Could This be Magic?

On our last day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge we met a birder from Salem Oregon who told us we should stop at Clear Lake on our way to Santa Rosa. Since I’d stopped there the last time back from Santa Rosa and hadn’t seen much worth stopping for, I asked him what part of the lake we should stop at. He suggested we stop at the Western end of the lake. He also told us to watch for wild turkeys en route, that he nearly always saw some.

Both Leslie and I were a little shocked because we had never seen wild turkeys there before. We were nearly to Clear Lake and still hadn’t seen any wild turkeys when I suggested if we kept our eyes open maybe we’d at least see the elk herd I’d seen there before. Leslie protested she’d never seen elk there, either, and she’d been through a lot more than I had. Strangely, it wasn’t more than 10 minutes before I spotted a small herd of elk on the left side of the road and pointed them out to Leslie, especially the bull elk.

Bull Elk

It seemed almost magical that they should suddenly appear, especially since I’d only seen them once before on all of our trips through there. I suspect, though, it had more to do with awareness than magic because more often than not I had probably been fixated on the windy road and not on what may or may not have been beside the road.

We didn’t see much at Clear Lake we hadn’t seen earlier at the Sacramento NWR, but we did get a bit closer and I got better shots. We had seen several Ruddy Ducks at Sacramento NWR, but none of the shots were nearly as good as this one:

Ruddy Duck

and the high angle of the shot gave me my first opportunity to see how the tail splayed out when it swam.

I also managed to get a far better shot of the Black Phoebe than I managed at Sacramento, or anywhere else, for that matter.

Black Phoebe

We didn’t have much time to spend at the park because it had taken longer than we expected to get there. At the end of our short walk this little Snowy woodpecker landed in a small tree right next to me and insisted on posing and I couldn’t resist shooting several shot before rushing on as Leslie started back to the car.

Snowy Woodpecker

It might be my very favorite Snowy Woodpecker shot ever, a bird I’ve seen in many places.

By the time we got back to the car and were rushing to get to Santa Rosa to make it in time for dinner on Mary’s birthday we had long since forgotten about wild turkeys. Apparently, though, they had forgotten about us because just as we were about to turn the corner to leave the park we spotted a small flock of turkeys. I couldn’t resist the temptation to stop and get a couple of quick shots.

Wild Turkey

Do turkeys get new feathers in the spring? I can’t remember seeing one as colorful as this one.

It’s no wonder people believe in magic, the mere suggestion that we would see wild turkeys apparently caused us to see wild turkeys where we had never seen them before. For me, though, awareness is all the magic I need in my life.

Black-Necked Stilt

The first time I stopped in the Sacramento NWR in November, I was thrilled to see flocks of Black-Necked Stilt close to the road and the observation platform. Unfortunately the sun was directly behind them by the time I got there, and I couldn’t come back the next day when there might have been better light.

So, I was looking forward to photographing them in the early morning on this visit. Needless to say, the birds were so far out the second day that I couldn’t get a good shot even with my 500mm lens with a doubler, so I had to settle for the shots I took the first day we were there — in the afternoon with the sun directly behind them.

It’s nearly impossible to get good definition under such lighting conditions, even with adjustments in Aperture and Photoshop.

Black-Necked Stilt

The eye is barely visible and feathers lack definition.

What you do get, though, are nice reflections,

Three Black-Necked Stilt

and I’m quite fond of reflections, as you well know if you visit regularly.

Though I work hard to get sharp, closeup shots of individual birds, shots of groups of these birds in the distance

Black-Necked Stilt

proved to be my favorite shots, and the more abstract they became

Black-Necked Stilt

the more I liked them until they seemed to fade into an abstract pattern not a shot of birds at all.

Raptors at Sacramento NWR

Considering how many birds there were at the Sacramento national wildlife refuge, it’s not surprising that there also many raptors. After all, life and death are the ultimate balance.

I think the two Peregrine Falcons we saw were my favorites, though, because I’ve only managed to get one good picture in the in the six years I’ve been birding. This one landed over our head as we were walking the ponds at the front of the refuge.

Peregrine Falcon

It wasn’t until I got to my computer that I recognized this was a Peregrine falcon because it was little more than a silhouette until I tweaked it in Aperture and Photoshop.

Nor did I recognize this one until another birder told me what it was.

Peregrine Falcon

The fact that it was an entirely different color than the two other peregrine I have seen didn’t make identification easier.

I would’ve sworn that this was a Rough-Legged Hawk if it hadn’t been for the red feather on the tail.

Red-Tailed Hawk

When I looked it up in my new Stokes field guide I saw that this is one of the many morphs of Red-Tailed Hawks . Reading a little further I discovered that Red-Tailed Hawks also hybridise with Rough-Legged Hawks.

This is more like the Red-Tailed Hawks I’m used to seeing.

Red-Tailed Hawk

We saw many of these, but I found the eye in this shot particularly haunting.

This might look like a red-tailed Hawk, but its size is a dead give-away that it is an immature Bald Eagle.

Immature Bald Eagle

Just in case there any leftovers after a kill, there was also a large flock of Turkey Vultures roosting in the trees at the entrance of the refuge.

Vultures in Tree

Leslie was adamant that we should get a shot because in all the years she had seen vultures she had never seen them roosting in a tree. I don’t think she realized how hard it is to photograph a black bird with the sun behind them and get anything more than a silhouette.

The Ocean Calls

In retrospect, I wonder if my last post on snow geese reminded me I hadn’t yet seen the snowy owls despite the fact that they have been around for over a month and have received constant coverage in the news. Of course, it might also have been the fact that we’ve had a lot of rain and I hadn’t been out birding once this week.

For whatever reason, when I saw that yesterday was going to be the one sunny day at Ocean Shores this week I decided to get up at six o’clock and head out to the beach. As usual, the weather forecast was slightly off. I got there just as a squall hit and waited fifteen minutes before heading out. As it turned out, though, it was a beautiful day.

There’s nothing like a sunny day at the beach and a 4 1/2 mile long walk.

Waves Breaking

Although I knew the snowy owls were most likely on the west side of the peninsula, I took the longer route along the harbor side. I knew there’d be a lot fewer people because it’s a much harder walk and experience has shown I’m more likely to see wildlife on the sheltered side of the Peninsula.

The large number of shells found on this side of the peninsula

Sea Shell

seem to attract shorebirds like this Sanderling in winter plumage.

Sandling in Winter Plumage

I’m not sure what attracts the loons, but I do know this is one of the few places I see them regularly. This one seemed to want to show that it’s molting into its breeding colors.

Loon in partial breeding plumage

I was pretty tired by the time I reached the point and was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to see the owls. I might have missed these three owls, but it would have been nearly impossible to miss the crowd that had come to see them.

Owls draw a crowd

I must admit that I felt a sudden surge of joy when I saw five snowy owls. The last time I photographed them they were hundreds of yards away. As should have been expected, all the owls were trying to sleep, since that’s what owls do in the daytime.

Snow Owl

After I’d snapped the first fifty shots to make sure I had at least one with the proper focus and exposure, all within five minutes, I began to wish one of the owls would actually do something. Luckily, tales of photographers harassing them into flight insured that I wasn’t going to get close enough to make them fly off. I figured that that’s the last thing they need being thousands of miles from home.

Still, I got pretty excited when this one decided to move three steps down the log,

Snowy Owl

and later yawned, or at least appeared to yawn.

Snowy Owl

That was one of the last shots I took before my ADD tendencies kicked in and I was off to the day’s next adventures, in many ways more rewarding than the one that started the day.