Common Mergansers

On my trip to Santa Rosa in January I got some of the best shots I’ve ever gotten of male Common Mergansers at Lake Ralphine. The birds were so conditioned to all the people on the trail that they would float right by, indifferent to everything but the fish swimming below. So when we went back a little over a week ago I was hoping to get more shots. I looked for them all three days I was at the lake, but there was none to be seen. Apparently they had all left during the three week period between visits.

Strangely enough, there seemed to be as many female Common Mergansers as there had been male Mergansers on the previous trip, and they seemed as willing as the male Mergansers to pose for the camera. I’ve never been as close to a female Merganser as I got to this one who seemed to paddle straight toward me to get her picture taken.

female Common Merganser

In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever been close enough to see the strange black line that runs down the top of the startling orange/red beak.

This one got so close that I had a hard time keeping it in the frame.

female Common Merganser

I actually had to add water to the top of the image to compose it the way I wanted to frame it. This is surely the best shot I’ve ever gotten of a female Common Merganser.

Apparently the merganser thought she needed a better pose, though, dipped her beak in the water and tilted her head back.

female Common Merganser

On my first trip to Belfair after my Santa Rosa trip I discovered where the male Common Mergansers had disappeared to, but they weren’t at all anxious to have their picture taken this time.

 Common Mergansers in flight

Although the weather outside would seem to suggest it’s still Winter here in the Pacific Northwest, the birds seem to think otherwise as the great Spring Migration seems to have begun.

Red-Breasted Mergansers

It’s definitely winter here in the Pacific Northwest. Even though we had some bitterly cold, clear days, the weather has been predominantly grey and wet, with little chance to get out birding, especially if you’re mostly interested in photographs. That just means that I’m even more anxious to get out on days when the weather does cooperate, especially since there are birds wintering here that are only here for a short time and will be long gone by the time better weather arrives.

I’ve long since given up trying to list “favorites,” because more often than not my favorite bird is the one in front of me, particularly if its in its breeding colors. Right now, around here the Red-Breasted Mergansers, like this pair, stand out. The male is hard to confuse with any other duck when it’s in full mating colors.

Red-Breasted Merganser pair

I can never tell if I’m amused, or just impressed by that head, but it’s hard not to focus on it in the shots I take.

Red-Breasted Merganser

You don’t really get too long to get a shot, though, because once they realize you’re focusing on them they disappear,

Merganser diving

sometimes to emerge right in front of you with a fresh shrimp entrée.

Merganser with shrimp

Inevitably, though, I find myself focusing on the male, trying to capture

Red-Breasted Merganser

that beauty, if only for a fraction of a second, which seems almost forever.

Common Goldeneye

Just before my recent trip to Santa Rosa I was asking John if he had seen any Common Goldeneyes, because all I had been seeing lately was Barrow’s Goldeneyes. When I started birding not long ago I thought I was much more apt to see Common Goldeneye than Barrow’s Goldeneye. In fact, I had considered it a treat to finally see a Barrow’s Goldeneye. He replied that he had seen some, though not as many as he’d seen Barrow’s Goldeneye.

Strangely enough, I spotted a Common Goldeneye on Spring Lake in Santa Rosa, the first I could remember ever seeing there. There was actually a pair of them, but I didn’t manage to get a shot of the female as she ducked under the water every time I pointed a camera their way.

male Common Goldeneye

The first time I returned to Theler Wetlands after my California visit I spotted a Goldeneye out on the river,

male Common Goldeneye

and, sure enough, it turned out to be a male Goldeneye.

Just to make sure that I didn’t fail to make their notice, I saw two more at Port Orchard, quite close to the parking area.

male Common Goldeneye

I wonder whether they’d always been there all along and I had just missed them, if they’d been gone but recently returned, or whether I had somehow conjured them up. It’s surprising how often you see something once you start looking specifically for it. I did notice, though, that the Common Goldeneye were almost always alone or a single pair unlike the small flocks of Barrow’s Goldeneye I’ve been seeing regularly at Port Orchard and locally on Ruston Way.

Acorn Titmouse

I’ll have to admit that I always enjoy seeing a bird I haven’t seen before, even in a zoo or film, but not nearly as much as seeing a new species in the “wild,” even if the “wild” is Lake Ralphine in Santa Rosa. This is the first time I’ve ever gotten a picture of an Acorn Titmouse,

Acorn Titmouse

and even though it’s a very small, not very distinguished-looking bird, I spent considerable time over three different days trying to get the best possible picture of it.

As you can probably tell from the above shot, it seemed to spend much time on the ground and barely above the ground on fallen logs where it’s hard to get a good angle,

Acorn Titmouse

particularly since I find it difficult to lay on the ground and get back up.

Still, they don’t seem to be particularly shy, and it was easy to get shots of them in the trees because they tended to stay in the lower branches.

