Who’d Have Guessed?

If you’d asked me before last Tuesday, I would have said that the Northern Shoveler was a very sedate, sociable bird — absolutely mellow. They’re often seen in flocks and quite often mixed in with other ducks. Thus, I didn’t pay too much attention to this pair of Northern Shovelers while I focused on getting pictures of the Red-Necked Phalarope.

pair of Northern Shoveler

However, I heard quite a racket behind me and turned around to see two males

male Northern Shovelers Fighting

going after it. One male left, only to circle and return and the two went after it, again,

male Northern Shovelers Fighting

and again, for nearly a half hour,

male Northern Shovelers Fighting

and perhaps longer because I was off to my next destination.

This display inspired me to look up more info about the Northern Shoveler. The Birds of North America Online states that “this is the most territorial of all North American dabbling ducks, and males remain paired with females longer than in other species, in turn affecting life-history parameters such as the mating system and courtship.” After the display I saw on Tuesday, I’d have to agree. When you know as little as I do, though, it’s easy to learn something new every time you go out bird watching.

Red-Necked Phalaropes

After I sent my picture of a Wilson’s Phalarope to Ruth to positively identify it, she showed me the pictures she’d gotten of a Red-Necked Phalarope at Ocean Shores. Needless to say, the next clear day I headed to Ocean Shores to add that bird to my collection.

I started by making a quick stop at the sewage pond to see what was there. I noticed a small little bird floating in the front pond that I didn’t recognize. As I watched it through the camera lens, I finally realized it was the bird that I had come to find:

Red-necked Phalarope

The Red-Necked Phalarope is only about half the size of the Wilson’s Phalarope, and this phalarope spent the entire time I was there floating on the pond picking food up instead of wading like the Wilson’s I’d noticed the week before.

Later I headed over to one of the ponds and marshes down the beach. If I’d known how many phalaropes there were going to be there, I certainly wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to get a good picture of the the Red-Necked Phalarope at the sewage pond.

However, knowing I had already gotten some good pictures of the phalarope just floating gave me the opportunity to try to get shots in a less common pose, like this one just taking-off,

Phalarope Taking Off

and the patience to wait for this particularly striking one to stop preening long enough that I could get a shot that also included its head.

Red-necked Phalarope

I’d been photographing the phalaropes for quite awhile when this a whole flock of birds suddenly swooped in—just as my compact card filled up— so I only managed to get one shot. At first I thought they were Bonaparte Gulls, but when I was studying my Audubon Guide, I realized they were actually male Red-necked Phalaropes.

Or, maybe not, my friend John emailed me stating that he thinks, judging from Sibley’s, that they look more like Bonaparte Gulls than male phalaropes. Since I’ve never seen a Red-necked Phalarope before Thursday, much less a male phalarope, there’s every possibility that my first guess was right and the second one was wrong. If they are Bonaparte Gulls, I wonder why there are no adults in full breeding plumage, like the flock I saw recently in Malheur. Still, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

And on to Bottle Beach

Although I was elated to see the Wilson’s Phalarope in the morning, I rushed to get out of there because I wasn’t going to miss the chance to bird Bottle Beach under perfect conditions. As usual, I was way too early, there long before anyone else showed up, which was fine with me because I enjoy the beauty and quiet.

I was also very happy when birds began to show up. First came the Black-bellied Plovers, way out before the tide had come half way in.

Black-Bellied Plover

I started snapping shots early one when they were a quarter mile away, afraid that like last year they would never come very close. I was hoping my 500mm lens with a doubler would give me some decent shots. I ended up deleting all those early shots because they ended up coming quite close, particularly before other photographers joined me.

I also got even better shots of the Ruddy Turnstones

Ruddy Turnstone

that I’d seen for the first time ever the week before.

And the beach was full of Red Knots,

Red Knot

one of the prettiest shorebirds.

But, as before, the real highlight of the shoot wasn’t a particular bird, no matter how pretty it might be; no the real highlight is being surrounded by thousands of birds, mostly hard-to-identify “peeps,”


who pay absolutely no attention to you unless you do something foolish to frighten them.

Although you begin the shoot pointing your lens toward the bay, by the end of the shoot it doesn’t matter which way you point it — there are birds everywhere. It’s a feeling I seldom experience, but am always enraptured when I do.

Wilson’s Phalarope

When I was at Nisqually I mentioned that I wanted to see a Snipe, one of the few birds in my book on Puget Sound birds that I still haven’t seen after five years of birding. A volunteer suggested that she’d often seen them at John’s River, south of Aberdeen. Since I was planning on going to the coast this week anyway, I decided to go down early the next day to look for snipes.

Needless to say, I didn’t see a single one at John’s River on Thursday.

But that was okay, because I ended up seeing the best birds of the day there. For instance, I haven’t seen a Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

since they closed the five-mile loop at Nisqually. Nor have I been this close to a Yellowlegs since they closed the loop.


Most of all, I’ve never seen a Wilson’s Phalarope

Wilson's Phalarope

since they’re extremely rare here in the Pacific Northwest. And, although it was quite shy, it seemed perfectly willing to wade around the far side of the pond as I snapped pictures for the next thirty plus minutes.

Wilson's Phalarope

It was one of those “aha” moments that makes the long walks and the waiting worthwhile. The sheer beauty of the bird and its totally unexpected appearance made this the kind of magical moment I’ll remember, the big one that didn’t get away.