Such Subtle Beauty

I’ve taken a lot of shots that included Sanderlings, but almost invariably the shots were taken during Spring or Fall migration where they tend to be overshadowed by more spectacular shorebirds. On my recent trips to Fort Flagler, though, there have been several  times when I’ve had a chance to take pictures of them where there aren’t any other birds to grab my attention, and I’ve begun to see a special beauty in their subtle winter plumage.

but most seem to wander off to  feed by themselves, 

making them good photo subjects. 

Here at the edge

sky and water come 

together, One.

It’s Hard to Forget Harlequins

Although distractions at my age can cause me to forget my original objective, I did push past the Black-Bellied Plovers and Dunlin to locate the Harlequin Ducks I had come to find.  I found these two males just short of the point, though they seemed too drab at first to be Harlequins.

With the sunlight coming directly from the left it’s hard to tell if the male on the right even has the distinctive rusty-red color. Not sure if that’s because of the light or because it is a young male just beginning to go into breeding plumage.

I seldom see Harlequins flying because like a lot of sea birds they dive when surprised.  Again, I was a little surprised how little red showed up. 

On the other hand, these three males who looked like they may have been courting the female shone brightly in the sun, though she seems remarkably unimpressed.  

Obviously, the red sides and red stripe down the head must play a part in attracting females, but it might also be a liability in surviving long enough to breed.  Luckily, I suspect it’s nearly invisible from above and non-existent from below the surface.

At the very least, their bright colors appeal to people — judging from the number of pictures found online and they are the reason I return several times during the winter to Ft. Flagler though it never crosses my mind to visit in the summer.

Loren’s Easily Distracted

As I was walking out the point at Ft. Flagler to find Harlequin Ducks, I kept seeing little birds like this

walking down the shoreline towards me.  I’ll have to admit that I didn’t recognize them at first because I’m used to seeing Dunlin with a sheer black front, their breeding plumage.  The sheer number of them I saw totally distracted me from my main goal.  I must have spent a half hour getting different shots of them, everything from small flocks still sleeping in

early birds taking off, 

even earlier birds flying in to join those who had found food, 

while others seem determined to discover their own.

Nothing quite like a pleasant distraction to start you day.

Some distractions, though, aren’t nearly so pleasant.  It was a near-freezing morning with strong winds so I was wearing my snow-shoeing gloves and discovered that even with the camera settings “Locked” that pushing the wrong button would readjust the f-stop and I ended up with some rather badly overexposed photos.  Luckily, I was shooting in RAW format so I was able to recover some of the shots I liked in Adobe Lightroom.

A Textbook Illustration

I have several birding books and an equal number of birding apps, but my go-to book is Bob Morse’s BIRDS of the Puget Sound.  It’s a small handbook (about the size of a hand) and contains short, but helpful, descriptions of the birds, where they are most apt to be found, and habits.  My experience with Black-Bellied Plovers at Ft. Flagler seemed an experience right out of a textbook.  

His book states that they can be found in “mudflats,”

short grass,

and beaches.

Under Diet and Behavior, the book states “Birds spread out to feed but roost in groups, often flocking with other shorebirds, especially Dunlin.

I’ll have to admit that I didn’t really see the Plovers mixed in with the Dunlin until I brought the shots up on screen. It’s a great place to get lost in a crowd.