Final Shots from the Sacramento NWR

Serious birders will drive hundreds of miles to try to track down a particular bird; I’m not a serious birder. I don’t chase birds, though I do look forward to seeing them at certain places. As I noted yesterday, I had hoped to see hundreds of Snow Geese at the Sacramento NWR as I have seen in the past. I’ll admit that I was a little disappointed that I only saw few of them. Truthfully, though, I go to the Sacramento NWR because I love the PLACE. It’s full of life no matter when I go there, even though it’s not always the life I expect to see.

For instance, I can almost always count on seeing Snowy Egret like this one

and Great Egrets, like this one that just happened to be standing right next to the Snowy Egret.

And if that wasn’t treat enough, I got shots of this male House Finch

and this Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

while standing on the same platform.

I didn’t have to drive too far down the road before Leslie caught this shot of a Downy Woodpecker beside the road

and I got this shot of a Red-Tailed Hawk

daring me to cross into forbidden territory.

Back to the Sacramento NWR

We just got back from a week-long trip to California where we had hoped to get a respite from the Pacific Northwest’s constant rain. After encountering heavy snow and rain near Mt. Shasta, I wasn’t too happy to wake up to a thick fog that made me wonder if it was even worth driving to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Luckily, a few miles this side of the refuge, the fog began to clear and sunshine broke through the clouds.

The early morning light was both a blessing and a curse, highlighting this Jackrabbit’s ears,

while casting nasty shadows in the background. The ISO for this shot was actually quite high, and the shot had to be pushed to make it this light.

Although much of the surroundings were in deep shadows, the early morning alpenglow made anything it hit seem even more beautiful than it might actually have been. Although most of this pheasant is in the shadows, the feathers in the sunlight could almost be gold.

A few minutes later and a half mile down the road, these Greater White-Fronted Geese seem quite striking to me.

I think the same can safely be said for this shot of a Snowy Egret stalking the drainage ditch that separates the road from the holding ponds.

Pretty Pictures

Generally I try to convince myself that my photographs simply show off the beauty of the birds themselves. Occasionally, though, I share shots because they strike me as pretty pictures and not because of the way they show the birds.

These three pictures all struck me as pretty pictures,

partly because the bird is reflected in the water,

and partly because of the color from the boats is reflected in the water.

Port Orchard Birding Shots

On my last trip to Port Orchard I captured a shot of a female Scaup that looked like this

and noted that I spent a considerable amount of time trying to identify it. On this visit I saw this duck and immediately recognized it as a Male Greater Scaup.

I’m used to getting great shots of Baird’s Goldeneyes at Port Orchard, but I seldom see Common Goldeneyes like this male

and when I do they are usually so far out that I can’t capture this kind of detail.

I also had good luck capturing this shot of a female Hooded Merganser with the sunlight behind her for a change.

I Couldn’t Ask for Anything More

Although it’s the Harlequin Ducks that draw me back to Ft. Flagler and Port Townsend year after year, I’m also attracted by the shorebirds, like these Black-Bellied Plovers in non-breeding colors.

It’s the only place I see Brant regularly,

though they can be found throughout the Puget Sound during the winter.

I see Belted-Kingfishers nearly every time I visit Theler Wetlands, but none of them are nearly as accommodating as the one at the Fort Worden marine center.

Throw in an excellent restaurant or two, a few art galleries, and yarn and bead stores, and that’s what I’d call a special weekend.

An Annual Pilgrimage

Although there are Harlequin Ducks locally, I haven’t managed to sight any this year so after a scheduled lunch fell through we decided Sunday would be a good day to drive to Ft Flagler where I’ve managed to see them every winter for the last seven years. Things looked good when we left as it was one of the sunniest days we’ve had for a while.

Unfortunately, when we reached Ft. Flagler there was an extremely high tide. There were few shorebirds and even fewer Harlequins. The only pair I saw was so far out that I couldn’t recognize them with my bare eyes. Even the 800mm (400mm with a doubler) lens I brought barely reached them.

While this shot would serve to confirm my sighting, they were so far away I couldn’t crop the shot to fill the frame.

After checking a couple of other places to see if we could find some closer, we gave up and decided we might have better luck in Port Townsend after some shopping and lunch when the tide had receded. Despite several off-leash dogs running the beach, we did see a pair of Harlequins closer than we had seen them in the morning.

Though not as good as some I’ve taken in previous years, this shot captures the Harlequin's beautiful markings and colors that brings me back year after year.

The 800 mm lens combination I was using had such a shallow depth of field that I found it impossible to capture both the male and female in a single shot, so I had to combine shots where I focused on each of them separately to create this portrait.

Though not quite the day I’d hoped for, it was still a delightful day, one I’ll undoubtedly repeat as often in the future as I’m able to.

Old Friends Pass By

Though I still enjoy seeing familiar birds while out birding – as followers of this site are probably painfully aware — the most enjoyment comes when you see a bird for the first time. The next best thing is seeing a bird you don’t see very often.

This duck has fooled me several times over the past years because I don’t see it very often and because it is the female, not the male. Like many female ducks, it’s much less striking than the male Greater Scaup.

I’m always sure I’ve never seen it before when I first sight it. As soon as I get home and identify it in my birding book, though, I remember that I have seen it in the same place in past years. Though not as distinctive as the male, the female Greater Scaup

is distinctive enough that you’re not likely to confuse it with other female ducks who are also primarily brown in color.

Widgeons are so common that I quit taking pictures of them about the same time I quit taking pictures of Mallards. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take pictures of them if they fly by because it’s a much more challenging shot.

Though I haven’t tired of taking shots of Hooded Mergansers, I really like this shot because they usually dive rather than flying away when scared and I don’t have many shots of them flying.