Snow Geese

There are probably as many reasons people visit Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge as there are visitors. Perhaps even more, since I go there for several different reasons. But the main reason I keep going back is the tremendous number of birds you see there, particularly Snow Geese and Ross Geese.

In fact, I was quite disappointed that there was no Snow Geese to be seen when we visited in January and on our first stop on our recent trip. In fact, I’d resigned myself that we’d missed them this year, that with recent changes in weather that they’d already started their northern migration.

So I was delighted when we saw a large flock of them in the distance as we approached the refuge on our way home.

Snow Geese in Flight

By the time we’d actually reached the refuge they covered the pond like new fallen snow.

Snow Geese at Rest

When I talk to fellow visitors at wildlife refuges I often tell them that I consider myself a wildlife photographer more than a serious birder. But the joy I take in seeing the Snow Geese suggests something quite different. In fact, I find it nearly impossible to take a good photograph of these birds. I suspect only movies would offer any hope of capturing their beauty.

There are so many that it’s nearly impossible to compose a picture. I used to tell my Yearbook photographers to try to avoid shots where you have to cut people up to get a decent shot, but that’s almost invariably the kind of shot I get when I shoot these flocks.

 Snow Goose

No, I don’t come here to photograph the Snow Geese, even if I keep trying to capture what I feel in still shots. No, I come here because it makes me feel alive. This is one of those sacred places where you can feel the earth’s pulse.

Meadowlark in Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

One of the best parts of visiting a Wildlife Refuge many miles from your home is that you’re apt to see birds you would never see at home. For instance, I was pleased to see this Meadowlark on our first visit to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge,


though I would have been even happier if I’d managed to hear him sing or if he would have turned a little more toward the camera so that the beautiful colors on its breast were more prominently displayed.

On our later visit I did manage to get a shot of one singing,


and got to listen to it’s beautiful song.

Leslie, however, managed to get the very best shot out of her side of the car.


I particularly liked this shot after I read that the Meadowlark is part of the blackbird family of birds, a thought that had never occurred to me, though further reflection reminded me that they do look like immature and female Red-Wing Blackbirds. This pose looks exactly like the classic male Red-Wing Blackbird pose, and even though their songs are quite different they both rank up their with my favorite bird songs.

Swans at Lake Ralphine

On my last trip to Santa Rosa and Lake Ralphine I had hoped that the Swans I had observed on my trip a month earlier might have had babies, especially when they didn’t show up at the boat launch. When they didn’t show up after several hours, though, I wondered if they had actually left. However, when I walked the back side of Lake Ralphine I saw a single swan at the end of the lake closest to Spring Lake.

Since I’d always seen the swans together, I wondered if something had happened to its mate or if the mate was sitting on a nest.

So, when the swan slowly paddled away and headed for the underbrush at the end of the lake

I followed.

No nest, no baby swans, but there seemed like a lot of “necking” going on.

It seemed clear that the babies would be coming a little later.

Hopefully I’ll be back when they have cygnets.

California Pheasants

If someone asked me what’s the most important part of shooting birds/wildlife, I would probably say “persistence,” followed much too closely by “very expensive photo equipment.” Leslie likes pheasants and really wanted to get a good shot of one on our recent trip to Sacramento Wildlife Refuge. We saw very few on our first visit; the only one that was close enough to get a shot of was this one that ambled down the road in front of the car, swishing its tail


from side to side,


refusing to ever look back.

On our next trip back Leslie was excited to spot a pheasant on her side of the car,


but once again the pheasant never looked back at her.

We saw our final pheasant just as we were about to leave the refuge and return to Vancouver. Although it took several minutes to get a shot of the pheasant on top of the ridge rather than behind it, we both got some excellent shots, like this one by Leslie,


and this one by me.


Of course, I’ve actually been trying to get shots of pheasants for several years now, but I think these two might be the best we’ve managed to get so far.

