Hummingbird Collage

One of the reasons I’m having such a hard time posting entries since finishing the series on Bear River is that I’ve been unable to put together a collage of hummingbird shots I’ve taken since mid-June that I’m satisfied with, not to mention being unable to finish an essay on songs from the past that I’ve had on the desktop for even longer.

My favorite activity in June and July when birding generally slows down is to sit on the front porch swing and watch the bees and Hummingbirds flock to the Crocosmia throughout the day. It’s rare that one or more don’t show up within fifteen minutes, and I find it good practice (if somewhat difficult) to just sit still for 15 or 20 minutes. It’s surprising what I’ve also learned about the local crows and terns during those porch sessions, not to mention discovering that a Song Sparrow had a nest in the Cedar.

I’ve posted lots of hummingbird shots since I started this blog, so many shots that I’m finding it quite difficult to get better shots than the ones I’ve already posted. So, this year I decided I would try to put together a collage and not just a series of shots.

Unfortunately, I forgot one critical part of the collage — the background shot. I’m so used to getting closeups of the hummingbirds and the Crocosmia, that I couldn’t find a single long shot of the flowers, and the collage is desperately in need of a better background to tie all the pieces together. I really should have known better because I had the same problem with putting together a collage of Bear River Refuge, but I guess I’m a slow learner. I’ll get better, I promise.

Anyway, I’m not going to be able to move on until I finish this post and the musical post. So here’s the best I could do on this summer’s hummingbird collage

. HummingbirdCollage

Trips to distant places may be the most memorable part of summer, but my daily visits with the hummingbirds are what sustain me throughout the summer.

White-Faced Ibis at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

I can’t imagine how you could teach high school for 30 years without learning not to trust first appearances. After an inauspicious beginning, I began to see what a treasure the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge really is. I saw many of the birds I had hoped to photograph at Malheur this year but didn’t get to. As I noted earlier, the only White-Faced Ibis I saw at Malheur were flying or were hidden in the tall grass.

That wasn’t a problem at Bear River, as I saw them every time I circled the refuge. Even this shot taken at 5:45 in the morning showed some of the brilliant colors that make White-Faced Ibis so photographic.


Like the “Horse of a Different Color” in the Wizard of Oz, the Ibis constantly changes color depending on the quality and direction of the light.


In fact, one of the biggest problems in adjusting photographs of White-Faced Ibis is deciding whether the color balance is correct or not, especially when surrounded by brilliant water reflections.


My favorite shot turned out to be this one, even though the ibis looks less colorful than it does in the other shots. Having the Snowy Egret next to the ibis, though, made it easier to determine the true color balance in the shot.


My only complaint about Bear River is that there’s a single lane road around the main section and there aren’t many places where you can stop and wait for the right light. I’m pretty sure I missed a chance for some great shots when a car was impatiently waiting for me to move on. That said, it’s still one of the best places I’ve ever been to get shots of birds I love but never see in the Puget Sound region.

Rite of Spring

Trying to photograph the shorebird Spring migration has become an annual ritual for me even though I long ago resigned myself to the fact that my pictures will never capture what most attracts me to the shore line. Of course, if I actually knew what that was this blog entry would have been up several days ago and not sitting in the rewrite pile for several days. I always find it harder to write when I don’t know what I want to say.

There is some ineffable force that draws me to these migrations. I feel it when I’m there, but the more I think about it the less sure I am what it is that I feel. I suspect biologists would say this compelling force is simply a manifestation of the urge to reproduce, which it is, of course, but it seems much more than that.

Whatever it is, it can’t be caught in traditional photography. There is something chaotic about it that refuses to be captured by even the fastest lenses. Point your camera at a flock and it’s sheer luck if one of the thousands of birds present is in focus.

shorebird migration

Of course, biologists might simply point out that traveling in large flocks is a powerful defensive mechanism and it’s easy to see the protection that a large flock offers against predators in the photographs. It’s virtually impossible to pick out a single bird and focus on it.

Even at a considerable distance it’s impossible to keep the whole flock in focus, much less keep them in the camera frame.

shorebird migration  No doubt this is a “bad” picture by traditional standards, violating all the rules I used to try to teach my yearbook photographers, but in a sense it captures “reality” better than a photograph following traditional rules would. When a flock flies by this closely, it is just a blur no matter how hard you try to follow it.

It’s only when they begin to land that you realize just how diverse these flocks really are,

Shorebirds landing

usually consisting of several different species,

 Dowitcher, Dunlin, Western Sandpipers

though this particular flock was less diverse than others I’ve seen, consisting mainly of the larger Short-Billed Dowitchers, medium-sized Dunlin, and smaller Western Sandpipers.

It seems truly ironic that the only time I can get a “good” picture of the migration is when a bird pauses to stretch it wings for a moment, becomes an individual,

Western Sandpiper

no longer a members of a flock. This individual beauty is a part of the whole and part of what attracts me, especially as a photographer, but only a small part. It’s unlikely I will ever get better shots than I’ve already gotten in past years, but I’ll still be coming back for years.

Despite seeing it over and over, I’m still awed by the birds’ flights. How can take that many birds take off and land in unison? Who, or what, decides when they take off or when they land? Surely a flock this size can’t have a single leader, can it? What keeps them from flying into each other? If that many cars started up all at once and accelerated like that you’d have to spend months hauling them away.

If I were truly a Transcendentalist, I suppose I would see it as a manifestation of the Oversoul, that Divine force that penetrates Nature. If I were truly a Taoist, I would probably see it as a manifestation of Chi.

Avocets in Burns


Although seeing the Sage Grouse Lek made my trip, my last day was capped off when I found several Avocets just south of Burns, a place I’ve never looked before. As I mentioned earlier the refuge itself is in the throes of a drought, but it had rained hard the week before I was there and the farms fields, probably because they been watered regularly during the drought, were all flooded, as well as the fields directly next to the sewage plant.

And, although I didn’t see the number of Avocets I’ve seen on the refuge in previous years, I got a lot closer to them than I’ve previously been able to do on the refuge. Even the sun seemed to be cooperating as I made my way home.

I usually see Avocets in shallower water than this, so I wonder if the water didn’t give them a greater sense of safety because instead of skittering away from me, they proceeded to swim directly toward me.


and then turn just in time to offer a good profile shot.


Although they seemed to become a little more cautious as they approached, they continued to wade toward me,


making it relatively easy to get some of the best shots I’ve ever gotten of them before.


In the end I had so many good shots that I had a hard time deciding which ones to put up, a problem I’d be more than happy to have all the time.