Friday, December 31, 2010

Black Oystercatcher

My last post of 2010, just before the big ball drops on Times Square (or at least timed delayed for us on the West coast).
A few images of the Black Oystercatchers I saw along with the Black Turnstone at Seal Rock State Park last Monday. I had a lot of fun climbing around on the rocks, trying to stay dry as the waves came splashing in. All-in-all it was a good trip that resulted in some satisfying pictures.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

American Kestrel - Eating Rodent

I wish more days were sunny, that the angle was always right and that all birds were as cooperative as this American Kestrel. :-)
This Kestrel has been hanging out at RNWR near the entrance of the Kiwa trails on the auto tour and has pretty much ignored the people in cars watching it. This is the second time that it has put on a show for me and yesterday was quite a show. Not only did it allow closeups, but while sitting on a sign, it dropped down to the ground and picked up a rodent. It then flew off to one of the posts at the Kiwa trail entrance and proceeded to eat it while we watched.
I didn't stay for the whole thing, but I did watch as it took its time picking apart the rodent's head. It was quite the sight.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Black-crowned Night-Heron

Today's weather was all over the map. It ranged from heavy rain with snow to sunshine. I started out trying to find the Prairie Falcon NW of Forest Grove on Harrington Road and Kerkman Road, but I had no luck. I saw many American Kestrels, but no Falcons.
By the time I gave up on the Prairie Falcon, the sunshine had given way to clouds. I decided to to see if I could improve my luck by finding the Acorn Woodpeckers at Delta Park or the Black-crowned Night-Herons off Marine Drive. But on my way there, it began to rain heavily with a mix of snow, so I reset my GPS to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. By the time I got to Ridgefield, the sun was out again. I drove the auto tour and got some great pictures of a Kestrel eating a rodent.
On my way home, I decided to try for the Woodpecker and Heron again since the rain had stopped. I had no luck with the Acorn Woodpecker, but the Black-crowned Night-Herons panned out. As reported by others that had seen these birds, they are somewhat difficult to see, roasting among the pine branches fairly high up in the trees. It was also starting to get dark with an overcast sky, so the lighting was bad. I did manage to get a reasonable picture seen above. I spotted three Herons in all.
While I was taking pictures, a woman who said she lived across the street on the second floor, stopped by and told me that she had seen as many a nine Herons in the trees a one time a couple of years ago. She can see them from her apartment window.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black Turnstone

The weather has been awful. Lots of rain. None-the-less I decided to take a trip to the coast yesterday. I had heard that there are commonly Harlequin Ducks at Seal Rock State Park and I was itching to go see. I did see some Harlequins and in much closer than those I saw at Yaquina Head last week.
The stars of the day though were a couple of Black Oystercatchers and a Black Turnstone.
There are a lot of small to large volcanic rocks sticking out of the sand on the beach. These rocks are covered with Barnacles and Mussels and provided a plentiful food source for these three birds. I followed them around the the rocks for a couple hours on and off, taking pictures as they climbed about looking for food.

Unfortunately, it was rather cloudy and the rain slowly intensified as the morning progressed causing the pictures to be a bit soft, but I was able to get in rather close which helped offset the gloomy lighting.
An interesting thing about the the Black Turnstone is that while at rest, they are rather dark colored with a white under belly. But when they fly, their open wings and tail reveal splashes of white. Try as I might, I could not get a descent photo of it in flight, but I decided to include the best image to reveal this trait.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Western Gull - Webless Feet

While looking through some images of gulls I took at Boiler Bay a week ago from last Friday, I noticed that this one has no webbing between the toes of its feet. You can see a ridge of flesh along the inner sides of the toes were it appears the webbing should have attached.
The gull appears to be a Western. I did some internet research and could not find any mention of a gull without webbed feet or any irregularities. I assume this must be some type of genetic defect.
If anyone knows anything about what may have caused this, let me know.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

American Coot

A couple of American Coot seen from the bird blind at TRNWR last Saturday morning.

