Tag Archives: wildlife

Owls Hunting in Skagit County

I made a trip up to Anacortes to help someone out with a project.  I was surprised when I got up there that it was a really lovely day when it was cold and rainy back at home.  I think there is a line just south of Mount Vernon where the weather changes dramatically.  I had heard a few of the other photographers at Juanita Bay discussing the owls that were up in the Skagit Flats and, since I was coming near that area on my way back, I figured I would stop by to see if I could see any owls.

I had an idea of the location and put it in to the GPS but I didn’t know how obvious the spot would be.  As it turned out, when I got there, the large number of parked vehicles on the side of the road gave it away.  I pulled off the road, got out the 500mm and waited.  Nothing obvious happened for a while.  I had to get back for work so didn’t have a ton of time but I was hoping that I would see something.  Then I saw someone nearby perk up and looked across to see if there was anything going on.

Sure enough, an owl was scooting across the open land north of me.  The light was great and looking at this little creature was so much fun.  Even with a long lens, it was not a big target and it kept dropping down low where the cluttered background made the camera struggle to keep focus on such a small object.  Even so, it was possible to get a few shots.

The owl was flying towards me so I kept thinking it would get closer and bigger.  What I hadn’t counted open was that there was a strong southerly breeze and so it was effectively staying in the same place.  Crap!  Never mind.  I was still tracking it when something flicked across the viewfinder.  Turns out there was a second owl crossing in front and definitely closer.  I quickly picked it up and it allowed me to get a few shots before it went off to another area further away.

This whole process continued for a while before I figured I really needed to get going again.  I would have been quite happy to sit up there for a long time watching the owls and waiting for them to get closer but I did need to get back.  As it turned out, when I got back, there was some urgent stuff to fix so I wasn’t wrong to leave but it was disappointing to pass up the opportunity.  I wonder whether the conditions will be so good again when I am able to go up.

Hummingbird Guarding The Icicle

We try to keep the feeders stocked up for the hummingbirds.  However, while there is never a shortage, they still get very competitive about access with dominant birds trying to keep the others away.  If only they understood!  As the temperature dropped and I imagine their food sources got sparser, one of the hummers decided to take up residence on the arm that the feeder hangs from.  If I went outside, it would fly away but would immediately return as soon as I was gone.  It meant it was easier photographing it through the window.  The icicle hanging beneath it is a measure of the chilly conditions.

Trumpeter Swans Back In Juanita

The winter is a good time for swans to show up back in Juanita Bay.  They are there to eat and rest so are not always the most fun to shoot but sometimes they will get a bit more active.  There is a bank of silt in the bay where they can stand and rest so having nothing happen for long periods of time is not impossible.  I was there one Sunday morning and they were eating quite close to the shore.  However, it was winter and, while the sun was out, they were in the shade.

Every once in a while, some of them would get energetic and I could get some shots of them taking off and flying towards each other.  I’m not sure how competitive this all was since things never got terribly aggressive but they did seem to be sparring half-heartedly.  A whole family came in to the bay at one point but, rather than flying in when the light was very nice, they just swam in.  A touch disappointing but it is nature photography.  What can you do?

A Coot For Dinner

A few times recently I have been down at Juanita Bay Park when the eagles have been hunting.  While everyone thinks of bald eagles eating fish, they are also happy to eat birds if available.  We have had large flocks of coots on the lake and they are a plentiful food source.  They stay close together on the surface but, when the eagles fly close, the flocks will get startled and start fluttering around as they try to evade the predators.

The eagles are not bothered about the flock.  They just want to isolate one of the birds which they can then take out.  They will swoop around until they can take out one bird which they then land on top of and sit on it while it drowns.  Once it has stopped moving, they take off and carry it back to the pole in the bay where they can eat at their leisure.

Before you eat a coot, you need to pluck it.  The eagles make quick work of this and, with a breeze blowing, the air is quickly filled with feathers as they clean up their kill.  Once that is done, time to tuck in to dinner.  A coot is quickly eaten and then they fly off to a log to wash up before retiring to a tree to rest and digest.  If there is anything left of the carcass, you can guarantee that the crows will be paying close attention and will close in to take care of matters.


