Mergansers Flirting

I know I posted something like this last year when the Hooded Mergansers frequented the Port Orchard Marina, but I’ve been observing it for years and it still fascinates me. I first observed it in Goldeneye ducks, but apparently it's fairly common in ducks, though it took me 70 years to notice it.

I sure wish I spoke Merganser because I can never quite figure out the scene. I just know this a common way males try to attract the attention of a female that has caught their attention.

This is actually the first time I’ve ever seen a female mimic the actions of the male.


They actually seemed to be talking to each other,

and I thought this might be the beginning of pairing.

I was less sure of the supposition, though, when two other females started following the male after his display, while the original female moved back with a glassy-eyed look.

POSTSCRIPT: My friend John tells me that the one that looks like a female Merganser is probably an immature male, as indicated by the dark beak and yellow eyes. In which case, he's probably learning how to flirt rather than being the object of the flirtation.

Yet Another Magical Place

The Merced National Wildlife Refuge is one of those magical places I will return to whenever I can. Sand Hill Cranes may be its major draw, but it’s the diversity that will bring me back. I love places that are alive, no matter what particular birds I might, or might not, find there at a particular time.

While trying to capture shots of the Cattle Egrets I’d never seen before, I saw this Wilson’s Snipe


and urged Leslie to try to get a shot of it.

She did better than that; she got this wide-angle shot


which captured not one, but three, snipes, and her even wider-angle shot captured this shot of the three snipes and a Killdeer.


Though we didn’t see a single Avocet, we saw lots of Black-necked Stilts


and even more Dowitchers,


not to mention, hundreds of ducks and geese.

Birding with Jen and the Kids

Although I went birding with Logan two other days, we only got to spend one day birding with Jen and the kids. Jen picked a refuge that looked like it had great potential, but the “wetlands” weren’t wet and there weren’t many birds.

Just as we were about to give up, Jen noticed a White Pelican


fly by, and, being a big Pelican fan, she decided we should drive down to the other end of the lake and see if we could get some better shots.

I had my doubts, thinking they would probably fly off when the five of us showed up, but I was wrong. We did get some nice shots of them.


Although I didn’t remember to get one of Logan’s shots, Sidney and Zoe wanted to use my camera so I let them take most of the shots. Though neither was interested enough to look through the shots on my computer back at home and identify which they took, these last two shots were taken by one or the other.

Some of the closest Pelicans did take off as we watched them,


but a larger group ignored us and went about herding fish together so they could catch them easier.


Once again, all it took was “one good bird” to make for a fun day.

Magpies and Doves

Though we spent longer in Broomfield Colorado visiting Tyson’s family than anywhere else on our three-week vacation, I ended up with less pictures there than anywhere else.

Part of that was intentional. I learned long ago not to photograph kids playing soccer because I end up missing much of the game. Nor did I photograph Sydney’s mile race. The camera makes me an observer and not a participant, and I prefer to be part of the game when grandkids are playing.

Unfortunately, despite birding two different days with Logan, I also saw less birds on this trip than I’m used to seeing in Colorado. Still, I got a few shots I liked, like this Mourning Dove,


whose brownish feathers served as the perfect camouflage in the dry fields.

Obviously the Magpie


doesn’t rely on camouflage to survive since its colors stood out against the brown grass.

I’ve often seen Magpies flashing across the road, but this is the first time I’ve managed to capture the pattern of the white feathers in the wing.


Apparently Magpies are as unappreciated in Colorado as crows are in Tacoma, but since I seldom see them I like watching them even more than I like watching my neighborhood crows.


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.


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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Often a juvenile eagle will follow the mature eagle.


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


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


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.