Signs of Winter

Although I don’t think that I like any of the shots I got at Port Orchard as much as the shots of the Hooded Mergansers, I did enjoy taking pictures of a number of birds that have only recently returned.

Even though this Red-Breasted Merganser

Red-Breasted Merganser

was not nearly as spectacular as the shots I got last Spring of a one in full-breeding colors, it was nice to see they’re beginning to return from their summer breeding grounds.

The same can certainly be said of the numerous Horned Grebes,

Horned Grebe

the most common bird in the marina.

I knew from the shape and brilliant yellow eye that this was some form of Goldeneye,

year-old Barrow’s Goldeneye

but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with these exact colors. According to Sibley it’s a variation that’s close to a one-year old Barrow’s Goldeneye.

The most exciting bird of the day, though, came at the end of the day, just as I reached the end of the marina. Suddenly a little shore bird landed on the railing next to me. I was sure that I had never seen this species before and spent considerable time trying to get a shot with the sun coming from over my shoulder and not from behind the bird.


It wasn’t until I got home and had spent much time browsing my birding books that I came to the conclusion that this was a Dunlin in winter colors. Perhaps if I had seen it at the beach among a number of shorebirds I would have immediately realized it was a Dunlin from it’s shape. But since I’d never seen a single Dunlin and had certainly never seen one in Port Orchard, on a dock, this close, I didn’t recognize it.

It would have been nice if it had been a “first” but it’s still the best shot I’ve ever gotten of a Dunlin, even though it lacks the black plumage that makes it so stunning when in full breeding colors.

Hooded Merganser

I enjoyed my Monday trip to Theler Wetlands, but I loved the time I spent at the Port Orchard marina. Winter must be upon us because the sea ducks, grebes and cormorants have returned.

Not sure I’ve ever seen three male Hooded Mergansers

male Hooded Mergansers

together before, but I definitely think that having three of them made it possible to get better closeups of the one on the left, who floated around aimlessly, at times even coming closer while the other two faded into the background.

I ended up with a ton of shots to choose from, each of them a little different from the others. This is a favorite,

male Hooded Merganser

but I sure wish the white breast hadn’t blown out, even with the camera set to underexpose a half f-stop.

Turned the other way, it’s the head feathers that are blown out

male Hooded Merganser

even after adjusting severely in Aperture. Still, this might be my favorite shot ever, though I can’t be sure of that until I finish going through my old shots and compare them.

I love the reflections you get in the marina. No where else I’ve shot comes even close to adding the reflections that I get there with almost no effort on my part, miraculously, as it were.

Back to Theler Wetlands

I felt like I’d really lucked out when it turned out to be a beautiful day Monday. I didn’t even have to wait half the day for the fog to clear. I headed out for Belfair by 8:00 AM and was greeted by the sight of the Olympics with a dusting of new snow.

Olympics in the distance

I had to reduce the size of the shot to fit here, but it’s actually nine different HDR exposures processed through Photomatix Pro and then Photomerged in Photoshop. I think it’s the best mountain shot I’ve ever managed and can hardly wait to try the technique on more spectacular mountain shots.

Not to be outdone, many of the plants at Theler were dusted with Hoar Frost.

 Hoar Frost

I think I’ve walked by this holly tree dozens of times without taking a shot of it,


but seen in the context of all the plants that have died and turned brown, it’s easy to see why early people might have attributed magical powers to it.

The birding wasn’t great, but there were Golden-Crowned Sparrows searching for seeds on the trail,

 Golden-Crowned Sparrow

Song Sparrows flitting among the weeds,

Song Sparrow flitting

flocks of Finches feasting on last summer’s berries.

finch eating berry

Flocks of Chickadees and Oregon Juncos also buzzed me at eye-level as I walked the path, far too fast to get a shot. I suspect their flighty behavior was inspired by a pair of Cooper Hawks

Cooper Hawk

that I sighted atop a nearby tree.

It was a delightful morning, and the day just got better when I reached Port Orchard.

Backyard Visitors

Sunday was the first sunny day in a long time, but unfortunately Leslie was feeling under the weather so we weren’t able to go to Theler Wetlands as I’d originally planned. It was a little disappointing, but we have lots to do around the house. While working in the kitchen I happened to look out on the back deck which with the onset of sunshine seemed like an extremely popular place, even though I haven’t put any birdseed out this fall.

A beautiful Stellar Jay sat looking in the window, and I was tempted to run get a camera but I knew from experience that he would be long gone by the time I ran upstairs and got my camera. However, after I spotted a Varied Thrush scattering leaves everywhere I decided to get my camera after all because, unlike the Jay, they tend to stick around for a while.

I’ve long ago learned that it’s a waste of time to try to shoot bird photos through the window, no matter how close they are. I’ve also learned that once you crack the patio door to stick your lens out, that 90% of the time birds will fly away, especially Jays.

Amazingly one of the three Stellar Jays stuck around long enough to get this shot on the back fence.

Stellar Jay on Fence

Even more surprising, I was able to get multiple shots of the Varied Thrush digging through leaves under the plum tree. This is one of the best I’ve ever gotten in my backyard, which tends to be particularly dark in the winter because of the fir tree and the high fences.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrushes are notoriously timid, but this one actually seemed curious about the sounds my camera made when I hit the shutter.

Varied Thrush

Eventually he flew into the tree where the light was also better than usual because all the leaves long ago fell to the ground.

Varied Thrush

I thought it was extremely thoughtful of the birds to come visit me when I wasn’t able to come visit them. I took nearly twenty shots, which I straightaway narrowed to these three which I rated, and labeled before immediately deleting all the rejects.