I Seem to Learn Something New Every Outing

When I shot these photos, I thought the parent was feeding a small fish to its chicks. It wasn’t until I saw the shots on the computer I realized the parent was feeding the chicks a feather, not a fish.

Amazingly, both of the juveniles looked eager to get the feather.

When the parent dunked the feather, I thought it was making sure the catch was dead, a common behavior.


There seemed to be much jostling between the chicks, and some trash talking.

One chick seemed to be closest to the feather,

but the other chick ended up eating it after the first chick seemed to lose interest in it.

Not sure whether the chick was begging for another feather or complaining that he had been conned and had wasted all the effort trying to get a fish.

Since I got another shot of grebes feeding feathers to their chicks, I did some research on the internet and discovered that it is a common practice. Researchers seem to be unsure why feathers are consumed but suggest it might help to protect the bird from the bones of the fish they’ve swallowed whole. Having choked on more than a few salmon bones as a kid, that theory made sense to me.

Bear River’s Yellow-Headed Blackbirds

Long, long ago I might have driven all the way to Bear River to get shots of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds since I was thrilled the first time I saw one in Colorado, even further away. At this point, I doubt I would be able to capture a better shot than the ones I already have since they’re definitely not a shy bird. However, since I rarely see them, I can’t resist the temptation to photograph one when I do see them.

This time of year there were very few male Yellow-Headed Blackbirds classically posed on the top of reeds calling for female companions while challenging male rivals. Instead, they were on the ground gathering food.

It wasn’t too hard to see why they were out collecting food. This youngster wasn’t shy about letting mom know that it was hungry,

only stopping when she finally paid attention to it.

Immediately after she flew off, the juvenile made it clear that it needed food NOW.

Luckily, dad was hanging out nearby simply waiting for the annoying photographer to leave so it could return to its nest with this delicious tidbit.

This is NOT a Cinnamon Teal

While writing yesterday’s post I happened to reference Cinnamon Teal online, and they suggested that the Ruddy Duck was a “similar species.” We did see several Ruddy Ducks in the same general habitat as the Cinnamon Teals, but it was immediately clear when I saw a Ruddy Duck.

If it’s a male in breeding colors,

it’s impossible to confuse the two. The Ruddy Duck’s bright blue bill is unmistakable, as is that upright tail.

If that’s not enough, the bold white cheeks

are totally unlike those of the Cinnamon Teal.

In fact, about the only similarity I can see in the two is that they both have the same cinnamon colored body.

Don't be fooled: This is undoubtedly a male Ruddy Duck.

Cinnamon Teals

Although I’ve seen Cinnamon Teal in California, Oregon and Washington, I’ve definitely gotten my best pictures of them in Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge over the years, and this visit was no exception. Until I revisited their website I didn’t realize the Cinnamon Teal was as a priority species and that “Northern Utah's wetlands, including the Refuge, host up to 60% of the continental breeding population of Cinnamon teal. The Refuge wetlands and neighboring fine-structured grasslands provide necessary feeding and nesting habitat.”

No wonder, then, that in the first pool where I found the juvenile American Coots I also found this beautiful male Cinnamon Teal.

I’ve never seen a Cinnamon Teal that looked quite like this,

but I assume that it must be changing from its eclipse (basic) plumage to its breeding plumage.

Although we didn’t see any Cinnamon Teal ducklings (that we could identify), we did see a lot of couples,

and these two that appeared to be nesting.

Pied Grebes

Although we go to Bear River primarily to look for Avocet and Black-necked Stilt babies, we photograph any babies we see — with the possible exception of Canada Geese goslings, because we don’t see that many. Even when we do see them, it’s usually difficult to get good pictures.

Not sure whether it was the intervening grass or simply my expensive camera’s inability to find anything to focus on, but most of the pictures we took of these young Pied Bill Grebes were slightly out of focus,

though this is still a better view than we ever got without binoculars.

When your very survival depends upon camouflage

it’s probably a good thing to blend in with the reeds you’re hiding in.

The shots were a little better on the second day when we spotted them in better light and just outside the reeds, but they were a long way away even for my 1000mm lens.

I guess this shot that’s not as heavily cropped is my favorite,

though it doesn’t do as good of a job of showing the striking heads in the young grebes.

Welcome to Cootsville

In retrospect, it seems strangely appropriate that the first shots I got on Bear River Migratory Refuge are these shots of young American Coots,

though I didn’t immediately recognize them when I sighted them. As it turns out, the refuge was full of American Coots on this visit, way more than I remember seeing in past visits.

It was clear that many of these youngsters

were on their own, that their parents were already raising a second brood.

I don’t remember seeing an American Coot at this stage of development before.

As Leslie pointed out, at this stage they look a lot like baby Western Grebes — and very little like they do as babies. The best way to identify them as coots is to look at their very distinctive legs and feet.

While these youngster seemed to be wandering all over the refuge by themselves, there was also a considerable number adults raising recently born chicks.

Once you’ve seen these guys, it’s impossible to deny the existence of ugly babies, cute as they may be.