Springing Forward to Summer

I was shocked to learn that it had been a month since my last visit to Theler Wetlands . Not only had the grass grown ridiculously high due to all our rainfall, but many birds had left while new ones filled the void.

I was greeted by lots and lots of Barn Swallows which seemed quite willing to pose for me in the brilliant morning sunshine.

A month ago we had seen lots of Tree Swallows and Cliff Swallows but very few Barn Swallow.

I caught a glimpse of a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, the first this year, but they kept their distance at the top of a tree.

I saw my first Swainson’s Thrush of the year though it seemed even shyer than the waxwings.

Luckily, my favorite Marsh Wren was more than willing to pose while protecting his nesting area.

We saw a lot of nesting Canada Geese on our previous trip to the refuge and, as expected, I saw several goslings on this trip.

Spring quickly becomes Summer.

(Un)Common Yellowthroat

Although I often hear the Common Yellowthroat while birding Theler, it’s rare that I get a chance to take a shot of one so I was amazed Saturday when this little guy landed on a (relatively) nearby branch,

let me snap off four or five shots

before flying off into the shrubbery

where it could be heard off and on for the next ten minutes but was not seen again.

A Few More Shots

Sometimes photography reminds me of dieting. Everyone knows how hard it is to lose that last 5 lbs compared to the first 5 lbs. In the same way, the longer you take pictures the harder it is to get a better shot than you already have. That’s certainly true of getting shots at Big Beef Creek. I’ve gotten so many “great” shots that it’s harder and harder to get new shots I am satisfied with. Expensive new equipment has helped to get better shots, but so much depends on pure chance that it’s hard to improve on past shots.

If I’d taken this shot of a Great Blue Heron land on the rocks the first time I was there, I would probably have been thrilled with it

because it’s a pose I never see at Theler or Ridgefield.

I usually get shots of GBH hunting prey, not flying casually overhead as in this shot.

I can remember being thrilled the first time I got a shot liked this many years ago when I was shooting with a 400mm lens and a Canon Rebel. Now, not so much.

The real reason photographers go to Big Beef Creek, though, is to capture the interaction between the Great Blue Herons and the Bald Eagles and between the various Eagles that gather there. There was only four eagles the day I was there and the only interaction between GBH and eagles took place so far out that the pictures had to be heavily cropped, which means a serious loss of detail, though they still convey a sense of action lacking in the other pictures I took.

Hopefully I’ll get better shots on my next visit this week.

Last, But Not Least

I usually begin a photo shoot at Bottle Beach by taking shots of the larger birds that show up first and seldom come very far up on to the beach. The shoot generally ends with my favorite part, kneeling on the beach trying to get shots of the littlest sandpipers that run in front and in back of me, totally indifferent to me and my camera. It’s the closest I ever get to becoming One with Nature.

Though I seldom worry about identifying the birds I’m photographing while I’m photographing them, these turned out to be Western Sandpipers, not Least Sandpipers.

Bottle Beach Flyby

I have been finding it nearly as difficult to choose my best photos from my recent trip to Bottle Beach as it was for my camera to decide what to focus on in this shot.

In the end I decided to focus on shots of shorebirds in flight because there are less of those shots so it's less time-consuming to choose the best shots.

As a general rule, I hate cutting parts of the subject off. Nothing worse than cutting people in half to fit a photo frame. You will notice I am guilty of that multiple times in the photo above.

Avoiding that is as difficult as trying to keep all the birds in focus when they cross in front of you at high-speed.

It is a little easier to keep the birds in focus when they are farther away from you,

but it’s still hard not to cut off a wing, tail, or head when there is a large flock.

The closer you try to get to multiple subjects, the harder it is to keep all of them in focus when you’re using a telephoto lens.

None of these is quite in focus as far as I can tell, though all of them are almost in focus.

Sometimes you’re extremely lucky and the birds a so closely grouped that three out of the four are sharply in focus and you haven’t cut off any parts,

at least if you crop the shot and use Photoshop’s Content-Aware Move Tool to move one of the subjects closer to the others.

Pigeon Guillemots

I make an annual pilgrimage to Westport to see the Common Loons up close and personal. I always hope to see the Brown Pelicans while I’m there. I even drive down the road to Tokeland to see the Marbled Godwits. Strangely enough, I never anticipate seeing Pigeon Guillemots there, but my best shots of them have been taken at Westport, and I’m always thrilled when they show up while I’m taking photos of the loons.

This time was certainly no exception. This Pigeon Guillemot came so close to the dock that I almost fell off the other side backing up to get it in the picture frame.

This one wasn’t quite as close, but it seemed intent on catching my attention.

The most interesting sequence of the day, though, came while I was photographing this bird and another bird suddenly flew in and came up to the other bird.

Unfortunately, I’m not nearly expert enough on Guillemots to know what exactly was going on, but they definitely gave the impression that the were having some kind of conversation with the bird that flew in having the first say so.

They seemed to look at each other as they floated side by side,

then the first bird seemed to reply to the one that had landed.

For it moment it looked like they were going touch beaks, but, if they did, it was blocked from the camera.

Birds communicate with each other all the time, but this seemed closer to a casual “conversation” than anything I’ve ever observed. Of course since it’s Spring, perhaps it was part of Guillemot courting.

Westport Loons

With a single day of sunshine forecast for the week, Leslie and I headed out to Ocean Shores and Westport last week. Once we reached Ocean Shores we quickly realized it was the high winds from the Northeast that were keeping the fog at bay. While the surf

was quite spectacular, the only birds in sight were a few gulls enjoying flying without having to flap their wings. We saw so few birds that we left too early to eat lunch at The Galway Bay Irish Pub, our usual rest stop.

Luckily, my major goal was to see Common Loons at Westport, and the winds weren’t a factor in the harbor. Westport is the only place I can rely on seeing loons, and I wasn’t disappointed. A large Common Loon in breeding colors was waiting for us at the end of the ramp as we entered the marina.

It’s always hard to tell if you’re seeing a few loons in different places or a lot of different loons, but I got lots of chances to take photos in varying light. Shots like this where the green collar and the red eye are visible are a favorite.