Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nature's camouflage

American Bittern
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a popular place on New Year's Eve. I spent some time there last year too. Winter is a wonderful time for bird watching in the Nisqually delta. Fewer leaves make it easier to see a variety of birds and many winter here.

The bittern was right next to the boardwalk and stayed very still. I have never seen one before. It reminded me of a kiwi bird (which I've seen in a zoo).

The red-tailed hawk was tough to see until he or she flew right over my head, then merged right into a camo background again.

Red-tailed hawk

I photographed fishing bald eagles for a couple of hours. I'll post some of those tomorrow. Gulls followed to eagles waiting for fish to drop their way. This guy found something right under the surface or maybe he was hiding.

Favorite images from the other seasons in Nisqually can be found in my DuPont-Nisqually galleries.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice Hummers

"Jim," one of the Anna's hummingbirds wintering with me.
There are three Anna's hummingbirds–one female and two males–visiting my feeders and the birdie spa tree every day. "Jim" and "Buzz" alternate time guarding the feeders.

Jim and Buzz, Anna's hummingbirds
Sometimes they are in the tree at the same time. Maybe winter weather makes them a bit less territorial–a bit. Sharing the tree was brief, although one didn't chase the other off. Sometimes one will land on one feeder, leave, and a split second later the other will land on the second feeder. The girls have a different routine. When a female feeds, she will often sit on the feeder for several minutes. Jim or Buzz will guard from the tree but don't approach her.

More favorites in my Hummer Gallery.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Harrier on the hunt

Even though northern harriers were the first hawks I photographed at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, I still don't know much about them.

I misidentified this female hawk as a red-tailed hawk. I still remember my first raptor field guide that told me: "when in doubt, call it a red-tailed hawk." Many raptors look like red-tailed hawks at various times in their maturity.

Harriers have a pretty distinctive flight pattern, low to the ground, watching and listening for small prey. They often fly with their wings in a "V" pattern. 

We tend to see harriers in the winter in western Washington, although they are year-round residents in the rest of the state. I thought the harrier flying behind these gulls was a brown gull until she flew past them to hunt in the meadow.

Visit my Talons Gallery for more favorites.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Giant eagle bird bath

A local newspaper recently reported that snowy owls have been spotted at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. I decided to try my luck at spotting them myself yesterday. I checked in at the visitor center and learned there were no reports for Saturday but there are two that have been spotted fairly frequently in the past week.

I headed toward the boardwalk that takes you almost a mile into the Nisqually River delta. En route there, I saw a few photographers and bird watchers interested in something in the lagoon. What looked like either a very large bird or maybe a bird-like stump rose from the center of the lagoon.

Looking through my 300 mm lens, I saw that it was a juvenile bald eagle fishing, probably for clams. After conferring with some bird watchers, we decided it's a "she" (large bird with a large beak) about 2-3 years old.

Bald eagles look like golden eagles, osprey, and other birds of prey until they develop their characteristic white heads and tails when they are fully mature at 3-4 years old. This youngster eventually got tired of hunting and decided to clean up a bit. 

As I was photographing, I commented to one of my fellow bird watchers: "that's one ugly swan." Then she rose from the water and turned into a swan! Ok maybe a young swan.

It always amazes me that birds will bathe in pretty much any weather. I thaw out the iced-over bird bath next to my front porch and see finches, thrushes, and juncos taking advantage of the "hot" tub. The temp may be hovering right around 30 degrees F.

Presto chango! Voila! I am now a turkey! We all were amazed that the ducks stayed in the area. Nisqually bald eagles often pick off ducks and young geese at the refuge. Maybe this young eagle decided it was fish season and not duck season.

After about 15 minutes, she finished her bath and flew off, holding what appears to be a clam. A friend who lives in Ocean Shores pointed out the reason there are shattered clam shells along their streets is that seabirds drop them on paved streets to open them. It's probably easier to find them than if they dropped them on a rocky beach. I wonder if Nisqually birds do that?

My online Talons Gallery includes my favorites over the past year of raptor watching.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jim the hummer and lady friend

Hummers are generally backlit when they are at the feeders in late afternoon, so it's tough to tell who's there. A lady Anna's sat on one of the feeders for several minutes today. I noticed that "Jim" was sitting in the birdie spa tree and not chasing her off like he does the boys. She wasn't feeding but seemed to be resting.

Last year, I saw a female Anna's doing the same thing. I see more male Anna's in the fall and winter and more female rufous in spring and summer. These look like two different female birds, unless the one I saw today was puffing herself out for warmth.

Visit my Hummer Gallery for more.

It's going to be a cold night here in western Washington. I cleaned and refilled my feeders. I'm keeping one in the kitchen to put out in the morning. If there's freezing fog, there might be freezing feeders too. Usually they don't freeze until the temps are below 28 degree F.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Jim the hummer is back

Now that the leaves are mostly off the birdie spa tree, I can see "Jim" (think "don't mess around with...") in his spot directly across from the two hummingbird feeders on my porch. Another male Anna's – I've named him Buzz – also frequents the birdie spa. He challenges Jim, who then chases him off. I'm sure Buzz has occasional opportunities to eat with two feeders up. I'm hoping to catch the two of them together in the next few weeks.

A reminder to my friends and neighbors on the Left Coast: Anna's hummingbirds live here year-round. Leaving your feeders up doesn't keep them in the area. They don't migrate. Maybe it's because of climate change, but the eastern U.S. states are seeing rufous hummingbirds. Those long thousand-mile-plus migrations are tough on these little birds. Perhaps a few realized they can find food in areas like ours with milder winters. 

I posted information and link to more information on my blog a couple of weeks ago - Feed Hummers. One of my holiday cards includes the same information.

For more favorite hummers, visit my online Hummer Gallery.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Gathering of eagles

It was a glorious sunny day in the Northwest, a rare and welcome occurrence. Padme the wonderdog and I took a mid-afternoon walk in the sun with our neighbors and their dog. We walked past the bald eagle roost and nest yesterday with no sitings.

Today as we were scanning their favorite trees, our favorite eagle pair and a juvenile flew in. The adults landed in the trainer tree (the eagle jungle gym tree next to the nest tree). From the top of the tree, they talked to the juvenile in that chortling conversation eagles use with their kinfolk.

We didn't see the youngster and the eagle mates just stayed a short time before heading back out.

Later, when Padme and I were headed off for an excursion to Mud Bay, our favorite pet emporium, I spotted mama flying back over our house and back toward hers.

I wonder if she recognizes us? She didn't speak to us as she was heading home but her mate certainly talked to us Friday afternoon when we saw him on the Wilkes trail. Perhaps one of his kin was nearby that we didn't see...or maybe, just maybe, we are becoming kin. Talons Gallery.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Golden autumn light

Back: Ridgeview trail
The days are much shorter as we get closer to the winter solstice. Sunrise was at 7:40 a.m. and sunset at 4:20 p.m. today. I was grateful to have this golden afternoon off today. My son, Padme the wonderdog, and I walked the Ridgeview trail, then the east end of the Wilkes Observatory trail - favorites walks any time of the year. Always a perfect way to decompress and remember what's important.

Here are some views from the trail - back, front, above, and below.

Front: Nisqually delta

Above: bald eagle
Below: great blue heron
Visit my DuPont-Nisqually and Places online galleries for more.