Colorado Kestrel

Although we had some great weather while visiting Tyson’s family in Broomfield, Colorado, over Thanksgiving, the one chance we got to go birding was not one of those days, despite the fact that it was sunny and our weather app said it was 54° outside. The first sign that the app might have been wrong was a text message from Tyson indicating that there were high winds when he went to church. Then our car thermometer suggested it was really 22° outside. Still, when we stopped the car it seemed bearable since we both had warm sweaters and wind-proof jackets.

I was jacked when I got this shot of a kestrel sitting at the beginning of the trail.

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Unfortunately that was the only bird shot I got in Colorado. We made a sharp right turn about fifty yards down the trail and were struck by a bone-chilling wind. After a minute or so of walking I could barely feel my nose. Another minute and I’d had enough, and we turned back and headed to Home Depot to pick up some Christmas decorations. I remembered why my cold-weather bag sitting at home contained a scarf to wrap around your face and a Baklava for even more severe weather while out cross-country skiing.

I might drive 1,500 miles to visit a birding area, but I’m not hard-core enough to risk frostbite to get a great bird shot, been there, done that, ain't stupid enough to ever let it happen again.

Can You See What I See?

There are days when I’m reminded that I still have a long ways to go before I become a really good birder. After the slow morning at Ocean Shores we headed to Westport to see what we could find. If it hadn’t been for Leslie, I’m pretty sure I would have missed this mixed flock of Brown Pelicans and gulls.

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Heck, I have a hard time seeing them even on my computer screen. How many pelicans can you count?

Luckily, I do better at spotting singletons or I would probably give up birding altogether. I managed to spot this Common Murre in non-breeding colors at a considerable distance, while just a speck on the horizon. Considering how seldom I’ve seen these birds, this was a good sighting.

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f it hadn’t been for two seasoned birders, however, I would never have seen this even rarer Pectoral Sandpiper at Midway Beach. In fact, I stared blankly in the distance nearly five minutes before noticing the bird standing right in front of me, much closer than I ever thought it would be.

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Apparently my combat training has trained me to first scan the horizon; I ALWAYS scan from the horizon in. Of course, if this had been an enemy combatant, I would have been dead long before I ever saw it. More often than not, though, I find birds when they move, another skill I practiced in the Army. If they would simply stay put, I’d miss most of them.

Luckily, once you spot birds it’s relatively easy to get pictures. If you’re patient, and quiet, often they’ll simply go back to finding food once they’ve decided you’re not a threat, like this bird did, coming so close I had a hard time keeping it in frame.

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Of course, it helps if you know where to find birds. It’s hard to miss Marbled Godwits

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if you show up where they are foraging. They’re one of the larger shorebirds and seem relatively indifferent to people, at least at Tokeland. I haven’t seen them for nearly a year, though,

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so this helped to make the day seem complete. After a large lunch, Leslie wasn’t particularly hungry, so we stopped at the Dairy Queen in Raymond where I had my usual chili dog and cola, not quite as satisfying as a Guinness and fish special, but it’s one of my go-to comfort foods that I seldom indulge in any more and a good way to end a nice outing.

A Morning at Ocean Shores

Right after we returned from Nevada, Leslie and I headed out to the beach to catch the end of the Fall Shorebird Migration. It was either that or pick up a poetry book, and I didn’t want to miss a single moment of the wonderful Fall we’ve been having so far. Once the rains begin to descend it might be June before we see two sunny days in a row again, plenty of time to read poetry books.

I’d been reading about recent bird sightings at Ocean Shores, so I thought we’d start the day there. What I didn’t hear was that the State allowed a special, early duck hunting weekend and a man and his two kids were blasting away when we finally arrived at the pond. Needless to say, there weren’t any shore birds in sight (though, as it turned out, I was told later in the day that after the hunters left the shorebirds did show up).

We settled for seeing a small flock of Brown Pelicans, still in summer breeding colors as they flew up the beach line while we were walking back to our car.

