We’re Having a Snipe Hunt

I went to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge hoping to see the Sand Hill Cranes that had been seen as recently as the day before.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single one in sight during our visit, and Sand Hill Cranes are so large that it’s impossible not to see them if they’re nearby.  Wilson’s Snipes, on the other hand, are so small and well-camouflaged that it’s very easy to miss them. 

Luckily, Leslie spotted several Wilson’s Snipe along the shoreline through her binoculars while I was scanning the lake looking for cranes.  I’ll have to admit that I couldn’t see them for quite a while despite her best efforts to point out where they were. They were barely visible even with my 840 mm telephoto lens, and it didn’t help that my camera couldn’t find anything to focus on even when I finally located one.  

Wilson’s Snipe hiding in plain sight

Judging from how people were driving around us while we were stopped, most people didn’t see them either.  Either that, or they didn’t find them very interesting.  

Wilson’s Snipe

Personally, I was fascinated by how they blended in with their habitat as they fed.  Can you see the second snipe in this shot?

Two Wilson’s Snipe

The only way I was able to get a sharp shot was to catch one with water in the background (and then adjust the exposure in Photoshop).

In the end, I was happier to get these shots than I would have been to have gotten shots of the Sand Hill Cranes because I’ve seen more Sand Hill Cranes than I have snipes.

Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge

After my dental appointment, we headed out for the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  Surprisingly, we were greeted by several Ringed-neck Ducks at the beginning of the auto tour.          

male Ring-necked Duck

Considering how many Ring-necked Ducks we had seen in the last two weeks, I was convinced I was experiencing a true Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.  

As it turned out, we didn’t see another Ring-necked Duck on the tour.  Instead, we were soon greeted by several Green-winged Teal feeding along the shoreline.

pair of Green-winged Teal

They weren’t the only birds feeding along the shoreline; this Yellowlegs dashed back and forth, trying to avoid being photographed.


On the far end of the autoroute, Leslie spotted a Great Egret,

Great Egret

a common bird in California but one that has only recently started moving North to Washington, about the same time that Vultures and Scrub Jays started showing up in here.

Get It Right Next Time

As I noted earlier, we skipped the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge on the way home from Arizona because I was tired and knew I had an upcoming dental appointment in Vancouver.  When I have a dental appointment, I usually leave around 6:00 A.M. and spend the morning at Ridgefield.  Things got rearranged on this trip because Leslie had to lead a Tai Chi class at 7:00 A.M. We ended up eating lunch when we got to town and took a relatively short walk at Salmon Creek.  We ended up seeing amazing birds up close in a very short time.

I guess this Scrub Jay knew we hadn’t photographed one in California, so he was at the entrance greeting us.  

Scrub Jay

as was this Oregon Grape in bloom.

Oregon Grape flowers

Best of all, a small pond/wetlands next to the trail was full of ducks. This male Ring-necked Duck, in particular, caught my attention because we had sighted several at Sacramento NWR but never got close enough to get a good picture.

male Ring-necked Duck

There was also a female in the pond. It looks quite different, but that beak is quite distinctive.

female Ring-necked Duck

The Ring-necked Ducks we saw in Sacramento NWR would always swim away from us, no matter how far we were away, but this guy headed straight toward us, looking rather aggressive, if I do say so.

Pretty sure someone had been feeding the ducks, and as soon as it discovered there was no food to be had it drifted off, allowing me to get a great profile shot.

It’s always a good feeling when you get a photo of a bird that you missed earlier, and it’s surprising how often that happens.  A missed shot is simply the first step in getting the shot you want.  

Unexpected Pleasures

I went to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge expecting to see Sandhill Cranes and would have been disappointed not to have seen them, but I saw other species that I didn’t expect to see and those sightings were more exciting than seeing the cranes.

I was nearing the end of the morning, mile-long walk on the refuge when I encountered a couple of experienced birders intensely staring at a tree.  They told me they had been watching two different birds.  I never did see one, but a few minutes after standing there a Brown Creeper emerged from the back of the tree and went about its business of catching a meal, totally ignoring us.  He was so close that I had to photo-merge two shots to keep him in the frame.

The other big treat of the morning was sighting this American Bittern, a large bird that is remarkably hard to spot.  I was looking across the pond to see if there were birds along the edge of the pond when I spotted it right next to the road, so close I couldn’t see the lower part of his body and had to take two close-ups to make this shot.

I used to see American Bittern regularly at Nisqually before they removed the dikes, but I haven’t seen one in several years now.  So, it, too, was even more of a treat than seeing the Sandhill Cranes.

I had to wait until my afternoon walk to see this American Kestrel, a bird I see semi-regularly, though they’re considered an “uncommon resident” in the Puget Sound area.  I’m most apt to see them in Colorado, but I didn’t see one on our last visit.  This one was a long way away, so far away that I didn’t realize it was eating a Dragonfly until I saw it on my computer screen.

I sighted another (or the same one) Kestrel further down the trail and was able to get a much closer shot, though the clouds were getting thicker and the light was quickly fading.

Sometimes small, unexpected pleasures can make a day memorable.