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.

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American Avocets

The first time I saw a picture of an American Avocet was in Tri-Cities on a brochure showing birds that could be seen in the refuge at different times of the year.  Right then I resolved that I would find one to photograph.  It was a few years before I found one, though, despite exploring all the bird refuges on the Columbia River.  Strangely enough, the earliest picture I could find in my blog was taken in the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, near Santa Rosa in March of 2012, and it was in its non-breeding plumage. The earliest I remember seeing one in full breeding colors was at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. 

Later I learned that the best place to find them breeding was at Bear River. I finally managed to get a shot of an Avocet chick there on July 12, 2016.  I was hoping to relive that moment on our recent visit, but we saw very few Avocets there this time and not a single nest, though when we were confronted by this Avocet as we started the road tour, I suspected that there might be a nest nearby. 

American Avocet

However, I dismissed that idea when the Avocet suddenly decided to take a nap.

Sleeping Avocet

The area where we’ve seen nests before was drained this year and cows were roaming the fields, apparently an attempt to rid the area of some kind of obnoxious weed.

So, we had to settle for shots of solitary Avocets foraging in the shallow water on other parts of the refuge,

Avocet Wading in Shallow Water

but Avocets are such elegant birds that it’s always a treat to see them, chicks or not.

Avocet Feeding

We did see a few pairs of Avocets, though. This pair foraged so closely together that I wondered if they could be courting each other and nesting.

A Pair of American Avocets Feeding

If so, they would be late because a little research revealed they generally nest from April to early July.  

In a normal year, that’s when Leslie and I would be headed to Colorado, but this was far from a normal year in so many ways.  Hopefully, we can get on track again next year.  

Back to Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

We just returned from our long-awaited trip to visit the Websters in Broomfield, CO, and Paul in Santa Rosa.  After a very long day of travel on our way to Colorado, we stayed overnight in Ogden, Utah, and squeezed in a visit to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge early the next morning before heading out to Broomfield.   We’ve never visited Bear River this time of year, so we didn’t know what to expect.  We were pleased to see the same old gang of Pelicans at the beginning of the drive-through tour, just where they have been on all our previous trips.           

Small Flock of White Pelicans

After getting this close-up,

Pelican Closeup

 we probably didn’t need to bother to take another shot of Pelicans because we couldn’t get a better shot, but we took a lot more as it turned out.  It took me quite a while to narrow down to just five shots.  

Since we rarely see White Pelicans west of the Cascades, it was delightful to see them throughout the Bear River refuge. Small flocks would occasionally fly overhead,

White Pelicans in flight

but, more often than not, we would just see small groups floating quietly on the ponds.

Pelicans Floating on the pond

Technically, this last shot isn’t very good because it’s so blurry that even Photoshop and Topaz can’t render it sharply, but I liked it because it revealed just how big a pelican’s mouth is.  

What a Big Mouth

Though we don’t go to Bear River specifically to see White Pelicans (I, at least, go to see the American Avocets), seeing the pelicans enhances the experience.  

Bear River Grebes

Although I discovered  Bear RiverMigratoryBird Refuge while searching for American Avocets, I fell in love with it because of the grebes that breed there.  My favorite shots from there are shots of grebes carrying chicks on their back.  Of course, I knew we’d be too late to see that this year, but we still managed to see several young grebes with their parents off in the distance

or occasionally closer, but always partially hidden.

Luckily, even without chicks, Western Grebes

and Clark’s Grebes

are beautiful.