Pied Grebes

Although we go to Bear River primarily to look for Avocet and Black-necked Stilt babies, we photograph any babies we see — with the possible exception of Canada Geese goslings, because we don’t see that many. Even when we do see them, it’s usually difficult to get good pictures.

Not sure whether it was the intervening grass or simply my expensive camera’s inability to find anything to focus on, but most of the pictures we took of these young Pied Bill Grebes were slightly out of focus,

though this is still a better view than we ever got without binoculars.

When your very survival depends upon camouflage

it’s probably a good thing to blend in with the reeds you’re hiding in.

The shots were a little better on the second day when we spotted them in better light and just outside the reeds, but they were a long way away even for my 1000mm lens.

I guess this shot that’s not as heavily cropped is my favorite,

though it doesn’t do as good of a job of showing the striking heads in the young grebes.

Welcome to Cootsville

In retrospect, it seems strangely appropriate that the first shots I got on Bear River Migratory Refuge are these shots of young American Coots,

though I didn’t immediately recognize them when I sighted them. As it turns out, the refuge was full of American Coots on this visit, way more than I remember seeing in past visits.

It was clear that many of these youngsters

were on their own, that their parents were already raising a second brood.

I don’t remember seeing an American Coot at this stage of development before.

As Leslie pointed out, at this stage they look a lot like baby Western Grebes — and very little like they do as babies. The best way to identify them as coots is to look at their very distinctive legs and feet.

While these youngster seemed to be wandering all over the refuge by themselves, there was also a considerable number adults raising recently born chicks.

Once you’ve seen these guys, it’s impossible to deny the existence of ugly babies, cute as they may be.

Back to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Long before we reached the driving tour at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge we realized that its appearance had changed from last year. The grass was taller than I’ve ever seen before, so tall that it was hard to see even Long-Billed Curlew.

We were also surprised to see Avocets

and White-faced Ibis in small ponds so close to the road.

Heck, I even managed to get a shot of a Franklin Gull,

something I’d been trying to do our whole trip.

Not far away, a Snowy Egret was hunting in what appeared to be a lake, though we knew from previous visits it was far too shallow to qualify as a lake.

In retrospect, if I’d known how different the refuge itself was from last year, I would have spent more time here because it was the closest I managed to get to Avocets or Ibis on the trip. It seems with all last winter’s rain that the refuge was managing the refuge differently than on previous visits. The wetlands where I’d gotten close-up shots of Avocet and Black-necked Stilt chicks last year weren’t wetlands at all; they were bone dry.

A Morning Drive through Malheur

Although our main destination was Bear River in Utah, I love Malheur and wasn’t going to leave without spending another morning birding before heading out. Although I couldn’t manage to capture a shot of the Bob-o-link that I look for this time of year, we did spot a Sand Hill Crane in the same field where we usually spot the Bob-o-links.

The highlight of the morning probably came when we spotted a pair of Great Horned Owls

in the small trees than line the Blitzen River,

though I’ll have to admit that I’m particularly fond of the Yellow Warblers

and Willow Flycatchers

that frequent the willows that line the southern end of the refuge.

You never know what you will find at Malheur. This is the first time I’ve seen Cedar Waxwings there.