Photojournal - 4 March 2006

Soaring eagles


On Saturday the 4th I left home around noon and headed southwest. I first decided to go check on the swans on 64th Street to see if they were near the road. They weren't, and after just a couple of minutes watching them through binoculars, I set my sights on Reifel and got the car in gear.

When I was turning onto Ladner Trunk Road, I noticed a raptor circling above. I drove along a little and then found a side road into a housing subdivision. There I was able to stop and see that my raptor was a Red-tailed Hawk. I wasn't near close enough for good photos, though, so I chased that hawk through the subdivision and eventually found myself at the end of a road looking out over a field. I got out of my car with my camera, and I find, closer than the hawk, a Bald Eagle. He came almost directly over me.

 
After taking a few shots of him, I looked around and eventually found my Red-tail. He was again too far away for great shots, but I took a few anyway. Here's one of them that shows his fancy coloring.  
Now, all the time I've been out of my car, I've been hearing eagle calls. I look over the field and notice that there are a lot of eagles up there...eight of them. With the lens I had on the camera, I wasn't able to get all eight in one shot; the best I did was six.  
I just stood and watched and listened to them all flying around for a while. Occasionally one would take a little swoop at another one or fly alongside them. Sometimes they flew over close to where I was.  
It was a marvelous sunny day, and I guess there were good thermal air currents above the field, because those eagles kept circling and soaring.  
After about twenty minutes of eagle-watching, I walked a little towards a canal between the road and the field. This startled a Double-crested Cormorant who had been in the water in the canal, and he took off. I got a few flight shots of him when he turned back and flew in front of me.  
Then I was off to Reifel. At the gate to the sanctuary, I stopped to look for the Golden Eagle that is sometimes reported there. I didn't find the eagle, but I did see my first swallows of the year: three Tree Swallows on a power wire. I took a few record shots of one of them.  

As I drove in, several wrens flew across the road, and I unsuccessfully tried to get photos of one from the car. I got to the parking lot and saw my friends Walter and Colin coming out, and we chatted for a while. While talking, we noticed Grant and Marcia sitting over at the picnic tables with their friend Jim from Florida, whom I had met about this time last year there at Reifel. Jim showed us some very nice Florida bird photos on the little display on the back of his camera, and I resolved to get to Florida one of these years when I'm not busy. As if such a time will ever come...

Our little get-together eventually broke up, with all of the others heading out and me staying around. I decided to walk back up the entrance drive to see if I could get a photo of one of those wrens.

I stopped alot along the way to take photos, though. There were a lot of different ducks in the slough, and a few things in the trees and bushes. First up were these three male Common Mergansers, swimming formation down the far side of the slough.

 
Next was a male Northern Pintail.  
A little ways further along, I found a pair of Northern Shovelers in fairly close. This one is the male...  
and this one the female.  
And there was a single male Gadwall out there, too.  
I had reached a place where my friends had reported seeing a Hutton's Vireo, but without their ears, I had to rely on luck to find it. And luck didn't seem to be with me just then. So I contented myself with what I was able to find flitting around, like this little Bushtit.  
And this Black-capped Chickadee, who stopped by with a bunch of his friends.  
I combed the area where I had seen the wrens when I came in, but my luck with things I was looking for continued to be lacking. As I was walking back towards the parking lot, I heard the familiar cacophony of a flock of Snow Geese in flight behind me. I turned around and got a few shots of the flock in flight. It's always pretty special to hear a Snow Goose flock.  
I was still looking for wrens and vireos when a Varied Thrush flew by and landed in the trees between the road and the slough. There were too many intervening branches to get a clear shot of him, though. Although this looks like a clear shot, there were actually tree branches between me and him; they're just way out of focus. Those intervening branches are what is causing the front of his head to look a little blurry.  

Shooting right through thin things like branches or chain-link fences is a neat photographic trick, but unless you're really close to the obstruction, it can end up compromising the quality of the photo.

Back at the parking lot, I turned my attention to an American Coot who was brave enough to come up fairly close to me.

 

I then went in to the sanctuary proper and stopped by the warming shack to see what was on the pond behind it. Several ducks were paddling around right below the porch of the shack. They were accustomed to people being on the porch, and didn't seem to mind coming close in, so I took the opportunity and spent some time taking shots of them.

My primary subjects there were a pair of Greater Scaup. This is the male.

 
This is the female.  
And here's the pair of them together.  
I took a lot of scaup photos, and was about to go, when a drake American Wigeon came by and asked for a portrait. It's hard to deny a wigeon, so I put my tripod back down and took some shots of him. He was a good subject, though, and in the end I offered him two portraits: one a full-body standard pose,  
and the other a much more expressive character shot.  

He liked them both.

I headed on towards the first blind, and outside of it I found a number of White-crowned Sparrows. This one is a juvenile.

 
And this one is an adult.  

There were a number of House Sparrows around, too, and I got a few shots of this striking male. This is one sharp-looking bird: his black, white, grey, and brown are all very crisp right now. Often House Sparrows look pretty ragged.

 

I next continued westward towards the outer dyke. I found this Spotted Towhee on the path in front of me, and from the look of his glare, he didn't appreciate my presence.

 

I skirted around him and continued to the next trail intersection, where I headed south. I passed a few light-colored female mallards and some vocal Red-winged Blackbirds. As I was nearing the outer dyke, I heard a Sandhill Crane bugling up in front of me.

 

The cranes were on the trail, as they often are. Many of the cranes at Reifel have little fear of humans, especially when the humans don't make sudden motions. So I stood relatively still, taking photos, and the cranes just kept coming down the path towards me.

 
Soon enough they were quite close to me.  

In fact, they walked within about a half a meter of me, and I kept taking photos.

The sun was getting fairly far down, though, and I figured it would be best to head back home. So I walked by the cranes and back towards the entrance. At Fuller's Slough, one of the juvenile Black-crowned Night-Herons was out. Not only that, but he was also on the move. This is a little unusual; most of the time they just sit still.

Here I got a blurry photo of him coming towards me. I really like this angle because it shows just how wide his head is.

 

Normal herons, like the Great Blue, don't have such a wide head. It makes this bird look rather funky and odd to me.

This next shot is a more typical Black-crowned Night-Heron shot. Normally I see these guys in roughly this pose, were you don't even get a hint of that big honkin' head.

 

Maybe he's self-conscious about his horizontally-gifted cerebrum and that's why he always keeps it turned to the side like that.

The night-heron was my last subject in Reifel. After I left Reifel and Westham Island, though, I took a little tour through Ladner. I stopped only once, though, for a steep-angle shot of a pair of eagles by their nest.

 

Spring is definitely coming, and hopefully there will soon be little horizontally-normal heads poking up out of that nest, crying for food.

A little horizontally-gifted myself,
Tom

 

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