I arrive at Ridgefield fairly early–before 5:30 a.m.–and the weather looks to be partly sunny, which can be very nice for bird photography. However, on my first loop around the auto tour, I spotted very little activity! This was disappointing and I only got a couple shots on the first loop–and not real exciting ones at that! Four more flight shots were caught while I was parked in the main parking lot, got out of the truck facing west, and just waited for something to fly in front of me. Here are the six shots taken at Ridgefield.
Here, a young Tree Swallow is searching for food on the gravel road.
At about the same location, between posts #5 & 6, I see a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird off to my right.
That was all the pictures I got on the loop around the refuge! So I pulled over in the parking lot and spent about 20 minutes catching some flight shots.
Here are a couple of Great Blue Heron shots. In the first one, the bird was closer but the shot is kind of spoiled by the harsh shadows under the wings and on the rear half of the body. I had a better angle on the light in the second one but the bird was quite a bit further away, resulting in a decrease in detail.
I then have a small bird pass fairly closely in front of me. It turns out to be a female Yellow-headed Blackbird. I believe this is my first shot of one in flight.
Another small bird flies in front of me–it’s a European Starling.
I decide that I’ll pack it up and head over to Steigerwald Lake NWR, which is about 35 minutes away from Ridgefield, east just past Camas, Wa., on Hwy 14. I hadn’t been there in quite a while and I was up for a good walk. Of course, after I pull into the parking lot and start assembling my camera to my monopod, a guy pulls in next to me and says there are several school buses that will be here shortly, with kids galore. I’ll have to do my best to avoid these groups of kids on the trail.
I take off walking with my camera hoisted over my shoulder. If I see something while I’m walking, I can quickly bring the camera off my shoulder, set the monopod down, wake up the camera, focus and shoot.
About half a mile out on the trail, there is a snag that is about 80 feet high and has no branches. Ospreys have built a nest on the top of it. I watched an adult bird at the nest, probably tending to a chick (of course, I could not see any chicks in the nest from the ground).
I spent quite a bit of time waiting for the Osprey to fly out of the nest in hopes that I could catch a shot of it approaching the nest on its return. But it was not to be. I received little cooperation from this Osprey. Here’s a shot from my vantage point as it poked its head up momentarily.
As I was waiting for the Osprey to show itself, I saw a bright yellow bird in the distance land in a tree and feed on some of the foliage. It was my first Bullock’s Oriole of this year. I didn’t get the greatest pose from this fellow and this is quite a heavy crop. I’m hoping to see these guys at Ridgefield sometime this summer.
On the way back to the parking area, a White-breasted Nuthatch gives me a look.
I get back to the truck and drive over to the west end of the parking lot where there is a metal gate that is locked. I pull up to the gate and decide to wait there to see if a Yellowthroat I am hearing will give me a shot. I recall the last time I was here I stopped at this exact spot and caught a fairly nice shot of a Cedar Waxwing and a Scrub Jay. Soon, the Yellowthroat makes an appearance.
Then shortly after, I see two small birds, in front of my truck (where I can’t shoot without shooting through the windshield), in flight, doing some kind of mating dance in mid air. The male decides to land on a nearby branch within my view. It’s a Lazuli Bunting! What a great way to end the trip today! Here are a couple of shots.
It may just be me, but I have a heck of a time getting great shots while walking these refuge trails. Every once in a while I get lucky but for the most part, but most of the time I come back with so-so shots and I’m really tired from carrying the gear around. Get me back into my truck and I seem to achieve higher odds of a decent shot.
Steigerwald Lake Refuge is a beautiful place with a great walking path. But the ratio of wooded or brushy areas that the trail winds through is so small compared to the open grassland areas (where there is usally less bird activity), that it makes for a lot more effort per picture than an average drive around Ridgefield’s auto tour. (I’m talking now from a bird photographer’s point of view.) For a typical nature lover, this place (Steigerwald) is heaven. It’s mostly true at other refuges, too, like Tualatin River in Sherwood, Oregon. I have gotten more good opportunities right around the parking areas than I do when I hike the trails with my camera in tow. There is truly something special about using your vehicle as a hide and exploring Ridgefield’s wonderful auto tour.
But, even Ridgefield has its bad days and for me, today wasn’t the best. You just never know what you are going to come across on ANY photo shoot, at ANY refuge or park! It’s always fun trying to get the shots no matter where I am! See you next time on The Blog!
P.S. I was pleased to see I am a featured photographer on the new website, http://americanwildbird.wordpress.com/. I really appreciate Ernie Sears, the site’s founder, being kind enough to recognize me. The site is in its fledging status at this time but I can see it becoming quite popular in the future. Ernie is constantly updating the site and making improvements to it.
The site has also published a story I sent in about the Downy Woodpecker who has a mysterious passenger on its back. Many folks have already seen this series of shots but if you haven’t yet, please take a look at the story here: http://www.americanwildbird.com/mysterious_passenger.html.
Please check it out if you have time! Thanks!