This past Saturday morning my generous wife gave me some time to myself, so I headed out to the Ridgefield NWR on my friend Bruce's report that the refuge was full of egrets. I've previously not been able to capture many good photos of egrets, and I find them so much more pleasing in photographs than their big cousin, the great blue heron. The snow white color of the entire bird really jumps off of a print or a screen.
Bruce's report was spot on. There were about two dozen egrets at the refuge on this morning, and together with the help of several herons, they devoured more voles than I've ever seen at the refuge in one morning. It was intense and a lot of fun to try to capture each of these moments. I had to stay focused to have any chance to nail a sharp shot of a captured vole. Each moment didn't last long before the latest victim was resting in the egret's or heron's stomach. Nature is cruel, especially for little critters at the bottom of the food chain like the vole (similar to but a little larger than a field mouse). At one point I had six egrets in the field in front of me. I've never before even seen six egrets in one day!
In addition to the many herons and egrets patroling the fields and cleaning them of small rodents, there were many other late autumn usual suspects at the refuge. As the northwest weather begins to get more dark and gloomy and settle into its' cool and damp winter, regional wetland refuges begin to come to life. Many sandhill cranes and tundra swans were flying overhead. The cranes rarely spend time on the refuge grounds, but the swans that spend so much time on Rest Lake at the refuge are beginning to increase in number for the winter. Both the cranes and the swans are so graceful and a real joy to watch. But, in even far greater numbers than the cranes and the swans were the cackling geese. I was also surprised to see almost a hundred dowitchers this late in autumn in one flooded small field just in front of the backside outhouse.
I reverted back to my old excitable machine gunning ways, taking 1,600 frames on this morning, in spite of the weather being overcast, and the light while soft, not being inspiring. But the action was good enough that I only did two laps of the refuge's 4.2 mile loop. Among the 1,600 photos exposed, less than 300 were attempts at panning trying to capture birds artistically in flight. I can't seem to get enough of this style of bird photograph going back a year or so. I think one reason for this personal fad is to make up for a lack of focal length for shooting birds. On a full frame body a 400mm prime lens may look big, but falls too short too often for birds some distance away. I hope to have several more visits this coming winter as action packed as this one was, but with much better light. However, that may be a lot to ask for in the Pacific Northwest! But even in dull light, this refuge is a real treasure to visit at this time of year.