Horned Grebes in Full Breeding Colors

Although we had just returned from a week-long trip to California, I decided to go birding Tuesday because it was predicted to be the lone sunny day of the week and because I was afraid that the Horned Grebes would have left for their breeding ground if I didn’t get there this week.

As it turned out, it looked like they had already left when I arrived at Port Orchard. In fact, I didn’t spot a single Grebe until I had reached the end of the marina, and it was still not in full breeding colors.

I was a little disappointed, but things took a turn for the better while walking back to the car. This Grebe popped up just a little ways back, and the clouds had actually cleared enough to give the impression that the water was blue, not gray.

I’m pretty sure it is in full breeding colors, and those horns really look like horns in this shot.

I actually saw two more Horned Grebes as I continued back to the car, though I’m not entirely sure that at least one of them was the second one I had already photographed, especially since I was seeing it from a completely different angle.

My favorite shot of the day was this one, taken just as I walked up the ramp to the street.

I’m really glad I went even though we should have stayed home and cleaned up after our California trip. The last thing I really needed was more shots to process, but that seems to be a fairly common theme in my life, and I always prefer to have too many pictures rather than no pictures.

Horned Grebe Transformation

After seeing all the signs of Spring at Bloedel Reserve, I decided I would have to stop at Port Townsend and see if the Horned Grebes had started wearing their breeding plumage.

In the Winter, it’s hard to imagine why these little guys

are called Horned Grebes.

Come Spring, though, and it’s easy to see where the name comes from. I don’t think I saw a single Horned Grebe that had completed the transformation, but some, like the one on the right, are close to wearing their Spring outfit.

Luckily, I find the process of transformation nearly as interesting as the end product, so I was excited every time I sighted a bird that was undergoing the process.

It’s almost as magical as Spring itself, and nearly as short-lived.

As soon as all the grebes look like this, they will magically disappear,

only to reappear in Late Fall in their drab winter colors

.

Grebes, and More Grebes

I keep checking Port Orchard’s marina to see if the Horned Grebes have started turning into their breeding colors, but so far all I’ve managed to do is repeat shots I’ve already shown many times. That’s okay, though, because the photographer in me still loves close-up like this with interesting reflections.

The birder in me, though, gets more excited when I spot Western Grebes,

even though the shots never come close to the quality that I’ll get later when I go to Bear River and Malheur and I usually discard the shots as soon as I post them here. Still, when I do spot them they are usually too far out to get even this good of a picture.

The birder in me, though, was even more thrilled to see this Red-Necked Grebe surface near a Western Grebe.

Once I spotted the Red-Necked Grebe I lost interest in the Western Grebes and managed to get a little better shot even though it never came very close while I was in the marina.

Even though I knew the shot wasn’t going to be very good, the birder in me took control, and I knew that this was the shot of the day, even if the photographer in me doesn’t agree.

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.

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.

More Harlequin Shots

After driving all the way to Port Orchard to go birding and finding the marina almost empty because of the work being done, I wasn’t about to drive straight home. So, I decided to follow the bay back home rather than heading straight back to the freeway. As it turned out, there were hundreds of Widgeons along one stretch of road, but no place to pull out or to park. As I approached the dock where I’d manage to see Harlequin Ducks in the past, I discovered that it, too, was closed for construction.

I’d almost given up hope of getting any more bird shots when I spotted four Harlequin Ducks floating along a stretch of beach clearly marked “Private Beach, no trespassing.” I managed to find a wide spot in the road where I could pull over a few yards down the road.

I resisted the temptation to walk on the beach and walked back along side the narrow edge of the road until I get cold closer to the four Harlequins.

4Harlequin1

Although I couldn’t get as close as I wanted and the cloudy sky required a high ISO than I would have liked, I was glad to get these shots.

Instead of floating out to deeper water like they usually do at Ft. Flagler, the ducks proceeded to float back single file up the shore to where I’d parked my car.

4Harlequin2

Although I had to crop all the previous shots, by the time we had reached my car they were quite a bit closer. This shot is actually full frame.

4Harlequin3

They actually got even closer, taking refuge on the shore, but they weren’t about to stay on shore when I tried to get closer by walking down the bank so I could get a better angle.

Although I only ended up with a dozen shots for the day, far less than usual, just seeing the Harlequin Ducks without having to drive half a day made the trip a success.