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Sunday, the last day of Winter Wings Festival, we woke at 4am to heavy snowfall with 4″ built up in the parking lot.

It was cold, dark and early but we headed over to the OIT to catch our ride for the last event my friend & I signed up for, “Call of the Wildfowl” with Jim Szemenyei.

After discussion about weather and road conditions, only 5 of us decided to go on our field trip to Lower Klamath NWR in the heavy snow.

We let our bus driver off the hook and drove slowly down the highway in Karl’s 4WD.

Because we were late, I watched a magnificent sunrise from the backseat, and as we arrived waterfowl were already bustling about their day.  (Lucky me to see my first Eurasion Wigeon pair!)

I must say this was one of the most amazing nature scenes I’ve ever witnessed……

….for hours and hours.

It was cold and windy but the sun peeked out from behind clouds off and on all morning.

Each time an eagle flew overhead a giant flock of birds would take off, fly across the marsh and land at a nearby section.  Swans, geese, ducks, blackbirds, all taking off at once amidst a cacophony of calls.

Jim, our guide let us know Pintails are his favorite duck so I snapped a few shots for him.

I’d not seen a Greater White-fronted Goose before.

Did I mention the noise?  It was incredible.  Like being in our own PBS nature show.

An American Wigeon flew oh so close to us.

Another herd of Pintails….yes, I know they are not herds, hahaha.

As the morning progressed more Tundra Swans flew overhead.

Snow Geese were constantly in motion.

This group of swans were settling farther out than where we would have liked.

I thought this was an interesting view of a Northern Shoveler.

There goes another eagle hunting across the marsh.

Then we saw Sandhill Cranes arriving!

Canada Geese…

More Pintails!

As our morning came to a close, Jim noticed this tree filled with Bald Eagles.

We walked over to investigate as waterfowl continued their routine.

A giant flock of Red-winged Blackbirds tormented us by not sitting still for portraits.

Another take off and landing for Snow Geese.

More Tundra Swans overhead.

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Edit:  I failed to mention I saw my first Tri-colored Blackbird.  Not the best photo, but yay!

My friend secretly grabbed this shot of me sitting back for a minute, joyfully taking it all in.  Another beyond fabulous day and it wasn’t even noon yet!

Note 2 hats (and I eventually pulled my hood up!), 2 gloves with hand-warmers, 2 shirts, a sweater and coat; 3 pants, 2 socks with toe warmers slipped inside insulated boots!  Alas I left that scarf somewhere in Klamath Falls!  It was deliciously warm on all my cold winter outings this season.

Our group headed back to campus to warm up, grab food and head out in different directions.  Nancy and I went back to Lower Klamath that afternoon and found delightful treats that I’ll show you in my next post!

 

 

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On Saturday morning, my third day at Winter Wings Festival, I went on a field trip with Dick Ashford to improve my ability to identify raptors in the field.  Lucky me, I was placed in the lead car with Dick!

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After Friday’s classroom training, I was already far more confident in my ability to age Bald Eagles and identify various Buteos

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Most of the raptors we saw were far away sitting in a field atop a pivot, or like these in flight far above our heads.

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These were a pair of juvenile Bald Eagles, one chasing the other hoping to steal food.  If you look close, you can see a rodent trapped in the front eagle’s talons.

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We don’t know how it ended, they continued the chase until well out of sight.

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I saw something move on the ground and look!  More Coyotes!!  This pair was hunting for rodents or perhaps small squirrels that race across the fields then dive into underground tunnels.

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We saw several Rough-legged Hawks ~ aren’t they gorgeous?!!

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And THEN I saw my first Ferruginous Hawk!!  He didn’t stay long for this portrait.

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Shortly after we arrived he took off in flight and of course I followed as best I could.

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We saw a few more that day, but this was the only one close enough for me to get a good shot at.

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We saw a few American Kestrels and they are always a challenge to capture because they’re so fast.

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I was thrilled to keep this one mostly centered in my viewfinder until he landed….

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….and then he let me take a portrait while he hunted from his wire perch.

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We saw over 100 Bald Eagles.  We tried to keep track of what we saw, but I didn’t hear the final tally.

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We watched him fly closer to us…

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…then he turned and flew away….

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We moved on to find a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a post and Dick indulged me to grab this photo because the bird was right next to the road.

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One of our last stops of the day was for this Great Horned Owl sitting in her nest.  If you didn’t know she was there she’d be easy to miss.

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Wherever Mama sits, Daddy is somewhere nearby and one of our participants spotted him right away.  I went back another day but could not find him again.

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Lucky us, our last sighting of the day was a Golden Eagle.  Like any bird, he was not going to sit for us very long at this close distance, so in order for everyone behind the lead car to get a good look at him, we drove past him pretty fast after I took a few shots.

