Black-bellied Plovers at Ft. Flagler

I knew we would be in Colorado during the height of the Spring Shorebird Migration, so I hoped to see the early birds when Leslie and I went to Fort Flagler on April 25th.  I wasn’t disappointed, either.  Though there weren’t nearly as many birds as I’m used to seeing at Bottle Beach on the Washington coast, there were still large numbers of birds, more than enough to get good photos of several different species.

Black-bellied Plovers are definitely one of my favorite shorebirds to photograph.  Their breeding plumage is spectacular, especially since their winter plumage is a subtle grayish brown. The striking black face, breast, and belly distinguish it from other shorebirds.

Black-bellied Plover

Since the breeding plumage is so distinctive, I’ve always thought it was just a means of attracting a mate,  so I was surprised at how well the breeding plumage blended into their coastal habitat. In fact, they blended in so well that it was often difficult to see them unless they took off as you got close or you saw where they landed after flying away.

Black-bellied Plover next to barnacle-covered rocks

The camouflage on the back, obvious in this shot, would also lessen the risk of falling prey to raptors as they hunted for food on the shoreline.

Though I was surprised when I first saw how the spangled upper feathers blended in with the barnacle-covered rocks, I was almost equally surprised that the plover also blended in well when seen at eye level.

Wilson Snipes may be better camouflaged than Black-bellied Plovers and male Wood Ducks may be more beautiful, but I don’t know any bird that combines beauty and camouflage better.   

Ocean Shores and Westport

If the sun is out and you’ve just returned from a two-week vacation with literally thousands of photos waiting to be scanned and edited, what do you do? If you stay home you’ll feel obligated to spend the day at the computer processing pictures and trying to figure out what you want to say about them. If you’re Loren and the sun is shining, instead, you head out to Ocean Shores and Westport to see if the loons have changed into breeding plumage and if Spring Migration has started.

You can never have too many great pictures, right?  As it turned out,  though, I didn’t add nearly as many photos to my collection as I had hoped to add.  It was sunny at the beach, but when I stopped at Ocean Shores the wind was so strong that I could barely open my door. I. quickly decided we would go to Westport instead of walking the beach looking for birds that wouldn’t be there.  Birding is usually miserable when there are high winds, and I didn’t want to take the chance of blowing sand damaging an expensive lens. 

The drive wasn’t in vain, though, as we stopped at our favorite art galley in Ocean Shores where I bought two photographs from a local artist I had admired for several years.  

The winds hadn’t died down much when we reached Westport so we had lunch and hoped for the best.  The fish and chips on Blue Buoy’s smaller portion menu for older folks was delightful as usual.  

After lunch we drove down to the marina where we were greeted by this Common Loon that had not fully transitioned to its breeding plumage — not the look I was hoping for.          

Common Loon in transitional plumage

We tried to walk out the jetty but the winds were so high that I lost my hat, even though my ponytail was braided through the back. The only birds we saw out there were gulls that seemed to be enjoying riding the high winds.

My favorite shot of the day was probably this one of a small Coast Guard boat cutting through the choppy waves.

My favorite bird shot of the day was this one of a Clark’s Grebe that approached as we walked through the marina back to our car.

Clark’s Grebe

I did get a shot of a Common Loon in full-breeding plumage at Tokeland, but naturally, he wasn’t nearly as cooperative as the one we saw at Westport.  This shot was heavily cropped and adjusted in Photoshop to bring out the green band on his neck.

Common Loon in breeding plumage

Having lived in rain-soaked Aberdeen for almost a year, a sunny day at the beach is always a good day, birds or no birds, and I definitely enjoyed avoiding my computer for another day.   

Love the One You’re With

Birding, like fishing, is unpredictable, which can be either frustrating or exciting, depending on how you view it. As I noted here in 2002, I loved fishing with my dad as a kid, so, it’s probably not surprising that birding is exciting, not frustrating,  for me. If you don’t see the Harlequin you were hoping/expecting to see, keep looking and you might see something equally exciting.

On this weekend, that was the Red-breasted Merganser.  I only saw two at Fort Flagler and they were both a long ways offshore, so far I could barely see them without my  840 mm telephoto lens, and, even then, this shot is heavily cropped.  Still, it’s impossible to miss that dramatic hairdo.  

This shot of a male Red-breasted Merganser with a large Sole taken a few miles down the road at Mystery Bay State Park would have been the shot of the day if it hadn’t been for the green reflections in the water.

I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by two male Red-Breasted Mergansers when we visited the Marine Center at Fort Worden.

It was a little disappointing that the two males never came closer even though I waited several minutes for them to come closer, but I was pleasantly surprised when three female Red-Breasted Mergansers swam right up to Marine Center dock where we were standing.

This female sat on the beach nearby preening herself 

before rejoining the others and swimming right under us as they left, so close that I could never get all three females in the frame.

It would seem ungrateful to complain about not seeing as many Harlequins as I had hoped to see when I saw so many Red-breasted Mergansers, a bird I seldom see around Tacoma.

More of Fort Flagler

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of both Covid 19 and gray skies.  I endured the first year of Covid 19 seclusion fairly well, but this year has become depressing. It might be more bearable if the weather here in the Pacific Northwest was better and I could get out in Nature more often, but the only sunshine I’ve seen recently was during our recent snowshoeing trip to Mt. Rainier where we could look down into the clouds covering the Puget Sound Area. I desperately need a trip to Colorado or Santa Rosa sunshine.

That said, on the days when it’s not raining, I’m still determined to experience the beauty that is to be found nearby.  With that goal, we set out with Paul to Ft. Flagler and Port Townsend on a recent Sunday and ended up seeing many of the same birds that we had seen a few weeks earlier.  On our walk out to the point we were greeted by a small flock of Sanderlings running in and out of the water hunting for food

and a little further along a large part of the flock still sleeping in.

Nearing the point, we saw Brants that appeared to be gradually splitting off into pairs.

An unexpected treat was the sighting of a Black Oystercatcher that scurried away as soon as it sighted us.

For the second visit in a row, though, I didn’t see a single Harlequin Duck or a single Black-bellied Plover, two of my favorites.  Once again, I had to wait until we were leaving to see what was probably the same pair we saw on our last visit.

While I was trying to get a shot of the Harlequins, a Bald Eagle buzzed us, making me suspect that it may well be the reason we haven’t seen the Harlequins on recent visits. 

People are generally thrilled to see Bald Eagles in areas where they haven’t been seen before, but other species see them from a very different perspective as they are forced to disperse to avoid becoming a “sitting duck” for nearby eagles.