I hope everyone that celebrates it had a safe and merry Christmas! We hear at Lifeintrigued headquarters have been busy trying to wrap up the year’s posts so we can start fresh again after the first. The plan is to get through the remaining three Yellowstone bird posts so I can spend January getting to the larger animals shot on our vacation last October. First on this list is kind of a surprise to me. Most of the time while Linda is driving, my eyes are focused out the window on trees and any water bodies we happen to pass. Linda is pretty tolerant of this behavior even when I give our special code word for STOP THE CAR – WE NEED TO GO BACK AND PHOTOGRAPH A BIRD I JUST SAW. This is shortened to a single word since we would be a quarter of a mile down the road before getting all that out (yes, she drives fast).
On one of these occasions out in Yellowstone I found these waterfowl enjoying a calm late afternoon.
For some strange reason I classified them as Goldeneyes and since I already had that bird checked off my Bird List I didn’t get overly excited about the shoot. The dark reflections off the water were wreaking havoc on the exposure. Adding time to bring in the details of the darker birds were causing some blowouts on the whiter ones. Our presence did not go unnoticed and almost immediately they started heading away from the shore.
When I got back home I started the post processing on this shoot, again, initially thinking they were goldeneyes. When it came time to check out some of their reference bios it became apparent that my early classification was wrong. Now the curiosity was peaking. Thumbing through all the reference books again revealed what appears to be Buffleheads. The markings on both the females (darker birds) and the breeding males (whiter ones) are a pretty good match. The region is also consistent and true to the reference information they didn’t make a sound the whole time I was snapping pictures. One of the other features of the breeding male is their iridescent head. It is difficult to see in these smaller pictures, but if you look directly at this picture…
you will see the different colors shimmering in the light.
Hit the jump to see additional pictures of the Bufflehead (including some of them taking off from the water)
If this is accurate (and I believe it is at this point), I can officially check this new bird off my list! Thankfully Linda agreed to go back to make this all happen. Here is another shot of the breeding male. The colors didn’t come through on the head but you can definitely make out the unique white markings behind the head – kind of looks like time running on a stopwatch.
According to the reference books, Buffleheads are one of the smaller ducks and generally silent except during courtship. This species also has the rare characteristic of an increasing population since the mid 1950s. As a slight justification to myself, the National Geographic reference book actually states, “It’s plumage is suggestive of miniature goldeneyes.” So there you go! Oh, another interesting tidbit from the same reference, “It flies so quickly, with rapid wingbeats, that the wings blur.”
Let’s just see how the 400mm Beast thinks about that.
Nailed it! Similar to the Mergansers (link here) I was able to pan through with the Beast and catch them lifting out of the water. As with the other shots, keeping them in the frame while zoomed so deep is a difficult task at best. I was able to grab a second shot thanks to having it in continuous shot mode (a highly recommended mode for all bird photographers out there).
The car’s window frame begins to impede if they travel to far. Guessing the above shot was just about at the extent of movement allowed by the window – Based on the water pattern, one apparently got away. A quick reset allowed me to capture one more shot, but the dark reflections of the water caused the birds to get lost in the shot. If you took a quick glance at this picture without knowing what it was you might think you were looking at flying penguins.
Well, that does it for this bird post. I am definitely thrilled I was able to add to my collection and hope you enjoyed the shots as well. As is always the case on this blog, feel free to correct any of my classifications – it is not always easy to match the specimens found in the field with reference shots and having multiple eyes on the task is a good thing. Two birds to go.. wish me luck.
full size pictures can be found in our Smugmug Gallery (link here)