Green-winged Teal

While the bird blind at TRNWR gives you a chance to get some close, undisturbed pictures of waterfowl and other birds, they can still be a fair distance off for my 300mm lens. So whenever I rent either the 400mm or 600mm lens, I try to spend some time in the blind.
Such was the case this past Saturday morning. The water level was back up and while the bird diversity wasn't as good as I've experienced, there were plenty of Green-winged Teal. I took quite a few shots and posted some of the better ones above. These are very pretty ducks and I realized when comparing them to a few Mallards that swam through that they are also rather small.
Other birds seen were Mallards, Gadwalls and American Coot in the main pond and Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails off in the side pond. I also got a few nice shots of a Nutria.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dark-eyed Junco - Slate-colored

While growing up in Minnesota, I remember one of the common birds in the winter was the Slated-colored Junco. They were fun to watch and looked great against the snow.
When I moved out to Oregon in the late 80's, it was a treat to see the Oregon Juncos. The peachy feathers on their sides and brown backs added color to the plain gray of the Slate-colored.
Now, having gotten serious about birding again, I learned that the two Junco varieties I am familiar with were merged together in 1973 as one species, the Dark-eyed Junco, along with three other variations; the White-winged, the Pink-sided and the Gray-headed.
I got to see some Slate-colored varieties during my last trip to Atlanta, but it wasn't until yesterday at TRNWR that I saw one out here in Oregon.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pacific (Winter) Wren

I noticed a small bird just off to the side of the trail among some fallen branches and leaves today at TRNWR. I figured it was probably a wren as it was rather small and hiding under cover. So I waited patiently with my camera ready and sure enough, it eventually showed itself. It turned out to be a Pacific Wren, recently split from what was a Winter Wren.
Wrens are difficult to photograph, as are many small birds, since they are typically always on the move and their size requires you to be pretty close to get a descent shot. While not a perfect shot, I am happy to have gotten this opportunity.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ancient Murrelet

While I didn't see the high number of ocean birds I had read reports of at Boiler Bay, I did manage to get shots of some Ancient Murrelet. At the time I didn't realize what they were as they were well off the coast. I can see where a high quality spotting scope would be a good thing to have for viewing off the coast.
Cornell's All About Birds website states that "It is the only seabird that raises its young entirely at sea."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatchers on a rock adjacent to Colony Rock at Yaquina Head Natural Area. My first ever sighting of these birds. I took many shots, but unfortunately I should have under exposed them a bit as most of the pictures had blown out red bills and pale legs.

Glaucous-winged Gull - One Foot

Last Friday during my trip to the coast, after the sun had disappeared behind clouds that had moved in during the early afternoon, I made one last stop at Hatfield Marine Science Center before heading home. I had not been to the science center in over ten years, so I was somewhat unfamiliar with what I would find, but I had heard that it could be a good birding area.
What I found was that one side of the parking lot was up against the bay and that there were birds swimming about. There were several Buffleheads, a Double-crested Cormorant and as I discovered tonight while going through the pictures, a Horned Grebe. There were also some gulls.
One of the gulls was quite a ways off, but I still had my camera equipped with the 600mm lens and the 1.7x teleconvertor. That gave me the equivalent of a 1500mm lens on a 35mm camera. That optical power allowed me to see the distant gull quite well.
What I discovered was a Glaucous-winged Gull that had a severed foot. It was standing in shallow water, hopping to get around with wings spread to keep its balance, as seen below. Not long after watching the gull, I observed it pull some type of mollusk from the mud under the water.It then took off flying in the general direction of the parking lot. I tried to follow it with my camera, but I am not as nimble with a big lens on a tripod as I am using my normal hand held 300mm lens. None-the-less, I was able to get a few reasonable shots of it as it flew off.Then it did something that I would not have been surprised at, had I lived in coastal areas in the past, or had been a life-time birder. It hovered over the asphalt and dropped the mollusk so that the mollusk broke open when it hit the ground.It then swooped down at the site of the carnage and proceeded to eat the juicy innards.While the act of dropping the mollusk was not an unusual sequence to have witnessed, what struck me was the fact that this disabled gull had adapted to its situation and was able to fend for itself in the face of such adversity.
It wasn't until it was all over, that I realized what the white crushed debris on the parking lot surface was. It was crushed shells from all the mollusks that must have been dropped by gulls over the years!

Blue Jay

A Blue Jay dining on tree seeds at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area during my last trip to Atlanta.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

American Kestrel

Another 600mm success.

