December 23 2011 Ride: Birds and Berries

For the only day before Christmas where I could possible take a very long ride, I also lucked out and got beautiful weather. Partly sunny, in the low 50′s without the threat of rain. The Raleigh and I were itching to get out.

We only had a few hours of daylight to utilize, and I wanted a trail I hadn’t ridden in a while, so I headed over to Marymoor Park to ride the Sammamish River Trail. I have ridden the entirety of this trail on a warm summer day, but today I wanted to take photos and ride slowly. My lungs are still a bit iffy after a recurrent bout of bronchitis, and frankly, I’m out of shape. But more than that, I’m just enamored with photography right now, and this was my chance.

The light wasn’t the best, as usual for this time of year: either too bright or too dark, but I’ve learned to do some post-production compensating, and to live with what I can do. So some of the images in here aren’t in perfect focus… well, that’s life, when using the zoom in the dusk.

The trail was nearly empty this close to Christmas, so I was able to focus on many small things I would usually miss. The Sammamish river is definitely an urban river, running through office parks and turf farms, but the wildlife on this quiet day was outstanding. I started with this very pretty Common Merganser:

Loved his buffy head and perky yellow beak! I was a bit of an avid birder in the past, but ducks were never a specialty of mine. The photograph allowed me to come home and break out one of my Sibley Field Guides. These are fantastic “large pocket” guides that use beautiful illustrations of birds rather than photographs. Using a “general” bird image, rather than that of an individual bird, makes identifying birds easier. I’d never seen this one, so he’s getting a check mark in my guide. Considering how many grey ducks with brown heads and yellow beaks there are in the US (at least three), the photo helped me get it right.

Moments later, I slammed to a stop to watch this guy air out his glorious wings:

That’s a Double-Crested Cormorant. Here he is, just hanging out a moment later:

Cormorants are common birds in our waterways, but I’d never seen so many of them up close, nor realized that they have blue feet and under-feathers! So pretty.

I think I’d gone about half a mile further, when I saw that the local office park had been yarn bombed:

There were several trees like this. Urban Adventure League recently featured a post on the yarn bombing of some bike racks in Portland. I was soooo jealous. Why couldn’t I get yarn bombed too? So the sight of all that rainbow striping made me quite giddy for a while.

Almost giddy enough to ride ten feet without another photo… then I saw these:

What the heck bush has lavender berries? Apparently, the Beautyberry does. Now, I’m forty years-old. How did I reach this advanced age without ever seeing a single Beautyberry bush before? I’m happy life continues to amaze me, but for heaven’s sake: at this age, I thought I was supposed to have seen it all!

Well, at least I’ve definitely seen these guys before:

Still, each time I see them, they’re impressive. A woman walking her dog paused to admire him too: “You saw him, didn’t you?” “Yep,” I answered, “and I’m going to go get him!” I wonder what she thought I meant by that?

Soon after the bald eagle, I was back on the bike and cruising along at a rather impressive clip. Ahead of me, a jogger and her small dog approached. But as she got closer, what I thought was a dachshund turned out to be something else entirely. It turned left suddenly across the path, and as I shrieked and flapped my arms wildly like an idiot, the glorious river otter streaked down the embankment and dived into the river. I have never seen a river otter in the wild, and it was a bit like the time I saw Stephen Hawking on the street in Cambridge. I had otter goose bumps! The jogger continued on, oblivious, as I hunted the bank-side with my camera, but he was gone. I was in otter heaven for a few miles after that, let me tell you!

From there, I decided it was time to burn some rubber while there was still daylight. My goal for the time I had was just ten miles, round trip. Normally, that would be a really short ride for me, but with the fading light and the frequent stops, I realized I was starting to lose the time even for the distance I’d decided on.

The five mile point is punctuated by a bathroom nearby, and that made me happy, as my Snapple consumption had been high on the drive over. I was amused afterward by the incongruity of this sign:

As I turned around, I was greeted by one of my favorite birds, and a Raleigh-appropriate symbol: the Great Blue Heron. Herons are notoriously difficult to snap clearly, because they’re skittish as all get-out. Whenever I get close enough to get a shot, the dang bird flaps away, honking bloody murder. This one must have been very tired, as he hunkered down and let me take several shots. I had trouble getting him in focus in the fading light, and of course when I got out my tripod and started to strap it to an available tree, he’d had it and off he went.

In the meantime, the shot reminds me of a Japanese pen-and-ink drawing, so I don’t mind the blur too much.

A few moments later, another heron flew off squawking and protesting as I stopped, but like a fool, he simply landed right in front of me. Ha, Heron! I got you this time!

At this point, I thought I was done, bird-wise. I should have known better. Not one, but two bald eagles flew down and perched in trees beside the river for their evening snacks.

Really, they’re always a treat.

Speaking of treats… how about the very last apple on the tree, dangling dangerously over the water?

Anyone willing to reach for that one?

A final shot of a Common Golden Eye finished out the birding for the day (this one is also up on Snapbugblog, if you’re inclined to step over there and see it in its original spot).

My magical ride was seemingly over. I headed back to the parking lot… but wait? What’s that glowing in the gloom? Perhaps I should ride over and investigate?

That tent is set up for “Cavalia,” which is a horse/acrobat show. I drove home and immediately told My Sweet Man about it, and he knew he’d found the final present for the horse-crazy Eldest Girl: two tickets for later this month.

