Sunshine! Finally a day of clear blue skies and sunshine at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. My wife told me she had read that it had been 41 days since the last sunny day in Portland. Hoping for faster shutter speeds and lower ISO’s today!
I arrived just before 7:00 a.m. and the sun was just coming over the eastern ridge. This is when the light is the best for wildlife shots. I keep in mind though as the morning wears on, this is the time of year (thru June 21) where the sun begins to achieve a very high position in the sky and makes some shooting very difficult since the light source is now right above a bird, making weird shadows and beak shadows that can be undesirable. So shooting between, say, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (here in the Pacific Northwest) can be tricky and may yield unsatisfactory results. It’s not that it’s impossible to get a great shot in these conditions but the chances, I think, are reduced some compared to days back in January and February where the sun stayed relatively low in the southern skies. If your shadow cast by the sun is less than half your height, then it may not be the best time to be photographing birds.
I begin the 4.2 mile auto tour through the refuge and get to the photo blind parking area. Just across the road in the leafy brush, is a Ruby-crowned Kinglet with the brightest ruby crown I have ever seen. The light was uneven here since I’m basically in a wooded area here so I be sure to use my flash fill. The kinglet is hopping around in the brush, rarely pausing at all between movements and hops. I was glad to see that a few of the frames came out okay. In a way, this is a lifer for me, as I don’t believe I have ever gotten a RCK with the crown visible. Here are the shots.
[Please click on the thumbnails for larger views!]
Driving on down the road, I’m approaching the woods and on the right, probably a good fifty feet away, I see a bright yellow-green bird hopping around in a leafy bush. It never really showed itself well and was really way too far away for a serious image. I’m thinking the bird was an Orange-crowned Warbler. Here is a crummy shot for ID purposes.
I drive on through the Ash tree forest and hear the familiar sound of the Common Yellowthroat. My first encounter with this species since fall of last year. I’m stopped right at the corner where the road makes a pretty hard left and there is a metal gate. There’s a downed log laying on the ground here and I have taken some of my favorite shots of birds perched on or near this log. The yellowthroat decides to land on several perches around and on the log. I’m shooting away with fill flash due to the shady conditions. I set the camera in manual mode to 1/800 and ISO 640. About ten shots came out halfway in focus. Here are some of the shots of one of my favorite Warblers.
Between posts 9 & 10 I see a couple of female Hooded Mergansers.
In about the same spot is a Yellow-throated Warbler which didn’t pose as nicely as I had hoped but I did like the perch.
At post #11, I turn the sharp curve right and in the water to my right is a pair of Buffleheads. They’re the only birds in this lake and are about 40 feet away. Both are diving, coming up for air for about 5 seconds, then diving… But, what is cool is that they are getting closer to me each time they come up for air, until pretty soon they are withn 20 feet of me. This is great and I can see the irridescent colors of the male’s neck and head as I shoot. But, this bright sunshine is not the best light for shooting this duck. I’m having trouble settling in on an exposure that will give me details in both the whites and the darks. The shots aren’t great quality but there are some nice things about them.
Divng shots. Here if you look close, you can see the duck’s eye is wide open as she enters the water.
Here I like how the tail fans out before going under.
As I was shooting the Buffleheads, a Great Blue Heron flies right over the water in front of me.
I pulled past post #12 heading for the three tree area when I was surprised by a male Northern Harrier, which was flying past me. For me, I can see 20 females to 1 male at the refuge, so it is always a treat to see them. Unfortunately, by the time I had seen the bird, it was already past me so I only got tail shots.
I then was surprised again to see an Osprey flying over Rest Lake. I haven’t seen an Osprey here for a long time. I’m posting the shot here for documentation purposes.
Starting my second loop, I find this female Ring-necked Duck near post #2. Looks like she’s taking care of a little itch.
I’m approaching post #9 and there’s a Ring-necked Duck perched on a snag, out of water. I was hoping he would turn and give me a different pose but this is all he gave me.
