Bear River Terns

Cinnamon Teal wasn’t the only species that was more numerous than usual at Bear River.  Though we have seen terns on previous visits, they were more active than they have ever been when we’ve been here before. Leslie wanted me to get some shots of them, but that’s a lot easier said than done, especially using the 500mm lens with doubler mounted on the window sill. 

The only way that setup would work was to set a high shutter speed and try to get shots in the distance.  I got some shots that I liked, but these first shots are heavily cropped.

I liked how this shot revealed the tern’s aeronautic design.

Forster(?) Term

I’m not sure if these are Common Terns or Forster’s Terns. but  Merlin identified it as a Forster’s Tern and since marshes are their common habitat, I am going to go with that identification.  The Audubon society notes, though, that the two are so similar that Audubon and others first considered them the same species.  It’s not surprising that I had a lot of trouble deciding what they were.

The birder in me may want to know what their name is, but when I was there their names seemed irrelevant.  I simply admired their amazing speed and their ability to catch fish 

Diving Forster Tern

by plunging full speed into the pond.

Tern in Water

Occasionally I would even get lucky and get a shot like this that seems remarkably clear despite being heavily cropped.  

Tern Mid-Flight

However, I ended up getting the best shots with the Canon EOS R5 that Leslie was using most of the time.  Even with a 600 mm lens, it’s light enough to handhold.  These last three shots required very little cropping because the terns were much closer.

I had hoped that one of the terns would be facing us while hovering, but this was the best shot I could get of one hovering, the easiest time to get a shot of them.

Tern Hovering

Except for the wing tip being out of frame, this was my favorite shot of the day. That’s probably because I’ve learned the hard way that it’s difficult to capture a closeup of a flying tern.

In fact, if your goal is simply to get a clear shot of a Forster Tern, your surest bet is to get a shot of one standing on the shore.

Tern resting on sandbar

Unfortunately, this kind of shot doesn’t capture the tern’s most remarkable trait — their speed. 

Perhaps to do that I should have included the many shots where unrecognizable parts of the terns disappear off the edges of the frame.

Cinnamon Teal

An old saying comes to mind when I look back at our latest trip to Bear River: “Nature abhors a vacuum.” As a gardener, I used to think that saying only applied to my garden where areas I had just weeded would immediately be covered in new weeds. However, it took on a more pleasant connotation when the missing American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, and Grebes were replaced by large numbers of birds we had rarely seen there, more than ready to take advantage of the wetlands.

One of my favorite of those was the Cinnamon Teal.  We were greeted by a pair of very raucous male Cinnamon Teal in the fields before we got to the refuge.  I assumed they were squabbling over territory since it was near breeding season.  

male Cinnamon Teal

We were then greeted near the gate by a single male Cinnamon Teal in the pond next to the gate.  

male Cinnamon Teal

I began to question my original premise that males would become territorial this time of year since the opposite seemed to be much more common since most of my shots actually showed pairs or small flocks of male Cinnamon Teal hanging out together.

two male Cinnamon Teal

We only saw a single pair

pair of Cinnamon Teal

and they didn’t seem any rush to nest. I was curious about when Cinnamon Teal nest, but the only information I could find online was that they nest “at different times in different areas,” which didn’t really answer my questions.

Thankfully, it’s easy to admire their beauty even when you don’t know much about them, and that’s often the first step in learning about their lives.

Bear River Grebes

My all-time favorite shots at Bear River may be pictures of Avocet chicks, but a close second would have to be pictures of Grebe chicks riding on their parent’s back.  We didn’t see any of those on this trip, either, though we saw grebes throughout the refuge. 

Bear River is the first place I ever saw a Clark’s Grebe and didn’t realize it wasn’t a Western Grebe until I put the shots up on my computer screen. Now, though the hairline is a distinctive difference; the dark cap usually doesn’t surround the eye.  In addition, the orange beak is quite different from the Western Grebe’s yellow beak.

Clark’s Grebe

Though they look remarkably similar in the wild, seeing them posted together like this helps me to clearly distinguish the two.

Western Grebe

Of course, once you think you’ve got the difference mastered you see one like this that seems like a hybrid Western/Clark’s, which I’ve never seen before but does seem to exist.

Hybrid Western/Clark’s Grebe?

Another unexpected sighting was this Eared Grebe not yet in full breeding plumage, a first for me at Bear River.

Eared Grebe in transitional plumage

Luckily we were too busy just taking shots of the many birds we did see to be disappointed by the birds we didn’t see. 

If I had driven 600+ miles to just see Avocet or Grebe chicks I would have been depressed by our trip, but, since I don’t chase particular birds and visit places that make me feel alive, I always end up enjoying the places I visit — unless there are too many mosquitoes visiting at the same time.

Not Just Avocets

As I noted in a long-forgotten blog entry, where you find American Avocets you almost invariably find Black-Necked Stilts and White-Faced Ibis.  Apparently, the corollary is also true: if you don’t find Avocets you probably won’t find Black-necked Stilts or White-Faced Ibis, either.  

We saw more Black-necked Stilts in wetlands next to the freeway on our way to Bear River than we did on the refuge.  The only shot we managed in the refuge was this one, taken at the beginning of the auto tour.

Black-necked Stilts

Luckily, we saw more White-faced Ibis than we did stilts.  It was hard to miss the distinctive profile as small flocks of Ibis flew overhead.

Silhouettes of Black-necked Stilt in flight

Unfortunately, the sunlight didn’t cooperate when we finally spotted several Ibis foraging in the wetlands. 

Black-necked Stilt in the shade

You would swear that White-faced Ibis are a dark, brown color from shots like this.

It’s only in the kind of light we got at the end of the road tour that you can clearly see, as the Cornell site points out: “The handsome White-faced Ibis shimmers with purple, green, and bronze plumage. Breeding adults add to this a ruby-red eye surrounded by a sharp white mask, and pink legs.”

Brightly-lit White-faced Ibis

Of course, it would be easier to accurately render the colors I saw if water didn’t look as different in varying light as the birds do, making it difficult to know if your camera accurately recreated the colors you saw. It might also help if I didn’t automatically underexpose my shots to avoid blown-out highlights, but that’s a discussion for another time. My mind tells me that water should be a blue/deep blue, but my camera constantly reminds me that what is inside my head isn’t always true. I still struggle to recreate what I saw when I took the shot, not just what the camera captured.