It’s a nice cool morning as I pull into the Ridgefield NWR parking area about 7:45 a.m. There’s a light to medium overcast and it’s about 26 degrees (F). Not a sign of fog and the wind is light.
Welcome to this episode of my wildlife photo shoot–my first of 2011. As I drive up the first straightaway I see a small bird across the slough to my right and quickly grab a flash shot of a Yellow-rumped Warbler on the bank by the water–a species I haven’t seen for months. But the shot is not satisfactory– it was literally a “shot in the dark.”
Driving on past post #4, a pretty RTH perches on a branch that overhangs the road. I stop to take a quick flash shot. There is no shortage of these raptors at the refuge today!
(New readers: you can click on each thumbnail below to view larger, more detailed versions).
Just past post #10 I have a brief opportunity at a chickadee on a cattail, but I don’t get the crisp shot I was hoping for. Out of six frames, this one is the best. I really like the pose and the background, though.
I move on around post #12 heading for the three tree area and spot a large immature bald eagle not too far out over Rest Lake harassing a small group of geese resting on the water. I drive up to the action as quickly as possible and try for some shots. Keep in mind it’s still fairly dark out with the cloud cover and I’m shooting wide open at ISO800 (in the first 3 shots below), yet still only achieved a 1/200 shutter speed. I should have bumped ISO up much more (as I did in the last 2 shots of the group below). The first shot below is really a throwaway but I thought it would give a feel for what I was witnessing with the geese and eagle.
You can see the stopping of the wing action gets better after I boost the ISO up to 1250 on the last two images–attaining 1/1250 shutter speed. Noise also becomes a bigger issue especially with the less than perfect lighting conditions.
The bird is now flying toward the lake’s edge and landing in the last of the three trees on the left–another favorite perch for raptors on the refuge. I drive a few hundred feet and pull up alongside this majestic raptor who scarcely cares that I am there, which is what I was hoping for! I’m probably no more than 20 feet from the bird and he’s looking right at me. The whole bird will not fit in the frame so I take a bunch of shots here, then move forward another 30 feet or so and position my truck perpendicular to the road so I can shoot out the driver’s side window. I take a bunch more shots from this position. Following are some of these shots of a gorgeous bird.
These last three shots are also taken at 1250ISO but in better light, almost offsetting the negative effects of using a high ISO.
This concludes my first trip around the loop. On my 2nd loop I’m between posts 5&6 and hear something across the slough on my right. I see an Albino Nutria out in the open on the shoreline but as I pull up it retreats into the brush. I wait to see if it will come out in the open again, which it begins to but decides to head back under cover as it walks parallel to the shoreline. Below is the most open shot I could get of this skittish nutria. We see gazillions of the brown ones out in the open without a care in the world but these white ones seem to be aware that they may be easier to spot by predators.
Driving on, I decide to pull into “sparrow alley,” which is the little roadway that goes off to the left just before I get to the Ducks Unlimited sign. Sparrows, kinglets, towhees, and other small birds like this area. As I’m waiting there a Fox Sparrow shows up as well as a Golden-crowned Sparrow and a Spotted Towhee.
Fill flash was used on all three of these shots which were taken within 15 minutes of each other.
I’m off again and drive back around to the three tree area. I pull past the tree about 70 feet and pull off the side of the road hoping for an eagle or maybe even “Mr. Harlan” (the Harlan’s Hawk that I haven’t seen a sign of yet today). This is also one of his favorite trees. While I’m waiting I see a small bird about 30 feet up in the nearest tree. Checking with binoculars, I see it’s a female Northern Flicker (this is the same area, but different tree, where I saw one of these on my previous trip). This shot required a fairly heavy crop.
The Flicker then flies down to the dike that separates the slough from Rest Lake. I attempt to get a shot of her there in the grass.
This ends my 2nd trip around the loop.
Now driving my 3rd loop, I’m all the way up by the Kiwa Trail entrance where a Robin has hopped up on a refuge sign. Using a little fill flash I take a bunch of shots from a couple of different positions. Here are two of them.
Approaching the end of the woods near post #10 I spot a Great Horned Owl way up in a tree and far from the road. The picture is unsatisfactory to me so I didn’t add it here. Good to see that these birds are still hanging around this wooded area where the road goes through. It gives me some hope that they might raise another family here come spring time.
Several Song Sparrows were poking around at the road’s edge as I approached post #12. Many of them seemed to be oblivious to me as they let my truck pass within 3 feet of them without flying. Here’s one that was far enough away for my minimum focusing distance.
Rounding the final curve after post #12 I see this beautiful RTH only about 30 feet off the road to my left.
Swans are constantly flying in and out of Rest Lake. I catch a couple here and I wonder where they are headed and why these two are leaving all the rest behind.
While still near Rest Lake I’m given a fly-by by both a Northern Harrier and a gull. Here are some shots.
After the flying birds are past, I look out into the lake at a small group of Tundra Swans and point the lens at them. I just happened to take a few frames when one swan reaches over and bites another swan. Wonder what got into him?
As I approach the three trees, I notice “Mr. Harlan” is perched in one of them and just as I expected, he spots me and flies out over Rest Lake and makes a U-turn back behind my truck. I quickly grab the camera, boost the EC, and fire away against the gray sky. Certainly not the best shot but I got him and you can tell he’s a Harlan’s Hawk!
As I head back toward the parking lot on the last straightaway, I encounter a couple more hawks in the field, not too far from the road. I love trying to get them as they take off and/or fly a short distance to catch prey.
These glorious raptors are a great way to end my day at the refuge. Certainly not the best day from a light standpoint for taking bird action shots. But it was a blast giving it a go! I find that many of the shots had to be taken at higher than normal ISO settings to get any chance of stop action shots, which markedly added to noise levels.
I hope everyone is having a splendid New Year so far and that this blog post finds you in good health. See you next time on The Blog!