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Sitting in the back seat, window down, driving fast over a very bumpy road I grabbed as many shots as I could while we drove by.  This is a ‘drive-by-shooting’ in my world.  I mostly got shots of his feet, his perch, and air ~ check out those talons!  Lucky me, I also managed to capture this ONE shot.  All in all it was an inspiring day filled with literally hundreds of raptors mostly in the Butte Valley and near the two refuges south of Klamath Falls, Tulelake and Lower Klamath.

Saturday’s keynote speaker was author and researcher Scott Weidensaul who shared his research on Snowy Owls and Project Snowstorm.  Again my friend and I sat in the back row because there was no way we’d stay awake until the end of his talk after yet another full day that began too early.  You guessed it…mesmerized by his talk, we stayed for his book signing because after hearing about Project Snowstorm we HAD to have his new book, “Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean” …with autograph of course!

Tomorrow will be our earliest wake-up call ~ 4:30am to get to our field trip on time….

Birds on the Hook

January 16, 2017

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It is STILL snowing in the frozen Columbia River Gorge, a good month after it started.  As I post pictures that look black & white you can see snow falling in many of them.  I finally have a system to stay warm when I leave the house in 7º temperatures, without investing in ski-wear:  heavy leggings under my thick hiking pants with rain-pants over; 3 tops plus wool sweater and coat; wool socks over regular socks plus toe warmers slipped into fur-lined boots; a heavy scarf covering my head, neck and ears with 2 hats over that; and finally glove liners inside my gloves with hand warmers between and mittens over.

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Yesterday at ‘The Hook’ a group of friends met for coffee then a bit of bird-watching…or finding….or simply enjoying.

steider-studios-bird-walk-1-15-17-16It was frozen, quiet and snowing and most of the birds we saw looked like they were doing their best to stay warm.

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The first bird we saw after a couple of Bald Eagles was a Great Blue Heron.  Doesn’t he look cold?

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Shortly after seeing us he took off upriver to the next frozen rock outcrop.

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We saw Greater and Lesser Scaup resting offshore.

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A Bufflehead flew close to the river…

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…and unknown (to me) ducks flew high overhead.

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Lesser Scaup drake…

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…and another Lesser Scaup drake.

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Greater Scaup female.

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Snowfall diffused sound but we heard a train heading toward us.  Looking west between shoreline and Wells Island we used scopes to see waterfowl including Gadwall, Canvasback, Coot, Grebes, and Canada Goose.

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Mallards swam near the shoreline on the west side of The Hook.

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A Bald Eagle perched near the nest on the north side of Wells Island with a snowy Underwood Mountain in the background.

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A Common Merganser female appeared from around the corner…

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…and took off as soon as she realized I was there!

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Looking across to Wells Island we saw a swarm of blackbirds and robins foraging on the shoreline.

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This is the south side of Wells Island, looking west down the gorge.

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A Killdeer hopped along the shore as I stood looking at Wells Island.  Did I mention it was snowing?

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A Horned Grebe fished in the distance.  Notice the ice chunks?  By now it was about 14º.

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We headed back to our cars but watched the river as we walked and spotted a female Redhead!

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Thankfully my friends are expert birders and discussed details that identified her species for me.

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We continued watching ducks arrive as we slowly headed back to where we parked.

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Last shot of the day ….a female Greater Scaup taking off down the river.

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I celebrated the last day of 2016 by participating in the Columbia Hills Christmas Bird Count.  There were four of us in Jane’s car, all focused on finding birds in and around Goldendale Washington on a brilliant-blue-sky but frigid day.

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After counting all the birds surrounding the wastewater treatment plant ~ thousands (!!!),

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…including a Northern Shrike who was very far away, we headed into residential Goldendale.

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We traversed block after city block with a stop at Ekone Park.  A pair of Red-tailed Hawks perched as sentries on tree tops at both sides of the entrance.

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We hiked along the stream from the parking lot to the bridge and although there wasn’t a lot of activity, we found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet!

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A Golden-crowned Sparrow was foraging on a lawn above the bridge.

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A Scrub Jay flew overhead, taking his treasure to possibly eat in a warmer spot.

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We found plenty of trees and shrubs full of the regular suspects, in this case House Sparrows with some finches tucked in between.

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We found a group of mixed Cedar and Bohemian Waxwings (yay!).

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Bohemians have a buffy body, white tips on their wing feathers and little or no white on their forehead.

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We met up with a second carload of counters who had finished  their section and wanted to see more Goldendale birds.

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We spotted a few Red-tailed Hawks as we continued our drive through town and along the outskirts.

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In one neighborhood we found three Wilson’s Snipes foraging in a tiny stream!  How do I know they were Wilson’s, not Common?  Because lucky me I had experts on my team!

