I arrived at Ridgefield NWR on this Friday at about 7:20 a.m. It was about 20 degrees (F) but clear with no fog. I see volunteer, Barry, over at the ‘office’ and he invites me in to chat a minute. He tells me there has been a Barnacle Goose at the refuge over the last week. This is a bird whose normal range is on the extreme northeastern U.S. coast! I looked for the goose today but I was not able to spot it. I later learned that it had flown to the southern most end of the refuge, quite a ways from the auto tour.
However, all is not lost! Check out my brother, Gary’s, fine shot of the goose just a few days earlier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/shotsbygary/5471619246/. Congrats Gary, on this lifer! Fine shot and great find!
By 7:30 a.m., I was on my way around the 4.2 mile auto tour as the sun was just peaking over the eastern ridge. I approach one of my favorite eagle perches just past post #9 and see an immature bald eagle there. It’s not long before it takes flight–which is exactly what I wanted, but, he flew away from me– not toward me. The shots weren’t anything to write home about!
I also see a few Red-tailed Hawks but not in locations that would produce a nice shot. So the first loop was basically a bust. But the sun is out and I start out on my second loop. Right away just prior to post #2, I see a Northern Harrier hunting low to the ground in the field and making several dives at something with no success. At first the bird is off to my left which is not the greatest light. I take shots anyway, OF COURSE! 🙂 She continues to fly low, turning in mid-flight, diving, and coming back up. Then, she crosses the road in front of me, so I switch windows, to the passenger side window. She is now heading toward me and flying low, searching for prey on the berm (dike) that forms the canal. And now, the light is magnificent as the sun is behind me and I’m pointing the camera at her.
I need to mention here that before I started my 2nd loop, I decided to shoot in manual camera mode, which I have not done much (except for flash shots) up until now. I usually shoot in AV mode, locking in my preferred aperture for the conditions. But a few wonderful photographer friends have told me that manual mode for birds in flight (BIF) can really work well. So I thought I’d give it a try. I set the shutter speed for 1/1600, the aperture to f5.6, and the ISO to 500. This gave me good exposure on a brown colored subject in the sun (test shot). Beings the sky was blue today, I was hoping for some BIF opportunities. But unless my light suddenly changed or a black or white bird came into view, I was pretty safe with my settings adjusted for “medium-colored” (huh?) birds. Since the sun was out and the sky clear, I knew the light wouldn’t change much over the next couple hours, so I was good to go.
Okay, back to my harrier adventure. The bird is flying low, toward the front of my truck, out my passenger side window. I shoot bursts as fast as I can as it flies right by me getting as close as 35 feet. What an opportunity this was! I stop to check a few of the frames out on the LCD screen and it looks like some might be keepers. I actually ended up with 30 frames that were in acceptable focus (to me). Here are seven of the better poses.
[Be sure to click on these thumbnails to view large].
There are actually two different birds in this group of shots as I came across another bird between posts #2 & 3 giving me a similar opportunity–all within about 11 minutes.
As I get to post #4 and face the hunter’s gate, there’s a tree on the other side of the gate, just off to the right. Two mature Bald Eagles are perched within a couple feet of each other, maybe 40 feet up. The sun is still at my back here so I figure it might be worth waiting a while to see if one or both decides to fly. I swivel my truck clockwise 90 degrees so the truck is now facing north and out my window is west–right at the birds. In about 10 minutes, the birds decide to fly, and the one on the left flies directly at me as I’m pointing the lens out the driver’s side window. The bird flies toward me and also is diving downward at about a 45 degree angle. The other bird follows but not at as low a trajectory. I take some shots as the action is happening and here are the frames that came out in focus.
Continuing around the loop I come up to post #12 where there is a sticker bush at the culvert. A robin is giving me a photo op. Here’s the shot.
I came around to post #13 and a kestrel was perched there. I stopped fairly far away and took some shots but he was backlit in a not so flattering way. When I tried moving closer, he flew. None of these shots made “the cut.”
Driving all the way around again and I’m just past post #9, where this time, a young bald eagle is on the ‘famous’ perch. I take a gamble and park in a place where people can get by me. I stay for almost an hour, waiting for him to fly or for another bird to come to meet him. (This is the same perch where I shot the eagle pair clutching talons in mid air on Feb. 1). Finally, he flies but he flies AWAY from me and the flight shots are not worth posting. I gambled and lost on this one–wasting an hour of shooting time in the hopes of getting an interesting eagle shot. On top of that, my trigger finger was almost frozen off! Here are a couple of shots of this beauty before he flew. It looks like quite a young bird to me.
Driving on through the Ash tree forest I see a lone male Ring-necked Duck, not far from the road-side shore line. This was odd because these ducks usually congregate near the far shoreline. I stopped and he climbed up on a small perch in the water and began to preen. Here is one of the shots.
I come around the loop again and see this content Northern Pintail chilling out in the canal to my right, just around post #2.
After my last loop around I pulled forward in the parking lot to the far corner where the sign tells visitors the rules. I was getting ready to pack up my gear to head home when I saw a group of robins in the grass very close to my truck. This one guy just kept walking closer and closer and probably got within six feet of my front bumper.
That about wraps it for this edition of The Blog! I took a lot of frames but of a relatively small quantity of different birds. This meant I had large groups of shots to pour through in order to pick the real keepers. I was quite happy with the harrier flight opportunities given to me today. I guess the planets decided to line up for me on this trip. Thanks for coming along with me!