American Safari, 5/27/2018

Acting ‘Reddish’: Dancing Snowy Egret.


We all know how herons and egrets hunt. They wade into shallow water very slowly, then stand stock still waiting for fish to swim under them. We’ve all seen a great blue heron imitating a statue. Egrets act the same way. Except, there is, or was, only one exception: the reddish egret.



A Gulf Coast native, one of birding’s more unusual performers, it prances through shallow water leaping and spinning like amateur night at the Modern Dance Theater. Then, when it has caused consternation among all the fish in the vicinity, it kindly raises its wings to provide shade for the fish to hide under. Of course, those fish scared enough to swim to the ‘safety’ of the shade get eaten first.

The pictures above date from a Florida trip two years ago, the last time I saw the quirky and uncommon bird. What other wading bird acts like that? snowy egret dance, Half Moon Bay-3796

It turns out, on our visit to the Bay Area this month, we saw a similar frenetic prancing through water performed by a more familiar bird, the snowy egret. Snowy’s are medium sized wading birds with black bills and yellow feet. (The larger great egrets have yellow bills and black legs and feet- but you knew that). The bird repeatedly caught fish while I watched. The dance technique works!

snowy egret dance, Half Moon Bay-3798

snowy egret dance, Half Moon Bay-3800

snowy egret dance, Half Moon Bay-3803

I did get a few photos with fish in its beak, but the photographs were dull, so I’ll spare you. Thanks for reading.



American Safari, 5/22/2018

On Being a Lucky Duck (seeing a rare-ish Harlequin).


Every photographer looking for birds to photograph wants an uncommon and very colorful bird to pose for him or her. An easy way to accomplish this is to travel to tropical countries and snap pictures of the exotic creatures who live there. That, of course, becomes expensive quickly, and cuts into gardening time. Even an avid bird photographer like Janet won’t abandon her tomatoes without deep regret, so this month we look for the most colorful birds we can find here in North Central Washington.

One such bird, of which rumors appear every spring, is the harlequin duck. harlequin duck male, Twisp-3317The bird remarkably thrives in turbulent water. It seeks out the raging stream, and, surfing the waves, finds food washed down by the current. It’s an improbable survival strategy, and their numbers, I can attest, are few.

This spring reports surfaced again of sightings by a bridge in Twisp. Janet found the birds as advertised (for once) and returned home from her mission with many dozens of photos of a mating pair. Knowing lightning rarely strikes twice at the same bridge, I nevertheless sought the birds the next day- and there they were, in the same pool of water. harlequin pair-3308Protected from me by twenty feet of rapidly moving current, they fell asleep as I clicked away. One an only take so many photos of sleeping birds, so I left for another pond, checking back an hour or more later to find they were just waking up. harlequin pair-3339


harlequin pair-3360

A few minutes later they entered the swift water harlequin pair-3368and drifted downstream seeking a different venue.

American Safari, 5/4/2018

It’s hard to let go when you’ve been to the tropics.


I’ve been back from Costa Rica for a while now- a month. In April, my camera has accompanied me on outings to ponds, grassy fields, and twice on a lake locally. Since returning we have also toured the ‘mid south’, chasing birds from northwest Tennessee through Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky. And still, I keep going back to the Costa Rica pictures.

But it’s (almost) time to move on. As a catharsis, allow me to share some of the tropical color that made the trip so rewarding. The first day arriving at La Selva Biological Station I encountered an American family staring into a tree. They had picked out nearly a dozen species just in that one tree. Here’s one:colorful birds for blog-7160

That’s an olive-backed euphonia. We don’t even have euphonia in the US, and it’s a whole family of birds in Costa Rica.

We do have tanagers in the US. Not that we can compete in that family either:colorful birds for blog-7251

colorful birds for blog-8631

colorful birds for blog-7615

colorful birds for blog-7115

That’s Passerini’s , flame-colored, golden hooded and silver throated tanagers- and there’s many more I won’t show you here.