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In this one tiny area we also saw a dozen Robins, and a couple of Scrub Jays, Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Dark-eyed Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows…..

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……Spotted Towhees, House Finches and about a dozen Golden-crowned Sparrows.

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Over two dozen California Quail ran or flew to the other side of the street while we watched all the action in, over and surrounding the stream.

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Finished with our assigned section, we decided to head out Bickleton Hwy in search of anything interesting outside of town.  Yes!  A Rough-legged Hawk awaited us.

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Isn’t he beautiful?!  I believe this is my first sighting of a Rough-legged and I’ve fallen in love.

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We followed him in flight over barns and farmhouses as we continued our drive.

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Another raptor delighted us with his presence, a Northern Harrier.

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A big surprise was a group of seven Gray Partridges.  It’s uncommon to find them on agricultural land.

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Our last sighting for the day was a group of Bald Eagles circling overhead on our way back to town.

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I saw two adults and 2 or 3 juveniles (I knew I should have written this immediately as my recollection fades).

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One juvenile soared closer…

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…and landed in the top of a nearby Pine tree.

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He then took off as another eagle flew close to his landing spot.

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All in all a very good day spent with great company!

 

 

 

Christmas Bird Count ~ 2016

December 23, 2016

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I participated in the Lyle Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, a snowy gray cold day.  It was near 20º when we started at 7:25 and the same when we ended at 16:45 with 6 – 12″ of snow on the ground where we hiked.

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In addition to birds, we found a gorgeous BOBCAT and a Western Gray Squirrel!  I wasn’t fast enough with my camera for either.

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The only raptors we saw were 9 Bald Eagles and 9 Red-tailed Hawks.

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We saw lots of waterfowl: 100 Lesser Scaup, 1 Common Goldeneye, 2 Barrow’s Goldeneye…

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…6 Green-winged Teal, 12 Northern Shovelers, 16 Ring-necked Ducks,

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19 Bufflehead, 6 Northern Pintails, 6 Double-crested Cormorants,

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2 Hooded Mergansers, 2 Pied-billed Grebes, 4 Horned Grebes, 59 Western Grebes,

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90 Gadwall, 170 American Wigeon, 38 Mallards, 133 Canada Geese and 958 American Coots!

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We saw 4 Killdeer, 6 American Pipits,

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1 Glaucous-winged Gull, 2 Belted Kingfishers,

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5 Collared Doves, 6 Rock Pigeons, 3 Mourning Doves, 2 Anna’s Hummingbirds,

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278 Dark-eyed Juncos, 9 Black-capped Chickadees, 3 White Breasted Nuthatches,

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14 California Quail, 8 Lewis’s Woodpeckers, 4 Downy Woodpeckers, 21 Northern Flickers,

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3 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, 15 Golden-crowned Kinglets,  1 Hermit Thrush, 16 Varied Thrush,

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21 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 78 European Starlings, 43 American Robins, 12 Song Sparrows,

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13 Spotted Towhees, 7 Steller’s Jay, 47 Scrub Jays, 2 Crows, 14 Ravens,

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2 White-crowned Sparrows, 44 Golden-crowned Sparrows, 19 House Finches, 133 House Sparrows,

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62 Red-winged Blackbirds, 4 Brewer’s Blackbirds, and 18 Bohemian Waxwings!

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The last and best of the day were the Bohemian waxwings we found…

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…dining on crabapples.

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The rest of the flock was perched in a neighboring birch tree, high in the branches.

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I am thrilled that I captured better photos of these beautiful birds after seeing them in Trout Lake a couple of weeks ago!  A long but fun day with great people!!

Camping at Goose Lake

October 9, 2016

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This summer I invited myself along on a friend’s camping trip to Goose Lake in the Mt Adams Wilderness, with her two grandsons.

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This was my first camping experience (that I remember ~ my mom tells me we camped when I was a toddler) and I couldn’t wait to see sunset and sunrise over the lake without having to get up or get home at an ungodly hour.

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The boys brought fishing poles to catch our food, a BB gun to fend off wild animals in the wilderness, and a machete…I presume to clear a nice space for our comfort.  All but the fishing poles were abandoned as soon as they saw the lake!

steider-studios-fishing-goose-lake-8-26-16-11While waiting for sunset we watched a ‘mist’ of dust rise and fall as travelers drove the gravel road next to the lake.

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When sunset arrived in front of our campsite, it was pretty nice!

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Sunrise the following morning was quite beautiful as light overtook shadow.

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I was hoping to see a ton of wildlife, and made sure I was the first one on the lake after a brutally cold and nervous night’s sleep.  Between my husband’s 30-year-old worn out sleeping bag and a twig or branch crackling seemingly every few minutes I think I got 3 hours sleep max.

