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.

Ridgefield Sandhill Cranes

I had my semi-annual dental check-up recently.  Usually Leslie would accompany me and we would meet up with some old colleagues, but Leslie was isolating for an upcoming surgery so I went by myself.  So, I got a really early start, oh dark thirty, and went to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge early because I had seen some shots of migrating Sand Hill Cranes and I wanted to see them, too.  

The booth at the entrance said that 60+ cranes had been spotted the day before, but I didn’t see a single crane until the very end of the tour, and the small flock I saw was a long way away. 

They weren’t very good pictures, but at least I had proof that I had seen them.  My favorite shot, which is heavily cropped, was of these two vocalizing.

Knowing the morning pictures weren’t going to be very good, I decided to return after my dental appointment to try again.  Unfortunately, even though it wasn’t very late, the clouds had moved in and the light wasn’t as good as it was in the morning.  It didn’t help that I didn’t see a single Sandhill Crane until I reached the end of the tour, where I had seen them on my morning visit.

At least they were considerably closer this time, making for a somewhat better shot.

In the end, the shots don’t compare very favorably with shots of Sandhill Cranes that I took in Merced several years ago where conditions were more ideal, but it was still exciting seeing birds I seldom see.

As it turns out, though, my favorite shots of the day weren’t of Sandhill Cranes at all, but that will have to wait for another day.

Hurricane Ridge in the Rain

When we couldn’t figure out another Mt. Rainier hike to take that wouldn’t be overflowing with visitors trying to visit before the end of the season, we decided to explore Olympic National Park, instead.  I pushed hard to hike Hurricane Ridge since it had been over five years since our last visit. I’m glad we chose that hike, though things have changed considerably since the last time I was there.  It is such a popular trail that they paved it, which makes sense since trails quickly become stream beds up there.  We were reminded that The Olympics are a Rainforest as we spent the day walking in the clouds. The rain was heavy enough that I put my camera in my bag and relied on my iPhone to take shots.

Washington is the Evergreen State, but Fall’s colors were still on display

and I often think that Falls bright hues stand out more when framed with green.

On sunny days visitors are treated to awesome views of the coastal mountain range, but there is a subtle beauty In fog-shrouded forests. 

The signs along the trail pointed out that Hurricane Ridge is aptly named and that trees growing here are shaped by high winds, heavy rain, and heavy snowfall.  These forces combine to produce many beautiful, bonsai-like trees that cling to the barren rock.

I’m not sure if  the heavy clouds allowed us to get closer to the wildlife than usual, but this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a Spruce Grouse, 

and we got close to two different flocks of them.

We also saw several deer, but none quite as handsome as this buck that joined us while we sat and enjoyed lunch.

Rain or no rain, it was a beautiful day.

Crystal Mountain to Lake Henskin

For our last hike of the season near Mt. Rainier we moved north, starting from the Crystal Mountain ski area.  Our trip started a little rugged because we had trouble finding the beginning of the trail and ended up climbing straight uphill on a gravel road.  As it turned out, that was an indicator of what the hike was going to be like.  

The best part of the hike was that it was quite strenuous, providing a fitting challenge for an end-of-the-season hike.  I think Leslie and Paul liked it better than I did, but I was off-put by the clearings for ski trails that we had to cross and the sight of a scalped mountain across the valley.  Still, there was a couple of pleasant small streams crossing the trail.

Lake Henskin, where we ate lunch, was also quite peaceful.  It felt great to cool off after the steep climb up the trail.

Unfortunately, the silence was shattered by the sound of a helicopter flying overhead repeatedly.

At first, I speculated that it might be involved in fighting the fires that plagued the Pacific Northwest and most of the West Coast this summer, but once it flew directly overhead I knew that wasn’t why it was here.  It wasn’t until I got home and put the image up on the screen that it became obvious this was some sort of gun-ship practicing.  

I’m not up on the latest weapons since it has been 40+ years since I was in a military helicopter, but that is definitely a gunner with some sort of machine gun peering down on us, and there’s another machine gun on the back of the helicopter.  I suspect the opposite side was equally armed.

Luckily, the helicopter’s intrusion into the silence was soon forgotten as we descended back down the trail and immersed ourselves in the comforting protection of the old-growth forest.