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We even were lucky enough to even see some of them dive for fish, like these two.

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Afterwards we headed up to the jetty, hoping to finally sight the Surfbird that I’ve never managed to see yet. Once again we were foiled by some major waves, making it nearly impossible to walk out on the jetty with risking life and limb.

Instead, we settled for walking the wind-protected side of the jetty, where we spotted Harbor Seals and surfers taking advantage of the high waves. This somewhat less adventurous Sanderling (I’m pretty sure it’s a Sanderling fading from breeding plumage to winter plumage, but I wouldn’t swear by that) joined us on the lee side of the Jetty,

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where we were soon joined by a pair of Black Turnstones in non-breeding colors.

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I suspect they thought that if the Sanderling could hang out with us it was safe to land nearby.

Generally the morning was a bit of a disappointment, at least birding wise, but it’s hard to be disappointed with any morning that ends with a Guinness Extra Stout and a "Leroy Special,” fish and green salad at the Galway Bay Irish Restaurant.

Hummingbird Collage

One of the reasons I’m having such a hard time posting entries since finishing the series on Bear River is that I’ve been unable to put together a collage of hummingbird shots I’ve taken since mid-June that I’m satisfied with, not to mention being unable to finish an essay on songs from the past that I’ve had on the desktop for even longer.

My favorite activity in June and July when birding generally slows down is to sit on the front porch swing and watch the bees and Hummingbirds flock to the Crocosmia throughout the day. It’s rare that one or more don’t show up within fifteen minutes, and I find it good practice (if somewhat difficult) to just sit still for 15 or 20 minutes. It’s surprising what I’ve also learned about the local crows and terns during those porch sessions, not to mention discovering that a Song Sparrow had a nest in the Cedar.

I’ve posted lots of hummingbird shots since I started this blog, so many shots that I’m finding it quite difficult to get better shots than the ones I’ve already posted. So, this year I decided I would try to put together a collage and not just a series of shots.

Unfortunately, I forgot one critical part of the collage — the background shot. I’m so used to getting closeups of the hummingbirds and the Crocosmia, that I couldn’t find a single long shot of the flowers, and the collage is desperately in need of a better background to tie all the pieces together. I really should have known better because I had the same problem with putting together a collage of Bear River Refuge, but I guess I’m a slow learner. I’ll get better, I promise.

Anyway, I’m not going to be able to move on until I finish this post and the musical post. So here’s the best I could do on this summer’s hummingbird collage

. HummingbirdCollage

Trips to distant places may be the most memorable part of summer, but my daily visits with the hummingbirds are what sustain me throughout the summer.

White-Faced Ibis at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

I can’t imagine how you could teach high school for 30 years without learning not to trust first appearances. After an inauspicious beginning, I began to see what a treasure the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge really is. I saw many of the birds I had hoped to photograph at Malheur this year but didn’t get to. As I noted earlier, the only White-Faced Ibis I saw at Malheur were flying or were hidden in the tall grass.

That wasn’t a problem at Bear River, as I saw them every time I circled the refuge. Even this shot taken at 5:45 in the morning showed some of the brilliant colors that make White-Faced Ibis so photographic.

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Like the “Horse of a Different Color” in the Wizard of Oz, the Ibis constantly changes color depending on the quality and direction of the light.

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In fact, one of the biggest problems in adjusting photographs of White-Faced Ibis is deciding whether the color balance is correct or not, especially when surrounded by brilliant water reflections.

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My favorite shot turned out to be this one, even though the ibis looks less colorful than it does in the other shots. Having the Snowy Egret next to the ibis, though, made it easier to determine the true color balance in the shot.

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My only complaint about Bear River is that there’s a single lane road around the main section and there aren’t many places where you can stop and wait for the right light. I’m pretty sure I missed a chance for some great shots when a car was impatiently waiting for me to move on. That said, it’s still one of the best places I’ve ever been to get shots of birds I love but never see in the Puget Sound region.