Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bank Swallow

I've had a few opportunities to bird in California over the past year and on occasion I was fairly certain that I had seen a few Bank Swallows whizzing past as swallows do, but I was never able to get a good enough look to be certain, having never seen Bank Swallows before.
That changed on the Fort Funston beach in Los Angeles this past May 15.  I had just completed photographing a few Common Ravens on the beach.  Looking inland I noticed that the sandy bank above a ridge of large, broken rocks had several holes about the size you would expect from a small bird.
Bank swallows immediately came to mind, so I scaled the rocks to get a closer look.  The holes sure looked like they could be swallow burrows, but there didn't seem to be any swallows. 
Eventually one showed up, but it quickly darted into a burrow before I had a chance to get a picture.
Likewise, when they left the burrows it was usually with a full head of steam.
Eventually more and more swallows started showing up until there were probably 20 - 30 flying around me. I never got a shot of one at rest as I never saw one at rest, but I was able to cross my fingers and shoot away as they streaked by or rode an air current off the shore and up the bank.
As you can see above, there were several holes, and this was just one section of the bank.

Monday, May 21, 2012

American Robin

Taken on March 11, 2012 at the end of Rentenaar Road on Sauvie Island.
I wonder if Robins look exotic to non-North Americans?

Friday, May 18, 2012


After spending a couple hours at Lake Merced, I crossed over Highway 35 to Fort Funston, part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The park runs along the coast, so I was hoping to find some shorebirds. My spirits were dampened a bit, however, as I climbed the hill to the shore as the park was swarming with dogs. People were walking around with not just one or two dogs, but with what seemed to be up to ten dogs.
I did some research and found that this is a very popular park for dogs in San Francisco and there is an on going attempt to put restrictions on dog use in many of the parks. Of course this is not going over well with dog owners.
The only trouble I had with the dogs (which was little) is when they flushed the birds I was trying to shoot.  While the beach was pretty desolate at first, it eventually became populated with several Whimbrels. Every time I'd get into position to get some reasonable shots, it seemed someone's dog would come running by and spooked the birds. One young lady irked me a bit as she walked her dog back and forth along the beach and flushed the Whimbrels several times as I was trying to get shots.  It was obvious what I was doing, but she made no attempt to move her dog further from the water as they walked by.
Away, I did take advantage of the situation and got some shots of the Whimbrels flying by as seen above.
Later, I had the beach to myself for awhile and I finally did get some reasonably close shots of the Whimbrels. It took some patience as they were careful not to let me get too close, but eventually I earned their trust.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brown-headed Blackbird

I tried something that I've rarely done before. I spent some time at San Francisco's Lake Merced Lake yesterday and found myself quite close to a small flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds. Unfortunately it was about 6:30 PM and with heavily overcast skies, the lighting was very poor.
So, since they were tolerating me so near (within 15'), I decided I'd try my flash.  It turned out to work great.  The first few shots I took were a little over exposed so I adjusted the exposure down a full stop and ended up with some pretty good pictures.
The flash didn't seem to bother the birds, so I may try it more often in gloomy light. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbirds are gorgeous.  Though not real common in the Portland area, a few spend time at RNWR in the spring and early summer.  There is one in particular along South Big Lake between markers 11 and 12 that spends a lot of time in the cattails next to the road.
I've been trying to get a good shot of it for over a year now.  Something always seems to go wrong, including being the second in line to get the shot.  I lucked out, or maybe it was finally just my time, on April 21.  
I had rented a 600mm lens along with a 1.7x teleconverter that weekend.  The top two shots and the one below were taken with that lens combination, while the one above was taken with my 70 - 300mm zoom at 300mm. I was having trouble keeping the 600mm still and many images turned out soft, including these.  The image taken with the 300mm is sharper, but the images taken with the 600mm filled the frame better even though they were taken from further away.  This allowed me to use more sharpening than usual to compensate.     
The call of the Yellow-headed Blackbird is a crazy combination of buzzing and clanking as it throws its head back and rotates it around. Listen here courtesy of Birdfellow.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Least Sandpiper

I came across this Least Sandpiper walking the berms of the newly renovated Wapato Marsh Wetlands at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve. It was strangely tolerant of me.  While the multitudes of other peeps would fly off if I got anywhere near as close as I got to this one, it seemed only mildly concerned with me. I took dozens of pictures of it, with the two above being the best, finally deciding to let it be and moved on.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

American Bittern - Gone Fishing

It's always fascinating to actually observe a bird catch its prey.  This American Bittern pulled a small fish from the canal near marker 2 at RNWR on April 21 while I was taking shots of it. The bittern let it flop around for awhile in its beak, then swallowed it down.