Ruddy Turnstones

Reviewing my photos from Bottle Beach, I was shocked how many shots I'd taken of Ruddy Turnstones. I seldom see Turnstones, much less the rarer Ruddy Turnstone, but they stand out against the smaller, less colorful sandpipers that make up most of the flock.

They also hunt for food differently than the various kinds of Sandpipers,

which is why they’re called Turnstones.

I’m not sure what they’re looking for under all those stones they turn over, but I do know that this one seemed to prize small crabs, running from other Turnstones wanted to steal his prize.

In the end, of course, I’m it’s their sheer beauty that grabs my attention.

Snowy Egret Tiff

I’m not sure why this Snowy Egret has his feathers standing on end , but this was my favorite sequence from shooting the heron colony in Santa Rosa. Although I’ve seen shots of Snowy Egrets like this before, I’ve never managed to get one myself. As excited as the egret on the left is, the one building the nest seems totally unconcerned.

Beauty Rising

As if to confirm my prejudice that Snowy Egrets are more photogenic than Great Egrets, these three shots illustrate the kind of cropping I would have loved to have had in yesterday’s post.

Santa Rosa’s Rookery

It would be an understatement to say that I wasn’t prepared for what I saw at the Santa Rosa nesting area. I was expecting to see one species of birds nesting, not four different species. I was especially surprised to get a shot of this Cattle Egret in my first photo,

the only shot I got of a Cattle Egret in the hour I was there. In retrospect, I wondered if there was more than one but I got distracted by the very active Snowy Egrets.

I did expect to see Night Herons since they were mentioned in the original article, and I wasn’t disappointed.

There were also several Great Ibis in the tree,

though I wasn’t always able to distinguish them from the Snowy Egrets in the tree.

I got way more shots of Snowy Egrets

than any other bird, though I’m not sure if that was because they have always struck me as more photogenic than the other egrets or because there was actually a lot more of them

I’ve seen several rookeries, but they’ve always contained a single species, like all Great Blue Heron or all Night Heron. I didn’t realize how close I’d be to the tree and how hard it would be to move further away and still get decent shots until I got there. I should have taken a 100-400mm zoom lens so I could frame individual shots — though zooming in an out is always hit and miss on a flying bird. Finally, I should have had at least three or four hours available to get the best shots possible. When I go back in the future I’ll be better prepared, though I couldn’t possibly be more thrilled than I was on this visit.

Is that really a Mockingbird?

We visited a local garden while in Fresno, and I took my small Canon SX60HS figuring I would just be photographing plants and wouldn’t need my birding lens.

We’d almost finished our visit when I found a really birdy area, with birds flying back and forth between trees. This bird, which I didn’t recognize, repeatedly drove away all the other birds

like this Black Phoebe

away from its tree.

After getting my birding lens, I returned to try to capture better shots like this one of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler grabbing berries from the tree before the other bird drove it off.

It wasn’t until I took this profile shot of the unidentified bird that I realized it was actually just a Mockingbird,

a bird I’d taken pictures of the day before at Merced and many times before in Mary’s Santa Rosa backyard.

I’m still not sure why I hadn’t recognized it as a Mockingbird immediately, but I think the front view makes the Mockingbird seem larger than it does from the side. Secondly, I had never thought of Mockingbirds as aggressive birds since they were constantly being harassed by Scrub Jays at Mary’s house.

Finally, it’s probably context. I’ve gotten about a “first” before in the Pacific Northwest only to realize that the bird I was trying to photograph was a Scrub Jay, a bird I see all over California but seldom see in the Pacific Northwest. It’s not uncommon to have the problem when we see people in a different context than we’re used to. Students used to be surprised when they saw me in the grocery store as if somehow teachers only existed in the classroom and had no need of food.

Birding in Fresno

I’ve become so habituated to carrying my Canon with me when I walk that I do the same even when I’m on vacation on not really expecting to see birds. We went on several walks in Fresno with Jeff and Debbie and saw something I wouldn’t expect to see at home on every walk.

I got used to seeing Scrub Jays in California, but I was quite surprised when I realized that this jay was in the process of swallowing a lizard whole.

It’s far too wet for ground squirrels in the Puget Sound area, but they seem to love the Fresno area.

I didn’t recognize this bird when I first saw and thought I was adding another “first” to my list. However, it turned out to be a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, a bird I see fairly often at home, but only in adult plumage.

This one looked like a lot of different birds I’ve seen while birding, but I certainly didn’t recognize at first. I’m still not positive, but I think it’s a Orange-Crowned Warbler, a bird I occasionally see at home.

Birding hundreds of miles from home definitely keeps me on my toes and enriches my experience of new places.

Harriers in Action

As we were leaving the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, we spent at least fifteen minutes watching three Northern Harriers demonstrate how they got their name. Usually Harriers will move on once they spot you, but these three must have been hunting something special because one by one they buzzed the same brushy area, totally ignoring us.

Despite their appearance these are not shots of the same bird, but I chose to put them in this order because they all seemed to be harrying above the same shrubs. The first shot is a classic ID shot, with that distinctive Northern Harrier head.

Here the Harrier seemed more intent on scaring something into running than actually catching something.

After a few minutes of hovering, this Harrier moved on,

but was closely followed by another Harrier that seemed to have spotted prey in the same bushes.

Once a Harrier dove into the bushes my camera had a very hard time deciding what to focus on.

While the ultimate shot is of the hawk actually catching a prey, this didn’t happen in the fifteen minutes we sat taking pictures; everyone of them left empty-clawed.

With the considerable number of rabbits and ground squirrels nearby in much more open areas, both Leslie and I wondered what the heck they were trying to catch. I wondered if these were young hawks who were still mastering their hunting techniques, particularly since I’ve never seen Harriers this close together before. That led me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where I discovered that “In winter, Northern Harriers roost in groups on the ground.”