Loren’s Life-Long Snipe Hunt

I think I went on my first snipe hunt when I was about five years old. Big Brother Bill, probably upset that The Mom had once again told him to take me with him, told me to go down to the wetlands on Lake Washington and find a snipe. I looked for a snipe many times after that, at least until we moved to Walnut Creek, California when I was 9 and there wasn’t a wetland in sight. Eventually, probably somewhere around 50, I realized that there was no such thing as a snipe, that it was just a way for Big Brother Bill to get rid of me.

Turns out I was wrong, at least about there being no such thing as a “snipe.” When I started birding several years ago I bought a book called “Birds of the Puget Sound Region” and, sure enough, there on page 162 was a picture of a Wilson’s Snipe and a short description. Judging from the stocky photo, I thought snipes were a fairly large bird, though it turned out they are really about half the size of a crow.

I’ve been looking in vain for snipes ever since I saw that photo. Eventually, I found a snipe in the background of one of my shots. That didn’t feel like it really counted as seeing a snipe, though. I finally saw three snipes at a distance while birding Malheur last year. That’s when I first realized how small they are. The shots I got might have served as proof that I’d actually seen a Wilson’s Snipe, but they weren’t good pictures.

I finally got a decent shot of a Snipe about two weeks ago at Theler. I gentleman stopped me on the trail and asked me to identify a photo he had taken at the beginning of the trail. After I identified it as a Wilson’s Snipe, I asked him where he had taken the shot. Unfortunately, it was at the opposite end of the trail, but when I got there nearly an hour later it was still there, though not out in the open as it had been when he took the pictures earlier.

The snipe was tucked in next to the bank and was barely visible through all the foliage on the bank.

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Naturally when I maneuvered to get a clearer shot, it flew off to the next pond.

I figured since it had been where it was an hour ago that it might return to the same area once I had left. When I got back half an hour later, it had returned to nearly the same spot and I managed to get a little better picture.

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Although there is still some distortion a the bottom of the picture from the foliage in the foreground, I’m quite happy with the photo. That’s good, too, because judging from experience it will be quite awhile before I manage to get a better shot.

Birding with My 100-400mm Lens

Although I wouldn’t exactly call it “birding,” I did get a chance to get down to Ruston Way where I found three female Red-Breasted Mergansers to focus on to see how well my new 100-400 mm lens would work as a birding lens.

One of my favorite shots was this one where I captured the three in various stages of diving, something I could never have captured with my 400mm fixed lens.

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To be more exact, I would have had to take a very quick three shots and hope that they were similar enough together that Photoshop’s “Photomerge” could stitch them together (an altogether hit-and-miss affair). At 280mm all three subjects are relatively sharp, something that was a problem shooting at 400mm.

When I zoomed in on one of the ducks at 560mm (I was using a 1.4 converter) the results seemed equally crisp.

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Most of the time I prefer not to have to crop the picture very much, though I almost invariably adjust the frame a little because with a 1.5 converter on I only get auto-focus dead center on the lens, which isn’t a problem for me because when I’m shooting birds I always center the lens on the bird, especially in flight.

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Although this lens might not be as sharp as my 400mm prime lens, it’s certainly hard to tell the difference. This picture was cropped considerably and, except for the slightly blurred wings, it still seems quite sharp to me.

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I haven’t had nearly enough time to evaluate the lens, but it does seem to fulfill my needs better than any other lens I have at the moment. I’m not thrilled that its heavier than my old 400mm lens and the circumference makes it more challenging to hold, but hopefully I’ll soon become accustomed to those differences and they will be more than offset by its advantages.

Be Dazzled

After managing to capture a gorgeous close-up shot of a male Red-Breasted Merganser bursting into flight at Port Orchard last year, I’ve been trying to recapture that moment again this year, but as the time nears for them to leave for their breeding grounds it looks like I’m not going to get that shot despite a lot of effort.

I’m amazed this male Red-Breasted Merganser hasn’t filed a restraining order as many times as I’ve pointed my telephoto lens at it this winter. In reality, though, it seems to have become somewhat indifferent to my presence as if I’ve finally faded into the background. This male also seems to have taken up permanent residence in the Port Orchard Marina, as I’ve been able to count on seeing him on nearly every visit.

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Where he used to paddle away, or fly off, as I approached, he now seems to be content to continue feeding on shrimp while I snap away.

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I was so so close when he emerged from this dive that this would have been a great portrait if the background hadn’t been so dark that the water and the head and black feathers merged into one.

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In the end, you have to appreciate the shots you do get as much as you enjoy simply sighting the bird, and this is one of many favorites.

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Luckily, I still find it impossible not be dazzled by such beauty.

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.