Mergansers

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.

2015MalHddMrgnsr

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

BtrMalRdBrstMrgnsr

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.

MrgnsrLiftoff

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.

TheBeak

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

LwFlyngGldneye

and skittered past me,

Gldneye2

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.

SltryDnlin2

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.

SltryDnlin

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.

At the Port Orchard Marina

After Friday’s trip to Theler, I made my usual stop at Port Orchard to see if the Horned Grebes had left as I had predicted. As I entered the marina I was greeted by a large number of gulls, and this one flew over my head with a small starfish in its beak,

 Gull with Starfish

closely followed by another gull squawking very loudly

Gull chasing another Gull to get food

Not too much later I encountered another gull

Gull with Starfish

having a hard time fitting a whole starfish in its mouth.

I was also surprised by a Pigeon Guillemot that also seemed to have a starfish in its beak.

 Pigeon Guillemot

Since I hadn’t managed to get very close to the Pigeon Guillemots at Westport, I thought it was nice of this one to come up right in front of me.

In the same vein, I spotted this Western Grebe a ways off shore, a bird I’d hoped to see at Malheur but hadn’t.

Western Grebe

Although the majority of the Horned Grebes seemed to have left (or were spending the afternoon at another nearby site) there were four or five Horned Grebes in various stages of breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe

A Beautiful Transformation

Although I was disappointed that had to delay my trip to Malheur for a week, I was glad that I got another week to photograph the Horned Grebes at Port Orchard because I've watched them change plumage the last few weeks.

I was so amazed when I saw the transformation a few years ago, that watching them change has become a rite of Spring for me. In the winter they're a rather nondescript little gray and white bird, one of the smaller members of the grebe family.

Horned Grebe, winter plumage

Come Spring, though, and they transform into a remarkably striking bird that makes it clear why they were name the Horned grebe. It seems to take three to four weeks to change from their winter plumage to their breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe intermediate plumage

Until they complete the transformation, they can look quite motley and judging from the amount of preening they do, it can be quite irritating.

Horned Grebe intermediate plumage

The result certainly justifies whatever discomfort the change might entail.

Horned Grebe breeding plumage Horned Grebe breeding plumage

I'm not sure the transformation is quite complete, but I doubt that they will still be around when I return in a week. They seem to leave for their nesting area almost immediately after the change so I only have a short amount of time to enjoy them.

Horned Grebe Transformed

I still have a few pictures from the California trip I’d like to post, but yesterday’s post reminded me of some recent shots I took of Horned Grebes that I’d like to post first. While I was it still in California I noticed that fellow birder and friend John Riegsecker had posted shots of Horned Grebes in breeding colors, so the first thing Leslie and I did when we got home was to take a trip to Port Orchard.

It didn’t take long to spot a Horned Grebe that was just beginning to change into breeding colors.

Horned Grebe

Some grebes were further along but still hadn’t turned completely into breeding colors.

Horned Grebe

I only saw one or two that seemed to be in complete breeding colors,

Horned Grebe

though I’m not sure that they, too, won’t lose some of the white colors in the lower body.

Though I have photographed this phenomena for three years now, thankfully I’m still amazed at this magical transformation and never tire of explaining it to strangers on the dock who seem equally amazed. If you live in the Puget Sound region, now’s the time to see the changes because shortly the grebes will disappear to their breeding grounds.

Port Orchard on a Quiet Day

Although the sun spent all last Friday ducking behind clouds, it was a little brighter than it was at Theler when I got to Port Orchard. I was greeted by this female Hooded Merganser

female Hooded Merganser

as I walked down the ramp into the marina.

Unfortunately it wasn’t very birdy and the sunshine didn’t last much beyond this first shot. The dominant bird was the over-photographed Grebes I’ve featured lately.

I spent most of my time trying to get better shots of the Male Hooded Mergansers. A few years ago I would have been thrilled by the shots I got, but now that I’ve gotten spoiled, this was the only shot I even kept,

Hooded Merganser with Shrimp

mainly because the shrimp in its beak shows just how small these birds really are. I get so used to seeing the bird through a telephoto lens or blown up on a computer that I forget just how small a Hooded Merganser really is. Plus, I learned that they don’t dine exclusively on small fish.

Timing is All, Especially in Birding and Photography

When the sun finally came out last Thursday I thought of trying to get to Theler Wetlands and Port Orchard, but since we had a dinner date for 5:00 near there I thought I’d go to Pt Defiance first and Port Orchard later. Luckily, I got some great shots at Pt Defiance because things didn’t turn out nearly as well at Port Orchard.

I got there around 1:30 and did manage to get the best shot I have ever gotten of a male White-Winged Scoter, a bird I’ve never seen in the marina before.

male White-Winged Scoter

At first I thought I might get some other great shots because there were more birds than usual and because the light was great. I did manage to get a couple of other shots I liked like this one of a male Barrow’s Goldeneye

male Barrow’s Goldeneye

and this one of a Horned Grebe swallowing a fish that seemed much too large for it to eat

Horned Grebe

before the weather suddenly took a turn for the worse. By the time I got to the end of the dock, a maximum of fifteen minutes, the sun had disappeared and even on the highest ISO settings I could get nothing but shadows.

merganser

Did I mention 38° can seem awfully cold on the Puget Sound if there’s no sunshine? I ended up driving home before our dinner date because I couldn’t imagine having to spend two hours sitting in the car waiting.