Seeing Red – and a Little Rusty Too

This is my second blog post in two days and certainly was not planned.  It just popped into my head after a very fun day chasing (and finding) the Rusty Blackbird that was being super-cooperative at the Fred Meyer parking lot in Bellingham, followed by a close encounter with grebes and loons at the Blaine Marina.  After so much rain, it was finally sunny today, making for better photos and particularly highlighting the bright red eyes of those grebes and loons and thus the blog topic.  I have to, and will, include a sidebar about the Rusty Blackbird, but those red eyes got to me and I started thinking of all the birds with those sparkling eyes.  More birds probably have black or yellow or orange eyes, but why do so many have red ones.  I will do some research or maybe some reader of this blog knows the answer, but for now, this post will recount some Redeye experiences from today and then catalog some of my photos of other birds with red eyes that are very cool birds.

But first the Rusty Blackbird.  It was discovered by Noah Sanday at the Fred Meyer parking lot in Bellingham on Thursday. Rusty Blackbirds are seen in Washington every year but are uncommon and usually uncooperative.  They are generally loners in large flocks of other birds that are black – European Starlings, Brewer’s Blackbirds and/or Red Winged Blackbirds.  Hard to pick out at all, they are even harder to photograph because they disappear into the flocks and the flocks themselves are always reordering themselves and often skitterish.  Just when you get on the Rusty Blackbird, the whole flocks takes off and even if they return to the same spot, the Rusty is in a totally different spot and you have to start the search all over again.  The Whatcom County bird was special not only because the location was so accessible but because it was associating with very few other birds – often with just two more – and it was very confiding – remaining unfazed even when surrounded by very interested birders.  It moved back and forth between the Fred Meyer’s lot and the Costco lot across Bakerview Drive but it had been seen consistently for three days.  My only good photo of a Rusty Blackbird in Washington was at Crescent Lake in early February 2015 and I was looking forward to another.

Rusty Blackbird – Crescent Lake – February 4, 2015

Rusty Blackbird2

Ann Marie Wood and I arrived at the area around 8:00 a.m. and drove both lots and saw only a couple of Starlings and a single Brewer’s Blackbird.  At first we also saw no other birders, but then we saw Paul Baerny with a cup of coffee.  He had arrived 15 minutes before us and had also driven both properties without success.  We split up with promises to call if any of us found the blackbird.  About 10 minutes later, Paul called and he had the bird.  It was on the parking lot ground near Fred Meyers and we raced over to join him.  It was feeding on some salt with two Brewer’s Blackbirds, easy to find, easy to approach and easy to photograph.  Hurray!!  We watched it for 20 minutes and within that time more birders arrived and all they had to do was to find us – an easy way to find the bird.  As repeated often in my blog posts, it is not always this easy, but it sure feels good when it does.  Many more people saw the bird throughout the day.

Rusty Blackbird – Bellingham – March 19, 2017

Rusty Blackbird

It was only 9:30 and the weather was great.  My friends Melissa Hafting and Ilya Polyaev had great views of Eared Grebes in the Blaine Marina on Saturday and were heading back there today.  We decided to join them there and look for the grebe – not rare but not common and if close by, unusual and a good photo op.  This begins the transition to birds with red eyes.  We found two Eared Grebes among the far more numerous Horned Grebes and the red eyes of each species were striking indeed.

Eared Grebe – Blaine Marina – March 19, 2017

Eared Grebe1 Eared Grebe5

Horned Grebe – Blaine Marina – March 19, 2017

Horned Grebe

Continuing the Redeye journey, there was also a very cooperative Common Loon in breeding plumage – very photo friendly – red eyes blazing.

Common Loon

Common Loon Common Loon4

There were also Pied Billed and Red Necked Grebes in the Marina but they have dark eyes.  We did not see the other Washington Grebes – Western and Clark’s and guess what – they do have red eyes.

Clark’s and Western Grebes (Lind Coulee)

Western and Clark's Grebes

We also visited nearby Semiahmoo Spit where we had more Horned Grebes and Common Loons.  We did not see them there today, but it is a good place for both Red Throated and Pacific Loons – and yes you got it – they, too have red eyes.

Red Throated Loon

Red Throated Loon Breeding

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

Never seen there but another loon with red eyes is the Yellow Billed Loon – included in an earlier blog post this – the one up close at Rosario Head.

Yellow Billed Loon


With today’s loons and grebes in mind and with those red eyes so prominent, I wondered about other birds with red eyes.  Not going to include stories for each one (at least not now), but a quick search of my photos came up with lots of other birds – including many, but not just water birds, that have those bright eyes.  Here are photos of ones I came up with.

Wood Duck




Spotted Towhee

Spotted Towhee

Eastern Towhee

Eastern Towhee



Bronzed Cowbird

Bronzed Cowbird

White Winged Dove

White Winged Dove

Red Breasted Merganser

Red Breasted Merganser (2)

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon Teal (2)



Sora 1

Virginia Rail


White Tailed Kite

White Tailed Kite2

Eurasian Collared Dove

Eurasian Collared Dove

Rock Pigeon

Rock Pigeon

White Faced Ibis

White Faced Ibis 2

American Coot

American Coot3

Black Crowned Night Heron

Black Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Red Eyed Vireo

Red Eyed Vireo1

I have not looked at my photos from outside the U.S. and I am sure I have missed some birds in the U.S. that have red eyes, but I was surprised to find this many.  Maybe it is a stretch to go from Rusty Blackbirds to red-eyed birds but I think it does take some red to make rusty and in any event it is my blog and I get to do what I want.  Mostly I wanted to include the Common Loon and Eared Grebe photos from today.  I could have stopped there but it was fun to broaden the scope.

Most importantly, it was an excellent day with great birds and – finally – some great weather.

One thought on “Seeing Red – and a Little Rusty Too

  1. Wow Blair your shots turned out fantastic!!! What a gorgeous day and glad you got the RUBL and the breeding loons, horned and eared grebes. Was really nice to see you again. The Loons truly made Ilya and our 2 days there. Nice seeing Jon and Anne Marie as well.


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