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.

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Port Orchard marina continues to be my favorite local area to bird, though, I wouldn’t drive that far to bird without walking Theler Wetlands. However, for some reason it seems to be sunnier there than it is at Theler and I can often get much closer to the birds than I can at Theler.

Sometimes the birds also seem more photogenic, like this male Hooded Merganser I spotted even before I walked down the ramp into the marina.

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It’s also one of the few places I have ever managed to get close to a male Red-Breasted Merganser.

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In fact, this one surfaced just in front of me.

With the bright sunshine and my lens set at 1/1600 of a second, I was hoping to get a good shot of it when it took off, but it wasn’t to be. Instead of taking directly off, it dove and swam under the dock before emerging on the other side and taking off.

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By the time I relocated it, it was a considerable distance away, and, as it turns out, 1600 of a second wasn’t a fast enough shutter speed to completely freeze the image.

It’s probably the best shot I’ve gotten this year, though, and incrementally better shots are all the inspiration I need to keep going back to get “that shot.” Besides, before long the Horned Grebes should be getting breeding colors and that inspires me no matter how many times I’ve seen it.

From Surf Scoter to Dunlin

I spent the second half of Monday at Port Orchard, though there seemed to be a few less birds in the Marina than usual, perhaps because there was another photographer wandering the area. I did manage to get close to a couple of birds, though. Surf Scoter usually paddle away before you can get close enough to get a good shot, but this one actually popped out from under the dock just as I walked by.

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Of course, it was so eager to get away that there is no way I was going to get a shot of anything but its back. Still it’s hard to miss its distinguishing marks: the brightly colored beak, the “wiggle” eye that looks like it belongs on a doll, and the white patch behind the neck.

Most of the time I tried to capture shots of the Goldeneye as they took off

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and skittered past me,

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darting from one end of the marina to the other, only to repeat the pattern as I approached the end of the dock.

I probably spent the most time, though, capturing a shot of this little bird, fascinated because I couldn’t identify it at first. At first it kept fleeing down the boardwalk, running slowly, then flying a short distance before landing.

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After I neared the end of the dock and turned around because I didn’t want to totally stress it out, it flew past me as I walked back to the marina entrance.

At one point it even seemed to chide me.

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This all seemed like rather strange behavior for a shorebird, especially when I finally decided that it must be a Dunlin in non-breeding colors. I’ve photographed lots of Dunlins, but usually in breeding colors and almost invariably in large flocks on the beach, not a solitary bird walking a marina.