Leslie’s Shots from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Although I knew this is probably the worst time of the year to visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, I still wanted to stop on our way to Santa Rosa because I hadn’t been able to get there before. We didn’t see nearly as many birds or species as we have on previous visits. Heck, they hadn’t even flooded most areas of the preserve yet.

Luckily, they had opened a pond I’ve never seen and there were birds we seldom see in the Pacific Northwest. Leslie decided she wanted to use the Canon SX60HS and binoculars and not the heavier camera and lens. I decided to start with a selection of her shots that you can compare with my shots in the next blog entry.

Here’s one of the first shots we took showing a small island covered in Snowy Egrets, Common Terns, Cormorants, White Pelicans, various ducks, American Coots, and Black-Necked Stilts.

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A little further along, there was a small flock of White Pelicans herding fish into a small area.

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I was surprised to spot this Bullfrog on the edge of the pond.

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It must be challenging to survive in a pond with this many predators.

Leslie was trying to capture the golden glow of these dragonflies as the evening sun hit them.

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This shot was heavily cropped after I located the dragonfly among the rocks.

I didn’t have a problem locating this doe and her two fawns, though.

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Technically this shot is probably too bright and too dark all at the same time, but I like the image of a family of wild turkeys running down the road like a flock of velociraptor.

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Of course, because I always shoot in RAW format, these shots have been processed in Photoshop. I’ve read arguments that shooting RAW format requires a lot more editing than shooting in jpg format because the camera’s computer leaves all the decisions up to the photographer rather than deciding by itself what “looks best.” Depending on what you want to do with your photographs, it might be best to just shoot in jpg format to save time, but I’m not sure if the jpgs would come straight out of the camera looking this good or not (just saying).

Back to Big Beef Creek

One of the reasons I hesitated to return to Bear River was that it was right in the middle of the Sculpin run at Seabeck and I was afraid the run would be over before we returned. While it had slowed down considerably, it was still taking place when I returned at the end of June. It turned out to be a beautiful day, and I got some great shots, shots that, unfortunately, looked a lot like shots I’d gotten there before I went to Bear River. When you return to the same spot year after year, it gets harder and harder to top the shots you’ve already posted.

My favorite shots of the day were shots of Cedar Waxwings, shots I posted the day I took them instead of a month later. Even if the shots you get are no better than ones you’ve gotten before, it’s hard not to learn more about the herons and eagles you’ve observed. I’ve learned even more by talking to the photographers who get up there even more than I do. I’m nearly as fascinated by the complex interaction of the Eagles and the Great Blue Herons as I am by their beauty.

At the beginning of the day’s run, the herons will be quite spread out. However, once Great Blue Herons start to gather in a particular area, you can count on the eagles beginning to show up, too.

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The heron on the left in the above shot has just caught a large Sculpin, and it’s not long before a mature Bald Eagle swoops in.

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Often a juvenile eagle will follow the mature eagle.

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Notice that the heron on the left drops its catch as the eagles approach. Some herons look like they’re ready to defend themselves, while others immediately take off. Others. like spectators in Auden’s “Musee des Beaux Arts” turn “away/Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may/Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,/ But for him it was not an important failure

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Notice that the immature eagle just flies through the flock, apparently unaware that there is even a fish to be had.

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The experienced Bald Eagle, however, usually gets the fish dropped by the heron and feeds on it while the angry herons stand impotently around or fly off to a safer fishing hole.

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White-Faced Ibis in Flight

We just returned from a week-long trip to Santa Rosa with family where I found it next-to-impossible to find time to work on my blog. So, here I am again, living in the past, managing only to get outside for a 45-minute walk along the beach. Ironic that a blog devoted largely to the outdoors requires so much time spent inside sorting photos and getting them ready for viewing. It’s especially hard to keep up in the summer when it’s tempting to spend every moment outdoors. That said, there’s not much purpose in taking all these shots if I’m not going to share the best of them with others. So, here we are finishing up showing the shots I took at Bear River in the middle of June.

One of the birds I particularly enjoy seeing there, probably because I never see it in the Puget Sound area, is the White-faced Ibis, a bird whose silhouette is unmistakable. Though this shot was actually taken at Malheur on our way home, most of the Ibis we saw at Bear River were flying by, not wading in the wetlands.

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Still, a shot of a White-faced Ibis caught in just the right light is so dramatic

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it’s hard not to focus on getting those kinds of shots.

I could probably make an argument that White-faced Ibis are built for wading, not flying, but I still try my hardest to capture birds in flight even if it’s an awkward pose, like this one.

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Of course, shots of herons landing are the easiest flight shots to get, but that ungainly landing is typical of herons, setting them apart from other species.

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Although it’s quite a lot smaller than a Great Blue Heron, its landing seems remarkably similar.

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Occasionally you are even lucky enough to capture an ibis in flight and while also capturing it’s many varied hues.

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When we saw a small flock of Ibis gathering sticks like this, we figured they must have been too busy building nests to stand around in the wetlands.

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It wasn’t until we were visiting The Sacramento Wildlife Refuge last week that we learned that White-faced Ibis, like several other herons, build a rookery and the rookery would probably be in a protected area — which also explains why we saw stilt and avocet chicks but no ibis chicks.

Birding with Logan

After buying a new camera, I decided to give my old camera to Tyson and family to replace one I had given them several years ago. Logan seemed particularly excited to use the camera, and he and I went out birding several times. His dad even helped him to download a photo editor, and we probably spent more time learning how to use that program than we did birding.

