Horned Grebes in Breeding Plumage

I’ll have to admit that the Common Merganser I showed in my last post is not the only bird that I have been stalking for awhile. My favorite bird to stalk this time of year is actually the Horned Grebe, and, particularly, the Horned Grebes at the Port Orchard Marina. I’ve been following their plumage transition for several years now. Even after several years I’m amazed how these birds transform from subtle shades of white and gray to brilliant oranges and blacks.

Horned Grebes are usually numerous at Port Orchard and they’re used to people so it’s usually easy to capture the transition, but that’s not been true this year. There seem to be fewer grebes this year and more people whenever I’ve managed to get there.

Still, I was quite happy when I managed to get this shot of one almost transformed into its breeding plumage.

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Of course, Port Orchard isn’t the only place to find Horned Grebes. While looking for Pigeon Guillemots at Port Townsend, I spotted several Horned Grebes. This one looked rather scruffy as it transitioned from winter plumage to breeding plumage.

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The photographer in me tends to focus on the Grebe’s brilliant colors, but Leslie was fascinated with the way they swam under water and demanded that I try to get a shot. It’s really hard to focus on anything under the water, but these shots as they just dove suggests their underwater agility.

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After sighting a male Red-Breasted Merganser in full breeding colors, I had forgotten about the grebes but in the middle of trying to capture a good shot of the merganser this Horned Grebe in full breeding colors suddenly appeared. I couldn’t resist this shot, even though it was further out than I would have liked and I had to crop the shot to produce this photo.

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Although there are only a few weeks between the time the grebes start to change colors and the time they depart for their breeding grounds, I’m still hoping to get a couple more close-ups at Port Orchard.

Wren Fascination

On a recent trip to Theler Wetlands in Belfair I pointed out to Leslie the area where I’d gotten so many good pictures of a Marsh Wren last year. We waited a little while to see if we could find him and, sure enough, he finally came out.

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I got a couple of nice poses and moved on to see if I could get a shot of the Tree Swallows posing on the railing. Leslie stayed behind watching the wren, and when I got back she pointed out the wren’s nest.

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By then the Wren had obviously decided we were too old and slow to pose any threat and was going about his business of finishing the nest by lining it with fluff.

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Naturally I couldn’t resist trying to get even more pictures on my next trip to Theler. On this visit, the wren was no longer rushing back and forth building a nest. Instead, he was perched on the tallest reed advertising for a mate in a classic Marsh Wren pose.

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Though he didn’t seem intimidated by my presence, at first, it soon became clear he thought I was the reason he couldn’t attract a mate and that I was cramping his style.

I don’t understand wren well enough to know exactly what this pose means but I could venture a guess.

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Three for the Day

It’s always hard for me to choose a few shots from a day’s shooting to post, but sometimes it’s easier than other times because an obvious theme emerges from the day. Last Saturday wasn’t one of those days. My favorite shot was the Tree Swallow I posted on the previous entry, but after that I found it difficult to make a choice because there was no real theme and no shot seemed noticeably better than the others.

In the end, I decided that these three shots best represented the day. The Red-Wing Blackbirds are boisterous this time of year, and it’s impossible to ignore their beautiful songs.

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Visually, though, the bright green “grasses” dominate the landscape.

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Though we didn’t see, or hear, as many Killdeer as usual, Leslie spotted this one so close to the trail that it took me quite awhile to see it because I was searching for it further away and because it blended in so well with its background.

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I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a better close-up of a Killdeer. If you open it in a new window and look at it full size you can see every feather.

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With forecasts of rain and Thunderstorms for the next ten days you better believe I took advantage of Mondays break in the clouds. In fact, the bright blue skies accompanied up to the point where I parked my car by the Salmon Center.

The fog didn’t even begin to lift until I reached the half-way point where the fog started to dissipate and sunlight highlighted the ridge line.

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I must admit, though, that I enjoy walking in the fog, particularly near Puget Sound; it brings a meditative silence to the walk,

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even if it cloaks the Green-Winged Teal in shades of gray.

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Although the fog made it difficult to see many birds, it seemed to accentuate the songs of the male Red-Winged Blackbirds and my first Marsh Wren

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of the season.

Thank Goodness for the Belted Kingfisher

Still birding between showers and longing for a long, long birding trip (say to sunnier northern California), but it’s hard to complain when you’re retired and can take advantage of sunny breaks no matter when they occur.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been to lake Waughop so I was hoping to see some different birds, but it wasn’t to be. The lake was really high with all the recent rain, so there were very few birds feeding close to shore. I only managed to get this shot of Double-Crested Cormorants hanging out in the bushes.

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Undeterred, I stopped off at Titlow Park on the way home. Although I often see Widgeons offshore in Port Orchard, it’s been awhile since I’ve bothered to get this close to one.

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Absence obviously makes the heart fonder, so I was more impressed than usual by the bird’s plumage.

The resident Belted Kingfisher was more cooperative than usual, though it insisted on only posing in the shadiest part of the pond,

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which made it even harder than usual to capture it in flight,

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particularly after emerging from a dive.

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Luckily, On1 Photo 10 has pretty good noise reduction capabilities.

Irritated by its failure to catch a fish or by my shooting of shots, the Kingfisher flew to the other end of the pond where I managed to capture at least one shot in good light

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before it took off.

The ten minutes I spent taking shots of the Belted Kingfisher made my day and made me forget how few shots I actually got on this trip.

A Guest Drops In

Continuous rain has made it nearly impossible to get out birding. Even when I do get outside for a walk, I seldom take my camera equipment because of the threat of rain. So, it was a treat when this Varied Thrush showed up in my back yard while I was making cookies.

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What was even more of a treat was that it stuck around long enough for me to go upstairs and get my camera and then stuck around even longer for several shots. I am pretty sure that leaving leaves in the flower beds until Spring, a hint from the Audubon society, is what attracts the bird.

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It spent the whole time I was watching it turning over leaves looking for bugs.

I was surprised that it kept coming closer and closer, although it was clear that it saw me at the open patio door.

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I assume it must have been curious because he jumped on top of our garden Buddha and gave me a close look before disappearing into the fir tree.

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Now, if it would just show up on a sunnier day I could properly capture its bright colors and really do its beauty justice.

When Will I Ever Learn

I think one of the main reasons I’ve been so devoted to birdwatching in the last seven or so years is that I am constantly learning new things, constantly realizing just how little I know. For instance, on our last trip to the beach I was taking a shot of this “Yellowlegs”

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when three more Yellowlegs flew in. However, the newly-arrived Yellowlegs were so much smaller that at first I questioned if I had been wrong and one or the other wasn’t a Yellowlegs at all.

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It wasn’t until I got home that I realized how much bigger the Greater Yellowlegs (the lone bird in the first picture) is than the Lesser Yellowlegs (the two in the second picture). I’m still not sure that I’ll be able to distinguish one from the other unless they are actually near each other, as they were here.

I made another misidentification in the same pond, one I didn’t recognize until I got home. Someone said there was a Red-Necked Phalarope in the pond, but when I saw this bird I thought it was a Wilson’s Phalarope, not a Red-Necked Phalarope. It turned out to be a juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope

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a bird I have never seen before, and it appeared to be acting a lot more like the Wilson’s Phalaropes I’ve seen before than the Red-Necked Phalaropes I’ve previously observed. I’m embarrassed enough that I doubt I’ll make that mistake if I ever see a juvenile Red-Necked Phalarope again.

Of course, I could be all wrong and it’s really just the sheer beauty

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of these birds that has kept me birding all this time.