Spring Is Near at Ridgefield NWR

I paid a visit to my favorite local place to photograph birds, RIdgefield National Wildlife Refuge this past Tuesday afternoon once I was done for the day in the office.  I’m sure eager for spring to arrive in force.  I’m already excited to see the rich pink plum blossoms opening all over town, but am even more excited in anticipation of the cherry blossoms downtown, and for the spring bird action to heat up as the birds begin to prepare for their young one’s arrival.  One thing that makes bird photography so great at Ridgefield NWR is that through the months of October through April, visitors are required to stay in their vehicles which act as bird blinds and allow great access to the birds.  Many birds then have little idea a human threat is anywhere near, even when I get as close as 10 ft away, as I did on this trip with a few red winged blackbirds and a great blue heron on Tuesday.

The first photo here from this trip is of one of my favorite ducks, the northern shoveler.  This brightly colored male has a iridescent green colored head and a much larger beak than other ducks have, though it’s not visible in this photo since it was dabbling.  This drake had his eye on me as he passed me by, just as I had my lens on him.  I think this look from this duck makes this shot, as looks and expressions so frequently do.

Next I was treated to getting very close to a great blue heron preoccupied hunting for frogs in a flooded field, just barely outside of my minimum focus distance distance.  The bonus here was that this bird was bathed in gorgeous late afternoon sunlight.  Only the grass that cluttered the frame took away from this experience being completely perfect.  I’ll take it!

Nearing my last lap of the evening around the 4.2 mile auto route, as the sun was near setting, one last brightly colored male red winged blackbird sang for me across the road from Rest Lake, and again, with great light on him.  I got countless images of this pretty fellow and the heron both.

But, my luck had not yet run out on this day.  As I finished shooting the blackbird, I heard sandhill cranes calling.  Their call is so unique, and can be heard from a ways away.  It simply must be heard in person to appreciate, along with their graceful flight.  Check out the crane’s call here at the All About Birds website.  I estimated about 150 sandhill cranes coming in to roost for night on Rest Lake and Campbell Lake at Ridgefield NWR (Campbell has no public access, but I saw the cranes headed and defending to the lake’s location).  A couple groups each of several cranes made a couple of passes across the setting sun, as it glowed yellow and orange over the horizon.  Picture perfect as they say!  I had to act quickly to get my camera set up to shoot directly onto the bright light, and managed to get a couple shotes I am very happy with.  Shooting often and being familiar enough to operate my camera with my eyes closed led to me being lucky enough to capture this fleeting moment.

Getting four shots I’m very pleased with makes for a special trip to this refuge, but as spring hits its’ peak next month, the chances of repeating a special outing like this will only increase.  I sure hope to return a few times in the next seven weeks or so to try to duplicate this outing.