Roses, And Dahlias, Too

Although my visit to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge may well be the highlight of my summer, I probably spend more time at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. On my recent visit I discovered that although the Rose Garden is still the main attraction

Orange Rose

and almost all the roses are in bloom at the moment, my personal favorite, the Dahlias, have finally started to blossom, at least the early ones have.

Most of the pom-pom varieties are just starting, but my favorite varieties like this,


and this,


and particularly this


are on display. I’m not positive, but this seems like the earliest I have seen them in bloom. And, to be sure, many of them haven’t even formed buds yet. Still, for those of us who love dahlias, it’s time to think about visiting the park.

A Reason To Stay

I was glad that I decided to ignore the high winds and rain and stay two more days at Malheur for it did, indeed, give me a chance to get better shots than those I got on the first cloudy day I was there.

I was up early and waiting for the male Bobolinks to start their mating rituals. I’m not sure this one was appreciative of an audience or not, but he was quite close to the road, looking out onto a grass meadow.


Unfortunately, he practiced his mating ritual a long ways away from the road, so the shots have to be severely cropped, causing some blur.


In reality, though, they burst up from the grass so quickly and settled back so quickly that it was more of a blur seeing it in person.


Still not sure how the ritual is acted out, but it was a fascinating experience. I must have spent nearly an hour there watching various Bobolink try to attract a mate.

As a bonus, I got the best pictures I’ve ever taken of three Sandhill Cranes that were so close to the road that I couldn’t manage to fit them in the frame. This one even paused from eating to check me out.

 Sandhill Crane

I even managed to get the best picture I’ve gotten of a Long-Billed Curlew, a bird that I had finally seen at Malheur on my earlier summer visit, though at a greater distance.

Long-Billed Curlew

It was a great day birding , well worth any inconvenience of high winds, low temperatures, and a little rain.

American Avocet

I must admit that the main reason I returned to Malheur National Wildlife Refuge when I did was that I was inspired by a photograph of a mother avocet with her chicks, something I’ve never had the honor of witnessing.

Of course, even without that inspiration I would have spent many hours taking pictures of the American Avocets because they are a favorite bird that I spent several years looking for before I found one, much less one in breeding colors. I returned three or four different times to take pictures of them, but, unfortunately, I never saw any signs of chicks even looking through binoculars.

I did get lots of shots that demanded much editing before settling on these four shots. I liked all of them and thought they all showed different aspects of the American Avocet, but another reason I chose them was to show the importance of lighting in shooting wildlife.

This pose was shot the first day I was there when it was relatively dark outside.

American Avocet

Though some of the details are easier to see than in later shots, I really wasn’t happy with the color of the water (or should I say lack of color?). Muddy brown water just isn’t particularly appealing.

This shot was taken with more light but it was still overcast and the sun was behind the avocet.

American Avocet

Again, the water seems to me to be a problem. It’s either too dark or too light, depending on your taste. The avocet itself is a little “soft” but I don’t necessarily object to that, and I could easily have sharpened it a little more in Photoshop.

It was a lot brighter the last two times I was shooting the avocets. In this shot the sunshine is coming from the right front side, and it reveals the colors of the American Avocet beautifully

American Avocet

without causing troublesome shadows or entirely destroying the highlights. The water might not be as blue as I’d like it to be, but it’s definitely blue.

The last shot was taken in the brightest light of all and the water is a beautiful blue, but unfortunately the sun was coming from behind the birds, producing dark shadows that tend to obscure the birds. I’d have to say that it was “too much of a good thing.”

American Avocets

Of course with modern photographic programs you can come awfully close to making any kind of photograph you want. I think I actually prefer this heavily photoshopped background to the original gray one.

American Avocet

So many variables. So many choices. Could it be that photographs tell us more about the photographer than about the subject?

A Bird of a Very Different Color

It was still cloudy when I finished the crater and Round Barn Loop and got back to the Malheur Visitors Center. The volunteer told me about a new road near the Visitors’ center which led to the south side of Malheur Lake, and, needless to say, I couldn’t resist a new way of seeing the refuge.

It’s the first time I’ve ever managed to get a relative closeup of a Snowy Egret at Malheur even though I would have loved to have had better light.

Snowy Egret

I also had my first sighting of Black-Necked Stilts on this visit.

Black-Necked Stilts

I’m assuming that the large flocks have dispersed into nesting pairs like these two, the only two I saw in this area.

I was certainly glad when the sun began to break through the clouds. Light makes a huge difference even when you’re shooting a black and white bird.

Black-Necked Stilt

Of course, the bright light also made it nearly impossible to capture the details in the black and white areas of this Franklin Gull,

Franklin Gull

and this is the only shot I’ve ever managed to get of this gull. In fact, when I saw it at the refuge I assume it was a Bonaparte Gull, but the bright orange bill says otherwise.

The highlight of this short drive, though, had to be this shot of a White-Faced Ibis,

White-Faced Ibis

the only time I got a closeup of one on this trip. It’s a bird of a very different color when seen in full sunshine.