It’s been a long time since I taught photography classes in high school, but I thought that Logan picked up the basics of photographing birds than many of the students I taught. Considering the limitations of using a 300mm lens for birding, he did a great job of capturing shots of a large variety of birds, helping me to spot several I’m sure I would have missed if hadn’t sighted them first. I’m not sure this is really his best shot, but this shot of a Eurasian Collared-Dove is his favorite,

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possibly because he photographed it when I wasn’t even there. It’s always fun to be around the grandkids, but it’s special when one shares a common interest.

Another advantage is that I don’t have to feel guilty why birding if I have a grandson with me, and I love birding areas other than home because I manage to get shots of birds I seldom, or never see. I’ve actually seen this Blue-Winged Teal

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a few times in Washington and a few times in California, but I’ve never managed to get this close to one anywhere else.

Somehow I knew that this was a Common Grackle

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when I finally got close enough to it, but I couldn’t identify it when it kept flying over me earlier. I knew it wasn’t a crow or Red-Winged Blackbird because of the length of its tail, but I couldn’t tell what it was until I got a lot closer.

On our last day birding I told Logan that I would really like to see a Blue Jay because I hadn’t seen one on this trip. We were on our way back to his game when we spotted a small flock of them, giving me the best chance I’ve had of getting a shot of one.

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This one looks a little bedraggled because of the constant drizzle, but I still like the shot.

My other target bird was the Kestrel, a bird I can always spot in the open space right outside Logan’s house. Unfortunately, it was overcast or raining almost all the time we were there. I finally went out despite the clouds and Logan spotted this bird. It was so dark that I didn’t recognize the kestrel at first, and it took all the magic of Lightroom, Photoshop, and ON1 Photo 10 to make it look like a kestrel.

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Logan has promised me he will get a better shot of the Kestrel when the weather improves so I’m looking forward to seeing a shot soon.

Horned Grebes in Breeding Plumage

I’ll have to admit that the Common Merganser I showed in my last post is not the only bird that I have been stalking for awhile. My favorite bird to stalk this time of year is actually the Horned Grebe, and, particularly, the Horned Grebes at the Port Orchard Marina. I’ve been following their plumage transition for several years now. Even after several years I’m amazed how these birds transform from subtle shades of white and gray to brilliant oranges and blacks.

Horned Grebes are usually numerous at Port Orchard and they’re used to people so it’s usually easy to capture the transition, but that’s not been true this year. There seem to be fewer grebes this year and more people whenever I’ve managed to get there.

Still, I was quite happy when I managed to get this shot of one almost transformed into its breeding plumage.

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Of course, Port Orchard isn’t the only place to find Horned Grebes. While looking for Pigeon Guillemots at Port Townsend, I spotted several Horned Grebes. This one looked rather scruffy as it transitioned from winter plumage to breeding plumage.

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The photographer in me tends to focus on the Grebe’s brilliant colors, but Leslie was fascinated with the way they swam under water and demanded that I try to get a shot. It’s really hard to focus on anything under the water, but these shots as they just dove suggests their underwater agility.

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After sighting a male Red-Breasted Merganser in full breeding colors, I had forgotten about the grebes but in the middle of trying to capture a good shot of the merganser this Horned Grebe in full breeding colors suddenly appeared. I couldn’t resist this shot, even though it was further out than I would have liked and I had to crop the shot to produce this photo.

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Although there are only a few weeks between the time the grebes start to change colors and the time they depart for their breeding grounds, I’m still hoping to get a couple more close-ups at Port Orchard.

Wren Fascination

On a recent trip to Theler Wetlands in Belfair I pointed out to Leslie the area where I’d gotten so many good pictures of a Marsh Wren last year. We waited a little while to see if we could find him and, sure enough, he finally came out.

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I got a couple of nice poses and moved on to see if I could get a shot of the Tree Swallows posing on the railing. Leslie stayed behind watching the wren, and when I got back she pointed out the wren’s nest.

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By then the Wren had obviously decided we were too old and slow to pose any threat and was going about his business of finishing the nest by lining it with fluff.

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Naturally I couldn’t resist trying to get even more pictures on my next trip to Theler. On this visit, the wren was no longer rushing back and forth building a nest. Instead, he was perched on the tallest reed advertising for a mate in a classic Marsh Wren pose.

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Though he didn’t seem intimidated by my presence, at first, it soon became clear he thought I was the reason he couldn’t attract a mate and that I was cramping his style.

I don’t understand wren well enough to know exactly what this pose means but I could venture a guess.

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Three for the Day

It’s always hard for me to choose a few shots from a day’s shooting to post, but sometimes it’s easier than other times because an obvious theme emerges from the day. Last Saturday wasn’t one of those days. My favorite shot was the Tree Swallow I posted on the previous entry, but after that I found it difficult to make a choice because there was no real theme and no shot seemed noticeably better than the others.

In the end, I decided that these three shots best represented the day. The Red-Wing Blackbirds are boisterous this time of year, and it’s impossible to ignore their beautiful songs.

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Visually, though, the bright green “grasses” dominate the landscape.

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Though we didn’t see, or hear, as many Killdeer as usual, Leslie spotted this one so close to the trail that it took me quite awhile to see it because I was searching for it further away and because it blended in so well with its background.

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I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a better close-up of a Killdeer. If you open it in a new window and look at it full size you can see every feather.