The cloudy/rainy weather is still hanging around at Ridgefield! Welcome to this latest installment of my wildlife photo shoots.
I didn’t go to the effort of getting up in time to get to the refuge by sun up since I was pretty sure the sun wouldn’t be showing itself through the heavy cloud cover that was forecast (it was like this all week). This meant there was little chance of that preferred warm morning light wildlife photographers can’t get enough of. Instead, I arrived about 8:45 a.m. It turned out, I was in for a day of numerous showers (or ‘rain’) with some breaks along the way. As it turned out, it did rain for most of the time I was here, but it did brighten up a bit by around 1 p.m. for a short while but no blue skies were visible.
I started off the day watching a mature Bald Eagle dive and harrass some ducks between posts 6&7, coming within about 60 feet of me. I have to admit, I wasn’t ready for it as the bird just dropped out of the sky and came past me too quickly to get any decent shots. It was a treat watching the action though!
Just across from the photo hide parking lot I see this cute little Scrub Jay. [Please click on the thumbnails for larger, more detailed images].
Near post 7 I took this shot of a Golden-crowned Sparrow just about to nibble a morsel of food. Shot at 1/800, ISO800, with Better Beamer flash on High-speed sync.
It’s raining pretty good now and I’m on the home stretch of my first loop way past post #14, where I see this drenched Kestrel on a refuge sign on the left side of the road. I stopped and took shots at 2 or 3 distances and finally was able to drive up perpendicular to the sign–within15 feet of the bird, maybe closer. The falcon didn’t budge and let me take a bunch of shots. Here are some that I liked.
It’s always fun to get close shots of a willing subject! I’m now on my 2nd loop of the 4.2 mile auto tour. I’m about halfway between posts #9&10, in the woods. Glancing across the water on my right I notice something with bright white on it flying across the water. It’s a male Belted Kinfisher, which lights on one of the snags that stick out vertically from the water–about in the middle. He’s about six feet above the water’s surface and he’s looking for lunch. I drive up slowly to get closer and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by me, which is a miracle in itself!
I snap some shots at this distance, then move even closer. He’s now making multiple dives into the water, catching small fish, and landing in almost the same spot that he takes off from. He does move from snag to snag some but never out of sight of my camera. I maneuver my truck to try to get a better background–not always possible though, as I am shooting through some trees and brush. I’ve never had a kingfisher make multiple dives like this and stay in the same vicinity while giving me the opportunity to take photos. I’m guessing the distance from me to the bird is about 30-35 feet. The bird then gives me some shots of him preening. The photo shoot of this bird lasted about 13 minutes and I took 250 frames. Here are some of the better ones.
After the kingfisher, I was pretty stoked! I drive out of the woods and stop right before post #11. There’s an immature Bald Eagle on the tree out to my left. It’s not a spectacular shot of him just perched there as it’s pretty far away and the sky is colorless. But if it decides to fly or if another eagle decides to come join him, I wanted to be ready to take some shots.
Now, it’s really raining as I start my 3rd loop and I decided to look for the Virginia Rails on the edge of the marsh between posts 3&4 (left side). I slowly scour the edge as I drive very close to the road’s edge but not so close that I wouldn’t be able to focus the 400mm lens. Eureka! I spot two relatively small rails hunting in the marsh reeds, barely showing themselves. If they do happen to cross any opening at all in the reeds where they can be seen, they seem to be smart enough to trot quickly across those areas. This, of course, makes taking their picture very tough. I must have spent 30 minutes hunting these guys down, moving my truck forward and backward a half dozen times. My camera, lens and light got soaked during this hunt. If I had been thinking, I would have remembered to bring my camera jacket but I left it at home. This would have been a perfect use for it. Here are a few of the shots–nothing spectacular but I’m really happy to get anything of these super-secretive birds. Without flash, I doubt I’d have even these photos to show you.
Heading into the woods again, prior to post #9, I come across a Cormorant nestled on a perch over the water but behind some branches. His body is mostly hidden but the colors around him are pleasing. Here is a fun shot of a Double-crested Cormorant. (Another flash shot).
A Song Sparrow decides to sit up on a perch to pose and sing for me….I guess Spring is almost here! The first two shots were taken with flash, the last one was not.
Still in the woods I see a small Bewick’s Wren off to the left. Again, flash used.
I’m now approaching the three tree area and am really surprised when I see “Mr. Harlan” fly out of one of the trees, do a circle over Shwartz Lake to my right, then cross the road and make about three loops over Rest Lake to my left, right outside my driver’s side window. I couldn’t believe it! It’s like he was saying to me, “Okay, I’ve left you in the dust so many times by flying away from here when I see your little truck that I think you deserve a few photo ops–so here they are! You may not get the chance again! I’ll give you three circlings–make ’em count buddy!” So here I am at ISO1250 and 1/1250th of a second against a white sky–not my favorite conditions. In one of the shots he looked right at me seemingly to say, “Take the shot!”
Another surprise hit me when I am coming down the home stretch about half way between post #14 and the parking lot. I see a bird in the distance off to the right on the teasels–this bird is white. I attempt to approach but I flush him–but now I suspect he’s a Northern Shrike. He flies over the berm and out of sight. I sit for a few minutes and wait. Lo and behold, he comes back to almost the same perch, but this time there is a leaf directly in front of his head. I take some shots but they are leaf-head shots! He then flies to the top of a tall tree and then on behind me and away. Here’s the leaf-head shot just to prove that I saw him! 🙂
I ended this shoot with a ride up to post #4 then turned around and headed home. I stopped near post #2 to get this shot of a coot using flash fill.
The end of another gray, rainy day at Ridgefield, but the weather didn’t slow down the wildlife activity–only the proper capturing of it on memory cards! 🙂 One of these days, we’ve got to get some sun around here! Thanks for looking in on this episode of The Blog and hope to see you next time.