Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

We’ve gotten used to seeing Snow Geese, Avocets and White-Faced Ibis in previous visits to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. This time, however, we didn’t see a single Avocet and only saw two or three White-Faced Ibis,


and had to wait until the second day to see any Snow Geese, and had to settle for some nice shots of Greater White Faced Geese


which we also seldom see here in the PNW.

We did enjoy seeing the Night Heron Rookery we discovered on our first visit, but when we visited this time they were all roosting in the heavy brush, making it challenging to get a good shot.


Luckily, when you don’t find what you expect, you often find other birds that you didn’t expect, like this Northern Shrike


that Leslie got a nice shot out her window, and this Marsh Wren


announcing Spring to the world.

Nothing Is Ever Just Black and White

Although it was “bright” while I was in Santa Rosa, it was never sunny. It was actually the perfect light for portraits, but less than ideal for action shots. As it turned out, though, it was nearly perfect light for at least two of my subjects.

As I’ve complained before, it’s really hard to capture both the subtle whites and blacks of male Bufflehead. 95% of the time either the whites or the blacks get totally washed out, and you end up with a silhouette. This is probably the best shot I’ve ever gotten of a male Bufflehead, with details in both the blacks and the whites,


though I’ll have to admit that I had to tone down the highlights further than seemed realistic to get the details. In real life, the white seems brighter than this and yet, somehow, manages to maintain details.

There was another black and white duck that I have also struggled to capture in photos, a male Common Merganser.


This guy was actually standing in fairly heavy shade, but it’s one of the few “closeups” I’ve ever managed to get of one out of the water so I like it quite a lot. As a result, the blacks were a little to dark to draw details from and the whites also lost details trying to correct the blacks.

Here’s a shot of a male Common Merganser in brighter light.


At this angle it’s clear that the head really isn’t solid black as it appeared in the previous shot, but is really a very dark green that shimmers in the right light. The trade-off, and there invariably seems to be one, is that there is a loss of detail in the white areas.

In an ideal world, a male Common Merganser would have stood upright and flapped its wing like this female did, but I long ago accepted the fact that I don’t live in an ideal world and was grateful that this female Common Merganser provided a little action for the day.


Of course, since it was slightly overcast the shutter speed wasn’t quite fast enough to prevent blur in the wings, but that’s okay to me because they actually appeared blurry when I saw them beating, too.

Of course, these shots would benefit from HDR, the method I use almost automatically on scenic shots nowadays, but there’s no way to combine three shots at different apertures when the subject is in motion. RAW format is the best you can do at capturing what the eye really sees.

Lake Ralphine Swan

There’s no doubt that one of the highlights of visiting Lake Ralphine in Santa Rosa is the chance to photograph the swans closeup. Although I occasionally see migrating swans in Washington, I’ve never had the chance to shoot them up close. Of course, the year-round swans in Lake Ralphine are hardly “wild,” but their beauty more than makes up for any lack of wildness.

I can’t resist the beauty of shots like this.


Eventually, though, beauty, at least “accepted” beauty, is not enough. You begin to search for new ways to see your subject. For instance, it’s probably the expressive curve of the swan’s neck that sets it apart from most birds, but a closeup like this shows better just how long that neck really is.


Seen in isolation, that neck reminds me a lot of an ostrich, not a bird that’s ever struck me as particularly “beautiful.”

Seen from a different angle, the swan’s beak seems quite remarkable,


even more so if you click on the picture to enlarge it and examine the rows of “teeth.” In the end beauty, indeed, seems to follow function.

That long, graceful neck and unique beak make it possible for the swan to find food where smaller birds would find it difficult if not impossible.

A Whirlwind Trip to Santa Rosa

After disappearing into Dragon Age Inquisition and nearly two weeks of solid rain, I gladly agreed to go with Leslie on a whirlwind trip to Santa Rosa to visit her brother Jeff and to handle some legal documents last week even though two long days of driving seems excessive for a five-day trip; our usual trips are 7 to 9 days long, and even those often haven’t seemed long enough.

Still, I managed to get in two walks around Spring Lake, one with Jeff and Leslie, and another Friday afternoon after Jeff and Debbie had taken off for home. It seemed auspicious that the first bird we saw on our walk was an Acorn Woodpecker, a bird only rarely sighted in the Pacific Northwest. Even better, the day was sunny and we were walking downhill, so the woodpecker was only slightly above us.


Although they’re not my favorite “poses,” these shots did manage to capture more detail than most of the ones I’ve taken before.


I still haven’t managed to wade through all the shots I took in California, but apparently we managed to drag some sunshine back with us so I had to walk Theler today. Not sure what’s planned for tomorrow, but if it as sunny as the weather forecast calls for I doubt I will be able to sit in front of a computer working on photos. After all, I’m sure there’s lots of rain left this winter and spring, the best time to sit inside working on a computer.

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. 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.

A New Perspective

I’ve driven the beaches in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California so many times it’s easy to skip a lookout because I’ve “already seen it.” Though still one of my favorite places when it’s not raining, it’s far too easy to forget how magnificent the coast really is.


You don’t see the ocean too many times while driving 101, so one of the notable spots is just before Crescent City where rocky headlands push out to sea. I’ve stopped here and taken pictures more times than I can remember since we switched to the coastal route to Santa Rosa.


The most prominent feature is the large rock at the point, though it’s too far away to really see it clearly.

It wasn’t until I stopped on the hill overlooking the beach, coming south rather than going north that I realized just how impressive this rock formation really was:

Rocks at Beach

Sometimes a small shift of perspective can help us see the world in an entirely different light.

California Dreaming

Driving from Washington to California in late Spring is marked by a remarkable change in “seasons” the further south you travel. The dominant flower in the Humboldt District of Northern California during our trip was the native rhododendrons, huge tree-like plants of purple and pink,

Pink Rhodies

a typical Spring flower in the Pacific Northwest.

We didn’t have to drive much further, though, before we started seeing the California State Flower,

California Poppies

brilliant orange poppies, a flower that begins blooming in early Summer and lasts most of the Summer where I live.

Pink Rose

When we finally reached Mary’s house in Santa Rosa, though, the dominant flower was the beautiful

roses, seldom seen before July here in the Pacific Northwest, already past their prime.