Hard Not to Enjoy a Sunny Day at the Coast

No matter what birds I do or do not see on the Washington coach, I always enjoy my trip and look forward to seeing a variety of birds. My disappointment at not finding a single Common Loon in breeding plumage was tempered by how many species I did see.

I saw flocks of Greater Scaup at several different locations,

a pleasant surprise since I only see them occasionally on the Puget Sound.

And I almost never get as close as I did to these

in the Westport marina.

When I first saw this bird walking the shore in Tokeland I couldn’t figure out what it was even though I’ve seen them several times on the California coast and at Malheur NWR. This may be the only time I’ve seen a Willet

in non-breeding color. I think I have seen them on the Washington coast with Godwits before, but the Washington coast is supposedly outside their range.

Birds were scarce at Ocean Shores, but I did enjoy watching this small flock of Sanderlings fly back and forth along the beach.

We managed to get in five and a half miles of walking for the day without ever being aware that we were exercising. I also managed to spend an entire day without ever checking my computer or my iPhone.

Blind to the Truth

Most of the time I simply allow the natural beauty of the birds I feature to speak for itself, but occasionally I feel the need to emphasize that appreciating Nature's beauty is no longer enough in a society that seems determined to sacrifice it all to sell more stuff. That's doubly true now that we've been Trumped, as anyone who loves the environment surely already knows. I generally don't use words like "good" or "evil," but I would have to say that Scott Pruitt, head of the E.P.A., is Pure Evil.

Although I have a couple of Dan Fogelberg albums, I hadn't heard of his album "The Wild Place" until recently when I purchased it through iTunes. My favorite song on the album has to be Blind to the Truth.

In the overcrowded cities where the nights are bright as day
You spend your weekly paycheck and turn your eyes away
From the crisis we've created with our self-indulgent ways
Living like there's no tomorrow, well that just might be the case
Now they're tearing down the forests and the jungles of Brazil
Without a second thought about the species that they kill
But extinction is forever and still the forests fall
And push it ever closer to extinction for us all

But you're so blind to the truth, blind to the truth
And you can't see nothing
Cause you're so blind to the truth, blind to the truth
And the judgment day is coming

Now the politicians bicker on the early evening news
Pledging their allegiance to whoever they can use
The corporate bosses snicker as they watch the profits soar
They don't care what they make next month just as long as it is more
They take our farms and marshlands, drive nature to the wall
Just so they can build another Goddamn shopping mall
And it doesn't seem to matter if they cannot see the stars
As long as they can keep on building obsolescent cars

They're so blind to the truth, blind to the truth
No they can't see nothing
They're so blind to the truth, blind to the truth
But the judgment day is coming

Now you cannot drink the water and you cannot breathe the air
The sky is ripping open and you still don't seem to care
The soil is tired and toxic and unable to provide
The clock is running out and there is nowhere left to hide
Now there's laws that we must live by and they're not the laws of man
Can't you see the shadow that moves across this land
The future is upon us and there's so much we must do
And you know I can't ignore it and my friend neither can you

Sorry Cadet Bone Spurs,

the only things I’m carrying into a classroom are books and lesson plans.

I suspect I might have been qualified to carry a pistol in the classroom while teaching. A 45 was my assigned weapon when I served as a Mortar Platoon leader in Vietnam, though I usually grabbed a “greasegun” from one of the tracks when we came under direct fire. In truth, I would rather have had anything but a 45 in Vietnam because it’s notoriously hard to shoot accurately for any distance with a pistol.

When I bought a Glock a few years ago, I took a class to refresh my skills and the pistol instantly felt right in my hands. In fact, I was more proficient in shooting practice than I had been with my 45 years ago. Having been put in the position of trying to kill Viet Cong for an extended period of time, I’m convinced that confronted by someone with a pistol I wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. I suspect most teachers WOULD hesitate. Few teachers are combat veterans. Hesitation will get you killed, which is probably why police sometimes kill innocent people or people who aren’t really a threat.

Despite the fact that I am accomplished with a pistol and feel comfortable wearing one while out car camping, I would never have agreed to carry one in school. I know just how dangerous they are from experience — especially for those who aren’t well-trained. I didn’t have to do too much weapon training to fear those who had little or no experience with weapons. It’s amazing how stupid some people were on the firing line with live rounds in the barrel of their rifle. They finally took weapons away from the engineers we were guarding in Vietnam because of accidents. In other words, loading and unloading their own weapons turned out to be more dangerous to them than the Viet Cong.

One of the scariest moments of my tour in Vietnam was when I accidentally discharged my 45 while clearing it in the dark right after we’d been hit with a hand grenade thrown off the front of a track. Luckily, I knew enough to be pointing the gun at the ground away from myself and others while clearing it. Everything I’d been taught said that gun shouldn’t have gone off because my finger was nowhere near the trigger, but it did. I can’t imagine the trauma of having that happen in a school setting.

