A Monday Morning at Theler Wetlands

With rain again predicted for most of the week, I spent Monday at Theler Wetlands and Port Orchard. There were a lot of birds, but mostly the usual suspects, Great Blue Herons and ducks. Large flocks of Widgeons and Northern Pintails rose up from the wetlands and moved to new feeding areas.

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About the only unusual birds I saw were a pair of male Common Mergansers resting in the heavy shade near the end of the trail.

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I didn’t see much all the way back, either. When I heard a Pileated Woodpecker’s cry, I immediately thought of Ruth Sullivan’s saying when I started birding, “ All we need is one Good Bird.” Since I have often heard this particular woodpecker at Theler but very seldom see it, I didn’t really expect to see it.

I should have been more ready, because not long after I saw the bird right next to the trail. Of course, by the time I pointed my camera at it, it had moved further away.

BlPileated

Still, considering the lack of light, I was quite pleased with this shot, certainly one of the best I’ve gotten in years. I had my “one good bird” and was ready to head to Port Orchard.

Fortunately, though, I ran into John after missing him at the Salmon Center. We talked awhile and I thought I’d walk part way back with him before heading out. We hadn’t gone very far when he spotted a Northern Shrike at the top of a tree near the pond.

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It’s even rarer than the Pileated Woodpecker around here; so I actually ended up with “two good birds” for the morning.

Back to Nisqually

I don’t think I’ve been to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for nearly a year, even though it’s the only place I can get my favorite Torta. Truthfully, I’ve never felt the same about the refuge since they replaced the 5 mile loop around the perimeter of the refuge that I walked two or three times a week. There are still lots of birds to be found at the refuge, but I can’t help but remember all the birds and wildlife that I no longer see.

I did see a number of birds I have not seen since I walked Nisqually the last time, like this Golden Crowned Kinglet

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and this Brown Creeper.

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I was a little surprised to see a small flock of, I think, Least Sandpiper in winter plumage.

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I couldn’t resist taking a series of shots of this Hooded Merganser pair. They were calmly paddling down this slough when I pointed a camera at them and simultaneously a shotgun blast echoed from across the river.

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They took off so simultaneously that I didn’t even realize there was two birds in several of my shots

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until I looked at the last shot in the sequence.

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Sometimes I think it’s too bad that I walked Nisqually for so many years before they changed it; new visitors I meet often seem to be enthralled by the place. Strange how the mind subtly controls our perception of a place and how hard it is to overcome that perception, no matter what the reality.

Even In the Busiest of Times

Even when I was busiest during December I managed to get to the gym or get out birding every single day except for the week when Tyson and his family were staying with us. I managed to get out to Theler Wetlands and Port Orchard at least once a week on days when my weather app said it was supposed to be sunny, or at least not raining. More often than not, though, it would actually be foggy when I arrived at Theler, and sometimes it wouldn’t clear up until I had gone to Port Orchard.

If I were just a “birder” and not a “wildlife photographer,” I think I might actually prefer visiting in the fog because I often get closer to birds and even see birds I might otherwise not see at all. For instance, on each foggy visit I was greeted by hundreds of Northern Pintails, though most, if not all, would be gone if it was sunny when I returned.

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I think I’ve noted before that at times you can get so close to Great Blue Herons in the fog that it’s impossible to even fit them in the frame,

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though, of course, the picture lacks the kind of detail that you get further away on a sunny day.

Heck, the Belted Kingfisher that drives me crazy by flying away every time I try to get a shot was even willing to pose when it knew the shot would be barely recognizable.

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On a day when it was still foggy by the time I returned to the visitor’s center, I even managed to get a shot of the reclusive Varied Thrush.

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Despite the lack of photographic opportunities, I enjoy walking in the fog. Although it’s always peaceful walking Theler, it seems even more so when it’s foggy because the fog dampens the noise from nearby houses and roads, just as it limits your view to the wetlands itself.

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.

KestelSky

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.

PlcnHunt

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.

CommonMurreNB I

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.

PectoralInGrass

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.

PecSndppr

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

1Godwit

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.