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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Port Orchard Between Showers

After two weeks of being housebound by near constant rain and with another 10 days of rain forecast, I finally decided I would go birding at Port Orchard without birding Belfair because I didn’t want to get caught in a downpour while carrying my photo gear. At least in Port Orchard I’m seldom more than 10-15 minutes from the protection of the Prius.

Ironically, workers were power washing marina walkways, scaring most of the birds away. Though the large flocks were absent, a few brave souls bobbed in the marina. This little female Bufflehead was actually quite cooperative,

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and I liked the subtle reflections in the water.

Not all the Barrow’s Goldeneyes were driven off by the workers, this guy and a few others were still feeding on the barnacles on the piers a the end of the marina.

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There might even have been more Horned Grebes

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than usual, and, unlike most wild birds, they’re not particularly shy. I was wondering if they would be in breeding plumage or not, but none of the ones I saw showed any signs of changing color yet.

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I’ll have to admit that I was disappointed that there wasn’t a single Hooded Merganser to be seen, male of female.

Birding Port Orchard

Winter seems to have loosened its grip on the Pacific Northwest, and I’ve managed to get outside several times in the last few weeks. This time of year my favorite place to bird is the Port Orchard Marina because it allows me to get the closest to the sea birds that overwinter here.

Barrow’s Goldeneye are always a beautiful bird, but the combination of closeness and sunshine reveal the true color of their beautiful heads,

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which normally just look black.

Even after repeatedly seeing Hooded Mergansers, I find it impossible not to point the camera their way when they float by in full sunshine.

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The males seem to get along remarkably well together until a female appears nearby.

Part of the appeal of the Port Orchard Marina is that you can never be sure what you’ll see there. Although Western Grebes

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frequent Puget Sound, this is the first time I’ve seen one this winter.

It’s also the first time I’ve gotten close enough to get a decent shot of a male Red-Breasted Merganser,

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looking like it’s still wearing last year’s plumage. I’m looking forward to getting closer later when its new plumage appears.

Hooded Mergansers

Although birding is a year-round activity here in the Pacific Northwest, overwintering sea birds are a special delight in winter. One of my favorites at Port Orchard, at least at this time of year, is the Hooded Merganser. At first I was simply attracted by their beautiful plumage, particularly that of the male. After photographing them for a while, though, I began to pay closer attention to their behavior.

As I was photographing this male Hooded Merganser floating by

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another male approached from the opposite direction,

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and both tilted their beak up, one higher than the other, purposely ignoring the other

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until they were quite close and lowered their bills.

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When a female entered the scene, it became obvious that this must have been some kind of mating significance.

Notice, though, how the female checks out the new male as she swims to join the male she had been swimming with earlier.

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before rejoining the male.

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Do you think that “Sticking your nose up in the air” has a universal meaning, one we share even with our bird friends?

Things Are Looking Up

As usual, after recent trips to Theler Wetlands, I walked the Port Orchard marina in search of birds. One day the sun actually broke through the morning fog. Throughout most of November, all I saw were gulls and Pelagic Cormorants,

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both year-round residents.

On my last trip, though, I finally caught sight of small flocks of Baird’s Goldeneye,

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a female Red-Breasted Merganser.

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a pair of Hooded Mergansers,

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and a pair of Horned Grebes in winter plumage.

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I was delighted. Now, I can look forward to birding in two places in a single morning and, more importantly, I can justify heading over to Port Orchard for my chile relleno.

Be Dazzled

After managing to capture a gorgeous close-up shot of a male Red-Breasted Merganser bursting into flight at Port Orchard last year, I’ve been trying to recapture that moment again this year, but as the time nears for them to leave for their breeding grounds it looks like I’m not going to get that shot despite a lot of effort.

I’m amazed this male Red-Breasted Merganser hasn’t filed a restraining order as many times as I’ve pointed my telephoto lens at it this winter. In reality, though, it seems to have become somewhat indifferent to my presence as if I’ve finally faded into the background. This male also seems to have taken up permanent residence in the Port Orchard Marina, as I’ve been able to count on seeing him on nearly every visit.

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Where he used to paddle away, or fly off, as I approached, he now seems to be content to continue feeding on shrimp while I snap away.

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I was so so close when he emerged from this dive that this would have been a great portrait if the background hadn’t been so dark that the water and the head and black feathers merged into one.

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In the end, you have to appreciate the shots you do get as much as you enjoy simply sighting the bird, and this is one of many favorites.

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Luckily, I still find it impossible not be dazzled by such beauty.