Equally important, I have a pretty good idea just how many bullets miss their target, landing only God knows where. We fired an awful lot of bullets at snipers firing at us from the village without ever getting a confirmed kill, other than livestock we reimbursed a villager for. When somebody is shooting directly at you, you don’t always (like NEVER) take the time to ensure that no one is behind them that might accidentally get hit. Self-preservation is a really strong instinct, much stronger than common sense in most cases.

Despite coming under fire regularly during my tour of duty, I was always amazed at the adrenaline rush after a firefight. It took me hours to come down from it. Does anyone think that a teacher confronted with a shooter for the first time in his life is likely to shoot accurately? The most you could hope for is that the intruder would flee if they saw a teacher with a gun in their hand.

After 30 years of teaching, I would be terrified that a student would find it a challenge to get his hands on my gun just to prove he could. Kids love challenges almost more than anything, and it’s even better if it’s a really dumb challenge. I would probably be so paranoid about the gun I was carrying that no student would ever get near it, but paranoid isn’t a great state of mind for teachers or kids. I’d rather be worried about kids getting harassed by other kids or wondering how I could help a student who is struggling with his schoolwork.

Just North of Bodega Bay

I can’t remember visiting Santa Rosa without going out to the coast, and we weren’t going to let a little rain and clouds stop us this time, either. Jeff took us out to the coast via the Russian River, and we ended up walking a stretch of the coast I’ve never walked before.

Ideally I should have probably brought a different lens for scenics, but I was hoping to see birds, too, so I compromised with my 100-400mm Canon lens. Most of these shots were actually panorama shots consisting of 3 or more shots. I’m always amazed at how well Photoshop reconstructs these, especially when waves are involved.

It would have been nice if it had been a little sunnier, but, after living on the Washington coast for six month, I figure any day on the coast without rain is a great day. There’s definitely a reason one of my favorite Facebook groups is called “fogwalking.”

Not sure why arches like this are so appealing, but they are — perhaps they are doorways to magical kingdoms.

Most of the Washington coast is relatively flat — like Longbeach — so it’s a treat to see these kinds of headlands.

Heck, even the outhouse had a great view of the ocean,

and it’s not often that you get to look down on birds.

A Big Catch at Spring Lake

I remember being surprised the first time I saw Cormorants at Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake because I’ve always associated them with Puget Sound or the Ocean. Over the years, though, I’ve become so accustomed to seeing them there I ignore them most of the time.

It was impossible, though, to ignore the commotion on Spring Lake created by these cormorants.

I instinctively focused on the group and ended up with this shot of a cormorant with a huge fish.

Apparently the other cormorants weren’t immediately willing to concede defeat and pursued the lucky cormorant while it tried to block them with its wings.

I was amazed to see the cormorant swallow the fish whole.

Perhaps the other cormorants didn’t think it possible, either, because they didn’t give up pursuit until the tail had nearly disappeared.

Now I know why there are so many cormorants and mergansers — not to mention fishermen — on these two lakes.


Out of photographs to post and amidst the wettest four-year period in Washington history, I decided it was time to retreat to drought-ridden California. Needless to say it was cloudy and rainy all the way to California. Hoping for better weather on our second day, we spent the night just outside the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. We even got to sleep in because it was so overcast that it was hard to tell the difference between night and morning, and it’s hard to get decent photos in the dark.

It was so dark and foggy I didn’t even bother to mount the 500mm lens with a doubler since it was impossible to focus on distant birds. This shot of a small flock of Greater White-Fronted Geese in the distance has actually been improved by adjusting levels in Lightroom,

but even Lightroom and Photoshop can’t totally compensate for a lack of light. Heck, if I hadn’t just driven 600+ miles for some sunshine, I might have been perfectly happy with the soft edges and muted colors. It was hard not to enjoy seeing flocks of these geese that I rarely see at home.

Luckily, the closer you get and the more you adjust in Lightroom and Photoshop, the better the shots look.

It looks as bright in these shots as it did in real-life, if not a little brighter.

Trying to focus on close-up objects because of fog or low-light conditions creates its own problems. You have a real narrow focus range; even though these geese were fairly close together only the two at the right were in sharp focus,

and there’s no way to correct that.

The biggest problem for me, though, is that you have to use a lower shutter speed under low-light conditions and that makes it impossible to freeze birds in flight. Even panning it’s impossible to avoid the blur in the wings,

which seems to be real no-no in wildlife photography — even if that is how the human eye perceives the wings in in flight. Personally, I waver between the two and often prefer the blur of wings, at least when I get to choose what I want it to look like.

I was happy to see many birds I’d looked forward to seeing since our last visit, even if I wasn’t entirely happy with the weather conditions. There was no denying, though, that the area needed some rain because the refuge is dependent on rain to function.

I’m (always/generally/sometimes) (un)willing to sacrifice my personal comfort for the greater good.