Black Terns at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge

After my last quick trip to Seabeck I headed out to Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Utah’s Great Bear Migratory Bird Refuge. I hoped to see birds I hadn’t seen on my last trip to Malheur and to see Avocet chicks in Great Bear. Things didn’t turn out exactly as I’d hoped, but I had a great week anyway, as I always do. In fact, I’m already looking forward to repeating these two trips.

I had only reached Burns when I noticed these birds flying over a mosquito-infested pond. I found a semi-safe spot to pull over beside the road and spent the next hour trying to capture shots of this unknown bird.

Black Tern

Even before I could positively identify them I figured they had to be a tern, though I never once heard the raucous call I identify with terns I see in our areas. Still the V-shaped wings seemed pretty indicative of a tern.

Black Tern

And the long tail on a few of the birds is definitely typical of terns.

Black Tern

What was confusing, though, is that not all the birds had those long tails, even though they were all obviously the same species.

Black Tern

I finally found out that they were Black Terns two days later when I stopped at the visitors’ center before leaving for Utah. Apparently Black Terns nest in freshwater wetlands, both in eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, though I’ve never noticed them before. These terns were in breeding plumage.

Sometimes it seems the more I learn the dumber I get.

Great Blue Heron Territorial Displays

When the eagles have followed the tide so far out that it’s impossible to get any more good pictures, I’ve learned to retreat to Seabeck where some areas are affected later by the tide. There’s one particularly good area where there’s a “mound” in the water where the sculpin seem to get trapped. No surprise that it’s a hotly contested area.

The first bird to claim the area when I was there was a large Great Blue Heron, which would even stand its ground against the Bald Eagles, at least for a while. So, it’s no surprise that it would also protect the mound from other Great Blue Herons. What was surprising, at least to me, was how the heron protected it.

I’ve seen herons strut around with wings fully extended in disputes, but I’ve never seen this kind of display before, though it seems to be a common territorial display.

When another heron approached the mound from the other side, this heron strutted all the way across the mound very slowly with the fringe feathers “bristling.”

 Great Blue Heron Territorial display

After carefully crossing the entire mound, the heron than slowly, headed back to where the intruder was.

Great Blue Heron Territorial display

Meanwhile the intruder also bristled and seemed to try to stretch out so that it was taller than the heron defending its territory.

 Great Blue Heron Territorial display

No blows were struck, but the intruder eventually moved to the other side of the mound and into the deeper water, and that seemed to satisfy the heron that had been their first. Of course, it wasn’t long before an immature eagle appeared and claimed the island for himself.

Seabeck’s Great Blue Herons

One of the problems of a really good photo-shoot is that there are so many good shots to choose from that it’s hard to decide which shots to use and which to simply set aside. Realizing it’s unlikely any of my readers will be as enamored of the shots I’ve taken as I am, I don’t want to bore viewers, but neither do I want to miss the chance of showing shots that they’ll like too.

To complicate matters, when I get shots that I really like, I often want to play around with them, to see them in new ways (especially since I’ve acquired Perfect Photo Suite 8). This sequence of shots I took of a Great Blue Heron gliding just above the water was definitely my favorite sequence of the three days I spent there. Here are three shots from that sequence (click on any of them to make them larger). The first is a “realistic” shot straight out of the camera.


Here’s a second shot from the same sequence that merely replaces the plain blue of the water with a pattern that, for me, at least, actually makes the heron stand out more.


I played around with this final shot more than the others and thought about creating a heron collage by adding other poses, but somehow the simplicity of the shot reminded me of some of my favorite Chinese and Japanese drawings, so I left it as is (at least for the moment).


These are Definitely “Keepers”

When you shoot a good location for nearly four complete days and take nearly 4000 shots, you tend to get bogged down trying to sort shots out, deciding which are worth keeping and which aren’t.

Luckily, some shots just stand out as “keepers.” These, along with a few of those I’ve already posted, were obviously keepers.

Though I tend to prefer photographs of mature Bald Eagles with their brilliant white heads and tails, two of my best shots this year were of an immature Bald Eagle, and they may both be of the same bird taken on different days.

immature Bald Eagle

This shot is hardly cropped at all, though I framed it a little so that the bird was closer to the right edge of the frame.

On the other hand, this one of a mature Bald Eagle diving had to be cropped dramatically and probably would never work as a print.

 Bald Eagle diving

This was taken much closer as the eagle turned overhead to drop down onto the beach.

Bald Eagle descending

It’s definitely the unusual angle that appeals to me.

On this shot, though, I had to back up to keep the eagle in the frame (click on it to see a larger version) . It’s hard to believe you can actually get this close to a Bald Eagle outside a zoo.