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20 Responses to December 23 2011 Ride: Birds and Berries

  1. Auchen says:

    You saw all that in the span of just 10 miles!?
    It seems so incredible to have seen so much on the hoof (wing) on such a short ride.

    I’m jealous. (All I ever get to see is road kill.)

  2. rideblog says:

    Well, Auchen, I was in a riparian area :). I’ve never seen so many animals or birds there, and I’ve ridden the length of that trail several times. I think it must have been the relative lack of people.

  3. LuckyChow99 says:

    You’ve outdone yourself today! Don’t know why, but I love the bike-n-bird pictures. Gave my Raleigh a spin today too. But alas, no blog, so those DL-1 pics will have to wait for another time. By the way, what camera do you use? It does a great job.

  4. Jim Duncan says:

    Impressed by your bird marking skills and seeming affinity for being in the right place for capturing these shots. The pix, make that portrait, of the Cormorant spreading his wings, has a primeval, eternal feel-a thrilling image! You really go, girl, when you’ve had a rest. Thanks for the beauty! Jim

  5. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Jim. I really was seriously into birds for a while, many years back. This, and the Sibley, taught me to recognize the “markers” necessary to go home and look most birds up. There are usually little things one can look for: brown in the right spot, the yellow beak, the white under the eye, that allow you to figure out which bird is which. This isn’t true of a certain class of birds: LBB’s (little brown birds). That moniker always makes me laugh.

    Hopefully I’ll be able to get out a couple times this week, as I have the wee Boy a bit less.

  6. rideblog says:

    Oh, LuckyChow, I’m always looking for a DL-1 in my soul, but I don’t want to have to do the work to make the brakes work around here!

    My camera is a Canon PowerShot. You can read all about it here: http://rideblog.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/april-23-2011-ride-photographic-delights/

    I really like it, as it’s just a “cheap” point-and-shoot, but it has a totally-manual setting, which I use, and a great range on the lens. F-stop from 3.4-8.0 and shutter speed from 15 seconds to 1600 (I think: I never use that high a speed). I can set the ISO from 80-2400. The only feature I don’t adjust manually (besides the white balance) is the focus, as I don’t think the manual focus works very well. It has lots of other nice features: a pop-up flash (so it’s not on unless you want it to be), lots of filters and various auto settings, as well as HD video. It runs under $250. Not bad, for what it is. I’d love a DSLR, but that’s not going to happen for a long time, so I’m working with what I’ve got!

  7. monk says:

    Great post! Of course you know you had me at the first bird photo. Adding another lifer had to be sweet too.

  8. rideblog says:

    Several lifers, Monk! Like I said, I’m no duck expert.

    I’ve been wondering where you were, as I hadn’t seen you about in a while. Good to have you back :). I looked up that common merganser just for you.

  9. traumfahrrad says:

    what an amazing ride. and i now know it’s called ‘yarn bombing’. this has been happening in Bristol in the UK quite a lot lately.

    I saw a stoat on my ride yesterday.

  10. rideblog says:

    A stoat!!!! I want to see a stoat! The chances of that are about zero, but I’d really love to see a stoat. I likes me some weasels. The neighbor’s stinky ferret doesn’t count.

  11. gl. says:

    “it was a bit like the time I saw Stephen Hawking on the street in Cambridge.” bwah ha ha ha! i suspect mr. hawking has never been compared to a river otter before. :)

  12. anniebikes says:

    Very, Very nice photos. I rather like the out of focus shots, as long as the subject is in focus. You make me long for the northwest. I used to live in Portland.

  13. traumfahrrad says:

    the stoat was small and red with a black tail. apparently they go ‘ermine’ if it’s cold enough. i’d never seen one before. herons nest in colonies at the tops of trees, it’s quite a sight. they call it a heronery i think. i always thought they’d have some sort of water nest like swans.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heronry.jpg

  14. rideblog says:

    Ah, but gl, they are so similar in how much I adore them both!

  15. rideblog says:

    Thanks, Annie! I don’t mind the out of focus ones if the subject is in focus, either. Unfortunately, the heron wasn’t in focus no matter what :). Low light makes it too hard.

  16. rideblog says:

    A heronery… I would LOVE to see that too! Especially if they were stalked by many stoats… (this makes me think of some bizarre medieval tapestry).

  17. traumfahrrad says:

    my goodness. today i saw something that might just trump the stoat (sounds like a euphemism, but it isn’t).

    http://traumradfahren.wordpress.com/2011/12/28/cheltenham-to-bristol-by-bike-the-horror-of-birdlip/

  18. CJ says:

    Thanks so much for sharing these photos. I love birds, and these pictures definitely put me in a holiday mood. I can’t really pick one favorite, but generally, the fact that you are riding a Raleigh to take pictures of herons makes me so happy.

    It’s pouring rain today in PDX, and the wind is blowing against my windows. I think I may suit up and go out anyway, even if I end up soaked in two seconds. Your pictures just make me want to be outside no matter what.

  19. rideblog says:

    Dear God, traumfahrrad… how am I supposed to top THAT?

  20. rideblog says:

    Funny, CJ, they don’t have that effect on me :). It’s pouring down rain outside here too, and I have zero desire to ride!! But thanks :).

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