Tundra Swans

Thursday’s trip to see the dentist in Vancouver and have lunch with old friends turned out better than I would ever have expected, Although the weather was quite varied, I saw more sunshine than I’ve seen in weeks.

And on my visit to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge I was greeted by the largest flock of Tundra Swans I’ve ever seen. In fact, I spent so much time trying to get pictures of them that I nearly was late for my luncheon.

Of course, seeing new birds is often no assurance that you’ll actually manage to get decent pictures, as it’s often much later when you’ve observed them that you learn where you need to be to get the best shots, which didn’t prevent me from shooting nearly two hundred shots, most of which have already been deleted.

I spent the greater part of the morning sitting in a blind observing the Tundra Swans taking off in small groups from the far side of the lake,

Tundra swans taking off

circling back at the end of the lake, and then making a fly by as they headed back north.

Tundra Swan Flying Abovea

Later, we saw a small flock paddle slowly south on the lake,

Tundra Swans All in a RowR

only to be greeted by two swans charging the group, honking wildly. I was sure we were in for a territorial fight,

Aggressive Tundra Swans

but they stopped before they close enough to actually hurt each other. In fact, one of the two joined the other group while the other swan floated away nonchalantly.

Tundra Swans Honking at Each Other

I actually got better pictures of other birds I’ll be posting the next few days, but for me these are the most memorable pictures of the day.

Expect the Unexpected

I really had a dental appointment in Vancouver yesterday, and no lunch date, so I decided to try to get to Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge early in the morning because the last time I was there almost all the pictures I took had the sun behind the subject.

As it turned out, of course, most of the Cinnamon Teal had disappeared and the only Ruddy Ducks I saw

Ruddy Ducks in Distance

were so far out in the center of the pond that I could barely see them to focus the camera, with no hopes of even coming close to getting as good of pictures as I did two weeks before.

I spent the most time watching American Coots and their babies. These members of the rail family repeatedly dove and fed their chicks. I thought this was unusual duck behavior, but then I read that Coots are not ducks, but, rather, members of the rail family, not that I know anything about the rail family.

American Coot with Chick

While focused on a pair of coots feeding chicks this duck floated into the scene. At first I ignored it, thinking it was yet another female Mallard. When I noticed that the tail feathers were black, though, I knew this was something I hadn’t seen before.

Male Gadwall

It turned out to be a male Gadwall, which became perfectly obvious when the two took flight.

I also spent considerable time pursuing song birds to photograph, but had even less luck getting decent shots in the trees. Still, I rather liked this shot of a male American Goldfinch, radiant in the mid-morning sunlight.

American Goldfinch

A Senior Moment

Either iCal or I suffered a senior moment a couple of weeks ago when I noticed that I was scheduled for a dental appointment May 24th. As usual, I arranged to have lunch with several Vancouver friends, only to discover that the real appointment was June 12th.

I figured it would be rude to cancel the lunch, so I drove down anyway despite the high cost of gasoline here in the PNW, $3.49 per gallon. Luckily it was a great lunch with some interesting discussion, followed by a long visit to my old hiking partner.

As a result, however, I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time at Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge as I’d wanted to, and the sun was settling in the East by the time I got there. Needless to say, it made the photography harder than it would have been otherwise.

For instance, the highlight of the day was sighting a male Ruddy Duck in full color:

I was certainly happy with how close he came, that blue bill stands out beautifully, and his tail is standing up in the traditional pose.

Unfortunately, the light was behind him and much of his body lacks detail, even after trying to compensate for shadow in Aperture.

This shot, taken later after he had moved to the other side of the pond,has much better overall exposure, but he was further away and I couldn’t get him to pose as he’d done in the earlier shot.

This frustration makes me appreciate good wildlife photography more than I would otherwise because I realize just how many hours must have been spent to get the perfect lighting and be in perfect position to get the shot the photographer wanted. Heck, it even gives me an excuse to fill up more of my hard drive with imperfect shots of Ruddy Ducks until I actually get the one I want to get, not to mention lingering over that Canon 600mm lens that I’ll probably never own.

I had different problems trying to get a good picture of a Cinnamon Teal, a bird that seemed everywhere on the refuge, though I’ve only seen one in the wild before. They spend most of their time in the weeds along the shore, so most of the time I actually flushed them before I knew they were there. I had many blurry shots of foliage with no apparent sign of a bird, but I did manage to get this one

which has a certain appeal despite, or, perhaps, because of, the blur.

My favorite shot was probably this one

because it shows the Cinnamon Teal in its natural setting, even though later I got another shot in a pond that had even better resolution.

In the end, it was a great day even though I felt a little guilty wasting a tank of gas and thirty plus dollars on an unnecessary trip. Maybe I need more senior moments.