Friday, November 15, 2013

Birds in Flight at Lee Kay Ponds

I left my office for lunch Thursday to meet up with Rich Young for a little photography advice and practice. Rich has been very generous with teaching me about photography and the Nikon equipment we use. We spent a little time driving around the area of Lee Kay Ponds near Salt Lake City, Utah. It's a local birding hot spot that is just minutes from my office. The road that gives access to the area is on the north side of the ponds. With the sun being so far south this time of the year it can be difficult to clearly see the back lit birds. I was primarily interested in testing some photography techniques with Rich's assistance so we spent time looking west and northward for subjects to capture in better lighting. The first opportunity was when Rich noticed what looked like the white rump patch of a Northern Harrier on a bird flying at a considerable distance from us. It was coursing low to the ground so it did seem harrier-like, but a few seconds of watching the flight style gave the impression of a buteo (hawk) rather than a harrier. It turned out to be my first Rough-legged Hawk of the season, a welcomed visitor from Alaska or northern Canada. The dark terminal band in the wings were indicative of an adult bird and the buff coloring in the under wing coverts and the broad dark band at the end of the tail indicated female.

Adult Female Rough-legged Hawk Flying Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Adult Female Rough-legged Hawk Flying Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
The county dump is essentially across the road and to the north of Lee Kay Ponds. The dump and the ponds are a magnetic draw for gulls. Hundreds were present during our brief stop, but we did not spend time noticing more than California, Ring-billed, and Herring Gulls. Common Ravens were playing above and along the hillside formed by the landfill. They grappled at times and dive bombed one another at other times.

Common Ravens Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Common Ravens Grappling Mid-air Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Common Ravens Coming Out of a Mid-air Tussle Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
We saw two more hawks before I had to head back to the office for meetings. The first was an intermediate (aka rufous) morph Western Red-tailed Hawk and the other was a light morph Western Red-tailed Hawk.

Adult Intermediate-morph Western Red-tailed Hawk Near Leek Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Adult Light-morph Western Red-tailed Hawk Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Adult Light-morph Western Red-tailed Hawk Near Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
I noticed a fair number of ducks on the ponds and saw a Prairie Falcon on the way back to work. I had just enough action with that quick trip to cause me to want to go back after work.

The sun was getting low and light was becoming a challenge for photography when I returned after work, but I gave it my best shot(s) and came up with the following images by positioning myself to make the most of the light from the setting sun. I'll start with a focus on Common Goldeneyes.

Female Common Goldeneye at Lee Kay Ponds Salt Lake City, UT
Okay. So these next ducks aren't flying yet, but they will be in the second image below. I like the first image because you can see variations of male Common Goldeneyes positioned side by side. I'll call them the Three Amigos. The closest one is a young male (brown head with white facial patch). The other two are adult males with one showing a green sheen and the other showing a blue sheen from the iridescent head feathers. Females surround them along with a first-winter male Bufflehead to the right of the image and Gadwalls above the Three Amigos.

Adult Female and Male Common Goldeneyes with One Young Male (brown head with white patch as base of bill), Two Gadwalls, and a First-Winter Male Bufflehead on Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
I wished I could fly when I was a kid and I'm still in awe every time I see birds take flight, soar, and glide through the air, over water, fields, and along mountains and hillsides.

Adult Female and Male Common Goldeneyes with One Young Male (brown head with white patch as base of bill) and a First-Winter Male Bufflehead Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Next came the Buffleheads. The first image shows an adult male in the lead, a female in the middle, and a first-winter male as the caboose. The young males show what looks more like a white horn on the sides of their heads where adult females show more of a "spot". Could this be a new family of Buffleheads?

Adult Male, Female, and Young Male Buffleheads Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
One Adult and Three First-Winter Male Buffleheads Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Adult Male Bufflehead Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
First-Winter Male Bufflehead Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
First-Winter Male Bufflehead Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
First-Winter Male Bufflehead Flying Over Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
Hooded Mergansers don't like to be photographed so they are quite a challenge. I wish the lighting would have been better, but these are still handsome birds to observe. It's not in line with the theme of birds in flight, but I'm including this image to give a feel for how much the males can change the shape of their hood. Here he is before taking flight...

Adult Male Hooded Merganser on Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
and after taking flight...

Male Hooded Merganser Taking Flight From Lee Kay Ponds in Salt Lake City, UT
This next image is from a previous encounter with Hooded Mergansers and includes a male and a female adult for comparison.

Adult Male and Female Hooded Merganser at Mulligan's Golf Course in Salt Lake City, UT
I'm going to return to Lee Kay Ponds in the coming days and weeks and hope for some better lighting when the ducks take flight.

2 comments:

  1. Some very nice images there, and helpful ones for me to try to learn what your (US) ducks and raptors look like for my trip. I'll be looking forward to your next lot of results!

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    1. Thanks, Happy. Can't wait to see what's next.

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