Hatton Cross Horses Ignore The Planes

My visit to Hatton Cross was to shoot airplanes but, as I came out of the tube station and walked along the A30 to Myrtle Avenue, I passed some fields that had a bunch of horses grazing in them.  This seemed like such an incongruous thing to see.  I was in amongst the housing and right next to an international airport with a major road passing through.  Having so many horses there seemed like the last thing I would have expected.

Some of them looked like large working horses while others were either ponies or foals.  I am not a specialist so can’t tell the difference.  The approach lights for the runway were in the field surrounded by fencing which seemed to attract some of the ponies for some reason.  They looked pretty tranquil and clearly had no interest in the planes passing overhead.  How could they not be looking???

Finally Seeing The Mandarin Duck

For as long as I have been going to Juanita Park, I have been hearing about the mandarin duck.  We have tons of wood ducks but there is one mandarin that lives in the bay.  Everyone talked about whether they had seen it.  However, it was never wherever I went.  Finally I broke that “duck” (apologies for the awful pun).  It was hanging out in the bay in nice lighting conditions and seemed busy playing with some root.  After this visit, I was back a little while later and there he was again.  I guess I am trusted enough now for him to hang out!

Green Heron

The great blue herons are a regular feature of Juanita Bay but I had seen a few local photographers had managed to get shots of a green heron.  By the time I next visited the bay, I figured I might have missed out but was rather pleased when someone said the heron was in amongst the grasses.  It did mean he was hard to photograph since he was well concealed.  I figured this would be all I could get but there was some other creature in the grass – a rodent of some sort I think.  This spooked the heron and it flew out on to the log nearby and I was able to get a clear shot.  He squats down a bit when resting but, when relocating, the length of the neck was clear.  That is what allows the hunting to be successful when he lunges at his prey.

The Kingfishers Stop Being Shy For A Change

There are some kingfishers that live around Juanita Bay but I have never previously been even remotely close to them.  They seemed to live around the outlet of the creek and head straight out into the bay so they were but a speck from where I was.  However, for some reason, a pair of them were out and about.  When I was on one pier, one flew right past me and I was too slow to realize what it was.  However, luck was on my side.

It was heading for another one over the other side of the inlet and they then started spiraling around before heading back towards me and then straight overhead.  I was lucky enough to get a few shots of them as they went by.  I headed around the inlet later on and they were flying again.  This time one landed on the deck where I had previously been.  No doubt, that wouldn’t have happened if anyone had still been there but it was funny to see.

Swan Family (And What Is With The Foot?)

There were lots of swans in the water along Caen Hill Locks.  Some families were swimming around together with the cygnets well grown.  One of the families had a member that had one foot up and out of the water.  I have no idea whether this is a normal behavior for swans or the sign of an injury but the swan did not seem to be having any problems.

At some point, a couple of the swans got into a little bit of hassle.  I don’t know whether this was a territorial thing or a case of swan flirting but one of them was really chasing another and seemed to be intent on getting them out of the way.  A little separation was enough to stop all of this so I don’t know what it was all about.

Ryde The White Swans

You’ll need to be of a certain age or musical interest to get this title I suspect.  The seafront of Ryde is home to a lot of mute swans.  I knew a few lived on the boating lake but the seafront had loads of them.  It seemed you couldn’t move anywhere without seeing some more.  Swans do seem to have been a bit of a theme for our vacation as I think about it further.

They were swimming around in groups in the sea and some were sheltering in the marina area.  Occasionally some would fly from one spot to the other when swimming seemed like it would take too long!  From where I was, it did look as if they might get in each other’s way but I guess that is just the effect of distance on my perspective.

As we walked back along the seafront, a few of them took off from the sea and headed towards the boating lake.  They were flying straight towards us at one point (although I failed to get a good focus on them so those shots were wasted) but then turned inland to head to the lake.  The sound the swans make as they beat their wings is quite noticeable.  If we didn’t have things to do, I could have spent ages watching them.