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.

One, or Two, Thing(s) More

After the visitor pointed out the Great Horned Owl chicks to me, I started examining the area to see what else I could find on the wall. Turned out to be a lot more than I would have imagined. I quickly spotted several Cliff Swallows and followed them as they flew up to their nests.

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It seemed that this colony was still adding nests,

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and you didn’t have to scour the wall too hard to find other swallow nests.

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Nor did you have to look very hard to see where birds had relieved themselves, and if you looked long enough you could see chicks on some of these.

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I’m not enough of an expert to positively identify these, but there were Red-Tailed Hawks flying overhead several times.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to my week-long excursion, so I decided to start home rather than spending another night camping out.

Baby Great Horned Owls

I saw a lot of the same birds at Tule that I saw at both Bear River and Malheur, so I don’t feel compelled to show those birds again. But there was an unexpected special moment at Petroglyph Point. Despite past experience, I am a sucker for petroglyphs so I couldn’t resist the short drive after taking the Tule Lake road tour. Unfortunately, once again I found that the petroglyphs had been cordoned off to prevent vandalism so there was a limited number of petroglyphs to see and many of them had been defaced.

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What really made the stop special wasn’t the petroglyphs, but, rather, the unexpected birds I saw there. There was another group looking at the petroglyphs when I arrived and one of them spotted this baby Great Horned Owl staring at her.

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They were so well disguised that at first she thought she was looking at a petroglyph. In fact, they were so well disguised that neither of us saw the second baby located in the bottom right corner of the shot.

This second, long shot more clearly shows the second owl, though I had to do some serious photoshopping to make both the own in the direct sunlight and the one in the shadows visible.

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Thank goodness for RAW format.

I was surprised how bold the one young owl was as it moved around and followed us with its eyes as we walked around to get a different angle on it.

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I kept looking around for parents but couldn’t spot them. I’ve never been this close to a Great Horned Owl before, and I was a little worried about how protective the parents might get.

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.