Things were slower on the auto tour at RNWR than the last time I visited, but the American Kestrels decided it was a good day to pose for pictures. First there was one near the trail parking lot that moved from tree branch to trail sign to marker post, allowing a couple of us to take pictures at our leisure.
Then there was the one above that was sitting on a sign post past marker 12. I was able to pull up right beside it and take a few pictures before it flew off.

Great Blue Heron

Every camera lens seems to have its own characteristics. Some positive, others negative. I think I've discovered more of the negative characteristics with the 600mm lens than the positive. Many pictures that looked great in the viewfinder ended up being very soft in actuality. Different things are at play I think. Since it has such high magnification, the need for a very still camera and fast shutter speeds are essential.
In addition to the lens, I rented a tripod and a Wimberley gimbal head. This is a pretty stable system, but I found that with the high winds at the coast, it was hard to keep it rock solid.
While it was sunny on Friday, today was a cloudy day and this results in slower shutter speeds.
One thing I forgot is that most lenses are sharper if you close the aperture a stop or two. My 70 - 300mm doesn't seem to exhibit this much, but I think this lens does. I'll try setting the camera for aperture priority tomorrow and see if that improves the results.
When things are all working though, it does a great job. I took this picture of a Great Blue Heron's head at RNWR today. This is full frame as the bird was just off the road and with the lens' magnification, this is all I could fit in the frame. Turned out quite nice.
This is also my first post using Lightroom3. It has a bit of a learning curve, but I think it will provide better results than Pixelmator.

Harlequin Duck

I'm on vacation for the rest of the year and decided to start the time off by renting a 600mm f/4.0 lens and a 1.7x teleconverter for the weekend. I've rented the 400mm f/2.8 a couple times in the past and have been wanting to try the 600mm. Since waterfowl are the main attraction these days and many are too far out on the water for my 300mm to reach, I thought now would be a good time to give it a try.
Pro Photo in Portland rents either for $80 a day. However, if you rent over the weekend, you can pick it up on Thursday after 3:30 and don't have to bring it back until Monday morning at 10:30 for the same price. Pretty good deal I think since buying these lenses would set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $8000+.
I started out yesterday with a trip to the coast. I thought since I have all this glass, I'd try Boiler Bay since I read about all the sightings on OBOL. Unfortunately, I didn't have much luck. Not sure if was because the birds were all way off the coast because of the good weather or that they typically are always way off the coast and even with all this camera glass, it is no match for a good viewing scope.
So after a couple of hours of frustration, I decided to move to Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. I was there last summer and it was alive with birds. A 600mm lens would have been great to have during that trip. I knew that it wouldn't be like that now during the winter, but I thought I'd give it a try anyway.
Turned out I was right, Colony Rock was mostly barren except for a gull here and there. But that's were the 600mm with 1.7x teleconverter came into play. I started scanning the rock and surrounding ocean with both my camera and binoculars and eventually started finding birds. There were quite a few Black Turnstones, Surfbirds (I think) and Black Oystercatchers on the rock. In the water I saw Western Grebes, Common Loons, Surf Scoters, Black Scoters, various Cormorants and Harlequin Ducks. There were also other birds further out that I haven't been able to identify because of the distance. With the exception of the Oystercatchers, I probably would not have been able to identify any of these birds with either my binoculars or 300mm lens.
The Harlequin Ducks, in the images above, where out quite a ways. In the lower image they were actually on the sea side of Colony Rock. In the upper image they were to the south also out beyond the rocks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Great Blue Heron - Up Close

It's not uncommon to be able to drive right past a Great Blue Heron standing along side the road on the auto tour at RNWR. (I seem to be posting a lot from there here lately. I guess it says something about the weather we've been having) Such was the case with this one. It posed very nicely for me.
As I was taking pictures of it standing all picturesque, I recalled a recent post by Nature Nut of the feet of a Great Blue Heron and decided to take some shots of both its head and legs. Notice that the toe in the foreground appears to be missing its claw.
Great Blue's are quite common, but I never get tired of taking pictures of them as they are very elegant and interesting.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bald Eagle

I believe this is a 2nd year Bald Eagle based on its light colored belly. Another of the many raptors I saw at RNWR. It was perched near the top of one of the trees between marker 6 and 7. I took these shots through my car's sun roof. The whole time I was shooting it, it had its feathers ruffled and its wings partially open. I'm not sure why, it's possible it was sunning itself as what sun there was was at it back.
None-the-less, it was quite the sight perched up there above me.