As little as I’ve been out in the field with my camera lately (relative to how it used to be), I’ve had a disproportionate number of firsts in terms of wildlife viewings. Some of it is my change of environment and the newness of Seattle and its wild offspring. And some of it is, well — I’ve just never seen these things before. I always say that wildlife photography is like an ongoing field study, with a subject of your choosing. It’s part of the reason I practically live to do this.
Several years ago now, Hugh and I took a class in specialized field rescue. It was fantastic, run by experienced wildlife rescuers and rehabbers in Northern California. The class culminated in the Robo-duck challenge. Robo was a motorized duck on wheels, set loose to zig zag across the beach. We each had a net to practice team capture skills. And our team leader maneuvered Robo-duck in a way that emulated how a frightened, injured and beached duck might move. I was relieved that Hugh and I nabbed our Robo-duck on the first try, with some decent duck-whispering team work.
I bring this up because one of the things stressed in rescue and rehabbing classes is to know your subject. Know the natural history of your bird of your mammal of your reptile. That way, not only will you understand its behavior if you’re called upon to help. But maybe more importantly, you’ll know when to help. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been out there on my own, have seen something unusual, a first, as it were … and then didn’t know whether or not to intervene. I simply couldn’t tell if the animal needed help or if it was behaving normally for that species.
Here are a few recent depictions of firsts where I didn’t have to decide a thing … except aperture and shutter speed.
Crows Trancing & Basking Flat in the Sun
The first time I ever saw a bird sunning herself, I thought something was terribly wrong. She flattened her wings against our bannister and sat slumped and bleary-eyed, with her neck cranked to the left. Thankfully, I had enough sense to just observe her for a while. She got her dose of sun, ruffled up her feathers and flew off.
The other day, I saw a crow hunkered down into sunning position in the grass. He cocked his head backward, opened his beak, and sat there in a daze. For a long time. I figured he was sunning, but I hadn’t seen that dramatic an open-beaked stance.
When I told Hugh about this observation he said, “well, he’s obviously a Seattle crow. He’s looking up at the sun in awe, wondering what in the hell it is.” Sorry, Seattle. You know I love you.
I found this entertaining post on birds “trancing” from wingedhearts.org.
A Mallard Eating a Fish
Apparently — I wasn’t sure, I had to look it up — Mallards are known to eat fish, albeit infrequently. Their usual diet, the one I almost always see them ingesting, is vegetable matter. In coastal environments, they’ll eat occasional shellfish, insects or other invertebrates.
Unlike diving duck species — which include Scaup, Bufflehead and Canvasback ducks among others — Mallards are dabbling ducks, dabbling for foodstuffs near the surface. At this location in Washington Park Arboretum, there was a film of tiny fish, filling in the spaces between water lilies. It’s not clear to me if this female Mallard went fishing for them or picked up fish accidentally in the act of dabbling.
I’m not sure if she ever swallowed a fish. She tried and lost a few in the process. When I took this shot, it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I’d captured a fish in her bill.
Caspian Terns Bathing With an Osprey
I didn’t even see the Osprey until it was almost too late for a shot. I was panning across the big splashing bath of Caspian Terns when I spied a shape at the edge of my frame. The Osprey was having a bath, too. The most common interaction I see between terns and Osprey involves the tern chasing the Osprey from their territory. Terns, crows and gulls aren’t too keen on raptors in their midst – for obvious reasons.
Common Merganser Kids in a Synchronized Swimming Pattern
I came upon this group of mergansers, swimming in near perfect formation from Elliott Bay into the mouth of the Duwamish.
Kingfisher Posing For Me
Belted Kingfishers can be tough to photograph. In my experience, unless they’re sitting and contemplating their next move (and even then) they just don’t like the lens pointed at them. So, I was lucky when this kingfisher hovered in front of me just long enough for me to grab some frames. I built this composite in Photoshop.
Pigeons Watching Boats Go Through the Locks
I’m sure I would have seen pigeons doing this had I lived near the Ballard Locks previously. Now I do, so now I see them. I’m not sure if they’re waiting for food opportunities or just enjoying the activity, but invariably, a few pigeons will hop into a nook inside the locks and watch the action down below.
Crow Catching Salmon Fry in the Lock Gates
Another Seattle first. As the water level falls, it seems a young salmon here and there, gets trapped in the pools of water on the door gate ledges. If lucky, the fish will get a break when the lock next fills up. In this case, I watched a crow swoop in. I didn’t know at first what the crow was doing, but he obviously knew what he was after. After offloading my photos, I saw he had a small fish in his beak.
Terns Flying Upside Down
I knew they did it, I’d just never photographed it. The terns will twist in the air as they’re shaking water off themselves after a dive. In the contortion, they fly upside down for a short time which looks like a clever, upside down aerial maneuver.
Osprey Potty Humor
This photo is a cautionary one. Don’t stand below an Osprey nest.
The Big, Picture-less First
This is one I just can’t let go. Hugh and I were coming out of Fred Meyer when I saw an unusual shape flying low over the parking lot. I can usually spot an anomaly in my environment and I knew it wasn’t a pigeon, just by the flying pattern. When I finally focused on the bird, it was a Peregrine Falcon. It was looking for but not catching any pigeons. And between swoops over the lot, it perched on top of a nearby building where I would have had a perfect closeup shot. The poor pigeons were hunkered down under the Fred Meyer foyer, clinging to window moldings and hoping (I’m assuming pigeons can hope) that the Peregrine didn’t see them there. The Peregrine flew off and despite numerous return trips, I’ve never seen him there again. And I never go out without my tele. Well, except one recent time where, again, I had an Osprey and a Bald Eagle circling over my car in a parking lot and there was nothing I could do with my iPhone camera.
And, a few other posts on recent firsts …