Not far away a Song Sparrow perches on a bed of moss.
That made a quick second loop and I’m beginning a third as I’m now between posts 2 & 3. Here a Pied-billed Grebe and an American Coot are basking in the sun.
I’m back near post #9 again, which seems to be a great place to take photos today. This time a male and female House Finch make an appearance.
Near post #13 another sign of Spring perches for me.
Beginning another loop of the refuge and I come across a Northern Harrier circling in the air. The bird gave me lots of opportunities and I took a lot of frames but…the sun is so high in the sky that there was not one that I would call a keeper. In every case, the light under the bird was insufficient and especially the bird’s head and eye. This shot is as close to a keeper as I came, and it had distracting shadows on the head and eye area, not to mention the blown whites is the rump area. This particular situation could have used a low sun where the light shines under the wings and lights up the bird’s head.
Again, approaching post #9, I see something rolling around on the ground in the middle of the road in front of me. As I get closer, I see it’s a little Bewick’s Wren taking a dust bath. I’ve seen them do this before and it’s amazing how close it let me get without even missing a beat. I even got a little video of it but I was rushed by someone behind me and it came out blurry.
Further down the road and I spot a Great Horned Owl in its nest with a chick visible. Below I have posted a shot I took using fill flash. The photo is untouched and shows the normal red (from flash) in the bird’s right eye, while its left eye has an odd pink discoloration. You can also detect that the pupil has been damaged near the lower edge. There’s a chance that this bird is blind or partially blind in its left eye.
In addition, I photographed this bird last year, as the parent to two owlets that many of us got to see grow up at the refuge, right here between posts 9 & 10. This same anomaly of the eye occurred on the flash photos I took last year. So I’m pretty certain that this owl is the same owl that raised last year’s owlets. Here is the bird in a shot without flash. Note the fuzzy looking chick at the bottom of the shot.
At post #11, noticed a small bird perched in the large tree in the middle of the water off to the left. This is usually a favorite perch for eagles and hawks. This time a female Kingfisher landed near the top to do some preening. One of the few times I’ve seen a Kingfisher perched so far away from the wooded waterways of the Ash tree forest. This is my full frame view at 400mm.
Here’s a cropped view of the bird that was at least 80 feet away–way too far for a serious shot but the high pixel density of the 7D lets me crop quite heavily.
Just before I reach post #13, there’s a Savannah Sparrow on a post. These little birds are a welcome sight to the refuge.
That about concludes my photos for the day at Ridgefield. A sunny day that played some havoc on white feathers throughout the day and also created some smoke in the passenger seat of my truck! Yes, you heard me right! If you own a Better Beamer or anything similar to extend your flash, please read this.
Usually when I exit the shady confines of the woods, I slip off my external flash (and of course the Better Beamer comes off with it) and set it on the passenger seat of my truck so I can easily grab it again when I need it. Well, this last time I took it off, and set it down in a position where the fresnel lens was tilted up. My truck was oriented at just the right angle to allow sunlight to come through the passenger window. It therefore entered right through the fresnel lens of the Better Beamer and magnified the rays of light into a point on the inside of the Better Beamer’s side units. The plastic bracket was bubbling away as if a blow torch was being applied to it! Smoke was coming up from the area when I glanced over there. I quickly realized what was happening and moved the Beamer out of the light.
I’m glad I caught it so quickly, otherwise it would have easily burned a hole all the way through the Beamer’s side bracket. As it was, it only caused a couple of areas of distortion on the inside of the plastic bracket. And, had it been at a different angle, the rays could have easily burned my vest or even the seat of the truck or at worst, my external flash unit! I chalk this experience up to two things:
1) I was so used to not having sunshine over the last few months that the possibility of fire from the Beamer never occurred to me, and
2) It’s been a while since I read the Beamer instructions and I forgot about the large orange warning sign on the outside of the lens protector reminding you not to point it near the sun.
Moral of the story—that fresnel lens does its job well!
Thank you for your visits to my site and blog! See you next time!