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Surrounded with golden light and a sweet little Sandpiper to entertain me in early morning solitude.

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As the sun rose higher I could hear campers stirring and looked for more photo opportunities before anglers or boats disturbed the lake.

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I found a family of Mergansers beginning their day.

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They chased each other back and forth…..

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…and did a bit of their own fishing while humans launched boats into the lake.

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A little Junco serenaded me from a branch behind  my spot on the beach…

steider-studios-fishing-goose-lake-8-26-16-23…as did an American Dipper on the next rock over from where I sat.

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Did I already say the morning light was Golden?  Breathtakingly so!

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As I headed toward sounds of the boys talking, a pair of Bald Eagles flew overhead.

steider-studios-goose-lake-logs-8-26-16I had to climb over a series of logs to get to where my friends were fishing for breakfast.

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As I began my climb, I stumbled upon a pair of Crossbills!  Good reason to stop!!

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Finally, I made it across the logs only to find we had no fish for our breakfast.  Luckily we brought a camp stove and eggs!!

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Goose Lake is so beautiful and a perfect place for little boys to fish and dream about all the wilderness has to offer ~ hopefully they’ll take their children one day.

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It’s also a pretty nice place for a photographer to catch some lovely reflections!  I even heard a PIKA speak!!!  I must tell you, I didn’t like the part about no showers and the lake too cold to take a dip ~ but I loved being there at dusk, dawn, and every moment between.

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I went to BirdFest at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge to celebrate the end of September and beginning of October.

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Thrilled to be there, I was in a small group that watched Sandhill Cranes fly into their roost on Friday night.  Lucky me, I went back the following morning to watch them fly out.

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We stood as silently as possible in a blind, after finding ‘the best spot’ for viewing.  As the lights dimmed the cranes began to fly in.  I zoomed in to isolate a few here and there.

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While waiting for the next group to fly in, I watched a Snowy Egret working the shoreline.

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‘Wheels’ down.  Coming in for a landing.

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The sky changed color as the sun went down and family after family of cranes arrived for the night.  The sound was breath-taking.

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A couple of times ALL the birds in this area swarmed up and out, then resettled.  Awesome. Incredible. Fantastic. Amazing.  None of these words fully express the feeling or sounds.

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Sandhill Cranes like this marshy area, surrounded by water that keeps them safe from predators.  A few of us saw a coyote walk by the blind when we arrived the next morning.  Sorry, too dark, my camera would not cooperate in spite of my pleading for that shot!

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Each family unit ~ 2 adults and 1 to 3 colts ~ flies in and out together.  Here comes another!

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As the night got darker, my ISO turned higher, but my shutter speed couldn’t keep up with all the activity.  I like this shot anyway ~ shall we call it ‘artsy’?

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Between incoming groups of cranes it was fun watching other birds like this Yellowlegs foraging for an evening meal.

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A Great Egret also flew over, joining his tribe behind the cranes.

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Saturday morning we woke early and headed back to watch the Sandhills leave their roost.

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Again in a small group, we huddled quietly in a blind and waited for the show to begin.  The birds began taking off before the sun came up.

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Watching the cranes fly against this magical sky while listening to their song….I felt as though we could be in a PBS nature show.

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Except we WERE there, right in the midst of a cinematic show filled with beautiful birds taking off in glorious light!

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High ISO = grainy shot, but this is one portion of our morning view just after the first few groups of cranes flew out.  I hope to make a panorama of the entire lagoon filled with 500 or more Sandhill Cranes.

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As the light changed I had a clearer view of the cranes and their flight patterns.

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Did I already say they were amazing to watch?  They were A-mazing!! You can sense the power in their wings.

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Young Sandhill Cranes remain with parents for 9-10 months, accompanying them in migration.

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One of my favorite birds, they mate for life.

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As it got lighter, the background landscape became prettier too.

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Last little family left.  Two adults, two colts.  What a fabulous experience.

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Cranes live an average of 20 years in the wild, and generally have 1 to 2 colts per year.  Photo above is at Conboy Lake National Wildlife Refuge where I was lucky to observe their courting dance.  You can distinguish adults from juveniles by the red on an adult’s head.

Sandhill Cranes nest in freshwater wetlands and are the oldest known bird species in the world.  They have an average weight of 10 pounds, a wingspan of 5 to 7 feet and are approximately 4 feet tall.  Omnivorous, their diet varies with location and season. They eat insects, roots of aquatic plants, rodents, snails, frogs, lizards, snakes, nestling birds, berries, seeds, and cultivated grains like corn.

Sources if you’re interested in reading more about my favorite bird:  Audubon, Nature Conservancy, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Wikipedia, and National Wildlife Federation.  Oh there’s more, but I don’t want to overwhelm you!

 

 

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