A Plover By Any Other Name

We also stopped at Bottle Beach on last week’s ocean trip, usually one of the best spots for birds on Grays Harbor, but not this time. There was just a scattering of shorebirds, though there were enough Black-Bellied Plovers in various stages of breeding colors to keep me interested for awhile.

Black-Bellied Plover Flying

Before long, though, my attention turned to four of these little guys,

SemiPalmated Plover

a Semi-Palmated Plover, which look an awful lot like another favorite I’ve often featured,


a Killdeer.

In fact, the birds are so similar that looking at them I wondered why was one a “plover” and the other not. Never did find the answer to that question, but I did discover that the Killdeer really is classified as a “plover.” This, in turn, led me to Wikipedia to look up the definition of “plover.”

Of course, once I there, I had to look up “sandpipers” since I’d also wondered what distinguished one set of “waders,” or shorebirds, from another set. The most distinguishing characteristic of sandpipers is the fact that they probe the shore for their food, whereas plovers don’t.

In other words, this


is a sandpiper even though it’s referred to as a “Sanderling” and not a sandpiper.

Thank goodness when I’m out birding I don’t worry about such distinctions but, instead, focus on capturing the beauty of the moment.

fllying Sanderling

It’s only trapped inside looking at a computer screen I find time to worry about such distinctions.

Birding Westport

Though birding is slow locally, it’s anything but slow at the coast, though that requires a full-day trip. Because of the distance, I almost always make a full-day of it, spending 12 hours or more on the trip, trying to get to as many different places as possible.

One of our standard stops is Westport because we can always count on seeing animals and birds that we seldom see anyplace else. For instance, it’s the only place I know on the Washington coast you can count on seeing Sea Lions,

California Sea Lion

though they are occasionally seen almost anywhere in the Puget Sound.

It’s one of two places I regularly see Pigeon Guillemots,

Pigeon Guillemot

and the only place I’ve ever managed to get a close-up. Since I’ve only seen them at a distance, I’ve always thought they were black, and most photos show them as black, though my birding guide confirms, in parentheses, that they are (actually dark brown), which would explain why I couldn’t adjust the photo to make them appear black. I also learned that their non-breeding colors are mostly white with a mottled back. I suspect this bird is in a state of transition.

Another favorite I can usually count on are the Brown Pelicans,

Brown Pelican Flyby

which fly by the pier regularly. I suspect I need to spend more time in Westport to discover where they are fishing as I’d love to get some shots of the them diving.

I was a little disappointed to discover that the loons aren’t back yet, as neither Ruth Sullivan nor I could spot a single one.

The first surprise of the day came when this large Great Blue Heron was spotted.

Great Blue Heron in Flight

They’re common on the ocean, but I’ve never seen one in Westport before, especially right in the marina.

The real treat of the day, though, was the sighting of this Rhinoceros Auklet,

Rhinoceros Auklet

the first one I’ve ever seen. Heck, I’d forgotten you could even see them in our area. It was so small that at first I thought it was a Common Murre.

We had a good time there, and it was only the first two hours of a 12 hour day.

Slow Birding at Theler Wetlands

Birding around home has actually been rather slow. My last two trips to Belfair have yielded very few photos worth showing or keeping. Most of the birds that are there are small, elusive songbirds that are too often juveniles or otherwise difficult to identify.

I think this is a Pacific-Slope Flycatcher,

Pacific-Slope Flycatcher

but it’s hard to be sure because most of the shots I took were blurry or partially obscured and flycatchers look very similar.

The most abundant birds were the swallows, though they didn’t seem able to keep the mosquito population under control, judging from Leslie and my bites. It wasn’t until John told me that the nests in the barn were Cliff Swallow nests

Cliff Swallow Nest

that I set out to capture a picture of a Cliff Swallow. Unfortunately, after three years of trying to get a good picture of a swallow in flight I still haven’t managed to do so. So, I had to try to figure out which of the hundreds of swallows sitting on the telephone wires were Cliff Swallows. I’m pretty sure this is one, since it isn’t a Tree Swallow, Barn Swallow, or Violet-Green Swallow.

Cliff Swallow

I must admit, though, that it may be a juvenile because it lacks the white patch on the forehead shown in most photos.

A sure sign that summer is nearly over and fall is just around the corner was the presence of Great Blue Heron throughout the refuge,

Great Blue Heron

a sure sign they’ve left the rookery.

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Last Wednesday’s trip to Vancouver was not the trip I’d hoped for. First, the sunshine that dominated the week chose to disappear for a day. So, though I got to Vancouver around 8:00 AM, the sun was hidden behind a deep layer of clouds and the best birds, like the Egrets, were so far out that I couldn’t manage to get a respectable shot even with my 500mm lens with a doubler on it.

This shot of a Great Blue Heron standing, I guess, in tall grass was one of the few shots I really liked:

Great Blue Heron

The clouds still hadn’t dispersed by the time I had to leave for lunch with former colleagues though it was hard to complain because the company and conversation was delightful as always.

Things really took a turn for the worse at the dentist’s office, though, and a 1 1/2 hour cleaning and filling turned into a 3 1/2 hour appointment with two crowns instead of a filling, not to mention a $1,000 bill instead of a$100 bill. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted by the time I left and wasn’t ready to immediately drive all the way home.

Instead, I returned to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge where I was greeted by what appeared to be an immature Red-Tailed Hawk:

juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

The contrast with the Great Blue Heron shot taken earlier in the morning suggests just how fickle lighting can be. This one was taken in full sunshine, albeit with the sun already sinking in the horizon, and the white feathers are washed out, despite adjustments in Aperture and Photoshop.

Generally, though, the pictures I took at the end of the day in full sunshine turned out better than those taken earlier in the day under cloudy skies, even if I had to mute some elements of the picture, as I did to the very greenish water in this shot of a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Lesser Yellowlegs

The most dramatic effect of the light, though, shows up in the shots of this American Bittern, taken just before it turned dark. Here the orange cast of the late sunshine actually made the American Bittern appear more dramatic,

American Bittern

and in a few of the shots I was still able to capture the bird’s movement,

American Bittern

though the ISO in my favorite shots was so high that the noise level seemed unacceptable to me.

Thank goodness birding was good enough that I nearly forgot the dental episode because the drive home on I-5 was a virtual nightmare, with roadwork and road closures doubling the time it had taken me to get there in the morning. Fixing highways may be a good thing in the long run, but so far this year driving for any distance at all has been a real pain in the posterior.