Nisqually Great Horned Owl Fledglings

Leslie wanted to visit Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge so she could buy a Senior Pass before they raise the price from $10 to $80. I haven’t been back for quite a while and it wasn’t raining, so I was eager to see what was happening there this Spring. As it turned out, it was relatively slow, but we did get a chance to see the fledgling Great Horned Owls that have just left the nest.

There have been Horned Owls at Nisqually as long as I’ve been going there, but the original tree they used has blown down, and I am pretty sure I wouldn’t have found them without the help of a birder with a scope. Though the light was behind them and all I could see with my naked eye was their silhouette, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the pictures after I processed them in Lightroom.

Although three fledglings have been seen, we only saw these two while we were there. In fact, for quite a while we only saw one owl as it steadily climbed up a broken limb.

Not long afterward, another fledgling appeared to be looking up at its sibling.

It slowly but surely climbed toward its sibling while checking out the surroundings.

This final shot makes me wonder whether Great Horned Owl fledglings inspired Star War’s Ewoks

A Few Song Birds

Having already been to Theler last week and faced with another sunny day, I decided it was past time to visit Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. It turned out to be the perfect day to visit as I was greeted by a chorus of Golden-Crowned Sparrows,


Black-Capped Chickadees,


Yellow-Rumped Warblers,


and, John who I usually see at Theler, but always enjoy birding with.

Back to Nisqually

I don’t think I’ve been to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge for nearly a year, even though it’s the only place I can get my favorite Torta. Truthfully, I’ve never felt the same about the refuge since they replaced the 5 mile loop around the perimeter of the refuge that I walked two or three times a week. There are still lots of birds to be found at the refuge, but I can’t help but remember all the birds and wildlife that I no longer see.

I did see a number of birds I have not seen since I walked Nisqually the last time, like this Golden Crowned Kinglet


and this Brown Creeper.


I was a little surprised to see a small flock of, I think, Least Sandpiper in winter plumage.


I couldn’t resist taking a series of shots of this Hooded Merganser pair. They were calmly paddling down this slough when I pointed a camera at them and simultaneously a shotgun blast echoed from across the river.


They took off so simultaneously that I didn’t even realize there was two birds in several of my shots


until I looked at the last shot in the sequence.


Sometimes I think it’s too bad that I walked Nisqually for so many years before they changed it; new visitors I meet often seem to be enthralled by the place. Strange how the mind subtly controls our perception of a place and how hard it is to overcome that perception, no matter what the reality.

A Little Perspective

Since last Tuesday was supposed to be as sunny as Monday and rain was forecast for the rest of the week, I decided to go to Nisqually Wildlife Refuge since I hadn’t been there since early summer. Unfortunately, birding wasn’t especially good, and as the day wore on I became more and more disenchanted.

With the leaves gone, the distant roar of the freeway and the Burlington-Northern trains became nearly as oppressive as the intermittent thump of Fort Lewis’s heavy artillery and the rat-tat-tat of firing on a distant rifle range. The final insult was the fire of duck hunters directly across the creek from me,

Duck Hunters

so close I almost hit the boardwalk. It was all the more surprising since I hadn’t seen the hunters in their camouflage.

Even my favorite torta at La Fuentes couldn’t convince me that the day hadn’t been a flop. In fact, it wasn’t until I uploaded the pictures and looked at them on the computer screen that I could admit to myself that the day hadn’t been a total disaster.

In fact, if I hadn’t spent the last few weeks deleting numerous Great Blue Heron shots, I might even have considered this

Great Blue Heron

and especially this shot of a heron catching a fish

Great Blue Heron

fairly good shots.

I would probably even consider this shot of a Northern Harrier flying at eye level

 Northern Harrier

before suddenly diving to the ground

Northern Harrier

good shots, too.

Certainly the noise didn’t help, but I suspect a good part of the disappointment came from the fact that I had such high expectations because I’d gotten so many good shots the day before. In comparison, Tuesday certainly seemed like a total flop.

Looking back through six days of steady rain, Tuesday’s outing doesn’t seem nearly as disappointing.

Sand Hill Cranes at Nisqually

Although it’s been an unusually wet April, I still have many photographs I haven’t had time to collate, edit, and polish up enough to post here. For instance, these photos came from my visit to the Nisqually national wildlife refuge in the second week of April.

The day began with a rare sighting of Sandhill Cranes, a bird I’ve only seen a few times and have never seen in Nisqually.

Sandhill Cranes

Unfortunately, they were walking away from the gathered photographers by the time I got there, so these shots were taken at a considerable distance.

Sandhill Cranes

I find it impossible not to be impressed by their sheer size, but they’re not really a favorite photographic subject.

I would probably enjoy getting a great shot of a green winged teal as much as I would a great shot of a sandhill crane.

Green-Winged Teal

For me, the highlight of the day actually came just as I was leaving and flushed an American bittern.

American Bittern in flight

I ended up spending more time taking photographs of this commonly-seen bird than I did of the much rarer sandhill cranes. I always enjoy watching a bittern “hide” when it knows it has been spotted.

American Bittern

I even enjoyed watching it stalk its prey once it was convinced that I didn’t present any real threat.

American Bittern

I still get a “thrill” when I see a bird for the first time, but I get the most pleasure from observing and photographing birds that I’ve gotten to know. Perhaps that is why I’ve never really been tempted by birding trips to exotic locales.

Back to Nisqually in the Fog

With another sunny day forecast, I asked Mike if he wanted to go to the Nisqually national wildlife refuge. We left Tacoma in the sunshine but by the time we got there the fog was quite thick. If this keeps up, I may give Mike the Indian name He-Who-Brings-Fog.

The thick fog certainly added to this American Bittern's camouflage, not that he needed it

. Bittern in long grass

However, we got so close to another American Bittern that not even the fog could blur it. It was so close that this picture is actually made up of four separate shots because I couldn’t fit it into the finder.

American Bittern

It was nice to see a few shorebirds, like this Yellowlegs, since I haven’t seen any since late last Fall.


I also managed another first, as this is the first time I've ever seen a Canvasback Duck outside of the Denver Zoo.

male Canvasback Duck

Nisqually in Sunshine

Monday’s trip to Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge outing made it perfectly clear how sunshine, bright sunshine, makes for superior photographs, no matter how good your photographic equipment is or how well you can manipulate photographs in in Adobe Photoshop.

Readers unfamiliar with Pacific Northwest weather might assume that we have more sunshine than we really do if they were to judge from my photographs. Truthfully, too often I think I’ve make a picture look brighter than I really saw it because my digital camera can see color where I cannot see it with the naked eye.

Sunshine, however, provides reflections and reveals fine details that you can never — at least I can never — duplicate, like

Green-Winged Teal

the ripples in the water or the multiple reflections of this Green-winged Teal.

Sunshine also makes it possible to capture details from far away subjects much better than you can under low light. This Belted Kingfisher was actually a considerable distance away,

Belted Kingfisher

but had enough detail that I can still use this small portion of the shot enlarged to its fullest extent. (Nor does it hurt to have brilliant Autumn foliage on the far bank.)

There are so many things going on in this shot of a common Yellowlegs


that I wouldn’t have a clue how to replicate it with Photoshop. Those circles within circles make the photo for me, and it looks even more impressive when you can see it full screen, uncropped.

Bright sunshine also makes it possible to use faster shutter speeds so that you can catch your subjects mid-flight as they land or take-off.

Yellowlegs in Flight

I could probably make an argument that the good feelings engendered by the sunshine have a positive effect on my photographs