Yet Another GBH Shot

Despite having a “hard-drive full” of Great Blue Heron shots, I keep taking new shots of them. For one thing, they can be counted on. When Leslie and I took Lael and Mira to Theler Friday evening the wind was so fierce all but a few gulls were hunkered down, trying to stay out of the wind. Half way through the walk, though, a heron took off a few feet from us and flew across the wetlands.

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On another recent visit when birding was also slow, this heron was so close that I had to photomerge the bird and its reflection.

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In the end, I kept it because I liked the mono-chromatic colors.

This shot also had to be photomerged; the head and tail are two separate shots.

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Though I’ll probably end up deleting this shot once I’ve blogged it because I have better shots than this, I find it nearly impossible to ignore a four-foot tall bird stalking this close to me, particularly when it

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is carrying a lethal weapon like this. I’m just glad I’m not what it is hunting.

I’d like to promise that this is the last Great Blue Heron shot I’ll ever post, but that’s probably not true. I’m always thinking my next shot will be my best shot ever, and even when it’s not I’m thinking it’s better than a blank page.

Green-Winged Teal

Although I’ve never been entirely convinced that the radical changes at Theler Wetlands will have the benefits promised, I have been closely following the effects those changes have on the bird population. An unexpected change (for me at least) has been the major increase in the number of Green-Winged Teal, a bird I used to rarely see there, and invariably tucked into a flock of Northern Pintails, Widgeons, etc. No longer, flocks of them are regulars at Theler now.

Green-Winged Teal are the smallest of the ducks, about twice as large as a Dunlin.

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There’s no mistaking the male for any other duck, but the female is much harder to tell apart from other female ducks (unless it’s with a male, of course.)

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I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen three Green-Winged Teal males together before, but it’s not at all uncommon at Theler to see males flocking together.

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This picture is cropped a little, but I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I have ever gotten to a male Green-Winged Teal.

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Overall, I’m afraid that I’m seeing less birds locally over the last few years, but it’s nice to know that at least this species seems to be thriving in Theler’s new habitat.

Wren It’s Spring

If you’re a bird photographer, Spring must be the best time of year because so many birds are desperately trying to call attention to themselves, none more-so than the small Marsh Wren. Although you might not always get this close-up of a shot, it’s easy to get a clear shot of them because they hang on the top of reeds loudly proclaiming their desirability.

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This is a “classic” Marsh Wren pose,

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and I’ve got an awful lot of them over the years. These were taken a little over two weeks ago.

When I returned a little later to Theler I immediately noticed that most of the reeds where I got my first shots had fallen over. In fact, there were so few reeds left standing that I didn’t expect to see the Wren at all. I was wrong; although the wren (or wrens) weren’t singing, one was frantically building new nests.

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In fact, it was so busy dashing about that most of the time I found it nearly impossible to keep it in frame.

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The last time I visited, though, the wrens were neither singing loudly nor frantically building a nest. There was an awful lot of tail flashing, though,

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particularly when another wren would fly by. I don’t read Wren well enough to know whether the bird was trying to get its mate’s attention or whether it was warning other wrens to stay away from it’s much smaller kingdom.

A Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah Kinda Day

It’s always a Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah kinda day for me when I can walk the boardwalk at Theler Wetlands surrounded by darting Tree and Barn Swallows. It’s a little too early for that kind of experience, but a few Tree Swallows have returned, and I always marvel at how close you can get to them before they fly off.

Not sure if this one was greeting me or complaining that I was disturbing his attempts at finding a mate, but it’s pretty unusual for one to actually vocalize while sitting on the boardwalk railing.

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Maybe they’re a little grumpy that the weather has been so variable, in the mid-60’s one day and in the high-30’s the next , but for whatever reason this one seemed annoyed that I was walking by.

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Judging from the number of carvings in the railing on the boardwalk out to the Sound I’m pretty sure that the boardwalk is a favorite of human young lovers, and it seems to serve the same function for the Tree Swallows.

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My favorite moments are when the swallows seem perfectly oblivious to my existence, whether resting on the rail

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or rocketing through the air seemingly inches away from my head, diving so fast that all you see as they pass is a blur.

