Great Blue Herons

Though I originally went to Big Beef Creek/Seabeck to photograph the Bald Eagles that fellow photographers were repeatedly telling me about, I love photographing the Great Blue Herons as much as I do the eagles. I see Great Blue Herons everywhere but I think the water is the perfect setting for photographing them.

Whether it’s early morning light with its warm colors,

mid-day sunlight with its brilliant blues and grays,

or the soft light of overcast skies

it’s hard not to get a good shot with the Puget Sound as a backdrop.

Purple Martins

I can’t imagine going to Seabeck to photograph the Bald Eagles and Great Blue Herons without stopping to photograph the Purple Martins that hang out by the now-closed Barbie’s Restaurant. Unfortunately, these Purple Martins depend on artificial plastic gourds, but the Seabeck colony seems to continue to flourish.

Purple Martins are larger than the Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows I am used to seeing. The male is quite striking,

though the painter in me would probably call it a “Blue Martin” because I have a hard time seeing purple in that plumage.

The female shows even less “purple.”

The first time I saw a female I couldn’t even identify it as a Purple Martin.

I didn’t see any babies yet, but many of the males

and the females seemed focused on nest-building.

When You Don’t See Any Eagles

When you’ve birded as long as I have, you discover that even a lack of birds can be a good thing because paying attention helps you see things you would have otherwise overlooked. When the eagles didn’t show up at Big Beef Creek as I’d hoped, I noticed a Belted Kingfisher that frequents the area.

I managed to get a pretty good shot of him sitting in the tree that is usually occupied by the Eagles who weren’t there.

Once I spotted him, I managed to follow him out where he speared a fish in the shallow water.

Naturally he didn’t fly back to his previous perch so I could get a good shot of him with the fish on his beak, but this heavily cropped shot definitely shows the fish on his beak.

If I could count on getting good shots of Belted Kingfisher, I’d probably be more apt to go there than go to Big Beef Creek to photograph eagles. A Belted Kingfisher with attitude is one of my favorite birds.

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.