Acorn Titmouse

Their range is mainly in California, though there seems to be some controversy over whether this is really the same bird as the Tufted Titmouse. All I know is that I have never gotten a shot of a bird like this with a tufted head and that made my day a little more exciting than it would otherwise have been.

Acorn Woodpeckers

If I lived in Northern California I’d probably have a hard drive full of Acorn Woodpeckers and not a hard drive full of Great Blue Heron or Belted Kingfisher. I only discovered them a few years ago and even more recently at Lake Ralphine.

Originally I was attracted to them because of their striking features, the bright red cap, the white face and the distinctive beak.

 Acorn Woodpecker

They didn’t look like any other woodpecker I’ve ever seen.

Later, though, I was attracted to their behavior. They often seem curious about that weird guy with the camera. Even if they fly off at first, they will often return shortly and look intently at me.

Acorn Woodpecker

Their behavior is intriguing, too. You can find trees with hundreds of acorns stored in tiny holes, but they also seem to be constantly foraging for food. states that “Besides nuts and insects, Acorn Woodpeckers also eat fruit, sap, oak catkins, and flower nectar, along with occasional grass seeds, lizards, and even eggs of their own species.”

Acorn Woodpecker

Of course, the more you photograph any bird the more you begin to notice about them. In these recent closeups I was particularly intrigued by their claws, particularly the size in relationship to the rest of their body.

Acorn Woodpecker

It doesn’t hurt that it’s impossible to miss these woodpeckers when they are around because they live in large families, another unusual trait.

Wherever You Go, There You Are

As I noted in my previous entry, I was really looking forward to photographing at the Butterfly Exhibit and I carried the best lens for shooting butterflies close up, my 100 mm macro lens. If I’d known that I was going to the zoo I would have taken an entirely different set of lenses, either my 70-200 mm lens, my 400 mm lens, or both.

I was most upset by the fact that I had promised Lael a trip to the butterfly garden and had to disappoint her, but as she pointed out as we walked around the zoo, “Who needs butterflies when the zoo has so many birds.” She knows her grandpa well.

This Spur-winged Lapwing caught my attention in the very first exhibit. It seemed remarkably familiar, but entirely new, all at the same time, and I couldn’t quite figure out why until I read it was a cousin of our Killdeer, a personal favorite.

Spur-winged Lapwing

The 100 mm lens was entirely incapable of capturing a decent shot of an ostrich in the distance, but it’s hard not to be impressed by a bird this big,


even when you’ve seen it many times.

I don’t remember ever seeing this red-headed jungle bird ever before, though, but I was impressed by the unique head and struggled to get a good shot through the glass panes.

unknown bird with red head

On the other hand, this turquoise-colored bird was in a large open area, but it was so dark and the bird was so camera-shy that it was a real struggle to get a decent shot.

unknown turquoise-colored bird

The real “aha” moment of the day was when I noticed these strange birds mixed in with the flamingoes.

Young Flamingo

The curator pointed out that young flamingoes lack the brilliant pinks of the adults, even when they’ve been fed on the same shrimp that causes the pink coloration in the adults. I’ve never seen a flamingo that wasn’t pink.

Of course, this is only a small number of the birds to be found in Woodland Park Zoo. I’m continually surprised by the large numbers of birds to be found at most zoos today. I certainly don’t remember seeing nearly as many birds at the zoo when I was a child. I wonder if that’s because they actually had less birds, or whether I simply didn’t notice them because I was more interested in lions, and tigers, and bears?

And Night Herons, Too

As if Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets weren’t enough, I’ve also started seeing Night Herons in Santa Rosa in recent years. I’ve always seen them at Spring Lake before, but on this trip I only saw them at Lake Ralphine. In fact, I saw one of on the very first day near the dam on Lake Ralphine, in the same spot where most of the fishermen usually sit.

Night Heron wading

In fact, I was quite surprised to see a Night Heron wading not more than a few feet from the fisherman and his line.

In the past they’ve seemed like fairly shy birds, though like American Bittern and Green Herons, they will often freeze when you approach them, rather than bolting.

There was even a second Night Heron nearby, sitting in the tree right above the other Night Heron.

Night Heron  in tree

It’s hard to tell where those eyes are looking, but it didn’t seem disturbed at all by my presence, quite confident I couldn’t reach him through the dense branches. He was right, I barely managed to get a shot through all those branches.

When I returned, the two night herons were no longer at the end of the lake by the dam, but had, instead, moved to the other end of the lake . This was the first time I ever saw a Night Heron actually standing on land.

Night Heron on shore

Of course, when I circled the end of the lake to try to get a better picture of it, it had flown across the lake and was perched in dense branches, content to stare down at me from its relative safety.

I was disappointed that I never saw a Green Heron on my four visits to the lakes, but it was hard to be too disappointed when I did see Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, and Night Herons, all birds I never get to see in Pacific Northwest.