I had some business to do in north Tacoma today (had to go to the Xfinity Store a.k.a. Comcast because our DVR was glitchy. They gave us the new X1 box and a year promotion on it for $10/month.)
Whenever I go up there, I usually go by Point Defiance. I was disappointed today that the cloud cover was kind of thick, which made shooting with my long lens difficult. With low light and wildlife there’s a lot of compromises to consider. If you raise the ISO, your photos come out more grainy. If you open the aperature, the field of focus becomes too narrow. If you lower the shutter speed, camera shake plus wildlife movement becomes an issue. All in all, you have to compromise with one of those settings.
I’m still trying to figure out what setting I can compromise on. In any case, I was pleasantly surprised that I got some photos worthy enough of showing here.
It turns out that 3200 ISO on the Canon Eos Rebel T3i can be an acceptable setting, especially if you’re taking photos for the web or for personal memories. There will be grain, but if you don’t plan on using the photos at their full resolution, or plan on printing them, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Of course, ideally you should wait for a sunny day, but nature can’t be planned for. Oh, if you’re taking photos of ducks that are there every day, then do re-visit on a sunny day and use a lower ISO. But if you want to capture the moment, don’t hesitate.
Shutter Speed: 1/250 sec
Canon Eos Rebel T3i
Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 Auto Focus APO DG OS HSM Telephoto Zoom Lens
Adjusted in Photoshop Elements Camera Raw
(adjusted clarity, saturation, & contrast)
Last week I visited Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve. It was my first visit after about a 3 month hiatus. It was sunny and in the high 50s. It wasn’t too windy and I was warm enough in my usual jeans and hoodie attire. (I think I need to get some leggings to wear under my jeans for the colder months. And a hoodie with ear flaps.)
The high tide was around 11 feet at mid-day. I saw 4 blue herons close enough for photographs. There were also a few other herons in the distance.
Great Blue Heron Hunting at Nisqually
The first two blue herons were along the Nisqually Estuary Trail (before you get to the boardwalk). One of them was hunting in the shallow waters on the Puget Sound side of the trail. He found a little crab.
Great Blue Heron Catches a Crab at Nisqually
The other one was in the tall grass on the side of the trail closest to Interstate 5 highway. It looked like the grass had been mowed, which I was surprised about.
Blue Heron at Nisqually NWR
While I was taking these blue heron photos, I also captured this photo of a large flock of birds. I think they are juvenile Red-Winged blackbirds but I could be wrong. (Please comment below if I’m wrong… thanks! My first guess was Starlings because of the spots but the beak color is dark and they’re smaller).
Flock of Juvenile Red-Wing Blackbirds (?)
I also saw a unique Blue Heron with white wing tips off the boardwalk. (I think it was by the McAllister Creek Viewing Platform.) Other birders told me that he was part albino and has been there for a couple of years. He didn’t mind us watching and spent a lot of time grooming.
Great Blue Heron – Part Albino – Nisqually
Sometimes he would stand on one foot and scratch his ear.
Funny Photo of Blue Heron Scratching
There were Harbor Seals sunbathing in the distance (really far away, you would need binoculars to verify that they were Seals.) There was also this seagull trying to eat a flounder.
Seagull with a Flounder that’s Too Big to Swallow
It took him a long time to swallow that fish! He kept dropping it and picking it up again. I captured over two minutes of this funny dilemma on video:
At high tide, there were still some exposed mud flats that were like a little resort for small shorebirds. I had a hard time identifying these guys, but I think they are Western Sandpipers. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments below.
Seagull and Western Sandpipers on mud flats along Nisqually Boardwalk
I also checked out the Nisqually River overlook and saw a Spotted Towhee foraging in the brush by the water:
Spotted Towhee at Nisqually NWR
The water levels were very low in the marshy area along the Twin Barns Trail. We’ve had a drought this summer so I guess that’s no surprise. The trees were still almost fully clothes with leaves. There were maple seed pods on the trails. I saw one snake on the wooden path part of the trail. This is a common occurrence, as I think I’ve seen a snake about 25% of the time I’ve been there. (I think it was a Garter Snake.)
I think I saw a Peregrine Falcon on one of the dead trees. I got a photo but it’s blurry. I’m really bad at estimating distances (anyone know the distance from the Nisqually Estuary Trail to the dead trees?) but the bird of prey was far enough away that it was hard to focus on, even with my Sigma 500mm lens. It looks like I should have switched to manual focus. Next time I will have to try. That and use a tripod. (I have a tripod by carrying it is a difficult task for me. Yes, my lens is heavy but not as awkward as a tripod. For me, personally. Maybe something will change my opinion on that someday.)