Spring Songbirds are Everywhere

I do love my day-long trips to the coast or the even longer five-day trips to Malheur or Sacramento, but it’s still the short trips to Theler Wetlands, Port Orchard, or, even, Ruston Way that get me through the year. Even in the middle of winter I usually find one day a week when it’s not raining. The birds at Theler may not be as numerous or as exotic as those I see on longer trips, but I can’t remember a disappointing walk there. Late winter/early Spring days often bring birds I don’t see in the middle of winter, like this Downy Woodpecker

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that I located while trying to locate a bigger woodpecker that was making a much louder banging than this little woodpecker was capable of producing. The woodpecker I was looking for instead turned out to be a Red-Breasted Sapsucker that was amplifying his pecking by pounding on this birdhouse.

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I’m quite familiar with Red-Shafted Woodpeckers who use anything they can find to amplify their mating “calls,” but I had no idea that Sapsuckers used the same trick.

Our recent warming has led to an influx of songbirds like this Golden-Crowned Sparrow.

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I particularly enjoy trying to capture shots of small songbirds because they are much more challenging than Geese, Great Blue Herons, or most ducks. They constantly flit about; when they’re not flitting, they’re usually perched in shrubs that make it difficult to focus.

Of course, occasionally you get lucky and they’ll land on a single branch just above you, like this female Purple Finch

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and this Black-Capped Chickadee both did.

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Of course, you hear a lot more songbirds than you ever see; there’s been a virtual chorus of songbirds my last few visits to Theler.

Nothing Is Ever Just Black and White

Although it was “bright” while I was in Santa Rosa, it was never sunny. It was actually the perfect light for portraits, but less than ideal for action shots. As it turned out, though, it was nearly perfect light for at least two of my subjects.

As I’ve complained before, it’s really hard to capture both the subtle whites and blacks of male Bufflehead. 95% of the time either the whites or the blacks get totally washed out, and you end up with a silhouette. This is probably the best shot I’ve ever gotten of a male Bufflehead, with details in both the blacks and the whites,

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though I’ll have to admit that I had to tone down the highlights further than seemed realistic to get the details. In real life, the white seems brighter than this and yet, somehow, manages to maintain details.

There was another black and white duck that I have also struggled to capture in photos, a male Common Merganser.

MerganserReflection

This guy was actually standing in fairly heavy shade, but it’s one of the few “closeups” I’ve ever managed to get of one out of the water so I like it quite a lot. As a result, the blacks were a little to dark to draw details from and the whites also lost details trying to correct the blacks.

Here’s a shot of a male Common Merganser in brighter light.

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At this angle it’s clear that the head really isn’t solid black as it appeared in the previous shot, but is really a very dark green that shimmers in the right light. The trade-off, and there invariably seems to be one, is that there is a loss of detail in the white areas.

In an ideal world, a male Common Merganser would have stood upright and flapped its wing like this female did, but I long ago accepted the fact that I don’t live in an ideal world and was grateful that this female Common Merganser provided a little action for the day.

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Of course, since it was slightly overcast the shutter speed wasn’t quite fast enough to prevent blur in the wings, but that’s okay to me because they actually appeared blurry when I saw them beating, too.

Of course, these shots would benefit from HDR, the method I use almost automatically on scenic shots nowadays, but there’s no way to combine three shots at different apertures when the subject is in motion. RAW format is the best you can do at capturing what the eye really sees.

Lake Ralphine Swan

There’s no doubt that one of the highlights of visiting Lake Ralphine in Santa Rosa is the chance to photograph the swans closeup. Although I occasionally see migrating swans in Washington, I’ve never had the chance to shoot them up close. Of course, the year-round swans in Lake Ralphine are hardly “wild,” but their beauty more than makes up for any lack of wildness.

I can’t resist the beauty of shots like this.

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Eventually, though, beauty, at least “accepted” beauty, is not enough. You begin to search for new ways to see your subject. For instance, it’s probably the expressive curve of the swan’s neck that sets it apart from most birds, but a closeup like this shows better just how long that neck really is.

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Seen in isolation, that neck reminds me a lot of an ostrich, not a bird that’s ever struck me as particularly “beautiful.”

Seen from a different angle, the swan’s beak seems quite remarkable,

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even more so if you click on the picture to enlarge it and examine the rows of “teeth.” In the end beauty, indeed, seems to follow function.

That long, graceful neck and unique beak make it possible for the swan to find food where smaller birds would find it difficult if not impossible.