Bear River Odds and Ends

I visit the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge as often as possible to see the American Avocets, Black-necked Stilts, White-faced Ibis and White-faced Ibis, Grebes, and Forster Terns, but whenever I visit I’m reminded that there is so much more to see there.

For instance, we were greeted by this Franklin Gull (which I admittedly confused with the Bonaparte Gull that I used to see regularly at Malheur).

Franklin Gull

We occasionally see Curlew on the beach in California during the winter, but I can usually count on seeing one or two at Bear River.


We saw Cinnamon Teal at the Sacramento NWR on our trip to Arizona, but I will never miss a chance to get a shot as close-up and as beautiful as this.  

male Cinnamon Teal

I see a lot more Brown Pelicans than White Pelicans, but it’s hard to miss seeing them at Bear River since they congregate at both the entrance to the auto tour and on the ponds on the far side of the refuge.

White Pelican

The Yellow-headed Blackbird’s raucous call makes them hard to miss.

Although I don’t remember ever seeing a Western Kingbird on the refuge itself, they commonly line the road to and from the refuge (and sometimes they will even sit still long enough to get a shot after you stop and retrieve your camera).

Western Kingbird

It’s probably a good thing I don’t live in Brigham City or I would spend all my time on the refuge and never have time to put together blog entries.

As we drove toward the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge we saw a flock of Terns swooping by.  I pulled over into a rest area and took this shot of a tern perching, briefly, on a post overlooking the wetlands. I think it’s a Forster Tern, but it could well be a Common Tern  (Merlin merely suggests it’s one or the other and leaves the final decision to me).

Tern on pole

That’s the only picture I managed to get at that first stop, despite spending 10 or fifteen minutes trying to get a shot of them in flight.  They’re not as hard as Swallows to capture mid-air, but they’re a close second.   

After we got to the refuge we spotted several in the distance where I could use my 1000mm lens (500mm with a doubler) to capture shots of them whisking by carrying small fish.

Tern with small fish

Unfortunately, since the 500 mm lens is mounted on the car door, it’s impossible to photograph terns that are very high in the air.

Tern in flight

I didn’t get a photo I liked until we left the refuge and returned to where we had seen them earlier.  Then I got out of the car and switched to the much lighter R5 camera with a 600mm telephoto with a 1.4 multiplier that Leslie had been using so that I could try to track the Terns as they flew up and down.  

Luckily, they hover for a brief moment before diving into the water.  That pause was just long enough that the autofocus on the camera would kick in, resulting in shots like this

Tern Hovering

and this.

I still haven’t managed to get a shot of a tern just as it hits the water, but that’s all the more reason to go back next year and try, try again.  

Grebes at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

In the last few years I may have seen more Western and Clark’s Grebes at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge than everywhere else.  Unfortunately, we saw fewer grebes than usual, either because of construction on the refuge or the height of the flood waters. Shots of Grebes carrying babies on their backs have been a particular favorite, so it was disappointing that we didn’t see a single Grebe with chicks.  Either we were too early (likely) or the flooding has delayed breeding season (possible).  

However, that didn’t deter me from taking photos of the grebes I did see, like this one of a  Clark’s Grebe trying to catch a little shut-eye in the middle of the day.

Clark’s Grebe Resting

This is a typical pose, but I’m still baffled at how they can wrap their neck around and still look forward. 

Although we didn’t see any Grebe chicks, most of the Clark’s Grebes we saw seemed to have paired off.

Pair of Clark’s Grebes

This pair of Western Grebes

Pair of Western Grebes

seemed to be actively house-hunting,

but were apparently keeping their options open because they soon left rather than settling in.

Not seeing grebes with chicks was the one disappointment of the day, but luckily there were so many other birds and photographic opportunities that I didn’t realize I was disappointed until I got home and started editing the pictures we had (and hadn’t) taken.  

Tres Amigos, Redux

As I mentioned long, long ago, in a previous post (it seems) not only do you find Black-necked Stilts where you find American Avocets, but you are also likely to find White-faced Ibis.  

I couldn’t quite believe my eyes the first time I saw a White-faced Ibis at Malheur.  I would have sworn it was a tropical bird that had wandered off course, not a bird you can regularly find in Southern Oregon and Utah.

When I first saw one, it was that long, curved beak that stood out.  Over time, though, it was the breeding plumage that fascinated, 

White-faced Ibis

and frustrated, me as a photographer.   At a distance or in poor light the plumage appears to be a dark, muddy brown, but seen in just the right light and right distance it is absolutely beautiful,

White-faced Ibis

and the closer you get

White-faced Ibis

the more beautiful and distinctive it appears.

close-up of White-faced Ibis

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