Common Mergansers

On my trip to Santa Rosa in January I got some of the best shots I’ve ever gotten of male Common Mergansers at Lake Ralphine. The birds were so conditioned to all the people on the trail that they would float right by, indifferent to everything but the fish swimming below. So when we went back a little over a week ago I was hoping to get more shots. I looked for them all three days I was at the lake, but there was none to be seen. Apparently they had all left during the three week period between visits.

Strangely enough, there seemed to be as many female Common Mergansers as there had been male Mergansers on the previous trip, and they seemed as willing as the male Mergansers to pose for the camera. I’ve never been as close to a female Merganser as I got to this one who seemed to paddle straight toward me to get her picture taken.

female Common Merganser

In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever been close enough to see the strange black line that runs down the top of the startling orange/red beak.

This one got so close that I had a hard time keeping it in the frame.

female Common Merganser

I actually had to add water to the top of the image to compose it the way I wanted to frame it. This is surely the best shot I’ve ever gotten of a female Common Merganser.

Apparently the merganser thought she needed a better pose, though, dipped her beak in the water and tilted her head back.

female Common Merganser

On my first trip to Belfair after my Santa Rosa trip I discovered where the male Common Mergansers had disappeared to, but they weren’t at all anxious to have their picture taken this time.

 Common Mergansers in flight

Although the weather outside would seem to suggest it’s still Winter here in the Pacific Northwest, the birds seem to think otherwise as the great Spring Migration seems to have begun.

Red-Breasted Mergansers

It’s definitely winter here in the Pacific Northwest. Even though we had some bitterly cold, clear days, the weather has been predominantly grey and wet, with little chance to get out birding, especially if you’re mostly interested in photographs. That just means that I’m even more anxious to get out on days when the weather does cooperate, especially since there are birds wintering here that are only here for a short time and will be long gone by the time better weather arrives.

I’ve long since given up trying to list “favorites,” because more often than not my favorite bird is the one in front of me, particularly if its in its breeding colors. Right now, around here the Red-Breasted Mergansers, like this pair, stand out. The male is hard to confuse with any other duck when it’s in full mating colors.

Red-Breasted Merganser pair

I can never tell if I’m amused, or just impressed by that head, but it’s hard not to focus on it in the shots I take.

Red-Breasted Merganser

You don’t really get too long to get a shot, though, because once they realize you’re focusing on them they disappear,

Merganser diving

sometimes to emerge right in front of you with a fresh shrimp entrée.

Merganser with shrimp

Inevitably, though, I find myself focusing on the male, trying to capture

Red-Breasted Merganser

that beauty, if only for a fraction of a second, which seems almost forever.

Common Goldeneye

Just before my recent trip to Santa Rosa I was asking John if he had seen any Common Goldeneyes, because all I had been seeing lately was Barrow’s Goldeneyes. When I started birding not long ago I thought I was much more apt to see Common Goldeneye than Barrow’s Goldeneye. In fact, I had considered it a treat to finally see a Barrow’s Goldeneye. He replied that he had seen some, though not as many as he’d seen Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Strangely enough, I spotted a Common Goldeneye on Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, the first I could remember ever seeing there. There was actually a pair of them, but I didn’t manage to get a shot of the female as she ducked under the water every time I pointed a camera their way.

male Common Goldeneye

The first time I returned to Theler Wetlands after my California visit I spotted a Goldeneye out on the river,

male Common Goldeneye

and, sure enough, it turned out to be a male Goldeneye.

Just to make sure that I didn’t fail to make their notice, I saw two more at Port Orchard, quite close to the parking area.

male Common Goldeneye

I wonder whether they’d always been there all along and I had just missed them, if they’d been gone but recently returned, or whether I had somehow conjured them up. It’s surprising how often you see something once you start looking specifically for it. I did notice, though, that the Common Goldeneye were almost always alone or a single pair unlike the small flocks of Barrow’s Goldeneye I’ve been seeing regularly at Port Orchard and locally on Ruston Way.