The Toucancolorful birds for blog-0237 gets the press in the tourist brochures (this black-mandibled toucan kindly dropped in on us during an otherwise bird-poor rainforest walk). But the little birds kept surprising us with their unique looks, too.colorful birds for blog-8074

Collared redstart above, green kingfisher below.

colorful birds for blog-9819

Lastly, we did see a few birds common (?) in the US, though I had never seen either bird before: rose-breasted grosbeak, and, on the final day in CR, a painted bunting. colorful birds for blog-8933

colorful birds for blog-0377

Now, I promise to move on with my life! Or with the birds I show in the future, anyway.


American Safari, 4/10/2018

Violent Violet Sabrewing Hummingbird


When we left San Jose, the capital for our first lodge, Bosque de Paz, we didn’t know what to expect. It’s not one of the famous places that all the birders go to. What greeted us, after the pleasant hotel manager, was several banks of hummingbird feeders. The impressive, bullying, high speed flash of territorial aggressiveness made the violet sabrewing the star of the show. That and the fact that the other hummingbirds (3 additional species) had to flee regularly as the sabrewings flew at them.

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6514

Two comments about this photograph of sabrewings. First, the flash of blurred color was the most common way we witnessed their presence. Second, the light was often dim in the humid heavily forested areas of Costa Rica, so our shutter speeds were slow. Here, due to inattentiveness on my part, shot at 1/45th of a second. For a better look:

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6545

And to see the sabre-shaped wing:

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6583

The next-most-common hummingbird, rivaled the sabrewing in brilliance if not aggressiveness.

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6468

Above the green-crowned brilliant male (brilliant IS part of the name). Below, the female brilliant, the colors brought out by the pop up flash on the camera.

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6505

There are LOTS of hummingbird species in Costa Rica, your eyes will glaze over from just the few I photographed. But you have to admit they are really pretty things.  A black-bellied hummingbird braved the risk of a sabrewing twice its size to pose briefly.

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-6870

Moving on to a more mountainous, but less forested area yielded the rufous-tailed hummingbird. (Rufous-billed would be an even better name…)

hummingbird collection, costa Rica-7651

And visiting the famous Savegre Lodge, surrounded by flowering gardens we saw a purple-throated mountain gem. Alas, only the female, so no purple throat.hummingbird collection, costa Rica-8012

There are more, including the smallest bird in the world (the scintillant hummingbird), another mountain gem (the white throated), a magenta throated wood star (who names these guys?), etc. I will leave you with the former Magnificent hummingbird, now renamed the Talamanca hummingbird. hummingbird collection, costa Rica-8250


American Safari, 4/6/2018

Airport Hotel. Airport Hotel?


Here’s a perfect vignette for Costa Rica, explains a lot about the charms of the country. Janet picked our airport hotel on arrival based on good reviews, cheaper-than-average price, and availability of a free airport shuttle. Which makes it sound a lot like the Comfort Inn at Sea-Tac. However, unlike the Sea-Tac options, this hotel had a 2 acre garden with a small pond and bird boxes. As I was walking around before breakfast, an over-large camera around my neck, an excited 10-year old girl practically dragged me to see a bird on a nest with chicks: a white-winged dove right by the breakfast area.airport hotel, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6171

Then, we walked around the pond area and found some great-tailed grackles getting a drink. This one was getting ready to leave.airport hotel, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6351

We too, were ready to leave, but as we were checking out the clerk at the desk asked if we had seen the owl-no, we hadn’t. It turns out that he leads bird tours as a side gig, and proceeded to demonstrate that by leading us around the 2 acres finding a ferruginous pygmy owl,airport hotel, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6286

a Hoffman’s woodpecker,airport hotel, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6334

and a rufous-naped wren (much larger than our wrens). airport hotel, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6387All three of the species were new to us, and we hadn’t seen any of them until he left his desk to show us. He was excited about the bird life attractions his country held.

