Ridgefield Wilflife Refuge

Sadly, the best day I’ve had in quite a while was last Wednesday’s trek to my dentist in Vancouver. Even though the skies were heavily overcast, I stopped at Ridgefield National Wildlife before my lunch and dental appointment. Although I didn’t see anything notable and the pictures aren’t “great,” I got to see birds that I haven’t seen regularly since they revised Nisqually.

The highlight of the morning would have to be this shot of a Wilson’s Snipe.

Snipe With Gadwall

I was taking pictures of the male Gadwall when this Snipe landed right next to it. This is the first time I’ve ever recognized a Snipe when I first saw it, though I discovered awhile back that I had captured shots of a small flock of Snipes the previous year when I visited Ridgefield. I was surprised at how small Snipes are; I realized I’ve spent much of the last five years looking for a larger bird than it actually is.

I also saw a couple of Yellowlegs, a bird I used to see regularly at Nisqually,

Yellowlegs

but see rarely at Theler Wetlands.

I also saw a single Great Egret,

Great Egret

a bird seldom seen as far north as Seattle-Tacoma but one I regularly see when I visit California.

It was a nice break after a two and half hour drive on the Freeway, one that got me in the proper mood for lunch with Klaras and Terry.

Barnacle Goose at Ridgefield

Yesterday was my semi-annual tooth-cleaning appointment in Vancouver, and, as usual, I left at 6:00 to get some birding in before my lunch with old friends and my dental appointment.

Unfortunately it was dark and cold, but I was still enjoying rather common birds like this unusually aggressive Red-Winged Blackbird.

I loved this pose; hopefully the next time I see it it will be brighter so I can get a sharper image.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Luckily it seemed a little brighter when I sighted this pair of Green-Winged Teal,

pair of Green-Winged Teal

and these personal favorites, Northern Pintails,

two male Northern Pintails

sporting their two-toned bills, their subtle, pin-striping, and those long, elegant tails they’re named after.

I wasn’t ready, though, for this bird, the one with the solid white face:

Barnacle Goose

In fact, I didn’t recognize it, not surprising since it’s not in a single one of my small collection of bird books.

I stopped and asked the ranger if he knew what it was, and when I showed it to him he acted surprised and asked if I had really taken the picture there. He knew immediately it was a Barnacle Goose, commoner in the Norh East but rare here. In fact, he thought it was the first one ever sighted at Ridgefield. He jumped in his truck, drove the wrong way down the one-way road, and came back to confirm that was, indeed, a Barnacle Goose.

Cool. Nice way to start a long day.

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Last Wednesday’s trip to Vancouver was not the trip I’d hoped for. First, the sunshine that dominated the week chose to disappear for a day. So, though I got to Vancouver around 8:00 AM, the sun was hidden behind a deep layer of clouds and the best birds, like the Egrets, were so far out that I couldn’t manage to get a respectable shot even with my 500mm lens with a doubler on it.

This shot of a Great Blue Heron standing, I guess, in tall grass was one of the few shots I really liked:

Great Blue Heron

The clouds still hadn’t dispersed by the time I had to leave for lunch with former colleagues though it was hard to complain because the company and conversation was delightful as always.

Things really took a turn for the worse at the dentist’s office, though, and a 1 1/2 hour cleaning and filling turned into a 3 1/2 hour appointment with two crowns instead of a filling, not to mention a $1,000 bill instead of a$100 bill. Needless to say, I was pretty exhausted by the time I left and wasn’t ready to immediately drive all the way home.

Instead, I returned to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge where I was greeted by what appeared to be an immature Red-Tailed Hawk:

juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk

The contrast with the Great Blue Heron shot taken earlier in the morning suggests just how fickle lighting can be. This one was taken in full sunshine, albeit with the sun already sinking in the horizon, and the white feathers are washed out, despite adjustments in Aperture and Photoshop.

Generally, though, the pictures I took at the end of the day in full sunshine turned out better than those taken earlier in the day under cloudy skies, even if I had to mute some elements of the picture, as I did to the very greenish water in this shot of a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Lesser Yellowlegs

The most dramatic effect of the light, though, shows up in the shots of this American Bittern, taken just before it turned dark. Here the orange cast of the late sunshine actually made the American Bittern appear more dramatic,

American Bittern

and in a few of the shots I was still able to capture the bird’s movement,

American Bittern

though the ISO in my favorite shots was so high that the noise level seemed unacceptable to me.

