A Quick Stop at Westport

We just got back from two beautiful days at the beach, a delightful break from the rain that has returned today. Although we went primarily to see the Spring Shorebird Migration, we got there before the tide started coming in. So we went to Westport to check out the loons rather than just sitting around waiting.

We were greeted by a Pelagic Cormorant at the entrance

and moments later another Cormorant flying by.

The Pigeon Guillemots I’d seen a week or so earlier were still present and still relatively indifferent to all the crabbers lining the docs.

It’s hard to miss the Guillemots who prefer zipping through the sky than diving when disturbed.

I wondered if the loons had finally started North because I didn’t see one until I reached the end of the causeway, and that one hadn’t yet changed into breeding colors.

I did spot this strange-looking loon on the way back though.

I’ve never seen a loon quite like this before. It just looked “wrong,” but it wasn’t until I was at the computer that I realized that the head was still transitioning to breeding plumage.

I Couldn’t Ask for Anything More

Although it’s the Harlequin Ducks that draw me back to Ft. Flagler and Port Townsend year after year, I’m also attracted by the shorebirds, like these Black-Bellied Plovers in non-breeding colors.

It’s the only place I see Brant regularly,

though they can be found throughout the Puget Sound during the winter.

I see Belted-Kingfishers nearly every time I visit Theler Wetlands, but none of them are nearly as accommodating as the one at the Fort Worden marine center.

Throw in an excellent restaurant or two, a few art galleries, and yarn and bead stores, and that’s what I’d call a special weekend.

An Annual Pilgrimage

Although there are Harlequin Ducks locally, I haven’t managed to sight any this year so after a scheduled lunch fell through we decided Sunday would be a good day to drive to Ft Flagler where I’ve managed to see them every winter for the last seven years. Things looked good when we left as it was one of the sunniest days we’ve had for a while.

Unfortunately, when we reached Ft. Flagler there was an extremely high tide. There were few shorebirds and even fewer Harlequins. The only pair I saw was so far out that I couldn’t recognize them with my bare eyes. Even the 800mm (400mm with a doubler) lens I brought barely reached them.

While this shot would serve to confirm my sighting, they were so far away I couldn’t crop the shot to fill the frame.

After checking a couple of other places to see if we could find some closer, we gave up and decided we might have better luck in Port Townsend after some shopping and lunch when the tide had receded. Despite several off-leash dogs running the beach, we did see a pair of Harlequins closer than we had seen them in the morning.

Though not as good as some I’ve taken in previous years, this shot captures the Harlequin's beautiful markings and colors that brings me back year after year.

The 800 mm lens combination I was using had such a shallow depth of field that I found it impossible to capture both the male and female in a single shot, so I had to combine shots where I focused on each of them separately to create this portrait.

Though not quite the day I’d hoped for, it was still a delightful day, one I’ll undoubtedly repeat as often in the future as I’m able to.

Sea Gulls and Baygulls

Though I focused on Marbled Godwits and Brown Pelicans in Westport this Sunday, gulls were everywhere, and the cry of hungry juvenile Glaucous-Winged Gulls filled the air.

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Judging from the look on this adult, I’m sure the parents were as tired of the constant noise as we were.

At Ruth’s memorial this weekend I was reminded that before I started birding seriously I referred to the many Glaucous-Winged Gulls that fed on the garbage left by beach visitors as “Seagulls.” Everyone I knew did, so it came as a shock when serious birders took offense at the name. Now that I’ve been birding for a while, I realize just how fallacious that name is. I’ve photographed gulls in amazing places, and very few of them were near the sea. So what do you call a gull that’s in Puget Sound? A Bay-Gull, as Diane suggested? Either that or you learn their official name like Heermann’s Gull,

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the most common bird at Westport this weekend.

I can’t imagine the ocean without Gulls,

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even if there sometimes seemed more on Salt Lake than on Puget Sound.

I still can’t but identify the gull in Jonathan Livingston Seagull with the garbage-eating Glaucous-Winged Gulls of my childhood, but I have found gulls much more interesting after I realized how many varieties of gulls there are.

A Spectacular Dive

I often think birding, and especially photographing birds, is a lot like fishing. On Sunday “the big one that got away” was a sequence with a Brown Pelican diving into the water while surrounded by Heermann’s Gulls. Unfortunately, it happened so far away that I had to drastically crop all the shots.

Since it still looks okay on the screen I decided to go ahead and post the sequence in hopes it will motivate some visitors to go to the coast and see it themselves.

I completely missed the first few passes, but once I realized what was going on I focused on a Pelican “hovering” mid-air.

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I managed to capture the dive before it hit the water,

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but didn’t quite capture the critical moment just as it first entered the water.

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I have photographed Brown Pelicans diving a couple of time before. What was really different this time, though, was how aggressive the gulls were in stealing part of the catch.

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I was surprised the Pelican seemed completely indifferent to the gulls,

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though the gulls were anything but indifferent to the Pelican.

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As we watched, more and more gulls gathered.

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This gull got so close that if I hadn’t seen it fly away, I would’ve sworn that the pelican had chopped its beak down on it.

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The most exciting shot of the day, though, was another spectacular plunge.

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If I hadn’t photographed this, I would never have believed a pelican would dive into the water this way.

At least once you’ve hooked a big one, you know it’s there and you’re motivated to keep coming back until you can catch it. I’ll be back at Westport soon trying to do a better job of catching this sequence.

Westport Pelicans

I’ve got some great shots of Brown Pelicans at Westport in the past. Unfortunately, that means I’m always a little disappointed if I don’t get as good of shots when I visit the next time. Apparently I showed up at the wrong time Sunday because there wasn't many Pelicans flying in or out of the marina.

I managed to get a few shots I liked, though, like this one circling over our heads, so close I couldn’t fit it all in the frame.

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After driving to the other side of the marina, I managed to get a shot of one landing with better lighting.

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I’ve never seen a pose quite like this one.

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I had hoped to get more shots of pelicans in breeding colors like this one,

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but somehow I manage to photograph them too early or too late in the season to catch them in full breeding colors. Perhaps they’re like White Pelicans, and breeding pairs fly off somewhere to breed in a colony.

“All We Need is One Good Bird”

I attended Ruth Sullivan's memorial in Ocean Shores this weekend. I met Ruth just as I was beginning to bird, and she taught me much of what I know about birding, particularly the best places to find birds on the Coast.

After all our birding trips to Ocean Shores and Westport, it seemed wrong to drive to the beach and not do some birding. Because we were out of sync with the tides, I decided to go to Westport in hopes of seeing loons and pelicans.

Instead, we were surprised by large flocks of Marbled Godwits in the marina. Perhaps I should have expected to see Godwits, though, because Ruth loved Marbled Godwits; we almost always ended a beach trip by looking for Godwits at Tokeland.

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The Marbled Godwit is an elegant shorebird with an upturned bill

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which it uses to probe for insects.

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Just how far it probes was made clear by the many Godwits who had mud caked at the top of their beaks.

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We didn’t see a single loon at Westport and remarkably few Pelicans, but it was hard to forget Ruth’s mantra “All we need is One Good Bird.”

These beautiful Marbled Godwits were certainly our “One Good Bird” for the day.