens. I love the wing pattern on these Great Egrets shot against the backlit sky. I hate that they were all so close that I ended up cutting off part of their body. Worst of all, I suspect I’ll never get a chance to photograph on a gray day where the sky disappeared into the background.

If I didn’t love the wing pattern so much I would have simply deleted these shots, but they allowed me to see the Great Egret Wings in a totally new way.

so I’m going to post them here

so you, too, can see the amazing construction of their wings.

I’ll end the post with a shot from a totally different angle with the proper contrast with the background to show that I really do know how to crop shots.

Night Herons in Santa Rosa

Since we don’t get Night Herons in the Pacific Northwest, I’m always pleased when I see them in California. In fact, we often drive out of our way to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge just to see the large flock there. Usually we see them tucked into the branches or hiding in the shrubs around the lake.

It’s very rare to see them out in the open like we did this one at Spring Lake in Santa Rosa.

It’s even rarer to see them with as fish in their mouth like this one.

I’ll have to admit, though, that I was thrilled to be able to shoot them from a completely different angle like I did at the Santa Rosa rookery,

particularly shots of them flying up into the tree to build their nest.

Santa Rosa’s Rookery

It would be an understatement to say that I wasn’t prepared for what I saw at the Santa Rosa nesting area. I was expecting to see one species of birds nesting, not four different species. I was especially surprised to get a shot of this Cattle Egret in my first photo,

the only shot I got of a Cattle Egret in the hour I was there. In retrospect, I wondered if there was more than one but I got distracted by the very active Snowy Egrets.

I did expect to see Night Herons since they were mentioned in the original article, and I wasn’t disappointed.

There were also several Great Ibis in the tree,

though I wasn’t always able to distinguish them from the Snowy Egrets in the tree.

I got way more shots of Snowy Egrets

than any other bird, though I’m not sure if that was because they have always struck me as more photogenic than the other egrets or because there was actually a lot more of them

I’ve seen several rookeries, but they’ve always contained a single species, like all Great Blue Heron or all Night Heron. I didn’t realize how close I’d be to the tree and how hard it would be to move further away and still get decent shots until I got there. I should have taken a 100-400mm zoom lens so I could frame individual shots — though zooming in an out is always hit and miss on a flying bird. Finally, I should have had at least three or four hours available to get the best shots possible. When I go back in the future I’ll be better prepared, though I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled than I was on this visit.

Juvenile Night Heron

A couple of years ago I read an article about a rookery in Santa Rosa, but I had never managed to get there during nesting season. On our recent visit I managed to find an hour to get out there on our “off” day while others were shopping or reading. Luckily, except for the overhead clouds and threatening rain, I had impeccable timing.

Right after I pulled up two volunteers captured a young Night Heron that was on the ground. I assume that since the nesting trees sit in the middle of two busy roads and are both surrounded by orange construction fences that young birds that can’t fly back to the tree are “rescued” though this bird definitely didn’t want to be rescued.

Unfortunately, I was a little too close for my 560mm lens and could never get the whole bird in frame, but I certainly got some nice close-ups as the heron tried to elude the volunteer

by running around the tree

and playing hide-and-go-seek.

Cornered, the heron put on its most ferocious appearance.

After capture, he continued to protest until put into a carrier.

Though I never got a complete shot of the bird, Photoshop’s Photomerge offered this composite.

Bodega Head

Despite some really bad directions by Pahtah and his iPhone Ap, we finally got to Bodega Head, a favorite spot to get an overview of the Northern California coastline. Lael got some great shots of the surf breaking on the rocks below, better than I managed with my 400mm lens.

I particularly liked the colors in this wave breaking on the shoreline.

Though I took some shots of the shoreline, I focused on the gulls riding the updrafts while playing a game of King of the Mountain.

My favorite shot from Bodega Head was this one of a California Gull swooping down toward the water.

The Big One that Got Away

When you compare this shot of a Marbled Godwit with yesterday’s shot of a Willet, it’s hard to believe that I could have confused them. Godwits definitely look much more orange than Willets. I did notice this during the shoot, but I thought it was because these shots were taken with the sun to my back while the shots of the Willets were taken into the sun.

The upward turn of the bill and the reddish-orange base of the Marbled Godwit definitely sets it apart from the Willet even when they’re both in breeding colors.

I thought this bird looked different even as it walked away from me,

but it immediately became obvious when I saw the downward curve of the beak when it flew away.

At first I thought it might be a Curlew, but it’s size and the length of its beak revealed it was a Whimbrel,

a bird I see even less commonly than a Curlew.

The real treat of the morning, though, was catching sight of a pod of Porpoises moving up the shoreline. When I first saw the dorsal fin I thought Orca, but once one jumped it was clear that it was a large porpoise.

Despite spending considerable time trying to get a shot of one of the dolphins as it sailed into the air, I had to settle for a shot that simply proves I did see a dolphin and wasn’t just making up a fishy tale.

Birding Bodega Bay

Although there weren’t as many birds as I’ve often seen in the past at Bodega Bay, or as many as I’d hoped for, since this was the only “birding” I had planned on this trip to California, there were enough birds to occupy me while we strolled the beach for a couple of hours.

At first it seemed that there was only a flock of Marbled Godwits spread up and down the beach, but I later realized this one was a Willet,

not a Marbled Godwit, but I didn’t recognize it first because it was in breeding plumage, not the normal grey shades I’ve seen in the past.

These wing markings definitely confirmed it was a Willet.

The bird caught my attention because it seemed to be running away from ME, though I quickly realized it wasn’t me it was running from when it suddenly headed directly back toward me

just as a large gull tried to scare it into dropping its catch.

It doesn’t always require a larger bird to scare off a bird, as this Sanderling flew toward me rather abruptly when the other Sanderling charged it.

This one, however, seemed more scared of me than it did a flock of fellow Sanderlings.

Although there weren’t really many birds on the beach, they kept me entertained by flying back and forth on the beach to avoid getting too close to us, and to all the rest of the people on the beach.

Considering how busy the beach was, I was surprised that the birds hadn’t become totally indifferent to people walking by, camera or no camera.