Thank goodness birding was good enough that I nearly forgot the dental episode because the drive home on I-5 was a virtual nightmare, with roadwork and road closures doubling the time it had taken me to get there in the morning. Fixing highways may be a good thing in the long run, but so far this year driving for any distance at all has been a real pain in the posterior.

An Afterthought

If you’d told me that I would get the best pictures of my Malheur trip at The Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, I would have laughed. No, Ridgefield was simply an afterthought, and the brilliant sunshine I experienced there was pure luck, especially since it poured right before I got there and just as I was leaving.

What’s more, I really didn’t see anything there I hadn’t seen earlier on the trip, except for the Scrub Jay. Heck, I had a couple of good shots of Wood Ducks that I took at Conboy Refuge a few hours before, but I didn’t like any of them as much as I liked this shot:

Wood Duck Pair

I don’t think I could have gotten a better composition of this pair if I’d been posing them myself.

And it somehow seemed fitting that I got the best pictures of the trip of a Cinnamon Teal on this last stop:

male Cinnamon Teal

In fact, I got four of the best shots I’ve ever gotten of a Cinnamon Teal during the time I was there. Perhaps I should have called this “My Cinnamon Teal Vacation.” I don’t think I’ll ever need to take another shot unless I can find one in action.

But I might be fondest of this simple shot:

Scrub Jay

This Scrub Jay landed a few feet from me while I was talking to a birder from Longview. I spent weeks futilely trying to get a good shot of the Scrub Jay that seems to live in my mother-in-law’s backyard, and this one flies down and poses four feet away from me for two or three minutes straight. And, yes, I got so many good shots of this one I’ll probably never need to take another shot of one unless it’s flying.

Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge

Tuesday I left the house at 6:25 so that I could spend time at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge near Vancouver before my semi-annual dental appointment. I ended up spending a little over two hours there, though the conditions were less than ideal and I managed to get wet even inside my car.

I’ve been anticipating the trip since last year when I bought a window mount for my 500mm lens. The set up made it easy to get this shot, since the Red-Winged Blackbird was on the left hand side of the road.

Red-Winged Blackbird

The only problem was keeping it in the frame and in-focus since it was right on the edge of the road.

I would never have even stopped to get a picture of these Green-Winged Teal if I hadn’t had a 700mm lens attachment on the camera.

Green-Winged Teal Pair

Green-Winged Teal are notoriously shy, so being able to shoot from the car worked out beautifully.

Unfortunately, the set up probably cost me the best shot of the day, one of this coyote

Coyote

who just a few minutes before this shot was taken was standing on THIS side of the fence and staring defiantly at the three cars that had just pulled up. Unfortunately, he was on the right hand side of the road, and my camera was set up to take pictures on the left side. By the time I had turned my car far enough to get this shot, he had started to move on, exiting right.

I had better luck around the next corner when I got this shot of a male Gadwall, the best I’ve ever managed to get.

Male Gadwall

Unfortunately in order to get it I actually had to dismount the lens from the window support and hand hold it as I rested it on the window, far from ideal.

It doesn’t take long to discover that nearly every tool, no matter how powerful, brings its own liabilities to the table. At least with the door mount, I have a portable blind instead of having to sit in one place and wait for birds to come to me. It also provides a rock-solid mount for my heavy lens. But like the Maginot Line, it limits you to shooting in one direction. It becomes a real liability if you need to take a photograph in the opposite direction.

Northern Pintail

I finally appear to be on the mend from whatever ailment struck me on the sunniest days of the year now that the clouds have reappeared. I actually got up on time today and have already taken Skye for his morning walk. With the exception of a few moments when I was bent over trying to catch my breath, the walk went well.

I promised to help a friend put her photos on her web site today, but I’ve already gathered all the quotes on Diggory Venn together and hope to cobble something together by late this evening.

Meanwhile here’s a final shot from Wednesday’s trip to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, one of my favorite ducks, a male Northern Pintail.

male Northern Pintail

Ridgefield Raptors

I haven’t had lunch with my old teaching friends so I drove down to Vancouver on Wednesday. Although the morning was quite foggy, when I finally left lunch about 1:30 it was beautiful, so I headed out to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge.

One of the photographers I met said things had really been hopping in the morning and the clouds had burned off their before they had in Vancouver. He was right, there wasn’t too much going on and I certainly didn’t get any pictures that I haven’t gotten before.

Still, I’m always pleased when I manage to get a picture of a kestrel:

Kestrel

And I think this might be the best shot I’ve managed to get of an immature Red-Tailed Hawk:

Red-Tailed Hawk