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. allaboutbirds.org 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,

ostrich

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.

Great Egrets

For years when I saw a flash of white in the distance, I wondered whether I was seeing a Snowy Egret or Great Egret. After all, I hardly ever see either up in the Pacific Northwest where the Great Blue Heron dominates the wetlands. In the beginning the two looked quite similar to me, especially at a distance.

 Great Egret in Flight

Gradually I learned to recognize the feathery appearance of the Snowy Egret, which only led to further confusion if I happened to see a Great Egret when it’s coat was blowing in the wind:

Great Egret

Once you see a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret standing near each other, however, it’s nearly impossible to ever confuse them again. This Great Egret

Great Egret

and this Snowy Egret were standing feet away from each other a the end of Lake Ralphine.

Snowy Egret

I avoided my usual cropping to show their relative size to each other. And, if you look carefully you can see that the color of the beaks and legs are also, strangely enough, reversed in the two. Hard to confuse the two.

Photographically, I’ve fallen in love with the feathery brightness of the Snowy Egret, but that doesn’t mean I don’t continue to appreciate the noble stature of the Great Egret

Egret with Reflection

or marvel at its ability to effortlessly and quietly through the dense underbrush while stalking prey.

Great Egret Stalking Prey

Snowy Egrets

Since Jeff, Leslie and Margaret were constantly with Mary during her hospice care and there was little for me to do, I decided to visit Spring Lake, one of Mary and Doug’s favorite places and one of the first places they took me to visit when I first met them some seventeen years ago. I don’t think I was too impressed on that first visit — it was, after all, a rather small lake compared to those we have in the Pacific Northwest. But over time, I have become quite fond of the walk around Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake, particularly since I’ve taken up bird watching in the last five or six years.

On my Monday walk, the first of four walks during the week, I was greeted by a Snowy Egret in exactly the same spot I’d taken pictures of one previously. Since we don’t have Snowy Egrets in the Pacific Northwest, I never pass up the chance to get new shots, particularly when they’re as indifferent to my presence as this one was. In fact, it took considerable effort to get far enough away to get anything but a close up like this first shot of it.

Snowy Egret

When I did get far enough away to get a full frame shot, the bird nearly disappeared into the shadows, but I still thought this was a striking shot.

Snowy Egret

After about ten minutes of fishing, the egret waded to the other side of the island where the lighting was better, almost good enough, though not quite, to capture the small fish in its beak.

 Snowy Egret

I’ll have to admit that this Snowy Egret seemed so at home on this stretch of shore that I took it for granted that it would also be there when I came back during the rest of the week. Otherwise, I’m sure I would stayed and taken more shots.

As it turned out, that assumption was wrong. I didn’t see the Snowy Egret in the same place the rest of the week. In fact, I only saw it in the distance on my next three visits,

Snowy Egret

and barely glimpsed it as flew away as I approached on my last sighting.

Snowy Egret

Another reminder that its best not to take anything for granted in life; nothing lasts forever.

More Local Birding

Here’s two more shots taken on local trips. Neither is particularly outstanding or quite as good as previous shots I’ve taken, but I still love watching Belted Kingfishers,

Belted Kingfisher

and it’s a good day when I can get any shot worth keeping. Not sure why, but they seem like one of the shyest birds I know of, and they are constantly on the move. I suspect they suffer from some form of ADHD, which can’t be all bad because I suspect I suffer from it at times, too.

I got some great shots of a Marsh Wrens in the Spring when they were boldly advertising for a mate, but they’re much hard to capture this time of year when all they seem concerned with is staying alive long enough to mate next Spring.

Marsh Wren

They have the perfect camouflage to fit in with the dried-out grass and reeds where they build their nests in the summer.