I guess this photo goes to show you that I take bad photos too.
An Elaborate Bird House for the Birds and Squirrels!
Do you remember this book from your childhood? I just came across it recently and wanted to share with you the elaborate bird house illustration that’s in this collectible children’s book.
In this book, Ms. Mouse is an architect who designs houses for animals. Some of the designs are like mid-century modern. The bird house is supposed to feel like a spaceship. The book is by George Mendoza and the colorful and super creative illustrations are by Doris Susan Smith.
What I love about this illustration is that the birds are drawn to resemble real birds. There are Barn Swallows and House Sparrows. The yellow bird reminds me of a Grosbeak but I think it may be something else. This book was apparently first published in the UK under the title “House by Mouse” in 1981, so these may be European birds. The text was changed for the U.S. version which came out in 1983. But the beautiful illustrations remained the same.
Illustration of a House for a Worm that’s inside of a pear!
The Gray Catbird was the first bird I heard when I arrived at my parents’ house. I said, “Do you have a cat?” No, they didn’t have a cat. Hmm… is there such a thing as a catbird? I did an internet look-up, and sure enough, there is a Catbird species that summers in New York state. Ahh.. That might explain why it sounds like there’s a cat in the tree!
I didn’t get a good photo right away because it was raining for the first few days. Fortunately, I heard and saw catbirds every day, right near the house, and near the clearing by the driveway. I was surprised that I didn’t remember hearing them as a kid. There must have been at least a half dozen of them singing morning and evening. They make other songs besides the cat imitation and were relatively friendly. Finally on a sunny day I got these photos. Sure enough, the bird has a long tail, a rufous patch under the tail, and a small dark cap. It is a Gray Catbird! Apparently, they like Putnam County, NY just fine, at least in Late June/Early July, during an uncommonly cool summer.
Gray Catbird, Fluffed Out, Coniferous Woods of New York State
Orange-crowned Warblers are a hard bird to identify because most of the time you can’t even see their orange crown. They usually look all gray to olive green colored. They have virtually no markings… Just a black stripe through the eye and a small white area above, but even this is not always very well defined. They have a thin bill and are about the size of a chickadee (or a little shorter).
So if you have a small gray or green mystery bird visiting your suet feeders, you may consider that he’s an Orange-crowned Warbler. They are also more common in the west than the east, so if you live in Washington State like me, you might be more likely to see them. The ones I’ve seen are always solitary. And hungry for suet!
American Wigeons at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington
During a winter excursion, I visited Point Defiance Park in Tacoma WA. It was a warm January and the American Wigeons were sunbathing on the grass near the duck pond (near the entrance, on the left side, in the bowl shaped valley). I counted and the flock numbered at least 150. There were also some European Wigeons and maybe even a few Eurasian x American Wigeon Hybrids. Also, some were swimming in the pond, along with Mallard Ducks.
American Wigeons Take Flight
American Wigeons Cross Paths (Left: Female, Right: Male)
Have you seen a Brown-headed Cowbird? They are considered an unwanted bird because the female birds will destroy eggs from other bird nests and put their own eggs in their place. They like open pastures but I’ve seen them in my own backyard as well as at the Nisqually estuary. The online literature says that they like to hang out with blackbirds, so seeing that Red-Winged blackbirds are so common in the Puget Sound area, I guess it should be no surprise that we see these as well. The males are easy to identify as they have a brown head and a glossy black (almost iridescent) plumage.
They like to eat millet and other grains off of the ground, and the only time I saw them in my backyard when I was providing a bird seed mix. When I fill my feeders with only sunflower seeds, they’re nowhere to be found. The blackbirds also don’t like the sunflower seeds as much, but the Chickadees, Nuthatches, Finches, Grosbeaks, and Goldfinches all love sunflower seeds!
I saw Tree Swallows going into bird houses both small and large at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. There were also tree swallows that made nests in the eaves and other openings on the Twin Barns. The babies were sticking their heads out of the opening with their mouths wide open when they saw their parent approaching. Sometimes they would be fed, but sometimes they would be teased by the parent…. I think they were trying to get them to leave the nest!
Cliff Swallows Nest on Twin Barns at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
It’s the beginning of June. My Chickadee babies have fledged the nest already, but at Nisqually, there are many nesting swallows still. When you go to Nisqually, you can’t miss the noisy Swallows flying around in circles. You don’t have to go far either. They nest around on the visitor center building.
If you do take the half mile walk to the Twin Barns, you certainly will be rewarded with many more birds to watch! Look up under the barn eaves and you might see Cliff swallow nests made out of mud. The Cliff Swallows are really clever birds. They swap their eggs so that if one nest gets destroyed by a predator, the “family line” will still survive.