Lastly, at the same hotel, he pointed out the national bird. No, not a colorful quetzal or trogon, not the vibrant motmot or one of their exotic raptors. Nope, no bombastic jingoistic bird for them. No, the country’s national bird is a clay colored thrush…clay colored thrush, Robledal Hotel, San Jose-6342

which really is just a nude robin. That’s charming as an understated ironic choice!

What about the green-crowned brilliant hummingbird (that’s its name) at the top of this article? Well, that was from the next lodge. Call it foreshadowing…



American Safari, 4/5/2018

Dr. Suess and the Motmots!


When Dr. Suess drew his fantastical birds, he didn’t have to make them up totally out of his imagination. He could just have tweaked a few of the tropical birds we saw in Costa Rica. Long tail feathers, brilliant color schemes, odd ornamentation abounds in that bird population. One ‘family’ of birds, the motmots, exemplifies the extravagance we witnessed.

Of the six lodges we visited during our trip through central Costa Rica we saw motmots at three of them. Each time a single bird stared us down, each time a different version of motmot.

First, I happened on to one high in a tree at La Selva Biological Reserve (a research station also catering to birders): a broad billed motmot. Check out the tail, characteristic of the family. broad billed motmot, La Selva Biological Reserve-7408

5 days later, at dusk, after a thrilling session photographing scarlet macaws (see prior post) we walked a ‘jungle path’ maintained by the hotel on whose property we were trespassing. Sitting on a rope fence bordering the trail was this exotic example of a blue-crowned motmot. blue crowned motmot, Manuel Antonio-9551

We would have preferred one sitting on a leafless branch, but took what we got. Note the coloration differences with the broad-billed: not the same bird.

Our last full day in the tropics we hired a guide (more about that another day). Getting off a boat ride on the Tarcoles River he pointed out a turquoise-browed motmot.

turquoise browed motmot, Carrara Natl Park-0055

Yes, I know it doesn’t look turquoise. Don’t blame me, I’m just the messenger. And, no, I never did get to see if it swallowed the big bug it caught!turquoise browed motmot, Carrara Natl Park-0070

Next: Airport Hotel. Airport Hotel?

American Safari, 4/3/2018

Caw, Caw, Macaw!


When Walla Walla isn’t far south enough… Courtesy of a woman at the spa with whom Janet shared a Jacuzzi, we heard of a place one could see scarlet macaws within walking distance of our hotel. So, at 6 AM, rubbing the sand out of my eyes, I walked up a steep hill for 15 minutes, puffing away while my camera bounced heavily on my hip. Raising my camera to my eye as beautiful flame-billed aracaris landed in nice light on a nearby tree, I learned a lesson I should have already known: don’t store your cameras in air conditioning when visiting a humid hot climate. The first fifteen minutes I took ‘fog’ pictures, e.g.:fiery billed aracari, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-8960

This photograph shows the results of significant, if failed, processing to remove the fog. Lesson: keep your cameras out of air conditioning in tropical climates. This we managed to do subsequent to this lesson by storing the cameras behind closed bathroom doors, or on a balcony, etc.

Why do scarlet macaws pose such a lure for photographers? Just look.

flying Scarlet Macaw, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-9152


None of these pictures is highly successful (we have photos of still birds that are more photographically acceptable) but they convey some of the awe I felt getting close to the birds nest and seeing them up close.


flying Scarlet Macaw, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-9202

flying Scarlet Macaw, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-9235

Here you see the macaw leaving its nest. These departures were sudden enough that we never caught the whole bird in focus when flying. It did however, pose in the nest for us for minutes at a time.

scarlet macaw in nesti, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-9228

And on a tree branch.scarlet macaw perched, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-8984

scarlet macaw perched, Manuel Antonio, Selena Hotel-9185

Thanks for reading. More Costa Rica to come!